• 22 حزيران 2019
  • مقابلة خاصة


By : Dr Ali Qleibo


During the first decade of the eighteenth century—when the Ottoman army was distracted by external wars—disorder prevailed in the distant provinces. Brigands, highway robbers and marauding Bedouins terrified and looted villages, cities, and pilgrim caravans on their way to Mecca from Palestine. Fearful Jerusalemites inure to the terror simply withdrew within the city walls. All gates were locked at night, save for Herod’s Gate, known in Arabic as Bab al-Sahirah, from the verb سهر, literally “the gate for late night entrance.” At that moment, precisely in 1711 AD, the legendary Sheikh Mohammad al-Khalyly took a momentous step and built the first year-round qaserقصر (palatial manor house) in his orchard outside Herod’s Gate. He ventured from the safety within the fortified city walls into the open wilderness protected by his exalted religious prestige as an eminent theologian and Sufi master.

His authority as the grand mufti and the shafi’I school of jurisprudence,his prestige as head ot al-Qadirieh sufi school and his great wealth as a merchant whose caravans reached as far as Mecca, empowered his pioneering venture to live outside the wells of Jerusalem.By1714 he has schieved sich a high status and power so as to dislodge his extended family from their residence adjacent to al-Aqsa Mosque, in al-Madrasa al Baladiya next to chain Gate to the inhospitable wilderness outside Herod’s Gate whence he built the first qaser manor house . At a time when Jerusalemites took shelter within the walls, the  charismatic  Sheikh had the  courage, wealth and political connections to scoff at danger through the support of the successive Ottoman Mutasarrıf, sub-prefect.

In 1892, my father was born in Qasr al Sheick—a descendant from the patrilateral cross-cousin marriage of al-Sheikh Mohammad’s daughter to her uncle Yihya’s son. He lived, with the extended family, in the manor house until 1922 when the British confiscated the land on which the RockefellerMuseum now stands. Ironically “Qaser al-Khalyly” is the only manor house among the eighteenth and early nineteenth century palaces that survived following al-Khalyly’s pioneering step.

Equally interesting is the social registry written by Hassan abdal-Latif al-Husseini, the mufti of the Hanafi school (the official state school of religious law) and the dean of the syndicate of noble (shariff) families نقيب الاشراف. In his book, The Biography of the Jerusalem Dignitariesتراجم اعيان القدس  we are surprised that wealthy merchants, Ottoman Mutasarrif, and high civil administrators are glossed over silently. Only the theologians who were shariffs merited inclusion in the social registry. The biographies reflected the historiographers’ horizons of the period: a synoptic listing of the religious functions, theological achievements, and dates of birth and death embellished in allegorical and highly ornate rhetoric.

In this biography, written seven decades after the death of al-Sheikh Khalyly, he  assumes the status of a mythical holy man who knows the "truth" and has in Sufi terms connected with God, مكشوف عنه الحجاب. Among the many symbolic narratives to illustrate al-Sheikh’s unique knowledge and love of God the biographer recounts al-Khalyly’s encounter with al-Khader, a universal emissary of God, with whom Prophet Moses had met in the Qur’an, and who Iben al-Arabi, the great Sufi, had often connected with God through his mediation. That al-Khader has also made himself manifest to al-Sheikh al-Khalyly, is a token of God’s blessing and grace. Sufi allegorical metaphors and religious symbols interpolate the biography as an indication of al-Khalyly’s high-ranking position not only as the great alem, theologian but as a mystic consumed by gnosis. His burial in al Ashrafiyya School west of the lower courtyard of al-Aqsa Mosque and his fine colourful brocade garment, sceptre, and green turban in the Muslim Museum attest to his exalted stature as both a shariff, scholar and mystic lover of God.


The increasing interest in the social history of Muslim Jerusalem and the published annotated will وقفية  of al-Sheikh al-Khalyly by Dr. Ishak al-Husseini and Dr. Abu al-Leil has drawn great attention to al-Khalyly’s erudition and material wealth. The contemporary researchers were mostly impressed by the extensive list of endowments he has bequeathed Jerusalem: the first endowed public library; the innumerable properties; the manuscripts he has written; and the will itself listing all his possessions, including an inventory of his books. The nineteenth century biography—in which he was constituted as an autochthonous mythological figure that emerged in 1695 as the great Jerusalem personage—became the main reference.


Biographical narratives enrich our knowledge of history. However the modern biographers immerse themselves into the very disguises, rationalizations, and idealizations of religious Sufi historiography and uncritically reproduce the text as objective data. They depend exclusively on the nineteenth century biography as their source of information without cross referencing its data with the extensive archival data in the religious court (al-mahkamah al-shar’iyyah), that includes family properties and various employments from the thirteenth century. Even the family narratives of his descendants are overlooked.


Whereas in the modern biographies al-Sheikh al-Khalyly acquires a legendary status as the obscure migrant scholar who rose to great renown and wealth overnight in Jerusalem, my archival research indicates that he comes from a long line of well off sheikhs in Jerusalem. Born to a well off family he was dispatched to study in Al Azhar whereas his brother Yihya managed the family business. Abd Al Latif Al Husseini's ninettenth century biography is as such a sufi allegory describing the spiritual ascent of Al Sheikh al Khalyly in material terms; the narrative presents him as risings from rags to riches as an illustration of God's munificence.  Later historian misinterpreted the symbolic narrative and read it literally. Moreover the name was read from a modern Palestinian perspective, for in twentieth century usage khalyly  simply refers to a man who hails from Hebron, Al Khalyl in Arabic. Khalil however is derivative from the title of Abraham who was the friend of God, Khalil Allah, from which the city derived its name since it is the burial place of Abraham.  Given the modern geographic demographic context the religious epithet Khalil Allah, the friend of God, outside the Sufi context loses its significance.


To further complicate matters the name al-Khalyly appears numerous times in early Ottoman registries preceded by the title “Sheikh.” In an essay on endowments, the modern researcher Mohammad Ghosheh cites irregular cases of real estate ownership in which the same house has been repeatedly endowed. A case in point is a house that belongs to Al-Sheikh Shams al-Din Mohammad al-Khalyly who  first endowed the particular house in 1570 AD. The same house was endowed a second time by al-Sheikh Ameen al-Khalyly in1679. Later, Mr. Omar Effendi Tahbub re-endowed it for the third time in 1862. Apart from the several endowments of the same house (which reveals a problem in private waqf, endowments, and private property holdings in Jerusalem before the Turkish land reform of 6 June 1858), the registry demonstrates that al-Sheikh Mohammad al-Khalyly descends from a family whose ancestry through generations had lived in Jerusalem and bore the title of Sheikh, a jurist in Muslim law. Consequently the modernist perception of al Sheikh Mohammad as a poor migrant from Hebron who rose to fame in Jerusalem is totally erroneous.


Similarly, because of the modern biographers’ unfamiliarity with archives in the Muslim court, many manuscripts written by ancestral family members who were also ‘ulama, erudite theologians, are wrongly attributed to him. In the absence of archival cross-referencing, al-Sheikh Shams al-Din  Mohammad al-Khalyly, author of “the History of Jerusalem and Hebron,” for example, fuses into the persona of the famous al-Sheik Mohammad Iben Mohammad al-Khalyly. And the book describing the virtues of Jerusalem is attributed to the latter. Shams al-Din is assumed to be an honorific title, although we know from the above archive that Shams al-Din was a first name from the house case discussed above. The History of the Building of Jerusalem, written in 1756 by Ahmad ben Sharafal-Din al-Khalyly, shows al-Khalyly family to have had a tradition of learned scholars. Incidentally my name in the Muslim court registry, as one of the beneficiaries from his endowments, reads “Mohammad Ali Yihya,” followed by other names leading up to al-Tamymy al-Khalyly. “Qleibo” is added in parenthesis as a nickname. Similarly al-Sheikh al-Khalyly was a descendant of Tamim al-Dary, a point often overlooked in his biographies, and that accounts for his status as shariff.


Tamymy al-Khalyly is an Arabian tribe descendant of the Prophet Mohammad’s companion Tamim al-Darry. Once the bishop of Bet Jibrin, he is considered the first Christian to convert to Islam in Palestine. Traditional historiographers believe that he had travelled to Mecca where he converted and where he participated in some of the major Muslim battles along side Prophet Mohammad.


As the bishop of Bet Jibrin,Tamim al-Darry must have had a Christian Greek name which Muslim historians did not preserve. We only know of the Muslim Arab variant, Tamim Ben Aws al-Darry, whose genealogy strikes deep roots in the Arabian Peninsula in conformity with traditional concepts of Arab noble genealogy. From this Arabian tribe,Al Khalyly a great number of Arab and non-Arab tribes throughout the Muslim world trace their descent. These include tribes spread in the Arab and Persian world such al-Majaly, Shabaneh, Alqasrawi, al-Hamieh, Mujahed, al-Kayyalal-Mahasni, al-Tamimial-Khalyly, al-Tamimial-Dari, known also as al-Khalyly, etc.


Our knowledge of the social history of Jerusalem is scant. Its codification is based on the projection of the present social structure onto the unknown past so as to present a historical continuity. A major problem in tracing lineages ensues from the fact that Muslim society is patrilineal and that lines of descent, the system of nomenclature, are exclusively - The combination of the change of names in the end of the nineteenth century into the four-name system, the abbreviation of the list of ancestral first names, and the modern use of the nickname in lieu of the traditional tribal name present researchers with a formidable task.

The rise of al-Sheikh al-Khalyly to prominence and power culminates with his audacious decision to live outside the Old City walls and reflects the privileged status and mutual corollary priviliges of the Palestinian theologians under Ottoman administration of the Al Quds that not only authorized his “purchase” of miri land, but also allowed the building of the mansion. In the miriland system, most of the land, according to Ottoman Muslim Law, belonged to God, hence it belonged to the Caliph. Timar land is the agriculturally viable part of miri land, on which building was generally forbidden by law. The Palestinian countryside was almost all miri land, administered by aghas, princes, military men, or endowments administered by the Muslim Awqaf. In 1711, the tapu system and the legal means of registering private property did not exist. Only after the Tanzimat were the Ottoman subjects ensured the perfect security for their property.

The great deference with which the Muftis of the Malky, Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi’iMuslim sects of jurisprudence were accorded by the Ottoman governors was invariably fostered by personal friendships. The two surviving books by al-Khalyly family, despite the long time span between them, were written as a gift to the Ottoman Mutassarif of the City.


The purchase of the orchard (karm) outside Herod’s Gate, (still known as Karm al-Sheikh) was possible because of the special privileged status of the olama, which was further bonded by personal friendship with the Mutassarif.Al-Sheikh al-Khalyly could move out of the walls under the protection of his friend, the Ottoman Mutassarif Rajab Pasha and his successors.


Outside the walls danger lurked throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Even my father, born in 1892, was escorted by Lulu, their slave, to school inside the walls. The hundred metres to Herod’s Gate were too dangerous, as children were stolen and sold into slavery.


To understand seventeenth century Jerusalem, one must understand the Ottoman system whereby local Palestinians had limited access to high political administrative positions. High governmental functions were the direct appointees of the Sublime Porte, to be selected from the courtiers. At this socio-economic-political juncture, a situation developed (not dissimilar from that of the Italian Renaissance city) whereby the wealthy families could achieve renown and power by having their son trained, groomed, and financed to assume the much-coveted position of Mufti in one of the four schools of Muslim jurisprudence. The leadership of a Sufi tariqa further incremented the religious function by adding the spiritual dimension. In addition to confirming the family prestige, it safeguarded the properties and wealth for posterity.


From scattered shreds of archival evidence, we learn that al-Khalyly’s family had small holdings. For generations, some were merchants and many were sheikhs and they probably combined both métiers. The vicissitude of time must have forced them to buy, sell, endow, and re-endow repeatedly. I imagine al-Sheikh Mohammad’s father, an enterprising merchant, who sent his son to study in Cairo, wagering on the great privileges his investment would yield. The legendary al-Sheikh al-Khalyly, the great savant of sixteenth/seventeenth century Jerusalem, the builder of many monuments, the holder of the faith, and the founder of the first public library in Jerusalem. As a Mufti, would consolidate all the wealth in unalienable endowments. A great enterpriser al-Sheikh Mohammad expanded the trade business to become one of the richest people in Jerusalem.


Al-Sheikh Mohammad ben Mohammad al-Khalyly’s wealth and scholarship became the endowments that give Jerusalem its current heritage and character.