Kamil Alast

The words just lie there like Improvised Explosive Devices.

Hallaj laid them down in Baghdad a thousand years ago.

They jailed him and quarreled endlessly about the charges.

In the end they accused him of claiming to be God: “I am the Truth.”

`Attar tells how they cut off his hands and feet.

He rubbed his face with blood so they could not say he was pale with fear.

When they cut off his head, he kept on crying, “I am the Truth.”

They burned his ashes and threw them in the Tigris,

But the ashes kept on crying, “I am the Truth.”

His words remain, transmitted by obscure channels.

Massignon obsessively collected every fragmentary reference.

In 1918, the British entered Baghdad using poison gas.

They said they were only there for the freedom of the Iraqi people.

Some people remember that.

Massignon was considered a spy for the French when he went to Baghdad in 1907.

He got lost in the desert and met a Stranger who saved his life.

He became convinced it was either Jesus or Hallaj

or some combination of the two that saved him.

In 1922, Massignon published his biography of Hallaj.

He died 40 years later with Hallaj’s name on his lips.

The new edition of the biography is 2000 pages.

Now there are newer armies in Iraq,

Sincere soldiers kicking in doors of families,

Who are dismissed as Sunni or Shi`i fanatics.

Is there anyone left who can say, “I am the Truth”?

Kamil Alast is a writer with many years of experience studying the cultures of the Middle East and South Asia. His main preoccupation is the dialectic between speech and silence, which, particularly through the Sufi tradition, takes on a profoundly important role in times of crisis.