|Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra
سلطنة المهرة في قشن وسقطرة
|State of the Protectorate of South Arabia|
The Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra (Arabic: سلطنة المهرة في قشن وسقطرة Salṭanat al-Mahrah fī Qishn wa-Suquṭrah) or sometimes the Mahra Sultanate of Ghayda and Socotra (Arabic: سلطنة المهرة في الغيضاء وسقطرة Salṭanat al-Mahrah fī al-Ghayḍā’ wa-Suquṭrah) was a sultanate that included the historical region of Mahra and the Indian Ocean island of Socotra in what is now eastern Yemen. It was ruled by the Banu Afrar (Arabic: بنو عفرار Banū ‘Afrār, also known as بن عفرير) dynasty and is sometimes called Mahra State in English.
During 1886, the sultanate became a British protectorate and later became a part of the Aden Protectorate. The Sultanate was abolished in 1967 upon the founding of the People's Republic of South Yemen and is now part of the Republic of Yemen.
In addition to Arabic, Mehri, a Modern South Arabian language is spoken in Mahra. Mahra shares with the neighbouring Dhofar in Oman cultural traits such as the modern South Arabian language spoken and the importance of frankincense. These regions also share geographic and climatic ties, which distinguish them from the surrounding desert terrain, mostly due to the beneficial action of the khareef monsoon.
In year 2014 the central Yemeni government had further split the region which was known as the Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra, and after this government reform Socotra became a region of its own. In year 2015 the Yemeni government issued further reform of which six large federal states had been created, and the land that had been known as the Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra was absorbed into the Hadhramaut region.
- 1 History
- 2 Pre-Islamic al-Mahra
- 3 Embracing Islam
- 4 Ridda wars (the wars of apostasy)
- 5 People
- 6 The geography of Al-Mahra
- 7 The temperature
- 8 Natural resources
- 9 Language
- 10 Administration and justice system.
- 11 Economy
- 12 The military legacy of Al-Mahra
- 13 Places named after Al Mahra and its people
- 14 The rise and fall of the naval forces of Al-Mahra
- 15 Rulers
- 16 Famous Mehri camel
- 17 Car models named after the Mehri camel
- 18 The beginning of the end of Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra
- 19 The end of Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra
- 20 Current issues in the land formerly known as Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra
- 21 Al-Mahra in the pop culture
- 22 See also
- 23 References
- 24 External links
The history of the Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra and its people are well documented and mainly written by non-Mahri historians who proved that Al-Mahri people played a major role in the politics and military of the Arab and Muslim world during the beginning of Islam. The Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra was established in the 10th century and lasted till 1967  when it was annexed by the Soviet-supported South Yemen. At the height of its power, the Al-Mahra territory extended beyond its current borders in Al-Mahra and Socotra, and it had been documented that Al-Mahri territory extended east into Oman and West into Ash Shihr near Al-Mukalla.
The history of the Mahra tribe begun with the formation of the ʿĀd kingdom by an ancient Arab tribe called ʿĀd who settled in South Arabia in modern-day Yemen- Oman border regions. The ʿĀd Kingdom was named after the founder of the kingdom and it was located in now modern day East Yemen and Western Oman, which is where the modern day Al-Mahra is located. The kingdom was a well-known nation which had connections with ancient Greece and Egypt, and the exact location of the kingdom was depicted by Claudius Ptolemy in his Geography book.
Ibn al-Mujawir stated in his work that the Al-Mahri people are the only descendants of the ʿĀd Kingdom and blood relatives of Thamud who later founded the Thamud kingdom. King ʿĀd was the great-grandson of Shem, son of Noah. According to the Quran the Thamud civilisation was decedents of their forefather ʿĀd, and they migrated from South Arabia towards North Arabia. The Thamud civilisation were famed for their engineering abilities as they used to carve entire buildings out of mountains and some Thamud-made buildings can still be seen in Mada'in Saleh in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Prophet Saleh who had been sent to preach the people and prophet Hud originate from the land today known as Mahra and both men had ʿĀd as a common ancestor. Saleh and Hud and prophet Muhammad are the only Quranic prophets of Arab origin.
The forefather of the Mehri people was a man named Mahra bin Haydan bin Qahtan bin Yarub. According to Islamic genealogies, Ya’rub was the grandson of prophet Hud (biblical Eber) and the forefather of Himyarite Kingdom in Yemen who were the rulers of Qataban, and Sabaeans kingdom. According to the Biblical sources, Eber (prophet Hud) was the ancestor of Israelites and he was the great-grandson of Shem.
Another man called Yarub who was Mahra’s son, was a talented man who was credited with the invention of Arabic language, Kufic and the origins of Arabic poetry. Qahtan is the forefather of most tribes in Southern Arabia who are called collectively called Qahtanite, and according to Arabic genealogy the Qahtanite are pure Arabs, whereas the Adnanites (descended from Adnan) are Arabized Arabs who took on the Arab identity of the Qahtanite. The Qahtanites are divided into two sub-groups called the Himyar and Kahlan, and the Mehri are part of the Himyar sub-group of Qahtan, which makes them blood relatives of the kings of Qataban, Himyar, and Saba.
During the ancient times, the ʿĀd Kingdom was a well-known transshipment point for frankincense trade which was mostly exported to ancient Europe, and it had been suggested the ʿĀd Kingdom and the current location of Mahra Sultanate, was the first place in the world where camel had been domesticated. The ʿĀd Kingdom had several kings starting with the legendary 'Ad ibn Kin'ad who was the founder of the kingdom, and his successors included the legendary King Shaddad who according to Islamic believe defied the warnings of prophet Hud (known as Eber in the Bible). King Shaddad was the one who built the pillared city of Iram or (Iram of the Pillars). King Shaddad and his brother Shadidi were also mentioned in the 227th to 229th nights of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, and in this book he was presented as a brutal and highly competent King who ruled all of Arabia and Iraq. According to Arabic-legends, Luqman was a wise man who was the brother of Shaddad, but in Islamic teachings he was presented as an Abyssinian man who had no relation with the people of ʿĀd. In the English version of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights in the third volume, the story about king Shaddad was mentioned in the chapter titled The City of Irem.
The non-Islamic historical account states that the ʿĀd kingdom was completely wiped out by natural disaster sometimes between 3rd and 6th century AD. However, Quran mentions that the ʿĀd kingdom was annihilated by sand storm as a result of disobeying God’s command. The ʿĀd kingdom and the Thamud who were the Mehri tribe’s ancestors, were extensively mentioned in the Quran, and the Muslim people often reminded in the Quran that those who disobey God will end up as the ʿĀd kingdom and the Thamud. Most well-known Passage from the Quran on ʿĀd kingdom is the 89th chapter (sura) of the Quran, verses 6 -14;
- 6. “Have you not seen how your Lord dealt with the 'Ad (people),"
- 7. “Of the (city of) Iram with lofty pillars,"
- 8. “The like of which were not created among (other) cities?"
- 9. “And the Thamood (people) who hewed out the (huge) rocks in the valley"
- 10. “And Pharaoh- of the many stakes"
- 11. “Who (all) transgressed in the land,"
- 12. “And made much corruption therein "
- 13. “Therefore did your Lord pour on them a scourge of diverse chastisement:"
- 14. “Surely your Lord is ever watchful.”
The 11th Chapter of the Quran was named after prophet Hud (known as Eber in the Bible) in this chapter prophet Hud was mentioned as a man who is related to ʿĀd kings, and his relation with the ʿĀd people had been mentioned again in the Quran in chapters 7. According to Islamic genealogy prophet Hud is also related to Al-Mahri tribe through his grandson Yarub who the great-grandfather of Mahra, who is the progenitor of Al-Mahri tribe (19). The verses 50-60 of chapter 11 give a detailed description of prophet Hud and the 'Ad people and their wrongdoing as follows;
- 50. “And to ‘Ad (We sent) their brother Hud. He said: O my people, serve Allah, you have no god save Him. You are only fabricators.”
- 51. “O my people, I ask of you no reward for it. My reward is only with Him Who created me. Do you not then understand?”
- 52 “And, O my people, ask forgiveness of your Lord, then turn to Him, He will send on you clouds pouring down abundance of rain and add strength to your strength, and turn not back, guilty.”
- 53. “They said: O Hud, thou hast brought us no clear argument, and we are not going to desert our gods for thy word, and we are not believers in thee.”
- 54. “We say naught but that some of our gods have smitten thee with evil. He said: Surely I call Allah to witness, and do you, too, bear witness that I am innocent of what you associate (with Allah)”
- 55. “Besides Him. So scheme against me all together, then give me no respite.”
- 56. “Surely I put my trust in Allah, my Lord and your Lord. There is no living creature but He grasps it by its forelock. Surely my Lord is on the right path.”
- 57. “But if you turn away, then indeed I have delivered to you that with which I am sent to you. And my Lord will bring another people in your place, and you cannot do Him any harm. Surely my Lord is the Preserver of all things.”
- 58. “And when Our commandment came to pass, We delivered Hud and those who believed with him with mercy from Us; and We delivered them from a hard chastisement.”
- 59. “And such were ‘Ad. They denied the messages of their Lord, and disobeyed His messengers and followed the bidding of every insolent opposer (of truth).”
- 60. “And they were overtaken by a curse in this world and on the day of Resurrection. Now surely ‘Ad disbelieved in their Lord. Now surely, away with ‘Ad, the people of Hud!”
The 7th chapter of the Quran, 73- 78 indirectly mentions that the Thamud people are remnant of previously doomed ‘Ad people, and they were told by prophet Salah not to follow the ‘Ad’s example. The Thamud people refused to heed the warning and they were annihilated by earthquake.
And again in Chapter 7 (Al-'A`raf), verse 65;
- 65. “And to the 'Aad [We sent] their brother Hud. He said, "O my people, worship Allah ; you have no deity other than Him. Then will you not fear Him?"
The ruins of the capital city of ʿĀd Kingdom is buried somewhere under Empty Quarter which portion of it is home to Al-Mahri nomadic community. However, satellite photography taken by NASA during the 90s had identified ruin site in an area mainly inhabited by Al-Mahri and subsequent excavation of the area led to uncovering large walled fort. The uncovering of the building was termed Atlantis of the Sands, and many newspaper articles were spread all over the world.
During the pre-Islamic period, the Mehri tribe of Oman and Eastern Yemen were pagans like the rest of Arabia who believed in the worship of more than one god. Before the time of Islam, the Arab people believed in the worship of tribal gods, legendary individuals, sprits (jinn), or natural phenomenon.
The Mehri tribe believed in various gods who each of them had responsibility for one area of life like wealth, safety, or afterlife. In Al-Mahri polytheism there were several important gods who were unique to their land and some other gods were shared with the rest of the pre-Islamic Arabia, and some of the most known deities include;
- Dallul who was the patron god of “protection” and one of the senior gods worshiped in pre-Islamic Al-Mahra, and his name means >the guide<.
- Eyum was goddess who was introduced by the ancient Semitic civilization of Sabaeans and since then she became pan-Arabian sun goddess called Shamash. She was also the goddess patron of domestic life and crop preservation.
- Harka “the burner” was a local deity worshiped exclusively by the people of Al-Mahra, and at that time people thought that this deity would release disease and plague upon those who anger him. The local population often sacrificed animals to appease him.
- Ashalat was a senior deity who was “mother goddess” and was responsible for motherhood and fertility, and she was another pan-Arabian deity worshipped by the Al-Mahri tribes of Saba, Ma'in and Qataban.
- Kebkebet was the goddess of the planet Venus, and she was exclusively worshiped by the pre-Islamic Mahra of Yemen and Oman.
- Hokam was a deity worshiped throughout Southern Arabia, and the people who worshiped him believed that Hokam was the chief judge in the gods’ court.
- Be'eli was a pan-Arabian junior deity who was responsible for water and underground water springs and the patron god of shepherds and nomads, but the Mehri tribe viewed him as important deity who supplied water to their agricultural land. The pre-Islamic Mehri tribe used to believe that he was the master and the shepherd of the humans
- Sa’nun was the god of incense who was worshiped throughout Southern Arabia.
- Hā-rit was a moon god worshiped by every tribe in Southern Arabia, and he was viewed by the people as the patron god of calendar and time.
- Samih “the hearer” was another South Arabian deity who was called upon by the people during their time of need.
- Ke’i were a group of sprits believed by the pre-Islamic Mehri tribe who used to sacrifice animal or offer food to appease the sprits. The sprits were revered by pre-Islamic Al-Mahra could be natural sprits or the ghosts of heroes and ancient giants who were believed to be benevolent.
- Uzzayan was a pan-Arabian goddess and the god patron of health who was worshiped throughout Arabia. In central and northern part of Arabia she was known as Al-‘Uzzá. The Himyarite of which Mahra tribe was part of, used to offer golden images to Uzzayan on behalf of their sick children, and in Southern Arabia Amat-Uzzayan which means the Maid-of Uzzayan, used to be a popular girls' name.
- Yaghuth was a Qahtanite deity who was the patron of war who was depicted as a lion. Yaghuth was called upon to bless warriors with strength and courage.
- Hakmish was a deity who was worshiped in Southern Arabia, and he was asked for to bless people with victory in the battlefield.
- Kawim was south Arabian patron god of agriculture, vegetation, and monsoon.
- Aranyada was south Arabian patron god of nature, and he was originally a Sabaen deity who was depicted as tree, ibis or ostrich.
- Hawbas was south Arabian oracular goddess who was called upon for prophecies.
- Bashir was patron god of wealth.
- Naiqthat was a south Arabian patron goddess of fortune.
- Bahar was patron god of the ocean.
- Qaynan was patron god of metallurgy.
- Raman was patron god of wind.
- Hol was the patron god of longevity
- Hafidha was patron goddess of travel, and she was introduced by tribe of 'Ād and merchants used to ask her for protection against danger in foreign lands.
- The temples were idols of worship where housed were called Mikrab.
During the first decade of the Islamic calendar, a large delegation from Al-Mahra under the leadership of Mehri bin Abyad went to Medina to meet the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and during that meeting the entire Mehri tribe decided to embrace Islam. Before embracing Islam the Mehri tribe were polytheist and worshiped multiple deities. After the meeting in Medina, Prophet Muhammad issued an injunction, stating that Mehri tribe are true Muslim and no war should be waged against them, and violator of such injunction shall be considered, as if waging war against Allah.
The entire Mehri tribe became some the earliest adopters of Islam, and their action had an added bonus as becoming Muslims secured them political alliance and stable relations with Muslim leadership in Medina. Prior embracing Islam Al-Mahra was a vassal state of the Persian Empire who had been subjected to Persian control for many years, but siding with Medina enabled the Mehri people to break away from Persian control and regain their liberty.
Ridda wars (the wars of apostasy)
When Prophet Muhammad died in year 632 AD many Arab tribes including the Mehri tribe interpreted the death as the end of Islam, and they abandoned the religion by either reverting to paganism or following certain individuals who claimed prophethood. In year 634 the Mehri and other tribes rebelled against Caliph Abu Bakar who became the new leader of the Muslims, and the new leader launched a new military campaign against the rebels.
The Mehri’s embrace there were not many records about the power structure within Mehris, however, during the Ridda War information regarding intra-tribal affair was revealed by al-Tabari. According to al-Tabari, before the death of prophet Muhammad there was an intra-tribal rivalry within the Mehri tribe, which consisted of two competing factions called the Bani Shakhrah faction and their bigger rival called the Bani Muharib. The Bani Muharib who hailed from Al-Mahra’s mountain regions always had the upper hand against their smaller rival.
A Muslim army under the command of Ikrimah ibn Abi Jahl were sent to Al-Mahra to face the Mehri who turned their back to Islam like many Arab tribes did, but the Muslim army were too weak to confront the Mehri tribe in battle, and this situation forced Ikrimah to engage in political activity rather than initiating war in Al-Mahra. Ikrimah met with the leadership of the Bani Muharib faction and convinced them to return to Islam, and after this event the army under Ikrimah command and the Bani Muharib faction formed military alliance against the Bani Shakhrah. The Ridda War in Al-Mahra ended quickly as the newly formed alliance subdued the Bani Shakhrah faction without bloodshed, and since then Islam was once again the only religion in Al-Mahra.
Al Mahra have an estimated population of 0.7 million living in Al Mahra alone and additional 0.3 million living in the Arabian Peninsula, mostly in the adjacent regions in the Eastern Province in Saudi Arabia, Dhofar region in Oman, and further afield in Qatar and United Arab Emirates. There is no reliable statistical data of Mehri but a research conducted by senior research fellow in Arabic and Islamic studies at Pembroke College, has proven that the Yemeni government’s Central Statistical Organisation had for years for political reason manipulated population figure to 120,000 when in fact there are far more than 350,000 inhabitants just in Al-Mahra alone.
An estimated numbers of 0.7 million Al Mahri live outside Al-Mahra and they can be found in many countries as far as Malaysia and US. Most of them are living in nearby Middle Eastern countries, Far East and Africa. Over the past 80 years a significant number of Mehris migrated to Europe, particularly to UK which is home to large and fragmented Mehri community of Yemeni origin. Over the time there have been many prominent Al Mahri individuals who achieved noticeable success mainly in the field of politics and to some extent in the field of business, science and sport. Most prominent and high achieving Mehris were people who live outside Al-Mahra and some of the most well-known individuals include the 4th President of Sudan- Gaafar Nimeiry, Sulaiman Al Mahri who was a world-famous navigator, Abdelhamid Mehri who was a prominent Algerian politician, and Ahmed Mohammed Al Mahri who is an Emirati professional footballer who plays for both Baniyas and United Arab Emirates national team.
The geography of Al-Mahra
Al Mahra region is much different from the rest of the Arabian Peninsula where the terrain is desert and barren. Al Mahra has a unique climate where yearly Monsoon gives the land lush valleys, greener forests, and plenty of water supplies. The southeastern part of Al Mahra has also the only natural forest in the Arabian Peninsula, and such forest covers certain parts of Al Mahra and extends over to beyond Omani border and ends in Dhofar.
The coastal plains throughout Al Mahra are terrain which is dry and flat, where the temperature can reach as high as 37 °C and dip as low as 0 during the nights. The coastal areas of Al Mahra often experience the seasonal monsoon or the Khareef as the local people call it, and it lasts from the beginning of June till end of September. The seasonal monsoon turn the arid hills of Al Mahra into lush and green landscape, and areas affected by the monsoon are shrouded in cooling fog and rain, which lowers the temperature and provide the region with plenty of water. The monsoon is very important for the local Mehri farmers who produce food and grain with the help of sophisticated irrigation. However, when monsoon season ends the landscape revert into arid state and the green colors caused by the monsoon disappear.
The temperature in the Al Mahra region is lower compared to the rest of Arabian Peninsula where temperature is often as high as 40 Celsius. The temperature in Al-Mahra varies between 22 and 35 Celsius with moderate breeze, but during the monsoon session the temperature dip to low 20s as result of the humidity increases to between 50% to 75%. The border between Al Mahra and Saudi Arabia is home to the infamous Empty Quarter, which is a treacherous desert land that stretches over a large area in the Arabian Peninsula, and the temperature in the Empty Quarter can reach as high as 60 °C. Al Mahra is also home to the equally well-known Yemeni Highland, which has many valleys and streams which provides plenty of water to agricultural communities across Al Mahra.
Unlike most Gulf states who have oil reserves, Al Mahra does not have any known oil reserves. Throughout history Al Mahra has been known to be abundant with frankincense and fish. Fish is an essential resource for the people of Al-Mahra and Socotra as 90% of the population depend on fish for living.
The Mehri language is a South Arabian language mainly spoken by the Mahri people living in Al Mahra and abroad, however, the numbers of mahri speakers are fast declining due to old age and the Al Mahri youth mainly speak in Arabic instead of their native language.
Administration and justice system.
Al Mahra sultanate was an absolute monarchy just like most of countries in the Arabian Peninsula. Currently, the local Mehri sheik enjoy great autonomy as they rule their respective territory of Al Mahra without the interference of the Mehri Sultan or the Yemeni government. The justice system of Al-Mahra is based on the Quran, Sunnah, and age-old Arabic traditions. Each sub-region of Al Mahra and Socotra has autonomous areas sheikhs and tribal elders who are responsible for all kind of legal decisions, the enforcement of the rules and dispute resolutions without the interference of the central government or the Sultan. Any decisions made by sheikhs and tribal elders are final.
Most of the ruling sultans were of the House of Banu Afrar of Al Mahri and traditionally they resided in the royal palace in Tamrida (now Hadiboh) in Socotra. Hadiboh is now the home of the Abdalla Bin Sultan Issa Al- Afrar who is the current the legitimate pretender to the now defunct Al Mahri throne.
As mentioned above, the Banu Afrar dynasty were the Sultans and head of states of the Al Mahra Sultanate since 16th century when the sultanate was expanded. The last reining Sultan of Al Mahra was HRH Sultan Abdallah ibn Ashoor Al-Afrar Al-Mahri who is the father of the current pretender of the Al Mahra throne, and he was deposed by Arab nationalists who then established Soviet-supported Marxist Peoples Republic of South Yemen.
The Al Mahra region is severely underdeveloped as the Yemeni central government never made any effort to develop the Al-Mahra region which has major potential for economic growth. Rest of Yemen has thousands of kilometers of newly built road, whilst Al-Mahra and rest of East Yemen do not have roads as result of tribalism issues, where the former government of Ali Abdullah Saleh has diverted development resources and revenues to specific regions inhabited by his own supporters. As result of the underdevelopment issues in Al-Mahra, most of the region’s economy is based on informal economy, where people either work in the livestock-rearing or in the fishing industry. In addition to underdeveloped economy issues, the region is also suffering from mass brain drain, which forces large number of educated workforce to leave home and seek employment in Europe or in neighboring Middle East countries.
The Al Mahra region does have a 550 km shoreline and underdeveloped, but vital, fishing industry which provides employment and food to the local people. The neighboring Dhofar region in Oman which is considered as Al-Mehri territory is slightly more developed than the Yemeni and Saudi Mehri regions, and the city of Salalah in Dhofar has a thriving hub for container shipping and flourishing tourism attracted by the monsoon season.
The military legacy of Al-Mahra
The people of Al-Mahra played a major role in the history of Islam and Arab world’s military achievements during the early years of Islam, and the Mehri army who took part in the Conquest of North Africa and Spain cemented their names in the history. The Islamic conquest took place 15 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad on year 639, and ended on year 709 with victory and Islamic rule of the entire North Africa. The Mehri tribe played a major role during the entire conquest and their achievement had been well-documented by historian Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam  in his book titled The Conquest of Egypt and North Africa and Spain.
At the beginning of the Muslim conquest of North Africa, the Al-Mahri tribe mostly contributed with cavalry army, and they played a crucial role in the Arab Muslim army who were initially under the command of 'Amr ibn al-'As, who was a well-known Arab military commander and one of the Sahaba ("Companions"). The Al-Mahri army fought alongside Commander 'Amr ibn al-'As during the Muslim conquest of North Africa, which started with the defeat of the Byzantine imperial forces at the Battle of Heliopolis and later at the Battle of Nikiou in Egypt in year 646. The Al-Mahra Muslim army were highly skilled cavalry who were riding horses and a special camel breed called the Mehri which is a special breed originated from Al-Mahra and renowned for their speed, agility and toughness. The Al-Mahra army played huge role in the Muslim conquest of the Northern Africa and they even spearheaded the entire Muslim army during the liberation of the city of Alexandria, and they were the first to face the enemies when Alexandria was liberated. The Al-Mahri military success at the Islamic Conquest of North Africa is not a coincidence as young Al-Mahri boys are trained in the art of the warfare and self-defence, and such tradition still continues today as current generation are taught shooting and hand-to-hand combat skills. Presently, Al-Mahra has some of the most lenient gun laws in the world, and because of this most of the men in Al-Mahra own guns and carry Janbiya dagger in public as per tradition.
The army from Al-Mahra became famous during the Islamic conquest of North Africa, and they were nicknamed as the “the people who kill without being killed” by 'Amr ibn al-'As. Commander 'Amr ibn al-'As was amazed by army from Al-Mahra who demonstrated ruthlessly efficient warfare whilst sustaining minimal casualties. It had been said that Al Mahri a cavalry unit liberated the city of Alexandria and defeated Byzantine imperial forces and their allies who controlled the city.
As a result of Al-Mahri success in the Muslim conquest of Egypt, an Al-Mahri commander named Abd al-sallam ibn Habira al-Mahri was promoted and he was ordered by 'Amr ibn al-'As to lead the entire Muslim army’s during conquest of Libya, and at that time Libya was a Byzantine territory. The Muslim army under the command Abd al-sallam ibn Habira al-Mahri defeated the Byzantine imperial army, and the campaign has brought a permanent end to Byzantine rule of Libya. After the Muslim conquest of Egypt Abd al-sallam ibn Habira al-Mahri was once again promoted as a result of his success as a temporary commander of the entire Muslim army and he was appointed as the first Muslim leader of Libya.
The Muslim conquest of North Africa was temporarily brought to a halt due to Muslim civil wars better known as the first and the second Fitna. The first part of the conquest took place under Rashidun Caliphate and lasted till the first Muslim civil war erupted between Quraishi Rashidun Caliphate and a Quraishi rebel forces headed by Aisha and Muawiya who brought an end to Rashidun Caliphate, and the new Caliph continued with the Muslim conquest of North Africa initiated by his Rashidun predecessor. The army from Al-Mahra continued to be part of the resumed military campaign under the leadership of Caliph Muawiya. During the 660s decade the Muslim army began the second phase of Arab invasion of North Africa starting with the invasion of Ifriqiya (modern day Tunisia), and more than 600 Al-Mahri soldiers carrying the Al-Mahra flag were sent to Ifriqiya not only to face the usual Byzantine imperial foes but also to fight new enemies in the form of Berber tribal forces.
Most of the Al-Mahri soldiers who participated in the Muslim conquest of North Africa never returned to Al-Mahra, and they chose to settled in the newly liberated North Africa and became part of the Arab speaking population in North Africa. Descendants of the Al-Mahri army again played a major role in Islamic North Africa, and one of the most notable Al-Mehri individuals was Abdelhamid Mehri who was a resistance fighter who fought the French and became prominent politician and government minister of Algeria.
Several centuries later another Al-Mahri man called Abu Bekr Mohammed Ibn Ammar Al-Mahri Ash-shilbi (of Silves) who was a politician from modern day Silves, Portugal who became a Prime Minister in the Islamic Iberia. Abu Bekr Mohammed Ibn Ammar Al-Mahri Ash-shilbi was the Prime Minister of the Taifa of Seville, and he served King Al-mu’atamed Ibn Abbad who was member of Mohammedan Dynasties of Spain. Abu Bekr was highly competent as Prime Minister, but later he crowned himself King and he led failed rebellion against the Mohammedan Dynasties of Spain. In year 1084 Abu Bekr Mohammed Ibn Ammar Al-Mahri Ash-shilbi was caught and executed by the forces of the Kingdom of Seville.
Places named after Al Mahra and its people
Mehri quarter in Cairo, Egypt.
Throughout the Muslim conquest of North Africa the army from Al-Mahra were consistently awarded lands in most of the newly liberated territories. Initially the Mehri tribe were given the region of Jabal Yashkar by the Muslim leadership, and this region was located east of the town of Al-Askar which at that time was the capital of Egypt. After the end of Muslim conquest of Egypt in year 641 a well-known Muslim commander called Amr ibn al-As who led the Muslim army, established the town of Fustat which became the new capital of Egypt. The army from Al-Mahra who were nicknamed “the people who kill without being killed” where given additional land in the new capital of Fustat which since that time became known as Khittat Mahra or the Mahra quarter in English, and this land was used by the Mahra forces as garrison. The Mahra quarter was named after its residence from Al-Mahra as they were the sole owner of the land. Other Arab tribes who were part of the Muslim conquest of Egypt had to share the lands between them, and this is the reason why their lands bore non-tribal name. The Mahra tribe also shared the al-Raya quarter in Fustat with various tribes who were closely associated with Prophet Muhammad, and according to historical accounts the Mahra forces used al-Raya quarter as a residence and stable for their horses. The Mahra quarter was located close to the Al-Raya quarter was which the absolute centre of the new capital of Fustat.
The Mahra quarter still continues to exist and it is now known as Khittat Mahra which is located at northeast of Mosque of Amr ibn al-As and it is only less than a one kilometre away from the absolute centre of Fustat which is now known as Misr Al Qadimah or Old Cairo in English. The Mahra quarter stretches along most of Salah Salem Street which is one of Cairo’s main roads, and it is now home to several high-profile destinations including Fustat Park, National Archives of Egypt, the museum of the Egyptian Civilisations, many residential apartments, and various government offices.
Mehri quarter in the city of Galkayo, Somalia.
There is a 3 square kilometre area in central Galkayo which is known as Xaafada Meheriga in Somali language or the Mehri quarter in English. The Mehri quarter is the oldest neighbourhood and the absolute city center, which is home to large Mehri community and many Mehri-owned businesses.
A young Mehri businessman called Maxamud Ali Muse who had been a high ranking Italian army officer has in year 1947 commissioned the first ever building in Galkayo which was a warehouse for his wholesale business, and at that time Galkayo was no more than a water well where nomadic communities came to for livestock watering. Other prominent Mehri businessmen followed suit and cemented Galkayo as important market town and transhipment point by establishing wholesale businesses.
Before the 1990 Somali civil war Galkayo was a small town, but after the beginning of the war, the size of Galkayo has changed dramatically and it became a city overnight as a result of a quarter of millions of internally displaced who fled to Galkayo as a result of the violence in Southern Somalia.
Masjid Dian Al-Mahri in Depok, Indonesia.
A prominent Indonesian businessman of Mehri origin named Dian Djuriah Maimun Al Rashid has in year 2001 commissioned a large mosque called Masjid Dian Al-Mahri in city of Depok in Indonesia. The mosque is based on a hectares land and has a capacity for 20,000 worshipers. The mosque is lavishly decorated with expensive building materials imported from abroad such as gold-plated mosaics, large Italian chandeliers, and Italian and Turkish marble.
The mosque has since become one of Depok’s most important tourist attraction and each day the mosque receive non-Muslim as well as Muslim visitors from all over the world. The visitors are often amazed by the mosque’s design, artworks, garden, and the water features.
During the 10th century the Socotra archipelago was annexed by Al-Mahra, and since then a new country called the Sultanate of Al-Mahra and Socotra was officially formed by the sultan. Socotra remained part of new country for more than 500 years until when in year 1507 the Portuguese naval forces headed by Tristão da Cunha took control of the archipelago, but such invasion cost the Portuguese dearly due to continuous war with Al-Mahra forces and harsh weather which led to loss of lives and many ships.
In year 1511 the Sultanate liberated Socotra from Portuguese invasion, and Socotra was once again part of the Sultanate. Al-Mahra’s former naval forces were highly competent and defeated the Portuguese naval force who at that time were considered as undisputed naval superpower. A world-famous Arab navigator named Sulaiman Al Mahri started his illustrious naval career in the Al-Mahra navy and later on his career he explored the Indian Ocean and wrote several books on geography of the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia Islands.
During the 19 century Al-Mahri naval forces were finally out powered by the British armed forces who employed highly efficient industrial warfare never seen before in Al-Mahra, and thus Al-Mahra became another Third World country who became victim of European aggression. As result of the defeat Al-Mahra became a vassal state of Great Britain in year 1886 and later became part of the Aden Protectorate.
The defeat of Al-Mahra was a great scoop for the British government who believed that such strategy was an important measure designed for to protect a vital trade route to British India against the Ottoman Empire. The leadership of Al-Mahra were forced to sign unfair treaty, and the term stipulated in the treaty was that the leadership retained jurisdiction of their land in exchange for British protection.
In year 1940 the British government annulled the treaty of 1886 and instead Al-Mahra and their neighboring regions in the Gulf of Aden were forced to sign the so-called Advisory Treaties, and those who refused to sign were subjected to deadly air strikes delivered by the British Royal Air force. The Advisory Treaty meant that the local Mehri leadership no longer had juristic of their internal affairs, and this treaty gave the British government a complete control over internal affair as well as the order of succession.
The Sultans of Mahra had the title of Sultan al-Dawla al-Mahriyya (Sultan Qishn wa Suqutra).
- c.1750 - 1780 `Afrar al-Mahri
- c.1780 - 1800 Taw`ari ibn `Afrar al-Mahri
- c.1800 - 1820 Sa`d ibn Taw`ari Ibn `Afrar al-Mahri
- c.1834 Sultan ibn `Amr (on Suqutra)
- c.1834 Ahmad ibn Sultan (at Qishn)
- 1835 - 1845 `Amr ibn Sa`d ibn Taw`ari Afrar al-Mahri
- 1845 - 18.. Taw`ari ibn `Ali Afrar al-Mahri
- 18.. - 18.. Ahmad ibn Sa`d Afrar al-Mahri
- 18.. - 18.. `Abd Allah ibn Sa`d Afrar al-Mahri
- 18.. - 18.. `Abd Allah ibn Salim Afrar al-Mahri
- 1875? - 1907 `Ali ibn `Abd Allah Afrar al-Mahri
- 1907 - 1928? `Abd Allah ibn `Isa Afrar al-Mahri
- 1946? - Feb 1952 Ahmad ibn `Abd Allah Afrar al-Mahri
- Feb 1952 - 1967 `Isa ibn `Ali ibn Salim Afrar al-Mahri
Famous Mehri camel
Al-Mahra is home to the Mehri camel which has been integral part Al-Mahra army’s military success during the Islamic conquests of Egypt and North Africa against the Byzantine Empire. During the Islamic conquests of Egypt and North Africa, cavalry unit from Al-Mahra have introduced the Mehri camel to the Northern Africa, and now the Mehri camel breed can now be found everywhere in Northern Africa. The Mehri camel is better known as Mehari camel in most of Northern Africa.
The Mehri camel is a special breed originated from Al-Mahra, and they are renowned for their speed, agility and toughness. The Mehri camels are also in certain parts of Northern Africa known as Sahel camels. The Mehri camel has large but slender physic, and because of its small hump it is perfectly suited for ridding.
During the colonial period in Northern Africa, the French government in Northern Africa took advantage of the Mehri camel’s proven military capabilities, and it established a camel corps called the Méhariste who were part of the Armée d'Afrique and they patrolled the Sahara using the Mehri camel. The French Méhariste camel corps were part of the Compagnies Sahariennes. The Méhariste were also part of the French Army of the Levant.
Car models named after the Mehri camel
In year 1968 the France’s Citroën introduced the Citroën Méhari, which was a light off-road car named after the famous Mehri camel. The Citroën Méhari was a variant of the Citroën 2CV, and Citroën has built more than 144,000 Méhari between 1968 and 1988. A new 2016 electric car model called Citroën E-Méhari is now being sold in Europe, and this new model is a compact SUV just like the Méhari.
The beginning of the end of Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra
In 1862 the Mahra sultanate signed a Treaty of Protectorate with Great Britain after negotiating with the British government, and later Al-Mahra state became part of the Aden Protectorate. The Aden Protectorate was the British government’s effort to secure the trade route to British India. Bringing the area under British control would protect a strategically important naval route against the Ottoman Empire. The main point of the treaty was that the ruler retained jurisdiction of their land, and in exchange for British protection, the Al-Mahra sultanate agreed not to enter agreement with or cede territory to any other foreign government. Since 1866 the Aden Protectorate meant that nine regions along the Gulf of Aden became vassal states of Great Britain.
In the 1940s Al-Mahra and its neighbouring regions along the Gulf of Aden were forced to sign Advisory Treaties, and those who refused to sign were subjected to deadly air strikes delivered by the British Royal Air force. The Advisory Treaty meant that the local leadership no longer had juristiction of their internal affairs, and this treaty gave the British government complete control over the nation's internal affairs and the order of succession. The Advisory Treaties caused resentment against the British rule and the spread of Arab Nationalism in Al-Mahra and the rest of the Arabian Peninsula. The Advisory Treaty was the beginning of the end of Al-Mahra state and the end of centuries-old Al-Mahri monarchy which previously managed to overcome superpowers like the Ottomans and the naval superpower of Portugal. Many in Yemen believe that British engineered Advisory Treaty has led to the erosion of Yemen’s traditional power structure, and the current civil war in Yemen is the result of British involvement in the region.
The end of Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra
During 1960s the British sustained losses against various Egypt-sponsored guerrilla forces and the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY). In year 1963 the British government declared state of emergency in the Aden Protectorate, and by 1967 the British forces fled the entire Yemen as a result of losses against the National Liberation Front (Yemen) who later seized power in Al-Mahra. In year 1967 the Al-Mahra sultanate was absorbed by Marxist People's Republic of South Yemen which itself was an entity heavily sponsored by the Soviet, and they put an end to the centuries-old Al-Mahri sultanate. Sultan Issa Bin Ali Al-Afrar Al-Mahri was the last reigning Al-Mahri Sultan of Qishn and Socotra.
The sultanate was abolished in the 1967 and was annexed by Soviet supported South Yemen, which itself later united with North Yemen to become unified Yemen. In 2014 the land which was formerly known as the Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra had been absorbed into a new region called Hadramaut, and this reform has angered many in Al-Mahra who now believe that the Yemeni government is further centralizing their grip on power.
Current issues in the land formerly known as Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra
Overwhelmingly support for Al-Mahra independence
Traditionally, the leadership of Al-Mahra never had good relationship with the central government of Yemen whom they see them as occupiers, and the ongoing lawlessness and terrorism issues in rest of Yemen have further strained the relations between Yemen and Al-Mahra. Since Al-Mahra been annexed by South Yemen in 1967, successive Yemeni governments including the current government made no effort to develop the region's economy, and as a result of this discrimination there are no modern roads, education facilities or any other economically vital infrastructure in the region.
The Yemeni government has created large six federal states which replaced the existing 22 regions of Yemen, and this reform had further alienated many in Southern Yemen including Al-Mahra and Socotra. People believe that creation of large federal states will lead to further centralisation of power in Yemen and further marginalisation of the regions in Southern Yemen which had already been neglected by the central government for decades. It is not only the Al-Mahra region who does not receive any income from the central government due to rampant corruption demonstrated by the Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi administration, and in many places in South Yemen the government has lost credibility due the way it is handling the Houthi-crisis and voices calling for independence from Yemen is growing in the region which was formerly known as South Yemen.
The people of Al-Mahra have lost confidence in Yemeni government who failed to deal with the political and security chaos taking place in Yemen, and the chaotic situation in the country has increased the voices of pro-secession in the Al- Mahra region who are calling for to Al-Mahra to once again become an independent state. A 2014 recently carried out by a researcher at Oxford University concluded that 89% of the population of Al Mahra are disenfranchised with central Yemeni government. And the same research concluded that overwhelmingly 86% of the people of Al Mahra support an independent Al-Mahra state.
The central Yemeni government does not have control of most of the country, including Al-Mahra which under the control of tribal leadership who maintain law and order based age-old traditions and customs. At the writing moment the Al-Mahra and Socotra regions are relatively peaceful compared to the rest of Yemen, and the regions are currently hosting thousands of refugees who fled the conflicts in Yemen, Somalia, and Syria. The Shi’ite Houthi rebels and Al-Qaida are now causing conflicts and instability in most of the country, and Houthi-Saudi conflict had already caused humanitarian crisis in the rest of the country in the form of food and water shortages, which is the reason why thousands of refugees and internally displaced are seeking refuge in Al-Mahra.
Community driven anti-terrorism effort
Al-Mahra does not have terrorism issues but rest of Yemen had become well established breeding ground for Al-Qaida affiliates who use the country as their training facilities for would-be terrorists. There had been one terror-related incident in Al-Mahra where fleeing terrorism masterminds had been seeing fleeing to Al-Mahra region, but since this incident there had been no more terror related activities thanks to efforts made by the local people and tribal leadership who carryout privately funded anti-terrorism efforts.
In the beginning of 2014 a lost US drone crashed into Al-Mahra, and the wreckage had been taken to a local military base. The particular incident was the first of its kind and it was the first time people in the region have seen a drone or any terrorism-related activities in the region. Unlike most of Yemen, there is no terror related activities in Al-Mahra and most of US drone strikes often take place in other regions such as Abyan, Shabwa, Hadramout, and Al-Beida’a where there are strong presence of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
A well-known fact is that government proved to be unable to eradicate terrorism in Yemen as the country’s leadership does not have control over the army. Ordinary in Al-Mahra people made great effort to prevent terrorism in their own territory and everywhere in the Al-Mahra region there are tribal militias who carryout methodical patrolling and anti-terrorism in an effort to prevent incursion by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who are present in the neighbouring regions. The anti-terrorism activities in Al-Mahra are self-funded and neither the people nor the local leadership receive assistance from the international community or from the Yemeni government. There are on-going anti-terrorism patrols throughout Al-Mahra, and such patrols are often seen in cities and rural areas, conducting regular searches and manning checkpoints at Al-Mahra’s borders in order to stop Saudi fighters who regularly cross Yemeni border to join Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Al-Mahra in the pop culture
- A British romantic comedy called Salmon Fishing in the Yemen starring Ewan McGregor, is loosely based on real-life events in Al-Mahra region. Al-Mahra region is the only place in Yemen with milder climate and plentiful of water, but it remains to be seen whether salmon can survive in Al-Mahra.
- King Shaddad was famous character in the world-famous Arabian folk tales One Thousand and One Nights and Shaddad and his brother and their father were mentioned in the 227th to 229th nights of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. According to the tales, King Shaddad was highly competent king who built the pillared city of Iram, and in the book he was portrayed as brutal king who ruled all of Arabia and Iraq. Modern day Al-Mahra in Yemen and Dhofar in Oman were part of Ād Kingdom which are still inhabited by the Mehri tribe who are the only descendants of the ancient people of 'Ad.
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