(A personal account by Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari on his trip to Yemen )
I begin in the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. All praise is for Allah Most High; and peace and blessings be upon His chosen servant, our master Sayyiduna Muhammad, his family, companions, and followers.
I have always had a desire to travel and visit the blessed lands of Yemen. The first time I heard about Yemen, and in particular Hadramawt, was when I was quite young studying Arabic grammar. At the time, I was around 13 or 14 years of age and had no clue as to where Hadramawt was on the map. Later, I became more aware of Yemen after reading the many virtues of Yemen and its inhabitants recorded in the sayings of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace).
The fact is that Allah Most High has blessed and honoured the lands of Yemen and given this country a unique status that no other place (besides the two sacred cities of Makkah and Madina) enjoys. There are many virtues mentioned in the various narrations (ahadith) regarding Yemen and the people residing there. This land has also been the abode of many Prophets (peace be upon them all), Companions (sahaba), scholars and pious servants of Allah (Allah be pleased with them all). Of the many narrations wherein the virtues of Yemen and its inhabitants have been mentioned, some are reproduced below:
1) Imam Bukhari relates from Abu Mas’ud that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) gestured with his hands towards Yemen and said: “Belief (iman) is there….” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 4126 & Sahih Muslim, no: 81)
2) Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “The people of Yemen have come to you and they are extremely gentle and soft-hearted. Belief (iman) is that of the Yemenis and wisdom (hikma) is that of the Yemenis. Pride and haughtiness are the characters of the owners of camels, and calmness and solemnity are the qualities of the owners of sheep.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 4127)
3) Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “The people of Yemen have come to you. They are tender-hearted and more delicate of soul. The capacity to understand (fiqh) is of the Yemenis and wisdom is that of the Yemenis.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 4129 & Sahih Muslim, no: 84)
4) Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Belief (iman) is that of the Yemenis while afflictions (fitan) appear from there (the east), from where the side of the head of Satan will appear.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 4129)
Imam an-Nawawi (Allah have mercy on him) mentions in his commentary of Sahih Muslim that there is no bar in attributing these narrations literally to the people of Yemen . They (the people of Yemen ) had strong faith in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), and the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) sensed this from the people of Yemen such as; Abu Muslim al-Khawlani, Uways al-Qarni and the delegations that came to him from Yemen . Hence, attributing faith (iman) to Yemen meant that the people of Yemen had strong and complete faith, but this did not negate that others also had strong faith.
As far as Fiqh and Hikma are concerned, the former (fiqh) means to have a deep understanding of religion, whilst the latter (hikma) refers to having conscious acknowledgment of Allah Most High (ma’rifa), coupled with self-reformation, good character and abstaining from following one’s desires and falsehood.
The meaning of “they are extremely gentle and soft-hearted” is that they are the people of timidity (khashya) and have an attitude of humble acceptance (istikana). They are extremely quick in accepting genuine advice and Nasiha, and are easily affected by it. They are immune from harshness, hard-heartedness and ruggedness. (See: Nawawi, al-Minhaj Sharh Sahih Muslim, P: 158-159)
The above few narrations related from the beloved of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) single out Yemen and its inhabitants with great qualities. Strong faith, complete belief and true conviction is said to exist in Yemen , with the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) gesturing and pointing his hands in the direction of Yemen and saying “Iman is there”. Similarly, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) cites wisdom and deep understanding of religion to exist in Yemen . Moreover, when a delegation comes to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), he mentions the qualities and characteristics of the people of Yemen saying that they are extremely soft-hearted people and very humble.
The few narrations above have been taken directly from the two most authentic books of Hadith, namely Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. However, these narrations are not the only ones recorded in the praise of Yemen and its inhabitants; rather, there are many other Ahadith. Let us look at some more narrations in this regard:
5) Sayyiduna Zayd ibn Thabit (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) looked towards Yemen and said: “O Allah! Turn their hearts (towards Iman)…” (Sunan Tirmidhi, no: 3934)
6) Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “…..And trustworthiness (amana) is in (the tribe of) Azd, meaning in Yemen .” (Sunan Tirmidhi, no: 3936)
7) Sayyiduna Jubayr ibn Mut’im (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that once the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) looked up towards the heavens and said: “The people of Yemen have come to you like the pieces of clouds. They are the best of people on the face of the earth.” A Companion asked: “O Messenger of Allah! Are they even better than us?” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) replied: “Except you.” (Musnad of Imam Ahamd, Musnad Bazzar and Musnad Abu Ya’la. See: Majma’ al-Zawa’id, 10/54)
8) Sayyiduna Amr ibn Abasa (Allah be pleased with him) relates that Uyayna ibn Hisn al-Fazari once remarked in the presence of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) that the best of men are ….the people of Najd. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) replied: “You have lied! Rather, the best of men are the people of Yemen . Belief/faith (iman) is Yemeni and I am also a Yemeni.” (Tabrani and Ahmad, with all the narrators in the chain authentic (thiqat). See: Majma’ al-Zawa’id, 10/44)
In this last Hadith, it was mentioned in the presence of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) that the people of Najd were the best of people, but the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) was quick to reject this notion saying that this was wrong; rather, the people of Yemen were the best amongst people. This Hadith reminds us of another narration recorded by Imam al-Bukhari and others wherein the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “O Allah! Give us Baraka in our Sham, O Allah! Give us Baraka in our Yemen .” They said: “And in our Najd?” and he said: “O Allah! Give us Baraka in our Sham, O Allah! Give us Baraka in our Yemen .” They said: “And in our Najd?” and I believe that he said on the third occasion: “In that place (najd) are earthquakes and seditions, and in that place shall rise the devil’s horn.” (See: Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 990)
In the final part of the last Hadith, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) referred himself as a Yemeni. The reason could be (And Allah knows best) that ” Yemen ” was in fact the name of Qahtan’s son, and Qahtan was a forefather of the Arabs and was from the children of Sayyiduna Isma’il (peace be upon him). Hence, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) had a relationship of ancestry with the Yemenis. It could also mean that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) was implying that he liked the character and manners of the Yemenis; hence he referred himself to be “as” a Yemeni for having something in common with them. Whatever the reason may be, the fact that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) called himself a Yemeni is such a virtue for the people of Yemen that it cannot be underestimated.
9) In another narration, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) is reported to have said: “Faith is of the Yemenis, and they (the people of Yemen ) are from me and their direction is towards me, even if they are far from me in distance. It will be very soon that they come to you as helpers (ansar); hence I command you to be good with them.” (Tabrani with a sound [Hasan] chain. See: Majma’ al-Zawa’id, 10/55)
There are also other Ahadith in which the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) praised the tribes of Yemen such as the tribes of Himyar and Azd. He said that a time will come when a man will wish that his father and mother were from the tribe of Azd. (See: Sunan Tirmidhi, no: 3937). He (Allah bless him & give him peace) also said that the people of Himyar are the people of trustworthiness and faith. (See: Sunan Tirmidhi, no: 3939). Thus, the Ahadith and narrations praising the lands of Yemen and its people are numerous to the extent that if one was to gather all of them with commentary, an entire book may be compiled!
Any Muslim who has knowledge of these sayings of the beloved of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) would naturally long to visit Yemen and its people. Indeed, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) made these remarks according to his time, but when Allah Most High places certain qualities in a people, the effect of these qualities remain even after centuries have elapsed. Moreover, Yemen was also the abode of many of the Messenger of Allah’s Companions. He (Allah bless him & give him peace) sent Sayyiduna Mu’az ibn Jabal (Allah be please with him) to Yemen . There are also other Companions who lived and taught in Yemen . All of this in addition to the fact that Yemen has produced, and continues to produce, some of the greatest scholars, Mujtahids, Imams and saints of this Ummah.
Due to the above reasons, for some time I have had this deep desire to visit Yemen , its people, its scholars and the religious institutions present there. It was only through the sheer mercy of Allah Most High that He blessed me with this opportunity in the month of July, 2005.
Friday 8th July 2005
On Friday the 8th of July 2005, I left with my family for San’a (the capital of Yemen ) via Dubai on an Emirates Airlines flight. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 2: 15 pm local time from Gatwick Airport in London. It was only a day after the recent 7/7 attacks on the London Underground tube network. Predictably, there was a heavy presence of armed-police with dogs. Just looking at this sight was quite intimidating and scary. I thought to myself, what if they stop and question me because of my skin colour and because I obviously look like a Muslim? (I was incidentally wearing a long thawb and have grown a beard.) We walked through the gates of the Airport-departure lounge with Police and security personal everywhere. Any citizen of the UK (and elsewhere) should not have this fear whenever he/she travels and goes about his/her normal business. People should not be targeted by the police just because they are Muslims or look like Muslims. Stop and searches should be based on good intelligence, not on skin colour, ethnic background or religion. There is a genuine fear and concern within the Muslim community that they are being targeted by the police trying to prevent potential terror attacks. We are the citizens of this country and we should be no different from other citizens. I sincerely hope that the Government looks into this and makes sure that innocent people are not targeted for abuse. Muslims want to live in this country peacefully and without any fear of someone attacking them, abusing them or arresting them for no reason.
Al-Hamdulillah, our passage through the check-in and to the plane went very smoothly. Everyone, as normal, was very friendly and welcoming. There was no sign of any hate, intimidation or pointing of fingers. The flight from London to Dubai was around 7 hours long, after which we had to wait for around 5 hours in Dubai Airport before boarding the plane to Yemen . I spent the night in Dubai reading a book by my respected teacher Shaykh Mufti Taqi Usmani (may Allah preserve him) about his travels around the world. I was particularly interested in the part where he talks about his short visit to San’a. I also used some of the time by visiting the internet café and emailing some friends. In the remainder of the time, I tried getting some sleep but to no avail. The Adhan for Fajr Salat was announced and al-Hamdulillah I managed to offer my Salat and we also had something to eat. Soon, an announcement was made for passengers travelling to the Yemeni capital (San’a) to make their way to the boarding gate and finally we left for San’a at around 6: 30 am local (Dubai) time. The flight from Dubai to San’a was short, around 2 and a half hours. It was indeed a relief after the long flight from London to Dubai and the long wait in Dubai. I saw a group of brothers who were dressed according to the Sunnah in their turbans, long Thawbs and beards on the same flight as me. After speaking to one of them, I was informed that they were part of the Jama’ah Tabligh from Sri Lanka and were visiting San’a for the purpose of Da’wa. Al-Hamdulillah, the brothers seemed very sincere and generally had a great concern for the Muslim Ummah. May Allah reward their efforts and all those who strive in the various fields of Da’wa work, Ameen.
Saturday 9th July, 2005
We landed at San’a international Airport at around 10am local time. San’a Airport is quite small and modest, in complete contrast to Dubai Airport that we had left behind. We purchased our visas at the airport. I was asked regarding my destination in Yemen , to which I replied that I was intending to visit Dar al-Mustafa in Tarim. All the formalities of passport and immigration went smoothly, Al-Hamdulillah, and thus we hired a taxi and headed for our hotel.
In the City of San’a
San’a is the capital of Yemen with 1.85 million inhabitants (2005 estimate), and one of the oldest cities of the world. Some historians have stated that the city’s foundations were laid by the grandson of Sayyiduna Nuh (peace be upon him) whose name was Ghamdan. Among the city’s ancient names is Azal. When the people of Habasha arrived, they were amazed to see the city being made out of bricks and stones as a fortress, hence they said: “This is a firm construction (hazihi san’ah)”. San’ah in Arabic is from the root-word “sana’a yasna’u” which means to make, construct and build. When the Habashis said this, the city began to be called San’a. (See: Yaqut al-Hamawi, Mu’jam al-Buldan, 3/426)
San’a is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities of the world from an aesthetic point of view. San’a has a very distinctive architecture; hence, it is high on the preservation list for many international heritage organisations. The city is situated between two huge mountains, Ayban in the West and Nuqum in the East. The city is very close to the equator and lies roughly 2150 metres above sea-level and is famous for its moderate climate with sunshine all year round. Even in the midst of a summer, amazingly there was no need for a fan or air conditioning. The economy of San’a is based on the fruits grown in the region. Present-day San’a is divided into two parts: Old San’a (San’a al-Qadima) and New San’a (San’a al-Jadida).
The city of San’a has remained under the rule of many civilizations. When the people of Himyar were in power, the King of Habasha ( Abyssinia) sent two of his commanders, Abraha and Aryat, to take control of the city and they duly obliged, and thus San’a came under the rule of the Habashis. (Incidentally, Abraha was the one who made his own Ka’ba-like place of worship in Yemen and intended to demolish the house of Allah, the story of which has been mentioned in Surah al-Fil. More details concerning this event will be mentioned further along, Insha Allah). San’a stayed in the control of the Habashis for around seventy years until an individual from the Himyaris known as Sayf ibn Yazin al-Himyari approached Kisra (the king of Persia) to help the Himyaris conquer and regain the city from the Habashis. This Himyari managed to take back San’a with the help of the Persians and was made the king of the city. The king of Persia (Kisra) also had overall control of San’a and the lands surrounding it. He appointed many of his men as governors of the various cities in Yemen .
San’a and its surrounding areas remained in the overall control of the King of Persia until Allah Most High blessed humanity with the birth of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). After the Messenger of Allah’s (Allah bless him & give him peace) migration to Madina al-Munawwara, he wrote letters to the many leaders of the world inviting them to the true and pristine teachings of Islam and to the worship of Allah only, Who has no partners. One such letter was also sent to Kisra, the King of Persia. The letter was delivered to Kisra and read out to him, upon which he tore it to pieces and threw it away. When the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) was informed of this, he prayed that the Kingdom of Kisra gets destroyed just like he tore his letter.
Kisra had appointed a person by the name of Bazan (some have said Bazam) as a governor of Yemen . Kisra sent him a message to send two of his brave officers to this person who resides in the Arabian Peninsula and claims to be a Messenger of God, so that they may arrest him and bring him to Kisra. In accordance with Kisra’s orders, the ruler of Yemen (Bazan) sent to the Hijaz two brave and strong officers who delivered Bazan’s letter to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and said they were under a command to take him to Yemen with them. They said Bazan will correspond about you with Kisra and will do what he (Kisra) says. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) heard their words with extreme calmness and before replying to them, he invited them to embrace Islam. They were so overawed by the greatness, formidability and calmness of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) that when he invited them to embrace Islam they were trembling. They observed incredible things in the presence of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). In the meantime, the Angel Jibra’il came with a revelation to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and informed him that the King of Persia (Kisra) was assassinated by his own son. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said to these two officers: “Go back to your leader (Bazan) and inform him that my Lord (Allah Most High) killed his Lord (Kisra) last night.” The two officers hurried back to Yemen , full of awe and fear, and informed Bazan what had happened. Bazan said: “If this news is correct he is certainly a Messenger of God and should be obeyed”. Soon, Bazan received a letter from the son of Kisra (Shiruyah) with these words: “Be it known to you that I have killed my father Kisra. The wrath of the nation prompted me to kill him because he killed the nobles (of Persia ) and dispersed the elders. As soon as you receive my letter, you should obtain oath of allegiance for me from the people; and until you receive further orders from me don’t be harsh to the man who claims to be a Prophet and against whom orders had been issued by my father.”
This whole episode prompted Bazan and his government employees, all of whom were residing in Yemen , to embrace Islam. Bazan wrote to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and informed him about his own conversion to Islam as well as that of the employees of his government and many others. This was the beginning of the Messenger of Allah’s message reaching the lands of Yemen and in particular San’a. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) maintained Bazan (Allah be pleased with him) as the governor of San’a. Imam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (Allah have mercy on him) states in his al-Isaba that Bazan was from amongst the Persians who the king (Kisra) had sent as a ruler of Yemen . He embraced Islam after the death of Kisra and the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) maintained him as the ruler of Yemen .
Bazan (Allah be pleased with him) remained the ruler of San’a and surrounding areas until he passed away. After his death, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) appointed his son, Shahr ibn Bazan, the governor of San’a and surrounding provinces. Thereafter, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) sent many of his Companions to various parts of Yemen . He sent Sayyiduna Ali, Sayyiduna Khalid ibn al-Walid, Sayyiduna Abu Musa al-Ash’ari and others (Allah be pleased with them all). He sent Sayyiduna Mu’az ibn al-Jabal as a teacher to the people of Yemen towards the latter part of his life, when he indicated to Sayyiduna Mu’az whilst seeing him off that this may be their final meeting, the Hadith regarding which is renowned in the books of Hadith.
Hence, San’a and other parts of Yemen were flourishing with Islamic teachings and practices. Unfortunately, during the last few days of the Messenger of Allah’s stay in this world, a person called Aswad al-Anasi emerged and claimed to be a Prophet of God. He along with his army of 700 fighters headed for San’a and captured it from the control and rule of Shahr ibn Bazan. Many people unfortunately left Islam and began to follow him and his people. However, his control over San’a did not stay for long, and through the help of Allah he was killed by the Companion Sayyiduna Fayruz al-Daylami (Allah be pleased with him). Fayruz al-Daylami (Allah be pleased with him) was from amongst those people who came in a delegation to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) from San’a. He has also narrated a Sahih Hadith from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). He managed to kill Aswad al-Anasi just days before the Messenger of Allah’s demise from this world. Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) was informed from the heavens about the assassination of Aswad al-Anasi. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) emerged from his room to give us the good news. He said: “Aswad was killed last night. He was killed by a fortunate person from a fortune and blessed family.” It was inquired, who killed him O Messenger of Allah! He replied: “He was killed by Fayruz al-Daylami.”
This whole incident (of the killing of Aswad Anasi) took place during the Messenger of Allah’s last few days in this world when he was in his illness that led to his demise. Aswad al-Anasi’s rule over San’a only remained for approximately 3 months before he was killed. Thereafter, Muslims once again regained San’a and since then the city has always remained in the control of the Muslims. It is reported that Fayruz al-Daylami (Allah be pleased with him) said: “We killed Aswad and things returned back to normal in San’a. We requested Mu’az ibn Jabal (Allah be pleased with him) to come to San’a and he agreed, hence he used to lead us in prayer. By Allah, we had not offered prayers for 3 days except that the news of the Messenger of Allah’s (Allah bless him & give him peace) passing away reached us. (The above details culled from Ibn Kathir’s al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya, 6/337-342, Ibn Hajar’s al-Isaba fi Tamiz al-Sahaba, 1/170 & Ibn Abd al-Bar’s al-Isti’ab fi Ma’rifat al-Ashab, P: 602-693)
The hotel we were staying at was in the centre of San’a, in the new part of the city to be precise. One of my friends, brother Sidi Faiz Qureyshi, who studies in Dar al-Mustafa (Tarim), had emailed me all the relevant information that I needed for my stay in Yemen. He suggested that I should stay in the Al-Mustaqbil hotel. Funduq al-Mustaqbil is a relatively cheap hotel but neat and tidy. It is situated in an area called al-Tahrir. After reaching the hotel, I performed my Zuhr Salat and then took a much-needed rest (I had not slept for over 20 hours). I woke up before Maghrib prayer in time to offer my Asr Salat. Thereafter, I went out of the hotel to a local Mosque to offer my Maghrib prayer. It was raining outside and quite chilly and windy. Despite the roads being flooded with water and mud everywhere, the Mosque was completely full with worshippers who came to offer their Maghrib prayers.
After Maghrib Salat, I phoned a local Yemeni brother, whose name was Fari’ and whose contact details were given to me by brother Faiz, and informed him that I had reached San’a. Sidi Faiz had already informed this brother of my arrival; hence he was anticipating my call. The brother swiftly came to my hotel shortly after Maghrib Salat and we had a small chat about how to organise my schedule in terms of visiting the various sights in San’a. Brother Fari’ then suggested we go for a walk and see the surrounding area. We toured the roads and streets of the Tahrir area in San’a. We were virtually in the centre of San’a and right besides our hotel was the Tahrir square (maydan al-tahrir). It’s an open square and the best place for open air photography. The surrounding areas, main roads and side streets are full of shops and you can virtually buy anything at a very good price. Dozens of modern shops around the square sell cheap Japanese electronics as well as imported clothing and souvenirs. Tahrir Square is the nerve centre of the new city, the place from where tourist trips depart and return. It is a bustling modern district of shops, hotels and restaurants. On the south edge of the square stands the Military Museum, while to the north is the National Museum. Most of the small townhouse hotels are clustered in this area, as are some decent eateries and local cafés. One is able to find stands selling freshly squeezed juices of fruits such as oranges, pomegranates, bananas, grapes, melons and mangos. There were a few Islamic bookshops and my guide suggested we have a quick look inside. Thereafter, we went to a nearby Mosque and offered our Eisha prayer, after which my guide escorted me back to our hotel.
The Town of Hadda
My family and I had not eaten anything all day long thus we decided to go and have something to remove our hunger. We enquired from the locals as to where we could find some good restaurants. We were advised by one local brother to go to an area called Hadda. Hadda is a small town about 10km SW of San’a and a ten minute drive from San’a city centre. It is full of restaurants and takeaways, with both types of food available: traditional Yemeni as well as western. We went there by Taxi and I have to say, there were some great restaurants available to choose from. We had our dinner, strolled around the area window-shopping for a while and then returned to our hotel and retired to bed. On the way back, I purchased some pure honey that was produced locally. Since ancient times, Yemen has been famous for the excellent quality of its honey that was widespread in the valleys of Eastern Yemen in the pre-Islamic period. In modern-day Yemen, an offer of honey continues to have an important role when welcoming a guest. Honey is often served in banquets. Honey and eggs are considered important for fertility and physical strength and therefore are given to young bridegrooms. Yemeni tradition prescribes honey together with melted butter for consumption by mothers immediately after childbirth. It is also widely used in folk medicine. In San’a city centre, honey is usually sold in bottles or plastic tanks. The taste of the honey was indeed delicious and scrumptious!
Sunday 10th July, 2005
The following day, our guide made a plan of taking us to the old part of San’a, visiting a grave of a Sahabi (Allah be pleased with him) and some sight-seeing. In the morning, we went around some of the shops in and around the Tahrir area close to our hotel, visited some bookshops and had lunch. After taking a rest and performing our Asr Salat, we headed first to the old part of San’a called San’a al-Qadima.
Old San’a (San’a al-Qadima)
The old city of San’a is unique, exceptional and amazingly beautiful. It is surrounded by a thick wall, whose history goes back to pre-Islamic times. This wall has seven gates through which you can enter the city. The most famous of these gates is the Yemen gate (bab al-Yemen). This gate stands till today in its old place, forming one of the archaeological sites of the ancient city of San’a. Surrounded by ancient clay walls which stand six to nine metres (20-30ft) high, the old city is a wonderland of over 100 Mosques, 12 Hammams (baths) and 6500 houses. Most of the buildings date back to the seventh and eighth centuries BC, when the city achieved prominence as an important centre for Islam, and were constructed from dark basalt stone and brick.
Our guide parked the car just outside the ” Yemen gate” and we entered the city on foot through this historic gate. The sight before my eyes was something I had never witnessed before. I was completely lost in my admiration of the houses, buildings, the general architecture and the structural designs of the city. We strolled inside the city admiring the houses, shops, the streets and alleys. The pathways and roads were also built with traditional bricks and stones, and the houses were several stories high. They were nicely ornamented from the outside and lined the narrow streets of the old town. It was a sight worth beholding!
Old San’a is filled with shops, Souqs and bazaars where one is able to purchase almost everything. One of the most popular attractions is the 1000-year-old Suq al-Milh (salt market) where it is possible to buy not only salt but also bread, spices, raisins, cotton, copper, pottery, silverware, antiques and a host of other goods. The rest of the Souq (market) is divided into different sections. The jewellers are in one section, the leather sellers and makers in one section, the blacksmiths in a different section and so forth.
The Consumption of Qat
As we walked through old city San’a, I noticed many locals constantly chewing on something that seemed like some kind of leaves. They were holding a plant in their hands and kept consuming from it. They continually chewed on this to the point that it seemed they had a massive bulge on one of their cheeks! Many shop-keepers would just sit in their shops and carry on chewing all day long. Upon enquiring, I was informed that they were chewing on what was locally called Qat.
Qat or Khat is the Arabic term for Catha edulis and is used throughout Yemen and some other countries. Qat is a natural stimulant from the Catha edulis plant, found in the flowering evergreen tree or large shrub which grows in East Africa and Southern Arabia to tree size. It reaches heights from 10 feet to 20 feet and its scrawny leaves resemble withered basil. Qat is chewed like tobacco and has the effect of a euphoric stimulant. In Yemen (and more specifically in San’a), Qat is used daily by 85% of adults. Yemenis have been chewing this for more than 700 years and all previous attempts to clamp down on the country’s favourite substance have ultimately failed. Some Yemenis typically spend 4-6 hours a day buying and chewing the leaves when, according to the anti-qat lobby, they could be doing productive work – hence the dire state of the economy. Some spend well over half their income on the habit. Qat keeps people awake, so chewing sessions, which last for several hours, start in the afternoon to allow the effects to wear off before bed. As a result, virtually the entire civil service shuts down at lunchtime.
To meet the ever-growing demand, one-third of Yemen’s agriculture is now devoted to a crop with no nutritional value, and irrigating it consumes scarce water supplies. Qat has supplanted other crops which could be exported or used to reduce the need for imported food. In the past, Qat was regarded as an occasional luxury rather than a daily necessity. Consumption among city-dwellers increased in the 1970s with the development of roads. The plant grows best at an altitude of 3,000-6,000 feet and good transport from the growing areas to the cities is essential because the leaves rapidly lose their potency after cutting.
Yemeni consumers say that there is no harm in chewing Qat. They believe that Qat increases stamina, concentration and mental alertness and elevates mood. They consider it similar to drinking coffee or tea. Some Ulama declared it to be unlawful (haram) saying that it was an intoxicant. However, the majority of the Scholars don’t consider Qat to be an intoxicating substance, but they still discourage its usage due to the fact that it could be harmful and wastes one’s time and wealth. Those who have any value for time would never consider spending their valuable hours and minutes in chewing on a plant. Qat chewing is spreading rapidly in some parts of Yemen despite the authorities efforts to fight it, with more schoolchildren and women having recently joined men in this practice. Qat has been banned in some non-Arabian countries due to it being considered a harmful drug.
The Great Mosque of San’a (Al-Jami’ al-Kabir)
Walking through the markets and Souqs of the old city, we arrived at our destination – the Great Mosque (Al-Jami’ al-Kabir) of San’a. The Mosque is the oldest and largest of the Mosques in San’a and one of the oldest in the Muslim world. It was built in the lifetime of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and then extended and enlarged by Islamic rulers from time to time. It is reported that Bazan (Allah be pleased with him), whom the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) had maintained as the governor of San’a, had a garden which he gave as Waqf for the building of this Mosque. The construction of the Mosque however, was carried out by another Companion Wabr ibn Yahnas al-Kalbi (Allah be pleased with him).
Imam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (Allah have mercy on him) in his al-Isaba and other historians relate that when the Companion Wabr ibn Yahnas (Allah be pleased with him) visited the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), he (Allah bless him & give him peace) commanded him to build a Mosque in San’a that faced in the direction of mount Dhayn. Hence, adhering to the Messenger of Allah’s command, Sayyiduna Wabr ibn Yahnas (Allah be pleased with him) constructed this historic Mosque in the city of San’a. Ibn al-Sakan and Ibn Mandah both narrate in their respective Hadith collections from the Companion Wabr ibn Yahnas that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) had ordered him to construct a Mosque in San’a and also advised him to appoint the Qibla in the direction of Mount Dhayn. As a result, the Qibla direction till today stands facing towards this mountain. (See: al-Isaba fi Tamiz al-Sahaba, 3/630)
We entered this momentous and historic Mosque through one of its many gates. The Mosque has now been significantly extended, and is structured around a central courtyard measuring approximately 80 meters long by 60 meters wide. To the north and south of this courtyard are the prayer areas, and to the east and west of the courtyard are halls of three aisles each. Inside the court, not exactly at its centre, stands a domed square structure that dates to the early sixteenth century when the courtyard itself was paved. We crossed the courtyard and made our way to the southern/rear prayer area (not the area where the Imam currently stands) and found two pillars marked out. One pillar had the word “Manqura” inscribed on it whilst the other had “Masmura” written on it. The area between these two pillars is said to be the original Mosque that was built by the Companion Wabr ibn Yahnas (Allah be pleased with him).
It was between Asr and Maghrib when we had entered this historic Mosque, hence unfortunately I was not able to offer any voluntary prayers (nafl) or the prayer of greeting the Mosque (tahiyyat al-masjid). There was a Shaykh-like person sitting against one of the above-mentioned pillars and I spoke to him briefly about the significance of the Mosque. Many worshipers were seated engaged in the recitation of the Qur’an, some in the front hall, others in the rear hall and many in the open courtyard. Some students were also studying the Qur’an with their teacher.
I could not get over the fact that I was unable to offer any prayers in this historic Mosque; hence, I made a firm intention to return to the Mosque the next day. After all, this was a historic Mosque built by a Sahabi under the instruction of the beloved of Allah; and many Companions, their followers and great scholars of Islam had worshipped, offered their prayers and studied in this Mosque. Many great scholars of Hadith are reported to have taught and related Hadith in this blessed Mosque. Till today, one is able to sense the great Baraka left behind by these great luminaries of Islam.
Imam Abd al-Razzaq al-San’ani (Allah have mercy on him)
The city of San’a was once bustling with Halaqas of Hadith, Fiqh and other Islamic sciences. The Mosque we were standing in was once a centre of Islamic learning with scholars of Hadith (muhaddithun), jurists (fuqaha) and other scholars quenching the thirst of many students who travelled from far and wide places. Scholars from other areas would also travel to San’a in order to learn and benefit from the great Ulama residing there.
One such great personality to have lived and taught in San’a was the great Hadith expert (hafidh), Imam Abd al-Razzaq ibn al-Humam al-Himyari al-San’ani (Allah have mercy on him). The Imam belonged to Himyar, a major Yemeni tribe, and was known as al-San’ani, as he lived in San’a, the capital of Yemen . Imam Abd al-Razzaq was born in 126 AH and studied under a large number of scholars including many of the leading figures of his time. His teachers include: Imam Malik, Ibn Jurayj, Ma’mar, Imam al-Awza’i, Sufyan al-Thawri and Sufyan ibn Uyayna (Allah have mercy on them all). His pursuit of knowledge also saw him travel to Makka, Madina, Syria and Iraq , where he studied under many scholars of his time. His students include figures like Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Yahya ibn Ma’in, Ishaq ibn Rahuya, Ali ibn al-Madeeni and many others (Allah have mercy on them all). Imam Ahmad was one of his main students and travelled to San’a to take the knowledge of Hadith from him. Imam Ahmad has a famous statement which states: “Travelling to San’a is a must even if the journey is very long” (la budda min San’a wa in tala as-safar). Hence, Imam Ahmad sacrificed his time and (along with Imam Yahya ibn Ma’in) travelled to San’a and remained in the company of Imam Abd al-Razzaq for a considerable length of time. Imam Ahmad was asked whether he met anyone who was better in Hadith scholarship than Imam Abd al-Razzaq to which he replied in the negative.
Imam Abd al-Razzaq’s knowledge of Hadith was extensive. He wrote several books, the most important of which is his Al-Musannaf – a collection of Ahadith in several volumes. His other works include a commentary of the Qur’an and a book on the Prophet’s life. However, only al-Musannaf survives, and has been published more than once. The great Hadith scholar of the Indian subcontinent Shaykh Habib al-Rahman al-A’zami was the first person to have worked on and publish al-Musannaf. A new and fuller edition was later published by Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi in Beirut in 2002. Imam Abd al-Razzaq passed away to the mercy of Allah in the month of Shawwal 211 AH, when he was well over 80 years of age. May Allah have mercy on his soul and grant him Paradise, Ameen. (See: Mu’jam al-Buldan, 3/428 & al-Musannaf, 1/1 Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi edition)
Imam al-Shawkani (Allah have mercy on him)
Another great scholar to have lived and taught in San’a was Imam al-Shawkani (Allah have mercy on him). Imam Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abd Allah al-Shawkani al-San’ani was born in a town called Shawkan, a days walking distance from San’a, in the year 1173 AH. He then moved to San’a with his father who was a judge and a scholar. He did not travel to gain knowledge; rather, he remained in San’a and took from the Ulama there. He was originally a Zaydi, but then left this school and began to concentrate more on Hadith. He was quite extreme in rejecting Taqlid (following one of the four Sunni Schools) and was an advocator of Ijtihad. He authored many books, the most famous of which is known as Nayl al-Awtar, a commentary on the Hadith collection of Ibn Taymiyya al-Jadd titled Muntaqa al-Akhbar. He passed away in the year 1250 AH and was buried in San’a (may Allah have mercy on his soul). Although Imam al-Shawkani differed from the mainstream scholars on many issues, he is still considered to be one of the major scholars of Hadith in this Ummah.
The thought of all these scholars was ringing in my mind while touring this great city and particularly this Great Mosque. Surely, these great scholars must have conducted their study circles in the confines of this historic Mosque. My guide also attempted to find exactly the place where Imam Abd al-Razaaq actually taught, but he was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, treading on the path where such great luminaries of Islam once lived and taught was an honour in itself.
One of the responsible persons in the Mosque informed me that the Mosque had a library in which there were large numbers of manuscripts of the Qur’an dating back to the first century of Hijra. The library was only open during morning hours; hence, I was unable to enter it. It is said that the library also possessed a copy of the Qur’an that was complied with the joint endeavour of Sayyiduna Ali, Sayyiduna Zayd ibn Thabit and Sayyiduna Salman al-Farisi (Allah be pleased with them all), and it was sent to San’a in the reign of Sayyiduna Uthman (Allah be pleased with him). There are also a number of manuscripts of books written by early scholars. It was surely a regret not to have managed to see this library, but whatever Allah Wills, takes place.
After spending this quality time in the Great Mosque of San’a, we made our way back to our car. We once again walked through the streets and alleys of the old city and departed the city through the Yemeni Gate. Back in the car, we headed to visit a grave of one of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace).
The Companion, Farwa ibn Musayk (Allah be pleased with him)
Our guide took us to the eastern district of San’a called Musayk. It was the town of the Sahabi, Sayyiduna Farwa ibn Musayk (Allah be pleased with him). The whole area and the Mosque we intended to visit were named after this Companion of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), and near to the Mosque was his grave (may Allah be pleased with him).
Sayyiduna Farwa ibn Musayk al-Muradi (Allah be pleased with him) is one of those Companions who came from Yemen and visited the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) in the 9th or 10th year Hijri. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) appointed him as a governor of his people, the tribes of Murad and Mazhij, and sent with him Khalid ibn Sa’id ibn al-Ass (Allah be pleased with him). He has also narrated some Ahadith, recorded in Sunan Abi Dawud, Sunan Tirmidhi and other Hadith collections. Sayyiduna Farwa also lived in Kufa for a while and is reported to have taken part (along with Fayruz al-Daylami) in the killing of the imposter Aswad Anasi. He was a well-respected person in his community and was also a very able poet. Some lines of his poetry have been recorded by Ibn Ishaq in his Sirah. May Allah be pleased with him and all the Companions of the Messenger of Allah. (For more details on him, see: Ibn Hajar’s al-Isaba, 3/205 no: 6981, Ibn Abd al-Bar’s al-Isti’ab no: 2071, Ibn Kathir’s al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya 5/83 & Sirah ibn Hisham 4/174).
The area we had entered was very old and modest. Many of the houses and buildings were quite rundown and not to the standard of the houses we witnessed in other areas of San’a. We parked our car outside an old Mosque and entered the Mosque called Jami’ al-Musayk, named after Sayyiduna Farwa ibn Musayk (Allah be pleased with him). Just like this whole area, the Mosque was old and not maintained properly from a structural point of view. One of the responsible individuals there informed me that the Mosque had been extended recently and work was still ongoing. He also showed us the area where the original Mosque was built. After visiting the Mosque, we walked to an area behind the Mosque and found a locked room in which it is said that the companion Sayyiduna Farwa ibn Musayk (Allah be pleased with him) is buried. The door to the room was locked and we enquired about the keys. One of the locals tried asking from the various people living there regarding the keys, but the individual who had the key was not present, so we had to be content with visiting the grave of this great Companion of the Messenger of Allah from the outside. Someone removed a kind of a big stone that was covering an opening to the room and we were able to see the grave from the window. Hence, I was fortunate to give my salam, pay my respects and recite fatiha on one of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (Allah be pleased with him). There was also another grave next to the Sahabi’s grave and a separate entrance for women’s prayer. This whole area seemed very poor, with beautiful children playing around the streets content with what they had. The area may be poor in a materialistic sense, but they are rich with the presence of a Sahabi’s grave amongst them!
After visiting the grave of this Companion, we toured some areas of the new part of San’a. Our driver and guide drove pass the University of San’a, showed us some other areas and then took us to a place called Farahlan. This area was situated on mount Ayban, and is designed for tourists and locals to have a good view of the city of San’a. There were some restaurants and cafeterias for the tourists, and this place reminded me of the Qasiyun Mountain in Damascus. The time for Maghrib had arrived and we offered our Maghrib Salat in a nearby Mosque. Hence, after Maghrib, we managed to get a night-view of the city from the mountain.
After strolling for a while and being treated with the beautiful view before us, we decided to leave and return back to our hotel. On the way, we stopped at one of the major Islamic bookshops in San’a to enquire about a book I was searching for, but was unsuccessful. We reached our hotel just before Salat al-Eisha and after Eisha, we had something to eat and retired to bed.
Monday 11th July
The following day (Monday the 11th of July), I made a programme to go and visit one of the renowned Institutions of Islamic learning in the Arab world, Jamia al-Iman.
Jami’at al-Iman is a private Islamic university very similar to the Darul Ulooms in the Indian Subcontinent, although with a slight difference in its methodology. It was founded in 1993 by Shaykh Abdal Majid ibn Abd al-Aziz al-Zindani (may Allah preserve him) with a group of other scholars. Shaykh Abdal Majid is a renowned scholar in Yemen and very active in the field of Da’wa. He is well-known for his research on the topic of “Qur’an and modern science”. The respected Shaykh had in the past been involved with Yemeni politics, but then resigned from his post as a party leader to concentrate more on teaching and Da’wa.
Jamia al-Iman is situated on the outskirts of San’a. The area was uninhabited before the Jamia was formed but now due to the Jamia, there are many shops, houses and other commercial buildings surrounding the area. The Jamia’s main objective is to produce male and female scholars who are practising and who preach the message of Iman to others both verbally and by their action. The Jamia has four faculties: faculty of Iman, faculty of Shariah sciences, faculty of Da’wa and media, and the faculty of human arts. It places a lot of emphasis on strengthening one’s Iman, self-reformation and Da’wa.
The students are well-trained during their stay in the Jamia. They are expected to be punctual with their daily prayers, along with the night vigil (tahajjud) prayer. They are advised to fast two days of the week, attend gatherings of spiritual discourses and engage daily in physical exercise. The students also travel to other parts of Yemen regularly for the purpose of Da’wa and mix with the general public, preaching to them what they have learnt.
The duration of the full course is 7 years, with the first 3 years being equal for all students. In these 3 years, students study all the major traditional Islamic sciences, such as Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir), Hadith, principles of Hadith, jurisprudence (fiqh) and the Arabic language. After the initial three years, the students have an option to specialize in any of the four faculties. There is also a separate section for sisters to study. Currently, there are around 5000 students studying in the Jamia with the number expected to rise up to 8000. The students are from all around the world, including the West. There are no fees to study in the Jamia; rather, the Jami’a takes full responsibility of catering for the student’s needs. Food, accommodation, transportation charges and everything else is taken care off by the Jamia. The university runs solely on public donations and contributions made by Muslims in the form of Sadaqa and Zakat.
We entered with our car through the main white gate of Jamia al-Iman. My guide took permission from the guard at the door to enter the university saying that I was a foreign guest wanting to visit Jamia al-Iman. The guard took the driver’s identity card and gave us permission to enter. We parked our car and headed first to the office of the principle Shaykh al-Zindani. His secretary informed us that he was out of town and was not expected to return before next week; hence he suggested we visit the vice-principle. One of the brothers took us to the office of the vice-principle Shaykh Doctor Haydar Safih. We entered his office and found some teachers of the Jamia seated there including the Hadith teacher Shaykh Abd al-Rahman al-Khumaysi. I sat in the vice-principle’s office for around 40 minutes discussing with them various issues. They were quite intrigued to learn how Islam was being practised in the West especially in Britain . When I informed them that we had similar institutions in the UK , they were amazed. They could not believe that traditional institutions, where all the various Islamic sciences are taught, were operating in the West. We were served with a hot sweet drink that was very tasty and then the vice-principle of the Jamia instructed his secretary to take me on a tour of the university. Hence, in the company of this brother, I made my way to the various sections of the Jamia. I visited the main Mosque which was quite large, some of the classrooms where lessons were ongoing, the main library where I had a quick glance at the books, student’s living quarters, the kitchen and the dining area. The living quarters for the students had different sections. There was a section where single male students lived and a section where married couples lived with their children. There is also a separate section for single female students. As I went to the dining hall, some of the students began to come for their lunch. Groups consisting of 8 students each were sharing one large serving dish and they were being served rice and meat, with fresh salad. The sight of these modest students who had sacrificed their time, family and everything else for the sake of Deen really brought about hope in my mind that this is a religion that Allah Himself has taken the responsibility of preserving. Hence, no matter what the enemies of Islam conspire against Islam; the truth will always be manifest Insha Allah. With this in mind, I bid farewell to the teachers of Jamia al-Iman, asked them for their Duas and headed back to the car in order to return to the hotel.
I reached my hotel, had lunch, performed my Zuhr Salat and had a short rest. Thereafter, before Asr prayer, we left once again to visit some more places. I was disappointed yesterday not to have offered any prayers in the Great Mosque of San’a (Jami’ al-Kabir) due to the fact that we had gone there after Asr, thus I requested our guide to take me once again to the old part of San’a and to the great Mosque. Hence, we once again entered old city San’a through the Yemeni gate (bab al-Yemen) and headed straight for the Mosque. I offered my Nafl and Tahiyyat al-Masjid prayers in the area where the original Mosque was built by the Companion Sayyiduna Wabr ibn Yahnas (Allah be pleased with him), between the two pillars (as I have mentioned in detail earlier). My guide told me that there was a place here in old San’a where Abraha, the Christian king of Yemen , had built his cathedral and wanted worshippers to worship in his church rather than go to the Ka’ba.
The Qullays (Cathedral) of Abraha
It has been recorded in the books of History and Sirah that Abraha al-Ashram, who was the viceroy of the King of Abyssinia (Habasha) in Yemen , built an imposing cathedral in San’a and gave it the name of al-Qullays. The word “al-Qullays” means high and lofty, and this is why a hat in Arabic is called al-Qalansuwa, as it sits on top of one’s head. Abraha called his cathedral al-Qullays due to it being very tall and lofty. Abraha intended to divert the Arab’s pilgrimage to his cathedral in San’a, and being a Christian, he found it intolerably offensive that the Ka’ba should remain the great national shrine, attracting crowds of pilgrims from almost every Arabian clan. He desired that his cathedral should replace the Ka’ba as the most sacred chapel of Arabia, and that the pilgrims from all around Arabia would come to his cathedral rather than go to the Ka’ba.
This was, however, something humiliating for the Arabs. Veneration of the Ka’ba was a settled disposition with the Arabs. There was no chance of them tolerating this intention of Abraha neither could they have exchanged the Ka’ba with anything else, howsoever precious. The perturbation caused by the declared intentions of Abraha set them on fire. A man from the Kan’an tribe went to his cathedral and dishonoured it by urinating in it. This caused a serious uproar. Abraha became infuriated and he swore that he would not rest until he had destroyed the Ka’ba.
Thus, Abraha set forth and took the road to Makka with a strong force which included a large number of elephants. The Arabs had heard awesome stories about elephants. The news made them all confused and bewildered. Some of the Arab tribes were prepared to fight his army and tried to obstruct its progress, but they soon realised that it was beyond their power to measure swords with him. Now, hoping against hope, they left the matter to Allah Most High putting their trust in Him to save the sacred sanctuary. Abraha and his army reached outside the city of Makka. The Quraysh took to the hills and other high places in order to save themselves from the soldiers of Abraha. Abdul Muttalib and a few others belonging to the Quraysh took hold of the Ka’ba door, praying that Allah help them against Abraha. Abraha drew up his troops to enter Makka and got his elephant Mahmud ready for attack. On his way to the city, the elephant knelt down and refused to get up in spite of a severe beating. But when they made it face towards Yemen or Sham, it got up immediately and started off. Allah then sent upon them flocks of birds, each carrying three stones, one in its mouth and two in its claws. Everyone who was hit by these stones died instantly. Some of the troops began to run for their lives back to where they came from. They would fall down as soon as a stone would hit them. Some of them were injured. Abraha, too, was hit, and when his soldiers tried to take him back, his limbs fell off one by one, until he met a miserable death upon reaching San’a. This incident took place in the year the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) was born and the year is remembered as “Am al-Fil”. (See: Sirah Ibn Hisham, 1/36-46)
Allah Most High points out to this historic event in the following verses of the Qur’an:
“See you not how Your Lord dealt with the companions of the Elephant? Did He not make their treacherous plan go astray? And He sent against them flights of birds, striking them with stones of baked clay. Then did He make them like an empty field of stalks and straw, (of which the corn) has been eaten up.” (Surah al-Fil)
With these verses of Surah al-Fil ringing in my mind, we had come to the actual place where it is said that Abraha built his cathedral. The area till today is called al-Qullays. In front of me was a wall built as a circle and it was quite lofty, hence I was unable to see what was inside it. We did not stay here for long, as the objective was only to take admonition from Allah’s punishment and not to enjoy the scenery as such. With fear and apprehension, we left the area called al-Qullays and headed back to our car.
The “People of the Garden” in Dharawan
Our next port-of-call was another place of fear and apprehension and a sight where the punishment of Allah Most High had descended.
Allah Most High reveals in Surah al-Qalam the episode of a pious and devout individual who had constructed a garden containing different types of fruits and vegetation. Whenever the time of harvesting would arrive, his habit was to maintain some of the growth for himself and his family, whilst he would distribute the remainder amongst the poor and needy of his community. When this pious individual passed away, his sons inherited his garden. However, they were completely opposite to their devout father. They said: “Our father was insane for giving so much away to the poor and needy. We will surely not let this continue.” Hence, when the time of harvesting arrived, they did not allow for any poor person to even come close to the garden. They made arrangements at night before going to sleep to safeguard their garden from the poor and needy. They woke up in the morning thinking that today we will have everything to ourselves and not give anything to the poor; and thus they made their way to the garden. However, Allah Most High punished them for this evil intention and destroyed all that had grown in their garden overnight. When they arrived at their garden in the morning, nothing had remained. Upon seeing this, they became remorseful and regretted their actions. Then they started blaming each other for what they had done. Allah Most High said that such is the punishment of whoever opposes the command of Allah, is stingy and withholds the right of the poor and needy. And the punishment of the hereafter is more severe. (See: Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 4/522-523)
Allah Most High describes the above incident in the following verses of Surah al-Qalam:
“Verily, We have tried them as We tried the People of the Garden, when they resolved to gather the fruits of the (garden) in the morning, but made no reservation. Then there came on the (garden) a visitation from Your Lord, (which swept away) all around, while they were asleep. So the (garden) became, by the morning, like a dark and desolate spot. As the morning broke, they called out, one to another, go you to your tilth in the morning, if you would gather the fruits. So they departed, conversing in secret low tones, (saying) let not a single indigent person break in upon you into the (garden) this day. And they opened the morning, strong in an (unjust) resolve. But when they saw the (garden), they said: We have surely lost our way. Indeed we are shut out (of the fruits of our labour). Said one of them, more just (than the rest): Did I not say to you, Why not glorify (Allah)? They said: Glory to our Lord! Verily we have been doing wrong! Then they turned, one against another, in reproach. They said: Alas for us! We have indeed transgressed. It may be that our Lord will give us in exchange a better (garden) than this: for we do turn to Him (in repentance). Such is the Punishment (in this life); but greater is the Punishment in the Hereafter, if only they knew.”
(Surah al-Qalam, Verses 17-33)
The Qur’an, in accordance with its normal practice, does not mention where this incident took place. Allah Most High normally describes such incidents as a warning; hence it does not matter where they occur. However, scholars try their best to establish the place and area where such incidents take place.
Imam Ibn Kathir (Allah have mercy on him) states in his commentary of the Qur’an:
“Some of the early scholars have mentioned that these people were of Yemen . Sa’id ibn Jubayr (Allah be pleased with him), the great Tabi’i, said: “They were from a village called Dharawan, which is six miles from San’a.” Some said they were from Habasha.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 4/523)
After offering our Asr Salat, we made our way to the area of Dharawan. This place till today is called Dharawan. It is said, according to what Imam Ibn Kathir has mentioned above, that the punishment of Allah descended here. We travelled a distance of around half hour from San’a until we reached the village of Dharawan. This was a small village where people lived and there was a small market place. The actual place of the garden was beyond the village hence we travelled through the village. We asked the locals for directions to the actual place of the punishment and finally we had reached there. The sight that was in front of our eyes was scary, unbelievable and intimidating. Until now, all the surrounding lands I had seen were in their normal colour, brownish and dust-coloured. However, this land, where it is said the garden existed and where the punishment of Allah descended, was pitch-black and scary. It was not only black; rather there were spiky thorn-like black stones all over the place which made it very difficult to walk. It seemed like a large fire had burnt the whole land. The locals also called this land “Ard al-Hariqa” which meant ” Burnt Land”. We remained here for only a few minutes, as the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) has advised us to move away quickly from the places of punishment. I sought the protection of Allah from His punishment, supplicated to be saved from the eternal punishment of the hereafter and quickly made my way back to the car. May Allah save us all from His wrath, anger and punishment in this world and the hereafter, Ameen.
Dar al-Hajar (Rock Palace)
After Dharawan, we decided to visit the historic and symbolic Yemeni palace called Dar al-Hajar (The Rock Palace). Dar al-Hajar is one of Yemen ‘s most famous landmarks, and only a few kilometres away from San’a. The multi storied palace was built in 1930 BC for Imam Yahya, one of Yemen ‘s rulers, as his summer home. It has recently been opened as a museum. Yahya, who was from the Zaydi dynasty, became the ruler of Yemen in 1918 when Turkey ‘s Ottoman Empire was dissolved. Dar al-Hajar is built like a fortress with shooting emplacements to defend the palace from eventual attackers. The palace also has its own water supply from deep below the rock and could therefore have easily withstood a siege. Dar al-Hajar stands atop a protruding rock formation in Wadi Dhahr, a fertile and pleasant valley of small villages and clay-walled orchards. Pictured in many books about Yemen , it has become a symbol of the country itself.
Our driver parked the car below this amazing palace and we headed for the entrance. We purchased our entry tickets at the door and slowly made our way inside. The palace was several stories high and beautifully structured from the inside. We climbed to the top of the rock palace and, Subhan Allah, the scenery was just amazing. It took around an hour to tour the palace where a great ruler of Yemen once lived, gave orders and enjoyed himself. The ruler has since left this mortal world but the palace built for him stands till today. We are only but travellers in this world, hence people come and people go. All that we have in this world will be left behind for others, or for people to come and amuse themselves with. The fortunate are those who build their palaces in the hereafter and prepare themselves for reckoning in the presence of Allah Most High. With this thought in mind, we left the amazing rock palace behind us.
We returned to the centre of San’a, the Tahrir area to be precise (where our hotel was), prior to Maghrib Salat. There was approximately 45 minutes left for Maghrib Salat, hence I thought it would be a good idea to make a short visit to the military museum of San’a. The museum is situated at the western corner of Tahrir square, a walking distance of around 5 minutes from our hotel. It is open daily from 9am till 12 noon and from 5pm till 8pm (except Fridays). We purchased the relatively cheap tickets and entered the museum. There was nothing incredible about this museum, as it merely contained a number of military objects describing the military history of Yemen . The museum also gives you a low-down on the country’s many wars. There is also the national museum located about 100 metres north of the same Tahrir Square. This museum contains artefacts from the ancient kingdoms of Saba, Ma’rib and others, and is open daily from 9am till 12 noon and from 3pm till 5pm.
The Adhan for Maghrib Salat was being pronounced in one of the local Masjids near the Tahrir Square; hence I made my way to the Mosque. I offered my Maghrib Salat, spoke to some of the locals (who asked me where I had come from and wanted to know about Islam and the Muslims in the West), purchased a few necessities from the shop and returned to the hotel. The day had been long and tiring, and we also had a long journey planned in the morning to Hadramawt and Tarim, thus we decided to have something to eat, offer Eisha Salat and have an early night. The soft bed and the peaceful sleep were much appreciated after such an exhausting day. Being able to “sleep” especially on a journey is such a blessing of Allah Most High that no matter how much we thank Him it is not enough. Just ask those who are not so fortunate in this regard and find it difficult to sleep. May Allah Most High enable us to show gratitude on all His favours, bounties and gifts, Ameen. With these thoughts in my mind, I was soon fast asleep on the second floor of the al-Mustaqbal hotel in the capital of Yemen , San’a!
Tuesday 12th July
The next morning, we had a long journey by coach to the valley of Hadramawt. After Fajr Salat and breakfast, we left with our entire luggage at 7am for Hadramawt. We travelled by the popular and comfortable Ruwayshan coach. The journey was expected to be for around 8 hours; hence I took some books with me to read along the long journey. I had the book “Wasa’il al-Wusul ila Shama’il al-Rasul” written by Shaykh Yusuf al-Nabhani (Allah have mercy on him) with me, a truly amazing book outlining the Shama’il and characteristics of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and a must-read for all students of Islamic knowledge. However, I could not get much reading done, as the scenery outside was absolutely amazing and breathtaking. I could not keep my eyes away from the window admiring the beautiful mountains, dessert hills, typical Yemeni countryside, typical Yemeni villages, traditional mud-houses, striking ornamental houses exemplifying fine Yemeni architecture, long deserts and much more. Shortly after our coach had left San’a, we entered a mountainous area driving up and down huge mountains. The view from the top of these mountains is beyond description. You have to be there to truly appreciate the natural beauty created by Allah Most High “So blessed be Allah, the best to create” (Surah al-Mu’minun, V: 14). The drive through these narrow roads in the midst of high mountains was quite scary as well. If the driver is not careful, the coach can plunge down many feet to its destruction. I constantly recited the supplication (dua) of travel and sought the protection of Allah Most High. I would surely not make this journey during the night, but then again, this was due to my weak Iman. Others will probably have no problem making this journey in the darkness of the night!
The City of Ma’rib
We first stopped for a short break at Ma’rib. The city of Ma’rib is famous for a number of pre-Islamic temples and ancient settlements, as well as what must have been an awesome dam. Ma’rib is the renowned place where the people of Saba’ ( Sheba ) lived, regarding whom there is reference in the Qur’an and a whole chapter is named after them, titled Surah Saba’. In Yemen , great civilizations were erected and the most famous civilization was that of Saba’. The Sabaeans established dams to irrigate their lands and they constructed the greatest dam in Ma’rib and its remains still exist. The kingdom of Saba’ flourished and became wealthy owing to its monopoly to the trade routes between ancient East and West Civilizations.
Allah Most High says in the Qur’an:
“There was, for Saba, a sign in their home-land – two gardens to the right and to the left. Eat of the sustenance (provided) by your Lord, and be grateful to Him: a territory fair and happy; and a Lord Oft-Forgiving.”
(Surah Saba, V: 15)
One of the Sabaean rulers was the Queen Bilqis (the Queen of Sheba) who was renowned for undertaking a journey to meet the Prophet of Allah Sayyiduna Suleyman (peace be upon him). The story of this Queen has been mentioned by Allah Most High in the Qur’an. She established her capital in Ma’rib. Many ruins of the Queen’s throne and temples have remained till today. Hence, Ma’rib is considered one of the most significant archaeological sites in Yemen .
Unfortunately, due to the shortage of my stay in Yemen , I was unable to go and visit the city of Ma’rib. I did plan to travel there whilst I was in San’a, but the visit did not materialize. When we stopped for a break at Ma’rib on our way to Hadramawt, I was quite saddened for not being able to travel into the city and visit the historic remains of the people of Saba’, but whatever Allah Wills, takes place. I thought to myself that, Insha Allah, some time in the future I will get to visit Ma’rib.
After a few more hours of travelling, we again stopped in order to offer Zuhr prayers and have lunch. The rest-house where we stopped was in the midst of a desert. I stepped out of the coach and the heat and humidity was unbearable. It was absolutely scorching, in complete contrast to what we had left behind in San’a. I made ablution with coldish water, offered my Zuhr and had something to eat. There were also camels in and around the restaurant wanting to join in with us for food! I pampered a camel and the thought of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and his Companions (Allah be pleased with them) came to mind.
After around 8 hours of journeying, we finally arrived at our destination, the city of Say’un in the blessed Valley of Hadramawt.
The Valley of Hadramawt
Hadramawt is a large valley (wadi) in Yemen with distinctive mud-brick architecture. It runs from west to east and meets the Indian Ocean at Qishn. The Valley is exceptionally fertile and has been settled since ancient times. The tall mud-brick tower houses, which from a distance resemble skyscrapers, are the most characteristic feature of the architecture. The region is characterized by rocky highlands that reach elevations of around 3000 ft. and are separated by numerous valleys in between. Hadramawt is a world unto itself; a cultural oasis surrounded by inhospitable terrain and loosely defined borders. No description of Yemen would be complete without taking Hadramawt into account. Hadramawt is a generally hot and dry part of the world. The average annual temperature is about 80º F (26.7º C), although during the summer months the high temperatures can reach well over 100º F (37.8º C). The average rainfall is quite low: approximately 2.9 in (73mm) per year. A few times throughout the year, however, Hadramawt will experience heavy rainfall that results in significant flooding.
The Arabic name “Hadramawt” is a combination of two nouns, “Hadara” and “Mawt”. When I was young studying Arabic grammar, Hadramawt would be used in the books of grammar (nahw) as an example for a noun that had been combined from two nouns. At the time, I had no clue as to where this place existed on the map, but little did I know that, one day I will be visiting the blessed lands of this area. It is said that Hadramawt was named after a person called Amir ibn Qahtan. Whenever he used to take part in wars, he would kill many people hence he was given the title Hadramawt, since “Hadara” in Arabic means “to attend” or “to be present” whilst “Mawt” means “death”. Thus, when he attended wars, there would be many deaths and as a result he was given this title. Some said that Hadramawt was named after a person called Hadhir Mayyit who was the first person to descend in these lands. Others said that, before he passed away, the Prophet of Allah Sayyiduna Hud’s (peace be upon him) final words were: “hadara al-mawt” (death has arrived)…hence the valley was named: Hadramawt. Nevertheless, Hadramawt is a historical place. An inhabitant of Hadramawt is called a Hadrami (plural: Hadarima). There are two main cities of Hadramawt: Tarim and Shibam. (See: Yaqut al-Hamawi, Mu’jam al-Buldan, 2/270)
As far as the message of Islam arriving to the lands of Hadramawt is concerned, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) had corresponded with its inhabitants as he did with the inhabitants of many other regions. As a result, many of them embraced Islam. A delegation consisting of many persons including Ash’ath ibn Qays came from Hadramawt to visit the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), and they were treated with honour. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) appointed Ziyad ibn Labid (Allah be pleased with him) as a leader and ruler over them. They remained like this until the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) left this world. Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him) wrote to Ziyad ibn Labid (Allah be pleased with him) informing him of the Messenger of Allah’s (Allah bless him & give him peace) demise, and asked him to take the allegiance (bay’a) from the people of Hadramawt on his behalf. Ziyad ibn Labid (Allah be pleased with him) stood up amongst his people, informed them that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) had left this world and invited them to give their allegiance (bay’a) to Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him). Many Hadramis gave their allegiance to Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him) on the hands of Ziyad ibn Labid, but some others refused to do so and rebelled against him. Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him) wrote to the governor of San’a, Muhajir ibn Abi Umayya (Allah be pleased with him), to support Ziyad ibn Labid in Hadramawt, and together they defeated the insurgents. (Mu’jam al-Buldan, 2/270-271)
Hadramawt is a land blessed with the grave of the Prophet of Allah, Sayyiduna Hud (peace be upon him), regarding whom more details will be mentioned later on Insha Allah. It is a land where many Companions of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) lived and taught. It is the province of the renowned Companion Sayyiduna Wa’il ibn Hujr al-Hadrami (Allah be pleased with him), who visited the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) in the ninth year Hijri. Sayyiduna Wa’il was a chief from amongst the chieftains (aqyal) of Hadramawt, and his father was one of the kings. He visited the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and embraced Islam. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) had informed his Companions in advance of his visit and said: “Wa’il ibn Hujr will come to you from a distant land of Hadramawt submissively, desiring Allah and His Messenger. He is one of the children of the Kings.” (Tabrani in his al-Mu’jam al-Kabir and Bukhari in his al-Tarikh) When Wa’il ibn Hujr (Allah be pleased with him) entered upon the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), the latter welcomed him, made him sit close to him on his own seat, spread his sheet for him and said: “O Allah! Bless Wa’il, his children and his grandchildren.” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) appointed Sayyiduna Wa’il (Allah be pleased with him) as the governor of Hadramawt and sent three letters with him. He (Allah bless him & give him peace) also sent Sayyiduna Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufyan (Allah be pleased with him) with him to Hadramawt. Sayyiduna Wa’il lived in Hadramawt until the Khilafa reign of Mu’awiya when he (Sayyiduna Wa’il) came and visited Sayyiduna Mu’awiya. Sayyiduna Wa’il (Allah be pleased with him) has also narrated Ahadith from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). (See: al-Isti’ab of Ibn Abd al-Bar, no: 2721 & al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya of Ibn Kathir, 5/93) Hadramawt was also (and still is) blessed with the presence of countless scholars, saints and pious servants of Allah Most High. Hence, to place foot in this blessed land was indeed an honour.
We had arrived in the city of Say’un but this was not our final destination. Say’un also has an airport and it was possible to fly here directly from San’a, but the airport had been closedown temporarily due to reconstruction work. The coach arrived at Say’un around 3:30 pm. It was very hot here, and thankfully a brother from Tarim (my final destination) called Salim was present to welcome us and take us to Tarim. My friend studying in Tarim had arranged for us to be picked up, and al-Hamdulillah, matters were made easy. After travelling for around half an hour in brother Salim’s van, we arrived at our final destination, the city of Tarim.
The City of Tarim in Hadramawt
Tarim is one of two major cities in the Valley of Hadramawt, the other being Shibam. Tarim is situated on latitude 16 degrees north, and long titled 48 degrees east of Greenwich. Its altitude above sea level estimates 2575 feet. Tarim is located inland — about 110 miles (176 km) from the coast. Yaqut al-Hamawi says in his Mu’jam al-Buldan (Dictionary of Lands) that Tarim and Shibam were two tribes, hence both cities were named after them. However, other writers, such as Murtadha al-Zabidi state that the name Tarim refers to its founder Tarim ibn Hadramawt. Many historians asserted that Tarim was built much earlier, probably during the ages of Sheba Kingdom i.e. before Islam and Christianity, around the fourth century B.C.
The people of Tarim embraced Islam after the delegation of Hadramawt returned from visiting the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) in the tenth year Hijri. As mentioned earlier, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) had appointed Ziyad ibn Labid al-Ansari (Allah be pleased with him) as the ruler of Hadramawt and when Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him) wrote to Ziyad ibn Labid requesting him to take allegiance from the people of Hadramawt, the inhabitants of Tarim were the first to give their allegiance (bay’a) to Sayyiduna Abu Bakr on the hands of Ziyad ibn Labid (Allah be pleased with them both). Some inhabitants of Hadramawt had refused to give their allegiance, as mentioned earlier, and thus deflected from Islam. The inhabitants of Tarim played a great role in defeating those who rebelled against Sayyiduna Abu Bakr and Ziyad ibn Labid (Allah be pleased with them both). Many Companions of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) were injured in the battle that took place between the Muslim army and the insurgents, hence they were brought to Tarim for medication. Some of the injured Sahaba passed away here and were buried in the Tarim cemetery.
The city of Tarim has always been renowned as a centre of Islamic learning that produced great scholars and saints. Tarim became known far and wide due to the abundance of scholars and pious people that it has produced over the centuries. The city has many historic as well as newly built Mosques. Many scholars of Tarim travelled to distant lands preaching and imparting the knowledge of Islam. Tarim’s scholars are credited with spreading Islam to Indonesia , Malaysia , and East Africa in the early 13th century.
We reached Tarim in between Asr and Maghrib prayers. Our driver Salim took us to a beautifully built mud-house, close to the Dar al-Mustafa religious academy, where we were scheduled to live for the duration of our trip. One of my friends, Sidi Faiz Qureyshi, had arranged for me and my family to stay in this house as it was right next to his house. Brother Faiz is actually from the UK and has been studying for around 4 years in the Dar al-Mustafa Madrasa in Tarim. Before he travelled to Tarim, he spent some time studying in Damascus ( Syria ) and that is where I had originally met him. Sidi Faiz is Masha Allah a very devout and serious student. Living with his family in Tarim, he has sacrificed a lot in pursuit of Islamic knowledge. He also has genuine concern for Da’wa in the West and is al-Hamdulillah a very humble brother. His family are also benefiting from their stay in Yemen , with his two daughters regularly attending School. His daughters, Masha Allah, despite being very young, are quite fluent in the Arabic language and have been really influenced by the pure and traditional lifestyle of Tarim.
I had informed Sidi Faiz about my journey to Yemen , and, may Allah reward him, he assisted in every way to make my journey as comfortable as possible. The house we were staying at was actually rented by a student from Australia named Ahmad. Brother Ahmad’s family had travelled back to Australia for a while, hence he offered to give up his house and move into Dar al-Mustafa in order for me and my family to stay in his house. May Allah reward him also. As previously mentioned, Brother Ahmad’s house was next to Sidi Faiz’s house; hence it made my stay very relaxing and comfortable. Sidi Faiz went to extremes in terms of hospitality and taking care of a guest. He arranged my whole schedule and went out of his means to ensure I had a fruitful stay in Yemen , despite being very busy with his studies.
Sidi Faiz was not present at home when we arrived at the house. His daughter brought the keys of the house we were due to stay in and opened the door for us. We took our luggage and entered the house and to my amazement, it was a very vast and comfortable place to reside in. It comprised of a bedroom, kitchen, lounge, big dining room and a bathroom. It also had fans and two air conditioners. I was feeling very dehydrated after the long and exhaustive journey in extreme temperatures, hence Sidi Faiz’s daughter fetched some cool water. As I drank the water, instantly I felt its sweetness and pleasant taste. I could not remember drinking water as sweet as this before (besides the sacred water of Zamzam of course). Later, I was informed by many people in Tarim that the reason behind this was a Dua made by Sayyiduna Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (Allah be pleased with him).
The Water of Tarim
As mentioned earlier, when Ziyad ibn Labid al-Ansari ordered the people of Hadramawt to give their allegiance to Sayyiduna Abu Bakr, the inhabitants of Tarim were the first ones to comply. Tarimis played a great role in defeating those who rebelled against Sayyiduna Abu Bakr and Ziyad ibn Labid (Allah be pleased with them both). At that point, Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him) made three supplications (duas) for the people of Tarim:
- Tarim always remains inhabited,
- Allah bless and place Baraka in their water,
- Allah produce pious and saintly people abundantly in Tarim.
This is why some scholars called Tarim the city of Siddiq. I could not find a source for this, but it is commonly known amongst the Tarimis and one brother did mention that there was a source for this. Nevertheless, I was intrigued to hear that Sayyiduna Abu Bakr had requested Allah to bless the water of Tarim, as I felt the sweetness and purity of the water even before being informed of this Dua!
We rested for a while and shortly after Sidi Faiz arrived to see whether we had reached safely and that everything was okay. I chatted with him for a while until Maghrib prayer and after Maghrib Salat; we had dinner together at Sidi Faiz’s house. The food, cooked by Sidi Faiz’s wife, was much appreciated after the long journey and it was very tasty indeed. We performed Eisha Salat with Jama’ah at Sidi Faiz’s house and then made our way to the renowned religious institution of Tarim, Dar al-Mustafa.
Dar al-Mustafa is an educational institute established for the study of traditional Islamic Sciences. It was founded in 1414 AH (1993) in the city of Tarim by al-Habib Umar ibn Hafiz (may Allah preserve him) and his associates. The Dar al-Mustafa campus was officially opened in Dhu’l-Hijjah, 1417 AH (May, 1997). Dar al-Mustafa primarily has three goals:
- Ta’lim, that is the acquisition of authentic Islamic knowledge as established by the scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah, which is received through an unbroken chain of transmission from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace).
- Tazkiya, that is to purify one’s soul from spiritual diseases and ailments, and the refinement of character by learning and following Prophetic examples of moral conduct and noble demeanour.
- Da’wa, that is to propagate the message brought by the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and spreading the call to Islam using a methodology based on mercy, truthfulness, sincerity, high opinion of others, and a commitment to act upon one’s faith.
Hence, the students in Dar al-Mustafa learn the various traditional Islamic sciences, such as Islamic Creed (aqida), Qur’anic memorization, Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir), jurisprudence (fiqh, mainly dedicated to learning Shafi’i fiqh), Arabic grammar (nahw) and sciences of the heart (tazkiya al-nafs). Students are required to learn the meanings and explanations of texts (mutun), and are generally, also required to memorize each of the texts they study.
In addition to the academic curriculum, Dar al-Mustafa provides an environment in which students are encouraged to act upon the knowledge they gain, and to perform as many of the recommended acts of worship found in the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) as they can throughout their days and nights. They are encouraged to instil in themselves the character and manner of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace).
Furthermore, all students are required to embark upon Da’wa trips to rural areas of Yemen at various times of the year. The purpose of these Da’wa trips are to remind the general population of their religious obligations, teach them the basic rulings of worship and human transactions, and revive their hearts with love of Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace). For this reason, students in Dar al-Mustafa are given many opportunities to practice and improve their public speaking skills.
Students in Dar al-Mustafa live in a dormitory-type setting. Long hallways contain rooms that are each occupied by 12 students. The residents of every room are lead by a Room Manager (mushrif). The Mushrif can act as a student’s liaison to the school officials, if need be. The relatively simple rooms, which are equipped with air conditioners and ceiling fans, are furnished with small desks for each student and small individual closets. Students typically sleep on thin mattresses or comforters. The Dar al-Mustafa campus is a multi-story structure with several hallways on each floor. Each hallway has a community bathroom with toilets, Wudu, and Ghusl facilities. All students eat in a common dining hall for three meals a day. There is a convenience store on campus where students can buy refreshments, snacks, and some amenities during certain hours of the day. There is also a small bookstore where students can purchase notebooks and other learning materials as well as the books in the school curriculum. A small infirmary is available to students and is equipped to handle minor medical needs or illnesses. Students having families are permitted to rent a house in the vicinity of Dar al-Mustafa and live there.
Classes, which are conducted in learning circles (halaqas), are held in the main prayer hall as well as in some additional classrooms. Learning circles contain an average of 10 to 12 students, although some circles can be much larger and some much smaller. Students normally wake up around 3:45am for Tahajjud prayers and Dhikr. Classes begin after Fajr Salat and continue till around 11:00am. Students are given time to have a mid-afternoon nap (qaylula) in order to be prepared for the duties of the second part of the day. Normally after Asr prayers, students attend classes dedicated to the Sciences of the Heart. Dinner is taken after Eisha prayers, after which students study in order to prepare for the next day and carry out their home work. Sleeping time is at around 11:00pm.
There are approximately over 600 students presently studying at Dar al-Mustafa. They come from different parts of the world, such as Indonesia , Malaysia , Africa, US, Europe, Australia and other places.
There is a separate section and building catering for the sisters called Dar al-Zahra. This was established as the counterpart to Dar al-Mustafa in order to provide for the education of women. The women generally follow the same timetable as the brothers, except that they have an extra class in which female students themselves teach a class to children who are sent to Dar-al Zahra in the evening.
Scholarship and piety have always been a great asset of Tarim, with Shuyukh such as Habib Mashur, Habib Umar, Habib Ali and others at the end of a great line of scholars and saints with an unbroken chain going back to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). However, it has not always been like this. There was a time during the Communist occupation when Islam was driven underground; scholars were abused and religious schools were closed. The traditions have only recently been revived and practised openly. May Allah Most High protect and preserve all of this Umma’s scholars and Islamic institutions; and enable these sincere servants of Allah to service His Deen in the best of ways, Ameen. (Based on the website www.daralmustafa.org and personal meetings with responsible personnel at Dar al-Mustafa)
As we made our way from the house to Dar al-Mustafa (a five minute walk), the white minaret and beautiful green dome of the Dar al-Mustafa campus, lit up in the darkness of the night, became visible. The green dome resembled the dome of the Messenger of Allah’s (Allah bless him & give him peace) Mosque, and the memories of Madina al-Munawwara came flooding back. We were not physically in the city of the beloved of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), but it felt like we were very close to him. The peace and tranquillity in this city was something I had not witnessed or experienced in my life (besides in the sacred cities of Makka and Madina). I have travelled to many other Muslim lands such as Syria , Jordon, Lebanon , Emirates and the Subcontinent, but the feeling I got here was just something different. In Dar al-Mustafa, there was a lesson/Dars of the renowned Shaykh Habib Ali al-Jifri (may Allah preserve him) taking place. The Dars had already begun after Eisha Salat on the roof of Dar al-Mustafa; hence we made our way straight to the Dars.
Shaykh Habib Ali al-Jifri (may Allah preserve him)
Shaykh Habib Ali Zain al-Abideen ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Jifri (may Allah preserve him) is not in need of any introduction. He is originally from Tarim. Habib Ali was born of a noble prophetic lineage. His great grandfathers include, Ali Zain al-Abideen, the son of Sayyiduna Hussein, the son of Sayyiduna Ali ibn Abi Talib and Sayyida Fatima (Allah be pleased with them all). Habib Ali al-Jifri took his classical Islamic knowledge from the great masters of the Ba’Alawi, including the late Habib Mashur al-Haddad, the great Shafi’i faqih Habib Zain al-Sumayt from Madina and the great faqir and qutub Habib Abdur Qadir al-Saqqaf. He also has Ijazah in Hadith from the renowned Hadith scholar Shaykh Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda (Allah have mercy on them all). Habib Ali is a young master of Tasawwuf and a scholar in Shafi’i Fiqh. He is an explosive and motivating speaker, a caller to the way of Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace), and a spiritual educator of the highest calibre. His words, based on the illuminating knowledge of the Qur’an and Sunnah, penetrate deep into the soul, driving every sincere heart to repentance and back to its Lord and Creator. Habib Ali has sacrificed his soul in the service of the Deen, spreading the lights of guidance far and wide, in Muslim and non-Muslim lands. His travels have taken him to places such as Indonesia , Sri Lanka , Saudi Arabia , Egypt , England , Holland, and America . Presently, he teaches at the Dar al-Mustafa institute in Tarim, and also spends much of his time in Abu Dhabi, where he has a research and publication institute.
We climbed to the roof of Dar al-Mustafa and, Subhan Allah, a magnificent sight of students seated on the floor in the presence of Habib Ali al-Jifri was before my eyes. The respected Shaykh was talking about calling and inviting others to the way of Allah (da’wa) and the hardships of this auspicious path. He talked about how the Prophets, despite all odds being against them, called their people to the truth and how they were forced to endure great hardships and difficulties. He was advising the students, who were listening very attentively to every word of his, to have patience (sabr) if faced with trials and tribulations in the path of Da’wa. He encouraged the students to remain steadfast and committed to their cause and not be affected with any trials that may come their way.
This wonderful lecture of Habib Ali in clear and eloquent Arabic (without any running translation) carried on for around an hour. Thereafter, he answered some written questions forwarded by the students and with that, the session came to an end. After Dua, students were crowding around Habib Ali in order to shake and kiss his hands. Masha Allah, these students really knew how to respect and revere their esteemed teacher!
These students from many different nationalities and backgrounds were here for only one reason – to try and be good individuals and good Muslims. They had travelled from far-away lands in order to sit at the feet of Allah-fearing scholars and to be linked to the unbroken chain of transmitting the knowledge of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). They had come in order to inculcate in themselves the manners and character of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) of love, peace, mercy, harmony, politeness and gentleness. This was quite visible with every student I met. They were working on their soul trying to purify it from the many spiritual illnesses and diseases, and they were learning so that they may spread the word of Islam and quench the thirst of thousands of other Muslims and non-Muslims who are spiritually lacking somewhat. These young men were definitely not learning how to terrorise innocent human beings. This was definitely not a “training camp” of the terrorists. The truth, some students said, has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with accepting Allah and adhering to the ways of His beloved Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace). The American and British Governments really need to understand the difference between a “terrorist training camp” and a traditional Madrasa. Recently, there has been much talk of Madrasas in Pakistan and elsewhere, stating that they teach and preach hate to the students! Madrasas do NOT teach hate and terrorism, rather a Madrasa is where a student is taught how to live as a human being, how to respect and treat other human beings and how to lead a life of chastity and purity. Indeed, there may be some military training camps here and there, but then these camps are not Madrasas. Western Governments really need to understand this basic yet very important difference.
Nevertheless, I was very tired after a long day in which I had travelled for around 8 hours on the coach. Thus, without trying to meet Shaykh Habib Ali, we made our way back to the house and I retired to bed for some much-needed sleep.
Wednesday 13th July
The following day was very important for me. I had planned the whole day in and around Tarim and Dar al-Mustafa, and we arranged to visit other sites out of Tarim for subsequent days. Hence, after taking breakfast, Sidi Faiz took me to some of the bookshops in Tarim. We strolled around the many closely-situated bookshops for around two hours. I purchased some very beneficial books, especially the four volume commentary on Wasa’il al-Wusul. Wasa’il al-Wusul ila Shama’il al-Rasul (Means of obtaining the character of the Messenger of Allah) is an amazing book on the Shama’il of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) compiled by one of the renowned scholars of recent times, Shaykh Yusuf al-Nabhani who passed away in 1350 Hijri (Allah have mercy on his soul). Shaykh al-Nabhani was known for his piety, devoutness and deep love for the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and this book of his truly exemplified this. Wasa’il al-Wusul is taught in many different Islamic institutions in many different countries. Here in the UK , my respected elder brother Shaykh Mawlana Ahmad Ali ibn Adam, has lessons weekly in the Urdu language teaching this blessed book. Brother Faiz pointed out to me that there was an extensive commentary on this book titled Muntaha al-Sul, compiled very recently by Shaykh Abd Allah al-Lahji (d. 1410) of Yemen . Hence, I enthusiastically purchased a set comprising of 4 volumes, and also purchased some other beneficial books, al-Hamdulillah.
We returned to Dar al-Mustafa from Tarim town-centre just before Zuhr Adhan and offered our Zuhr Salat in the prayer hall. I was sitting in the second row (saff) waiting for the Jama’ah to begin after having finished my Sunnah prayers when my eyes fell on a saintly individual, full of light and piety, entering from the door situated at the front of the Masjid. I looked carefully and realized that it was none other than Shaykh Habib Umar, the principle and mentor of Dar al-Mustafa.
Shaykh al-Habib Umar ibn Hafiz (may Allah preserve him)
Habib Umar ibn Muhammad ibn Salim ibn Hafiz, the son of Shaykh Abu Bakr ibn Salim is from the Ahl al-Bayt whose lineage goes back to Ali Zayn al-Abidin, the son of Sayyiduna Husayn, the son of both Sayyiduna Ali ibn Abi Talib and Sayyida Fatima (Allah be pleased with them all). Habib Umar was born in Tarim in 1963 and raised in a household that possessed a tradition of Islamic scholarship as well as righteousness. His father was one of the scholars of Islam who dedicated his life to the spreading of Islam, the teaching of the Sacred Law and the lofty teachings of Islam. Having memorised the Qur’an at a very early age, Habib Umar studied Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh, Aqida, Tasawwuf, the Arabic Language and other religious sciences at the hands of the great scholars of Hadramawt, such as his father the Mufti of Tarim, Habib Muhammad ibn Alawi ibn Shihab al-Din, Habib Abd Allah ibn Shaykh al-Edrus, Habib Ahmad ibn Hasan al-Haddad, Shaykh Fadl ibn Abd al-Rahman Ba Fadl, his brother Habib Ali al-Mashur and many others.
In 1981, Habib Umar went to the city of Bayda’ which is situated in the then North Yemen due to difficult times of communism, and he carried on studying the traditional sciences under the expert tutelage of al-Habib Muhammad ibn Abd-Allah al-Haddar and al-Habib Zayn bin Sumayt. He was soon appointed as a teacher in the Ribat Madrasa.
Habib Umar has spent his life in the field of Da’wa. His work which deprived him of much sleep and rest began to have a major impact on all those that came in contact with it, especially the youth who found their new Islamic identity. He visited many cities spreading the word of Allah and his Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace). He returned to Tarim, and in 1994 established the Dar al-Mustafa institute. He has travelled to other countries spreading the message of Islam such as Syria , Sudan , Egypt , India , Pakistan , Indonesia , Malaysia and Brunei . Habib Umar currently lives in Tarim where he oversees the development of Dar al-Mustafa and the many schools that have been set up under his management. He still maintains an active role in the propagation of Islam such that he may spend most of the year travelling all over the world in pursuit of such noble activities. (See the official website of Habib Umar: www.alhabibomar.com)
Thus, I offered my Zuhr Salat in Dar al-Mustafa behind Shaykh Habib Umar. After Salat, I toured the Dar al-Mustafa institute in the company of my host and friend Sidi Faiz Qureyshi. I explored the student’s boarding areas and living quarters. I visited some of the offices and took a tour of the library. The Dar al-Mustafa library is Masha Allah extensive enough and holds many relevant books of Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh and other subjects. I remember seeing the recently published version of Shaykh Muhammad Zakariyya al-Kandahlawi’s commentary of Imam Malik’s al-Mu’atta, Awjaz al-Masalik. After this brief tour, I returned to the house for lunch and some afternoon rest.
Asr Adhan was pronounced hence we made our way to Dar al-Mustafa once again. I offered my Asr prayer after which, I attended the Dars of Shaykh Habib Umar (may Allah preserve him) which was being delivered for the students in the main prayer hall. Habib Umar was teaching from a book of Imam Ahmad ibn Zayn ibn Alawi al-Hadrami al-Shafi’i (Allah have mercy on him) titled “al-Mawarid al-Rawiyya al-Haniyya” – a commentary of lines of poetry in the science of Tasawwuf by Imam al-Haddad (Allah have mercy on him). The topic today was on humility and humbleness. It was regarding how Allah Most High elevates a person who is humble, and how pride can destroy a person. The lesson (dars) was immensely beneficial and inspiring. As the lesson ended, I suddenly saw a group of brothers from the UK , the faces of some I had seen previously and some were relatively new. I met them and they informed me that they had come to Dar al-Mustafa for the 40 day course held each summer.
The Summer Dawra
Dar al-Mustafa for the past 11 years or so has been holding a 40 day summer course (called the Dawra) in which students from many different countries take part. The course comprises of memorising some portion of the Qur’an, memorising at least 40 Ahadith, attending lessons in Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh, Tasawwuf and other sciences. It also comprises of students being punctual with their five daily prayers, Dhikr gatherings, night vigil (tahajjud) prayers and other forms of worship. The students are also given the opportunity to tour the city of Tarim, visit historical Mosques, other Islamic sights and visit the Ulama of Tarim. There is a fee for the whole course which includes food and accommodation. Masha Allah, many students have benefited from these Dawras, some then going on to further their studies in Islamic sciences.
Like the previous years, this year there were many brothers and sisters who had come from the UK . I remember some brothers from Slough ( Berkshire), where I had been previously to deliver a Dars. Hence, this sudden meeting with the brothers was very pleasant and the love and brotherhood shown by them was admirable.
Soon it was time for Maghrib Salat. After the Salat, Shaykh Habib Ali al-Jifri (Allah preserve him) had a lesson for the Western students in the building known as Ma’had al-Badr.
Ma’had al-Badr (Badr Language Institute)
The Badr language institute was established fairly recently by a community of students (from the West) and teachers working and living together unified by one common purpose. Complete immersion in the classical language of the Arabs, coupled with unique religious and cultural experiences, providing a rich and unique environment for learning as has been the case in Tarim for several centuries. The idea behind Badr institute is to prepare Western students who have not studied Arabic before to further their studies in Dar al-Mustafa. Hence, beginner students may come to Tarim and learn Arabic at Badr and thereafter enrol into Dar al-Mustafa or its sister institute Dar al-Zahra. The Badr language institute has devised three types of programmes to suit the needs of the students: 1) Two Year Islamic Legal Preparatory Course, 2) One Year Arabic Language Intensive, and 3) Shorter Intensive Courses. (For more details, see the official site of the Badr institute: www.badr.org.uk)
Today, Habib Ali al-Jifri (may Allah preserve him) had taken some time out in order to deliver a Dars to the Western students enrolled at the Badr institute and those who had come to Tarim for the annual Dawra. The theme of his talk was “Media in the West and how to deal with it”. The respected Shaykh spoke about using the various means of communication for the benefit of Islam and Muslims. He stressed the importance of traditional Muslims getting their message heard in the Media, and how competent Muslims should use the Satellite channels, the internet and other forms of communication in order to get the true message of Islam across to the non-Muslims. The Dars was immensely beneficial and thought-provoking. The Dars was delivered in Arabic with running translation in English for the benefit of those who were unable to understand Arabic. May Allah reward Habib Ali and all the scholars of Islam for their services to the Deen of Allah Most High and His Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace).
The Dars went on until Salat al-Eisha, led by Shaykh Habib Ali himself, after which we departed. One of the brothers from the UK studying in Tarim, Sidi Abbas, arranged for me to meet Shaykh Habib Ali and thus he introduced me to him. I had met Habib Ali on two occasions previously, but this meeting was more personal and I was indeed greatly honoured. The Shaykh ordered brother Abbas and his own personal secretary to arrange a more detailed meeting between us and then made his way out of the Badr building.
We emerged out of the building and suddenly there was a downpour of rain, lightening and thunder. It was a dark night, but the lightening was so bright that it lit up the night sky. The thunder was also very loud. It was an amazing experience, to see rain fall in the midst of Desert Mountains and valleys. After meeting some more brothers of the UK , I was escorted by one of them on his motorbike to my house. The ride was bumpy, in a way scary and somewhat uncomfortable, but still very enjoyable! I reached home, had something to eat and went to sleep.
Thursday 14th July
The following day it was arranged for me to visit the sacred and historical Mosques of Tarim and some other activities in and around Tarim. Hence, I performed my Fajr Salat, took some rest, had breakfast and at around 9: 30 am departed to tour some of the city’s historical Mosques
The Historical Mosques (masajid) of Tarim
The city of Tarim is renowned for its historical Mosques. These Mosques were built hundreds of years ago and have been engaged over the years with prayer, recitation of the Qur’an, remembrance of Allah, lessons in Islamic sciences and many other activities. Many of the Mosques were the worship-place for many of the Saints that lived over the years in Tarim.
My host brother Faiz had arranged with the responsible personnel at Dar al-Mustafa in order for a guide to accompany us during this tour. Thus, we left the Dar al-Mustafa premises in the morning with a brother called Sidi Fa’iz ibn Sa’id Ba Jarad, who was a teacher and one of the responsible people at Dar al-Mustafa. In total, there were four of us in the car: my host and dear friend Faiz Qureyshi, our guide Sidi Fa’iz ibn Sa’id Ba Jarad, the driver and myself. We made our way first to the historical Mosque called Masjid al-Saqqaf (or al-Saggaf, as the Yemenis would say) built over 700 years ago in the old part of Tarim. This Mosque was named after the great scholar and saint, Shaykh Abu Bakr ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Saqqaf (Allah have mercy on him). The Mosque is considered to be prestigious and filled with a lot of good and Baraka. Close to the Mosque was the retreat and worship-place of another Sufi saint of Tarim, Imam Abd Allah al-Eidrus (Allah have mercy on him). I was honoured to offer two Rak’ats Nafl prayers on the actual place where this Imam regularly prayed and worshipped Allah Most High.
Thereafter, we visited the Mosque of probably the most renowned personality of Tarim, the great Shafi’i jurist and Sufi Sage, Imam Abd Allah ibn Alawi al-Haddad (Allah have mercy on him). (A brief account on the lives of these great personalities will be mentioned further along when I discuss the visitation of the historical cemetery of Tarim, Insha Allah). As we entered the Mosque, I saw the large board over the entrance of the Mosque with the following inscription “Masjid al-Fath of Imam al-Haddad”. The Mosque was refurbished and rebuilt not too long ago, hence it is completely new now. Built with the Mosque is the worship-place (zawiya) of Imam al-Haddad. I was honoured to offer two Rak’ats on the actual place where he worshipped. There was also a prayer bead on display from the time of Imam al-Haddad. We entered the area where the actual house of the Imam once stood. There were small rooms with very low doorways. We had to duck down in order to enter one room from another. We visited the room where the Imam slept, the place where he taught his students and some other rooms. It was written on the wall of one of the rooms “This is the Zawiya of the Imam, his place of residence and his place of delivering lessons every Mondays and Thursdays of every week”. Till today, I was told, lessons are delivered on the actual place where Imam al-Haddad once taught and inspired people. The lessons are usually given from the books of Imam al-Haddad himself. In the bathroom area of the house, our guide pointed out that the toilet was made in such a way that when seated the left foot would be lower than the right foot, hence fulfilling the Sunnah and etiquette of Istinja, Subhan Allah! Nevertheless, the whole visit to Imam al-Haddad’s Mosque and his house was quite inspiring, moving and spiritually uplifting. The thought of him worshipping Allah Most High and being active with studying and teaching should really motivate students like me to follow in his footsteps and in the footsteps of all the other great Ulama of this Ummah.
We then made our way to another historical Mosque but prior to going there, we stopped by one of the old scholars of Tarim, Shaykh al-Habib Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn Alawi ibn Shihab al-Din (may Allah preserve him). The Shaykh is one of the most respected Ulama of Tarim and is around 70 years old. We were privileged and honoured to sit in his blessed company for around 20 minutes. We listened to his valuable advice regarding Da’wa in the West and other general Nasiha. There were also a group of students from the West present there and the Shaykh honoured everyone with Ijazah. I gifted the respected Shaykh a small booklet comprising of Salawat and Salam complied by my respected teacher and Shaykh, Mawlana Yusuf Mutala, the patron and Muhaddith of Dar al-Uloom, Bury, UK (may Allah preserve him).
After meeting the respected Shaykh and requesting him for Duas, we made our way to probably the greatest Mosque of Tarim known as “Masjid Ba Alawi”. This Mosque was built around 1000 years ago by Imam al-Sayyid Ali ibn Alawi (Allah have mercy on him). The residents of Tarim were always very respectful with this Mosque to the point that they never even spoke about permissible things in the Masjid. No worshipper would sit in the Masjid with his legs spread out in any direction; rather they would all sit in a very respectful manner as they would whilst offering Salat. Many saints would regularly observe I’tikaf in this Masjid. It was a Mosque where great scholars and saints sat and taught – scholars like Shaykh Abd Allah Ba Alawi, Shaykh Fadhl ibn Abd Allah Ba Fadhl, Shaykh al-Imam Faqih al-Muqaddam and others (may Allah have mercy on them all). Nevertheless, I offered two Rak’at Nafl prayers in the Masjid and in the Zawiya. Close by, there was a Madrasa where I saw small children learning and memorizing the Qur’an.
We would have liked to visit some other Mosques but there was a shortage of time, hence we then made our way in the car back to Dar al-Mustafa. The Adhan for Zuhr Salat had already been pronounced, thus we headed straight to the Masjid of Dar al-Mustafa.
After Salat al-Zuhr, I had an informal meeting with one of the responsible people of Dar al-Mustafa institute in the guest room. He was one of the Mushrifs at Dar al-Mustafa and he gave me a general overview of the Dar. He explained to me the three basic goals of Dar al-Mustafa which were: Learning of beneficial knowledge (ta’lim), self reformation (tazkiya) and inviting to the way of Allah (da’wa). He shed light on all of these three branches and explained how there are committees of responsible individuals in each of these three areas overseeing everything and helping students achieve their goal. He informed me that students are sent on a regular basis to other parts of Yemen for the purpose of Da’wa and inviting others to the path of salvation. I then briefly gave an account of the traditional Madrasas here in the UK , especially the one where I teach at in Leicester. He was very impressed, amazed and pleased to hear that such institutions were operating in the West.
After the meeting, I went home for lunch. I was not feeling too well, so decided to take some rest until evening. I offered Asr Salat at home and spent some time at home with my family trying to sort out some of our luggage and other matters.
Mawlid and Majlis Salat ala an-Nabi
It was Thursday evening, and that was the time when the weekly Mawlid or Majlis Salat ala an-Nabi was held in Dar al-Mustafa. Sending blessings on the beloved of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) is part and parcel of a believer’s life and something that should be done constantly. There are many benefits of Salawat, the most significant of which being that it creates the love of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) in one’s heart. Sending blessings on the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) becomes even more important and significant on Friday and the night preceding it. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) encouraged his Companions to increase in their recitation of Salawat on the day and night of Friday, saying that it was a day when the deeds of the people were presented before him and that this day and night held a special merit. There are many Ahadith narrated in this regard, for example:
Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Recite Salawat on me excessively in the magnificent night and the luminous day, the night of Friday (i.e. the night between Thursday and Friday) and the day of Friday.” (Sunan al-Bayhaqi)
Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Recite Salawat on me excessively in the magnificent night and the luminous day, because your recited Salawat is presented to me (by the Angels).” (Sunan al-Bayhaqi)
There are many other narrations indicating the added importance of sending blessings and reciting Salawat on the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) on Friday and the night preceding it. In one wishes, one may refer to Imam al-Sakhawi’s book titled al-Qawl al-Badi’ fi al-Salat ala al-Habib al-Shafi’. Shaykh Abd Allah Siraj al-Din (Allah have mercy on him) of Syria has also gathered some Ahadith in his beautiful book al-Salat ala an-Nabi in this regard. (May Allah Most High’s peace and blessings be upon our master and beloved Prophet, his folk, companions, and followers).
In accordance with this, Muslims in many countries around the world arrange special gatherings of recitation of Salat and Salam on the night between Thursday and Friday or on the Friday itself. Songs in praise of the Prophet are sung, some even recite extracts from the Burda and others merely recite the Salawat silently. There is no specific method mentioned by the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), thus all methods and forms are permissible and rewarding. Obviously, these gatherings will differ and vary from one place to another. Here in the UK , many Shuyukh hold gatherings of Salawat on the night falling between Thursday and Friday. For years, Shaykh Muhammad Zakariyya al-Kandahlawi (Allah have mercy on him) held special gatherings on Thursday evenings in which someone would first read the Ahadith regarding the virtues of reciting Salawat on Fridays and the night preceding it, then lights would be put out and all participants would engage in reciting Salawat in a calm and composed manner with reflection and meditation. This practice is still ongoing at the renowned Dar al-Uloom in Bury (UK) under the supervision of Shaykh Zakariyya’s student, our Shaykh and Mentor, Shaykh Muhammad Yusuf Mutala (may Allah preserve him). In the city where I live, Leicester, there is a Majlis Salat ala an-Nabi arranged every Thursday evening between Maghrib and Eisha prayers, in which the participants all recite Salawat collectively.
The Majlis of Salawat or Mawlid was taking place in Dar al-Mustafa after Maghrib Salat. I prepared myself, got dressed, wore the Sunnah Imamah (turban), applied some fragrance and made my way to the Masjid of Dar al-Mustafa. The gathering (majlis) had already began, with the audience all singing in praise of the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace). As we entered, a brother responsible for managing affairs requested that I should deliver a small talk in Arabic towards the end of the Mawlid session. The normal practice of what they term the “Mawlid gathering” is that Anashid are recited, both collectively and individually, Salawat on the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) is recited and then there is a series of short talks delivered usually by foreign guests and other scholars who have come from other areas of Yemen . Thus, as a foreign guest, I was also asked to share some words with the audience, but due to the lack of nerve I declined. The request made to me was quite instant without any prior notification; hence, I was not comfortable delivering a talk in Arabic without having any time to prepare for it!
Nevertheless, we took our places in the main Masjid hall and joined in the recitation of Salawat and singing of Anashid. It was truly a beautiful experience, giving one the time to think about the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). We are very busy in our day-to-day lives, due to the hectic lifestyle we live, hence the importance of taking time out from our busy schedule and dedicating it for the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) is very important indeed. A time to reflect and ponder over the Messenger of Allah, a time to think about him and his character, a time to send blessings on him and a time to generally reflect upon one’s own self as to what improvements one needs to make in order to bring one’s life in accordance with the teachings of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace).
Towards the end of the gathering, some of the guests delivered brief talks concentrating mainly on the life and teachings of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). I remember one particular talk given by a scholar from Germany who was originally from Morocco on the topic of acquiring the fear of Allah (taqwa). He was very eloquent in his speech and delivered the talk in a very beautiful manner. Finally, the Mawlid gathering ended with the words of wisdom of Shaykh Habib Umar (the principle of Dar al-Mustafa) and his amazing heartfelt Dua. The Dua was quite long with Habib Umar crying and making the attendees also cry. People were weeping and sobbing with the noise reverberating in the entire Mosque. It was such a Dua that even those who were extremely hardhearted like me could not resist but to shed some tears. May Allah accept the attendance of all those who attended and forgive our sins, Ameen.
Dinner and Meeting with Students
The Adhan for Salat al-Eisha was pronounced and we offered our Salat with Jama’ah in the Masjid of Dar al-Mustafa. Thereafter, I met some of the brothers who had come to Tarim from the UK and elsewhere for the annual Dawra, and they insisted that I should join them for food and spend some time in their company. I took permission from my host Sidi Faiz and he wholeheartedly agreed. He left me with the brothers and they took me in a taxi to the Ma’had al-Badr building.
There were approximately 20 to 25 brothers, all Masha Allah extremely sincere and serious in regards to what they had come to Yemen for. They were mainly from the UK and US, although some were from other countries also. I was honoured to have supper with them, a traditional English supper, with chips, beans and chicken! After supper, they requested for me to share some words with them in the format of a question and answer session. I had no choice but to agree. We discussed issues such as taking dispensations (rukhsa) from other Fiqh Madhabs, meaning and concept of Bid’a according to traditional Sunni scholars, and the difference between the Dars Nizami in the Subcontinent and studying in the Arab world. Finally, they requested me to give them general advice in terms of learning and seeking sacred knowledge. I was by no means worthy of giving advice, but the love, hospitality and brotherhood shown by these sincere young Muslims was too much for me to decline. Thus, I shared with them some of the things I had learnt from my teachers. The session ended at around 12 midnight and I departed with a brother escorting me on his motorbike back to my house. I reached home, spent some time with my family, read a book for a while and then retired to bed.
Friday 15th July
Visiting the Graveyard of Tarim (Zanbal)
The following day was the blessed day of Friday. Brother Faiz had arranged for me to visit the renowned graveyard of Tarim called the “Zanbal”. The visiting of graves in general and the graves of the Prophets, Sahaba and saints in particular, is not merely something that is permissible, rather recommended (mandub) and rewarding.
Sayyiduna Ibn Burayda (Allah be pleased with him) narrates from his father that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “I used to forbid you from visiting graves. Now, do visit them…” (Sahih Muslim, no: 977)
Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “…Visit graves, for it reminds one of death.” (Sahih Muslim, no: 976)
Ulama have mentioned many reasons and benefits for visiting graves, such as: it is a Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), it reminds one of one’s death, it reminds one of the purpose of life and helps one in removing the love of this world from one’s heart, one benefits from the baraka of the person visited if one goes with a good intention, it benefits the one visited because of the reward of recital of Qur’an (and other matters) one makes, etc.
Keeping the above in mind, I headed to the famous graveyard of Tarim on Friday morning at around 9:00 am. I was accompanied by a brother called Sidi Yahya Rhodus. My host Brother Faiz had arranged for me to visit the graveyard in the company of Sidi Yahya, as he was well-aware of the great saints who were buried there and of their biographies. Sidi Yahya is a young American Muslim who embraced Islam in 1996 at the age of 19. He carried out his basic studies of Arabic in Mauritania and then travelled to Yemen to study at the Dar al-Mustafa institute. He has been in Tarim for around five years studying and learning from the likes of Habib Ali al-Jifri, Habib Umar ibn Hafiz and others. Sidi Yahya normally translates Habib Ali al-Jifri’s lessons into English for the benefit of the non-Arabic speaking audience. He is, Masha Allah, extremely humble and the signs of piety and devoutness are quite evident on his face and from his actions. May Allah preserve him and bless him in both worlds, Ameen.
Anyway, the taxi came to my house to pick me up with Sidi Yahya and the driver anticipating me to join them. There was also another brother accompanying us; hence the taxi-driver dropped the three of us at the Zanbal graveyard. This graveyard is where some of the Messenger of Allah’s (Allah bless him & give him peace) Companions (Allah be pleased with them) and the great scholars and saints of Tarim are buried, especially the Shuyukh of the Ba Alawi.
As you enter the Zanbal graveyard, there is a small enclosed section on your left where it is said that some of the Sahaba (Allah be pleased with them) are buried. As mentioned before, many of the Messenger of Allah’s Companions had come to Hadramawt, and when the inhabitants of other cities of Hadramawt rebelled against Sayyiduna Abu Bakr’s rule, the inhabitants of Tarim gave their support. Many Sahaba were injured in the battle that took place between the Muslim army and the insurgents, hence they were brought to Tarim for medication, of which some passed away and were buried in Tarim. Therefore, it is not far-fetched that many such Companions were buried in this area of the graveyard. There are no specific names of the Companions, but to stand close to the graves of the martyred Companions of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) was a honour indeed. I recited Fatiha, paid my respects and supplicated to Allah Most High.
The Zanbal is one of three main graveyards within the same vicinity. It is specific with the deceased of the Ahl al-Bayt, hence there are many great Awliya buried here. Sidi Yahya showed me the graves of many such scholars and saints, but to mention all of them here would be difficult. Therefore, I will mention a few of the great Ulama whose graves I was honoured to visit:
1) al-Faqih al-Muqaddam Imam Muhammad ibn Ali Ba Alawi (Allah have mercy on him)
Sayyed al-Faqih al-Muqaddam (Allah have mercy on him) was a renowned scholar and sage of Hadramawt. He was born in Tarim in the year 574 Hijri and passed away in the year 653 Hijri at the age of 81. His grave is renowned in the Zanbal graveyard. The Ulama of Tarim normally visit his grave first before visiting any other grave in the Zanbal. He was known as the greatest teacher (al-Ustadh al-A’zam) and the leader of saints (sultan al-awliya). He was born in a family known for their piety, knowledge and sainthood. He took the knowledge of inward and outward sciences from the great Ulama of his time including Imam Abd Allah Ba Ubayd, Allama Ali ibn Ahmad Ba Marwan, Qadhi Ahmad ibn Muhammad Ba Eisa and many others. He was a master in Shafi’i Fiqh, Tafsir, Hadith and Tasawwuf. He had memorised the Qur’an and the texts of many books in various religious sciences at a very young age. Many great scholars of Hadramawt took knowledge of inward and outward sciences from him including, Shaykh Abd Allah ibn Muhammad Ba Abbad, Shaykh Ibrahim ibn Yahya Ba Fadhl, Shaykh Ali ibn Muhammad al-Khatib and many others. He benefited the masses with his knowledge, Fatawa, and spiritual training. He built a Madrasa and authored some books in the science of Tasawwuf (may Allah bless his soul and be pleased with him).
I contemplated for a moment at the grave of this great Wali of Allah, recited Fatiha and supplicated to Allah Most High. I asked Allah to enable me, as a sinful servant of His who has nothing other than love for the great Awliya, to follow in the footsteps of Faqih al-Muqaddam and other pious servants of His, Ameen.
2) Shaykh Imam Abd Allah Ba Alawi (Allah have mercy on him)
Shaykh Abd Allah ibn Alawi ibn Faqih al-Muqaddam Ba Alawi was a scholar of inward and outward sciences. He was born in Tarim in the year 638 Hijri and obtained knowledge from the great Ulama of his time, including his grandfather (the above-mentioned) Imam Faqih al-Muqaddam (Allah have mercy on them both). He was renowned for his struggles and strivings against the soul (mujahadat) and the excessive recitation of the Qur’an. It is reported that each Ramadhan he would complete the entire Qur’an in two Rak’ats that he offered after Maghrib prayer. He travelled to the blessed lands of Makka and Madina and remained there for around 8 years worshipping Allah Most High and learning from the Ulama there. He returned to Tarim (Hadramawt) and began teaching and preaching to the masses. He has many students such as, Shaykh Muhammad Mawla al-Duwayla, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Alawi, Shaykh Fadhl ibn Muhammad Ba Fadhl and others (Allah have mercy on them all).
We were privileged to visit the grave of this great Shaykh. We paid our respects, recited Fatiha, made Dua and then moved along.
3) Shaykh Abdur Rahman al-Saqqaf (Allah have mercy on him)
Shaykh Abdur Rahman ibn Muhammad al-Saqqaf was also of the Ahl al-Bayt and the Ba Alawi descent. He was born in Tarim in the year 739 Hijri and began his studies at a very early age. He memorised the Qur’an, mastered the science of Tajwid and memorised the texts of many books in childhood. His main teacher was his father Imam Muhammad ibn Ali Mawla al-Duwayla. He also took from Shaykh Muhammad ibn Alawi, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Sa’d Ba Shakil, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr Ba Abbad and others (Allah have mercy on them all). He was a massive Shafi’i Faqih who travelled to distant lands including the Haramayn. He is also renowned for his spiritual strivings and excessive worship of Allah Most High. His title “Saqqaf” was given to him by the Ulama of his time indicating that he was above all the other Ulama in his time. He passed away to the mercy of Allah in the year 819 Hijri leaving behind many students and a wealth of knowledge. May Allah have mercy on his soul.
4) Imam Umar Mihdhar (Allah have mercy on him)
Shaykh Muhammad Umar Mihdhar, the son of Shaykh Abdur Rahman al-Saqqaf (Allah have mercy on him) was a great Shafi’i Faqih and a saint of Islam. He was born in Tarim and began his learning from a young age. He travelled to many different cities of Yemen in order to seek sacred knowledge and attained lofty Ijazahs from the Shuyukh of his time. His was well-known for his miracles (karamat), and passed away to the mercy of Allah in the year 833 Hijri. May Allah have mercy on his soul.
5) Imam Abd Allah al-Eidrus (Allah have mercy on him)
He was regarded as the leader of the saints (sultan al-awliya) and a great Sufi of his time. The title al-Eidrus means the one who is head of the Ulama and Awliya. The Shaykh was born in the year 811 Hijri. His father Imam Abu Bakr al-Sakran was a major scholar; hence he learnt and took the knowledge of inward and outward sciences from him. He travelled to the Haramayn and took the knowledge of Hadith from many scholars. His students include Shaykh Ali ibn Abi Bakr, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Afif al-Hajrani and others. The respected Shaykh has many advices (wasaya) and writings in the science of Tasawwuf. May Allah have mercy on his soul.
6) Imam Abd Allah ibn Alawi al-Haddad (Allah have mercy on him)
Imam al-Haddad (Allah have mercy on him) is not in need of any introduction. He is the renowned Sufi sage, Imam, Shaykh, the author of many books, al-Habib Abdullah ibn Alawi al-Haddad al-Hadrami al-Shafi’i. He was born in the outskirts of Tarim in the year 1044 Hijri. He is a direct descendant of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) through Sayyiduna Husayn (Allah be pleased with him). Imam al-Haddad learnt and took knowledge from the great Ulama of his time, scholars such as Habib Umar ibn Abdir Rahman al-Saqqaf, Allama Sahl ibn Ahmad al-Hudayli, Sayyid Muhammad ibn Alawi al-Saqqaf and many others (Allah have mercy on them all). A celebrated scholar of the Shafi’i School of Jurisprudence, Imam al-Haddad was renowned for the breadth of his knowledge and the profundity of insight.
Imam al-Haddad was a great caller to Allah (da’ee). He would invite the masses to the way of Allah and His Messenger with love, wisdom and good speech. Many people were affected with his speeches and writings; hence his reputation was spread far and wide. Many people took knowledge from him. His students include his son Habib Hasan ibn Abdillah al-Haddad, Habib Ahmad ibn Zayn al-Habashi, Habib Abdur Rahman ibn Abdillah Balfaqih and many others. He has compiled many books in Tasawwuf and other sciences, such as the Risala al-Mu’awana (The book of Assistance) and al-Nasa’ih al-Diniyya (Religious Advices). He is also known for compiling litanies of Dhikr taken from the Qur’an and the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace). These litanies are widely practised all over the world. His influence on the Islamic world is reflected by the fact that his books are still in print and have been translated into many languages. He endeavoured to produce concise and clear texts. His concern for brevity is manifest throughout his books, many of which are abbreviated adaptations of Imam al-Ghazali’s monumental work, Revival of the Islamic Sciences (Ihya Ulum al-Din).
Imam al-Haddad passed away in 1132 A.H. after having spent his life helping people draw closer to their Lord through the Imam’s personal teachings, written works, and his exemplary life. He was buried in a simple grave in the Zanbal cemetery at Tarim. (For more details on the life and works of Imam al-Haddad, one may refer to the book “Sufi Sage of Arabia” by Dr. Mustafa al-Badawi, available in the UK and US).
We spent some time contemplating the life of this great Imam. Reflecting upon some of his sayings felt like the Imam was actually speaking to us. We recited Fatiha at his grave, supplicated to Allah and then made our way to visit some other graves.
As mentioned earlier, Sidi Yahya showed me the graves of many Ulama and Awliya, but it is impossible for me to mention all their names here. Nevertheless, after visiting these graves, we made our way back to the entrance of the graveyard. On our way back, we paused for a moment at the enclosed area where it is said that some of the Sahaba (Allah be pleased with them) are buried, and thereafter we left this blessed graveyard.
I reached home around an hour prior to Jumu’ah Salat, thus I prepared myself for Jumu’ah by taking a shower, wearing new cloths including an Imamah and applying perfume. Thereafter, in the company of my host Sidi Faiz, I made my way to a relatively newly built Masjid called Jami’a al-Rawdha for Salat al-Jumu’ah. This Mosque was quite close to Dar al-Mustafa and at a walking distance. The Imam leading the Friday prayers discussed in his sermon (khutba) the importance of following the ways of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). He mentioned how it is necessary upon all Muslims that their thought, ideas and life as a whole is in accordance with the teachings of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). The Khatib was Masha Allah very eloquent in his speech and advised the audience with a lot of Hikma and sound preaching.
Lunch at the House of Habib Umar (Allah preserve him)
After Salat al-Jumu’ah, I was invited for lunch at the house of Habib Umar ibn Hafiz, the patron and principle of Dar al-Mustafa, along with some other guests. Thus, I and Sidi Faiz made our way to the Habib’s house. We were received by his students and associates who as usual made us feel very welcomed. The session lasted until Asr Salat. We had rice with cow-meat, along with traditional Yemeni Salad. After lunch, we were served with traditional Yemeni red and yellow tea. It was delicious and full of flavour! There were around 25 to 30 guests in total, of which some were from Syria . It was refreshing to meet some Syrian brothers and talk to them in their Arabic dialect after such a long time. Some of the participants sang Anashid in praise of Allah and His Messenger, and some also shared words of Nasiha with us all. Listening to the Syrian Anashids was extremely enjoyable. The Adhan was announced hence we all made our way to Dar al-Mustafa for Asr Salat.
After Asr Salat, I went home to take a short rest. After Maghrib Salat, Sidi Faiz suggested that we go and visit the Ribat Madrasa of Tarim.
The Ribat of Tarim
A Ribat is like a dorm-school for intensive training in knowledge. The Ribat of Tarim is an old traditional Madrasa which has been running for over 100 years. It was founded in the year 1304 Hijri in the old part of Tarim. It was also called the Azhar of Hadramawt. The Ribat is a place where great Shuyukh of Tarim studied and taught over the years. The current principle of Dar al-Mustafa, Habib Umar (may Allah preserve him), also attended the circles of knowledge that were held here by many traditional scholars such as Shaykh Muhammad ibn Alawi ibn Shihab, Shaykh Fadl Ba Fadl and others who taught at this famous Ribat of Tarim.
Hence, it was a privilege to visit this historical Islamic institute. Currently, its popularity is not like as it had been previously, but nevertheless there are many students, both local and foreign, who are still studying here. We arrived in the main prayer hall of the Ribat and found that the main current Shaykh of the Ribat, Shaykh Salim ibn Abd Allah al-Shatri (may Allah preserve him) was giving a Dars. We quietly took our seats in amongst the audience, which consisted of students as well as many people from the general public. The Shaykh was teaching from a variety of books including Imam Tirmidhi’s al-Shama’il and the works of Imam al-Haddad. This Dars went on for around two hours, after which we offered our Eisha Salat. I briefly met Shaykh Salim al-Shatri after Eisha, but was not able to spend more time with him, as there were many people around him.
We then returned in a taxi to Dar al-Mustafa. On our way back, I went to a bookshop where I needed to collect some of the books that I had purchased earlier but was not able to take with me. We reached Dar al-Mustafa and headed straight to the roof area where Shaykh Habib Ali al-Jifri (Allah preserve him) was delivering a lesson (dars). The Dars was in its final stages, but we still managed to obtain around 25 minutes of the lesson. He was talking about inviting others to Allah (da’wa) and the value of time for a student involved in Da’wa work. He said, a student should always have a notebook and pen accompanying him/her, and whenever he/she hears something beneficial it should be written down. After some time, one will find a voluminous book in front of one. He stated how some non-Muslims in the West ensure not to waste their time by reading even when travelling in trains and buses. He also pointed out the book written by Shaykh Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda (Allah have mercy on him) “The Value of Time” as being a must-read for every true student of sacred knowledge. The Dars was extremely beneficial and I did al-Hamdulillah have a notebook and pen with me to take notes! The session ended with a Dua by Shaykh Habib Ali al-Jifri (may Allah preserve him).
Meeting with Habib Umar ibn Hafiz (Allah preserve him)
The principal of Dar al-Mustafa and the spiritual guide of many, Shaykh Habib Umar ibn Hafiz (whom I discussed earlier) had invited me for a short meeting with him at his house. Thus, after the Dars of Shaykh Habib Ali, we went to the house of Habib Umar. The meeting was fairly short around 25 minutes long, but immensely fruitful and beneficial. There were just the tree of us, Habib Umar, Sidi Faiz and myself. I described to Habib Umar (may Allah preserve him) the work and effort of Deen that is taking place in the UK . He was very pleased to hear that there were traditional Madrasas operating in the UK also. I mentioned to him that we had a similar Madrasa in our city of Leicester and he suggested that it would be nice to have some of the students studying in your Madrasa come and visit Dar al-Mustafa. I accepted the invitation and promised to arrange something for next year Insha Allah. Habib Umar informed me how he spent some time in India with the Jama’ah Tabligh. He said, his father Shaykh Abu Bakr ibn Salim had close links with the head of the Jama’ah Tabligh in India, Shaykh Muhammad Yusuf al-Kandahlawi (Allah have mercy on them both). He said his father was also in contact with the great Muhaddith of the Subcontinent, Shaykh Muhammad Zakariyya al-Kandahlawi (Allah have mercy on him). The meeting ended with me gifting Habib Umar some books, including the two volume Hadith text of I’la al-Sunan by Imam Zafar Ahmad Uthmani. Habib Umar apologized out of courtesy for not being able to meet me for long, but insisted that if I had time, another meeting should be arranged. The meeting was brief, but al-Hamdulillah, even a few minutes spent in the company of such scholars is sufficient for a sinful and ignorant person like me.
It had been a long day. Brother Faiz was tired and so was I. Therefore, after the meeting I made my way to the house, and more specifically to the bed, for some much-needed sleep.
Saturday 16th July
The following day was sadly my final day in Hadramawt and I had thus far not managed to visit the grave of the Prophet of Allah Sayyiduna Hud (peace be upon him). Therefore, it was arranged for this day that I first visit the grave of a Companion of the Messenger of Allah, then the grave of Sayyiduna Hud (peace be upon him) and accomplish some other necessary commitments.
The grave of Sayyiduna Hud (peace be upon him) was quite a distance from Tarim. Sidi Faiz had informed me that we will have to leave around 5 in the morning. On the way to the grave of Sayyiduna Hud (peace be upon him), we also intended to visit a grave said to be that of a Companion (sahabi). I woke up early before Fajr Salat attending the morning Dhikr Majlis at Dar al-Mustafa and then returned home. Our driver was brother Salim, and he came on time in order to take us to the relevant places. Hence, after Fajr Salat around 5: 30 am, I departed along with my family in order to visit the graves of a Sahabi and a Prophet of Allah respectively.
The grave of the Companion, Sayyiduna Abbad ibn Bishr (Allah be pleased with him)
We travelled through the mountainous roads and valleys of Hadramawt with wonderful scenery all around us for about an hour and a half, when our driver informed us that the grave of the Companion had arrived. We parked the van on the foot of a mountain and were told that the grave lay on the peak of this mountain. It took us around half an hour to climb to the top of the mountain with great difficulty and trouble, but finally we arrived at what was said to be the grave of Sayyiduna Abbad ibn Bishr (Allah be pleased with him).
After some research, I could not establish as to whom this grave was exactly attributed; hence, I have my reservations with regards to the grave’s authenticity. I checked the books containing the biographies of the Companions namely al-Isaba of Imam Ibn Hajr and al-Isti’ab of Imam Ibn Abdil Barr, but was unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion.
There are a few Companions by the name of Abbad ibn Bishr. One was an Ansari from the tribe of Abd al-Ashhal who was a close Companion of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), but he was martyred in the battle of Yamama. Another was Abbad ibn Bishr ibn Qayzi al-Awsi. He participated in the battle of Badr and was that Companion who informed other Companions that the Qibla direction had changed overnight. However, I could not verify that he passed away in Hadramawt. I also checked on the name “Bishr ibn Abbad” but was unable to find anything.
Nevertheless, we paused for a moment at this grave and then set off once again on our way to the grave of Sayyiduna Hud (peace be upon him). As we were leaving, we passed by a garden full of date palms. The Hadramawt area is full of date trees. A woman was busy working in the garden collecting and gathering the dates and she granted us permission to pluck some delicious dates. The dates were so tasty that I could not stop eating them, along with the sweet cold water our driver had in the van. Thus, with dates and water, and the beautiful scenery around us, we set off to visit the grave of a great Prophet of Allah.
The Prophet of Allah, Sayyiduna Hud (peace be upon him)
Sayyiduna Hud (peace be upon him) is mentioned seven times in the Qur’an. In Surah al-A’raf verse no: 65, in Surah Hud verses: 50 – 53 – 58 – 60 – 89, and in Surah al-Shu’ara verse: 124. Prophet Hud (peace be upon him) was sent to the people of Ad and he invited them to leave the worship of idols and to worship Allah Most High.
Allah Most High says regarding Sayyiduna Hud (peace be upon him) and his people:
“And to the Ad People (We sent) Hud, one of their own brethren. He said: “O my people! Worship Allah. You have no other god but Him. You do nothing but invent lies. O my people! I ask of you no reward for this (Message). My reward is from none but Him who created me: Will you not then understand? And O my people! Ask forgiveness of your Lord, and turn to Him (in repentance). He will send you the skies pouring abundant rain, and add strength to your strength. So they said: “O Hud! No evidence have you brought us, and we shall not leave our gods for your (mere) saying, nor shall we believe in you. We say nothing but that (perhaps) some of our gods may have seized you with imbecility.” He said: “I call Allah to witness, and you bear witness, that I am free from that which you ascribe as partners in worship with Him. So plot against me, all of you, and give me no respite. I put my trust in Allah, My Lord and your Lord! There is not a moving creature, but He has grasp of its fore-lock. Verily, it is my Lord that is on a straight Path. If you turn away, I (at least) have conveyed the Message with which I was sent to you. My Lord will make another people to succeed you, and you will not harm Him in the least. For my Lord has care and watch over all things. So when Our decree issued, We saved Hud and those who believed with him, by (special) grace from Ourselves: We saved them from a severe penalty. Such were the ‘Ad People. They rejected the signs of their Lord and Cherisher; disobeyed His Messengers; and followed the command of every powerful, obstinate transgressor. And they were pursued by a curse in this life, and on the Day of Judgment. No doubt! Verily, Ad disbelieved in their Lord. So away with Ad, the people of Hud.”
(Surah Hud, 50-60)
Sayyiduna Hud (peace be upon him) was one of the major Prophets of Allah. Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) is reported to have said: “Verily, Hud was the first to speak the Arabic language.” The people of Ad, to whom Sayyiduna Hud (peace be upon him) was sent, lived in an area of curved sand hills in the Southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. They worshipped a number of idols and gave them many different names. The people of Ad that were destroyed are referred to as the “first people of Ad”. As for the second people of Ad, they are the inhabitants of Yemen from Qahtan, Saba and their descendents. However, it is also said that the “second people of Ad” are none other than the people of Thamud. The people of Hadramawt say that, after the people of Ad were destroyed, Sayyiduna Hud (peace be upon him) lived in the land of Hadramawt, until he died in the Western part of their land, near the valley of Barhut. (See: Atlas al-Qur’an, P: 43-44)
Allah Almighty mentions that the people of Ad lived in a place called Ahqaf. He Most High says in the Qur’an:
“Mention (Hud), one of Ad’s (own) brethren. Behold, he warned his people about the winding Sand-tracts (ahqaf)…”
(Surah Ahqaf, 21)
Imam Ibn Kathir (Allah have mercy on him) said in his Tafsir:
“The brother of Ad was Hud (peace be upon him). Allah Most High sent him to the first people of Ad, and they used to live in Ahqaf the plural of Haqaf, which means “hills made of sand”. Ikrima said: “Ahqaf means hills and caves. Ali ibn Abi Talib (Allah be pleased with him) said: “Ahqaf is a valley (wadi) in Hadramawt called Barhut, in which the souls of the Kuffar are thrown. Qatada said: It was related to us that the people of Ad lived in Yemen …” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 4/204)
As regards to the grave of Prophet Hud (peace be upon him) being in Hadramawt, Imam Ibn Kathir states in his exegesis of the Qur’an:
Amir ibn Wathila said: “I heard Sayyiduna Ali (Allah be pleased with him) saying to a man from Hadramawt: “Have you seen red sand-hills mixed with red mud and a lot of lotus trees in such and such part of Hadramawt? Have you seen this land?” The man from Hadramawt replied: “Yes, O Amir al-Mu’minin, you describe it as you have seen this land.” He said: “No, I was merely informed of this land.” The man from Hadramawt enquired: “So what is so special about this land?” He said: “In it is the grave of Hud (peace be upon him).” Narrated by Ibn Jarir. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir)
This has also been endorsed and supported by the likes of Imam al-Kasa’i, Imam al-Ghazali, Imam Suyuti, Imam al-Khazin, Imam al-Shawkani, Yaqut al-Hamawi and many others. Imam al-Khuza’i said that Sayyiduna Hud (peace be upon him) passed away in Ahqaf in the lands of Yemen and his grave is present there. He was around 462 years old! (See: al-Dur al-Mandud fi Akhbari Qabr wa Ziyarat an-Nabi Hud, P: 25)
The above and many other evidences point to the fact that the people of Ad lived in the mountainous areas and valleys of Hadramawt. The Prophet of Allah sent to them, Sayyiduna Hud (peace be upon him), also lived and passed away here. The Qur’an normally mentions incidents and stories of the people that came before us, but does not locate the relevant places and areas. Thus, one cannot be absolutely sure and certain of these places, but the indications found in the Ahadith and statements of the Companions should suffice in determining these places. Nevertheless, it was a privilege and an honour to come and visit the grave of a great Prophet of God (peace be upon him).
We travelled for around an hour passing through valleys, mountains, hills and desert roads when our driver brother Salim turned away from the main road and took us on a bumpy road. This rough ride lasted for around 30 minutes after which we arrived at our destination, the Hud Canyon. In the midst of tall mountains, there was a small town built in order to cater for the visitors. I was informed that the houses remain empty during most part of the year, but are occupied when the annual visit of Sayyiduna Hud takes place in Sha’ban. Our driver took us to a river in which we performed our Wudu.
After performing ablution, we made our way on foot to the grave of Prophet Hud (peace be upon him). It was a long walk from the river to the grave. We passed by the well which some say is the “Well of Barahut” mentioned above. We then arrived at the grave of this great Prophet of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). The grave was actually on the mountain in a slanting position. Like the graves of many other Prophets, this grave was also extremely long and huge. Some Ulama stated that the reason for this was that, in order to show their reverence for these Prophets, their people would erect long graves for them. Others said, this reflected the actual body-size of the Prophets, for people in earlier times were quite tall. The grave was painted white and a rock was placed on the face side of the grave. We stood near this rock, i.e. towards the face side of the grave, and gave our Salams to the Prophet of Allah. I contemplated for a while reflecting upon the Qur’anic verses in which there is the mention of Prophet Hud (peace be upon him).
We strolled around the area surrounding the grave for a while enjoying the beautiful scenery of the hills of Hadramawt and taking some photos. Thereafter, we returned to our van and headed back for Tarim. By the grace of Allah Almighty, we managed to arrive back in Tarim around Zuhr time.
After having lunch (which was once again provided by my dear friend Sidi Faiz Qureyshi) and offering Salat al-Zuhr, I decided to take a short nap, as the morning journey to the grave of Sayyiduna Hud (peace be upon him) had been quite exhausting. Only a few minutes had elapsed when the electricity of the house and the surrounding areas went out. The AC and fan, which were a blessing in this extremely hot climate, were no longer functioning. It was difficult and virtually impossible to remain in the house in such a state for even a short period of time. Brother Faiz had informed me that this happens quite regularly and at times for hours. Sometimes, people do not have electricity all night long and thus are unable to sleep. I myself have experienced this whilst studying in Pakistan , but fortunately the Dar al-Uloom I was staying at had a generator system. I became restless but then soon realized that we take things such as electricity for granted back in our own country. We don’t realize the enormity of this blessing (ni’ma) of Allah Most High. When things are taken away from us, only then do we realize that it was a great blessing of Allah Most High. It made me realize the importance of thanking Allah each and everyday of our life for the various blessings He has honoured us with.
Nevertheless, due to the heat inside of the house, I decided to go out to Tarim town-centre and purchase certain items. I went with my wife as she needed to purchase certain items for family and friends. The items were extremely cheap compared to other Arab countries. The prices were half of the prices found in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. It began to rain heavily whilst we were shopping and this made me realize the gift of rain and water. The electricity came back and I was able to use a computer at an internet café and email some friends. We returned home and performed Asr Salat.
I had promised some of the students from the West (who had come for the annual Dawra) to advise them on studying and other matters. Hence, after Maghrib Salat, I went to the Badr Institute (mentioned above) premises and spent around an hour with some students. They wanted some advice as to where and how they should study. They wanted me to give them an insight on studying in the Madrasas of Pakistan and Syria . The meeting with them was al-Hamdulillah quite fruitful. I thanked them for giving me the opportunity to share some of my experiences with them and then made my way for Eisha Salat in Dar al-Mustafa.
Dinner and meeting with Habib Ali al-Jifri (may Allah preserve him)
One of the brothers from the UK , Sidi Abbas, was in constant contact with Shaykh Habib Ali al-Jifri’s secretary in order to organize a meeting for me with the respected Shaykh. Thus, Habib Ali invited me to his house for dinner after Eisha Salat. In the company of brother Abbas, I went to the Habib’s house at around 10:30 pm. We were received and directed to the balcony of his beautiful mansion. We sat there for a while anticipating the arrival of Shaykh Habib Ali al-Jifri. We were joined by his secretary and other associates and after a short wait, the Shaykh himself entered upon us with his usual awe and magnificence. I sat right next to Habib and he was also very pleased to meet me, al-Hamdulillah.
We discussed many important matters such as: The importance of unity and the unfortunate Deobandi/Barelwi split. He stated that he has respect for the scholars of both Schools and that something definitely needs to be done in order to bring these two Schools close to one another. Habib Ali suggested that young Ulama from both camps should get together and formulate a plan on how to bring the youngsters close to one another. He mentioned that it will be difficult for the elders of both communities to do away with their differences, thus it was the duty and responsibility of the younger generation to take on this important task upon themselves.
He mentioned to me how his teacher Habib Umar’s father had close contacts with the Ulama of Deoband. He said Habib Umar’s father, Shaykh Abu Bakr ibn Salim, was very close to the Amir of Tabligh in India, the late Shaykh Yusuf al-Kandahlawi, the author of Hayat al-Sahaba (Allah have mercy on them both). He stated that when Shaykh Yusuf was compiling his masterpiece work, Hayat al-Sahaba (Lives of the Companions), Shaykh Abu Bakr was with him and actually took the honour of compiling the index for this auspicious work. The edition with Shaykh Abu Bakr Salim’s writing is still in existence, Habib Ali said. Habib Ali also mentioned that Shaykh Abu Bakr ibn Salim was a friend of Shaykh Muhammad Zakariyya al-Kandahlawi (Allah have mercy on him), and that Habib Umar himself travelled to India with the Jama’ah of Da’wa and Tabligh some years ago.
Sayyid Habib Ali (may Allah preserve him) also advised me on the roles and responsibilities of young Ulama in the West. He stressed the importance of teaching the younger generation as to how they should treat non-Muslims and how their behaviour should be towards them. We also talked about some other issues.
As we were discussing these issues in the presence of some 4/5 other guests, the food was laid out. A large dish of food comprising of meat, vegetables, eggs and other items was placed in front of us. We began to eat and carry on our discussion, with the other guests also now joining in. The Habib was the last to remove his hands from the food even though he probably ate the least. It is the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) to carry on eating until the guest stops eating, as not to embarrass him. After food, we were served with traditional red and yellow tea, which I have to say, was absolutely delicious and very tasty indeed.
After we finished eating, one of Habib Ali’s servants brought in the traditional Yemeni fragrance and gave it to him. The Yemenis are known for their incense and burning of the wood. Incense is more than a fragrance, a cure, smoke in an aromatic ritual associated with worship. Incense was used by kings and beggars alike (though not in the same quantity) to mark celebrations or rituals. The smoke created an atmosphere of love, brotherhood and cordiality. Men’s incense in Yemen is only limited to burning the wood. It is imported from India and South East Asia. Men often use it in religious occasions and when they go to visit other people. Habib Ali lit the wood and then passed on the incense to me and it was passed further along, with each person directing the smoke of the incense towards himself.
At the end of this auspicious meeting with Habib Ali, I gifted him a 12 volume book in Arabic compiled by Shaykh Muhammad Zakariyya al-Kandahlawi (Allah have mercy on him). It was a work of Hadith on the Sahih al-Bukhari titled “al-Kanz al-Mutawari” published very recently by Shaykh Zakariyya’s student Shaykh Abdal Hafiz al-Makki. Habib Ali was very pleased and gave me Duas. He in turn asked his secretary to provide me with the publication list of his publishing company Dar al-Faqih. Habib Ali asked me to place a mark next to any of the books that I was in need of and then ordered his secretary to go and bring the books for me. I marked some 9/10 books and Subhan Allah, within a few minutes, the books were in front of me. Habib Ali also gifted me a copy of his recently published book “Ma’alim al-Suluk lil Mar’at al-Muslima“. Lastly, he gifted me his personal Subha (prayer-bead) and two bottles of Itr, one for me and another for my teacher and Shaykh, Mawlana Yusuf Mutala of Dar al-Uloom, Bury, UK (may Allah preserve him). I was overwhelmed by the love, affection and courtesy shown by Habib Ali al-Jifri and by all the gifts, but then again, I was told to expect that from the Haba’ibs of Yemen. I sought permission from Habib Ali, made farewell and left his house.
It was past midnight and we had a journey in the morning by coach to San’a. Hence, I headed home and went straight to sleep.
Sunday 17th July
The following day, I woke up early, performed Fajr Salat and left with our driver brother Salim for Say’un at 4 am in order to catch the coach for San’a. The coach left Say’un around 5: 30 am and after a long journey of around 8/9 hours, we arrived back in San’a. The evening was spent in trying to complete some unfinished business in terms of purchasing items and other things. I and my family stayed in a hotel for the night and on the morning of 18th July; we left for the airport of San’a and flew to Dubai. This amazing, auspicious, incredible, enjoyable, educational, spiritually uplifting and sacred journey had unfortunately, as all things do, come to an end. With sadness and sorrow, I reluctantly left the blessed lands of Yemen .
My stay in Yemen was very short and certainly not enough to visit everything properly. I had not visited the city of Bilqis, Ma’rib. I was also unable to visit the cities of Jund and Zabid, cities where two major Companions of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) Sayyiduna Mu’az ibn Jabal and Sayyiduna Abu Musa al-Ash’ari (Allah be pleased with them both) resided. Nevertheless, the few days spent were immensely educational and spiritually uplifting, al-Hamdulillah. Due to this journey, I was also able to read through some of the pages in Islamic history.
In the beginning of this article, I quoted the various Ahadith regarding the virtues of Yemen and its inhabitants. In view of this, it was hardly surprising to see that generally people were very serious about their religion. I personally felt that Islam was being practised by the general public more seriously and on a wider scale than many other Islamic and Arab countries. I hardly saw a local woman not wearing the Hijab and most of the women wore the Niqab. People were quite punctual with their Salat and other Islamic duties. The character and manner of the people in terms of generosity and courtesy was second to none. Hadramawt (and in particular Tarim) was a deeply traditional society, with little unnecessary interaction between the genders. Women were respected and looked after by the men. In Tarim, for women to venture out after dusk is considered to be highly offensive. Women do not even go for shopping on their own unless necessary. The men of the house are expected to do the shopping or at least accompany their womenfolk to the shops and markets. Polygamy is completely normal and an accepted practice amongst Yemenis, with many Shuyukh and scholars having sometimes up to 4 wives!
The people of Tarim (and Yemen in general) were extremely friendly and welcoming. They had this real aura of contentment about them. The men generally dressed in the Sunnah fashion of sarongs and long loose shirts or robes, along with an Imamah. It seemed that these people had genuine and extreme love for their religion and that they loved being Muslims. In Hadramawt, the general public had extreme love and devotion for their scholars, saints and religious leaders. It was a clear manifestation of the Prophetic saying “You will be with whom you love” hence they considered their salvation and success to be in having love for the pious and learned.
The majority of the people in Yemen follow the Shafi’i School. Others are of the Zaydi School but have respect for the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). Some are also Hanafis, whilst some others choose to follow the way of Imam al-Shawkani who lived and taught in San’a. However, there is common unity amongst the Muslims and disputes and argumentation is hardly the case. The Islamic institutions such as Jamia al-Iman (in San’a) and particularly Dar al-Mustafa (in Tarim) are a source of light and guidance for the general public. They are extremely traditional places of learning and it is hoped such institutions will fulfil the needs of Muslims in these times of trial and tribulation. The Government is generally not too harsh with Islamic institutions and movements unlike many other Islamic countries. People are free to practise their religion and preach. Even the Jama’ah Tabligh are permitted to carry out their regular activities.
After my visit to Yemen , I travelled for a few days to Dubai and what a contrast! Dubai was a centre of materialism whilst Hadramawt was a centre of spirituality. People in Dubai may be content in terms of wealth and riches but one can see they were missing something in their lives, whilst the normal layman living in Yemen was poor and working hard for his daily bread but the contentment, peace and tranquillity found in his life was something that money could never buy. As I walked through the streets of Dubai, I realised how spiritually deprived other societies can be. I thought back to the delightful faces I had seen in Yemen , of beautiful Muslims whose love for Islam manifested in every aspect of their lives and radiated through their faces. I longed to return to that place where Islam was practised with love and devotion, where Islam was practised without any compromise and importantly, without harshness. Thinking of Yemen and especially Hadramawt and Tarim, gave me hope in these bleak times for the Muslim Ummah.
And Allah alone gives success
Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari
Darul Iftaa, Leicester, UK