He is al-Faqih al-Muqaddam, al-Ustadh al-`Azam, Muhammad, bin `Ali, bin Muhammad Sahib Mirbat, bin `Ali Khali` Qasam, bin `Alawi, bin Muhammad Sahib al-Sawma`ah, bin `Alawi, bin `Ubaydullah, bin al-Imam al-Muhajir il-Allah Ahmad, bin `Isa, bin Muhammad al-Naqib, bin `Ali al-`Uraydi, bin Ja`far al-Sadiq, bin Muhammad al-Baqir, bin `Ali Zayn al-`Abidin, bin Husayn al-Sibt, bin `Ali bin Abi Talib and Fatṭimah al-Zahra’, the daughter of our Master Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets ﷺ.
Al-Faqih al-Muqaddam was born in Tarim in 574 (1178) and grew up in an environment of knowledge and righteousness, memorising the Qur’ān and mastering the sciences of the Sacred Law in his youth. He studied at the hands of Tarīm’s greatest scholars and very quickly surpassed his peers until he reached the rank of mujtahid, and became known as “al-Faqīh,” or “the Jurist.” One of the scholars once asked him about three hundred problematic issues in the various Islamic sciences in one sitting. He clarified every single issue and his answers were put together in a separate book.
At the same time he took the path of spiritual struggle until Allah gave him the greatest of openings. He would teach and fast during the day and spend his nights in worship in one of the caves in the Nu`ayr Valley outside Tarīm. One night, his son Aḥmad followed him. When the Imām remembered Allah, the whole valley responded by loudly proclaiming His transcendence, at which point Aḥmad fell unconscious.
Although his predecessors embodied the way of iḥsān mentioned by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ in the Hadith of Jibrīl, al-Faqīh was the first of the `Alawī Sayyids to outwardly profess the way of Taṣawwuf. This he did after the great Shaykh of the Maghrib, al-Ghawth Shu`ayb Abū Madyan, sent his envoy to Tarīm with instructions to invest him with his khirqah or mantle, symbolising the transmission of spiritual authority. Shaykh Abū Madyan also instructed his envoy to go to Shaykh Sa`īd bin`Īsā al-`Amūdī (died 671) in Qaydūn in the Daw`an Valley to likewise invest him. Al-Faqīh did not, however, fully embrace the way of Shaykh Abū Madyan. Rather he took a path which was a combination between the way of Abū Madyan, the way of Shaykh `Abd al-Qādir al-Jaylanī and the way of his forefathers. He was assisted in this by Shaykh Sa`īd al-`Amūdī, who came to Tarīm to offer him his allegiance.
The climate in which he lived was so unstable that al-Faqīh would sit in the lesson of his teacher, Shaykh `Alī Bā Marwān, with his sword on his lap. Different tribes vied for power in the Haḍramawt Valley and the `Alawi Sayyids, because of their popularity, were seen by tribal leaders as a threat. Al-Faqīh had no desire for political power and hated to see bloodshed and dissension in the ranks of the believers. He thus symbolically broke his sword, announcing that his way and the way of the `Alawī sayyids and those that loved and followed them was one of non-violence.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ had warned of the internal divisions that would blight his nation in a hadith narrated by Imam Muslim, and informed us that the one who sits at these times is better than the one who stands. He then praised the one who takes his sword and breaks its blade with a rock. The fact that al-Faqīh al-Muqaddam had embraced the way of Taṣawwuf and pacifism did not signify, however, a withdrawal from society and non-involvement in the affairs of the Muslims. To the contrary, his sword became the sword of knowledge and Prophetic character which he wielded to rectify and benefit society.
He and the `Alawī Sayyids after him would use the respect in which they were held to resolve disputes. They brought harmony to society by their concern for the rights of their fellow Muslims. This was manifested in attending their funeral prayers, visiting the sick and establishing gatherings of knowledge and remembrance. They spent their wealth on the poor and needy, on their guests, on building mosques and places of learning and establishing endowments for them, on planting date palms and organising irrigation and on providing drinking water for travellers on the roads and for city dwellers. Al-Faqīh himself would set aside 360 barrels of dates at the time of harvest, and then he would distribute one barrel a day to the poor with the help of his wife, Sayyidah Zaynab, the daughter of his uncle Aḥmad.
Just as he was concerned with the general populace, he established a zāwiyah and exerted his efforts giving spiritual instruction to his pupils until they themselves became qualified to instruct others in the spiritual path. Amongst his greatest students were his sons `Alawī, `Abdullāh, `Abd al-Raḥmān, Aḥmad and `Alī, all imams in their own right, as well as Shaykh `Abdullāh Bā `Abbād, his brother, Shaykh `Abd al-Raḥmān and Shaykh `Alī bin Muhammad al-Khaṭīb.
Shaykh `Abd al- Raḥmān al-Saqqāf said: “I have not heard speech more powerful than the speech of al-Faqih, other than the speech of the Prophets, upon them be peace. I do not give any of the awliyā’ precedence over him, other than the Companions, or someone whose merit was mentioned by the Prophet ﷺ , such as Uways al-Qaranī.”
Al-Faqīh was the first to establish the annual group visit to the Prophet Hūd 8. On one occasion, he did not attend the visit, so the Prophet Hūd came to him and said: “O Shaykh! If you do not visit me, I will visit you!”
Imām al-Ḥaddād said in praise of him: “Shaykh of shaykhs, Master of the Giants”; “Shaykh of those on the path to Allah, one and all”; “a caller to Allah with true words and praiseworthy deeds”; “his state at the beginning of his path was like the state of his contemporaries at the end of their path.”
Towards the end of his life al-Faqīh shunned creation and became completely absorbed with the witnessing of his Lord. When he was asked who would be the Shaykh after him, he replied: “Umm al-Fuqarā’.” He was referring to his wife Zaynab, named after Zaynab bint Khuzaymah, the wife of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, as “the Mother of the Poor” for her care of the destitute. She had been his best supporter in his life and continued his work after his death. His students came to her for guidance, assistance and blessings. Al-Faqīh was finally united with his Lord in 653 (1255) and was buried in Zanbal. His grave was the first that anyone would visit in the graveyard, and for that reason he became known as “al-Muqaddam,” the one whose grave is given precedence over all others. He was universally recognised as the Shaykh of the `Alawī Ṭarīqah and all chains of connection in the spiritual path return to him. Great Imāms came forth from his progeny in every generation who continue to spread the light of prophecy until the present time. May Allah attach us to “the Greatest Master,” and benefit us by him in this life and the next.