Al-Zayadina (singular: Zaydani or Zidany, also known as Banu Zaydan) were an Arab clan based in the Levant. They were well known for being the clan of Zahir al-Umar, who ruled a semi-autonomous sheikhdom in the Galilee and other parts of Palestine in the 18th century. They were Sunni Muslims and affiliated with the Qaysi tribal alliance.
According to historian Ahmad Hasan Joudah, the origins of the Zaydani clan are obscure, but that they were certainly of Arab stock. Members of the clan claim descent from Zayd, the son of Hasan ibn Ali and grandson of Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam. However, historians Mikha'il Sabbagh and Isa al-Ma'luf assert that the clan's ancestor was a man named Zaydan, hence their name Zaydani (pl. Zayadinah). Several historians believe the clan was originally from the Hejaz, and that they migrated to the Levant during Saladin's conquest of the region in the late 12th century.
During the early Ottoman era (1517-1917), members of the Zaydani clan lived in the vicinity of Maarrat al-Nu'man, a city on the main road between Damascus and Aleppo. They were a semi-nomadic and relatively small clan of roughly fifty people and as such were under the protection of the larger Banu Asad tribe, according to Sabbagh. However, Joudah notes there was no tribe in Syria at the time known as the Banu Asad. Sabbagh maintains that from their base near Maarrat al-Nu'man, the Zayadina cultivated lucrative relationships with merchants from Aleppo and Damascus and the sheikh (chief) of the clan grew wealthy enough to become a target of their Banu Asad protectors. The Zayadina were attacked by the latter and moved southward, eventually settling in Tiberias in the eastern Galilee.
Establishment in GalileeEdit
After moving to Tiberias in the 17th century, the Zaydani sheikh (chieftain) was appointed the multazem (tax collector) of the town by the Druze emir (prince) of Mount Lebanon who belonged to the Ma'an clan. The name of the Zaydani chieftain is disputed, though Joudah believes he "probably called Zaydan". The Ma'an, their Shihab successors, and the Zayadinah were associated with the Qaysi tribo-political faction. At some point, the Zayadina were compelled to leave Tiberias, but were invited to settle elsewhere in the Galilee by the Banu Saqr tribe who controlled the region west of Tiberias. The Zayadina chose to live in Arrabat al-Battuf. Apparently that village's inhabitants welcomed the Zayadina and were impressed by the generosity of the Zaydani sheikh, who kept his doors open to receive visitors from Arrabat al-Battuf and its vicinity.
The Zaydani sheikh defended Arrabat al-Battuf from encroachments by the Druze sheikh of nearby Sallama. The Zayadina proceeded to sack Sallama sometime between 1688 and 1692. Nine other Druze villages were also destroyed, including Kammaneh and Dallata. Thereafter, the Zayadina gained iltizam (tax farm) rights over the al-Battuf subdistrict of Safad Sanjak and later the Shaghur subdistrict from the Governor of Sidon Eyalet, Qublan Pasha al-Matarji. The entrenchment of the Zayadina's power in the Galilee, particularly with the rise of Zahir al-Umar in the mid-18th century led to a partial exodus of Druze from the Safad region to the Hauran.
Around 1697, when the Shihab family succeeded their Ma'ani relatives for leadership of Mount Lebanon, their governor for Safad, Emir Mansur, appointed Zaydan's son, Umar al-Zaydani, as multazem of Safad and its vicinity. In 1701, Sheikh Umar became governor of Safad as a result of Emir Mansur's death. He remained in the position until his death in 1706. His son Sa'd al-Umar succeeded him as head of the clan, although his younger brother Zahir al-Umar was ceded control over the iltizam (tax farms) that the clan held, giving him great influence over the Zayadina. The Zayadina under Zahir's command successfully defended the village of Bi'ina from the forces of Sidon's governor sometime between 1713 and 1718, earning him prestige among the local inhabitants. In the 1720s, the Zayadina fortified Deir Hanna and turned it into their rural stronghold.
Peak of powerEdit
Between the 1720s and 1776, the Zayadina under Zahir had consolidated their control over the entire Galilee and other parts of Palestine. The Zayadina clan's territories were virtually autonomous from the Ottoman Empire. Their rule was ended by the Ottoman forces of Hasan Pasha al-Jaza'iri and Jezzar Pasha.
In Haifa in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the al-Bashir al-Zaydani family, descendants of the Zayadina, were influential among Haifa's ulama (Muslim scholars) and its sharia court. The Bashirs' position among Haifa's religious offices dwindled by the 1880s and by then they had lost most of their properties.
Many of the descendants of the Zayadina in modern-day Israel use the surname "al-Zawahirah" or "Dhawahri" in honor of Zahir (whose name is also spelled "Dhaher"). They mostly live in the Galilee towns of Nazareth, Bi'ina, al-Damun (depopulated in 1948) and Kafr Manda.
A member of the Zayadina tribe, Yousef Abbas, settled in Amman in Transjordan in the 17th century. Around three decades later, his family migrated to Irbid and were thenceforth called "al-Tal" (the Hill). The family was named al-Tal because in Amman they had lived close to the town's citadel, which was built on a hill or tal. Yousef's four sons, Hussein, Hassan, Abd al-Rahman and Abd al-Rahim and their modern-day descendants continue to use the surname al-Tal, sometimes with "Yousef" as an antecedent. From Irbid, members of the al-Tal family served in various Ottoman governmental positions in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The family was involved in the establishment of the Emirate of Transjordan, a British protectorate under the nominal rule of Emir Abdullah and played important roles in its government. Prominent family members include a general of Jordan's Arab Legion, Abdullah al-Tal, and Jordanian Prime Minister Wasfi al-Tal.
- Joudah, 1987, p. 19.
- Firro, 1992, p. 45
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