He is al-Habib al-`Allamah Ibrahim bin `Umar bin `Aqil bin `Abdullah bin `Umar bin Abu Bakr bin `Umar bin Taha bin Muhammad bin Shaykh bin Ahmad bin Yahya bin Hasan bin `Alawi 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-`Urayi, 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.
Habib Ibrahim was born in the town of al-Masilah near Tarim in the year 1327 (1908). He came from a long line of pious people, about which he said: “All my forefathers were noble people – they were all scholars and friends of Allah back to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. It is only me who has lagged behind.” He received a righteous upbringing at the hands of his parents and his paternal and maternal grandmothers, Sharifah Zahra’ and Sharifah Sidah, both the daughters of the great Imam, Habib `Abdullah bin Husayn bin Tahir. Both women were known for their piety, and Sharifah Sidah was known specifically for her scholarship. Students would come to her to seek knowledge and take ijazah from her because of the strength of her sanad.1 On one occasion, Habib Ahmad bin Hasan al-`Attas came to visit her and Habib Ibrahim, then a young child, was brought in for Habib Ahmad to read over and pray for. He was also taken to Habib `Ali al-Habashi for the same reason. His mother, Sharifah Nur, would take him to the mosque before he had reached the age of seven in the last third of the night and not allow him to return to the house until after sunrise. It was in this environment of knowledge and spiritual nurturing that Habib Ibrahim grew up. It is not surprising that by the age of eight he was already composing poetry which demonstrated not only his linguistic genius but also his state with his Lord. Here he incorporates the verses of Imam `Ali into his own verse:
إِذا أَزْمَةٌ أَنْشَبَتْ قِبَلي
وَ ضِقْتُ و ضَاقَتْ بِها حِيَلي
تَذَكَّرْتُ قَوْلَ الإِمَامِ عَليّ:
رَضِيتُ بِما قَسَمَ اللهُ لي
وَ فَوَّضْتُ أَمْري إِلى خَالِقي
فَمَا عَتَمَ الضِّيقُ حَتَّى انْقَضَى
و جَاءَتْ تَباشِيرُ فَيْضِ الرِّضى
و قَدْ أَطْفَأَ اللهُ جَمْرَ الغَضَى
كَمَا أَحْسَنَ اللهُ فيما مَضَى
كَذَلِكَ يُحْسِنُ فيما بَقِي
When a calamity comes my way
And I feel anxious and there is no way out
I recall the statement of Imam `Ali:
“I am content with what Allah has apportioned for me
And I resign my affair to my Creator”
No sooner do the storm clouds of calamity gather but they pass
and the good tidings of the outpouring of contentment come
Allah has extinguished the burning embers of anxiety:
“Just as Allah has treated me well in the past
So too will He treat me well in the time I have left.”
He said: “Had I wished to speak to people only in verse, I could have done so.” The strength of his memory was such that he said: “I never read a book and was in need of referring back to it.” It is no surprise that he quickly memorised the Qur’an and many of the core texts of the Islamic sciences.
He was taught firstly by his uncle, Habib Muhammad bin `Aqil bin Yahya. Later he mastered the inward and outward sciences at the hands of the Imams of Tarim at the time, Habib `Abdullah bin `Aydarus al-`Aydarus, Habib `Abd al-Bari bin Shaykh al-`Aydarus, Habib `Abdullah bin `Umar al-Shatiri and Habib `Alawi bin `Abdullah bin Shihab. He also took knowledge from masters such as Habib `Alawi bin Tahir al-Haddad and Habib Salih bin `Abdullah al-Haddad. These were not his only teachers; he said: “We have a connection to all the people of Allah.”
He began teaching in the mosque of Habib `Abdullah bin Husayn bin Tahir before he reached puberty and later became the imam of the mosque. In his youth, he was involved in a number of scholarly activities, and was constantly writing, researching and teaching. He inherited great tracts of land around al-Masilah, but one of his relatives falsely claimed that the land belonged to him. Habib Ibrahim duly went to Tarim with documentation proving his ownership of the land to present his case to the judge. He was met, however, by his shaykh, Habib `Abdullah bin `Umar al-Shatiri, who said to him, “O Ibrahim, if someone contests you in the affairs of your religion, then defend your religion. But if someone disputes with you over something worldly, then throw it in his face.”
Habib Ibrahim duly left his claim to ownership of the land and in 1354 (1935) left Hadramawt for North Yemen. He first lived in al-Hudaydah on the Red Sea coast where he once again studied with his uncle, Habib Muhammad bin `Aqil. He also learnt from the great scholar, Sayyid `Abd al-Rahman bin Muhammad al-Ahdal. He went into business and was very successful but subsequently left it, having no desire for ephemeral things. After the death of his uncle he moved to Zabid and then Ta`izz, where he eventually settled. During this period he travelled to Iraq for the purpose of research. When he returned to Yemen he was appointed a minister in the government of Imam Yahya bin Muhammad. He remained in this position until the revolution of 1381 (1962), after which he was appointed the Mufti of the city of Ta`izz.
The door of his house in Ta`izz was never shut, day and night, and all-comers were welcome. In fact it was more of a zawiyah than a house – gatherings of remembrance were held, guests were honoured, the poor were fed and their needs answered. Habib Ibrahim would go out early in the morning to buy food for his household and then go out to fulfill people’s needs. He would then sit daily from midday until sunset and students would come and read books to him in various sciences. He possessed an extremely strong sanad in Sahih al-Bukhari and the book was constantly read along with its commentaries. As soon as it was completed, a new reading would commence. This lesson continued almost uninterrupted for around forty years.
Other people would come with their problems or requests for fatwa and Habib Ibrahim would help them all with warmth and compassion. He would teach after Fajr and after Maghrib daily in Jami` al-Muzaffar and only suspended the lessons after a failed socialist attempt on his life. The rest of his time would be spent in remembrance of Allah and recitation of the Qur’an. He performed ḥajj more than twenty times, renewing his connection to the scholars of the Hijaz on each occasion.
He was extremely humble and his heart had no attachment to worldly things. He said “I am an enemy of the dunya.” He built houses for several people but never built one for himself. He preferred simplicity in the way he lived, and disliked affected behaviour (takalluf). When one of the wealthiest businessmen in Yemen came to visit him, he insisted that he eat from the same plates that the poor people ate from.
He said: “I have never sworn an oath by Allah in my life in truth or in falsehood.” He was once offered a chair to sit on while teaching but he refused saying: The abode of the hereafter We shall give to those who do not wish to be raised (above others) in the earth.2
Among his many students were Habib Muhammad al-Haddar, Habib Zayn bin Sumayt, Sayyid Muhammad `Alawi al-Maliki, Habib `Umar bin Hafiz and Shaykh Muhammad al-Hariri.
His poetic ability has already been mentioned and among his works is a poem detailing the sanad of the Alawi path and a mawlid entitled Dhakhirat al-Adhkiya’. At the end of each section of the mawlid he says:
جَزا اللهُ عَنَّا المُصْطَفى أَفْضَلَ الجَزا
جَزَاءً يُؤَدِّي الفَرْضَ و النَّدْبَ و النَّفْلا
May Allah give the Chosen One the best of rewards on our behalf, a reward which encompasses that which is compulsory, recommended and extra.
He rendered the Prophetic biography in verse but when he had reached 11,000 verses, he sensed in himself some pride in his work and duly burnt the composition. He composed a large number of other poems which are collected in his diwan. Upon the death of a mule that he owned, he wrote a poem lamenting its passing, praising it for its sincere service and apologizing for his shortcomings in his treatment of it. His students also collected his sermons, fatwas and some of his speech.
He composed a number of prayers upon the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. Among them is this beautiful formula:
اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ و سَلِّمْ و بَارِكْ و كَرِّمْ عَلى سَيِّدِنا مُحَمَّدٍ حَبِيبِكَ المَحْبُوب و مُحِبِّيهِ كَمَا يُرْضِيكَ و يُرْضِيهِ و حَبِّبْنَا إِلَيْهِ و زِدْنا مَحَبَةً فِيهِ
O Allah, bestow Your prayers, peace, blessings and generosity upon our Master Muhammad, Your Beloved, and upon those who love him to the extent that pleases You and pleases him and make us beloved to him and increase us in love for him.
Habib Ibrahim lost his sight in his final years and he spent most of his time in silence. He said at this time that the true meaning of well-being (`afiyah) is for the heart to be free from any opposition to the decree of Allah. His longing for his predecessors and his hometown drove him to make a final visit to al-Masilah and Tarim the year before his death. He had lived his life in strict adherence to the Sunnah, and this did not change even in his last days. When someone helping him to make wudu’ rolled up his right sleeve before his left in order to wash his right arm, he reminded him that the Sunnah when removing clothing is to begin with the left and not the right.
He finally departed this life on 14th Jumada al-Ula 1415 (1994). Vast crowds came out to attend his funeral prayer in Jami` al-Muzaffar, where he had been khatib for more than thirty years. He was then carried to his final resting place in the Habil Salman graveyard in Ta`izz.
May Allah raise his station and benefit us by him in this life and the next.
1The sanad is the chain of connection through which knowledge is transmitted.