House of Al-Dahdah

The House of al-Dahdah (also spelled El-Dahdaah, and El-Dahdah) is a noble Maronite Christian family originating from the village of Aqoura in Mount Lebanon, and whose line of descent is attested since the XIVth century. It traces back in continuous lineage to Girgis al-Dahdah, the son-in-law of Ghazal al-Qaysi, Muqaddam of Aqoura, who died in 1375 without male issue.[1]

Beginning in 1703, the family received agricultural estates in the Futuh tax-farming district of Mount Lebanon, and in 1705 it settled in the nearby village of Aramoun in the Keserwan District. Its members have collectively held the iqta’, or tax-farming concession, for the Futuh district of Mount Lebanon from Ottoman authorities from 1771 until the Ottoman Tanzimat ended the iqta’ system in Mount Lebanon in 1859. One branch of the family, that of Mansur al-Dahdah also held the iqta’ for the Bilad Jbeil District for about the same period of time. In the writings of XIXth century chroniclers of Mount Lebanon, such as those of Antuniyus Abu Khattar al-‘Aynturini (d. 1821), Tannus al-Shidyaq (d. 1859), and Mansur al-Hattuni (d. ca. 1880), the House of al-Dahdah [Aal al-Dahdah in Arabic] is alternatively referred to as the mashayikh (lords) and the muqata’jiyah (iqta’ holders or tax farmers) of the Futuh district of Mount Lebanon.[2] [3] [4]

Among its members were several officials at the court of the Mount Lebanon Emirate, Ottoman consuls in trading cities around the Mediterranean, Palatine Counts, and notable Lebanese statesmen, literary men, clergy members, military officers, and senior civil servants. It has consisted of five branches since the early XVIIIth century, of which one is now extinct.

Origins

The family claims descent from an eponymous ancestor, Thabit ibn al-Dahdah, a Companion of the Prophet Muhammad and a member of the Sahabah, also known as Abu al-Dahdah. A notable from the Arab tribe of Baliy and an ally of the Ansar, Thabit is thought to have been killed while making a last stand at the Battle of Uhud in 625 AD, where the forces of the Muslim community of Medina suffered a defeat at the hands of the cavalry of the Meccan forces led by Khalid ibn al-Walid. Another account relayed by VIIIth century AD Muslim historian al-Waqidi has Thabit ibn al-Dahdah surviving wounds sustained at the Battled of Uhud, and dying just after the return of the Prophet Muhammad from the Hudaibiah Treaty in 628 AD, where peace with the Meccans was concluded.[5] Two Hadith in Sahih Muslim (Hadith 2110 and Hadith 2111 in Book 004) as well as a historical reference in al-Tabaranimention that the Prophet Muhammad attended his funeral and prayed over him, before saying: “How many among hanging bunches in Paradise are meant for ibn al-Dahdah?”.[6] In Damascus, the al-Dahdah cemetery to the north of the old walled city, one of the city’s largest, is named after Thabit and late medieval chroniclers reported that it contained his tomb.[7][8]

In reality, the proven line of descent of the House of al-Dahdah begins in 1375 in Aqoura with the deacon Girgis al-Dahdah. It was only in the first half of the XXth century that authors such as Yusuf Daghir al-Tannuri made claims about the family’s patrilineal descent from the Sahabi Thabit ibn al-Dahdah.[9] The recurrence within the family, generation after generation and until the present day, of typically Islamic first names such as Abbas argues in favor of this hypothesis, but no primary source document has surfaced to confirm it so far.

Aqura period: from 1375 to 1703

The first proven ancestor of the al-Dahdah family is Girgis al-Dahdah, who was the deacon (shidyaq, in Arabic) of the Maronite community of Aqoura in Mount Lebanon in the second half of the XIVth century. This Girgis was the son-in-law of the MuqaddamGhazal of Aqoura, the community’s secular leader, who had died in 1375.[10] They both belonged to the Qaysi party.

Aqoura, in the hinterland of Jubail, appears to have been a focal point of the Qays-Yaman rivalry that was engulfing Mount Lebanon and other rural parts of Bilad al-Sham in the late Mamluk and early Ottoman times, perhaps due to the concentration of clans of Arab tribal origins in the village, and its location as the terminus of an ancient Arab nomadic migration route that has remained in use until recent years (by the Arabs of al-Luhayb and Laqlouq among others).[11] [12] [13]

Following Girgis al-Dahdah, the family’s line of descent features seven successive priests, beginning with his son who became priest under the name of Mikhail.[14] This succession of single children over seven generations has raised many questions about the possible existence of lateral branches of the family which either died out or survived without retaining the al-Dahdah name. Indeed, one of these priests, Yusuf (b. 1602) mentions the existence of several of his own children (“awladi”) among other family members, in a blessing he wrote in 1649 on the margins of a prayer book from a church in Aqoura, where he identifies himself as “a priest under the name of Yusuf, servitor of Aqoura, ordained by the […] Patriarch Yuhanna Makhluf […], son of the late priest Mikhail son of the priest Hanna son of the priest Ibrahim referred to as ibn al-Dahdah from Aqoura the protected” [15].

The series of al-Dahdah priests comes to an end with the Shaykh Yusuf al-Dahdah (1675-1762), the grandson of the aforementioned priest Yusuf. Shaykh Yusuf’s momentous career is described in detail in Tannus al-Shidyaq’s chronicle of the histories of notable families from Mount Lebanon.[16] His existence is otherwise independently confirmed by a colophon he wrote as a youth in Syriac Garshuni script in 1692 on the margins of a liturgy manuscript, now at the French National Library. Yusuf identifies himself in the colophon as the deacon “Yawsep bar Dahdah(o) of the blessed village of ‘Aynquro”, the Syriac name of Aqoura.[17] Incidentally, the second colophon in the prayer book was written by a “‘Imad son of Shi’mun of Aynquro” at the same time. This ‘Imad was perhaps ‘Imad al-Hashim, a local strongman who drove his rival Shaykh Yusuf al-Dahdah and his family out of Aqoura in 1702.[18]

Futuh period: from 1704 to 1856

Shaykh Yusuf al-Dahdah’s exile from Aqoura in 1704 marks the irruption of the family on Mount Lebanon’s political scene and the rise of its fortunes first as tax administrators for the Hamadah overlords of Northern Mount Lebanon after 1705, and later as associates of the Shihab emirs of the Mount Lebanon Emirate after 1763, and iqta’ holders of the Futuh district after 1771.

Ottoman archives in the Istanbul show that the Shiite Hamadah Shaykhs played a much larger role in the history of Mount Lebanon in the XVIIthe century than Lebanese chroniclers have recognized.[19] Their semi-autonomous emirate reached the height of its power in the late seventeenth century, when much of North Mount Lebanon, including the seat of the Maronite patriarchate in the Qadisha Valley, was under their effective control.[20] They had collected taxes and policed the largely Maronite tax farm districts of Bilad Jubail, the Futuh, Bilad al-Batrun, Jibbat al-Munaytrah and Jibbat Bsharri of Mount Lebanon on behalf of the Ottoman provincial authorities of the Tripoli Eyalet since the 1630s.[21] [22]

As Ottoman iqta’ holders (tax-farmers) with an interest in maximizing tax revenues and hence agricultural output from the districts they had received a fiscal concession for, the Hamada Shaykhs appear to have relied on Shaykh Yusuf al-Dahdah and his sons Mansur and Sulayman after him to administer and develop one of their less populated districts, the Futuh.[23] In 1703, he was granted the agricultural estates of ‘Ayn Jwayya, ‘Ayn al-Dilbah, ‘Ayn Sjaa’, ‘Ayn al-Gharah and ‘Ayn al-Husari in the Futuh district as his private property; in 1704, his servants, properties and cattle and those of his associates were exempted from taxation, and he himself was put in charge of the tax collection and administration of the Futuh district.[24] Indeed, a contemporary reference to him under “Shaykh Yusuf al-Aquri al-Maruni” as collecting Ottoman taxes for areas of the Futuh District on behalf of Shaykh Ismail Hamadah occurs in a biography of Maronite Patriarch and historian Estephan El Douaihy (d. 1704) written by Douhaihy’s successor Patriarch Jacob Awad (d. 1733).[25]

Annual Iltizam conventions between the Ottoman authorities and the Hamadah Shaykhs in the archives of the Ottoman Sharia Court in the provincial capital of Tripoli show a systematic inclusion of a financial guarantee (kafala) clause after 1740, perhaps as a result of Hamadah Shaykhs repeatedly defaulting on their tax collection obligations.[26] In almost all cases, the financial guarantors (kafil) were Maronite shaykhs from areas under Hamadah tutelage.[27] In 1762, Mansur al-Dahdah and his brother Sulayman acted as guarantors (kafil) on the iltizam contract of the sons of Ismail Hamadah for the Jubayl district, and had to sell their personal properties to pay the Ottoman authorities of Tripoli for the sum of 25,000 Ottoman piasters of tax monies owed by the Hamadah Shaykhs when these defaulted on their payments.[28] [29] [30] [31]. Local chronicles report the sale by Mansur al-Dahdah and his brothers of the villages of Fatqa and al-Kfur as well as half of Jabal Moussa in payment for the sums owed as guarantee for the Hamadah iltizam.[32]

In 1761 and 1763, Mussa al-Dahdah and his brother Mansur entered the service of the Shihab emirs of the Shouf in southern Mount Lebanon, as the power of the Hamadah Shaykhs declined following their bankruptcy and multiple Ottoman military campaigns against them, and all their iltizam concessions in Northern Mount Lebanon were transferred to the Shihab emirs in 1763.[33] [34]

The year 1763 and the following years marked the beginning of long period of association of the al-Dahdah family with the Shihab emirs of Mount of Lebanon. Through the good offices of Mansur al-Dahdah, Emir Yusuf Shihab had received the annual iltizam of the Northern Mount Lebanon districts, which the Ottoman Pashas of Tripoli had previously awarded to different members of the Hamadah clan, and he put members of the al-Dahdah family in charge of administering and collecting imperial taxes from these districts. In 1763, Shaykh Mansur al-Dahdah was put in charge of administering the people and revenues of the Bilad Jubail District, a position which was later passed on to his son Hanna and his grandsons Lwis and Jahjah after that; his brother Shaykh Wuhbah al-Dahdah was put in charge of Jubbat al-Munaytra, the former stronghold of the Hamadah Shaykhs. Shaykh Mansur al-Dahdah also received large estates in the Bilad Jubail and the Futuh districts, as compensation for the sale of his properties to guarantee the Hamadah obligations under their iltizam.[35]

When in 1771 Emir Yusuf Shihab also took over the iltizam for the districts of Southern Mount Lebanon from his uncle emir Mansur Shihab, he appointed several members of the al-Dahdah family to positions of power and influence. Most significantly, the House of al-Dahdah collectively received the hereditary iqta’ (tax-farm concession) for the Futuh muqata’ah (tax-farm disctrict).[36] After that date, the family’s history becomes intimately intertwined with that of the Shihab emirate of Mount Lebanon under Yusuf Shihab then Bashir Shihab II, with its upheavals and bright spots.[37] [38] Indeed, Emir Bashir Shihab II mainly recruited his advisers among members of the al-Dahdah family. Most prominent among these were Shaykh Sallum al-Dahdah son of Mussa, and Shaykh Mansur al-Dahdah son of Sallum.

Arms

A cross surrounded by two olive branches.

Branches

The five branches of the al-Dahdah evolved from the five sons of Shaykh Yusuf al-Dahdah: Ibrahim, extinct in 1883; Sulayman; Mussa, Mansur; and Wahbah.[39]

Place names

Several neighborhoods, streets and public buildings in Middle Eastern and French cities were named after members of the family at various points in history.

1) In Beirut, Lebanon, a neighborhood was known as Hayy al-Dahdah or Mahallat al-Dahdah near the old Damascus road just outside the city’s old downtown. The name of the neighborhood is no longer in use, but a street in the same area carries the name of Rochaid El-Dahdah. Another street in the Achrafieh neighborhood of Beirut carries the name of Mansur al-Dahdah.

2) In Damascus, Syria a neighborhood just north of the old town is still known as Hayy al-Dahdah, in the area of al-Rawdah. It contains the al-Dahdah cemetery, one of the cities oldest and largest, where the family’s eponymous ancestor is said to be buried.

3) In Tunis, Tunisia, a public park in the Berges du Lac neighborhood, is named after Count Rochaid al-Dahdah, who was the adviser and personal secretary of the bey of Tunis between 1863 and 1869.

4) In Marseille, France, where Mer’i Al-Dahdah and Rochaid Al-Dahdah had their commercial headquarters: Boulevard Dahdah, in the 4th Arrondissement of Marseille

Ecole Primaire Dahdah, 15 Boulevard Dahdah, Marseille, 13004

5) In Dinard, France, the Rochaid square, named after Count Rochaid Al-Dahdah, the town’s principal developer in the XIXth century.[40]

Prominent members

  • Mansur al-Dahdah (d. 1780), son of Yusuf, whose branch was granted the hereditary iqta’ for the Bilad Jubail district under the Shihab emirs, and large private estates in the Kisrawan, Jubail and Futuh districts.
  • Hanna al-Dahdah (1762-1807), son of Mansur, son of Yusuf, iqta’ holder with Bilad Jubail district, headed a delegation sent by Emir Bashir Shihab II to the Ottoman Grand Vizier (Sadrazam) in 1799 in Anatolia
  • Mussa al-Dahdah (d. 1778), son of Yusuf, was an early supporter of emir Mansur Shihab (the Jabal Moussa Biosphere Reservetakes its name after him)
  • Nassif al-Dahdah (d. 1815), son of Mussa, head of the budget finances and tax revenue authorities in the divan of emir Yusuf Shihab
  • Yusuf al-Dahdah, son of Mussa, the regular envoy of Bashir Shihab II to Ottoman walis, and particularly to Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar
  • Sallum al-Dahdah (d. 1820), son of Mussa, administrator in the divan of emir Yusuf Shihab, later mudabbir (chief minister) of Bashir Shihab II. From the contemporary account of Mikhail Mishaqah: “Let us return to Emir Bashir. He ruled the land, and his intendent for the affairs of his subjects and for issuing orders within the land was Shaykh Abu Khattar Sallum al-Dahdah, the grandfather of the metropolitan Nimat Allah al-Dahdah who presently occupies the archepiscopal throne in Damascus. He was the first Shaykh of the Dahdah family to be addressed by the emir as “my dear brother”.[41]
  • Mansur al-Dahdah (d. 1861), son of Sallum, took over the mudabbir function for Bashir Shihab II after his father retired, until 1828, when Bashir Shihab gave this responsibility to his son emir Amin;[42] [43] [44]he retired to his home base in Aramun; in 1841, at the bequest of Bashir Shihab III, he led his troops in battle against detachments of the Egyptian army; a contemporary newspaper account of this event, written from Smyrna, and which appared in Italian on November 19, 1841 in the Gazetta di Firenze mentions Mansur al-Dahdah at the head of 5,000 Christian men at the Dog River (Nahr El Kalb, north of Beirut).[45]When the Ottomans deposed Bashir Shihab III and appointed Omar Pashar instead, Mansur become the mudabbir of Omar Pasha.
  • Jahjah al-Dahdah (d. 1840), son of Mansur, son of Sallum, an opponent to Bashir Shihab II and a leader of the resistance against Egyptian troops, defeated emir Majid, Bashir Shihab’s grandson in battle in the Bsharri district, and took him prisoner.
  • Rochaid al-Dahdah (1813-1889), Count Palatine, Ottoman Consul in Marseille, businessman, editor, poet, entrepreneur, financier and socialite. His finance and trading operations straddled the Mediterranean with branches in Beirut, London, Marseille, Paris. He was a close friend and business associate of Charles Auguste, Duke of Morny, who was French Minister of Interior (1851-1852), Speaker of Parliament (1854-1865) and otherwise half brother of French Emperor Napoleon III. As adviser and creditor of the bey of Tunis, he played a role in the fall of the Regency of Tunis to the French, and was elevated to the dignity of Papal Count by Pope Pius IX.
  • ‘Abbas al-Dahdah (1818-1890), became Maronite archbishop of Damascus under the name Nomatalla from 1872 till his death in 1890
  • Mer’i al-Dahdah (1782-1868), trader, entrepreneur, and owner of a trading office in Marseille[46]
  • Salim Khattar al-Dahdah, historian
  • Farid Salim Khattar al-Dahdah, Lebanese magistrate, head of the Civil Service Council in the 1960s.
  • Nagib Salim Khattar al-Dahdah (Libanus), Lebanese ambassador to the Vatican and Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and editorialist in the Lebanese newspaper Le Reveil.
  • Edward al-Dahdah, author, journalist and playwright (1898-1944); one of the founders of Lebanese theater. His plays “Mazalim al-Hayat” and “Qays ibn ‘Assem” were popular under the French mandate.
  • Iskandar al-Dahdah, Director General of Customs in Greater Lebanon and Syria under the French Mandate.

Properties and religious endowments

  • Palace of Shaykh Mussa al-Dahdah now the seat of the Maronite Eparchy of Aramoun
  • Palace of Shaykh Sallum al-Dahdah, son of Mussa in Aramoun; built by the same architect as palace of Emir Bashir Shihab II in Beiteddine.
  • Palace of Shaykh Mansur al-Dahdah, son of Salloum, in Aramoun, now the Monastery of Saint Nicolas {Mar Nqula)
  • the Monastery (Deir) of al-Banat and its lands, near Jbeil, endowed to the Lebanese Maronite Order
  • the lands of Monastery of Saint Dometius (Mar Doumit) in al-Bouar in the Futuh District
  • the Monastery of Saint Anthony of Padua (Mar Antonios) in Ayn Sjaa’ al-Ghbele in the Futuh District
  • the Monastery of Saint Mary in Shwit
  • the lands of the Monastery of Saint Abda in Harhariya in the Futuh District
  • the village of ‘Ayn Sjaa in the Futuh District
  • the village of ‘Ayn al-Dilbah in the Futuh District
  • the village of ‘Ayn al-Magharah in the Futuh District
  • the village of ‘Ayn al-Husari in the Futuh District
  • the village of ‘Ayn Juwayya in the Futuh District
  • the village of Mastita in the Jubail District endowed to the Monastery of Our Lady of the Fields (sayyiday al-haqlah)
  • the village of Bassatine al-‘Ussa in the Batrun District, to the heirs of Mansur ibn Sallum al-Dahdah

Allied families

The al-Dahdah family is allied to the following families of the Maronite nobility of Mount Lebanon: Khazen, and Hubaysh, by way of endogamy, but also to the families of al-Saad and al-Khoury (Richmayya branch) and al-Hachem. For instance, President Shaykh Bechara al-Khoury, the first president of the Lebanese Republic, was the maternal grandson of a woman from the Dahdah family; the sister of Habib al-Saad, who was president of Lebanon under the French Mandate from 1934 to 1936 was married to Iskandar al-Dahdah.

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