The Tayyibi - Fatimid Community of the Yaman at the
Time of the Ayybid Conquest of Southern Arabia *


Arabian Studies, Cambridge, Vol. VII (1985)
pp. 151-160

By Abbas Hamdani

The Ayybid conquest of southern Arabia in 569/1173 has recently attracted three major studies, namely those of G. Rex Smith 1 , Michael Bates2 and Muhammad 'Abd al-' AI Ahmad.3 The aim of this paper is not to repeat their effort but only to add some information on the Tayyib community of the Yaman that was not available to them. Prior to the Ayybid conquest, the Yaman was divided into several small principalities including the Mahdids of Zabd (553-569/1158-1173), the Sharifs of the Mikhlif Sulaymni (intermittently since 450/1058), the Zayd Imms of Sa'dah (intermittently since 280/893), the Hamdanids of San'a (492-569/1098-1173), the Zuray'ids of 'Adan (476-569/1083-1173) -the last two supporting the Hafiz Da'wah of the later Fatimids -and the Tayyib Da'wah of Haraz as a continuation of the Sulayhid rule since 533/1138. Besides these, there were several small autonomous entities. Shortly before the Ayyubid conquest, the Mahdid ruler 'Abd al-Nabi had incorporated the territories and the treasuries of twenty-five such units4. This was only a short lived success. The Yaman presented a kaleidoscopic variety in its constant inter-state conflicts and readjustments. What concerns us here is the internal organizational set-up of one of these entities, namely the Tayyibi Da'wah of the Yaman which was more of a communal establishment than a state. In the context of the Ayybid invasion, however, it proved to be more stable and enduring than other states.

Before I discuss the Tayyibi entity, I must say a few words about the reasons of the Ayybid conquest. These reasons have been fully stated in the three studies mentioned above, particularly that of G.R. Smith5 who gives the opinions of all the medieval and modern writers, makes a case for multiple motivation and gives his own synthesis. Among those reasons that generally agreed upon is that the Ayybids wanted to secure the southern areas of the Red Sea by removing Shi influence from them as they did in Egypt. This, however, is vague. There were in the Yaman various Shi'i Da'wahs and non- Sh' states such as the Mahdids. To my mind the main target of the Ayybids was the Hafizi Da'wah, represented by the Zuray'ids of 'Adan and the Hamdanids of San'a, which had supported the last Fatimids whom the Ayybids had recently overthrown. To this end they were prepared to tolerate and even encourage the rival Tayyibi Da'wah. The call for support of the Sulaymani Sharif Qasim b. Ghanim against the Mahdids served as an excuse and secured the first foothold for the Ayybids. The revival of the Zaydi Imamate under al-Mansr 'Abd Allah b. Hamzah (593-614/1196-1217) after a suspension of almost twenty-five years, as a major force of Yaman resistance must have proved to be an unpleasant surprise and constant embarrassment to the occupying power. The Tayyibi Da'wah had no choice but to retire from active politics, 6 but this proved to be a blessing in disguise as the Da'wah was not only saved from destruction but also began to operate freely and even grow in influence.

I have studied some of the complexities of the History of the Fatimid mission in the Yaman in a recent article.7 That mission was nurtured by the Sulayhid dynasty (439-532/1047-1137). After 524/1130 when the Fatimid dynasty had a crisis of succession, Sulayhid Yaman found its opportunity for political independence from Egypt and set up its separate Tayyibi Da'wah.8 Both the Sulayhid and Fatimid states soon ended in 532/1137 and 567/1171 respectively, but the communal and ideological establishment of the Tayyibi Da'wah continued in the Haraz region.9 The viability and continuity of this newly created Da'wah depended on its organization and leadership which is the subject of this paper and on which we have, fortunately, a contemporary document, Kitb Tuhfat al-qulub of the third Da'i Mutlaq10 (the chief Da'i) of the Tayyibi mission, Ab Tay'i Hatim b. Ibrahim b. al-Husayn al-Hamidi (557-596/1161-1199). Da'i Hatim was contemporary with the Ayybid invasion and, in his Tuhfah, gives us an intimate picture of the Da'wah (sections 20-22).11 The book seems to have been written some time between 584/1188 and 5961/199, probably closer to the latter date.12 The above mentioned sections describe the tartb al-hudd, that is the strict order of precedence among the Da'wah officers of his time. The following is the list of these officers numbering thirty-five in all:

1. 'Ali b. Hatim: He was Da' Htim's son and successor. The purpose of the composition of the Tuhfh by Da'i Hatim was to provide a nass (i.e. designation) for the succession of his son ' Ali. Htim and 'Ali belonged to the Hamid family 13 of the Hamdan tribe which was closely related to the Hammad family of the celebrated Qadi Lamak b. Malik al-Hammadi, virtually the founder of the Da'wah organization in Sulayhid Yaman. Several of 'Ali's works are preserved in the Da'wah libraries particularly his Rawdal al-Hikram. 'Ali was assigned Harz as the area of his work, but he later shifted to San'a. 14

2. 'Ali b. Muhammad b. al-Wald: He succeeded Muhammad b. Thir b. Ibrahim al-Harithi as the Da'i's chief deputy in Sana' and Hamdan territory on Muhammad's death in 584/1188. Ali was a pupil of Muhammad but far more successful than the latter in handling the problem of refugees from the Ayybid occupation in San'a'. These refugees poured in large numbers into Harz.15 'Ali was made responsible for the organizational oath of initiation ('ahd and mithaq) throughout the Yaman. He was 'Ali b. Hatim's tutor and was appointed by the latter as the Da'i Mutlaq after him. .Ali b. Muhammad belonged to the Banu 'l-Anf family of the' Abd Shams branch of Quraysh. His uncle was a prominent da'i in the time of Da'i Hatim's father Ibrahim, and many of his family became d'is later. A prominent d'i and writer from among them was the D'i Idris 'Imd al-Qin al-Anf (d.832/1428).

'Ali b. Muhammad was a prolific writer. Among his many works the following are particularly noteworthy: (1) Kitb Dmigh al-btil in refutation of al-Ghazali's Kitb Fad'ih al-Btiniyyah, (2) Diwn, a collection of poems of great historical value, (3) Diy al-Albb, a philosophical work, (4) Kitab al-Dhakhirah, a doctrinal work, and (5) Taj al-'aqa'id, a compendium of the Ismaili creed.16 The last section of the Tuhafah praises 'Ali b. Muhammad as if he were a superior intellect in the Da'wah. The Da'i Hatim refers to him as al-Malik (master). 'Ali died in 612/1215.

3. Al-Sultan Ahmad b. Hisham:
He was given the complete financial control of the Da'wah. He is also referred to by Da'i Hatim as al-Malik (master). Probably he was a Ya'buri prince of Haraz, as was Sab b. Ysuf at an earlier period. Haraz was Ya'buri territory and Da'i Hatim must have felt like a pest there. Although Sultan Ahmad ranked high in the Da'wah, he was not assigned any specific territory or any religious duty. Although he was considered one of the inner circle he was excluded from the organizations operational secrets.

4. Muhammad b. Ahmad b. 'Abbad al-Ahwari:
It was stated that his high rank was due to his piety. He was assigned the area of ' Adan Abyan and Lahj. Idris 'Imd al-Din informs us that after Da'i Htim and his son 'Ali, he refused to accept the leadership of the next d'i, 'Ali b. Muhammad b. al-Walid, due to which the latter was constrained to write his Risalat al-bayan wa-madhadat al-buhtan. Al-Ahwar was replaced by al- Shaykh 'Abd Allh b. 'Abd Allh b. Abi Mansr b. Abi 'I-Fath as leader of the 'Adan and Lahj da'wah.17 The reason for al-Ahwar's revolt may have been his refusal to accept the leadership of a non-Yamani d', as 'Al b. Muhammad was the first D'i Mutlaq of a Qurash family and was not of local origin.

5. Al-Sultan Munif b. Hisham al-'Alawi:
He was assigned the region of al-Ma'afir which is north-west of' Adan. The surname, al-'Alawi, suggests a Sharf origin, or he could be a brother of Sultn Ahmad b. Hishm (no. 3.).

6.Al-Sultan Zuray' b. As'ad al-Shaybani:
The author of Turfat al ashab 18 gives his full name as Zuray' b. As'ad b. Ahmad b. 'Ali b. al-Sab'i b. Ms b. Amir aJ-Khawlni. Ban Khawlan lived in Mikhlf Ja'far (Dh Jiblah and its environs)19 exactly the region assigned to Zuray' by Da' Htim. The above dignitaries, except Sultn Ahmad b. Hishm (no. 3), were in possession of full organisational secrets and responsible for the underground network and operation of the Da'wah. They were bound by oath not to reveal these secrets.

7. 'Abd Allah b. Mansr b. Abi 'I-Fath

8. Hanzalah b. Qasim:
He is referred to as al-walad al-ajall, hence a young but talented dignitary of the Da'wah.

9. Al-Qadi 'Ali b. Hanzalah b. Abi Salim:
He belonged to the Mahfuzi al-Wdi' family of the first Da' Mutlaq, Dhu'ayb b. Msa al-Wadi' (d 546/1151). He became the sixth D'i Mutlaq and was an author of some books one of which, Simt al-Haqa'iq, has been published. He was held in high respect by the Ayybid rulers in San'' and also maintained good relations with the Sultns of Ban Htim in Dhamarmar. He died in 626/1229.20

10. Al-Qadi Mas'd b. 'Abd Allah

11. Al-Qidi Muhammad b. 'Ali:
Ibn Samurah21 mentions a Sh' Qadi of Dh Jiblah, 'Al b. 'Abd Allah b. Abi 'I-Fath, who died in 577/1181. Our Qd Muhmmad b. 'Ali could have been the former's son. Another contemporary historian, 'Umarah, had an informant by the name of Muhammad b. 'Ali in Dh Jiblah.22

12. Jabir b. Ya'la al-Wadi'i
He belonged to the same Wdi' family as that of the Qdi 'Ali b.Hanzalah mentioned above.

13. 'Abd Allah b. Muhammad al-Ishaqi:
He is referred to by Ab Makhramah in his history of 'Adan as having been a d'i in that city.23

14. As'ad b. Muhammad b. Sulayman b.Harith

15. Al-Qadi Muhammad b. As'ad b. Ahmad b. 'Imran:
He was a cousin of the last Hamdnid ruler of San'a', 'Al b. Htim b. Ahmad b. 'Imran b.al-Fadi al- Ymi (556-569/1160-73). Although the latter remained hostile to the Tayyibi Da'wah, his relative Muhammad seems here to have been absorbed in the Da'wah of Harz.24

16.Sulayman b. Abi 'I-Mas'd

17. Ma'mar b. 'Atwah al-Qaysi

18. Rafi' b. Ahmad b. Mansr b. Harrn

19. Ahmad b. 'Ali b. Ibrhim

20. Al-Sharif Jawhar b. Ms

21. Al-Sultan 'Ali b. Hasan b. Mlik:
He is mentioned with profuse benediction, probably because of his meritorious service to the Da'wah.

22. Al-Shaykh Msa b. Zuhayr al-Yami

23. 'Ammar b. Rashid

24. 'Ammar b. Shurahabil

25. Al-Sultan Jahfal b. 'Ali

26. Al-Sultan Washshah b. 'Imran:
The author of Turfat al-ashab mentions him as Washshh b. 'Imrn b. al- Dhi'b in the line of the Shihbi Amir al-Layth b. 'Imrn. 25

27. 'Ali b. al-Husayn b. 'Ali b. Malik

28. Al-Sultan Zunayj b. Hasan

29. Hatim b. Mudafi'

30. 'Abdullh b. Mahmd

31. 'Umar b. Yahya:
The name 'Umar suggests that he may have belonged to a Sunn or Zaydi family prior to Tayyib Isma'ili affiliation.

32. Al-Sultan 'Ali b. Muhammad b. Abi Samra':
'Umarah mentions one 'Ali b. Muhammad, ruler of Dhakhr, who was deprived of his territory and treasures by Ibn Mahd.26

33. Al-Qadi Yahy b. 'Abd al-Husayn

34. Ibrhim b. Sa'id b. Ahmad b. Nu'man

35. Al-Qdi Hasan b. 'Ali:
He was assigned work in Jabal Mashriq which is the mountain range that encloses Haraz in the east.

Da'i Htim informs us at the outset of his description that he has more details in a previous book of his, Risalat al-Jawharah, and that he is summarising the information here. Unfortunately, this Risalah is not traceable in the Dawah collections today. Even from the contents of these sections of the Tuhfah we can derive enough information to draw some conclusions.

The above list does not simply describe the distribution of duties and areas of work, but also indicates a strict order of precedence. The Da' tells us that a lower tank should never trespass on the authority of the higher rank. The precedence is by 'ilm (knowledge) and fadl (excellence). He admits that there are some who have no training (dars wa-riyadah fi 'l-'ilm) but the necessity of filling the gaps in the Da'wah's ramparts' bas led him to appoint them. We have noticed that there was an inner circle of five, namely 'Ali b. Hatim, 'Ali b. Muhammad b. al-Walid, Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Ahwari, Sultan Munif b. Hishim and Sultn Zuray b. Asad (nos. l, 2, 4, 5 and 6) who knew all the secrets of the organisation. The rest must take orders from their superiors in rank. There is a distribution of geographical areas but two officers have a total coverage: for the oath and discipline, 'Ali b. Muhammad b. al- Walid (no. 2) is in charge; while Sultan Ahmad b. Hishm (no. 3) has overall control of financial matters.

The Dawah is not restricted to Haraz, but is spread also to San'a' and the northern territory of Hamdan, at Dh Jiblah and Mikhlaf Ja'far; and at Adan, Lahj, and the Maafir area to the north of 'Adan. The Da'wah has in its organisation eight local barons who are referred to as sultans, namely Ahmad b. Hisham, Munif b. Hisham, Zuray' b. As'ad, 'Ali b. Hasan, Jahfal b. 'Ali, Washshah b. 'Imran, Zunayj b. Hasan and 'Ali b. Muhammad b. Abi Samra (nos. 3, 5. 6, 21, 25, 26, 28 and 32), six qdis, i.e. 'Ali b. Hanzalah, Mas'd b. 'Abd Allah, Muhammad b. 'Ali, Muhammad b. As'ad b. Ahmad b. Imran, Yahy b. 'Abd al-Husayn and Hasan b. 'Ali (nos. 9, 10, 11, 15, 33, 35); one Sharif, Jawhar b. Msi (no. 29), two young members, 'Ali b. Hatim and Hanzalahl b. Qasim (nos. 1 and 8), and one definitely identifiable prince of the fallen Hamdanid house of Sana, al-Qdi Muhammad b. Asad b. Ahmad b. 'Imran (no. 15).

Most of those at the top and in the inner circle are not sultans, but long- standing tested members of the Da'wah.

The greatest instrument of discipline is the 'ahd or mthaq for which, the Da'i Hatim says, there are innumerable reasons. It is not for religious tyranny but for the safety of an underground movement and cohesion of its various scattered units. It is for "kitman sirr awliya' Allah' (i.e. guarding the secrets of God's devotees) in the words of Da'i Hatim.

Breaking of the 'ahd would lead to disciplinary action. In this connection one individual is singled out by name: Ismail b. 'Ali al-Zawhi. He belonged to the prominent Zawh family who controlled the Da'wah in pre-Sulayhid times and also played an important role in the service of the Sulayhid Queen Arw. 28 Reasons for his expulsion are stated by D'i Hatim, namely that he had become resentful of the people higher in authority than he was; that he was finding fault with the hudd (hierarchy of the Dawah) and ashab al-kamal (people of merit), that he denied the superiority of the Prophet Muhammad and preached the divinity of human beings - in short he was guilty of organisational and religious indiscipline. As a result of this, the D.i had pronounced bar'ah (disassociation) from him by saying: 'Ana bari'un min f'ili dhlika'. This involved the withdrawal of fash, or permission, from an offending officer to practice his organisational duties. It certainly did not imply excommunication, either of the officer or of any individual member of the community.29

Lastly a question should be answered about the relations between the Da'i Hatim's Da'wah and the Ayybid administration. In the pre-Ayybid phase of Hatim's mission, his chief opponents were fellow Hamdanids: the House of 'Imran b. al-Fadl at San'a' and the House of Zuray' at 'Adan. We have a detailed account of the Da''s war with Sultn 'Ali b. Hatim of San'a' during 561-564/1165.1168.30 The conflict was occasioned by the fact that the Hamdnids and Zuray'ids supported the Hfizi Da'wah of the later Fatimids while the Tayyibis of Harz opposed it. After the Ayybids occupied both Egypt and the Yaman and so brought an end to the Fatimid dynasty with its Hafizi Da'wah, the old conflict no longer had any meaning. Although we find 'Ali b. Htim and his brother Bishr in the camp of the Zaydi Imam al-Mansr 'Abd Allah b. Hamzah (593-614/1196-1217) who now emerges as the main enemy of the Ayybids 31, their children and relatives are reported to be in possession of various fortresses. 32 These are probably some of the sultns in Da'i Hatim's Da'wah. One figure is identifiable, namely Muhammad b. As'ad b. Ahmad b. 'Imrn (no. 15).

As for the first three Ayybids, contemporary with D'i Hatim, we see a progressively improving relationship between the conquerors and the Tayyibi Da'wah. Trnshah (569-579/1174-1184) and Tughtakin (579-593/ 1184-1197) make a tour of conquests all over the Yaman and although San'a' and Hamdan territory in the north are occupied, Harz is not penetrated. The D'i's representative, Muhammad b. Tahir b. Ibrahim al-Harithi, operates openly in San'a' to regulate the flow of refugees to Harz. He is overwhelmed with the problem, dies in 584/1188 and is followed in the job by 'Ali b. Muhammad b. al-Walid. Although the Ayybids are not necessarily friendly, they seem to permit this activity and tolerate the existence of the Tayyibi Da'wah. After all they had both shared in the past the common hostility to the Hafizi phase of the Fatimid Caliphate.

With the coming of al-Malik al-Mu'izz Isma'il (593-598/1197-1202) to power and the emergence of the Zaydi Imam al-Mansr 'Abd Allah b. Hamzah as his main enemy, the Tayyibi Da'wah is extremely at ease. Al- Malik al-Mu'izz is accused of having adopted the 'Batini' madhhab (i.e. the Tayyibi Isma'ili).33 This is of course not correct because the main Isma'ili history of the period, Nuzhat al-afkar, makes no mention of it, nor does the earliest source on the period, al-Simt al-ghali. The Simt makes al-Mu'izz claim caliphate in the Umayyad line, 34 which would be very remote from 'Ali-id sympathy. It is possible, however, that there existed a collaboration between al-Mu'izz and the Tayyibi Da'wah.

D'i Hatim, under these circumstances, was able to consolidate his position and extend his Da'wah even beyond Harz. The Tayyibi Da'wah became the rallying ground for those Yamanis who did not wish to join the Zaydi Imm's resistance to Ayybid rule - particularly the Yaman south of Harz. Both the Da'i and the Sultan died about the same time - the former in 596/1199 and the latter in 598/1202. We need not go beyond that time. The end of Da'i Hatim's life marks the beginning of a phase of Tayyibi collaboration, however reluctant, with Sunni rgimes from outside the Yaman, the desertion by the majority of Hamdn of the Ism'li cause and the espousal of the Zaydi one 35 and the transition from Hamdani leadership of the Tayyib Da'wah to the leadership of the Anf Qurashi family. The championship of Yamani nationalism was now in Zaydi hands. Since Hamdan increasingly deserted the Tayyibi Da'wah and joined Zaydi ranks, one can say that Yamani patriotism proved a more powerful factor for them than religious consistency. The later Tayyibi Da'wah of the Yaman and India, however, preserved in its literature the memories of past Yamani glories in collaboration with the Fatimid Caliphate.




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