Ali bin Zaid: Yemen’s wisest man [Archives:2007/1055/Culture]

May 31 2007

Moneer Al-Omari
[email protected]

Ali bin Zaid is the most famous wise man in traditional Yemeni history. No one comes close to him in wisdom, except Luqman the Wise. Another famous and wise Yemeni was Al-Humaid bin Mansour, a contemporary of Bin Zaid, as partly evidenced by the latter's poetry.

Bin Zaid's fame prompted many to attribute any wisdom or nice poetry to him, even those by other poets or wise men.

Historians and men of letters dispute Bin Zaid's origin, but they agree that he lived somewhere in the Yemeni midlands. Some ardently hold that he was from Manketh, a village in Yarim district in Ibb governorate, citing the story of his daughter's elopement with a Jew as evidence of his homeland.

Oh, Manketh ladies,

Please do not speak much.

I swear by God,

You will see Badrah's head.

They (people) say she dined in Maytam

And washed in Audinah.

Badrah was his daughter's name, Maytam is a district in Ibb and Audinah is the ancient name for Taiz.

Likewise, there's disparity over the period in which Bin Zaid lived. Some, including Yemeni poet and thinker Abdullah Al-Baradouni, believe he lived before the coming of Islam, while others assert that he lived after that. Still others maintain that he lived in recent centuries; however, no one has any proof.

Those who say he lived in pre-Islamic times cite a line of his poetry to prove their claim:

Oh! Help Thuria!

The features of summer have elapsed.

Thuria is the name of a star. Yemeni farmers depend upon the stars to determine the different agricultural seasons.

Proponents of this opinion hold to the idea that Bin Zaid wasn't a Muslim because he pleaded with Thuria instead of seeking Allah's help, while opponents assert that it is the nature of Yemeni farmers to seek the stars' help because they calculate the different seasons according to the movement of the stars.

Those in the Yemeni midlands, which stretch from Ibb to Sana'a, know of Bin Zaid more than those in other Yemeni areas. For example, he's hardly known in the Tihama or in southern Yemen, whereas he's available in nearly every minute of speech by those Yemenis from the midlands, as most cite Bin Zaid's lines (usually in the form of proverbs) to prove their viewpoint because once Bin Zaid's name is mentioned, the other party will accept his opponent's idea.

Bin Zaid was a wise and mature man with vast experience in human existence and situations. His poetry reflected the nature of man's relations to his society on one hand and his relationship with his environment on the other. Additionally, he had a deep knowledge of agricultural seasons.

According to Bin Zaid's sayings, man is a social animal forced by circumstances to socialize and mix with others.

As he said:

The one whose father did injustice to others

Will be revenged upon his sons.

He also said:

There is no city to be counted except Sana'a

And Risaba in the countryside.


Man's prestige is in his own country,

Even if he found troubles.

Bin Zaid strongly believed in his land and was aware of the agriculture norms and the laws that control the seasons. In fact, he was an authority in this regard. Women also are reflected in his poetry; however, their mention is covert because that was the nature of Yemeni tribal society, which considers it a shame to name your own wife or women relatives.

He further considered poverty to be the reason for humiliation, indicating that money is power. His theory of power for rural peoples rested on four pillars: cows, agriculture, camels and women.

Nothing overcomes poverty,

Save cows and agriculture,

Or the caravans that bring all commodities,

Or a woman of high origin,

Who shift the time.

Bin Zaid's wisdom goes beyond time and place and is as fresh as it was in his own time.

The one who feeds someone else's son

Will surely depart with him with tearful eyes.

And the one who plants someone else's land

Will leave it even at the time of reaping.

To reiterate, Bin Zaid is Yemen's favored wise man who was well-acquainted with tribal norms and agricultural seasons. His poetry, usually short passages with short lines, reflected wisdom and genius in its real sense, as it depicted nearly everything about rural Yemeni man's life.