Literary CornerYemen: The People and Culture (V) [Archives:2006/952/Culture]

June 5 2006

Abu Al-Kalmah Al-Tayyibah
Author: Qadhi Abdullah Abdul-Wahhab Al-Shamahi

Language: Arabic

Publisher: Dar Al-Hana Printing

Year Published: 1973

No. of Pages: 370

With the fight for the succession to the Caliphate taking a more violent turn when the fourth Caliph Ali Bin Abu Talib took over after Uthman Ibn Affan, the Yemenis were solicited by both contestants Ali (cousin of the and son in law of the Prophet Mohammed, (PBAUH), there was no way that the Yemenis could be kept on the sidelines as both factions knew that victory was inconceivable without them. The Yemenis have had a strong relationship with the Hashemite faction of the Quraish tribe, even in pre-Islamic times says the author by marriage and alliances and so it is understandable that Ali was able to easily court their support. In fact his leading commander Al-Ashtar had gotten close to taking over Ma'awiyah Bin Abu Sufyan's Command Tent at the Battle of Siffin, until the latter resorted to a plot that eventually turned the struggle into a stalemate, with Ma'awiyah holding on to Damascus and Ali maintaining control over the Peninsula and Iraq.

With the Umayyad chasing after the Shiites for the next 90 years or so after Ali's death, it was understandable that Yemen was to become a haven for some of the Shiite sects. The Isamilis and the Zeidis especially found good grounds to settle in Yemen. The Zeidi sect entered Yemen in the Year 380 AD, with the advent of Imam Al-Hadi Yahya Bin Hussein (a descendant of Ali and Fatima, the Prophet Mohammed's (PBAUH) daughter and establisher of the sect started by Zeid Bin Ali Bin Hussein Bin Ali Bin Abu Talib, who was killed by the Umayyad

Except for originally limiting the ruler of the state to the Hashemite House (descendants of Hassan and Hussein, the sons of Ali)1, that man is given discretion in deciding the course of action he can take and is not compelled to choose between evil and good and the need to overthrow any oppressive ruler, said the author, the Zeidi sect agrees with most of the known orthodox Islamic sects in many of the requirements of Islam. The author attributes to the first condition many countless battles over the history of Yemen during the last thousand years as many Imams sought to take over and revolt against an existing Imam, because he was found to be violating the principles of sound government in Islam (even if the Imam was a Hashemite).

Thus with the Islamic Central state becoming weaker as time passed, especially in the time of the Abbasid Caliphs, who took over the caliphate after claiming to avenge the death of many of their Hashemite cousins, who were killed by the Umayyad. But rather than advocate for the return of the Hashemites to the caliphate, they took over the Caliphate themselves and in turn also turned against their Hashemite cousins. Thus the Islamic state was embroiled in a long drawn out struggle for the Caliphate, as the Abbasid control of the empire dwindled to a nominal rule and the different Islamic regions of the Empire were left to dwindling states within a state until the Mongols under Kublai Khan took over Baghdad and ended the Caliphate, to be only restored later when the Ottoman Turks became the leading power in the Islamic World.

The author contends that the passing of the Caliph Ali led to the end of any hope of restoring Islam to the purity that it enjoyed under the Prophet Mohammed (PBAUH) and the subsequent 4 Orthodox Caliphs that followed him (Ali being the last) and oppression became a common trait of most of the Islamic governments that followed up to modern times. Islamic unity was also weakened as each of the sides in the power struggle for the caliphate sought to win over constituencies here and there, thus evolving into the various sectarian differences that arose.

In Yemen, after Ali's death, Ma'awiyah sent a large force to Yemen to chase Ali's followers and there slaughtered 30,000 of those who were suspected of following Ali in his fight against the Umayyad, many of them “old men, women and children”, as the author says. As the Third Century AH approached, Yemen was gaining in independence and various dynasties took over the helms in Yemen beginning with the Bani Ziyad Kingdom that ruled from 203 – 409 AH. There were twelve different kingdoms or states, as the author calls them, some ruling throughout Yemen, while others took over certain parts of the country. Some of these were also vassal states of outside powers like the Ayyubids and the Ottomans. Moreover some of these states overlapped in terms of the time periods of their existence. The First Kingdom, the Ziyadi Kingdom actually was born out of an attempt by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mamoun to subdue Yemen only to find that the commander of the force sent to carry out this task, Mohammed Ibn Abdullah Ibn Ziyad, decided to set up his own free and independent state . He and his four successors, were able to extend their rule to Hadhramaut, the Hijaz, Oman. Their capital was mostly in Zabid, Tehama.

Ramzy: Use the second picture of Shamahi I provided last week. If not you will find it in your mailbox.

1Modern Zeidi scholars have departed somewhat from this rule and are willing to concede that a ruler does not have to be from the House of Ali, if he was elected by the people and abides by the sound rules of a “good ruler”, who upholds the people's rights and protects the Moslems from all wrongdoing against them.