The First Sufis: Al- Hallay (858-922)

(Abu Abd Allah al-Husayn ibn Mansur, called Al-Hallay; Al-Baydá, 858-Bagdad, 922) Mystic muslim. Disciple of a mystic, made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 895 and started his predication, which took him until the frontiers with China. On his way back to Baghdad, he renounced to travel and predicated on the city streets and mosques.
He underestimated the ritual practices and any kind of mediation between God and the man. He was suspected of being Shiite, and also of attempting against the Caliph authority, Mohammed's representative. He was arrested in 909 and then crucified.
He wrote a collection of poems.

This philosopher, sufi and poet is one of the most singular personalities in the Arab culture of the Middle Age. He founded a philosophical doctrine and a Sufi attitude that had a personal (out of that time) character. He was a sacred man for many, and a heretic and a sinner for others, which enriches even more the personality of this polemic Sufi.

His fame has reached international levels starting in the last century, thanks to the works of the Orientalist Louis Massignon (1885-1962), who dedicated half a century of his life to the analysis and multiple facets of the great Hindu poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (1876-1938). This last one wrote in the year 1932 his "diwan" called Yawid Nama, thus named according to his son Yawid, so that it serves him of guide along his life. In this book the author, disguised as a river, starts a long dialog with al-Hallay, using him as the person who proclaims the own author's opinions, presenting his character as a fundamental basis in the construction of the Islamic society, based in the union, the strength and the positive religious path.

The Islamic Sufism has followed a few steps, starting with a tendancy towards the dedication of the divine service and towards the devotion, so as to become later on a sentimental experience which poles are : the soul and God. This experience evolved according to each Sufi and to their religious practices, making him enter in ecstasy when elevating his soul towards God. It is a tenderness and love between the sufi and God and the highest point resides in the disappearance of the self (the feeling of being self) and the permanence of his feeling towards God.

There are a few evidences that represent the starting point in the sufi practices based in the reality of man (he is made of soul and flesh). The body for its own need and instincts conditions the soul, making it get away from the Superior World. Freedom then consists in getting away from such instincts , from the submission to the body, from life's superficial amusements. It is then a dedication to God's worship until the sufi finally gets to approach the Creator's soul. To get to this aim, the sufis invented several processes, as "al-maqam" and "al-hal". "Al-maqam" is the absolute deliverance from the servant towards God, dedicating himself to the prayer, the fasting and the devotion.
But this concept has different aspects or "faces": repentance, pity, poverty, patience, consensus.. In a word, it is a series of qualities that define the sufi behaviour.

As for "al-hal", some philosophers and scholars say that it is what "lives" in the hearts, they also say that the hearts live in "it". And for this, one mentions God in melodic and reiterated way. This concept has known concepts among the Sufis, like: meditation, love, fear, anxiety...

But the main aim of a sufi is to get to "see" God and contemplate God without any kind of disturbance. This way they get to the rank of prophets, like Moses and Muhammad (p.b.o. them) on their celestial journey.

It is very legitimate to ask oneself: how do they see God, what does it mean in this case to see God and what spiritual amusement do they get through this?

The answer is: There is no answer.

But, what kind of sufi was Al-Hallay? He was, according to sources, a sufi strict to his doctrine, he accomplished in excess the religious deeds. But Al-Hallay was not the kind of sufi that thinks that the way towards God is the excess of worship, but to him this aim can be obtained when the sufi walks towards God in a complete and absolute way, and then making Love the axis in this relationship.

"I was meditating about religions

and I found them

in a tree trunk

with various branches."


"Never ask about a man's religion."


Some excerpts are by Waleed Saleh Alkhalifa
(Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

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