The locality of al-Mahlabiyya is located in west Ninawa countryside. Unfortunately, it has become known among the wider international community largely because the alleged current leader of the Islamic State- one 'Amir Muhammad Sa'id Abd al-Rahman al-Mawla'- is said to be from the area of al-Mahlabiyya. However, I would like readers to know more of the history of al-Mahlabiyya and its inhabitants beyond this Islamic State association, and so for this post I have translated an article on al-Mahlabiyya written by a person from that area: Yunis Mahmoud Yunis al-Hamdani. The article originally appeared in a local Iraqi publication in September 2019 but I have desired to make it freely available in the original Arabic and in translation.
Before proceeding to giving the article and its translation, I have a clarification to make in relation to the debate on al-Mawla and the question of how he could occupy the position of caliph of the Islamic State. It is known that the position of caliph in the Islamic State requires the occupant to have lineage going back to the Quraishi tribe (the tribe of the Prophet Muhammad). It was initially assumed that al-Mawla was an Turkmen considering that the Iraqi Turkmen language is used in the al-Mahlabiyya area. Further, two aliases ascribed to him are 'Abu Omar al-Turkmani' (Abu Omar the Turkmen) and 'al-Hajj Abdullah Qardash,' with Qardash (meaning 'brother' in Turkish) known to be a part of aliases used among Turkmen members of the Islamic State. But then, news emerged based on U.S. interrogation records that al-Mawla had identified in those interrogations as an Arab. So, what is al-Mawla's ethnicity and how can he claim Quraishi origin?
The answer to this question is that it is possible for someone to be Arab and Turkmen at the same time: that is, Arab by racial descent and Turkmen by virtue of language. Thus, the al-Mawla tribe (for example) claims Arab racial lineage but its members can also consider themselves Turkmen because they speak the language, without defining themselves as being part of the Turkic race by ancestry. Likewise, in the Tel Afar area there are many people of the al-Hayali tribe, whose members in Tel Afar claim Arab racial lineage but can also consider themselves Turkmen because they speak the language. This is what is apparent to me from people I know from these areas of Ninawa countryside. A somewhat similar point was made in the biography of 'Abu Ali al-Anbari' written by his son, who said that most of the tribes of Tel Afar are of Arab origin but learnt the Turkish language. In short, a person like al-Mawla could easily claim an Arab origin and construct a Quraishi lineage while still being considered Turkmen by virtue of language and not racial origin.
Anyway, that should end any controversy related to this issue. Now, for the article. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
al-Mahlabiyya and its History
Yunis Mahmoud Yunis al-Hamdani
al-Mahlabiyya: with the fatah then the sukun and lam with a fatha and the ya with shadda. It is a locality located west of Mosul, between it and Sinjar, near Tel Afar. And the predominant opinion of the old regionalists and geographers is that the name of al-Mahlabiyya derives from the plant (al-Mahlab) that is a fragrant aromatic little tree whose seeds are used in cuisine and kitchens and whose sticks are used to make rods (like bamboo) and these rods are distinguished for the fact that they preserve their aromatic smell over the years, and these little trees were spread heavily in the al-Mahlabiyya region. And al-Mahlabiyya is considered among the most important residential complexes in the old eras (3000 BC) and there is located in it Tel al-Khamira that is contemporaneous with Tel al-Ramah in Tel Afar. And its history goes back to the third millennium BC.
As for in the Assyrian age, it was flourishing and among the remains of its ruins is Tel Balyuz that is a fortified Assyrian fortress, and they made the water spring inside the fortress to supply the trench surrounding the fortress. In the Sassanid era before the Islamic conquest, it was one of the most important kawras affiliated with Mosul for the Sassanids divided Mosul into 18 kawras- that is, districts- and this administration division continued after the Islamic conquest in the Rashidun and Umayyad era. And it was the locality of Karwat al-Faraj. And in the Abbasid era in the Caliphate of al-Mahdi, two kawras were cut off from Wilayat al-Mosul- namely, Kawrat Samighat and that of al-Mahlabiyya- and al-Mahlabiyya was joined to Kawrat Aski Mosul. And mention of al-Mahlabiyya has come in the poetry of al-Akhtal al-Taghallubi who lived in the era of Abd al-Malik bin Marwan, and he said it when he described a people who left their abode in this region to new places of residence for them, for he said:
They have gone back to their harra which they are building,
Just as cows go back to their homelands,
For Sinjar has become empty of them,
So al-Mahlabiyya, so al-Khabour, so al-Surar.
And harra as it is known is equivalent to the locality and al-Surar is a flourishing village in the area of Wadi al-Ayn on the Khabour river, and al-Bakari the author of the book Mua'ajjam Ma Ustaujima Min Asma' al-Bilad wa al-Mawadi' verses whose reciter he did not mention, and in these verses came the name of al-Mahlabiya as Tel al-Mahlabiyya, namely:
Oh two mountains of Sinjar, you have not been for us
A summer residence or winter residence or a place to lie down.
For had we complained to the two mountains of Awj,
Tears would have flowed from the two of them or the two of them would have cracked.
Sabi' has mourned for the day of Tel al-Mahlabiyya,
And the spreading of its fragrance has distracted Owaid, so he has concealed his face.[i]
al-Mahlabiyya has been renowned for the cultivation of date palms and its dates had renown such that one of the markets of Mosul specialised in the sale of dates from al-Mahlabiyya on account of their excellence. And al-Hamawi the author of the book Mu'ajam al-Buldan has conveyed what confirms the spread of the widespread cultivation of date palms in it, and al-Mahlabiyya was a kawra rich in broad farms. And Ibn Qudama the author of the Kitab al-Kharaj mentioned that the income of kharja from the three karwas of Shahrazad and Samighat and al-Mahlabiyya was 2,750,000 dirhams in the year! How were these farms and gardens and there is not in them a running river except the water spring of al-Mahlabiyya? The area of al-Mahlabiyya, as is well known, lies at the bottom of a low mountain range extending from Tel Afar to the Hamrin Mountains. In this series there are formed in it deep valleys running through the plains of al-Mahlabiyya to the south, and the remains of the great damns are still here until this day of ours and in particular on a valley called currently the Valley of Sheikh Ali, and it is from the Abbasid age. And al-Mahlabiyya is considered an important metropolis through history and the drain holes of the Abbasid state can still be made out when digging the foundations in the al-Mahlabiyya area and the Aski Mosul area.
The ruins indicate that the Mongols caused destruction in al-Mahlabiyya and there was found a gravestone in the ruins of the town to the south. And on the gravestone is writing that says: 'The martyr Shihab al-Din Ahmad who was killed in oppression in the year 600 Hijri. The two numbers that make up the units and tens are erased and the name in the place of the tens is either six or nine undoubtedly. As for the unit numbers, it is erased, and perhaps archaeologists can analyse it easily but my information on this particular is insufficient. The number indicates 660 or 690 and it is precisely the age in which the Tatars' destruction of Iraq got worse after the fall of Baghdad in 656 AH. The gravestone is present until now and preserved in the mosque of Omar bin al-Khattab in al-Mahlabiyya.
As for the greatest catastrophe, it came at the hand of Timurlenk and there was a destroyed road of clear ruins years ago called at the popular level (the road of Timurlenk), for it is the road that he went on after attacking Iraq and heading towards the West towards Syria and Turkey. And the evidence is for the occurrence of comprehensive destruction because al-Mahlabiyya had many wells inside the homes and their remains are still here until now in great numbers but one should note that these destroyed wells, when man digs them and extracts what is inside them from dirt and rocks, he will probably see in them great numbers of human bones. What is apparent is that the massacre happened and the bodies of the slaughtered were thrown into the wells. And these events were around 1420 AD. And Yaseen al-Omari mentions in his book Munyat al-Adba' on the history of Mosul al-Hadba' that Timurlenk made it total ruins and killed all its inhabitants.
al-Mahlabiyya remained ruins from that date and became an area inhabited by tribes and nomad Bedouins during the spring and summer seasons for the large amount of pastures and presence of water, until around 1832 AD when the ancestor of the al-Yaghub family (Mustafa) fled to it from Tel Afar and he dwelled in it until there joined him the ancestor of the Albu Saleh family (Saleh) from the Albu Dawla clan. And from then there gathered around these two families others affiliated with them. Most of the inhabitants of al-Mahlabiyya now are affiliated with these two families.
Inhabitants and Clans of al-Mahlabiyya
The clan of Al Ya'qoub: they belong to the al-Mawla tribe that fled from Syria to Iraq and dwelled in Tel Afar and from there they migrated to al-Mahlabiyya for economic reasons in around 1870 AD. And they are now a number of sub-clans in the area, among them the Mustafa family, the Bakr family, the Hamoush family, the al-Taha family, the Fanoush family, and the Najjar family.
The Albu Dawla clan: they are a branch of the Albu Hamdan and it is well known that the Hamdanis' lineage goes back to the Taghallub tribe. And the Albu Dawla fled to Tel Afar from the al-Hawija area in Kirkuk and inhabited Tel Afar and from there a portion of them came from Tel Afar and came to inhabit al-Mahlabiyya and Sheikh Ibrahim and Ein al-Wah and they are now a number of sub-clans in the area, among them Albu Saleh, Albu Haydar, Albu Qalli, Albu Karmoush, Albu Qaddo and Albu Khalid.
The al-Shakhwalih clan: and in their origins they descend from the children of the well-known Arab poet (Zuhair bin Salma) and it is well-known now in Iraq as al-Zuhairat.
The Sha'aban family, the Hassan Suleiman family, the Muhammad Saleh Arab family, the family of Aziz Hassan and al-Masa'id are affiliated with the al-Tai tribe.
The family of al-Malla and al-Safi and the Hamish family go back to the al-Abdali tribe, which is in turn affiliated with the al-Arwalah-al-Anza tribe.
The Khandan family and the Yateem family: they are are affiliated with the al-Dulaim tribe.
The Hamam family: it is affiliated with the al-Obeid tribe.
The Jabash family: it is affiliated with the al-Jumaila tribe.
al-Huraira, al-Khabour, the Matar family and dozens of various other families: they are affiliated with the al-Hadidiyeen tribe.
The family of Jasim Muhammad and Muhammad Awad, who are of al-Jubur.
The family of Abd al-Rahman Ameen and Isma'il Ameen, who are affiliated with the al-Sab'awiyeen tribe.
There are a number of families whose origins go back to al-Nu'aim and al-Ma'amara and they are the Barghash family and the al-Sayyid Abid family and they are of al-Sadah.
Al-Omair family whose origins go back to al-Akaidat.
The family of Sa'id Hussein, the family of al-Hajj Yahya, the family of Abaltoun, the family of Shaker Abdullah, and they are of the Kurds, despite the fact they do not know the Kurdish language and do not speak it, and more than a century of time has passed since their migration to the area, and they are integrated [/fused] with the inhabitants of the area.
There are a number of families of Armenian origin who fled to al-Mahlabiyya when the Armenians migrated to Iraq, and they entered into Islam and integrated [/fused] with the inhabitants of the area and they are proud of their nationalism and Iraqiness. And they are the Yunis Muhtadi family, the Mous Arteen family, and the Abdullah Yateem family.
Our family- the N'amo- and the Murad family fled from Sinjar to al-Mahlabiyya and they go back in their origins to the Arab Quraish tribe.
Indeed the read future indicates that al-Mahlabiyya will regain its place in the time of the Abbasids, if God wills.
أيا جبلي سنجار ما كنتما لنا مقيظا ولا مشتى ولا متربعا
فلو جبلا عوج شكونا إليهما جرت عبرات منهما أو تصدعا
بكى يوم تل المحلبية صابئ، وألهى عويدا بثه فتقنعا
The background to this is that Khalid al-Zubaidi came to Sinjar. Among those accompanying him were his two cousins, one called Sabi and another called Owaid. One day they drank from the drink of Sinjar and they longed for their land. So Khalid said the words above.