Hadhramaut has a long history as an important centre of Islamic learning. There was a steady interaction between Hadhramaut and western and southern India, particularly Gujarat, Konkan Coast, Malabar Coast and the Deccan, which is well documented in history. Important Hadhrami settlements are found in Kutch, Ahmedabad, Baroda, Bharoch, Surat in Gujarat, Calicut and Malabar Coast in Kerala, Bijapur and Belgaum in Karnataka, Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh and Ahmadnagar and Janjira in Maharashtra, while a minor settlement existed in Delhi.
One of the earliest recorded contacts between Hadhramaut and India was in 1560 A.D. when Haji Begum, wife of Mughal emperor Humayun went to perform Hajj and while on her way back invited nearly three hundred Hadhrami Sayyids and sheikhs to accompany her to Delhi. These Sayyids were settled in the ‘Arab Ki Sarai’ (Arab Lodge), located near the Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi.
Political relations between Hadhramaut and Mughal India can be traced to the visits of envoys of rulers of Hadhramaut, who used to send congratulatory messages and presents to the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Niccolao Manucci in his “Storia do Mogor ” describes the visit of one Sayyid Abdullah as an envoy of Hadhramaut in 1665 A.D. Such envoys were cordially welcomed and bestowed with lavish gifts. The envoy of Hadhramaut was presented with a robe, horse, and 3000 rupees and 7000 rupees was sent for his ruler.
From the 17th century onwards, Hadhrami Sayyids started migrating in rapidly increasing numbers to India and other Asian and African regions with a peak in immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Bahmani and the Golconda rulers of the Deccan extended enormous patronage to scholars, sheikhs, Sufis, Sayyids, ulema and merchants from Hadhramaut. As a result, several prominent members of the Sayyid families of Hadhramaut, who claim descent from Ali, Prophet’s son-in-law, immigrated to India and established hospices and institutions of Arabic learning in India during 16th century A.D., many of which have survived till date. These Sayyids exercised considerable spiritual influence over Arab tribes in their homeland and wielded similar authority in Muslim societies in India. Such families as the Aydarus of Tibi, the Alawi of Tarim or Bafaqih of Duan and Shihr often became leaders of the local ulema in port towns of the Indian Ocean.
Shaikh Abdullah Shaikh Al-Aidarus and his son Mohiuddin Al-Qadir Al-Aidarus of Ahmedabad, Jaafar Al-Sadiq bin Ali Zainul Abidin of Surat, Shaikh Abdullah Habib Al Aidarus of Bijapur and Sayyid Umar Aidarus Ba Shiban of Belgaum were important Hadhrami saints and sadah who had settled down in India. Syed Abdur Rahman Bafaqi Thangal, one of the founders of the Indian Union Muslim League who played a major role in religious-political life of the Malabar Muslim community, is also a descendent of the renowned family of Muhammad Shahir Ba Faqih of Hadhramaut.
The Hadhrami migrants in India excelled in many other fields like literature, art and culture. Sayyid Ahmad Dihlawi (1846-1920) was a distinguished lexicographer of Urdu who published a monumental dictionary, Farhang-i-Asafiya. Mohiuddin Al-Qadir Al-Aidarus composed numerous works on mysticism and biography. Jaafar Al-Sadiq bin Ali Zainul Abidin is credited with the translation of Mughal prince Dara Shikoh’s work in Arabic as Tuhfat al-Asfiya bi Tarjamat Safinat al-Awliya. Yahya Umar Abu Mujab al-Yafii or Abu Mujab, who stayed in Baroda and Hyderabad, was a prolific poet who wonderfully mixed Urdu words in his Arabic poetry. Mohammed Juma’a Khan (1903-1964), the legendary Yemeni singer known for his Hadhrami songs, was born to a Yemeni mother and an Indian father, who was a soldier recruited by the Sultan Al-Quaiti.
The decline of the Mughal Empire following Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 A.D. eventually led to the emergence of various provincial powers which began recruiting Arab soldiers and mercenaries, including those from Hadhramaut, along with Africans (referred as ‘Siddis’ in India). The Arab soldiers were renowned for their superior military skills, particularly their ability to defend forts. The Arab mercenaries commanded higher salaries compared to other foreign or local soldiers. In Bhavnagar, Maharaja Bhavsinhji (1703-64) recruited 3000 Arabs and Siddis in his troops. Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao (1740-61) had a number of Arabs in his army, while Nana Phadnis, another Maratha chief had 5000 Arab soldiers in his army. The Maharaja of Gaikwad employed several Arab soldiers, including Jafar Al-Kathiri, a leading Arab chief.
Hyderabad became a favourite destination for Arab mercenaries and soldiers under the Asaf Jahi dynasty. It is estimated that in the 1930s there were 13000 Hadhramis in Hyderabad, and by 1849, there were around 5000 Arabs in the Nizam’s army. The Arabs probably controlled one third of all lands in Hyderabad by the time of Indian Mutiny in 1857. Several nobles and commanders maintained their units of troops in which Arab soldiers formed an important component. Salar Jung, the Diwan of Nizam of Hyderabad, began recruiting several Al-Quaiti jamadars for security duties and revenue collection and bestowed titles upon them and awarded them with cash and land. The Arab soldiers were so much trusted that Salar Jung deployed them to protect the British Residency in Hyderabad when it was attacked by a mob in July 1857. One Hadhrami, Major General Sayyid Ahmad Al-Aidarus (1889-1962), achieved the highest military rank as the Commander-in-Chief of the Hyderabad State Forces in the 1940s. He tried to defend Hyderabad during the ‘Operation Polo’ offensive of the Indian army in September 1948 but the Hyderabad army had to surrender after a five-day war.
During 1819 and 1857, several Arab chiefs employed in Hyderabad managed to build huge fortunes and established their own principalities in their regions in Yemen. For instance, Saleh Al-Aqrabi settled down in Lahej as a distinguished chief and his clan came to be known as ‘Aal Al-Shawoosh’. Two sultanates were founded in Hadhramaut by the Arabs employed with the Nizam of Hyderabad. The First was the Kaseri Sultanate founded by Ghalib Bin Mohsin at Seiyun, which lasted till 1967. The second and the largest sultanate in Hadhramaut was the Al-Quaiti Sultanate, founded in 1902 by the Yafai family of Omar Bin Awadh Al-Quaiti, who was given the title of ‘Shamseer-ud-Dowlah’ (‘Scimiter of the State’) and ‘Janbaz Jung’ (‘Intrepid Warrior’) survived till 1967. Its former ruler Sultan Ghalib II bin Awadh bin Saleh Al Qu’aiti, who is a renowned scholar, now resides in Jeddah. A third sultanate was attempted by Abdullah Bin Ali Al-Awlaqi in Hadhramaut with Sidda as its base, but he was defeated by the Al-Qu’aitis in 1876.
Hadhramaut had a great impact on the culture, music and cuisine of Hyderabad. Likewise, the impact of Hyderabad on the southern Arabia was significant. A number of land reforms that were introduced in Hyderabad were applied in Hadhramaut with suitable modifications. The Hyderabadi cuisine, particularly its Biryani, is popular in many parts of southern Yemen as ‘Zurbian’.
These intense people-to-people contacts have resulted in the settlement of over 300,000 people of Yemeni origin, mainly from Hadhramaut, in the Deccan, particularly in Hyderabad and adjoining areas of Andhra Pradesh; Aurangabad, Parbhani and Jalna in Maharashtra; Ahmedabad and Surat in Gujarat, Calicut in Kerala and Bijapur, Belgaum and Bhatkal in Karnataka.
In Hyderabad, the term ‘Chaush’ is used to describe the Hadhrami community, particularly the Arab soldiers employed by the Nizam of Hyderabad. Several members of the “Hadhrami” community in Hyderabad have attained great name and fame in different walks of life. Sayyid Bin Mohammad of Hyderabad was a reputed painter whose works adorn the walls of the Central Hall of the Parliament of India. Salam Masdoosi was an Islamic scholar and social activist. Sulaiman Areeb and Awaz Sayeed were renowned Urdu poet and writer respectively. Mahmood Bin Mohammad, a senior IPS officer, went on to become India’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Hadhramis are currently concentrated in the locality of ‘Barkaz’, which closely resembles any other suburb of Yemen and is sometimes referred as the “Little Arabia”.