A talk with Islamic scholar Habib Omar:Bringing the true meaning of Islam… [Archives:2004/715/Culture]

February 26 2004
Habib Omar bin Mohammad bin Hafeedh
Habib Omar bin Mohammad bin Hafeedh
By Irena Knehtl
[email protected]
For The Yemen Times

His weekly address on the Yemeni TV has won him audience and hearts all over Yemen. Last week prior his weekly TV address, I met him finally at Dar AlMustafa in Sanaa.
Everybody went our of his way to show the location.
When I finally sat across Habib Omar bin Mohammad bin Salem bin Hafeedh, Dean of Dar Al Mustafa in Tarim, who is perhaps the greatest living Islamic sufi scholar, everything seemed overwhelming: the whiteness, the scent of incense at the place, simplicity, the ease.
Dar Al Mustafa in Tarim, Hadrawat, over the past years has emerged an important center of Islamic learning.
Tarim in Hadrawat lies some 35 km east of Seiyun, encircled by palm groves and orchards. It takes its name from a local king Tarim ibn Hadramawt ibn Saba Al-Assgar, was a major centre of the Kathiri state until 1960, also the capital of Hadramawt.
Since the 10th century it is a religious capital of the Wadi Hadramawt. Tarims reputation as a centre of religious teaching extended well beyond the Arabian Peninsula, reaching East Africa and Southeast Asia.
Tarim is also known for its libraries, the most famous being the Al Kaff library of manuscripts which houses around 5,000 manuscripts from the region covering, religion, the thoughts of the prophets, Islamic law, Sufism, medicine, astronomy, agriculture, biographies, history and mathematics. Many go back hundreds of years, and often contain vibrantly colored illustration.
Last October The Yemen Times published the book review of Norwegian researcher Anne K. Bang under the title Sufis and Scholars of the Sea which now will be re-published in the Asian Studies Journal, published by University of Singapore. The central figure Ahmed B. Abo Bakr b. Sumayt (1986-1925) one of the most prominent Hadrami-East African scholars of that period, and Qadi of Zanzibar had acquired great respect from British administrators.
His reputation as reformer, as teacher, and propagator of improved agricultural methods extended far beyond the limits of Zanzibar. His greatest strengths, however, was that he was intensely human.
At Dar Al Mustafa we very much follow the spirit and personality of Ibn Sumayt, says Habib Omar. At the moment we have some 250 students who study at Dar Al Mustafa.
They come from various countries, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, UK, and even US. We are open, one determines the length of the study for example from 40 days to 4 days, says Habib Omar. Next to Dar Al Mustafa is also Dar Al Zahra, for sisters, and ladies. The monthly fee is modest.
Even though he was under times pressure for his weekly TV address, simplicity and modesty were overwhelming the talk. Finally, I requested to add something about himself.
He continued in simple words: I was born in Tarim, my father was mufti there. Unlike Ibm Sumayt, I studied in Tarim and Mecca. Prior Yemeni unity I lived and worked in AlBaida.
At our good-bye he handed me simple wooden prayer beads from his recent “umra” from Mecca. We agreed to meet in Tarim and report live from Dar AlMustafa.