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Hadhramaut: A Religious Centre for the Indian Ocean in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries? Author(s): Ulrike Freitag Reviewed work(s): Source: Studia Islamica, No. 89 (1999), pp. 165-183 Published by: Maisonneuve & Larose Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1596090 . Accessed: 27/03/2012 15:54Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

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Studia Islamica, 1999

Hadhramaut: a religious centre for theIndian Ocean in the late 19thand early 20h centuries ? (1)


If one talks to contemporary Hadhrami scholars, matters seem fairly clear: In the late 19th century Hadhramaut,a region situated on the southern borders of the ArabianPeninsula, became once more a blooming centre of Shafi'i Islamic scholarship and jurisprudence. In discussions, the arbita or religious colleges are normally mentioned as the focal points of scholarship and teaching. Such colleges were most notably established in Say'un in 1878-9 and in Tarim in 1885-7, and these were in the early 20th century joined by the ribat of Ghayl Ba Wazir (1902). In addition, a number of smaller and partly older colleges existed throughout the Wadi. Particularlyin Tarim, it was proudly repeated to me over and over again, standards were attained comparable only to alAzhar in Egypt. Such views are supported by the - need I say Hadhrami? - historians such as Muhammad Ahmad al-Shatiri,who proudly proclaims: "Wedo not exaggerate when we say that often the graduates of the Hadhramishari'a colleges were better than the 'ulama' of the Azhar in Shafi'i jurisprudence" (2). The importance of such arbita, if one follows this tradition further, reached far beyond the confines of the(1) The research for this paper in Yemen was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. I would like to thank Prof. Sean O'Fahey and Dr. Oleg Redkin for their comments. (2) Muhammadb. Ahmad al-Shatiri,Adwar al-tarikhal-hadrami,3rd. ed. Tarim 1994, p. 422, develops this argument.



Hadhramaut or, indeed, the Yemen. While religious and intellectual connections with the Hijaz, Egypt, and India are readily acknowledged, East Africa in particular figures as an area to which Hadhramauthad, at best, relations which might be described as "religious development aid", i.e. sending out missionaries to Islamise uneducated Africans ('). I would like to add that, talking to Singaporis and Indonesians of Arab descent, they not only tend to emphasise the important contribution of the community to Southeast Asian Islam, but - perhaps more implicitly than explicitly - link this to the long tradition of Arab learning in their homeland. With regardto EastAfrica,where such views are clearly the strongest, the Arab view finds support from authors such as Kagabo who, after analysing a good number of Swahili 'ulamd' during the period under discussion, comes to the conclusion that they obtained their training first on the African coast and then moved on to the "grands centres de perfectionnement d'Arabie ou du Hadramaut" (), following in the footsteps of the Sunni-Shafi'itradition which is often assumed to have been introduced by Hadhramis. The study of leading East African 'ulamd' of the 19th century has led Brad Martin to go even as far as to suggest that Zanzibarand its dependencies in this period, i.e. much of the EastAfrican coast from northern Moqambique to southern Somalia, might be considered as "an annex of the Hadhramawt culturally and intellectually" (5). It should not be forgotten in this context that a good number of the Swahili 'ulama'whose study has given rise to such statements, were of Hadhramiorigin. One example is the well-known scholar 'Abdallah b. Muhammad Ba Kathir al-Kindi (1860-61-1925) from Lamu, another the qadi and mufti of Zanzibar, Ahmad b. Abi Bakr b. 'AbdallahBin Sumayt. The intention of this paper is to deconstruct this historiographical tradition.While Hadhramautclearly had an important role in earlier Islamic scholarship and is considered by Voll to have played a central role as a "linkingarea"for the Indian Ocean as late as the eighteenth century, it had lost this intellectual role by the nineteenth (6). I do not doubt that(3) This picture is based on a series on interviews in the Hadhramitowns of al-Mukalla, Say'un and Tarimbetween October and December 1996. (4) Jose Kagabo, "Reseaux d'ulama "swahili"et liens de parente", pp. 59-72 in Le Guennec-Coppens & Caplan, Les Swahilis entre Afrique et Arabie, Paris, Nairobi 1991, here p. 69. (5) B. G. Martin, "Notes on Some Members of the Learned Classes of Zanzibar and East Africa in the Nineteenth Century", in African Historical Studies 4;3 (1971), pp. 525-545, here p. 530. (6) John O. Voll, Islam, Continuity and Change in the Modern World, Boulder 1982, p. 70. For the state of scholarship during the 15th to 17th centuries, c.f. Sa'id 'AwadhBa Wazir,al-Fikr wa-l-ThaAdwdr,pp. 301-326. For a Hadhramisaint qdfafi 'l-tarikhal-hadrami, Cairo 1961, p. 89ff. and al-Shatiri, of wider Islamic importance c.f. Esther Peskes, "Der Heilige und die Dimensionen seiner Macht. Abu Bakral-'Aidarus in (gest. 1509) und die sayid-sufisvon Hadramaut", QSA 13, 1995, pp. 41-72.



East African, Indian, Hijazi and Southeast Asian 'ulamd' and others continued to entertain relations with Hadhramaut, but I would like to question whether this was really due to its role as a centre of religious learning of truly international standing (even if this were only limited to Shafi'i Islam). Instead of supporting this view, I will argue in the first part of this paper that the state of religious learning in the period under consideration was in a rather sorry state, in spite of some attempts to change that situation. I'd then like to move on in the second part of the paper to the reasons for which East African scholars, such as the founder of the Riydd school of Lamu,SayyidSalih b. 'AlawiJamal al-Layl,specifically sought ijaza-s from Hadhrami teachers in order to legitimise their role in East Africa 0. This will lead me to the role of a particular sufi-order,the tariqa 'alawiyya. The reform of religious learning in Hadhrnmaut in the 19th century The political situation in Hadhramautin the 19th c. can be described as fairly chaotic, as Friedhelm Hartwig's dissertation has shown. It saw the struggle of two rival Hadhrami officers from Hyderabad, Ghalib b. Muhsin al-Kathiri(d. 1870-71) and 'Umar b. 'Awad al-Qu'ayt.(d. 1865) for supremacy in a country torn by political divisions. By the early 1880s, the political situtation began to stabilize with the emergence of a Qua'ayti sultanate on the coast and the interior city of Shibam and of a Kathiri sultanate centred around the towns of Say'un and Tarim in Wadi Hadhramaut.However, the rivalries between the two sultanates, their struggle for territorialcontrol outside the main cities and the emergence of new competitors seeking to establish their own fiefdoms kept the political situation rather unstable until 1936-37, when a series of peace agreements effectively established lasting peace in the area (). Political instability might have been one of the reasons why the religious learning for which Hadhramauthad been famous in the preceding centuries went into decline in the 1 lth/18th century. Although the 19th and 20th centuries did see a number of renowned scholars, a real cultural revival - and this time in more secular terms - only started in 1940(7) Abdul Hamid El Zein, The Sacred Meadows. A Structural Analysis of Religious Symbolism in an East African Town. Northwestern University Press 1974, p. 128. The ijaza by the founder of the b. ribat of Say'in, 'AlT Muhammadal-Hibshi, which was addressed to three East African scholars collectively, is reprinted in 'All b. Muhammad al-Hibshi, Majmu' tasadyc wa-ijdzat. Singapore 1990, p. 514. (8) For a survey of the political situation, c.f. Friedhelm Hartwig, "Expansion, State Foundation and Reform:the contest for power in Hadhramautin the 19th century", pp. 35-50, LindaBoxberger, "Hadhrami Politics 1888-1967: Conflicts of Identity and Interest", pp. 51-66 and Ulrike Freitag, "Hadhramis in International Politics, c. 1750 to 1967", pp. 112-130, all in Freitag & Clarence-Smith,Hadhrami Traders, Scholars and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean, 1750s to 1960s. Leiden: E.J.Brill 1997.



with the reorganisation of the educational system, according to Ba Wazir, the historian of the cultural movement of Hadhramaut (9). Since the majority of authors focussing on Hadhrami education tend to prefer modernist salafi tendencies and to be rather critical of the mostly sayyidled religious education (10), the following paragraphs will try to review developments in the late 19th century and discuss the efforts to revive religious teaching, to which many contemporary Hadhramis like to refer. However, I would contend that these were rather short-lived, because the upheavals which followed the outbreak of World War I (economic hardship, isolation, emigration) and the development, from the 1920s onwards, of a different style of education which departed from the exclusively religious (and linguistic) orientation of reformed religious schools undermined the earlier achievem