Interview with Sultan Ghalib

I spoke to Sultan Ghalib, an accomplished and respected historian, whose latest book, ‘Fair Play’ or Poisoned Chalice, is out now and available on Darf’s Website.

Sultan Ghalib has written many books and articles on Islamic, Indian and Arabic history. An ex-ruler of the Hadhramaut British Protectorate, he has a unique perspective on this extremely ancient part of the world. The events recorded in Fair Play, along with the photographic essay, make this a must have for the curious and discerning reader eager to find out more about Southern Arabia.

I spoke to Sultan Ghalib on the phone at his home in Jeddah, a major port on the west coast of Saudi Arabia and the main thoroughfare for the arrival of pilgrims en route to Mecca.

He has an unusual and fascinating life story. Fresh out of school in Britain, aged just 18, he flew back to his homeland to succeed his father as the sultan of Hadhramaut (now a part of Yemen). This part of the world is ancient, with rich Biblical links:

“It is mentioned in the books of Genesis, in the old chronicles, in the Old Testament…”

Hadramaut Valley Photos - Free & Royalty-Free Stock Photos from Dreamstime

Hadhramaut is a mostly barren region south of the Empty Quarter and is described in the Qur’an as ‘the land of the winnowing sands’. Despite this, it does have some green valleys which rely on flash floods for cultivation. The rest of Yemen is blessed with a Mediterranean climate and has enough rainfall to grow grapes, apples and other fruits.

Sultan Ghalib has a rich understanding of his country’s origins. “We interfaced with the sea so we were a great sea-faring people who travelled as far as China, and most of the Far East.” Hadhramaut has many historical claims to fame, with rulers from Malaysia tracing there origins back to it. “Even the sultan of Brunei claims to be of Hadhramaut extraction – can you believe it?”

“I was born in Hydrabad, in India,” Ghalib says. “My family went soldiering there about two hundred years ago, as mercenaries, fighting against the British. They made a lot of money in that, which helped them establish their government in Arabia, from the money we made there. And our relationship continued with that region until the independence of India when everything changed.” All people from Hadhramaut have links with East Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, China and India.

Mukalla – A Stamp A Day

Fair Play is a historical commentary on British presence and policy in Southern Arabia in the late 1960s. Johnathan Walker’s Aden Insurgency did much to present the British view of the events. Sultan Ghalib has given us the Arab view:

“[Aden Insurgency] was the British point of view. So, what I have done is a commentary on this book…presenting the Arab point of view, the indigenous point of view.” The result is a historical book that is as dense and as it is fascinating.