Travels in Arabia, by John Lewis Burckhardt

No. VII.

Postscript to the Description of the Beitullah or Mosque at Mekka —(See p. 161.)

THE law forbids that blood should be shed either in the mosque or town of Mekka, or within a small space around it: neither is it lawful there to cut down trees, or to kill game. This privilege of the mosque is generally respected in common cases of delinquency, and many criminals take refuge in the Beitullah accordingly; but it is also frequently violated. I have myself seen Mohammed Aly’s soldiers pursue a deserter, seize and carry him off from the covering of the Kaaba to which he had clung; and the history of Mekka cites numerous examples of men killed in the mosque, among others the Sherif of Mekka, Djazan Ibn Barakat, assassinated while he performed the towaf round the Kaaba. Sanguinary battles (as in A.H. 817.) have even been fought within its sacred precincts, which afford the most open spot in the town for skirmishing. Horsemen have often entered and passed a whole night in it. Therefore we may say that the privilege is generally useless in those cases where it would be most valuable; such as the protection of fugitives from the powerful oppressor. As to the sanctity of the territory, it is but a name, and seems to have been little respected even in the first ages of Islám. The extent of the sacred territory is variously stated by the three historians whose works I possess, and who were themselves Mekkans. The four Imáms or founders of the orthodox sects also disagree upon the subject. At present the privilege of the sacred territory seems almost forgotten; and it has been crossed in every direction by infidel Christians employed in the army of Mohammed Aly or Tousoun Pasha, who, though they have not entered Mekka, have visited Mount Arafat. Contrary to the precepts of Mohammed, wood is now cut in the mountains close behind Mekka, and no one is prevented from shooting in the neighbouring valleys. The plain of Arafat alone is respected, and there the trees are never cut down. The sacred district, or, as it is called, Hedoud el Haram (the limits of the Haram), is at present commonly supposed to be enclosed by those positions where the ihram is assumed on the approach to Mekka: those are, Hadda to the west, Asfan to the north, Wady Mohrem to the east, and Zat Ork to the south. Aly Bey el Abbassi has represented this district, in his map, as a particular province or sacred territory called Belad el Harameyn: but in fact, no such province has ever existed; and the title of Belad el Harameyn is given, not to this sacred space, but to both the territories of Mekka and Medina.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31