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The Sāda in History: A critical essay on Ḥaḍramī historiography*

  • Alexander Knysh


In attempting to write a religious and political history of Ḥaḍramawt in the Middle Ages one inevitably encounters a number of methodological and historiographical problems some of which will be addressed in the present article. The first arises from the overall scarcity of historical documentation on the period in question. More importantly, the sources that are available are riddled with underlying agendas and biases, which often hinge on considerations of genealogy and clannish honour. These genealogical or clannish agendas and biases are evident in the sources dealing with practically every aspect of Ḥaḍrami history. However, they are especially conspicuous in the historical texts which describe the spread of the Shāfi'ī school of law in Ḥaḍramawt, the cult of local saints and the origins of local religious and educational institutions. In my recent study of Ḥaḍramī shrines and seasonal pilgrimages, I have brought out the genealogical underpinnings of the theological polemic around the cult of local holy men and women - a polemic that grew especially intense in the first decades of our century and flared up with a vengeance during the recent civil war between the Northern and Southern parts of unified Yemen. In this paper I will demonstrate how these hidden agendas have manifested themselves in the historical accounts of Ḥaḍramī Islam with special reference to the rise of the Shāfi'ī madhhab and the dissemination of Ṣūfism.



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1 Freitag, Ulrike and Clarence-Smith, William G. (eds.), Hadrami Traders, Scholars and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean, 1730s–1960s (Leiden, 1997), pp. 199216.

2 For his biography see Bakr al-Shilli, Muḥammad b. Abū, Al-Mashra' al-rawī fī manāqib al-sāda al-kirām Āl Abī 'Alaun (Cairo, 1319 A.M.), ii, pp. 211; cf. al-'Alawī, Ṣāliḥ al-Ḥāmid, Ta'rīkh Ḥadramawt (Jeddah, 1968), ii, pp. 709–40.

3 For their biographies see al-Ḥāmid, Ṣāliḥ, Ta'rīkh, ii, pp. 463–71 and 476–8.

4 al-Ḥaddād, 'Alawī b. Ṭāhir, 'Uqūd al-almās bi-manāqib ai-imām al-'ārif Aḥmad b. ḥasan al-'Aṭṭās, ii vols., 2nd ed. (Cairo, 1968), see esp. ii, pp. 96–100.

5 See note 2.

6 al-Shāṭirī, Muḥammad b. Aḥmad, Adwār al-ta'rīkh al-ḥaḍramī, 3rd ed. (Medina-Tarim-Beirut, 1994), pp. 191–4.

7 Balfaqīh, 'Alawī b. Muḥammad, Min a'qāb al-biḍ'a al-muḥammadiyya al-ṭāhira (Tarim-Medina-Beirut, 1994), i, passim.

8 See, e.g., Peters, Emrys, The Bedouin of Cirenaica (Cambridge, 1990), p. 2.

9 On the history of the sāda families of Ḥaḍramawt see the still unsurpassed study by Serjeant, R. B., The Sayyids of Hadramawt (London, 1957).

10 Khirid Bā 'Alawā, Muḥammad b. 'Alī, Ghurar al-bahā' al-ḍawī (Cairo), A.H. 1405.

11 See, e.g., Khirid, , Ghurar, pp. 6973; al-Ḥaddād, , 'Uqūd, ii, pp. 236; al-Shāṭirī, , Adwār, pp. 155–65; Balfaqīh, , Min a'qāb, pp. 121–46.

12 For details see my article “The cult of saints and the rise of reformist discourse in twentieth century Hadramawt,” forthcoming in vol. iv of The New Arabian Studies, 1997.

13 For a summary of the long debate over this thorny issue see Balfaqīh, , A'qāb, pp. 137–9.

14 See, e.g., Samura, Ibn, Ṭabaqāt fuqahā' al-Yaman, ed. Sumayr, Fu'ād (Cairo, 1957), pp. 220–5; al-Janadī, , Al-Sulūk fī ṭabaqāt al-‘ulamā’ wa 'l-mulūk, ed. al-Hiwālī, Muḥammad b. 'Alī (Beirut, 1983), pp. 323–38.

15 Op. cit., ii, pp. 100–16.

16 See ii, pp. 724–5.

17 See, e.g., Samura, Ibn, Tabaqāt, p. 220; al-Janadī, , Al-Sulūk, p. 524–6; cf. Balfeqīh, , A'qāb, p. 98.

18 Al-Janadī, , Al-Sulūk, pp. 524–6.

19 See, e.g., al-Ḥaddād, , 'Uqūd, ii, p. 115.

20 See, e.g., al-Janadī, , Al-Sulūk, p. 525.

21 See, e.g., Khirid, , Ghurar, pp. 7781; cf. al-Ḥāmid, Ṣāliḥ, Ta'rīkh, ii, pp. 459–62; Balfaqīh, , Min a'qāb, pp. 25 and 107.

22 al-Ḥāmid, Ṣāliḥ, Ta'rīkh, ii, p. 464.

23 See, e.g., al-Ḥāmid, Ṣāliḥ, Ta'rīkh, ii, p. 466.

24 See note 1 and Balfaqīh, , Min a'qāb, pp. 4962.

25 See al-Shillī, , Al-Mashra', ii, pp. 45; al-Ḥaddād, , 'Uqūd, i, pp. 6396; cf. al-Ḥabshī, Muḥammad b. Ḥusayn, Al-'Uqūd al-lu'lu'iyya fī bayān ṭarīqat al-sāda al-'alawiyya (Cairo, no date).

26 On him see Balfaqīh, , Min a'qāb, p. 98.

27 Al-Shillī, , Al-Mashra', ii, p. 3.

28 See. e.g. al-Ḥāmid, Ṣāliḥ, Ta'rīkh, ii, pp. 466, 744–5, 750–1, 763; cf. Balfaqīh, , Min a'qāb, pp. 16, 52, 70, 84, 107–8, 116–7, 119. etc.

29 al-Ḥāmid, Ṣāliḥ, Ta'rīkh, i, pp. 305–6; cf. Balfaqīh, , Min a'qāb, pp. 134–5.

30 See, e.g., al-Shillī, , Al-Mashra', i, p. 155; cf. Balfaqīh, , Min a'qāb, pp. 138–9.

31 See note 28.

32 See al-Ḥāmid, Ṣāliḥ, Ta'rīkh, ii, pp. 757–66.

33 Bourdieu, Pierre, Language and Symbolic Power, ed. Thompson, John B., trans. Raymond, Gino and Adamson, Matthew (Oxford, 1991), p. 170et passim.

34 Cf. Peters, , The Bedouin, p. 1.

35 See, e.g., Serjeant, R. B., “Ḥaram and ḥawṭa, the sacred enclave in Arabia,” Mélanges Ṭaha Ḥusein (Cairo, 1962), pp. 4158.

* An abridged version of this article was presented to the international colloquium I Discendenti del Profeta (Sadat/Ashraf) e il loro ruolo nella storia e nella cultura dell'Islam, Rome, 2-4 March 1998. The author would like to express his sincere gratitude to the colloquium's organizers, especially to Professor B. Scarcia Amoretti.

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Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
  • ISSN: 1356-1863
  • EISSN: 1474-0591
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