MANSUR AL-HALLAJ

 A

TRAGEDY IN TWO ACTS

 

 

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CHARACTERS

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                Devout Sufi teacher, Sheikh

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                  Governor of Baghdad

 

ABU AL-QASIM AL-JUNAYD    Sheikh

 

ABU BAKR AS-SHIBLI                Sheikh

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS                      Grand Vizier

 

SHAFIG IBN MUZAYYAM         Vizier

 

HABIB IBN MUSALLAM            Vizier

 

MINBASHI ALI IBN ISA              Military Commander

 

TAYYIB IBN MURSALAT                      Amir

 

DERVISH

 

VISITOR

 

SATAN

 

HEADSMAN

 

STEWARD

 

OLD WOMAN

 

MURIDS

 

PRISONERS

 

DUNGEON WARDERS

 

SOLDIERS

 

BAGHDAD INHABITANTS


 

Act I           Scene 1

 

Set in Sultan Ibrahim's palace, which is illuminated by burning torches.

 

Enter SULTAN IBRAHIM, GRAND VIZIER HAMID IBN ABBAS, VIZIERS SHAFIG IBN MUZAYYAM and HABIB MUSALLAM.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            This is what misleads people. (Sits on his throne) But what does he want to gain from this? What's his intent?

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           It's a mystery, long live the Shah! His intent is hidden. He calls people to religion, to Muhammad, alayhi as-salam, peace be upon him –

 

ALL THE VIZIERS             (Joining HAMID IBN ABBAS in invoking the traditional blessing, the salawat) God’s blessings upon Muhammad and Muhammad’s kin.

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           He calls people to the Quran, but at the same time he says he is God’s friend and is always harping on about his love for him.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       Love? May God forgive me! Has the wretch lost his mind?

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           That’s what some people think, blessed be the Shah. However, reputable sheikhs, members of Baghdad’s Supreme Council no less, insist that MANSUR has received the gift of divine knowledge, a supreme gift from above that is not bestowed on everyone.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       Divine knowledge? What’s that?

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           Mysterious knowledge that is not written down anywhere and is bestowed by the exceptional grace of Almighty God. That's what the sheikhs say.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Furious) What nonsense! Worthless ideas that disgrace the office of high sheikh! (Aloud, as if making a proclamation) Only the Exalted Creator has divine knowledge; it cannot be bestowed upon the created. (Plunges into thought. A tense silence envelops the palace. In a while, to HAMID IBN ABBAS) What do you think?

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS          To be honest, I… (Looks for the right word).

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       You what? 

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS          (Cautiously) To be honest, I am rather uncertain, my Shah.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (Perplexed). I don't understand.

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           I’ve always admired the intelligence and deep knowledge of the sheikhs, but this decision of theirs confuses me. It appears from their words that – (in a low voice, as if revealing a secret) mysterious knowledge has been bestowed upon MANSUR that can conquer the depths of the human heart.

 

Strong winds blow outside. Strange sounds similar to grain being threshed.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM           (Frowning) Mysterious knowledge? (Looks at the VIZIERS)

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           (Cautiously) MANSUR’s words have a different effect on people, my Shah. I myself have witnessed this many times. The city changes after his preaching. A strange silence envelops Baghdad.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (Leans against his throne) Really? 

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           (Fearfully and cautiously) There is a strange… enchantment in this man’s words, (hesitates) or voice. After his preaching, the streets and shops and markets empty. All trading stops.

 

SHAFIG IBN MUZAYYAM         This is a miracle, my Shah! They say his preaching takes people far away from this world into another, magical realm.

 

HABIB IBN MUSALLAM They say even remote villages hear MANSUR’s preaching!

 

A weird noise similar to a string snapping

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Scowls) What are you raving about? (Furiously) Do you know what you’re saying, HABIB?

 

HABIB IBN MUSALLAM  (His eyes full of fear) This is what the people of these villages say, blessed be the Shah.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (Angry) They’re lying!

 

HABIB IBN MUSALLAM They repeat MANSUR’s words exactly.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       What do they say?

 

HABIB IBN MUSALLAM  They say… (pauses, then says timidly) there is one master, one sultan of this world… it is God, the Most High and Most Merciful.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       Allahu Akbar! God is Great!

 

ALL THE COURTIERS     (Joining the SULTAN in the traditional blessing) God’s blessings upon Muhammad and Muhammad’s kin.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       Does anyone deny this?

 

HABIB IBN MUSALLAM  (Continues his point cautiously) And there is no sultanate except for his.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Taken aback, but doesn’t show it. Clears his throat) Very well.

 

VIZIERS look at each other cautiously

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           This is not all, blessed be the Shah. MANSUR says that this world was created from divine love and that everything in existence stems from that love. All of his theories and teachings rest upon that love.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            What sacrilege is this? What does love have to do with any of it? Why, if he is a man of the Koran, he must obey the pillars of Islam and fear God and the Afterlife. But he is talking about love.

 

SHAFIG IBN MUZAYYAM         His words have a different effect on people, my Shah. He speaks words that cloud and confuse people’s minds. It’s as if he wants to mislead the common people.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       So what does this mad man really want?

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           What he wants … (pauses, looks cautiously at SHAFIG IBN MUSALLAM) what he wants is clear, blessed be the Shah. To cast a shadow over the esteemed throne, the might of the majestic state of the Abbasids!

 

A sound similar to a string vibrating.

The VIZIERS look at each other cautiously

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (Frowns) So…

HAMID IBN ABBAS           MANSUR’s teaching and preaching hinge on a single point: worship Almighty God, the one and only sultan of Baghdad and all mankind!

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (Frowning pensively) Hmmm. What else?

 

SHAFIG IBN MUZAYYAM           He misleads the common people, Pivot of the Universe. He says “He is your Shah and sultan”. He says “He is your only salvation”.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (With hidden disappointment) What’s so strange about calling people to obey God? Yet… (Lowers his voice) I don’t understand this talk of salvation. What salvation does he mean? 

 

SHAFIG IBN MUZAYYAM         (Bows down) I am unable to explain, my Shah.

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           Mansur’s intention is this: to discredit the reign of the mighty Abbasids in any way possible and to harm Your Excellency’s authority! His preaching and teaching pose an inevitable threat to the state and Your Majesty, my Shah. This man uses thousands of ways to prove the truth of his words. He is causing mayhem in the city!

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (Jumps up, angrily) Mayhem?

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           Things have reached such a point that when MANSUR goes to Baghdad’s grand market, he plunders the stalls. He says to the merchants, “Have you made these in order to sell them?” then distributes their goods. People join him in stealing!

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Shaken) What iniquity is this? (Suddenly angry) Where were you when this was going on? What is Osman ibn Bakr doing about it all?

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS          Osman… Osman ibn Bakr… (Stops talking).

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (Agitated) Yes! Finish what you were saying, HAMID!

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS          Osman is one of MANSUR’s followers, my Shah.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (In a low voice, choked with anger) So, that’s it…

(Shaken) My reliable, trustworthy Osman… (Covers his face with his hand)

 

A heavy silence envelops the palace, interrupted by weird noises. The VIZIERS look fearfully at each other and the SULTAN. 

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (Sorrowfully) When did all this happen?

 

The VIZIERS maintain a guilty silence.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Suddenly irritated). Why am I not aware of all this iniquity?

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           (Cautiously) We decided to act by ourselves, lest we bother Your Majesty. We tried every which way, blessed be the Shah… (Lowers his voice) but our efforts were in vain. The whole of Baghdad loves MANSUR AL-HALLAJ.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Furiously) The whole of Baghdad, you say, loves a vagabond… a penniless beggar dressed in rags?

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS keeps a guilty silence

 

HABIB IBN MUSALLAM  This is a disaster, my Shah, an unexpected disaster! A misfortune greater than the attack of a foreign enemy! This man’s words have the strength of an iron-clad army! He has only to appear in Baghdad’s grand market for the people to lose the power of speech!

 

SHAFIG IBN MUZAYYAM         Some of Baghdad’s authoritative sheikhs consider MANSUR to be God’s messenger, His prophet! 

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Falters) No, this is too much! What kind of a country is it where sheikhs consider a street vagabond a prophet? (Looks for the right words, suddenly furious) The gallows is the right place for them!

 

VIZIERS look at each other dumbstruck

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            Tell me their names!

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           (Timidly) What’s the point of distressing you, my Shah? Perhaps –

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (Roars) Tell me their names!

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           (Cautiously) Those who enjoy your respect and esteem - (Stops talking).

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       Yes!

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS          ABUL GASIM AL JUNAYD –

 

A sound like a string snapping. The sultan jumps up

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           ABU BAKR AS SHIBLI, Sahl bin Abdulla Tustari, Abbas Tusi, Osman Nuri Topbash.

 

The SULTAN’s mood changes as the names are recited and he covers his face with his hands

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Feebly) Enough. (To himself) What is this misfortune that has consumed the country? Who is to be trusted? These are my knowledgeable, intelligent scholars and they are all caught in the net of a raving vagabond who is incapable of finding a crust of bread to feed himself.

 

HABIB IBN MUSALLAM  They are not the only ones caught in MANSUR’s net, my Shah. It has entangled the whole country! People are unrecognizable, as if they are not the common people who need that loaf of bread!

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Distressed) They have forgotten whose shadow they are living under, that’s why! They have forgotten to whom they should be thankful!

 

SHAFIG IBN MUZAYYAM         MANSUR’s words… (suddenly, as if bewitched) ...or voice... have a different effect on people. Those who believe in God, and those who do not, believe in him! They say that even the deaf can hear his preaching!

 

The wind roars, breaking open the windows of the palace and blowing through the rooms, shaking the curtains

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (to the VIZIERS) Why are you just standing there?

 

The VIZIERS spring into action and try to close the windows

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS (going to the entrance) FARRASH!

 

Enter FARRASH with other servants. They close the windows without waiting for the order.

The palace falls silent.

 

FARRASH                            (Bows down) May the Pivot of the Universe be in good health.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (Sternly to FARRASH) Go.

 

FARRASH and the servants bow down and leave

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            Carry on, SHAFIG. You were saying that even the deaf can hear MANSUR’s preaching. (Laughs bitterly) What about the dead in the cemeteries, can they hear him, too? (Keeps on laughing, but nobody joins in. Insidiously) There was another of his kind – a child of Israel, Jesus, the son of Mary! He declared himself the Son of God! He wanted to destroy the palace traditions and to sow confusion among the people. But when they nailed him to a cross, he cried like a human being. (Gazes at an unseen point in the distance) He turned pale from loss of blood. (To himself) It’s quite clear what purpose these people serve. (Aloud) They are mean, self-seeking swindlers who all end up swinging from the gallows! (Lowers his voice) And my venerable sheikhs declare such a man as this a messenger of God. (Lifts his head suddenly, as if having realized something, to HAMID IBN ABBAS) But why? What’s the reason for this?

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           To prove their words, they cite thousands of cases of people who embrace Islam after hearing MANSUR preach and draw their last breath as God-fearing believers.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Taken aback). I don’t understand. How can this be? (Suddenly with fury) It’s all lies! A pack of lies!

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           (Cautiously) Even Davud al Saad himself testifies to this, Pivot of the Universe.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (Astonished) Davud?

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           The situation is extremely grave, may the Shah be in good health. MANSUR enjoys great authority amongst the common people.

 

SHAFIG IBN MUZAYAM People flock from other cities to hear his sermons. The Indians call him “Abul Qays”, the One Who Stands Firm, and the Chinese “Abul Moin”, the Fountain. In Khorasan they nickname him “Abul Mehr”, the Full Moon, and in Basra “Muhabbar”, the Messenger. The Iranians call him “Abu Abdallah”, Son of the Servant of God, and in Baghdad he is known as “Mustalam”, the Protector.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            The Protector? (Frowns, withdrawing into himself. Then in a low voice filled with rage) This is a device of Satan, a device of Satan who thirsts for the fall of the Abbasids. (Suddenly, angrily) This man is an infidel! An impostor and an infidel masquerading as a messenger of the afterlife! This is – (in a rage, looking for the right words)

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           This is an uprising, may the Shah enjoy good health! Every word that MANSUR casts into the air bears the seed of revolt within it. Hence, the decision is Yours to make, my Shah.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Breathes heavily). Wait… some things are still not clear. Who allowed this scoundrel to preach in the main mosque of Baghdad?

 

The VIZIERS stare at each other perplexed

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           His Eminence, the Honourable Sheikh ul-Islam himself, considers MANSUR’s preaching in the main mosque to be commendable, Your Excellency. You yourself agreed to this.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (Jumps to his feet as if stung) I did?

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           When MANSUR was treating Your Majesty for yellow fever.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Leans against his throne dispirited) Damn that treatment. It has cost me very dear.

 

Enter FARRASH

 

FARRASH                           (Bows down) Glory be to the sultan of the realms.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Irritated) What nonsense are you talking, boy! Call Army COMMANDER ALI IBN ISA!

 

FARRASH                            The COMMANDER is here, may the SULTAN enjoy good health. He is with the members of the Divan, awaiting your summons.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       The Members of the Divan? What do they want?

 

FARRASH                            They have come at your invitation, may the Shah enjoy good health, to attend the Divan meeting you have set for today.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (Remembering). Hmm. Let them wait. Call ALI IBN ISA.

 

FARRASH steps back, bows and leaves.

Enter COMMANDER ALI IBN ISA in full armour

 

COMMANDER                   (Bows down) May the Shah enjoy good health.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            Strange stories have reached my ears, ALI IBN ISA. What is this mayhem that is consuming the province?

 

COMMANDER                    (Looks at the VIZIERS). You have been misinformed, Pivot of the Universe. Peace and order reign in the country.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Gives the commander a searching look) Maybe you are tired, ALI IBN ISA? (Suddenly irritated) You call this peace and order? The city’s markets are plundered in broad daylight, Baghdad’s grand mosque has become a nest of infidels and a swindling vagabond has declared himself God’s friend and is leading the common people astray. Is this the peace and order you are talking about?

 

COMMANDER                    Perhaps – (cautiously) you are referring to His Eminence SHEIKH MANSUR HALLAJ?

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (His eyes wide). His Eminence Sheikh? Are you one of that infidel’s devotees, ALI IBN ISA? (The commander keeps silent) I am talking to you, answer me!

 

COMMANDER                    MANSUR - is a devout, holy man, teetering on the verge of madness because of his love for God, as the one and only God is my witness. His only concern is glorifying God and His beauty, calling people to religion and faith.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Narrows his eyes with fury) Are you aware of what you’re saying, ALI IBN ISA? Are you calling an impostor, who says he’s God’s companion, “a devout, holy man”? (The COMMANDER hangs his head) You will answer for this drivel!

 

COMMANDER                    (Raising his head, sadly) MANSUR is a moth of love drawn to the divine lamp. His last wish is to burn in that flame. He has no other goal than this.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            Plundering the markets, spreading blasphemy and leading the common people astray! Is this the act of a moth of love?

 

COMMANDER                    You have been misinformed, may the Shah enjoy good health. In fact, everything is the other way around. With your permission I will explain to Your Majesty.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Sharply) Shut up! I need no more of your explanations! Your moth of love will be thrown into the dungeon!

 

COMMANDER                    (Anxiously) Have mercy, my Shah! MANSUR is innocent! For him, this world itself is a dungeon!

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Choking from anger) Are you questioning my judgment, ALI IBN ISA?

 

COMMANDER                    (Hangs his head in guilty submission). I am ready for your judgment, may the Shah enjoy good health.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Looks the COMMANDER up and down. With bitter sarcasm). So, you too… my prudent, brave COMMANDER have succumbed to an impostor, a prisoner of his own sick dreams. (Silence falls on the palace. Everybody looks at each other cautiously) Go, I will talk to you later.

 

The COMMANDER bows and leaves

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (Quietly leans against his throne, distressed) My prudent COMMANDER ALI IBN ISA.

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           (Bending to whisper in the SULTAN’s ear) I would inform your Majesty that ALI IBN ISA is not the only one to be caught in MANSUR’s enchanted net. Even the high walls of this palace are powerless before HALLAJ’s spells, my Shah! (The sultan eyes his viziers fearfully) Many have seen ALI IBN ISA in a state of exaltation during MANSUR’s preaching.

 

Weird noises. Music

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (Shaken) Things have gone so far?

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS           (In a low voice) ALI IBN ISA is a supporter of a secret plot against the Abbasids.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                       (In a low voice). Bravo… What a deep net it is!

 

Enter FARRASH

 

FARRASH                            (Bows down) The members of the Divan await your invitation, Pivot of the Universe!

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM            (In a low voice to HAMID IBN ABBAS) ALI’s father Amir Zeynal Abdin ibn Shamsiyya was martyred for the Abbasids in the Farat battles. (Sighs). What a rotten world… (Reviving, to FARRASH) Let them in. (TO HAMID IBN ABBAS) We will talk this evening.

 

Music. Enter members of the Divan one after the other. They come forward in turns, bow down before the SULTAN and take their places. HABIB IBN MUSALLAM and SHAFIG IBN MUZAYYAM also take their places among the members of the Divan. HAMID IBN ABBAS continues standing next to the SULTAN - at the right side of the throne

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                        Bismillahi-r-Rahmani-r-Rahim, In the Name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate.

 

Divan members and VIZIERS join SULTAN IBRAHIM in saying the traditional blessing.

 

ALL                                                    God’s blessings be on Muhammad and Muhammad’s kin.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                  I declare today’s meeting of the Divan open.

(To AMIR TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT standing among the members of the Divan) AMIR TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT will advise us of the situation in the country, then we will discuss the other issues.

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT comes forward and bows.

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT          Greetings to the ruler of the worlds, SULTAN IBRAHIM! (Stops, cautiously) I fear that I do not bring news of good cheer, may the Shah enjoy good health.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                        (Leans his elbows on the throne’s arm) Speak up. Tell us the news you have brought. (To himself) This morning brought no good tidings, anyway.

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT          May I remind Your Majesty that at the last meeting I gave a detailed report on the difficulties facing the country as a result of the continuing drought in Baghdad –

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                  (Concerned) What is the situation now?

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT          (Shrugs his shoulders, with a guilty voice) The situation is slightly worse, Pivot of the Universe. Water and food reserves are running low. This year’s drought is an unexpected calamity. Our country has never seen the like!

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                  (Thoughtfully) Hmm.

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT          The fields haven’t seen a drop of rain all year. The arable land is unusable. The grain reserves are almost finished. The country faces the threat of a great famine.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                        (Concerned) I am aware of all this, TEYYUB. That’s why I have gathered you all here. (To members of the Divan) Please, make your suggestions.

 

DIVAN MEMBERS                         (Frightened) We can make no suggestions, my Shah! Nothing will help.

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT          (Bows down). May the Shah be in good health, I would like to inform you that I met many people before I came into your blessed presence. I sought the opinion of the most learned astrologers and fortune-tellers of Baghdad and the powerful sheikhs, the Order of the High Lamp. I wanted to hear what they have to say about this situation.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                  (Sits up straight, curiously). And –

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT          I informed them of the grave danger facing the country. I said that grain and water reserves are running low and asked them to show us the way out.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                  (Impatiently) What did they say?

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT         They asked me for more time, my Shah.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                  Hmm.

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT          I waited for a while – (hangs his head and stops talking)

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                        Why are you silent, Teyyub ibn Mursalat? Pray continue! Or did they also send you away empty-handed?

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT                      I am helpless before your mercy and generosity, my Shah. Yet, it appears that… (cautiously) this case is different (Stops talking).

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    Different? I don’t understand. (Suddenly irritated) Stop beating about the bush, TEYYUB, get to the point! Tell me what the sheikhs said!

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT                      It appears from the high sheikhs’ words that – (his voice trembling) man is powerless here.

 

A sound resembling the snapping of a string. The SULTAN and his noblemen look at each other perplexed

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT                      The wise sheikhs think it impossible for mankind to overcome this calamity, my Shah. They believe it is impossible to resolve the situation without the judgment of the Almighty Creator, master of the rains and the drought.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                              (Concerned) So-o-o - This is their advice.

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT                      The sheikhs advise giving alms to the poor, and praying and begging Almighty God to come to our aid.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Clicking his hand with the seal ring on the arm of the throne, thoughtfully). So-o-o, we have to beg…

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT                     (Cautiously) They also – (stops suddenly).

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Wakes up from his thoughts) They what? (TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT keeps silent). Tell me TEYYUB! Or have you swallowed your tongue?

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT                      (Cautiously). God is Almighty, my Shah, every disease has its medicine. The sheikhs advised me of a man who can help us in this matter. They said a devout, holy man, whose prayers are heard by the Almighty Creator, can help. (The SULTAN and VIZIERS look at each other). According to them, if that devout, holy man prays to God to send rain –

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Interrupting  him) Stop right there. (Suffocating from anger). Do you too mean that infidel HALLAJ?   

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT                      (Confused) That’s right, may the Pivot of the Universe enjoy good health.

 

A sound resembling a string snapping. The SULTAN and HAMID IBN ABBAS look at each other.

 

HABIB IBN MUSALLAM                          (In a low voice in the SULTAN’s ear) You see, this is the “uprising” I was talking about!

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT                      (Agitated). I swear by the eminence and might of Your Excellency that this man was recommended at the last moment by the most authoritative sheikhs of Baghdad – the Order of the High Lamp. Otherwise, I would not have dared to make such a decision arbitrarily.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Angrily, in a low voice). And these are my vigilant sheikhs.

 

TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT                      People in Ahvaz, Beyz and Sus also say that the Almighty hears Mansur, my Shah! 

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Suddenly furious) Do not shame yourself with such nonsense, TEYYUB! Were MANSUR God’s chosen one, He would give wisdom and intelligence instead of clothing him in rags and leaving him to wander half-starved through the cities! (To himself) La ilaha illallah. There is no God but God.

 

DIVAN MEMBERS                                               La ilaha illallah. There is no God but God.

 

SHEIKH ABU TOFIG                                 (Takes a step forward and bows) Your Excellency! With Your permission, I also have something to say.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Irritably) Go ahead, ABU TOFIG! Tell us, whom do we need?

 

SHEIKH ABU TOFIG                                 May the Shah enjoy good health. (Places his right hand on his heart as if giving testimony) I testify that there is truth in TEYYUB IBN MURSALAT’S words. (The SULTAN and members of the Divan are perplexed)

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (With bitter sarcasm) Bravo ABU TOFIG! May God’s blessings be upon you!

 

SHEIKH ABU TOFIG                                 I humbly ask you to hear me out, Pivot of the Universe.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Concerned) Speak, TOFIG... go ahead, be the next to show us the path of salvation and deliverance. (Lowers his voice). This country seems to be cursed indeed.

 

SHEIKH ABU TOFIG                                 (Bows down) If we believe in this drought and its creator, God, the path to salvation will be found.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Winces in irritation) Don’t beat about the bush, ABU TOFIG! Get to the point!

 

SHEIKH ABU TOFIG                                 MANSUR is truly one of the chosen holy men, may the Shah enjoy good health. His miracles are talked about throughout the East – Iran, India, Rome, China, my Shah. Through his preaching thousands have accepted Islam, thousands of Muslims –

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Interrupting irritably) What’s your point, ABU TOFIG? Are you saying that if this conjuror turns towards God and says let it rain, it will rain?

 

DIVAN MEMBERS and VIZIERS laugh

 

SHEIKH ABU TOFIG                                 AL-HALLAJ is an esteemed devout man with a pure heart, may the Shah enjoy good health. God has bestowed divine knowledge upon him. He may be compared to a rare pearl on the ocean bed.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Lowers his voice, suffocating with anger) And this is my learned amir! He thinks the Abbasid throne, which throws down the gauntlet to the world, has need of a heretic and infidel, an impostor who is causing mayhem in the country! Is this how you repay the trust placed in you, ABU TOFIG?

 

ABU TOFIG hangs his head guiltily. A strained silence envelops the palace.

Members of the Divan cast surreptitious glances at each other.

The SULTAN rests his chin on his hand and plunges into thought.

The hiss of the wind is heard. Mysterious sounds. The light changes.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Wakes up at the noise of the wind). What is this noise? What is it? Are the lights growing dim?

 

DIVAN MEMBERS and the VIZIERS look around in bewilderment. A loud screeching can be heard. Puzzled, everybody listens to the silence.

The doors of the palace room burst open and a VISITOR walks in wearing a long cloak, his face covered.

The SULTAN, VIZIERS and DIVAN MEMBERS freeze in bewilderment. The VISITOR walks around the room without speaking, peering in all the corners as if looking for somewhere to sit.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                              (Entranced, to the VISITOR) Who are you?

 

His voice echoes through the room

 

VISITOR                                                      (Stops) Me? (Indifferently) A passer-by.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Surprised) A passer-by? (Irritably) How dare you come here? What do you want?

 

VISITOR                                                       (Looks around) I’m looking for a place to sit down in this caravanserai. 

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Astonished) Caravanserai? (Bursts into rage). This is no caravanserai, this is my palace! How dare you talk like this?

 

VISITOR                                                       (Without changing his demeanour, to the people around) Who can tell me whose palace this used to be?

 

The DIVAN MEMBERS and VIZIERS keep a horrified silence

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                              (Stands up, furiously) My father’s!

 

VISITOR                                                       (Without changing his demeanour, to the SULTAN) Before him?

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    My grandfather Sultan Jahangir ibn Osman’s!

 

VISITOR                                                       Isn’t a place where inhabitants come and go a caravanserai?

 

A sound like a string snapping. 

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Astonished) Who are you? (His voice fills the room, resonating through the silence) Why have you come here? (Furiously) Answer me!

 

VISITOR                                                       (In a divine voice as though from beyond the grave) IBRAHIM! Wake up before you die!

 

SULTAN                                                      (Recoils in horror) Who are you?

 

The light changes. Scary music resembling a sudden storm. DIVAN MEMBERS and VIZIERS freeze in horror.

Enter FARRASH followed by armed soldiers.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (To FARRASH, pointing towards the VISITOR) Arrest him!

 

The VISITOR disappears before the soldiers can arrest him.

 

DIVAN MEMBER                                     He disappeared.

 

SECOND DIVAN MEMBER                   He just vanished.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Sinks onto his throne shaken. In a low voice). Go. (Silence. Roars in anger) Go, all of you! (Lowers his voice). Leave me alone.

 

Music. FARRASH, the SOLDIERS and DIVAN MEMBERS leave the room in turn, bowing.

The SULTAN is left alone. The light and music change. The flickering of the lamp creates a strange shadow dance in the semi-darkness of the room. The SULTAN watches the dance of shadows as if mystified.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (In horror) Why are you trembling like this? What are you so afraid of?

 

The shadow dance gradually grows larger; the shadows resemble the flames of a bonfire surrounding the SULTAN. The SULTAN holds his head in his hands and screams as loudly as he can. The shadows disappear. The SULTAN falls feebly to his knees.

The wind howls loudly and the windows burst open. The strong wind fills the palace, lifting the curtains and blowing out the lamps.

 


 

ACT I                        SCENE TWO

 

The yard of a mosque with a tall minaret. The yard is full of people dressed in turbans and long cloaks standing and talking in twos and threes. The sheikhs ABU AL-QASIM AL-JUNAYD and ABU BAKR AS SHIBLI are among them.

 

FIRST MAN                                                 (Annoyed) He always does this. Last time he made people wait until dusk too. He never gives a straight answer when you ask where he’s been.

 

SECOND MAN                                            You may as well ask where the wind blows, as seek to know where he was. (Glances to the sky) He doesn’t know himself where he’s been.

 

FIRST MAN                                                 May God forgive me, you mean he’s homeless, as God is my refuge?

 

People listen carefully to the two men.

 

THIRD MAN                                                (Aloud, so that everybody hears) Ibadullah’s right! He’s doing this on purpose! He enjoys making people wait! (More loudly) But what I want to know is this: why does he make keep so many people waiting? Some of them are elderly hajis!

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                         He’s right!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD         What has MANSUR got that we haven’t that he can keep people waiting so long?

 

SECOND MAN                                            (To people, aloud) He has the upper hand, as we need him, while he is free of everybody and everything in this world! (Silence in the yard).

 

FOURTH MAN                                            MANSUR is the salvation that our Merciful God has bestowed upon us and this country. The one and only God is witness that even the most powerful sheikhs of Baghdad have need of his words.

 

ABU AL-QASIM AL-JUNAYD                 (To ABU BAKR AS SHIBLI, in a low voice) He got far worse after his last pilgrimage to Karbala. He didn’t eat a piece of bread, or drink a drop of water for the entire pilgrimage. He kept fainting from saying his prayers all night till dawn.

 

ABU BAKR AS SHIBLI                            He seeks to conquer his own physical body!

 

The crowd is dismayed.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                         He’s coming!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD       Mansur is coming!

 

Music.

Enter MANSUR AL-HALLAJ followed by a few young MURIDS. The crowd parts to make way for MANSUR AL-HALLAJ. He passes through the crowd and approaches the mosque. He stops before reaching the door.

A sound resembling a string snapping.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                         He’s stopped.

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD       Why has he stopped?

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                       It’s as if he’s worried about something.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                           As if he doesn’t have the heart to enter the mosque.

 

MURID                                                          (To MANSUR AL-HALLAJ in a low voice) What’s wrong, sheikh?

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              (Looks in horror at the skies, then at the door of the mosque, in a low voice, as if talking to himself) When I leave, I am filled with terror but when I approach it, I am dying.

 

ABU AL-QASIM AL-JUNAYD                 (In a low voice to ABU BAKR AS SHIBLI) Bismillah, he is not himself again.

 

ABU BAKR AS SHIBLI                             (In a low voice). Every day he moves further from this world.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                           Praise be to the sultan of hearts, MANSUR!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD         Glory to the great saviour, leader of the ship of edification and salvation!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ enters the mosque and soon appears on top of the high minaret.

He casts drunken looks at the mosque courtyard down below, at the crowd listening carefully to him. Silence falls.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                         Bismillah.

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD       In the name of God.

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                       Speak, MANSUR! Sultan of hearts!

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                       Say something, Mansur! Wake up these sleeping souls!  

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                     We have gathered around your light, you are our candle!

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                         Speak! Rend the darkness of this world!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (In a low voice, as if cautious of something) Bismillahi-r-Rahmani-r-Rahim, In the Name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate.

 

Silence fills the square, then soft voices can be heard

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     Bismillahi-r-Rahmani-r-Rahim.

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                     In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                         La ilaha illallah! There is no God but God!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          God is my only delight in this world. I turn my face towards Him, I rely on Him – (Suddenly he grimaces as if an arrow has struck him on the back. To the skies, deeply moved, in a low voice). Leave me alone, please. Tear me away from yourself. I am (gesturing to the people below) one of them.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     What’s he saying?

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                   Can you hear him? 

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                         Speak up, Mansur! We want to know the truth!

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                       Is there justice in this world? If there is, show it to us!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (Waking up) Justice? (Silence fills the yard) (Pointing at the skies) Justice is his existence.

 

A soft wind moans.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     (Softly) He means God.

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                   (Softly) He’s talking about Him.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          His distance is not distant, it is a gap. (Music) His disappearance is not absence, it is not veiled.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                       Speak up, MANSUR, we can’t hear you! Where should we seek God? Where is He?

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (As if waking from a dream). Do not seek Him, He is everywhere. (Aloud) Hey, those who seek God! Listen and take heed! (Silence fills the yard). There is nobody above God to cast a shadow upon Him. There is nobody below God to carry Him on his shoulders. There is nobody ahead of God to meet Him. There is nobody behind God to run and catch up with Him. (Weakly) A dot is indivisible. (His head hangs down as if he is completely exhausted)

 

The light changes. Music. The yard fills up with colours resembling a mirage.

People listen carefully, enchanted.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     What is this?

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                   It’s as if something’s changed.

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                                   What’s going on here?

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (As if talking to himself, to unknown spaces) I searched for you everywhere – inside the winds, among the clouds, in the branches of the trees. I wandered through deserts and temples.  (Looks at the crowd) I searched for you in every face. (Becomes miserable) Where are you?

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     (Softly) What’s he saying?

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                   He’s speaking to the heavens.

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                         MANSUR, speak up! We don’t understand anything!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (Not hearing the voices, he speaks to the skies in a low voice as if in pain) Make me weak. I have no more strength. I cannot take it anymore. Turn away from me. Let everybody turn their faces from me! Let them grow sick of me! (His voice trembles). May I have debts to none but You. Or kill me!  

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     (Softly) What’s he saying?

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                   He’s saying “Kill me”.

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                                   He wants death from God.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     He wants to die.

 

GREEN-TURBANNED HAJI                               (Steps forward, to the people) Wait a moment, I have a question for him. (To MANSUR) Now answer my question, Teacher! How is it that when we gather here we understand everything, but as soon as we go our separate ways, we realize we haven’t understood a thing. The world remains just as it was. The same injustice, the same thuggery, the same unfairness.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (Wakes up, to the people) When a sleeping man is touched, he wakes up. But you don’t. You are dead.

 

Murmur from the crowd

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     (Anxiously) What did he say?

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                   He called us “dead”!

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                                   He said we’re “dead”!

 

GREEN-TURBANNED HAJI                               Hey, people, did you hear what he said? Let him explain himself!  He called us “dead”! If we are dead, then who is sleeping in the cemeteries?

 

The crowd is in uproar. The MURIDS want to pin the arms of the GREEN-TURBANNED HAJI and take him out of the yard.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                        Don’t touch him!

 

The crowd calms down

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          Let him listen. When he hears, he will be aware. Salvation lies in hearing, understanding and being aware! So, let him listen. Hear, understand and be saved. (Hangs his head down, in a low voice as if talking to himself) You who seek God… (Lifts his head, loudly) Hey, you who seek God! Do not seek him in books or intelligence or logic! (His voice drops) He does not fit in logic, or books, or intelligence. If anyone says, “I have understood Him”, that person does not know Him. He is beyond all knowledge and books!

 

A noise like a string vibrating

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (His voice grows softer) He is right next to you. If you could only understand that.

 

YELLOW-TURBANNED HAJI                            Jesus once said that and he was crucified!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (Lifts his right hand as if testifying) You who believe in God! (Lowers his voice) Do you believe in God?

 

Silence in the crowd

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                       (Softly) God’s blessings be on Muhammad and Muhammad’s kin.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          Listen and be aware. Jesus is Muhammad.

 

Noises resembling strings vibrating

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          Muhammad is Moses. Moses is Abraham. Abraham is Adam.

 

The light changes. People look at each other in fear.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     What’s he talking about?

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                   He’s mad.

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                                   He’s insane!

 

ABU AL-QASIM AL-JUNAYD                             (Shaken, in a low voice to ABU BAKR AS SHIBLI) He is with Him.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (Ignoring the voices, aloud) You, believers! Be aware. Those who were before us were us!

 

Silence in the square

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          Lowers his voice). Those after us will be us. The same is true of the prophets. Names, nicknames are different, but everybody is one man. The trunk is one, the branches are separate.

 

Music. The stage is filled with splendid colours.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     What’s he saying?

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                   Which prophets is he talking about?

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                         What do Jesus and Moses have to do with this? He’s lost his mind!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (Doesn’t hear the voices, ardently) A moth flying around a candle does not grow sick of either its light or its heat. It throws itself into the fire and disappears. People may wait for the moth to return, to say what it saw in the light of the candle. The moth will not return. (His face lightens). It is filled with the light of the candle. It has left no sign or trace of itself.

 

Murmuring in the crowd

 

YELLOW-TURBANNED HAJI                            What’s he saying, people! He is comparing the Prophet, sallallahu aleyhi wassalam, peace be upon him, with the Christian Jesus!

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                       Don’t listen to him! He wants to confuse us, to mislead us!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (Doesn’t hear the voices, to the people) Seek the fire of the candle within yourselves! You cannot borrow it from anyone else!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                     This man has lost his mind! He’s talking as if he’s come from the presence of God! (Comes forward and says to MANSUR AL-HALLAJ) Have you seen God? If you have, describe Him! 

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     The Haji is right!

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                                   Describe Him!

 

The crowd murmurs

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (With a faint smile) Is it possible to describe a ray of light, a smell? He – (Stares into space) is beyond all description and imagination.

 

ABU AL-QASIM AL-JUNAYD                             (In a low voice to ABU BAKR AS SHIBLI) I don’t like this. We have to get him out of here. (He wants to step forward, but ABU BAKR stops him)

 

ABU BAKR AS SHIBLI                                         Don’t touch him. He’s not himself. Right now, he’s like a fragrance that will diffuse in the air. 

 

YELLOW-TURBANNED HAJI                            (Steps forward, to MANSUR AL-HALLAJ) If God hears you, ask your friend to send rain to Baghdad! The fields are burning from the drought!

 

GREEN-TURBANED MAN                                  The Haji is right! Baghdad is burning with thirst! If you can, tell him to send rain!

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                       Save the country from this disaster, MANSUR!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                     Pray to our benevolent God to send us heavy rain!

 

MANSUR AL HALLAJ hangs his head in silence. Silence fills the crowd. Mysterious sounds like the threshing of the air are heard.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     Look, he’s gone quiet!

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                                   Why’s he silent?

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                   We’ve caught him out!

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                                   The truth will out!

 

FOURTH VOICE IN THE CROWD                     Hey, sultan of hearts! Don’t listen to these ignorant buffoons!

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     Hold your candle high, MANSUR!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (Lifts his right hand as if testifying, his face lights up momentarily as though in a flash of lightning) An al Haqq! I am the Truth!

 

The phrase “An al Haqq” fills the stage. People step back in fear. Music. Lights change.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     Look, he said it again!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                   He said: “I am God”!

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                                   He’s an infidel! He’s mad!

 

FOURTH VOICE IN THE CROWD                   Don’t listen to him!

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     He’s possessed by the devil!

 

Confrontation between the MURIDS and the crowd.

The call to prayer is heard. People stop at the sound of the azan.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          Oh, you, Muslims! I have a request to make of you. Help me… (Pointing at the skies) He has taken me away from myself… he won’t give me back … I am begging you, help me… (Shouts) Take me away from His hand! Listen! God has made it right for you to shed my blood! (His voice lowers) Why don’t you understand?

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                       (Anxiously) Allahuma salli ‘ala Muhammad wa Ali Muhammad

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                     God’s blessings on Muhammad and Muhammad’s kin.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ steps onto the balcony of the minaret and raises his arms. The long sleeves of his cloak make him look like a bird trying to fly.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                       (Astonished) Look at him! He wants to jump! 

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                   He’s going to jump!

 

The light changes. Mysterious sounds. MANSUR AL-HALLAJ’s silhouette can be seen flying down from the minaret’s balcony. MANSUR AL-HALLAJ descends among the people on the “wings” of his cloak. The people step back in terror.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (To the people, tears in his voice) Kill me, friends! Why have you stopped? Kill me, you will receive your reward! (Writhing in pain like a wounded man) Kill me that I might find comfort. (Suddenly beats his hands upon his chest as if making an announcement and shouts) May this accursed man be slain!

 

Astonished voices from the crowd. Music. The light changes. The yard of the mosque is gradually flooded with rays of light and mist from the depth of the skies. MANSUR AL- HALLAJ’s body shines from top to toe.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (Resplendent in the flood of light, with a divine voice as though coming from beyond the grave) An al haqq! I am the truth!

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                       (Astonished, anxious) Astaghfirullah, God have mercy.

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                   God have mercy.

 

The light changes.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     Hey, this man is an infidel!

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                                   He’s blaspheming!

 

FOURTH VOICE IN THE CROWD                   Silence him! Stone him!

 

People take stones from the ground and throw them at MANSUR AL-HALLAJ. Blood covers his face. The SHEIKHS and MURIDS try to stop the people. The crowd start stoning them, too.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (Looks at his hands covered in blood from his head. In a low voice, alone among the shouts of the crowd) Praise be.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     Kill the scoundrel!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                     He’s an infidel speaking in God’s name!

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                                   Death to the apostate!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (Ignoring the stones hitting his body and arms, in a low voice to the skies, as if talking to himself) I have a request of You – forgive them. They know not what they do. If they knew, they wouldn’t distance themselves from you. Forgive them. Put all their sins at my feet.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     Don’t listen to him! He’s lying!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                     He’s leading us astray from the true path! He’s an impostor and an infidel!

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                         He claims to be God!

 

FOURTH VOICE IN THE CROWD                     He says “I am God”! Stone him!

 

The crowd stones MANSUR

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (to the stoners) Thank you, friends! How merciful you are! Kill me! Killing me gives me life! My life is death, my death is life!

 

ABU BAKR AS SHIBLI                                         (Shielding MANSUR AL-HALLAJ with his body) Stop, people! Stop! What are you doing?

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                       (Stopping for a moment) We are stoning an infidel!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                   Enough of his blasphemy!

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                         He says “I am God”! Haven’t you heard?

 

ABU BAKR AS SHIBLI                                         You don’t understand! He’s not saying, “I am God”! It is not him who’s saying it!

 

People push ABU BAKR AS SHIBLI aside and continue stoning MANSUR AL-HALLAJ ABU BAKR’s voice is lost among the savage shouts and cries. The MURIDS around Mansur AL-HALLAJ also get hit by stones.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (Talking into space, blood trickling from his forehead onto his face) He who looks at the Sun and then turns to look at himself will understand that he is filled with the rays of the Sun and will say “I am the Sun”.

 

ABU AL-QASIM AL-JUNAYD                             (Loudly) Stop, people! Hear me out! He’s a madman blinded by God’s love! Have mercy on him! I beg you!

 

The crowd ignores ABU AL-QASIM AL-JUNAYD

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                       Whoever protects an infidel is an infidel as well! (They stone AL- JUNAYD, too)

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                                          (Doesn’t hear the voices, to the skies) You and me (looks at his body) are two lovers living in this body. Whoever sees me, sees You. Whoever sees You, sees both of us.

 

COMMANDER ALI IBN ISA and his soldiers enter the square, holding spears.

Seeing the COMMANDER, the crowd stops and makes way for him.

 

COMMANDER What’s going on here?

 

The courtyard is silent

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                       (Pointing at MANSUR AL-HALLAJ) It’s that infidel MANSUR AL HALLAJ! He’s misleading people and spreading blasphemy!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                     He says he’s God’s companion! He says “I am God”!

 

COMMANDER                                                      Put down those stones!

 

The people drop the stones. The COMMANDER goes up to MANSUR AL-HALLAJ and stands face to face with him. Music.

 

COMMANDER                                                        (In a low voice to MANSUR AL-HALLAJ) The torture you are enduring is the victory of faith, hope and love, sheikh.

 

Distant thunder can be heard. People lift their heads and look at the skies.

 

COMMANDER                                                      (To the SOLDIERS) Take him away.

 

The SOLDIERS put shackles on MANSUR AL-HALLAJ’s arms and lead him away. It starts to rain. People open their hands to the skies and raindrops fall onto their palms.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                                     (Astonished) Hey, look, it’s raining!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD                   Rain! We’re saved!

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                                   Thanks be to the merciful Creator!

 

Music. Lights change. Thunderstorm. Rainfall. 

 

MYSTERIOUS VOICES                                        (As though from beyond the grave) An al Haqq, I am the Truth.

 

People look at the skies frozen in astonishment.

 

 

END OF ACT 1

 

 



 

ACT II               SCENE 1

 

 

A palace room in semi-darkness. SULTAN IBRAHIM is asleep in bed, covered in a silk coverlet. A candle burns on the bedside table. Footsteps can be heard up on the roof. The noise wakes the SULTAN who sits up straight, concentrating on the noises from above.

Strange music.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                              (To the ceiling, loudly) Hey, who’s up there?

 

Quiet laughter can be heard upstairs.

 

VOICES UPSTAIRS                                  People that you know. 

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Seized by fear) Who – who are you? What are you doing up there?

 

VOICES UPSTAIRS                                   We…  (Giggling) are looking for our lost camel. 

 

Strange noises can be heard. SULTAN IBRAHIM throws the coverlet aside and gets up. He stares at the ceiling with big, frightened eyes.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Confused) Camel? How can they look for camels on a cupola?

 

No sound comes from upstairs for a while.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    Hey, strangers, answer me! How can a man look for a camel on a cupola?

 

VOICES UPSTAIRS                                   How can a man wear a Sultan’s robes and look for God? 

 

A sound like a string snapping. SULTAN IBRAHIM recoils in horror. The light changes. The SULTAN reels about the room, as if he is choking. There is a loud creak. The SULTAN looks round the door in panic.

Enter the servant FARRASH, carrying a burning candle.

 

FARRASH                                                   (Bowing) I am at your service, my Shah.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                              (Looks around in fear.) Why did you come?

 

FARRASH                                                    (Sleepily) You called me and I came, may the Shah enjoy good health.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                              (Staring at him) I did?

 

FARRASH                                                    If you don’t need me, let me go. (Steps back, bowing)

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    No, no, wait. (Putting on his silk jacket) Have you heard any noise up there (pointing to the ceiling)?

 

FARRASH                                                    (Looking at the ceiling, puzzled) No, Your Majesty.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Suddenly nervous) I can’t understand what you’re doing there. People are walking on the cupola and you’re fast asleep.

 

FARRASH                                                    (Astonished) People are on the cupola? (Looks at the ceiling in surprise. Concentrates in silence but no sound comes from the roof). Maybe you just heard something, my SULTAN. Or maybe you had a dream. 

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                              What dream? I’ve just been talking to them!

 

FARRASH                                                    (Stares at the ceiling, carefully) There is a strong wind outside, my Shah. Maybe its noise bothered you. It happens to me too sometimes. I hear strange noises somewhere.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    Don’t talk nonsense! You think I can’t tell the difference between the wind and a human voice? (Pointing at the ceiling). Listen. (Both concentrate in silence but it’s all quiet on the roof).

 

FARRASH                                                    I swear by the Koran that nobody would dare to climb up there. The palace is full of armed soldiers and sergeants, Your Majesty. Even a bird cannot fly here without your permission.

 

The wind howls outside like a wolf. The SULTAN listens intently to the wind.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Sits on the edge of his bed. Speaks to himself) Am I going mad?

 

FARRASH                                                   What is your command, my Shah?

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Pensively, without looking at FARRASH) Go.

 

As FARRASH bows, he knocks the candlestick in his hand with his shoulder, the candle falls out and rolls towards the SULTAN’S bed. The end of the silk coverlet is dangling on the floor and begins to smoke.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Wakes up from his thoughts, reacts in fear) What have you done?

 

FARRASH                                                    Oh no!

 

Although FARRASH jumps on the bed and puts out the fire, the room is full of smoke. Strange noises 

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Choking in the smoke, furiously) Get out of my sight, you idiot!

 

FARRASH snuffs the blackened candle with the edge of his garment. Bowing guiltily, he leaves the room. The SULTAN is alone in the semi-dark bedroom.

The sound of a strong wind can be heard outside. The SULTAN takes the coverlet with one corner burnt and looks at it.

Music. A mysterious silence in the room.

The flame of the candle on the bedside table flickers, illuminating the SULTAN’S face, unrecognizable from fear.

Strange noises. The SULTAN looks round and sees his reflection in the mirror opposite. He takes the candlestick and goes up to the mirror. He stands face to face with his reflection.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (To his reflection in the candlelight) What’s happened to you, IBRAHIM?

 

The light changes. The SULTAN’s reflection in the mirror is replaced with vast desert. The SULTAN recoils in horror. The wind roars.

The strong wind blows the windows wide open and fills the room with the sand from the reflection in the mirror. Strange noises. The light changes.

The SULTAN appears in the desert, before human corpses shrouded in white.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Astonished, quietly as though talking to himself) What does this mean?

 

Looks around and at the white shrouded bodies on the sand.  

A moan comes from one of the bodies. The SULTAN lifts the shroud.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                              Who are you?

 

DERVISH                                                      (Struggling for breath) I am a dervish. (Pointing to the shrouded bodies next to him) These people are also dervishes. 

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Sits down and takes the DERVISH’s head in his arms) What happened here?

 

DERVISH                                                      (Breathing heavily) We travel a hard path. It is such a path we should have travelled it more carefully, but we threw caution to the winds.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                              Tell me everything.

 

The DERVISH shuts his eyes for a while and says nothing as he struggles for breath.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Shaking the DERVISH) Speak, DERVISH, don’t go quiet!

 

DERVISH                                                      (Opens his eyes, takes a breath and says feebly) Traveller, however much you love God, you should keep your distance. You should not be too far from him nor too close. We – (struggling for breath) broke the rule. The most important one is that (pointing to the sky) you should be vigilant in obeying his commands. (Out of breath, he closes his eyes)

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Shakes the DERVISH) Speak, DERVISH, don’t go quiet!

 

DERVISH                                                      (Opens his eyes) Hey, stranger, I and the people you can see swore to love God and nobody but Him. (Music). We promised to take every step in His name towards Him. But we could not keep our promise. It came to pass that we met God’s favourite, Khidir Ilyas, on our way back from pilgrimage. We were glad and greeted him. “Thanks be to God”, we said, “that our efforts have not been in vain and we have met you.” That’s all.

 

Distant thunder. Afraid, the DERVISH and SULTAN look at the sky

 

VOICE FROM THE HEAVENS               You who swore to me! You broke your oath! You forgot me in favour of those I created.

 

The roar of the wind grows louder and it blows the sand into the air, scattering it all around

 

DERVISH                                                      (His voice getting lost in the roar of the wind) Now, traveller, those people that you see died because of that voice. So, IBRAHIM, (the SULTAN is surprised to hear his name) make your mind up now. Either you take the path that leads to Him, or you go back home.

 

As he finishes speaking, the DERVISH falls into the SULTAN’s arms. The SULTAN closes the DERVISH’s eyes, lowers him to the ground and covers him with the shroud.

He stands up, flings the saddlebag over his shoulder and is about to set out when lightning stops him in his tracks.

 

VOICE FROM THE HEAVENS              IBRAHIM! Wake up before you die!

 

Lightning strikes. The SULTAN looks at the sky in panic. Music.

The wind and dust storm slacken. The light changes and the area brightens.

SULTAN IBRAHIM’s bedroom is bathed in light similar to moonlight.

The SULTAN, candlestick in hand, stands in front of the mirror.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Turns back). I understand. This throne, this palace (to the sky) are a cage separating me from you.

 

The call to prayer can be heard in the distance. The SULTAN puts the candlestick gently in front of the mirror, takes off his silk jacket and throws it to the floor. He takes his seal ring from his finger and throws it on the jacket. He kneels down in his long white nightshirt.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (To the sky) Show me the ways that lead to You!

 

Music. A milky white stream of light fills the bedroom, making the SULTAN and the room invisible.


ACT II                    SCENE TWO

 

A dungeon in semi-darkness. MANSUR AL-HALLAJ is sitting on a low stump, writing. Sheets of his writing are scattered all over the floor.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              (Stops writing, as if talking to himself) You told me there is nothing within me but you. (His expression suddenly changing) But why? Why did you declare yourself to me? Why did you make me love you? Me, who was perfectly comfortable living in ignorance of you!

 

Armed WARDERS are seen on the steps to the dungeon. The WARDERS come down slowly and hold up their lamps to look through the door grille into the dungeon.

 

OLD WARDER                              (Softly) He’s here. Look, that’s him.

 

YOUNG WARDER                         (Excited, but softly) Bismillah, In the name of God, it’s a miracle. Just now he wasn’t here. I opened the door myself. I swear by our holy Koran that he wasn’t here!

 

OLD WARDER                                (Looks up carefully, softly) Shh, talk quietly, they’ll hear us (gesturing upwards). (Half-whispering) We’ll both be for the gallows – that matter...

 

The OLD WARDER opens the door with a big key taken from a large bunch hanging from his belt. The WARDERS enter the cell.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                  (To the WARDERS) Welcome. (Pointing to the written sheets on the floor). Help yourselves if you’re hungry. (The warders boggle at the sheets of paper) Whoever tastes this food will forget all other foods and flavours in the world and be free of them!

 

OLD WARDER                                (Goes up to MANSUR; in a panicked whisper) Look, stop turning our heads.  Tell us straight. Where were you just now?

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ says nothing, as if he doesn’t understand the question.

 

OLD WARDER                                (As quietly as possible) Answer me, MANSUR, don’t break our hearts. We have to know. Damn it, it’s our duty! This lad was here just now and he couldn’t find you. And the door was locked. There is no air vent here (pointing to the windowless dungeon walls). (Suddenly pitiful) For the sake of the one God, tell us the truth. Where were you?

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                  (Bends over his writing and gestures with his head) There.

 

The warders look at each other.

 

OLD WARDER                              There? Where?

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                (Writing) Next to him.

 

OLD WARDER                                (Hesitates, stressed) Are you playing a trick on me? Are you making a fool of a man old enough to be your father? (MANSUR does not answer and continues writing. The OLD WARDER lowers his voice in supplication) Stop it, son. Tell us the truth. Don’t make trouble for me in my old age, MANSUR AL-HALLAJ. Don’t take the bread from an extended family. Tell us this secret.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                (Raises his head, vaguely) What secret?

 

OLD WARDER                                (Softly) The secret of where you were just now! Even a bird can’t fly between those iron bars.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                  A bird? (Looks at the windowless walls, pensive) Yes, you’re right, old man. What is a bird doing in such a small cage?

 

OLD WARDER                                (Begging). Don’t change the subject, Sheikh, please have mercy on us. All right, you don’t feel sorry for me, but be merciful to this young fellow (pointing to the YOUNG WARDER next to him). I did the morning rounds yesterday. You were here, but the dungeon had disappeared. And today was the opposite. The dungeon was here, but you had disappeared. What trick are you playing on us?

 

YOUNG WARDER                         (Excited) The one God is my witness that yesterday morning this dungeon wasn’t here! And you were sitting on the same stump. But this morning you had escaped!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                  (Looks at the WARDERS, softly) Come closer. (The WARDERS approach MANSUR AL-HALLAJ He says quietly). Very well, I will tell you the secret. (The warders look at each other, then MANSUR). Just now, a little while ago, I was with Him (pointing to the sky). (A wave of sound like a string vibrating. The WARDERS jump up, looking around).

 

OLD WARDER                              (Excited, softly) With Him, then that is –

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                  (Looks upwards. The WARDERS gaze up at the ceiling too, wide-eyed.) And yesterday He was with me.

 

OLD WARDER                                (Excitedly, to the young warder) He is talking about God!

 

Strange noises. The light changes. The WARDERS leave the dungeon, excited. Sleeping PRISONERS in the next cell can be seen through a door grille in the depths of the gloomy dungeon.

 

OLD PRISONER                            We saw it too.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                (Lifts his head from his writing). What did you see? 

 

OLD PRISONER                             We won’t tell anyone the secret, but please explain it to us. What happens? We saw it with our own eyes.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                What did you see? 

 

MIDDLE-AGED PRISONER       This morning you weren’t here!

 

OTHER PRISONER                        Sheikh, please explain to us! We want to be saved too!

 

OTHER PRISONER                      Show us the path of salvation!

 

The PRISONERS all raise their voices

 

PRISONERS                                               Save us! Save us!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                  (Puts his pen down and turns to the prisoners) Salvation? It’s within you. Open the locked doors within yourselves.

MIDDLE-AGED PRISONER       What doors do you mean? We can’t find them!

 

YOUNG PRISONER                      We can’t do it, master! Tell us how to do it?

 

OLD PRISONER                             We did everything you told us, but – it’s pitch black, pitch black –

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                  (Thinks a while) Very well, let it be. (Puts the pen down on the stump and stands up, opening his arms wide to make the shape of a tree). Now, imagine that I am a date-palm. (The prisoners look at each other, then MANSUR in bewilderment). Imagine it, just imagine.

 

YOUNG PRISONER                       (After looking at MANSUR for some time without saying a word) It doesn’t work for me.

 

MIDDLE-AGED PRISONER        (To MANSUR) It’s not possible, Sheikh. You’re a scholar, but try to understand us. How can we imagine it? You’re a man and a date-palm is a date-palm.

 

MIDDLE-AGED PRISONER     Don’t reproach us, Sheikh. We can’t see anything.

 

OLD PRISONER                             Don’t put us through this test. We’re illiterate peasants.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                  (As if inventing something, to empty space). Look, I am a man. But the imagination is greater than me, than a man, than a tree. It has no limits. (His voice echoes)

 

The light changes. MANSUR moves his arms as if dancing a variety of dances. Strange noises. Astonished, the prisoners look at MANSUR through the iron bars.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                  (His enchanting voice spreads throughout the dungeon) Everything is helpless before Him. Knowledge, education, science. This world is helpless before Him.

 

The dungeon walls are turning transparent. Music. Dates fall from the sleeves of MANSUR’s cloak. The floor is full of dates. The dungeon walls melt away.

 

YOUNG PRISONER                  (Astonished) Ah! What’s that? (His face is illuminated) I see! Dates!

 

OLD PRISONER                            (Looking at the floor) I can’t see anything.

 

MIDDLE-AGED PRISONER       (To the YOUNG PRISONER) What can you see?

 

YOUNG PRISONER                 (Excited) Dates!

 

MIDDLE-AGED PRISONER       I can’t see anything!

 

OLD PRISONER                            Neither can I.

 

YOUNG PRISONER                  (Shouts, pointing to the dates rolling along the floor). Look! Can’t you see all those dates? (Grabs one of them, takes a bite then tucks in)   

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                  (Spins on the spot, as though doing a heavenly dance) La Ilaha Illallah, there is no God but God! (His voice echoes through the space)

 

The dungeon floor fills with orange dates as MANSUR shakes his arms. The PRISONERS stretch out their hands through the iron grille, take the dates and greedily eat them. Music.

 

YOUNG PRISONER                  (Gasps in surprise as he eats the dates) Ibadullah! God’s servants! The dungeon’s disappeared!

 

OLD PRISONER                                         (Looks around, astonished) Oh God, what miracle is this?

 

MIDDLE-AGED PRISONER                    (His face lights up) We’re free! (Shouts, his voice echoing throughout the space) We’re freeeee!

 

The PRISONERS embrace each other

 

PRISONER                                                  We’re free!

 

PRISONER                                                  We’re free!

 

MANSUR’s heavenly dance is gradually slowing down, his arms drop to his sides.

The music is interrupted. The dungeon walls reappear. The floor is empty, as are the PRISONERS’ hands. The PRISONERS look at each other in surprise.

 

OLD PRISONER                                        Bismillah! In the name of God!

 

PRISONER                                                  What was that?

 

PRISONER                                                  Were we dreaming?

MIDDLE-AGED PRISONER                    (Pointing to MANSUR, softly) He’s a magician. This is how he deceives people. He deceived us too with conjuring tricks.

 

OLD PRISONER                                         (To MANSUR, offended) You hoodwinked us, didn’t you?

 

MANSUR bends over the stump feebly.

 

OLD PRISONER                                        (Angry) Where are the dates?

 

YOUNG PRISONER                            He’s not tricking us. It’s our imagination. Don’t you understand? But look, me, I feel full.

 

MIDDLE-AGED PRISONER                   You’re imagining it.

 

OLD PRISONER                                         (Putting his hand on his stomach) Mmm, you know, I think I’m full, too.

 

YOUNG PRISONER                           But you didn’t believe.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              (Leans against the wall feeling weak, speaks softly). Man who is born of Adam cannot live by bread alone. (Silence) Jesus Christ said that. It’s what you call salvation.

 

MIDDLE-AGED PRISONER                   I don’t understand what he’s saying.

 

YOUNG PRISONER                            (Concentrating on MANSUR) Listen. He’s revealing the secret.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              Each of you has a Christ inside you waiting to be born. He is within you. Find him. (Closes his eyes).

 

YOUNG PRISONER                            Don’t leave us, MANSUR AL-HALLAJ. When you’re not here, this dungeon is dark as the grave!

 

Voices can be heard upstairs. The PRISONERS listen carefully. MANSUR wakes up.

 

MIDDLE-AGED PRISONER                   Can you hear? What is it?

 

YOUNG PRISONER                           There are people upstairs!

 

OLD PRISONER                                         (Concentrating on the voices) Yes, something’s going on there.

 

YOUNG PRISONER                           (Excited) Listen! It sounds like a fight.

 

OLD PRISONER                                         (Carefully listens to the voices. His face lights up). Yes, maybe that’s it! At last, an uprising! It’s happened! It’s the end of those tyrannical Abbasids!

 

PRISONERS                                               Thank God! 

 

The voices are getting closer. A group of armed men appears on the stairs down to the dungeon. The WARDERS, their arms bound, are among them.

 

REBEL                                                          (Sees MANSUR and shouts loudly for the benefit of those upstairs) MANSUR is here! (To MANSUR) Thanks be to the High Creator!

 

They untie the OLD WARDER’s arms. The OLD WARDER opens the dungeon door with a key taken from the bunch of keys. People go inside and open the door of the next dungeon, setting the PRISONERS free.

The PRISONERS embrace each other.

 

PRISONER                                                  Thank God!

 

OTHER PRISONER                                  Praise be to Him!

 

REBEL                                                          (Approaches MANSUR). You’re free, Sheikh!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              (Talks to the REBEL in a drowsy voice) What do you want, young man?

 

REBEL                                                          (Confused) All Baghdad is in revolt against your imprisonment, MANSUR! The castle is surrounded by crowds of people! They are waiting for you!

 

In the distance in Baghdad’s main square voices can be heard shouting “HALLAJ-HALLAJ!”

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              (Standing up straight, sorrowfully). I haven’t decided on a sermon for today. (Picks up the sheets of paper scattered on the floor and puts them neatly in order)

 

The REBELS look at each other embarrassed. The WARDERS and PRISONERS fall silent in astonishment.

 

SECOND REBEL                                        Don’t make us regret it all, Sheikh! Don’t waste our efforts to free you from this dark dungeon! Get up and come with us! Your prison life is over!

 

THIRD REBEL                                            We’ve been on the road for exactly two months, Sheikh!

 

FOURTH REBEL                                        Our love for you would not let us tarry on the way, MANSUR!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              (Putting the sheets of paper neatly on top of each other, cautiously). You don’t know. If you knew – (He falls as though he’s lost his balance and keeps silent. The rebels and prisoners stand rigid). What can this jail do to me? If just a grain in my heart falls in the mountains, they will dissolve.

 

Steps can be heard upstairs. Everybody fearfully listens to the voices upstairs.

 

PRISONER                                                   (Excited) Hurry up, MANSUR! We haven’t much time!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              (Puts the sheets of paper on his knee, leans against the wall as he did before and closes his eyes. Softly). Go. Don’t disturb me.

 

PRISONER                                                   (Crying) What are you doing, Mansur! You don’t think about yourself, but at least think about us!

 

Palace guards with lances and steel helmets and a steward appear on the prison stairs. The soldiers and REBELS fight. The soldiers shackle the REBELS.

On a signal from the STEWARD, the dungeon WARDERS throw the PRISONERS back behind bars and lock the door. Then they go up to MANSUR

 

STEWARD                                                   (To the SOLDIERS) Don’t touch him! (Smiling bitterly).  The day of his execution has not yet come. Let him savour prison life to the full.

 

The SOLDIERS take the REBELS away.

 

REBEL                                                          (Climbing the stairs) What have you done, MANSUR?

 

PRISONER                                                  (Sobbing) Damn you, MANSUR!

 

MANSUR keeps quiet and doesn’t open his eyes

 


ACT II                       SCENE THREE

 

A desert in the burning sun. Bearded and with shoulder length grey hair, SULTAN IBRAHIM goes on his way. He wears a dervish’s long robe, has a saddlebag on his shoulder and staff in hand. Music. He stops when he hears the call to prayer in the distance, takes his saddlebag off his shoulder, takes a water skin out of his bag, opens it and puts it to his mouth. The skin is empty. The SULTAN lifts his head and looks at the Sun.

Strange noises. The light changes. The DEVIL appears before SULTAN IBRAHIM in a long dark cloak.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                              (Steps back in surprise) Who, who are you?

 

DEVIL                                                           (Laughs with an odd smile. His voice echoes) Look at you, IBRAHIM, what have you done! They led you astray! You gave up your jewelled palace and your throne. You worshipped God. You went on foot to the Kaaba. And what did you get in return? Is this just reward for your trouble? You can’t even find a drink of water on this holy pilgrimage of yours! (Roars with laughter).

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (To the sky, weak from fear) You made me your friend, you woke me up, so why have you put an enemy on my path?

 

The Sun is eclipsed; a mysterious darkness covers the stage. A sound like a string snapping.

 

VOICE FROM ABOVE                              IBRAHIM! Throw away the silver coins in your pocket!

 

The SULTAN puts his hand in his pocket as if woken from a dream, throws away the silver coins hastily as though they were burning his hand. The DEVIL disappears. The area is getting lighter.

The SULTAN looks at the sky sorrowfully. He wipes away his tears, puts his saddlebag on his shoulder and sets off.

A horn can be heard far off.

 


ACT III                                 SCENE 4 (FINAL SCENE)

 

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM enters Baghdad’s main square. Crowds surround a scaffold erected in the centre of the square. Baghdad Sheikhs ABU AL-QASIM AL-JUNAYD and ABU BAKR AS- SHIBLI are also among the crowd. The Abbasid flag flies high above the main platform in the square. GRAND VIZIER HAMID IBN ABBAS is sitting on the SULTAN’s throne, VIZIERS HABIB IBN MUSALLAM and SHAFIG IBN MUZAYYAM and nobles are sitting next to him.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Mingles with the crowd and stands still. Asks an OLD WOMAN standing next to him) What’s happening here?

 

OLD WOMAN                                              (Looks at SULTAN IBRAHIM without recognizing him.) They will execute MANSUR, Sultan of the poor men. (Sadly, quietly) What has this poor fellow done to anyone? Since when has it been a sin to love God? How can God allow this?  (Suddenly angry) Damn that SULTAN IBRAHIM! (SULTAN IBRAHIM is shaken to hear his name, but controls himself and doesn’t show his feelings) He’s to blame for this execution! Never mind, never mind! Our God is Almighty! The day will come when his head will be on this block! (Dejected, the SULTAN leaves the old woman)

 

A horn is blown.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                           (Shouts) They’re bringing him! They’re bringing him!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD       They’re bringing MANSUR!

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                       They’re bringing AL-HALLAJ!

 

The crowd part. MANSUR AL-HALLAJ, his arms shackled, enters the square accompanied by soldiers.  Music. As MANSUR goes towards the scaffold, he performs a strange dance. The crowd shouts in astonishment.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                         Look at him! He’s dancing!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD       Look, he’s dancing! He’s lost his mind!

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                       Just look at him!

 

ABU BAKR AS-SHIBLI sadly looks at ABU AL-QASIM AL-JUNAYD

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                         He’s a wizard!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD       He’s the Devil! He’s dancing with death!

 

THIRD VOICE IN THE CROWD                       Death to the infidel!

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                           Death to the man who thinks he’s God’s equal!

 

Soldiers take MANSUR up the steps onto the scaffold. They make him kneel next to the block.

 

MAN IN THE CROWD                              (Comes forward, to MANSUR) Hey, you, God’s friend! What are you doing? Why don’t you call your friend to come and save you! (He gives a forced laugh but nobody joins in)

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              (To the block, softly) It’s good to see you, plain, old, head-chopping block. (Silence in the square). You know that there is no death.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                         What did he say?

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD       He’s talking to the block.

 

The HERALD climbs onto the scaffold and reads from a tasselled scroll.

 

HERALD                                                       (Opens the scroll and declaims loudly). ABU ABDULLAH AL HUSAYN IBN MANSUR AL HALLAJ is found guilty of calling himself a companion of God, of blasphemy, of harming the faith of the people of Baghdad through his preaching, of causing mayhem in the city, of insulting in word and deed the honour and dignity of the glorious Abbasid government! He is sentenced to death by the severing of limbs and head! Signed: SULTAN IBN SAID AL IBRAHIM! (Rolls up the scroll and leaves the rostrum)

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM covers his face with his hands.

 

CROWD                                                       Death! Death to the damned infidel!

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS and the nobles look at each other in satisfaction.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              (Not hearing the voices, his face illuminated by flickering sunlight, talks to the Sun) Hey, candle, why are you flickering?

 

The crowd is silent in astonishment. HAMID IBN ABBAS gives a signal from the rostrum to the STEWARD down below. At a signal from the STEWARD, the flagellators start to whip MANSUR AL-HALLAJ

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                         Oh, God!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD       Help him!

 

MURID                                                          (From the crowd, sorrowfully to MANSUR) Don’t leave us, Sheikh! Don’t leave your MURIDS in this prison called “the world”! 

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              (Intoxicated with pain, looks at his MURID) Do you remember, you asked me “what is love?” (Silence in the square as the people listen to MANSUR) It’s what you see! You will see it tomorrow too and another day.

 

MURID                                                          (Loudly) The world craves knowledge, but you crave God! Your love for Him separated you from everyone. (Sadly) It made you an exception!

 

At a sign from the STEWARD, the flagellators stop. Drums roll. The HEADSMAN mounts the rostrum, his face covered. The headsman unlocks MANSUR’s shackles and puts his arms on the block. He raises his axe into the air.

Screams are heard from the crowd.

The HEADSMAN brings his axe down onto the block. The blood from MANSUR’s severed wrists sprays the faces of people in the crowd. They recoil in horror. The SHEIKHS turn their faces away, while the MURIDS sob, their heads in their hands.

MANSUR smears his face, neck and throat with the blood from his severed arms.

People are horrified at the scene. Astonished screams.

Music.

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              (Passionately). Look! Look at me! Watch the gallows show to your heart’s content! (Noticing AS-SHIBLI in the crowd) AS- SHIBLI!

 

AS-SHIBLI pushes his way through the crowd

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              This is the new day that you talked about, look! (Out of breath from pain). I have performed my ablutions in my own blood.

 

AS-SHIBLI                                                    (Crying). Your torment is the victory of your faith, Sheikh!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              (Very weak, raises his head to the sky) Between you and me, this is a miserable creature writhing in pain! (His voice fading). Don’t take him seriously. (His head falls to his chest)

 

The HEADSMAN raises his axe into the air to make the next cut.

Shouts from the crowd. SULTAN IBRAHIM pushes his way through the crowd.

The HEADSMAN stops, his arm in mid-air.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                              Stop! Wait!

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS                                   (to VIZIER HABIB IBN MUSALLAM sitting next to him) Who’s that?

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Addresing the crowd, crying). What are you doing? God will not forgive us this sin! Kill me! It’s right for you to shed my blood!

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS                                   (To HABIB IBN MUSALLAM hesitating, slowly) I think I know this man’s voice. (As if stung, he suddenly recognizes SULTAN IBRAHIM, quietly to the VIZIER) Arrest him! (As the VIZIER wants to raise his hand to give the command, he stops him) Not yet.

 

The crowd murmurs.

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                           I know him! This dervish is one of MANSUR’s MURIDS!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD         Stone him!

 

People pick up stones and throw them at SULTAN IBRAHIM

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (His face and head wounded). I rescind my order! Don’t touch him! He’s innocent! (His voice is lost in the shouting of the crowd. Weakly, he falls to the ground in submission) They will not forgive us.

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS                                   (Softly to HABIB IBN MUSALLAM) Don’t delay, execute the order!

 

At HABIB IBN MUSALLAM’s sign, the HEADSMAN’s axe falls on the kneeling MANSUR, severing his legs at the ankles.

The crowd roars. AS-SHIBLI moves away from the scaffold, his face in his hands

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              (Bent double in pain, says feebly to ABU AL-QASIM AL-JUNAYD) ABU AL GASIM! (The square falls silent) Pain has no power to exalt man! (Trembling in pain, addressing the sky) I glanced at my beloved with the eyes of my soul. He asked, "Who are you? I said, "You!" (His head falls to his chest)

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                         Oh God, be merciful!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD       La Ilahe illallah! There is no God but God!

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              (Trembling with pain, into the empty distance) Hey, You on High! (Drops his voice) Answer me! (He summons all his strength, but his voice is getting weaker) Is there any sin that does not have faith inside it? (Silence in the square. His voice fills the square, drowning out other voices) And is there any faith that does not have sin inside it?

 

Flashes of lightning

 

MANSUR AL-HALLAJ                              (Straightens up suddenly as though in no pain, in a divine voice unlike his own) An al Haqq! I am the Truth!

 

A flash of lightning coincides with the words “An al Haqq”. The crowd is astonished. Music. People step back in horror. At HABIB IBN MUSALLIM’s command the HEADSMAN raises his axe for the last time and brings it down onto the block.

Shouting.

 

VOICE FROM ABOVE                             An al Haqq! I am the Truth!

 

Thunder and lightning. People look at the sky in horror.

 

VOICES IN THE CROWD                                   Bismillah. In the name of God.

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS and the nobles jump to their feet and stare at the sky, their eyes wide in fear.

The wind howls, and seems to blow the echo of “An al Haqq” “I am the Truth” everywhere.

People look around in fear.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                              (Crying) What have you done?

 

The crowd moves back

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM staggers to the scaffold and looks at MANSUR’s dead body in a pool of blood.

Silence fills the square. HAMID IBN ABBAS slowly settles back on the throne, losing confidence.

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Sadly to the crowd) The beggar and dervish standing before you was once SULTAN IBRAHIM, ruler of this land!

 

VOICE IN THE CROWD                           (Astonished) That’s him! That’s Sultan Ibrahim!

 

SECOND VOICE IN THE CROWD       Sultan! Sultan Ibrahim!

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Raises his hand. Silence in the square). The beggar of beggars now standing before you, SULTAN IBRAHIM the wayfarer, will speak. (Low moan of the wind) If a tree said “An al Haqq”, “I am the Truth”, you would kneel down before it. You would bow your heads to it saying “This tree is holy”. But you sentenced MANSUR to death. (People drop their heads) But these words have been spoken by all the chosen ones, all the saints of the world. It was not they that were speaking but Almighty God speaking through them!

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS                                   (From the platform, in anger) Silence him! This swindler is a follower of MANSUR’s apostasy! Arrest him!

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS’S order is not carried out. In shock, the COMMANDER and soldiers are fully concentrated on SULTAN IBRAHIM

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (To HAMID IBN ABBAS) Don’t put your trust in that throne where you’re sitting so comfortably, HAMID! It’s a dead tree!

 

HAMID IBN ABBAS looks around confused

 

SULTAN IBRAHIM                                    (Points to the flag flying over the platform You said this flag “will never be lowered again”, but they lower it whenever a strong wind blows.

 

The wind grows stronger. A dust storm envelops the square. The light changes.

The wind tears the flag from the pole fixed to the platform and blows it through the square at people’s feet.

Astonished voices from the crowd. The crowd parts and people look at the fallen flag. Thunder. Lightning. People look at the sky in horror. It rains. The headsman throws down his axe and runs. HAMID IBN ABBAS, his nobles and the crowd leave the square. The rain washes the blood from MANSUR’s dead body. Music.

The wind eases. The square lightens. Only the MURIDS and SHEIKHS are left, kneeling beside MANSUR’s dead body.

 

MURID                                                          (Stands up, to the audience). Look. This is MANSUR AL-HALLAJ who was killed for his love of God. AL-HALLAJ who vanished in the stormy Huseyn MANSUR AL-HALLAJ Sea….

 

SECOND MURID                                        (Stands up, to the audience). MANSUR is a saint who took our sins and the sins of this world upon himself. His torments are the victory of faith.

 

THIRD MURID                                            (Stands up, to the audience pointing to MANSUR) These people are the great salvation and consolation of all humankind. They are a reproach to the imperfections of this mortal world. Their presence humiliates despots, their death astonishes headsmen.

 

SHEIKH ABU BAKR AS-SHIBLI            (To the audience). He could reveal the most hidden possibilities of the human heart. He proved that perfect love could raise a man up high and that divine love is the only path of salvation for the son of man.

 

SHEIKH ABU AL-QASIM AL-JUNAYD He did this not to climb the ladder of holiness, but to live in this love and to die for its sake.

 

Music. The stage fills with people holding candles. They kneel down at MANSUR’s body.

 

CURTAIN