In Tarim, Diverse Faiths Support a Peaceful Society

Zain Alaabdain Ben Ali
When it comes to religious coexistence, the city of Tarim in the eastern governorate of Hadhramaut is a bright spot on Yemen’s map. This can be attributed to three main factors: its history as a centre of religious education, its acceptance of religious diversity, and a long tradition of visitors from around the world.
Men play dominoes in Tarim, where coexistence is a fact of daily life. © Ibrahim Bamoumen / Arabia Felix Magazine

Yemen’s religious plurality is anchored in a wide range of Islamic schools of thought, according to author Mohammed Saif al-Odaini, a religious scholar and author of Freedom in Islam and The Rights of Women Under Islam.

“The Islamic world has thrived with its many sects and doctrines that brought us a wider concept of the faith through their varying perspectives,” he said.

In many parts of the country, however, Yemenis are divided by religious affiliations that are often at odds with each other. Tarim, famous for its hundreds of mosques, is a notable exception.

“A visitor will notice the peaceful nature of this city, where fanaticism or harassment has no place,” said Abdu al-Heqqi, an accountant who moved from Taiz to Tarim in 2020. “I have not seen any scenes of incitement or religious intolerance.”

There is intense polarisation and a sense of rivalry, he noted, but sects exercise restraint and play it safe without resorting to violence.

“There is a certain acceptance of ‘the other’ because people here have realised that trying to exclude or denigrate a certain group will neither eliminate nor dominate it,” al-Heqqi added.

Munir Bazhair, a lecturer and researcher in Islamic history at Dar al-Mustafa University in Tarim, said peaceful coexistence is nothing new here. 

“To stabilise the path of peace and knowledge in Hadramaut in ancient times of unrest,” he said, “al-Faqih Mohammad Ba’alawi called for breaking the sword, starting with his own.” 

Ba’alawi (1178-1255), founder of the Ba’ Alawiyya Sufi order, spread the doctrine of purification of heart through saintly life and set an example of renouncing violence that is still followed today. 

The history of non-violence includes rejection of hardline ideologies, Bazhair said, and linking worship with Sufi values such as reason and wisdom in problem-solving. “These factors contribute to religious coexistence in Tarim,” he added.


The Link Between Societal and
Religious Coexistence

A study by Dr Ahmed Bafadl, head of the Research and Development Studies Centre at the Holy Qur’an and Islamic Sciences University in Seiyun, suggests social harmony is possible through cooperation and solidarity among groups and sects.Tolerance and openness to different beliefs and practices are also crucial. 

“People will naturally draw closer to one another as a result,” said Bafadl. “They overcome barriers and put aside fear so serenity can prevail.”

This climate of coexistence has had a positive impact on displaced Yemenis. Hadhramis, also known for their openness, are often referred to as “ambassadors of Yemen” because of their long tradition of travel, trade and migration to Asia and East Africa. In addition, Hadhramaut hosts students from East Asia, Europe, and Arab countries every year. This has helped immigrants and displaced people start life anew.

Hanaa Najib, 25, was displaced from Dhamar and fled with her family to Tarim in 2017. She appreciates the city’s tranquil atmosphere, saying she has not encountered any harassment or racism.

“Coexistence exists to a large extent in this society,” she said. “You don’t sense any conflict or tension in this environment.” 

To a great extent, that’s because religious and civil coexistence in Tarim are intertwined.

“Life evolves in the presence of diversity only when it allows for intellectual exchange,” author Saif al-Odaini said. For the rest of Yemen to follow Tarim’s model, raising general awareness about respect for diversity as a guiding principle is a must. There is no better time than now to elevate the principle of dialogue and educate younger generations on tolerance. This can lead Yemen towards a future of stability and peaceful coexistence.

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