A biography of
AL-HABIB AHMAD BIN ZAYN AL-HABSHI
By : Sayyidunal Imam al-Habib Ahmad Mash-hur bin Taha al-Haddad
Translated by: Shaykh Muhammad Mlamali Adam
In the name of Allah, the Infinitely Merciful, the Compassionate. The Laud is Allah’s the Laud of the grateful, the Laud that is equal to His bounty and sufficing to His increment thereto. And blessings and peace be upon the Lord of Prophets and the Beloved of the Creator and Sustainer and Nourisher of the worlds, and may Allah be pleased with his kinsmen and companions and successors… Says the said as-Sayyid Ahmad:
As for the author of an-Nafahat as-Sirriyyah (that is the Commentary on al-Ayniyya), he is the all round Imam, a deep ocean, who dispenses graced wisdom both comprehensively and in detail, assembles diverse gnoses and who is an heir to Masters of sactified secrets al-Habib Ahmad bin Zayn al-Habshy of the town of Ghurfa in the Valley of Hadhramawt.
He was born in the year 1069 Hijriyya and grew up in the best ‘Alawiyya surroundings, and traces his line to al-Mustafa — the Prophet, upon whom be blessings and peace of Allah.
He worked hard in searching for ‘ilm from his very youth; learnt the Qur’an by heart and acquired various kinds of ‘ilm from the ‘ulamaa of his home area, except that he did not find everything he wanted in his town of al-Ghurfa. He travelled to Seyun and Tarim. Dates were his only provision. He used to frequent the ‘ulamaa and attend their darsas and pick up their priceless pearls. He attached himself to al-‘Arif Billahi ‘Abdalla bin Ahmad Balfaqih and studied under him many titles of Sacred Law and Gnosis. He also studied under as-Sayyid al-Imam Ahmad bin ‘Umar al-Hinduwan who gave him magnificent predictions about the future at the mountain path of the tomb of Prophet Hud, upon whom be peace. He had contacts with many of the ‘Ulamaa of Hadhramawt and Yaman and al-Haramayn (the Sacred Sanctuaries of Makka and al-Madina). He exhausted all the ‘ulum they had. And the last to whom he attached himself exclusively at the end was Qutb al-Irshad al-Habib ‘Abdalla bin ‘Alawi al-Haddad. He befriended him for about 40 years and received his infinite ‘ulum and gnoses, and he never ceased studying under him. In fact he died when al-Habib Ahmad was reading to him al-Muwatta of Imam Malik and Sharh as-Sunnah — the Commentary on the Sunnah — of al-Imam al-Baghwy. And he used to revere and venerate him and urge people to study under him.
As for veneration for his Shaykh, that was beyond words. Indeed he took him as proof for everything. He used to say : “What we believe and dedicate ourselves to Allah upon, is that our Shaykh al-Haddad has inherited the states of all saints, predecessors and the successors alike. We have seen that both with our physical eyes and through revealed knowledge.” And for this reason he surrendered himself totally to him. Indeed, he quotes his Shaykh, namely al-Haddad as saying : We do not say anything other than what Abul-Hasan ash-Shadhili said: “Whosoever finds a source of water sweeter that this one should accordingly quench his thirst there.” For this reason he stopped at his Shaykh’s water source and drank and drank, and consequently became The Shaykh of the People, and caravans headed for him.
He devoted his whole time acquiring both inner and outer ‘ulum. Therefore he said: After I was 70 years of age I had no other desire except ‘ilm. Indeed, he looked at about 100 books around him and said: “Were all these books to be destroyed , I would reproduce them from my heart.” He studied most of the highly regarded books of ash-Shafi’i and others on the subject of exegesis and the Hadith and instrumental subjects and recitations and medicine and mathematics and engineering, the ‘ulum of the Folk and Subleties as you may well observe in his all-comprehensive Safinah which runs to 25 volumes.
He was given the gift of brevity and the facility of easy exposition understood by the brilliant of mind and slow of wit, the near and the far. He had a grip on the hearts of listeners and the ability to move them to the manifest truth. And when he expounded on the hidden gnoses and ma’arif, he had the ocean at the tip of his tongue. And when he ventured into fine subtleties, it was as if he was picking roses. There he was among the guiding inviters to Allah, reaching the ears and removing rust from hearts.
He had well-rounded titles on intelligible and received subjects, and they all point to his vast and deep scholarship, the first and the most deserving of mention being Sharh al-‘Ayniyya which is called: An-Nafahatu as-Sirriyah wa-n-Nafahat al-Amiriyyah, and al-Mawaridi al-Haniyyah: Sharh al-Qasida al-Baiyya whose openings lines are : Here is my counsel O man of distinction and becoming deportment — composed by al-Imam al-Haddad, and Sabil ar-Rushd wal-Hidaya — the Sharh of Qasida an-Nuniyyah whose opening is: Be counselled to adhere to Taqwa both in private and in public, and al-Jadhabat ash-Shawqiyyah and ar-Rawdh an-Nadhir — and they are all commentaries on the Qasaid of al-Imam al-Haddad. Also among his works are: al-Maqasid as-Swaliha, and Turyaq al-Asrar, and al-Qawl ar-Raiq and al-Maslak as-Sawiyy and Fat-hu al-Hayyi al-Qayyum and al-Isharat as-Suffiyah and ar-Risalat al-Jami’ah on the theme of ‘Ibadah and an opuscule in explanation of the Tariqa of the Sadat Abi ‘Alawi. He also has beautiful poetry which is highly regarded, and this huge as-Safinah al-Jami’ah which runs to over 20 volumes in which he amassed the sciences of exegesis of the Qur’an and Hadith and other Sufi ‘ulum and astronomy as stated when discussing his scholarship. The sum of things is that he was a veritable unfathomed ocean. And what a Safinah his book is : full of divine adab and prophetic wisdoms.
His acts of worship and strivings
He was, may Allah show him mercy, all oriented to his Lord. His pre-occupations did not stop him from writing on ‘ilm diffusing it among seekers; he had many ‘Ibadat, hardly an hour passed which did not find him engaged in act of obedience to his Lord. He was ardently anxious in adhering to the model of his grandfather, upon whom be blessings and peace of Allah, the Qur’an being constantly in front of him and acting as his leader. He was frequent of invocation of the Word of at-Tawhid, invoking it 70,000 times on each occasion and dedicated on congregational prayers and enduring difficulties in the pursuit of the Rida of his Lord. Acts which please Allah and the love of Allah overpowered him as indeed he said in one of his qasidas :
What aspiration have I
Except seeking nearness to the Lord
That He may look at me with mercy
That day when I meet Him
Well pleasing to Him
Also He with me
His zuhud in the world and the wordly
He was a zahid — renouncer of the world — avoiding it as a matter of choice, lifting up his aspirations away from it and its people. And he used to say : “The people of Allah did not descend upon it.” His student, namely, al-Habib Muhammad Zayn bin Sumayt said: “We sat with him for many years but I never heard him mentioning the world nor incline to its people. He used to look at its people with lack of appreciation, and to the renouncers of the world and people of contentment which high regard and veneration. In addition, he used to undertake enormous religious activities like renewing sacred sites, zawiyas, constructing mosques in different parts of the country, mosques which are still there now; and they are in active use with congregational prayers and darsas and invocations of the Name of Allah — dhikr. He used to spend large amounts of money on them, seeking thereby to be near Allah and upholding the Word of the Exalted: “By no means shall ye attain righteousness unless ye give freely of that which ye love” (‘Aal-i ‘Imran: 92).
His adabs and nature
None except those who witnessed him and sat with him can adequately describe them: There he was among his friends and his students, a veritable kindly father and a beautiful garden full of fruits, liberal of nature to close intimates as well as strangers, extremely humble and compassionate, patient, forgiving, modest and awe-inspiring. He covered people with his ‘ilm and his good nature and enveloped them with his generosity and loving kindness. Full of acknowledgement that he has not discharged the divine obligations, all the time in a state of indigence to his Lord. These are the distinctions which mark him out and with them he ascended to lofty position, and his benefits include both the town and desert. He soared to the station of as-Siddiqiyyah on the testimony of his Shaykh al-Haddad. And he became a place of homage, the destination of students and visitors to his protected town of al-Hawtah until he died in the year 1145 Hijriyyah. He was succeeded in his station by his son, the very learned Ja’afar bin Ahmad, then his sons who came after — all committed to the ‘Alawi Path until our own day. May Allah infuse all of us with his imdadat via their intercession, – Amin.