Unraveling the Mystery of Al-Shabazi [Archives:2000/24/Reportage]

June 12 2000

Imad Al-Saqqaf,
Farooq Al-Kamali
During and after President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s visit to USA, the issue of the Jews and normalization of relationship was extensively discussed in press and TV channels. At the time, there were some Jewish tourist groups visiting Yemen.
The government seemed to find this an opportunity to activate tourism drive in the country after a period characterized by tourist recess due to kidnapping incidents in various parts of the Republic. On the other hand, Israel wants to be given access to the Yemeni waters, so as to control the Gulf area through Aden Gulf.
During their visits to Yemen, many Jewish groups raised the issue of Al-Shabazi, after official statements by the Zionist entity and Jewish communities abroad were made to recover his remains or to locate his grave so that it could be renovated and made an important tourist spot.

Though the Yemeni public, in general, are still against the idea of normalization of relations with the Jews, the grave of Al-Shabazi constitutes part of our cultural heritage that should not be distorted ignored. Yemenis bear no grudge against the Jews nor the Jewish religion. The two races have lived together in peace for a long time. What the Yemenis as well as many Arabs are against , however, is the policy of the Zionist entity which occupies the Arab territories and oppresses the Arab people of Palestine.

Al-Shabazi and Al-Muayed Rest House:
Many newspapers as well as TV channels have recently been interested in the issue of Al-Shabazi. There was also a big controversy about the location of his grave. Many questions are still raised about his identity, purpose of his coming to Yemen, and choosing Taiz in particular and the exact location of its dome, all of which are still unanswered. Many a persons took Al-Muayed Rest House for his dome as there is the hexagram atop the Rest House dome.
To shed more light on the matter and uncover ramifications of this issue, YT went to Al-Muayed area where the Rest House is located in the South of Al-Kahera Fort. Al-Muayed Rest House is just a dome and a basin next to it. The condition of the dome is really miserable due to negligence. Cracks have distinctly appeared in the hexagram. We met one Abdullah Al-Fadli who said “This is Al-Muayed Rest House and the basin below it receives water that comes down from Al-Kahera Fort. The speculation that this is Al-Shabazi grave is groundless. Two journalists from Al-Jazeera channel came to take photos of this site thinking it as Al-Shabazi grave.”
In Al-Muayed area there is a new Rest House under construction bearing the name of Al-Muayed Rest House. We met the engineer in charge of its implementation who said that the area would be developed into a beautiful tourist site.

The Hexagram:
Regarding the existence of the sixth star on Al-Muayed dome as well as on some Islamic sites, Mr. Al-Izi Mohammed Musleh, chairman of Archeology Office in Taiz, said “The hexagram on the dome is a decoration that has nothing to do with the star of Israel. It is deeply rooted in the Islamic history and is commonly called “Al-Dawoodiah” Star referring to prophet Solomon’s ring which was hexagonal.
The star was also frequently used by the Sufi as an adornment sign on their drums. It was also used in psychotherapy. It used to be used as charms to exorcise evil spirits.
Yemenis, in general, used it in the past to decorate their houses. Therefore, the star is seen in many old buildings. Moreover, there are some pentagrams and eight-pointed stars.”

Mr. Mohammed Mohammed Al-Mujahed, chairman of General Organization for Tourism in Taiz, said “The hexagram used to be prevalent at that time on different buildings, not only religious monuments. This has eventually acquired a religious symbolism among the people. It was not known at the time that star will be the symbol of the Israel. Al-Muayed Rest House dates back to the reign of Al-Rasolin in Al-Muayed area. However, Al-Shabazi is in Al-Sawani area on the other side of Al-Kahera Fort and, to be specific, it is in Al-Maghreba. There is a far long distance separating the two.

Al-Shabazi:a brief sketch
His name was Shaloom Shabozo. According to the Yemeni Jews he came from Morocco in about 200 years. He settled in Taiz and it was believed that he was an adult then. It’s also reported that he lived in Taiz for 15 years before before his death and was buried in Al-Maghreba area where the Jews of Taiz used to live then under orders from Imam Ahmad Haimd Al-Dain.
He was a poet and not a religious leader. He was actually like Ali Bin Zaid for Yemenis. He used to compose poems on agriculture, crops, harvest, etc. However, the Jews’ focus on him makes everyone think that he is more than a mere poet.”
YT went to Al-Maghreba. But we could see nothing spectacular. Nayef Mohammed Haider, the person in charge of looking after the grave said that the grave was covered under earth which he discovered. Then, he showed us a nearby basin where sick children were used to be treated. He said “Water in this basin is with medicinal properties and is used to treat children who have weak health.”About the grave of Al-Shabazi, Mr. Al-Izi said “Al-Shabazi was buried in a grave that has an architecture, different from that of normal Muslim graves. The roof was built with mud bricks. It has a small window and is surrounded by a small wall. Now it has no clear-cut marks. However, it has never been exposed to any ravages. Besides, the government preserves all the sites that are part of our cultural heritage. We guard the Al-Shabazi grave because it’s part of our history.”In the cemetery and near the grave of Al-Shabazi the Al-Saeed Institute for primary education was built and later the Jews temple was changed to a school.

Al-Shabazi for Tourism:
If the Yemeni government pays this cultural site as well as other such sites in Taiz the due attention, it is certain that tourism industry will flourish. It is no less important than the Al-kaherah Fort and the Al-Mudafar mosque.
YT contacted Mr. Mohammed Al-Mojahid from the Tourism office in Taiz who said “The Chairman of the Jews community in America phoned me and promised that at least 20 thousand tourists will come annually to visit the site, if the site was properly maintained. Besides, they are willing to do the renovations themselves. Therefore, I feel that we should renovate this site not for the sake of tourist Jews but for all the tourists who will come from all over the world to our country. Taiz is actually rich with such sites which, if taken care of, will certainly promote the tourist drive in the country.”
In regard to transferring Al-Shabazi grave to Israel, Al-Izi Mohammed said “This is not at all true and is unthinkable. Besides, Al-Shabazi is not that significant historically to make this big fuss about. He is a mere Jew who died in Yemen.
Mr. Abdullah Al-Thaifani, a leader of the movement resisting the normalization policy, said “People as well as different media channels have made a mountain out of a molehill. Al-Shabazi is part of our history. He was a Jew who belonged to the Jewish religion. We should not let such a small issue interfere in our struggle against Zionists occupying Palestine and oppressing its people. We should not use Al-Shabazi case to pave the way for normalization with Israel.”
To conclude, the authorities should pay such historical as well as cultural sites the attention they deserve so as to save them from destruction. Al-Shabazi was a Jew, true. But this does not mean that we have to open the doors wide for the Israelis to come to Yemen and be the pioneers of normalization.