Habib Alawi bin Shihab

His Lineage

He is Habib Alawi bin Abdullah bin Aydarus bin Muhammad bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Aydarus bin Ali bin Muhammad bin Shihab al-Din al-Asghar Ahmad bin Shaykh Abd al-Rahman bin Shaykh Ahmad al-Akbar bin Shaykh Abd al-Rahman bin Shaykh Ali bin Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Sakran bin Shaykh Abd al-Rahman al-Saqqaf bin Shaykh Muhammad Mawla al-Dawilah, bin Ali Mawla al-Darak, bin Alawi al-Ghayur, bin al-Faqih al-Muqaddam 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 Fatimah al-Zahra’, the daughter of our Master Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets ﷺ.

His mother was Sayyidah Fatimah bint Muhammad bin `Umar Balfaqih.

His Life

Habib Alawi was born in Tarim in 1303 (1886). His father, the scholar and caller to Allah, Habib Abdullah, left Tarim before Habib Alawi’s birth and travelled to Java, where he was to spend the rest of his days. He oversaw Habib Alawi’s education from a distance and would write to him, counsel him and send him financial support. It was thus his noble mother, Sayyidah Fatimah, who raised him. Keen that he would attain a large portion of the blessings of Tarim, she would take him to the city’s sacred places and to the pious people of the time for them to pray for him and read over him. As a young boy, he suffered severe stomach pain for a period of time which no one was able to cure. However, when the great Imam, Habib Aydarus bin Umar al-Habashi, visited Tarim, Habib Alawi’s uncle took him to him. Habib Aydarus read over him for a long time and then informed his uncle that the boy had eaten food which had the Evil Eye upon it. He prescribed him a remedy and said that he would recover, with Allah’s permission. Then he turned to those around him and said: “I only came to Tarim on this occasion for the sake of this boy.”

Habib Alawi learnt the foundational sciences under the supervision of his uncle, Habib Muhammad bin Aydarus. Habib Muhammad would take him to the lessons of Habib Abd al-Rahman bin Muhammad al-Mashhur, the Mufti of Hadramawt, and Habib Alawi’s heart very quickly became attached to this great scholar. He started attending all of Habib Abd al-Rahman’s lessons and rarely left his company. Habib `Abd al-Rahman gave him a lot of attention and treated him like one of his sons. He instructed him to prepare the coffee that was served at his rawhah. One of the students that attended the rawhah once told Habib Alawi that he would never benefit since he was busy preparing the coffee while others were receiving knowledge. As a result he stopped preparing the coffee until Habib Abd al-Rahman noticed and told him to continue preparing it. He said to him: “My hope in Allah is that you will attain a higher station than all your contemporaries.”

Among his many teachers were Habib Ali al-Habashi, Habib Ahmad bin Hasan al-Attas, Habib Alawi bin Abd al-Rahman bin Abu Bakr al-Mashhur, Habib Ali bin Abd al-Rahman bin Muhammad al-Mashhur and Shaykh Ahmad bin Abdullah al-Bakri al-Khatib. He also studied at the hands of Habib Abdullah bin Umar al-Shatiri and then taught alongside him at the Ribat. Habib Abdullah thought very highly of Habib Alawi and would thank Allah for his existence in the time in which he lived.

Habib Alawi first started calling to Allah openly in 1330, when one of his teachers, Habib Husayn bin Ahmad al-Kaf, asked him to take his place and preside over the mawlid gathering that he held every Thursday night in Masjid al-Zahir. Habib Alawi at first refused, but when Habib Husayn insisted, he presided over the gathering and spoke to those attending. His words had such a profound effect that Habib Husayn insisted that he continue to preside over the gathering, which Habib Alawi did until the end of his life. Such was the demand for people to hear his speeches that he was asked to establish another mawlid gathering on Monday night. He duly established the gathering in Masjid Ba Harun, but when so many people began to attend that there was no longer space in the mosque, he moved it to Masjid Surur. Everyone that attended attested to the awe-inspiring nature of these gatherings and the tranquillity that would descend in them. Habib Alawi would be so spiritually satiated on the nights of these mawlids that he would not be able to eat anything after them. Habib Abdullah bin Umar al-Shatiri noticed that there were fewer students in the Ribat on the night of the mawlid in Masjid Surur because everyone wanted to hear the words of Habib Alawi. Habib Abdullah duly stopped all classes in the Ribat and went with his students to attend the mawlid. He was not upset that his students were not attending classes in the Ribat but was concerned above all that they benefit so he thus went with them and sat as a student, even though Habib Alawi was a student of his.

He also had a daily rawhah in Masjid Surur, and a twice weekly lesson in the Zawiyah of his ancestor, Shaykh Ali bin Abu Bakr al-Sakran, which many people attended. He presided over the madras of the Ribat during the absence of Habib Abdullah bin Umar al-Shatiri and continued to do so after his death. He followed in the footsteps of Habib Abdullah, ensuring that everyone would benefit from his words and not just those who had studied the Islamic sciences in depth. While benefiting the people of Tarim with his knowledge, he was keen to fulfil his social duties towards them, especially the Ahl al-Bayt. He would thus attend wedding banquets, preside over marriage contracts and lead the funeral prayer. He displayed great mercy in all his dealings and would give sincere advice to rulers and ordinary people alike. He would counsel the most stubborn of people in a firm and gentle way without raising his voice.

The rest of his time was spent in worship and remembrance of Allah. His day would begin long before dawn with prayer and recitation of the Quran in Masjid Surur. He was fully focused on his Lord and this would raise the spiritual aspiration (himmah) of those around him. So consistent was he in spending the time between Maghrib and Isha in worship that he said that if doing so had been compulsory, his worship would not have increased in any way. He had an immense connection to the Book of Allah and would recite it constantly. During his speeches he would cite a great number of Quranic verses, as if the Book was open in front of him. He said: “I have no worries and no anxiety: I have the Qur’an and [Imam al-Haddad’s book,] Tathbit al-Fu’ad.” He would always attend the Hadrah of Shaykh Abd al-Rahman al-Saqqaf. At times he would go straight from the Hadrah to the Zanbal graveyard and only return close to the time of Fajr.

He was scrupulous in his dealings, frugal in his way of living and lived parts of his life in poverty. He had no interest in worldly luxuries but he loved for his appearance to be beautiful. He slept a little and ate a little. When his wife died he chose not to re-marry and lived a single life for many years.

He had the utmost veneration for the city of Tarim and its inhabitants. He spent his whole life in Tarim and its outskirts, only leaving the city to attend the visit of the Prophet Hud (peace be upon him) once or twice in his youth. This was out of his desire to die and be buried in Tarim and to fully serve its inhabitants. He said that he had vowed to seclude himself (make ‘itikaf) in Tarim. He never once rode a horse or rode in a car in the city. At times he would be invited to someone’s house on the outskirts of Tarim and when people offered to take him in their cars he would politely refuse. They would pass him walking along the road and then find that he reached his destination before them. People would try to walk alongside him and, although he was walking effortlessly, they would be unable to keep pace with him. This is how the Messenger of Allah ﷺ walked.

He was severe in castigating the people of Tarim, especially the Ahl al-Bayt, for abandoning the traditions of their predecessors. When newspapers first started to appear, he rebuked people for reading them and ignoring the Quran. He thanked Allah that he had never read a newspaper and never once entered any of the new schools that emerged in his time with Western style curriculums.

His talks would be full of the stories of the great Ba Alawi Imams who were his predecessors.  He said that when he mentioned them he became satiated and that if he wished he could carry on talking about them and would not need to eat for days. Even in his public speeches he would speak in the dialect of Tarim, as this had more effect on those listening. Like many of his predecessors, he disliked eloquence that was forced and unnatural. We are fortunate that his students wrote down some of his words. Habib Muhammad bin Salim bin Hafiz’s collection reached seven volumes. Habib Umar bin Alawi al-Kaf also gathered some of his speeches which can be found in his beautiful biography of Habib Alawi, Tuhfat al-Ahbab.

Perhaps Habib Alawi’s best student was his beloved son, Habib Muhammad. He placed all his concern in raising him and nurturing him until he emerged as a great imam in his own right. Habib Alawi said: “My son Muhammad’s spiritual state is greater than my state. He receives spiritual assistance directly from the Prophet without any intermediary.” Habib Alawi could not bear to apart from his son and would hardly allow him to leave his side. With great difficulty he would allow him to attend the annual visit of the Prophet Hud (peace be upon him) and the hawl of his shaykh, Habib Ali al-Habashi. He did not give him permission to perform hajj while he was still alive, but told him that he would perform it after his death, which he duly did.

He had immense insight and future events were unveiled to him. He said: “You people have radios which inform you of things which make you despair, whereas I have my own radio which never changes.” He had the ability to perceive people’s true intentions. His presence was so awe-inspiring that people were ashamed to disobey Allah during his time in Tarim. He informed people of the tribulations that were to befall Hadramawt and other parts of the Islamic world and consequently counselled people to repent and return to Allah. It was as if his existence was preventing these things happening and it was only after his death that they occurred. Few would disagree that he was the imam of Tarim and Hadramawt in his time.


His Death

For the last two years of his life, Habib Alawi remained in his house. He gradually stopped speaking, not out of a loss of intellect or dumbness but rather due to his spiritual state. His health gradually declined until he finally passed away on the morning of 12th Ramadan 1386 (1966). He died with his head resting on the thigh of his son, Habib Muhammad. His death was the biggest blow that the people of Tarim had experienced for decades. The following day a vast procession accompanied him to the Jabbanah. Before the funeral prayer, Habib Muhammad spoke to a crowd overcome with emotion, mentioning some of Habib Alawi’s Prophetic qualities. He recalled his father’s statement: “I do not do anything without first taking permission from the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the Pious Predecessors.” After Habib Muhammad al-Mahdi bin Abdullah al-Shatiri spoke, Habib Muhammad led the prayer over his father. Habib Alawi was then carried to his final resting place in Zanbal, not far from the grave of his ancestor, Shaykh `Ali. He was placed in his grave (at his request) by Habib Abu Bakr al-Attas al-Habashi. Habib Muhammad soon emerged as his father’s successor, presiding over the gatherings that his father presided over. His son, Habib Abdullah continued the work of his father and grandfather until his death in 1439 (2018).