“Were we to visit her, we would find her earth
Fragrant, perfumed as Ambergris breathing;
Well-mannered, we would tread barefoot in her villages,
Beholding that in a secret Wadi were we walking…Editor’s Introduction, Muhammad Bin Abubakar Al Shilli, 1982:8.
These are the lines from one of the most celebrated Hadrami poets of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, Sayyid Abu Bakr bin Shihab about his hometown, Tarim.
Tarim is a hamlet situated in the Hadhramaut Valley of south Yemen. An important center of theological and juridical learning, Tarim is also an abode to several hundred Sayyed communities from where millions of them lit the candle of Hadrami Diaspora and migrated to various parts of the globe.
History of Alavi Sadath in Tarim marks a beginning by the arrival of Imam Ahmad bin Isa Al Muhajir (873-956 C.E) from Basra; Iraq. He foresaw the tribulations that would grasp Basra. Being realized the greatness of the sacred trust that he was carrying in his loins, he migrated to Hejaz. He is the ninth grandson of the Holy Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him). His family lineage is as follows: AL Imam Ahmad bin Isa Al Naqeeb bin Muhammad Al Naqeeb bin Ali Al Uraydhi bin Ja’far Asswadiq bin Muhammad Al Baqir bin Ali Zainul Abideen bin Fathimathuzzahra binth Sayyidna Muhammad (peace be upon him).
He left Basra with his wife, Shareefa Zainab binth Abdullah, his youngest son Ubaidullah, grandson Ismail (who is preferred to be known as Basari), and two children from his paternal uncles. His son, Ubaidullah had three male children: Basari, Jadeed, and Alavi. By the beginning of the 6th century, both the former’s lineages ceased to exist and only Alavi’s line of descendants survived, who were later known as Ba Alavi Sadath or Sadath Alaviyyin from whom plenty of scholars, saints, and propagators blossomed. One among them was Imam Abdullah bin Alavi Al Haddad. The first person to get the surname ‘Haddad’ among the Ba Alavis was his 7th grandfather, Sayyid Ahmad bin Abubakar, a Sufi saint who lived in Tarim in the 9th century of Hijra. He spent most of his time in an ironsmith’s shop in Tarim which earned him the name Ahmad Al Haddad (Ahmad, The Ironsmith). Imam Haddad’s parents were Imam Alavi Al Haddad and Shareefa Salma, A lady of great sainthood and granddaughter of Sayyed Ahmad Al Habshi, a prominent Sufi saint of his time. Once, Imam Alavi visited Sayyed Ahmad Al Habshi seeking his blessings. On meeting him, out of his sanctity and divine vision, Sayyed Ahmad told him” Your children are mine too, and there is a blessing in them”. Imam Alavi Says “I couldn’t make a point out of his words until my son Abdullah was born”.
Imam Abdullah Al Haddad was born on a Tuesday night, on 5th of Safar, H.E 1044 at Al-Subayr, A village on the outskirts of Tarim smallpox he suffered when he was about four years old, left him completely blind until his last breath. But he neither felt desperate for being nor did it affect his scholarship and efforts. Being blind, he memorized the holy Quran and penned a handful of textual works. He testifies “I was never treated like one who was blind, neither in walking nor in playing”. Since his childhood, he was trained as a religious scholar and practiced an ascetic life involved in intense worship and religious studies. Even in his early days, he spent a long time subsisting on coarse food and wearing rough clothes. He was so much indulged with self-torment to conquer his inner-self that his grandmother Salma used to say “Show a little kindness to yourself, Son.” When he was at the age of 17, he entered Khalwa (Spiritual seclusion) in a corner of Masjid Al Hujairah in Tarim in the same year he was married. In those days, He would spend his daytime in seclusion and a little time at night with his wife. He was reported to have his servant lead him to several Masjids of Tareem where he used to perform up to 700 Raka’ats of supererogatory prayersThe Graves of Tarim: Genealogy and mobility across the Indian Ocean, Eng Seng Ho.
He studied theology and Jurisprudence from many masters like his own father Alavi Al Haddad, Habib Umar Al Attas, Habib Aqil bin Abdurrahman Assaqqaf, Habib Sahl bin Ahmad Al Hudayli who were of prominent scholarship within the Ba Alavi community. It is an incredible fact that most of his masters turned out to be his students later. He studied Thasawwuf-based texts like Ihya Ulumuddin (Revivification of Religious sciences) and Bidayathul Hidaya (Beginning of the guidance) of Imam Al Ghazali from a jurist named Al-Faqih Ba Jubayr. Some of his well-known disciples were his two sons, Hasan and Husain Al Haddad, Habib Ahmad bin Zain Al Habshi who took over the Sufi Tariqah of Imam Haddad after his demise. He devoted his life to teaching and writing texts whereas he earned his livelihood from the plantations he owned. Even rulers came attending his lectures and many had sent letters of admonition and counsel from him.
His works were among the First Hadrami printed texts and are being translated into English, French, and Malay. His works including the texts, liturgies, and poems have been read and evoked worldwide. Most of them revolve around the attainment of Yaqeen (absolute certainty), unshakable faith in Allah, and messenger Muhammad. He mostly avoided including Jurisprudence in his works, which would limit the readers to only the Shafi’ite school of jurisprudence which he was adhered to. Foreseeing the laziness which would befall the coming generations in reading several voluminous texts, he made his works brief and simpler. Only recently have these works gained attention in the English-speaking world. Many of his liturgies like Rathib Al Haddad/Shaheer, Virdullatheef, and Virdul Kabeer are invoked among almost all the Sunni communities around the globe with great piety and honor. He is known as ‘Haddad Al Quloob’ (Blacksmith of the hearts)among the Hadhramis to have their corroded hearts transformed to as well-formed shiny pieces of ironAl Imam Al Haddad: Mujaddid Al Qarni Thani Ashar Al Hijri; Seerathuhu Wa Manhajuhu, Dr.Musthafa Hasan Al Badavi.
Imam Haddad lived at a time when Islam was at the onset of its decline. During his life, the British were already accustomed to trading in Yemen and the Portuguese had captured the Island of Socotra, 350 km off the coast. When he was young, Hadhramaut was conquered by the Qasimi Zaydis of Upper Yemen. It took him 56 years to see the Hadrami independence in 1715 at the age of 81.
Imam Al Haddad departed from this world in his home in Al Havi, Tarim on Monday night, 7th Dhul Qa’dah 1132 A.H (1720 C.E) and was buried at Zanbal cemetery, one of the three well-known cemeteries of Tarim, being Akdar and Furayth the other two having chosen as the resting place of several thousand Sayyed’s and saints who had attained higher spiritual stations.
Hashim Jilani is a prolific writer in both English and Malayalam. He has a keen interest in writing hagiographies. Currently, he works as a research officer at Malaibar Foundation for Research and Development (MFRD).