Examining the Hujjah and People Behind *Al Mashoor

From the Article “Examining the Hujjah and People Behind *Al Mashoor By Edouard al-Dahdah © copyright 2002

With the horse *Al Mashoor recently added to the Al Khamsa roster, it occurred to me to write about the origin of this horse and his history before his importation to the United States in 1933 from Damascus, Syria by the businessman Khalil Bistany. *Al Mashoor is not remembered in the Middle East of today. He does not seem to have made any significant contribution to the breed there in the period prior to his importation to the United States, and if he did, no traces of it have survived down to the present time in the memory or the oral traditions of the people of Damascus, the Syrian capital where *Al Mashoor was born. Therefore the Arabic certificate of origin of *Al Mashoor is our only source of information on the horse. I wish to thank R. J. Cadranell Jr. for sending me a copy of this certificate through Charles and Jeanne Craver.

The KHAMSAT previously published an excellent article translating *Al Mashoor’s Arabic certificate[1] along with some comments by the translator(s). The authors of this translation should be commended for accurately translating the information pertaining to the physical characteristics of the horse. This is by no means an easy job, for the certificate is not written in classical Arabic, but in the spoken dialect of Damascus, an idiom full of metaphors and images unknown to others than its native speakers. This makes it even more challenging to render in English.  However, the authors of the first translation seem to have mistranslated, and as a result, failed to identify the names of the numerous individuals and geographical locations mentioned in the certificate. In the context of the Middle East, the individuals who bred, owned, or purchased a horse or any of his ancestors, and the places where these were bred and maintained are of crucial importance to trace the origin of this horse and conclude whether he is authentic or not.

Certificates of origin (singular hujjah, plural hujaj) of horses written in the Arab world follow a clear and uniform pattern that seldom varies. The first part of these certificates is always a religious invocation that includes passages from the Quran [Koran] (the holy book of Islam) and quotations of the Hadith (the approved and authentic collections of the deeds and sayings of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam). Generally, the shorter the religious preamble, the greater the chance that the hujjah was written by a Bedouin and the greater the probability that the horse was Bedouin-owned at the time of the sale. Conversely, the longer a hujjah gets, the greater the likelihood that the certificate is the work of a townsman. There are several reasons for this situation. Bedouins tend to be less pious, or at least to have a different kind of piety, than townsfolk. At the time these certificates were being written, Bedouins were still poorly acquainted with the Quran and even less with the Hadith. Usually a phrase like ‘In the name of God’ and one or two short quotations from the Quran will suffice as an introduction to Bedouin certificates. Townsmen, on the contrary, are usually more pious and more vocal about their piety. They know how to express it in a more elaborate and ‘refined’ language. Additionally, Bedouins generally tend to be more simple and straightforward than townsmen in everything they do, from the way they talk to how they live, eat and behave. All this is reflected in the phrasing of the horse certificates the Bedouins issue. The certificate of *Al Mashoor is no exception.

The horse was born in the city of Damascus, and bred by Damascene people from lines tracing to the desert, as the certificate and the identity of its signatories clearly state. The unusual length of its introductory religious passage (57 words) is such that one could safely say that the certificate was written by townsmen, even in the absence of other indications. There are other unusual features in the original certificate: the passages quoted from the Quran are truncated, those from the Hadith differ slightly from the standard accepted versions and there are some grammatical mistakes. In short, the handwriting, syntax, sentence structure, vocabulary and expressions used betray the work of a lower middle class lay cleric from Damascus, or more probably from the outskirts of this city.

The following is my own translation of *Al Mashoor’s Arabic certificate of origin (hujjah): (Numbers in parentheses refer to clarifying notes provided later in this article.)

I seek the protection of God from the malicious Devil. In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful, Praise be to God alone, and prayer and peace be upon the Envoy, Prophet of Islam and upon his Family and Companions. God Most High in his precious Book said: ‘There is no walking creature on Earth the well-being of which God does not know’. God Most High even takes care of the worms inside the stones. ‘By the snorting chargers, by the gallopers to the raid at dawn’. And horses are the bringers of sustenance, by God for Whose help we ask; ‘we have turned their bellies into treasures and their backs into [here the writer of the certificate seems to have omitted a word] to wars.”

“And we testify, concerning the gray (1) mare that has a light face and a lot of hair in her tail, that bears some black hair (2), and that reached the age of eighteen years, that she has reached the end of her life (3) and was buried (4) in the village of al-Ghurayfah (5) which is in the district of Duma (6); she is Hamdania Semri from the horses of Hasan Basha al-Barudi who lived in the neighborhood of al-Qanawat (7), and who named the grand-dam/ancestress (8) of the aforementioned mare al-Helwah (9) because of her beautiful features and her overall beauty. So this has become the name (10) by which they (11) have been known among the general population from sixty years ago until now. Later Hasan Basha passed away and the horses passed to his son (12) Mahmud Bek al-Barudi.”

“And Mahmud Bek gave the mare described above as a gift to Mr. Ahmad Effendi (13) al-Dalati and she bore the latter numerous colts and fillies. After that the late Mr. Ahmad Amahdah al-Dalati passed away and this mare passed to  his sons the Effendis (14) the late Mr. Amin Effendi, Mr. Munir Effendi and Mr. Bashir Effendi and they are all together (15). And among the progeny of the aforementioned mare, she produced the present gray, tall, fully grown horse with bright hair, a light face, white markings on his right hind leg and the mark of a burn (16) on the side of his haunch, who is well known among the horsemen and is five years of age. And we who signed our names hereafter witness and by God and Muhammad the Prophet of God that this horse is the son of the aforementioned Hamdania Semri mare the daughter /descendent (17) of the well-known al-Helwah. And the sire of that horse is the Hamdani Semri of the well-known Musa al-Sayyid Abu Hamdi from the neighborhood of al-Midan Bab Musalla (18).”

“We testify between the hands of Truth today and on the Judgment Day and are only motivated by God and the true testimony. God is the bestower of success and he [is] the best of witnesses.

7 Safar 1348

The testifiers [signatures and seals]:

Muhammad Munir al-Dalati (19a)

Muhammad (illegible middle name) al-Dalati (19b)

Muhammad Bashir al-Dalati (19c)

Muhammad Mahmud al-Barudi (20)

Muhammad Harun, witness

Hasan Muhammad Qatana (21a)

Mahmud (illegible second name) al-Suruji (21b)

Muhammad (illegible last name)

Muhammad (illegible middle name or last name probably Mansuri) (illegible last name or profession)

The seller (two illegible words) from the neighborhood of al-Qanawat

Mahmud (illegible family name), the Shaykh of (two illegible proper names)

Notes from the hujjah:

(1)  Arabic uses the word ‘blue’ (azraq) to mean gray.

(2) In her mane or her tail.

(3) That is, she died.

(4) The burial of a mare in a well-identified and inhabited place is an indication of the status and fame this mare had enjoyed during her lifetime.

(5) A small village 20 miles to the North East of the town of Duma. Its location is 33’ 30’’ N and 36’ 32’’ E according to the Gazetteer of Syria.

(6) Duma is a town in the vicinity of Damascus on the fringes of the desert. Most of the estates of the Barudi family were located there.

(7)  Qanawat is a residential neighborhood of Damascus, where the mansion of the Barudi Pashas was located. The Barudis were the prime family in Qanawat and one of the wealthiest and most influential families of Damascus.

(8)  The term jaddah, ‘grand-dam’ should not be taken too literally here. It is often used in the more general sense of ‘ancestress.’ Similarly the term bint, daughter could also mean any descendant of the original mare.

(9) Helwah means ‘pretty’ in Arabic.

(10) This means that the horses tracing to al-Helwah were collectively known as the Helwah horses, just like in the USA the horses with Rabanna blood are sometimes referred to as the ‘Rabanna horses’. This is how new strains would be created in the desert, but since this process occurred in Damascus and not the desert, the descendants of al-Helwah retained their original Hamdani Simri strain.

(11) ‘They’ here refers to the ‘horses of al-Helwah’, that is the horses tracing to her.

(12)   In fact, Mahmud Bek is the grandson, not the son of Hasan Basha al-Barudi. See below. The Arabic text uses ‘became under the hand of’ to mean ‘passed to’.

(13)  I first thought this was the Dalati’s middle name, but it turns out to be the title Effendi. See note 14.

(14)   Effendi is the Ottoman equivalent for the English ‘Mr.’ It is interesting that the Dalatis are referred to as both Mr. and Effendi. Mahmud al-Barudi is referred to as Bek, an Ottoman title roughly equivalent to ‘Sir’, while his father Hasan al-Barudi is referred to as Pacha, another Ottoman title equivalent to the English ‘Lord’.

(15)   The Arabic text has ‘they are all one hand’, meaning by this that they have not divided their father’s property among themselves but still own it collectively.

(16)   The burning here is a mark or a scar left as a result of healing a wound through the use of fire, the Arabic term used is ‘ironing’.

(17)   See note 8.

(18)   Midan is the neighborhood now serving as the business district of modern Damascus, the equivalent of an American ‘downtown’. It was a relatively recent neighborhood (compared to the many centuries-old walled old town) at the time the certificate was written.

(19)   19 a, c refer to two of the three Dalati brothers who collectively bred *Al Mashoor, either during their fathers’ lifetime or after he passed away. Having the signature of the breeders of a horse on a hujjah is crucial to the authentication of this horse. 19 b is the signature of another Dalati, who could not possibly be Amin since the latter is clearly referred to as ‘al-mufa ilayhi’, the ‘late’ or ‘deceased’ (literally the ‘sent for [by God]’).

(20)   This is a member of the Barudi family, probably a son of Mahmud Bek Barudi or even Mahmud Bek himself, the original owner of the dam of *Al Mashoor. His signature is an additional proof of authenticity.

(21)   21 and b: Qatana and Suruji are well known families in Damascus. However, they do not belong to the same social class as the Barudis (upper-class aristocracy) or even the Dalatis (upper-middle class bourgeoisie). Members from these two families who signed the certificate of *Al Mashoor along with other people do not appear as testifiers, but as witnesses. There is a difference between the two concepts. The testifiers (such as the two Dalati brothers) testify on the origin of the horse. The witnesses (like Suruji and Qatana) witness that the testifiers are people of good faith and knowledge whose testimonies are acceptable and recognized. The presence of the witnesses is necessary to make any certificate legal. Whether they know the horse is irrelevant, but they should know the testifiers.

The oral accounts and the story of the Hamdania mare

The following new information on the origin of *Al Mashoor pertains to two different types of sources. The first source is oral history, as it was transmitted to me by my father, and to my father by those who, before him, saw, bred and owned horses of the same family as *Al Mashoor. The second source is academic, and I came across it by pure coincidence.

I heard my father, General Salim al-Dahdah, mention on several occasions that, of all the Arabian horses bred for several generations in Damascus, only those belonging to two horse families were considered as first-class racehorses in the Beirut racetrack (the famed Hippodrome de Beyrouth) over the past decades. These two families were the Kuhaylan Khallawi bred by the ‘Abid family, and the Hamdani Simri bred by the Barudi family. He added that after having watched the Arabian horses of Damascus compete on the racetrack for the past twenty-five years, he came to the conclusion that, except for the aforementioned two families, the Arabians bred in Damascus were not particularly good racehorses over short distances.

His opinion was corroborated by his late friend Moussa de Freije, founder (in the early 1920s) of the organization managing the Hippodrome de Beyrouth, and owner of several horses from Damascus throughout the years, including many Hamdani Simris of the Barudis and Kuhaylan Khallawis of the ‘Abids. In addition to their racing potential, both strains were renowned throughout Syria and Lebanon for their indisputable purity of blood. They had been bred pure for several generations through the use of the best desert stallions (or stallions bred in Damascus and tracing exclusively to desert stock). This was practiced until the early 1960s when their numbers started to dwindle rapidly as a result of irresponsible crossbreeding.

As to the Barudis and the ‘Abids, I had heard from several people, including my mother who is Syrian, that they were among the most prominent aristocratic landowning families of Damascus, and that they lost most of their lands (and thus their horses as well) as a result of the series of agrarian reforms carried out by the socialist governments of Syria starting about 1958. These reforms involved the transfer of agricultural properties previously owned by a limited number of families of urban notables (of which the Barudis and the ‘Abids were the most famous Damascus representatives) to the peasants who cultivated them. This conformed to the slogan “The land belongs to those who cultivate it.” In Damascus, the common knowledge was that the ‘Abids traced their origin to the ruling family of the Mawali Bedouin tribe (with the title of Amir, or Prince), and that the first president of the Syrian Arab Republic then under French mandate was a ‘Abid, in the early twenties, an indication of the high social status and influence of this family.

In the spring of 1976, my father bought from Abu ‘Arab al-Salhani of Damascus a three-year old Hamdania Simri mare tracing to the horses of the Barudi family. Abu ‘Arab’s family cultivated the lands of the Barudis in the Ghuta, the fertile oasis surrounding Damascus, until the family received parts of[bmj6]  the lands as a result of the agrarian reforms. Abu ‘Arab himself bred horses he sold to the Beirut racetrack. It seems that the transfer of ownership of the horses from the Barudis to Abu ‘Arab al-Salhani and his likes was (at least indirectly) a consequence of the land changing hands. Or it could mean that the Barudis and the other landowning families lost interest in their horses and gave them away to their peasants.

However, by the early 1960s, the Hamdani Simris of the Barudis had ceased to be Asil (bred pure), because their new peasant owners (Abu ‘Arab and others) started crossing the purebred Hamdani Simri mares to part-bred Arab stallions imported from Iraq, to meet the growing demand for faster, bigger horses for the Beirut racetrack. There were no more purebred Hamdani Simris of the Barudis left in Damascus at the time my father bought that mare in 1976. She was herself by the ‘Iraqi’ import Shayyal (see the note at the end of the article on the special meaning of the term ‘Iraqi’ as used in the Beirut horse-racing milieu), and was therefore considered a part-bred Arab. But my father had wanted to buy her because she descended in tail female from the famous horses of the Barudis, and also because Shayyal was considered ‘less impure’ (i.e., he had a smaller percentage of English Thoroughbred blood) and more handsome than many other so-called ‘Iraqi’ horses.

A few weeks after the mare was brought to Rayak, Lebanon, where some of our horses were kept, Abu ‘Arab came to my father and told him that his wife (Umm ‘Arab) had been constantly blaming him for the sale of the Hamdania mare, and that she could not sleep as long as the Hamdania was not back under the roof of their house. My father, who in the meantime had learned from Abu ‘Arab that the Hamdania was in foal to an English Thoroughbred stallion, returned the mare to her previous owner.

I remember seeing two daughters of this Hamdania mare at the farm of Abu ‘Arab in the early nineties, including her 1977 foal (then a bay broodmare) by the English Thoroughbred horse. It was difficult to judge what the influence of the original purebred Barudi horses on these two mares was, considering that they had very little Arabian (i.e., purebred Barudi) blood left in them.

Similarly, the Kuhaylan Khallawis of the ‘Abids are now extinct in Asil form, the last purebred Kuhayla Khallawia of the ‘Abids having died in my ownership  in 1997 at the age of 23 without producing a replacement foal. This particular family of Kuhaylan Khallawi was known as ‘Khallawiyat al-Niswan,’ or ‘the Khallawiyat of the women,’ and originated from the tribe of al-Mawali, as did the ‘Abid Damascene family who owned them. Other purebred Kuhaylan Khallawis, not tracing to the horses of the ‘Abids, still exist in Syria today.

I do not know from which Bedouin tribe the Hamdanis of the Barudis, the second famous Damascus strain and the main purpose of this article, originated.  One could ask people like Abu ‘Arab al-Salhani, and other older Damascene horse-breeders. Chances are that they came from the Ruwalah or Wuld ‘Ali Bedouin tribes, which both had their summer pastures very close to Damascus and were both renowned for their Hamdani Simris.

The academic sources

In the summer of 2000, I moved from Beirut to Chicago where I studied Islamic History at the Oriental Institute. One of the optional textbooks for a course I wanted to take was “Urban Notables and the Rise of Arab Nationalism”, by Philip Khoury, an American of Lebanese origin now chairman of the Department of History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I was surprised to see an entire chapter of this book devoted to the family of the Barudis, their social status in Damascus, their role in the rise of the Arab nationalist ideology and, particularly welcome for the purpose of this article, information on their place of residence and on the families they intermarried with. Among these families is the Dalati family, whose members appear as the breeders of *Al Mashoor in the Arabic certificate of origin translated above. I present here three quotations from that chapter on the Barudis; those who want to learn more about this family and the urban politics of Damascus in general are referred to Philip Khoury’s book.

The first quotation spans three generations of Barudis, and yields precious information on the social standing of this family and more importantly, on the name of the Damascus neighborhood in which they lived, al-Qanawat, which happens to be the exact place *Al Mashoor came from, according to his Arabic certificate of origin. Philip Khoury writes:  “In the last third of the nineteenth century the Barudis joined the small bloc of landowning-bureaucratic families who were to produce a disproportionate number of political and social leaders in Damascus for several generations to come. At the turn of the nineteenth century Hasan al-Barudi came from Egypt […]. A wealthy and influential man […], Hasan crowned his career with a seat on the Damascus District Council in 1870. His son, Muhammad Bey, replaced him on this Council in the late 1870s and retained his seat until his death in 1889. […] He also built a large palace in al-Qanawat and developed a powerful patronage system. His son, Mahmud, occasionally held government or elected office, but preferred to lead the life of a country squire in Duma.”

The second quotation gives the nature of the relation of the Barudis with the Dalatis, who are the breeders of *Al Mashoor according to his certificate of origin: “It is not surprising to find that the […] Dalati family, who dominated the renowned fruit-preserving and confectionary industry of Damacus were important provisioners of the Pilgrimage [i.e., to Mecca – ESD], intermarried with the Quwwatli, Barudi and Bakri families. Rich merchant sought upward mobility through marriage with prominent political families.”[bmj8]

The third quotation clarifies further the social status of the D?l?tis:“The Dalati family’s sugar and preservatives date from 1830, and catered to pilgrimage demands for preserved fruits and sweets, as well as local demand.”  In addition to Philip Khoury’s book, another valuable source of information on the Barudi and Dalati families of Damascus are the autobiographical memoirs of another prominent Bar?di scion, Syrian politician Fakhri al-Barudi (1887-1966), the son of the Mahmud Bek al-Barudi who owned the dam of *Al Mashoor. His autobiography, ‘Awraq wa-mudhakkirat Fakhri al-Barudi: khamsun ‘aman fi khidmat al-watan’ [Papers and Memoires of Fakhri al-Barudi: Fifty Years at the Service of the Nation] contains a genealogy of the Barudis, reproduced here:

Muhammad al-Zahir (nicknamed al-Barudi), father of

Hasan, father of

Muhammad, father of

Hasan (mentioned in the hujjah of *Al Mashoor), father of

Mahmud (mentioned in the hujjah of *Al Mashoor), father of

Fakhri   (author of the autiobiography)

The autobiography also mentions the family mansion in the Qanawat neighborhood of Damascus, their huge summer estate in Duma as well as agricultural domains in the villages of al-Jarba’, al-Rayhan and al-Abbarah and others in the vicinity of Duma. Fakhri al-Barudi also relates many childhood stories. One is an incident that involved his classmate and longtime friend “the late Munir al-Dalati, son of Ahmad al-Dalati” (page 29 of the book), when both were at school. Readers may remember Munir al-Dalati as one the brothers-breeders of *Al Mashoor.

Some concluding remarks

The above information, deriving from two separate types of sources, oral accounts and the written academic publications, confirmed and clarified the information already present in the Arabic certificate of *Al Mashoor. While presenting this information, I have tried to provide as little value judgments as, but I cannot help writing that all breeders who have lines to *Al Mashoor should feel lucky to have this blood running in the veins of their horses, because this line is virtually all what remains of the prestigious horses of the Pashas of Damascus, who stood equal to the Pashas of Egypt by their status, wealth, influence and love of Arabian horses.

9 Responses to “Examining the Hujjah and People Behind *Al Mashoor”

  1. Fantastic material ,Edouard,you are really ”the son of your father” general Salim ,one of the most honest man i know.
    He stood firmly against huge pressions to include part-bred Arabs in the Lebanese Stud Book in 1992,I was witness of this part of the history of the Arab horse in Lebanon.Bravo Edouard

  2. Hi,
    I came across your blog while searching on the net for the “Dalati” name. I happen to own an old nice wooden box which bears the sticker: “confiserie Dalati & co , Beyrouth”. Confiserie in French means “Sweets shop”.
    Do you know by any chance until when the Dalati family were in business?
    Many thanks,

  3. Hi Daniel, unfortunately, I don´t know the answer to your question. But I could ask some Lebanese old timers and let you know the answer. Thanks!

  4. I came upon your blog by chance. I need to take some time out to read it as there is so much information.

    My name is Anna I am an Artist living in Bahrain. I am researching Arabian Horses for my next set of paintings and expecialy the relation it has in Arabian Mythhology/ stories and Islam.

    Thank you for your blog, Mashallah!


  5. Thanks. Keep reading and I will keep writing Anna. And let others in Bahrain around you know about it. I am sure they will have a lot to bring to the subject.

  6. Of course Al-abid family are Mawali and they are from the Abou Risha so they are the royal of the Mawali tribe
    Alkhylawi is their strain and damascus was very famous for them until Hisham Grayeb started playing with their blood specially through the famous mare Howayda and her children who produced some of the best part bred Arabians ever been know to Lebanon race track

  7. Al Mashoor was my grandfather’s horse

  8. Who was your grandfather?

  9. Do you by any chance have a picture of
    Scheherazade 1938 AHR #1555 one of his fillies?

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