See L. Massignon, The Passion of Hallaj (4 vol., tr. 1982).
He was born around 858 in Shushtar (Khuzestan province) of Persia to a cotton-carder (Hallaj means "cotton-carder" in Arabic). Al-Hallaj's grandfather may have been a Zoroastrian. His father (Kurdish descent) lived a simple life, and this form of lifestyle greatly interested the young al-Hallaj. As a youngster he memorized the Qur'an and would often retreat from worldly pursuits to join other mystics in study.
Al-Hallaj later married and made a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he stayed for one year, facing the mosque, in fasting and total silence. After his stay at the city, he traveled extensively and wrote and taught along the way. He travelled as far as India and Central Asia gaining many followers, many of whom accompanied him on his second and third trips to Mecca. After this period of travel, he settled down in the Abbasid capital of Baghdad.
Among other Sufis, al-Hallaj was an anomaly. Many Sufi masters felt that it was inappropriate to share mysticism with the masses, yet al-Hallaj openly did so in his writings and through his teachings. He began to make enemies, and the rulers saw him as a threat. This was exacerbated by times when he would fall into trances which he attributed to being in the presence of God. During one of these trances, he would utter Ana al-Haqq أنا الحق, literally meaning "Truth is me" or "I am God", which was taken to mean that he was claiming to be God, as Al-Haqq is one of the Ninety Nine Names of Allah. In another controversial statement, al-Hallaj claimed " There is nothing wrapped in my turban but God ", and, again, similarly, he would point to his cloak and say, "Maa Fi Jubbati Illa-Allah" meaning "There is nothing inside/underneath my cloak except God."
These utterances led him to a long trial, and subsequent imprisonment for eleven years in a Baghdad prison. In the end, he was tortured and publicly crucified (in some accounts he was beheaded and his hands and feet were cut off) by the Abbasid rulers for what they deemed "theological error threatening the security of the state." Many accounts tell of al-Hallaj's calm demeanor even while he was being tortured, and indicate that he forgave those who had executed him. According to some sources, he went to his execution dancing in his chains. He was executed on March 26, 922.
His writings are important to Sufi groups. Thelemites also make use of his teachings, especially in terms of his identification as God - a central gnostic principle. His example is seen by some as one that should be emulated, especially his calm demeanor in the face of torture and his forgiving of his tormentors. Many honor him as an adept who came to realize the inherent divine nature of all men and women. While some theological universalists theorize that Hallaj was a reflection of God's truth in much the same way Christians view Jesus, others continue to see him as a heretic.
Rumi wrote on the claim "I am God" three centuries later: "People imagine that it is a presumptive claim, whereas it is really a presumptive claim to say "I am the slave of God"; and "I am God" is an expression of great humility. The man who says "I am the slave of God" affirms two existences, his own and God's, but he that says "I am God" has made himself non-existent and has given himself up and says "I am God", that is, "I am naught, He is all; there is no being but God's." This is the extreme of humility and self-abasement."
Similarly, other supporters have interpreted his statement as meaning, "God has emptied me of everything but Himself."
His life was studied extensively by the French scholar of Islam, Louis Massignon.
His best known written work is the Kitab al Tawasin , Arabic (كتاب الطواسين) or Ta Sin al Azal, which includes two brief chapters devoted to a dialogue of Satan (Iblis) and God, where Satan refuses to bow to Adam, although God asks him to do so. His refusal is due to a misconceived idea of God's uniqueness and because of his refusal to abandon himself to God in love. Hallaj criticizes the staleness of his adoration (Mason, 51-3). Al-Hallaj stated in this book:
If you do not recognize God, at least recognise His sign, I am the creative truth -Ana al-Haqq-, because through the truth, I am eternal truth. My friends and teachers are Iblis (Satan) and Pharaoh
Whereas for most, especially legalistic, Muslims, the unity of God, tawhid, meant that God was inaccessible to man, al-Hallaj believed that it was only God who could pronounce the Tawhid, whereas man's prayer was to be one of kun, surrender to his will: "Love means to stand next to the Beloved, renouncing oneself entirely and transforming oneself in accordance to Him". (Massignon, 74) He spoke of God as his "Beloved", "Friend" "You", and felt that "his only self was (God)", to the point that he could not even remember his own name." (Mason, 26)
He wanted to testify of this relationship to God to others, even at the price of his own life, thus even asking his fellow Muslims to kill him (Massignon, 79) and accepting his execution, saying that "what is important for the ecstatic is for the One to reduce him to oneness." (Massignon, 87) He also referred to the martyrdom of Christ, saying he also wanted to die "in the supreme confession of the cross" (Olivier Clément. Dio è carita, p. 41) Like Christ, he gave his execution a redemptive significance, believing as he did that his death "was uniting his beloved God and His community of Muslims against himself and thereby bore witness in extremis to the tawhid (the oneness) of both." (Mason, 25) For his desire of oneness with God, many Muslims criticized him as a "'crypto-Christian' for distorting the monotheistic revelation in a Christian way." (Mason, 25). His death is described by Attar as a heroic act, as when they are taking him to court, a Sufi asks him:"What is love?". He answers: "You will see it today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow." They killed him that day, burned him the next day and threw his ashes to the wind the day after that. "This is love," Attar says. His legs were cut off, he smiled and said, "I used to walk the earth with these legs, now there's only one step to heaven, cut that if you can." And when his hands were cut off he paints his face with his own blood, when asked why, he says: "I have lost a lot of blood, and I know my face has turned yellow, I don't want to look pale-faced (as of fear)...".
In his book The Sufis, the Afghan scholar Idries Shah suggested that Mansur al-Hallaj, the mystic apostate, might have been the origin of Hiram Abiff character in the Freemasonic Master Mason ritual. The link, he believes, was through the Sufi sect Al-Banna ("The Builders") who built the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This fraternity could have influenced some early masonic guilds which borrowed heavily from the Oriental architecture in the creation of the Gothic style.
his ashes were spread on the sea, the ashes made out the word "i am god"