Photo Essay: Tarim – Land of Goodness
In the name of Allah, most Benevolent, most Merciful.
“Everything you have heard about Tarim, Abbas my brother, it’s not only true. It’s definitely more than that. Beautiful is an understatement, Masya Allah.”
The quote above was from an email correspondence with a dear friend of mine, describing his experience seeking knowledge in the blessed town of Tarim, in Hadramawt. And late last year, I had the wonderful opportunity to experience it for myself.
I was there in a group of 40 Singaporean and Malaysians for about 10 days in a customized ziarah (visit) and dowra (intensive course). The visit was initiated by a group of students of Ustaz Abu Zaki bin Yusuf – formerly Imam at Masjid Haji Muhammad Salleh (Maqam Habib Noh). Ustaz Abu Zaki has been in Tarim for about two years now furthering his studies. We were hosted primarily by Dar al-Mustafa, in particular by Habib Ali Mashhur b. Muhammad Bin Hafidz, the elder brother of Habib Umar Bin Hafidz. Our travel arrangements were assisted by An-Nur Travel Pte Ltd, in particular by Sheikh Esa bin Omar Alkhatib, who himself had spent time in Hadramawt in his youth.
We arrived in Tarim right on time for breakfast. We were hosted by Ustaz Abu Zaki at his house. I learnt two things that morning – the hospitality of the people of Tarim, and their simplicity of life. We ate a kind of bread (which I can only best describe as a naan, but somewhat tougher) with condiments such as crushed dates, cream, jam and halwa. Ustaz Abu Zaki mentioned this bread was close to the kind that Prophet Muhammad (saw) ate during his lifetime. Still at Ustaz Abu Zaki’s house, we visited by an elderly habib, Habib Husayn bin Umar al-Haddad who travelled from outside of Tarim, just because he had heard that a group of visitors were coming from Singapore, and that he wanted to greet us.
Habib Husayn may have looked simple, and even unkempt by our standards, but Masya Allah, he was a person of great knowledge and incredible character. Habib Husayn (like most Hadrami people I imagine) loves reciting Qasidah. On the day before we left, Ustaz Abu Zaki hosted us again, this time for lunch. Habib Husayn was reciting a Qasidah just before the food was being served. “Why are you serving the food now?” He somewhat reprimanded the one who was carrying the dulang out. “Bring the food back in. I am reciting a Qasidah, and the scent of the food is distracting me.” (True enough the food was incredibly appetizing). The young man duly brought the food back inside. After Habib Husayn had completed the Qasidah, the young man served the food. I don’t think Habib Husayn had more than two mouthfuls of food before he excused himself and left.
We were well fed throughout our trip, and I’m still trying to burn off the excess kilograms I put on. However, in addition to physical nourishment, we were also given spiritual nourishment. Being in Tarim, you can only be surrounded by goodness. Seeking knowledge and engaging in worship to Allah swt is a central part of the culture of the people in Tarim. It is often said that, “The streets of Tarim are teachers to those who are without teachers.” What it means is that whichever street you walk in Tarim, you will come across people reciting or teaching the Qur’an, imparting knowledge of hadith and fiqh or simply engaging in dzikir.
Throughout our time there, we prayed every rakaat of every solat fardhu in congregation. For someone who seldom manages the fajr prayer in congregation, it was a truly refreshing experience. Walking to Dar al-Mustafa amidst the calm and cold morning breeze allowed me to reflect upon my life and how fortunate I really was. Living in Singapore where every part of our day seems a mad scramble to complete a deadline or reach a particular place, I really enjoyed the tranquil environment of Tarim. Fajr prayer in Dar al-Mustafa was really memorable. Often we had Habib Umar Bin Hafidz leading the prayer. It was a surreal experience, believe me, to be so close to him and listening to his calm and deep voice reciting the Holy Qur’an.
After the fajr prayer, the congregation lined up to salam one another while reciting litanies (wirid) such as the Wirid Shaykh Abu Bakr bin Salim, the Wirid al-Lathif (composed by Imam Abdullah al-Haddad) and surah Yaasin. This would last about fifteen minutes and it often made me feel dizzy after having to walk and salam everyone in the congregation. The students however did it with such calm and nonchalant poise while reciting! How I admired them. Typically after this, the students of Dar al-Mustafa would break into their halaqahs and begin their morning lessons. The rest of us, along with other members of the community I assume would listen to a lecture given by Habib Umar or any one of the teachers of Dar al-Mustafa.
As you may be aware, Tarim is home to thousands of knowledgeable and pious scholars. Besides Dar al-Mustafa which was founded recently in 1994, the other notable institution of learning institutions in Tarim is the Rubat Tarim. It was founded by Habib Abdullah bin Umar ash-Shatiri in 1888, the father of the eminent and well-respected scholar Habib Salim ash-Shatiri. There are many Singaporean students studying in Rubat Tarim and again we also had the great opportunity to be in their company.
The most memorable experience for me was visiting the graveyard of Zanbal. There are three cemeteries in Tarim – Zanbal, Furayt and Akhdar. The graveyard of Zanbal is reserved for the descendants of our Prophet (saw) – the Ba’alawi sayyids of Hadramawt.
For someone like me who finds meaning and enjoys walking through graves, walking through the gates of Zanbal for the first time was spiritually enriching and soothing. There was a certain calmness in the mid-afternoon air as we removed our sandals and walked on the cool white stone surface of the walkway. From wherever you are, you can see thousands and thousands of tombstones, each indicating the resting place of our Prophet’s descendant – male and female. The graveyard of Zanbal must be the largest burial ground anywhere in the world where its inhabitants all belong to one family. In my heart I felt that given the rich cultural history alone, Zanbal deserves to be a UNESCO site. On each marked tombstone, you can read off the lineage of the deceased, “Fulan bin Fulan bin Fulan bin Fulan…” all the way to a particular ancestor and even to our Prophet Muhammad bin Abdullah (saw) himself.
However, there is more to Zanbal than simply a collection of names or a rich history spanning over nine hundred years. Zanbal is also the resting place of thousands of awliyah Allah (saints of Allah), men and women who have led their lives in perfect accordance to the Qur’an and sunnah of our Prophet (saw). Amongst them was al-Faqih Muqaddam Muhammad bin Ali Ba’alawi, the initiator of the Tariqah al-‘Alawiyyah. There are also the graves of other notable awliyah Allah such as Shaykh Abdul Rahman as-Saqqaf, Habib Ja’afar bin Ahmad al-Aydarus (the father of the late Habib Ali bin Ja’afar al-Aydarus from Batu Pahat) and Imam Abdullah bin Alawi al-Haddad, best known for being the composer of the Ratib al-Haddad and author of volumes of scholarly books.
The graveyard of Zanbal is also the burial place of between sixty to seventy Companions of the Prophet (ra). They had passed away during the caliphate of Saiyidina Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, fighting against rebel tribes in Hadramawt during the Ridda’ Wars.
We also visited various towns in Hadramawt as part of our ziarah. We made a two-hour journey to visit the maqam (tomb) of Nabi Hud (as). We also visited the maqam of Imam al-Muhajir, Ahmad bin Isa in Husaiyisah. Imam al-Muhajir migrated from Basrah, in Iraq to Hadramawt and is the ancestor of all Ba’alawi sayyids. We also visited the towns of ‘Inat and Huraydah, where Shaykh Abu Bakr bin Salim and Habib Umar bin Abdul Rahman al-Attas lived and are buried respectively. Both were composers of notable litanies. Habib Umar bin Abdul Rahman al-Attas’ ratib (Ratib al-Attas) is recited in Masjid Ba’alawi in Singapore every Thursday night. The founder of the mosque, Habib Muhammad bin Salem al-Attas was a direct descendant of the composer of the ratib.
In all, it was a wonderful experience being in Tarim and visiting parts of Hadramawt, even if it was for a mere 10 days. I cannot exactly put in words to do justice to the beauty of my experience there. The amount of tears shed in complete awe of Tarim and people would be a closer gauge, but even then immeasurable. All the stories you read about Tarim, about Hadramawt, the history, the litanies (wirid) recited, the genealogies of the scholars from amongst the Hadrami sayyids, the biographies (manaqib) of the many saints buried in its lands and of our scholars (ulama) who descent from them – it all comes together when you visit Hadramawt. And the feeling is unbelievably awe-inspiring.
For you reading this, may you be given the blessed opportunity to visit Tarim, and experience it for yourself. Insya Allah.[divider]
Abbas Khan is a secondary school teacher of English Language and Literature who is passionate about local culture and history, especially those not taught in schools. On his own, he is researching on the early Hadrami and Pakistani communities in Singapore. You can read about it at http://www.project-bostan.com or contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org