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Hallaj was a mystic in Abbasid Baghdad, a city so foreign to the typical Westerner that we can barely imagine it as a city, the home of A Thousand Nights and a Night, the great cultural metropolis of the Middle Ages, the world's greatest center of wealth, money, and power. Hallaj wandered the streets of the giant metropolis and communed with God. After many years, he had a number of followers. Islamic though he may have been, his unconventional language, poetry, and way of thinking soon angered the representatives of the state.

Like any true mystc, Hallaj loved God. No, that's the wrong way of putting it - he was in love with God, as infatuated as any adolescent with his first real lover, as in love with God, (to quote another mystic), as the drunkard is in love with his wine.

This was a period of the Islam and Shariah, and, like in any theocracy, the morals police protected the honor and the word of God. What did Hallaj care for God's honor? To Hallaj, God was the most intimate lover. Doesn't the Qoran say, "To him who seeks for God know that it is close to you as your jugular vein?. Did that not mean the Hallaj himself was God, the obect of his desires? And is not a man in love with God drunk, drunker than the most abject drunkard? Since when does a drunkard watch what he says? So Hallaj wandered into the central market place of the city surrounded by his followers and shouted the words that were deepest in his heart: "ANA AL HAQQ!" - I am the law, I am God!

I don't suppose it will surprise anyone that the next scene takes place in the prison. According to the legend, Hallaj's disciples were allowed to speak to him as he lay in his cell - whenever a mystic dies, the legends tell us that his followers are around him to record his last words. He told them, "The only thing that is important is love." They asked him, "What is love?" He said, you'll see tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow and the day after the day after tomorrow. On the next day, he was condemned to death. The day afterwards, he was hanged. On the third day, they burned his body and fed his ashes to the wind. He left behind him only his enigmatic sayings, and his mad, drunken love for the divine.

I am a Jew and Hallaj was a Muslim. There are probably some people who will misread his story of martyrdom as the same type of fanaticism that the West is fighting with today. To me, though, Hallaj is the true martyr: a man who dies for love, for the freedom to express what he feels, and not for hatred. I don't believe in courting death of course, and Hallah could certainly have been a little more cagey - if he had been other than what he was, a man who didn't give a fig for earthly power and was simply in love with the God, and, by extrapolation, the entire world that God created.

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