Travels in Arabia, by John Lewis Burckhardt

Government of Mekka.

The territories of Mekka, Tayf, Gonfade, (which stretches southwards as far as Haly, on the coast,) and of Yembo, were, previous to the Wahaby and Egyptian conquests, under the command of the Sherif of Mekka, who had extended his authority over Djidda also, though this town was nominally separated from his dominions, and governed by a Pasha, sent thither by the Porte, to be sole master of the town, and to divide its revenue with the Sherif. The Sherif, raised to his station by force or by personal influence, and the consent of the powerful Sherif families of Mekka, held his authority from the Grand Signor, who invariably confirmed the individual that had possessed himself of it. [The government of the Hedjaz has often been a subject of dispute between the Khalifes of Baghdad, the Sultans of Egypt, and the Imams of Yemen. The honour attached, even to a nominal authority over the holy cities, was the only object they had in view, although that authority, instead of increasing their income, obliged them to incur great expenses. The right of clothing the Kaaba, and of having their name inserted in the Friday’s prayers in the mosque, was the sole benefit they derived. The supremacy of Egypt over Mekka, so firmly established from the beginning of the fifteenth century, was transferred, after the conquest of that country by Selim I., to the Sultans of Constantinople.] He was invested annually with a pelisse, brought from Constantinople by the Kaftandji Bashy; and, in the Turkish ceremonial, he was ranked among the first Pashas of the empire. When the power of the Pashas of Djidda became merely nominal, and the Porte was no longer able to send large armies with the Hadj caravans of the Hedjaz, to secure its command over that country, the Sherifs of Mekka became independent, and disregarded all the orders of the Porte, although they still called themselves the servants of the Sultan, received the annual investiture of the pelisse, acknowledged the Kadhi sent from Constantinople, and prayed for the Sultan in the great mosque. Mohammed Aly has restored the authority of the Osmanlys in the Hedjaz, and usurps all the power of the Sherif; allowing to the present Sherif Yahya a merely nominal sway.

The Sherif of Mekka was chosen from one of the many tribes of Sherifs, or descendants of the Prophet, who settled in the Hedjaz; these were once numerous, but are now reduced to a few families of Mekka. Till the last century, the right of succession was in the Dwy [Dwy means Ahl, or family.] Barakat, so called after Barakat, the son of Seyd Hassan Adjelan, who succeeded his father in A.H. 829; he belonged to the sherif tribe of Katade, which was originally settled in the valley of Alkamye, forming part of Yembo el Nakhel, and was related, by the female side, to the Beni Hashem, whom they had dispossessed of the government of Mekka in A.H. 600, after the death of the last Hashemy, called Mekether. During the last century, the Dwy Barakat had to sustain many wars with their rival tribes, and finally yielded to the most numerous, that of Dwy Zeyd, to whom the present Sherifs belong, and which, together with all the Ketade, form part of the great tribe of Abou Nema. Most of the Barakat emigrated; many of them settling in the fertile valleys of the Hedjaz, and others in Yemen. Of the Sherifs still existing in and about Mekka, besides the tribes above mentioned, the following five were named to me: Abadele, Ahl Serour, Herazy, Dwy Hamoud, Sowamele. [In addition to these, I find several others mentioned by Asamy, as Dwy Masoud, Dwy Shambar, Dwy el Hareth, Dwy Thokaba, Dwy Djazan, Dwy Baz. It would demand more leisure than I enjoy, to compile a history of Mekka from the above-mentioned sources. D’Ohsson has given an historical notice on the Sherifs of Mekka, in which are several errors. The long pedigrees that must be traced, to acquire a clear notion of the rulers of any part of Arabia, render the history of that country extremely intricate.]

The succession to the government of Mekka, like that of the Bedouin Sheikhs, was not hereditary; though it remained in the same tribe as long as the power of that tribe preponderated. After the death of a Sherif, his relative, whether son, brother, or cousin, &c. who had the strongest party, or the public voice in his favour, became the successor. There were no ceremonies of installation or oaths of allegiance. The new Sherif received the complimentary visits of the Mekkawys; his band played before the door, which seems to be the sign of royalty here, as it is in the black country; and his name was henceforth inserted in the public prayers. Though a succession seldom took place without some contest, there was little bloodshed in general; and tho[u]gh instances of cruelty sometimes occurred, the principles of honour and good faith which distinguish the wars of the Desert tribes, were generally observed. The rivals submitted, and usually remained in the town, neither attending the levees of their victorious relative, nor dreading his resentment, after peace had once been settled. During the war, the rights of hospitality were held as sacred as they are in the Desert; the dakhyl, or refugee, was always respected: for the blood shed on both sides, atonement was made by fines paid to the relations of the slain, and the same laws of retaliation were observed, which prevail among the Bedouins. There was always a strong party in opposition to the reigning power; but this opposition was evinced more in the protection afforded to individuals persecuted by the chief, than in open attempts against his authority. Wars, however, frequently happened; each party had its adherents among the neighbouring Bedouins; but these were carried on according to the system in Bedouin feuds, and were seldom of long duration.

Though such customs might have a tendency to crush the power of the reigning Sherif, they were attended with bad consequences to the community: every individual was obliged to attach himself to one or other of the parties, and to some protector, who treated his adherents with the same tyranny and injustice that he experienced from his superior; laws were little respected; every thing was decided by personal influence. The power of the Sherifs was considerably diminished by Serour, who reigned from 1773 to 1786; but even, in later times, Ghaleb, although possessed of more authority than any of his predecessors, had often to fight with his own relations.

This continued prevalence of intestine broils, the wars and contentions of the prevailing parties, the vicissitudes of fortune which attended them, and the arts of popularity which the chiefs were obliged to employ, gave to the government of the Hedjaz a character different from that of most of the other governments in the East, and which it retained, in outward appearance, even after Ghaleb had almost succeeded in reigning as a despot. None of that ceremony was observed, which draws a line of distinction between the Eastern sovereigns, or their vicegerents, and the people. The court of the Sherif was small, and almost entirely devoid of pomp. His title is neither Sultan, nor Sultan Sherif, nor “Sire,” as Aly Bey Abbas asserts. “Sydna,” “our Lord,” was the title which his subjects used in conversing with him; or that of “Sádetkum,” or “your Highness,” which is given to all Pashas. The distance between the subject and the chief was not thought so great as to prevent the latter, in cases of need, from representing his griefs personally, and respectfully but boldly demanding redress.

The reigning Sherif did not keep a large body of regular troops; but he summoned his partisans among the Sherifs, with their adherents, whenever war was determined upon. These Sherifs he attached to his person by respecting their rank and influence, and they were accustomed to consider him in no other light than as the first among equals. To give a history of the events which have occurred at Mekka since the period at which the Arabian historians conclude, (about the middle, I believe, of the seventeenth century,) would be a work of some labour, as it must be drawn from verbal communications; for nobody, in this country, thinks of committing to paper the events of his own times. The circumstances under which I visited the place would have prevented me from obtaining any very extensive and accurate information on the political state of the country, even if I had had leisure, as such inquiries would have obliged me to mix with people of rank, and those holding offices; a class of society which, for obvious reasons, it was my constant endeavour to shun. The following is the amount of what information I was able to collect concerning the recent history of Mekka.

1750. Sherif Mesaad was appointed to the government of Mekka, which he held for twenty years. The power of the Sherifs involved him in frequent wars with them; as he seldom succeeded, their influence remained undiminished. Having betrayed symptoms of enmity towards Aly Beg, then governor of Egypt, the latter sent his favourite slave, Abou Dahab, whom he had made Beg, with a strong body of soldiers, as chief of the Hadj caravan, to Mekka, in order to expel Mesaad; but the Sherif died a few days before his arrival.

1769, or 1770. After Mesaad’s death, Hosseyn, who, although of the same tribe, had been his opponent on every occasion, was raised by his own party to the government, and confirmed therein by the assistance of Abou Dahab. He continued to rule till the year 1773 or 4, when he was slain in a war with Serour, the son of Mesaad. The name of Serour, who reigned thirteen or fourteen years, is still venerated by the Mekkawys: he was the first who humbled the pride and power of the Sherifs, and established rigid justice in the town. Previous to his reign, every Sherif had in his house at Mekka an establishment of thirty or forty armed slaves, servants, and relations, besides having powerful friends among the Bedouins. Ignorant of every occupation but that of arms, they lived upon the cattle which they kept among the Bedouins, and in different parts of the Hedjaz; the surra which they were entitled to receive from the Hadj; and the presents which they exacted from the pilgrims, and from their dependents in the town. Some of them, in addition to these general sources of income, had extorted from former chief Sherifs lucrative sinecures, such as duties on ships, or on certain articles of merchandize; tolls collected at one of the gates of Djidda; the capitation-tax levied upon the Persian pilgrims, &c. &c. Their behaviour in the town was wild and disorderly; the orders of the chief Sherif were disregarded; every one made use of his personal authority to increase his wealth; family quarrels frequently occurred; and, in the time of the Hadj, they often waylaid small parties of pilgrims in their route from Medina or Djidda to Mekka, plundering those who made no defence, and killing those who resisted.

After a long struggle, Serour succeeded at length in reducing the Sherifs to obedience, chiefly by cultivating the goodwill of the common class of Mekkawys, and of the Bedouins, by his great simplicity of manners, personal frugality, and generosity towards his friends, together with a reputation for excessive bravery and sagacity. He had often made peace with his enemies; but fresh wars as repeatedly broke forth. It is said that he once discovered a conspiracy to murder him in one of his nightly walks round the Kaaba; and that he generously spared the lives of the conspirators, and only banished them. He strengthened the great castle of Mekka; kept a large body of armed slaves and Bedouins constantly in his service, the expenses of which he defrayed by his commercial profits, being an active trader with Yemen; and, finally, he obliged the most powerful Sherif families to expatriate themselves, and seek for refuge in Yemen, while many Sherifs were killed in battle, and others fell by the hands of the executioner. After this, Serour applied himself to re-establish the administration of justice; and numerous acts are related of him, which reflect equal honour upon his love of equity and his sagacity. He drove the Jews from Djidda, where they had acquired considerable riches by their brokerage and fraudulent dealings; protected the pilgrims in their progress through the Hedjaz; and regulated the receipt of customs and taxes, which had previously been levied in a very arbitrary manner. When he died, the whole population of Mekka followed his remains to the grave. He is still considered by the Mekkawys as a kind of saint, and his name is venerated even by the Wahabys.

1785, or 86. After the death of Serour, Abd el Mayn, one of his brothers, succeeded for four or five days, when his younger brother Ghaleb, by his superior skill in intrigue, and by the great popularity which his valour, understanding, and engaging address had acquired for him in the time of Serour, dispossessed Abd el Mayn, and suffered him quietly to retire. During the first years of his reign, Ghaleb was the tool of Serour’s powerful slaves and eunuchs, who were completely masters of the town, and indulged in the same disorderly behaviour, injustice, and oppression which had formerly characterized the Sherifs. Ghaleb, however, soon freed himself from their influence, and acquired at length a firmer authority over the Hedjaz than any of his predecessors had possessed, and which he retained till the wars of the Wahabys, and the treachery of Mohammed Aly put an end to his reign. Ghaleb’s government was milder than that of Serour, though far from being so just. Very few individuals were put to death by his orders; but he became avaricious, and culprits were often permitted to purchase their lives by large fines. To accomplish this extortion, he filled his prisons with the refractory; but blood only flowed in his transactions with the Wahabys. During his wars with these invaders, the younger sons of Serour Abdulla ibn Serour, and Seyd ibn Serour, attempted to wrest the government from their uncle, but without success; when reconciled with Ghaleb, they were permitted to return quietly to Mekka, and here they resided when Mohammed Aly arrived. He sent Abdulla to Cairo together with Ghaleb, but was ordered by the Porte to set the former at liberty. Abdulla had been once at Constantinople to obtain the Sultan’s assistance against Ghaleb. The great temerity of Abdulla has gained him more admirers than friends at Mekka; but it seems probable that, should the Turks be again obliged to abandon the Hedjaz, he would replace his brother Yahia, the present chief, who received the appointment from Mohammed Aly in 1813, and whose reputation and influence at Mekka are only suited to this honorary situation. The Pasha having seized the revenues of the government of Mekka, has assigned to the Sherif a monthly allowance of only fifty purses, or about eight hundred pounds, to support both his troops and his household. The latter is nominally the same it was before the Turkish conquest, and consists of a few Sherifs, some Mekkawys, and Abyssinian or black slaves, who are indiscriminately appointed to the several employments about his person, the pompous titles of which are borrowed from the red book of the Turkish court. At Yembo, Tayf, Mekka, and Djidda, Ghaleb kept his vizier, who was called El Hakem at Mekka and Tayf. He had, besides, his khasnadar, or treasurer; his selahdar, or sword-bearer; moherdar, or keeper of the seal; and a few other officers, who, however, were far from keeping up so strict an etiquette, or being persons of as much consequence, as those officers are in the Turkish court. The whole of the private establishment of Ghaleb consisted of fifty or sixty servants and officers, and as many slaves and eunuchs. Besides his wives, he kept about two dozen of Abyssinian slaves, and double that number of females to attend upon them and to nurse his children. In his stables were from thirty to forty horses of the best Arabian breed; half a dozen mules, upon which he sometimes rode; and as many dromedaries. I learned from one of his old servants, that an erdeb (about fifteen bushels) was issued daily from the store for the use of the household; this, with perhaps half a hundred weight of butter, and two sheep, formed the principal expenditure of provision. It was partly consumed by the Bedouins, who came to Mekka upon business, and who were in the habit of repairing to the Sherif’s house, to claim his hospitality, just as they would alight at the tent of a Sheikh in an encampment in the Desert. When they departed, their sacks were filled with provisions for the road, such being the Arab custom, and the Sherifs of Mekka having always shown an anxious desire to treat the Bedouins with kindness and liberality.

The dress of the Sherif is the same as that of all the heads of Sherif families at Mekka; consisting, usually, of an Indian silk gown, over which is thrown a white abba, of the finest manufacture of El Ahsa, in the Persian Gulf; a Cashmere shawl, for the head; and yellow slippers, or sometimes sandals, for the feet. I saw no Mekkawy Sherifs with green turbans. Such of them as enter into the service of government, or are brought up to arms, and who are called by the Mekkawys exclusively “Sherifs,” generally wear coloured Cashmere shawls; the others, who lead a private life, or are employed in the law and the mosque, tie a small white muslin shawl round their caps. The Sherifs, however, possess one distinguishing mark of dress — a high woollen cap of a green colour, round which they tie the white muslin or the Cashmere shawl; beyond which the cap projects, so as to screen the wearer’s face from the rays of the sun: for its convenience in this respect, it is sometimes used also by elderly persons; but this is far from being a common fashion.

When the Sherif rides out, he carries in his hand a short, slender stick, called metrek, such as the Bedouins sometimes use in driving their camels; a horseman, who rides close by him, carries in his hand an umbrella or canopy, of Chinese design, adorned with silk tassels, which he holds over the Sherif’s head when the sun incommodes him. This is the only sign of royalty by which the Sherif is distinguished when he appears in public; and even this is not used when he walks in the street. The Wahabys compelled him to lay aside the canopy, and to go on foot to the mosque, alleging as a reason, that it was inconsistent with the requisite humility, to come into the presence of the Kaaba on horseback. But when Ghaleb was in full power al Mekka, he obliged the Pashas who accompanied the pilgrim caravan, to acknowledge his right of precedency on all occasions; and he disseminated throughout the Hedjaz a belief that his rank was superior to that of any officer of the Porte; and that even at Constantinople the Sultan himself ought, in strictness of etiquette, to rise and salute him. I have already mentioned the annual investiture of the Sherif by the Kaftandjy Bashy. According to the ceremonial practised on the arrival of the caravan, the Sherif pays the first visit to the Pasha, or Emir el Hadj. The latter, on returning the visit, receives a horse, richly caparisoned, from the Sherif. After the return of the Hadj from Wady Muna, the Pasha presents him, on the first day, with a similar horse; and they both exchange visits in their tents at Muna. When the caravan is ready to leave Mekka, on its return home, the Sherif visits the Pasha a second time, in his camp outside the town, and is there presented with another horse.

The Sherif is supposed to have under his jurisdiction all the Bedouin tribes of the Hedjaz; at least they are named in his own and the Porte’s registers, as the dutiful subjects of the Sultan and of the Sherif. When in the full enjoyment of his power, Ghaleb possessed a considerable influence over these tribes, but without any direct authority. They looked upon the Sherif, with his soldiers and friends, in the same light as one of their own Sheikhs, with his adherents; and all the laws of war current in the Desert, were strictly observed by the Sherif. In his late expeditions against the Wahabys, he was accompanied by six or eight thousand Bedouins, who joined him, as they would have joined another Sheikh, without receiving any regular pay for their services, but following their own chiefs, whose interest and attachment Ghaleb purchased by presents.

To those who are unacquainted with the politics of the Desert, the government of Mekka will present some singularities; but every thing is easily explained, if the Sherif be considered as a Bedouin chief, whom wealth and power have led to assume arbitrary sway; who has adopted the exterior form of an Osmanly governor, but who strictly adheres to all the ancient usages of his nation. In former times, the heads of the Sherif families at Mekka exercised the same influence as the fathers of families in the Bedouin encampments; the authority of the great chief afterwards prevailed, and the others were obliged to submit; but they still retain, in many cases, the rights of their forefathers. The rest of the Mekkawys were considered by the contending parties, not as their equals, but as settlers under their domination; in the same way as Bedouin tribes fight for villages which pay to them certain assessments, and whose inhabitants are considered to be on a much lower level than themselves. The Mekkawys, however, were not to be dealt with like inhabitants of the towns in the northern provinces of Turkey; they took a part in the feuds of the Sherifs, and shared in the influence and power obtained by their respective patrons. When Serour and Ghaleb successively possessed themselves of a more uncontrolled authority than any of their predecessors had enjoyed, the remaining Sherifs united more closely with the Mekkawys, and, till the most recent period, formed with them a body respectable for its warlike character, as was evinced in frequent quarrels among themselves; and a resistance against the government, when its measures affected their lives, although they were so far reduced as never to revolt when their purses only were assailed.

The government of Ghaleb, notwithstanding his pecuniary extortion, was lenient and cautious: he respected the pride of the Mekkawys, and seldom made any attempts against the personal safety or even fortunes of individuals, although they smarted under those regulations which affected them collectively. He permitted his avowed enemies to live peaceably in the bosom of their families, and the people to indulge in bloody affrays among themselves, which frequently happened either in consequence of blood-revenge, or the jealousies which the inhabitants of different quarters of the town entertained against each other; sometimes fighting for weeks together, but generally with sticks, lances, and daggers, and not with fire-arms.

The Sherifs, or descendants of Mohammed, resident at Mekka and in the neighbourhood, who delight in arms, and are so often engaged in civil broils, have a practice of sending every male child, eight days after its birth, to some tent of the neighbouring Bedouins, where it is brought up with the children of the tent, and educated like a true Bedouin for eight or ten years, or till the boy is able to mount a mare, when his father takes him back to his home. During the whole of the above period, the boy never visits his parents, nor enters the town, except when in his sixth month; his foster-mother then carries him on a short visit to his family, and immediately returns with him to her tribe. The child is, in no instance, left longer than thirty days after his birth in the hands of his mother; and his stay among the Bedouins is sometimes protracted till his thirteenth or fifteenth year. By this means, he becomes familiar with all the perils and vicissitudes of a Bedouin life; his body is inured to fatigue and privation; and he acquires a knowledge of the pure language of the Bedouins, and an influence among them that becomes afterwards of much importance to him. There is no sherif, from the chief down to the poorest among them, who has not been brought up among the Bedouins; and many of them are also married to Bedouin girls. The sons of the reigning Sherif family were usually educated among the tribe of Adouan, celebrated for the prowess and hospitality of its members; but it has been so much reduced by the intestine wars of the Sherifs, in which they always took part, and by the late invasion of Mohammed Aly, that they found it expedient to abandon the territory of the Hedjaz, and seek refuge in the encampments of the tribes of the Eastern plain. Othman el Medhayfe, the famous Wahaby chief, a principal instrument employed by Saoud in the subjugation of the Hedjaz, was himself a Sheikh of Adouan; and Sherif Ghaleb had married his sister. The other Sherifs sent their children to the encampments of Hodheyl, Thekyf, Beni Sad, and others; some few to the Koreysh, or Harb.

The Bedouins in whose tent a Sherif has been educated, were ever after treated by him with the same respect as his own parents and brethren; he called them respectively, father, mother, brother; and received from them corresponding appellations. Whenever they came to Mekka, they lodged at the house of their pupil, and never left it without receiving presents. During his pupilage, the Sherif gave the name of Erham to the more distant relatives of the Bedouin family, who were also entitled to his friendship and attention; and he considered himself, during his life, as belonging to the encampment in which he had passed his early years: he termed its inhabitants “our people,” or, “our family;” took the liveliest interest in their various fortunes; and, when at leisure, often paid them a visit during the spring months, and sometimes accompanied them in their wanderings and their wars.

Sherif Ghaleb always showed himself extremely attentive to his Bedouin foster-parents; whenever they visited him, he used to rise from his seat, and embrace them, though in no way distinguished from any meanly-dressed inhabitant of the Desert. Of course, it often happened that Sherif boys could not easily be induced to acknowledge their real parents at home; and they sometimes escaped, and rejoined the friends of their infancy, the Bedouins in the Desert.

The custom which I have just described is very ancient in Arabia. Mohammed was educated among foreigners, in the tribe of Beni Sad; and his example is continually quoted by the Mekkawys, when speaking of the practice still usual among the Sherifs. But they are almost the only people in Arabia by whom it is now followed. The Bedouins called Mowalys, [This tribe is originally from the Hedjaz: it lived in the neighbourhood of Medina, and is often mentioned by the historians of that town, during the first century after Mohammed.] once a potent tribe, but now reduced to a small number, and pasturing their flocks in the vicinity of Aleppo, are the only Arabs among whom I met with any thing similar. With them it is an established usage, that the son of the chief of that tribe should be educated in the family of another individual of the same tribe, but generally of a different encampment, until he is sufficiently old to be able to shift for himself. The pupil calls his tutor Morabby, and displays the greatest regard for him during the rest of his life.

The Sherifs derive considerable advantages from their Bedouin education; acquiring not only strength and activity of body, but some part of that energy, freedom of manners, and boldness, which characterize the inhabitant of the Desert; together with a greater regard to the virtues of good faith and hospitality, than if they had been brought up in Mekka.

I did not see many Sherifs. Of the small number now remaining, some were employed, during my residence at Mekka, either as guides with the army of Mohammed Aly, or were incorporated by him in a small corps of Bedouins, commanded by Sherif Radjeh, one of their most distinguished members; or in the service of Sherif Yahya, who sent them on duty to the advanced posts towards Yemen. Some of them had retired, after Ghaleb was taken, to the Wahabys, or to Yemen, where a few of them still remained. Those whom I had an opportunity of seeing, were distinguished by fine manly countenances, strongly expressive of noble extraction; and they had all the exterior manners of Bedouins; free, bold, frank, warm friends; bitter enemies; seeking for popularity, and endowed with an innate pride, which, in their own estimation, sets them far above the Sultan of Constantinople. I never beheld a handsomer man than Sherif Radjeh, whose heroism I have mentioned in my history of Mohammed Aly’s campaign, and the dignity of whose deportment would make him remarked among thousands; nor can a more spirited and intelligent face be easily imagined, than was that of Sherif Ghaleb. Yahya, the present Sherif, is of a very dark complexion, like that of his father; his mother was a dark brown Abyssinian slave.

The Mekkawys give the Sherifs little credit for honesty, and they have constantly shown great versatility of character and conduct; but this could hardly be otherwise, considering the sphere and the times in which they moved: their Bedouin education has certainly made them preferable, in many respects, to the common class of Mekkawys.

It is a rule among the Sherifs, that the daughters of the reigning chief can never marry; and while their brothers are often playing in the streets with their comrades, from whom they are in no way distinguished, either in dress or dignity of appearance, the unfortunate girls remain shut up in the father’s house. I have seen a son of Sherif Ghaleb, whose father was then in exile at Salonica, play before the door of his house. But I have heard that, when the boys of the reigning Sherif return from the Desert, and are not yet sufficiently grown up to appear with a manly air in public, they are kept within their father’s house or court-yard, and seen only by the inmates of the family, appearing for the first time in public, on horseback, by the side of their father; from which period they are considered to be of age, soon after marry, and take a share in public affairs.

The greater part of the Sherifs of Mekka, and those especially of the reigning tribe of Dwy Zeyd, are strongly suspected to be Muselman sectaries, belonging to the Zyoud, or followers of Zeyd, a sect which has numerous proselytes in Yemen, and especially in the mountains about Sada. This, however, the Sherifs do not acknowledge, but comply with the doctrines of the orthodox sect of Shafeys, to which most of the Mekkawys belong; but the Sherifs residing abroad do not deny it; and whenever points of law are discussing upon which the Zyoud are at variance with the Sunnys, the Sherifs always decline taking an active part in the discussion.

I believe that the Zeyds are divided into different sects. Those of Yemen and Mekka acknowledge as the founder of their creed El Imam el Hady ill el Hak Yahya ibn el Hosseyn, who traces his pedigree to Hassan, the son of Aly. He was born at Rass, in the province of Kasym, in A.H. 245, and first rose as a sectary at Sada, in Yemen, in 280. He fought with the Abassides, took Sana, out of which he was driven, afterwards attacked the Karmates, and died of poison at Sada in A.H. 298. Others trace the origin of this sect higher, to Zeyd ibn Aly Zeyn el Aabedyn ibn el Hosseyn ibn Aly ibn Aby Taleb, who was killed at Koufa in A.H. 121, by the party of the Khalif Hesham. The Zeydites appear, generally, to entertain a great veneration for Aly; at the same time that they do not, as the Persians, curse Abou Beker and Omar. They entertain notions different from those of the Sunnys respecting the succession of the twelve Imams, but agree, in other respects, much more with them than with the Persians. The Zeydites of Yemen, to whom the Imam of Sana himself belongs, designate their creeds as the fifth of the orthodox Mohammedan creeds, next to the Hanefys, Shafeys, Malekys, and Hanbalys, and for that reason they are called Ahl el Khams Mezaheb. In Yemen they publicly avow their doctrines; at Mekka they conceal them. I heard that one of their principal tenets is, that in praying, whether in the mosque, or at home, no other expressions should be used than those contained in the Koran, or such as are formed from passages of that book.

The Mekkawys regard the Zyoud as heretics; and assert that, like Persians, they hold in disrespect the immediate successors of Mohammed. Stories are related of the Zyoud in Yemen writing the name of Mawya over the most unclean part of their houses, to show their contempt of him; but such tenets are not avowed, and the Sherifs agree outwardly in every point with the Sunnys, whatever may be their private opinions.

I have already stated that the Kadhy of Mekka is sent annually from Constantinople, according to the usual practice of the Turkish government with respect to the great cities of the empire. This system began with the early emperors, who thought that, by depriving the provincial governors of the administration of justice, and placing it in the hands of a learned man sent periodically from Constantinople, and quite independent of the governors, they might prevent the latter from exercising any undue influence over the courts of law, at the same time that the consequences likely to result from the same judge remaining in office for any length of time were avoided. But manners are very different throughout the empire from what they were three hundred years ago. In every town the Kadhy is now under the immediate influence of the governor, who is left to tyrannize at pleasure, provided he sends his regular subsidies to the Porte. No person can gain a suit at law unless he enjoys credit with the government, or gives a bribe to the judge, which the governor shares or connives at, in return for the Kadhy’s compliance with his interests in other cases. The fees of court are enormous, and generally swallow up one fourth of the sum in litigation; while the court is deaf to the clearest right, if not supported by largesses to the Kadhy and the swarm of officers and servants who surround his seat. These disorders are countenanced by the Porte: the office of Kadhy is there publicly sold to the best bidder, with the understanding that he is to remunerate himself by the perquisites of his administration.

In those countries where Arabs flock to his court, the Kadhy, who generally knows but little of the Arabic language, is in the hands of his interpreter, whose office is usually permanent, and who instructs every new Kadhy in the modes of bribery current in the place, and takes a full share of the harvest. The barefaced acts of injustice and shameless briberies daily occurring in the Mehkames, or halls of justice, would seem almost incredible to an European, and especially an Englishman.

The Kadhy of Mekka has shared the fate of his brother judges in other parts of the empire, and has been for many years so completely under the influence of the Sherif, that all suits were carried directly before his tribunal, and the Kadhy was thus reduced to spend his time in unprofitable leisure. I was informed by the Kadhy himself, that the Grand Signior, in consideration of the trifling emoluments of the situation, had, for some time back, been in the habit of paying to the Kadhy of Mekka one hundred purses per annum out of his treasury. Since the conquest of Mohammed Aly, the Kadhy has recovered his importance, in the same proportion as the influence of the Sherif has been diminished. When I was at Mekka, all law-suits were decided in the Mehkame. Mohammed Aly seldom interposed his authority, as he wished to conciliate the good-will of the Arabs, and the Kadhy himself seems to have received from him very strict orders to act with circumspection; for justice was, at this time, tolerably well administered, at least in comparison with other tribunals; and the inhabitants were not averse to the new order of things. The Kadhy of Mekka appoints to the law-offices of Djidda and Tayf, which are filled by Arabs, not Turks. In law-suits of importance, the Muftis of the four orthodox sects have considerable influence on the decision.

The income of the Sherif is derived principally from the customs paid at Djidda, which, as I have already mentioned, instead of being, according to the intention of the Turkish government, divided between himself and the Pasha of Djidda, were seized wholly by the late Sherifs, and are now in the hands of Mohammed Aly. The customs of Djidda, properly the same as those levied in every other part of the Turkish empire, were much increased by Ghaleb, which was the principal reason why the whole body of merchants opposes him. He had also engrossed too large a share of the commerce to himself. Eight dows belonging to him were constantly employed in the coffee-trade between Yemen, Djidda, and Egypt; and when the sale of that article was slow, he obliged the merchants to purchase his cargoes for ready money at the market-price, in order to send off the sooner his returns of dollars to Yemen. Two of the largest of his vessels (one an English-built ship of three or four hundred tons, purchased at Bombay,) made a voyage annually to the East Indies, and the cargoes which they brought home were either sold to the Hadj at Mekka, or were divided among the merchants of Djidda, who were forced to purchase them.

Besides the port of Djidda, that of Yembo, where the Sherif kept a governor, was subjected to similar duties. He also levied a tax as well upon all cattle and provisions carried from the interior of the country into Djidda, as upon those carried into Mekka, Tayf, and Yembo, except what came with the two great hadj-caravans from the north, which passed every where duty-free. The inhabitants of Mekka and Djidda pay no other taxes than those just mentioned, their houses, persons, and property being free from all other imposts; an advantage which they have never sufficiently acknowledged, though they might have readily drawn a comparison between themselves and their neighbours of Syria and Egypt. The other branches of the Sherif’s revenues were the profits derived from the sale of provisions at Mekka, of which, although he did not monopolize them like Mohammed Aly, yet he had always such a considerable stock on hand, as enabled him to influence the daily prices; the capitation-tax on all Persian hadjys, whether coming by land from Baghdad, or by the way of the Red Sea and Yemen; and presents to a considerable amount, either offered to him gratuitously, or extorted from the rich hadjys of all countries. [Formerly, when the Sherifs of Mekka were more powerful, they levied a tribute upon the two great pilgrim-caravans, similar to that exacted by the Bedouins on the road. Abou Nima, in A.H. 654, took from every camel of the Yemen caravan thirty dirhems, and fifty upon every one in the Egyptian caravan.]

Of the money sent from Constantinople to the holy city, temple, &c. a large portion was appropriated by the Sherif to his own treasury; and it is said that he regularly shared in all the presents which were made to the mosque. Ghaleb possessed considerable landed property; many of the gardens round Tayf, and of the plantations in the valley of Hosseynye, Wady Fatme, Wady Lymoun, and Wady Medyk, belonged to him. At Djidda he had many houses and caravansaries, which he let out to foreigners; and so far resembled his successor Mohammed Aly, that the most trifling profit became a matter of consideration with him, his attention being constantly directed towards the acquiring of wealth. The annual revenue of Ghaleb, during the plenitude of his power, may have amounted to about three hundred and fifty thousand pounds sterling; but, since the occupation of the Hedjaz by the Wahabys, it has probably not exceeded half that sum.

As Ghaleb was a merchant and land-owner, and procured all the articles of consumption at the first hand, the maintenance of his household, with his women and slaves, did not, I should imagine, require above twenty thousand pounds sterling per annum. In time of peace the Sherif kept a small permanent force, not exceeding five hundred men, of whom about one hundred were in garrison at Djidda, fifty at Tayf, as many at Yembo, and the rest at Mekka: of this body about eight hundred were cavalry, in addition to his own mounted household. Many of the soldiers were his domestic slaves; but the greater part were Bedouins from different parts of Arabia; those from Yemen, the mountains of Asyr, and Nedjed, being the most numerous. Their pay was from eight to twelve dollars per month; and they were commanded by Sherifs, whom they obeyed as Bedouins obey their leader during war, that is to say, that, trained to no regular exercise, they accompanied the Sherif whenever he took a ride out of the town, and on returning fired off their guns, according to the Arabian custom, in leaping wildly about. The arms of the infantry were a matchlock and crooked knife; the horsemen had a lance.

When Ghaleb engaged in war, this force was increased by the accession of many Sherifs and their retinues, who received no pay, but occasional presents, and a share in the booty acquired; these wars being generally directed against some Bedouin tribes, whose cattle was the sole object of invasion. Upon these occasions, the Sherif was joined also by other Bedouins, who returned with their Sheikhs to their homes, as soon as the expedition was terminated. On the breaking out of the Wahaby war, and when the Wahabys began to make successful attacks upon the Hedjaz, Ghaleb found it necessary to increase his standing force; he therefore added to it a number of black slaves, thereby augmenting it to eight hundred, following, in this respect, the practice of his predecessors, who always considered their own purchased slaves as the most faithful men under their command; [During the last century, the Sherifs of Mekka constantly kept a small corps of Georgian Mamelouks as their body guard.] he also enlisted additional numbers of Bedouins, and had, during the whole of the contest, generally from two to three thousand men; a number thought fully sufficient to guard his cities. Whenever he planned an attack on the Wahabys, he collected his allies among the Bedouins, and advanced several times towards Nedjed with an united force of ten thousand men. When those allies were obliged, successively, to yield to the invaders, and the southern Bedouins, on whom Ghaleb always principally depended, were conquered by the great exertions and activity of Othman el Medhayfe, Ghaleb found himself alone, with his few troops, unable to prolong the contest, and was soon driven to extremities and obliged to submit, though he still kept a corps of troops in his pay, after Saoud had obtained firm possession of the Hedjaz, and conducted his affairs with such consummate skill, as to maintain his authority, and command the respect of the Wahabys.

The expenses attending the increased forces of the Sherif during the Wahaby war, were considerable; it was necessary to make donations to the Sherif and the Bedouins, to keep them in his interest; but it happened, for once, that his interests were equally their own; and Bedouins, though never tired of asking for presents, are generally content with small sums. It may hence be easily conceived that Ghaleb never, during any period of his reign, lived up to the amount of his income; and it was a general, and, I believe, well-founded opinion in the Hedjaz, that during the twenty-seven years of his official life, he had amassed a large treasure in money. When Mohammed Aly seized his person, the amount of the whole of his disposable property found at Mekka and Djidda, was calculated at about two hundred thousand or two hundred and fifty thousand pounds sterling; and it was presumed that he had either secreted his treasure in the castle of Mekka, or sent it to his friends in India, while Mohammed Aly was making preparations for his attack. It is most probable that he employed both modes of secreting his wealth, and thus made another addition to the large sums daily buried in the East, by persons in authority, as well as by private individuals. But such is the bad use to which Eastern rulers apply their riches, that the public prosperity of the country suffers little by the loss. [The prevalence of the practice of concealing riches in Turkey, and the cause of it, will at once appear from the following account of a circumstance which happened in 1813, at Cairo. Mohammed Aly having demanded 15,000 purses from the Copts employed in the finances of Egypt, they divided the sum among themselves; and Moallem Felteos, an old man, who had been in former times a chief financier, was assessed at twelve hundred purses, or about 18,000l. sterling: this he refused to pay, alleging his poverty; but, after long parleys, at last offered to give two hundred purses. The Pasha sent for him, threatened, and, seeing him obstinate, ordered him to be beaten: after receiving five hundred strokes with the stick, and being nearly half dead, be swore that he could pay no more than two hundred purses. Mohammed Aly thought he was telling the truth; but his son, Ibrahim Pasha, who happened to be present, said that he was sure the man had more money. Felteos, therefore, received three hundred additional strokes, after which he confessed that he was possessed of the sum demanded, and promised to pay it. He was then permitted to return home; and at the end of a fortnight, being so much recovered from the effects of his beating that he could walk about, commissioners were sent to his house from the Pasha, labourers were called, and Felteos descended with them into the privy of his house, at the bottom of which they removed a large stone which closed up a small passage containing a vaulted niche, where two iron chests were deposited. On opening these, two thousand purses in sequins were found, twelve hundred of which the Pasha took, and left the remainder to the owner, who died three months after, not in consequence of the blows he had received, but of grief for the loss of his money. Had he been able secretly to remove the treasure, he would probably have done so, had not a guard been posted in his house immediately on his promising to pay; the Pasha suspecting that the money was concealed in some secret spot, according to a practice general in the East.]

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