Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Chapter XIX.

A Ride to the Mosque of Kuba.

THE principal places of pious visitation in the vicinity of Al-Madinah are the Mosques of Kuba, the Cemetery Al-Bakia, and the martyr Hamzah’s tomb, at the foot of Mount Ohod. These the Zair is directed by all the Olema to visit, and on the holy ground to pray Allah for a blessing upon himself, and upon his brethren of the faith.

Early one Saturday morning, I started for Kuba with a motley crowd of devotees. Shaykh Hamid, my Muzawwir, was by my side, mounted upon an ass more miserable than I had yet seen. The boy Mohammed had procured for me a Meccan dromedary, with splendid trappings, a saddle with burnished metal peaks before and behind, covered with a huge sheepskin died crimson, and girthed over fine saddle-bags, whose enormous tassels hung almost to the ground. The youth himself, being too grand to ride a donkey, and unable to borrow a horse, preferred walking. He was proud as a peacock, being habited in a style somewhat resembling the plume of that gorgeous bird, in the coat of many colours-yellow, red, and golden flowers, apparently sewed on a field of bright green silk-which cost me so dear in the Harim. He was armed, as indeed all of us were, in readiness for the Badawin, and he anxiously awaited opportunities of discharging his pistol. Our course lay from Shaykh Hamid’s house in the Manakhah, along and up the Fiumara, “Al-Sayh,” and through the Bab Kuba, a little gate in the suburb wall, where, by-the-bye, my mounted companion was nearly trampled down by a rush of half-wild camels. Outside the town, in this direction, Southward, is a plain of clay, mixed with chalk, and here and there with sand, whence protrude blocks and little ridges of basalt. As far as Kuba, and the Harrah ridge to the West, the earth is sweet and makes excellent gugglets.1 Immediately outside the gate I saw a kiln, where they were burning tolerable bricks. Shortly after leaving the suburb, an Indian, who joined our party upon the road, pointed out on the left of the way what he declared was the place of the celebrated Khandak, or Moat, the Torres Vedras of Arabian History.2 Presently the Nakhil, or palm plantations, began. Nothing lovelier to the eye, weary with hot red glare, than the rich green waving crops and the cool shade, the “food of vision,” as the Arabs call it, and “pure water to the parched throat.” For hours I could have sat and looked at it. The air was soft and balmy; a perfumed breeze, strange luxury in Al-Hijaz, wandered amongst the date fronds; there were fresh flowers and bright foliage; in fact, at Midsummer, every beautiful feature of Spring. Nothing more delightful to the ear than the warbling of the small birds, that sweet familiar sound; the splashing of tiny cascades from the wells into the wooden troughs, and the musical song of the water-wheels. Travellers-young travellers-in the East talk of the “dismal grating,” the “mournful monotony,” and the “melancholy creaking of these dismal machines.” To the veteran wanderer their sound is delightful from association, reminding him of fields and water-courses, and hospitable villages, and plentiful crops. The expatriated Nubian, for instance, listens to the water-wheel with as deep emotion as the Ranz des Vaches ever excited in the hearts of Switzer mercenary at Naples, or “Lochaber no more,” among a regiment of Highlanders in the West Indies. The date-trees of Al-Madinah merit their celebrity. Their stately columnar stems, here, seems higher than in other lands, and their lower fronds are allowed to tremble in the breeze without mutilation.3 These enormous palms were loaded with ripening fruits; and the clusters, carefully tied up, must often have weighed upwards of eighty pounds. They hung down between the lower branches by a bright yellow stem, as thick as a man’s ankle. Books enumerate a hundred and thirty-nine varieties of trees; of these between sixty and seventy are well known, and each is distinguished, as usual among Arabs, by its peculiar name. The best kind is Al-Shelebi; it is packed in skins, or in flat round boxes covered with paper, somewhat in the manner of French prunes, and sent as presents to the remotest parts of the Moslem world.4 The fruit is about two inches long, with a small stone, and has a peculiar aromatic flavour and smell; it is seldom eaten by the citizens on account of the price, which varies from two to ten piastres the pound. The tree, moreover, is rare, and is said to be not so productive as the other species. The Ajwah5 date is eaten, but not sold, because a tradition of the Prophet declares, that whoso breaketh his fast every day with six or seven of these fruits, need fear neither poison nor magic. The third kind, Al-Hilwah, also a large date, derives a name from its exceeding sweetness: of this palm the Moslems relate that the Prophet planted a stone, which in a few minutes grew up and bore fruit. Next comes Al-Birni, of which was said, “It causeth sickness to depart, and there is no sickness in it.” The Wahshi on one occasion bent its head, and “salamed” to Mohammed as he ate its fruit, for which reason even now its lofty tuft turns earthwards. The Sayhani (Crier) is so called, because when the founder of Al-Islam, holding Ali’s hand, happened to pass beneath, it cried, “This is Mohammed the Prince of Prophets, and this is Ali the Prince of the Pious, and the Progenitor of the Immaculate Imams.6” Of course the descendants of so intelligent a vegetable hold high rank in the kingdom of palms, and the vulgar were in the habit of eating the Sayhani and of throwing the stones about the Harim. The Khuzayriyah is thus named because it preserves its green colour, even when ripe; it is dried and preserved as a curiosity. The Jabali is the common fruit: the poorest kinds are the Laun and the Hilayah, costing from four to seven piastres per mudd.7

I cannot say that the dates of Al-Madinah are finer than those of Meccah, although it is highly heretical to hold such tenet. The produce of the former city was the favourite food of the Prophet, who invariably broke his fast with it: a circumstance which invests it with a certain degree of relic-sanctity. The citizens delight in speaking of dates as an Irishman does of potatoes, with a manner of familiar fondness: they eat them for medicine as well as for food; “Rutab,” or wet dates, being held to be the most saving, as it is doubtless the most savoury, of remedies. The fruit is prepared in a great variety of ways: the favourite dish is a broil with clarified butter, extremely distasteful to the European palate. The date is also left upon the tree to dry, and then called “Balah”: this is eaten at dessert as the “Nukliyat” — the quatre mendiants of Persia. Amongst peculiar preparations must be mentioned the “Kulladat al-Sham8” (necklace of Sham). The unripe fruit is dipped in boiling water to preserve its gamboge colour, strung upon a thick thread and hung out in the air to dry. These strings are worn all over Al-Hijaz as necklaces by children, who seldom fail to munch the ornament when not in fear of slappings; and they are sent as presents to distant countries.

January and February are the time for the masculation9 of the palm. The “Nakhwali,” as he is called, opens the female flower, and having inserted the inverted male blossom, binds them together: this operation is performed, as in Egypt, upon each cluster.10 The fruit is ripe about the middle of May, and the gathering of it, forms the Arabs’ “vendemmia.” The people make merry the more readily because their favourite diet is liable to a variety of accidents: droughts injure the tree, locusts destroy the produce, and the date crop, like most productions which men are imprudent enough to adopt singly as the staff of life, is often subject to complete failure.

One of the reasons for the excellence of Madinah dates is the quantity of water they obtain: each garden or field has its well; and even in the hottest weather the Persian wheel floods the soil every third day. It has been observed that the date-tree can live in dry and barren spots; but it loves the beds of streams and places where moisture is procurable. The palms scattered over the other parts of the plain, and depending solely upon rain water, produce less fruit, and that too of an inferior quality.

Verdure is not usually wholesome in Arabia, yet invalids leave the close atmosphere of Al-Madinah to seek health under the cool shades of Kuba. The gardens are divided by what might almost be called lanes, long narrow lines with tall reed fences on both sides. The graceful branches of the Tamarisk, pearled with manna, and cottoned over with dew, and the broad leaves of the castor plant, glistening in the sun, protected us from the morning rays. The ground on both sides of the way was sunken, the earth being disposed in heaps at the foot of the fences, an arrangement which facilitates irrigation, by giving a fall to the water, and in some cases affords a richer soil than the surface. This part of the Madinah plain, however, being higher than the rest, is less subject to the disease of salt and nitre. On the way here and there the earth crumbles and looks dark under the dew of morning; but nowhere has it broken out into that glittering efflorescence which denotes the last stage of the attack. The fields and gardens are divided into small oblongs, separated from one another by little ridges of mould which form diminutive water-courses. Of the cereals there are luxuriant maize, wheat, and barley, but the latter two are in small quantities. Here and there patches of “Barsim,” or Egyptian clover, glitter brightly in the sunbeams. The principal vegetables are Badanjan (Egg-plant), the Bamiyah (a kind of esculent hibiscus, called Bhendi in India), and Mulukhiyah (Corchoris olitorius), a mucilaginous spinage common throughout this part of the East. These three are eaten by citizens of every rank; they are, in fact, the potatoes and the greens of Arabia. I remarked also onions and leeks in fair quantities, a few beds of carrots and beans; some Fijl (radishes), Lift (turnips), gourds, cucumbers, and similar plants. Fruit trees abound. There are five descriptions of vines, the best of which is Al-Sharifi, a long white grape of a flavour somewhat resembling the produce of Tuscany.11 Next to it, and very similar, is Al-Birni. The Hijazi is a round fruit, sweet, but insipid, which is also the reproach of the Sawadi, or black grape. And lastly, the Raziki is a small white fruit, with a diminutive stone. The Nebek, Lote, or Jujube, is here a fine large tree with a dark green leaf, roundish and polished like the olive; it is armed with a short, curved, and sharp thorn,12 and bears a pale straw-coloured berry, about the size of the gooseberry, with red streaks on the side next the sun. Little can be said in favour of the fruit, which has been compared successively by disappointed “Lotus eaters13” to a bad plum, an unripe cherry, and an insipid apple. It is, however, a favourite with the people of Al-Madinah, who have reckoned many varieties of the fruit: Hindi (Indian), Baladi (“native”), Tamri (date-like), and others. There are a few peaches, hard like the Egyptian, and almost tasteless, fit only for stewing, but greedily eaten in a half-ripe state; large coarse bananas, lime trees, a few water-melons, figs, and apples, but neither apricots nor pears.14 There are three kinds of pomegranates: the best is the Shami (Syrian): it is red outside, very sweet, and costs one piastre: the Turki is large, and of a white colour: and the Misri has a greenish rind, and a somewhat sub-acid and harsh flavour; the latter are sold at one-fourth the price of the best. I never saw in the East, except at Meccah, finer fruits than the Shami: almost stoneless like those of Maskat, they are delicately perfumed, and as large as an infant’s head. Al-Madinah is celebrated, like Taif, for its “Rubb Rumman,” a thick pomegranate syrup, drunk with water during the hot weather, and esteemed cooling and wholesome.

After threading our way through the gardens, an operation requiring less time than to describe them, we saw, peeping through the groves, Kuba’s simple minaret. Then we came in sight of a confused heap of huts and dwelling-houses, chapels and towers with trees between, and foul lanes, heaps of rubbish, and barking dogs, — the usual material of a Hijazi village. Having dismounted, we gave our animals in charge of a dozen infant Badawin, the produce of the peasant gardeners, who shouted “Bakhshish” the moment they saw us. To this they were urged by their mothers, and I willingly parted with a few paras for the purpose of establishing an intercourse with fellow-creatures so fearfully and wonderfully resembling the tailless baboon. Their bodies, unlike those of Egyptian children, were slim15 and straight, but their ribs stood out with curious distinctness; the colour of the skin was that oily lamp-black seen upon the face of a European sweep; and the elf-locks, thatching the cocoa-nut heads, had been stained by the sun, wind, and rain to that reddish-brown hue which Hindu romances have appropriated to their Rakshasas or demons. Each anatomy carried in his arms a stark-naked miniature of himself, fierce-looking babies with faces all eyes, and the strong little wretches were still able to extend the right hand and exert their lungs with direful clamour. Their mothers were fit progenitors for such progeny: long, gaunt, with emaciated limbs, wall-sided, high-shouldered, and straight-backed, with pendulous bosoms, spider-like arms, and splay feet. Their long elf-locks, wrinkled faces, and high cheek-bones, their lips darker than the epidermis, hollow staring eyes, sparkling as if to light up the extreme ugliness around, and voices screaming as though in a perennial rage, invested them with all the “charms of Sycorax.” These “Houris of Jahannam” were habited in long night-gowns dyed blue to conceal want of washing, and the squalid children had about a yard of the same material wrapped round their waists for all toilette. This is not an overdrawn portrait of the farmer race of Arabs, the most despised by their fellow-countrymen, and the most hard-favoured, morally as well as physically, of all the breed.

Before entering the Mosque of Al-Kuba16 it will be necessary to call to mind some passages of its past history. When the Apostle’s she-camel, Al-Kaswa, as he was approaching Al-Madinah after the flight from Meccah, knelt down here, he desired his companions to mount the animal. Abu Bakr and Omar17 did so; still she sat upon the ground; but when Ali obeyed the order, she arose. The Apostle bade him loose her halter, for she was directed by Allah, and the Mosque walls were built upon the line over which she trod. It was the first place of public prayer in Al-Islam. Mohammed laid the first brick, and with an “Anzah,” or iron-shod javelin, marked out the direction of prayer18: each of his successors followed his example. According to most historians, the land belonged to Abu Ayyub the Ansari, the Apostle’s host; for which reason the “Bayt Ayyub,” his descendants, still perform the service of the Mosque, keep the key, and share with the Bawwabs, or porters, the alms and fees here offered by the Faithful. Others declared that the ground was the property of one Linah, a woman who was in the habit of tethering her ass there.19 The Apostle used to visit it every Saturday20 on foot, and always made a point of praying the dawn-prayer there on the 17th Ramazan.21 A number of traditions testify to its dignity: of these, two are especially significant. The first assures all Moslems that a prayer at Kuba is equal to a Lesser Pilgrimage at Meccah in religious efficacy; and the second declares that such devotion is more acceptable to the Deity than prostrations at the Bayt al-Mukuddas (Jerusalem). Moreover, sundry miracles took place here, and a verset of the Koran descended from heaven. For which reasons the Mosque was much respected by Omar, who, once finding it empty, swept it himself with a broom of thorns, and expressed his wonder at the lukewarmness of Moslem piety. It was originally a square building of very small size; Osman enlarged it in the direction of the minaret, making it sixty-six cubits each way. It is no longer “mean and decayed” as in Burckhardt’s time: the Sultan Abd al-Hamid, father of the Sultan Mahmud, erected a minaret of Turkish shape and a neat structure of cut stone, whose crenelles make it look more like a place of defence than of prayer. It has, however, no preten[s]ions to grandeur. To the South a small and narrow Riwak (porch), with unpretending columns, looks out Northwards upon a little open area simply sanded over; and this is the whole building.

The large Mastabah or stone bench at the entrance of the Mosque was crowded with sitting people: we therefore lost no time, after ablution and the Niyat (“the Intention”) peculiar to this Visitation, in ascending the steps, in pulling off our slippers, and in entering the sacred building. We stood upon the Musalla al-Nabi (the Prophet’s place of Prayer)22: after Shaykh Nur and Hamid had forcibly cleared that auspicious spot of a devout Indian, and had spread a rug upon the dirty matting, we performed a two-bow prayer, in font of a pillar into which a diminutive marble Mihrab or niche had been inserted by way of memento. Then came the Dua, or supplication, which was as follows:

“O Allah! bless and preserve, and increase, and perpetuate, and benefit, and be propit[i]ous to, our Lord Mohammed, and to his Family, and to his Companions, and be Thou their Preserver! O Allah! this is the Mosque Kuba, and the Place of the Prophet’s Prayers. O Allah! pardon our Sins, and veil our Faults, and place not over us one who feareth not Thee, and who pitieth not us, and pardon us, and the true Believers, Men and Women, the Quick of them and the Dead: for verily Thou, O Lord, art the Hearer, the near to us, the Answerer of our Supplications.” After which we recited the Testification and the Fatihah, and we drew our palms as usual down our faces.

We then moved away to the South-Eastern corner of the edifice, and stood before a Mihrab in the Southern wall.

It is called “Takat al-Kashf” or “Niche of Disclosure,” by those who believe that as the Prophet was standing undecided about the direction of Meccah, the Archangel Gabriel removed all obstructions to his vision. There again we went through the two-bow prayer, the Supplication, the Testification, and the Fatihah, under difficulties, for people mobbed us excessively. During our devotions, I vainly attempted to decipher a Cufic inscription fixed in the wall above and on the right of the Mihrab, — my regret however, at this failure was transitory, the character not being of an ancient date. Then we left the Riwak, and despite the morning sun which shone fiercely with a sickly heat, we went to the open area where stands the “Mabrak al-Nakah,” or the “Place of kneeling of the she-Dromedary.23” This, the exact spot where Al-Kaswa sat down, is covered with a diminutive dome of cut stone, supported by four stone pillars: the building is about eight feet high and a little less in length and in breadth. It has the appearance of being modern. On the floor, which was raised by steps above the level of the ground, lay, as usual, a bit of dirty matting, upon which we again went through, the ceremonies above detailed.

Then issuing from the canopy into the sun, a little outside the Riwak and close to the Mabrak, we prayed upon the “Makan al-Ayat,24” or the “Place of Signs.” Here was revealed to Mohammed a passage in the Koran especially alluding to the purity of the place and of the people of Kuba, “a Temple founded in Purity from its first Day;” and again: “there live Men who love to be cleansed, and verily Allah delights in the Clean.” The Prophet exclaimed in admiration, “O ye Sons of Amr! what have ye done to deserve all this Praise and Beneficence?” when the people offered him an explanation of their personal cleanliness which I do not care to repeat. The temple of Kuba from that day took a fresh title-Masjid al-Takwa, or the “Mosque of Piety.”

Having finished our prayers and ceremonies at the Mosque of Piety, we fought our way out through a crowd of importunate beggars, and turning a few paces to the left, halted near a small chapel adjoining the South-West angle of the larger temple. We there stood at a grated window in the Western wall, and recited a Supplication, looking the while reverently at a dark dwarf archway under which the Lady Fatimah used to sit grinding grain in a hand-mill. The Mosque in consequence bears the name of Sittna Fatimah. A surly-looking Khadim, or guardian stood at the door demanding a dollar in the most authoritative Arab tone-we therefore did not enter.

At Al-Madinah and at Meccah the traveller’s hand must be perpetually in his pouch: no stranger in Paris or in London is more surely or more severely taken in. Already I began to fear that my eighty pounds would not suffice for all the expenses of sight-seeing, and the apprehension was justified by the sequel. My only friend was the boy Mohammed, who displayed a fiery economy that brought him into considerable disrepute with his countrymen. They saw with emotion that he was preaching parsimony to me solely that I might have more money to spend at Meccah under his auspices. This being palpably the case, I threw all the blame of penuriousness upon the young Machiavel’s shoulders, and resolved, as he had taken charge of my finances at Al-Madinah, so at Meccah to administer them myself.

After praying at the window, to the great disgust of the Khadim, who openly asserted that we were “low fellows,” we passed through some lanes lined with beggars and Badawi children, till we came to a third little Mosque situated due South of the larger one. This is called the Masjid Arafat, and is erected upon a mound also named Tall Arafat, because on one occasion the Prophet, being unable to visit the Holy Mountain at the pilgrimage season, stood there, saw through the intervening space, and in spirit performed the ceremony. Here also we looked into a window instead of opening the door with a silver key, and the mesquin appearance of all within prevented my regretting the necessity of economy. In India or in Sind every village would have a better Mosque. Our last visit was to a fourth chapel, the Masjid Ali, so termed because the Apostle’s son-in-law had a house upon this spot.25 After praying there-and terribly hot the little hole was! — we repaired to the last place of visitation at Kuba-a large deep well called the Bir al-Aris, in a garden to the West of the Mosque of Piety, with a little oratory adjoining it. A Persian wheel was going drowsily round, and the cool water fell into a tiny pool, whence it whirled and bubbled away in childish mimicry of a river. The music sounded sweet in my ears; I stubbornly refused to do any more praying-though Shaykh Hamid, for form’s sake, reiterated with parental emphasis, “how very wrong it was,” — and I sat down, as the Prophet himself did not disdain to do, with the resolution of enjoying on the brink of the well a few moments of unwonted “Kayf.” The heat was overpowering, though it was only nine o’clock, the sound of the stream was soothing, that water-wheel was creaking a lullaby, and the limes and pomegranates, gently rustling, shed voluptuous fragrance through the morning air. I fell asleep, and-wondrous the contrast! — dreamed that I was once more standing

“By the wall whereon hangeth the crucified vine,”

looking upon the valley of the Lianne, with its glaucous seas and grey skies, and banks here and there white with snow.

The Bir al-Aris,26 so called after a Jew of Al-Madinah, is one which the Apostle delighted to visit. He would sit upon its brink with his bare legs hanging over the side, and his companions used to imitate his example. This practice caused a sad disaster. In the sixth year of his caliphate, Osman, according to Abulfeda and Yakut, dropped from his finger the propheti[c] ring which, engraved in three lines with “Mohammed-Apostle-(of) Allah,” had served to seal the letters sent to neighbouring kings, and had descended to the first three successors.27 The precious article was not recovered after three days’ search, and the well was thenceforward called Bir al-Khatim-of the Seal Ring. It is also called the Bir al-Taflat-of Saliva28 — because the Prophet honoured it by expectoration, as, by-the-bye, he seems to have done to almost all the wells in Al-Madinah. The effect of the operation upon the Bir al-Aris, says the historians, was to sweeten the water, which before was salt. Their testimony, however, did not prevent my detecting a pronounced medicinal taste in the lukewarm draught drawn for me by Shaykh Hamid. In Mohammed’s days the total number of wells is recorded to have been twenty: most of them have long since disappeared; but there still remain seven, whose waters were drunk by the Prophet, and which, in consequence, the Zair is directed to visit.29 They are known by the classical title of Saba Abar, or the seven wells, and their names are included in this couplet:

“Aris and Ghars, and Rumah and Buza’at

And Busat, with Bayruha and Ihn.”30

After my sleep, which was allowed to last until a pipe or two of Latakia had gone round the party, we remounted our animals. Returning towards Al-Madinah, my companions pointed out to me, on the left of the village, a garden called Al-Madshuniyah. It contains a quarry of the yellow loam or bole-earth, called by the Arabs, Tafl, by the Persians, Gil-i-Sarshui, and by the Sindians, Metu. It is used as soap in many parts of the East, and, mixed with oil, it is supposed to cool the body, and to render the skin fresh and supple. It is related that the Prophet cured a Badawi of the Benu Haris tribe, of fever, by washing him with a pot of Tafl dissolved in water, and hence the earth of Al-Madinah derived its healing fame. As far as I could learn from the Madani, this clay is no longer valued by them, either medicinally or cosmetically: the only use they could mention was its being eaten by the fair sex, when in the peculiar state described by “chlorosis.”

1 The Baradiyah or gugglets of Al-Madinah are large and heavy, of a reddish-grey colour, and celebrated for cooling water, a property not possessed by those of Meccan fabric.

2 I afterwards found reason to doubt this location. Ibn Jubayr (12th century), places it an arrow-shot from the Westward wall of Al-Madinah, and seems to have seen it. M.C. de Perceval states, I know not upon whose authority, that it was dug to protect the North-west, the North, and the North-eastern sides of the town: this is rendered highly improbable by the features of the ground. The learned are generally agreed that all traces of the moat had disappeared before our 15th century.

3 In Egypt, the lower branches of the date are lopped off about Christmas time to increase the flavour of the fruit; and the people believe that without this “Taklim,” as it is called, the tree would die. In Upper Egypt, however, as at Al-Madinah, the fronds are left untouched.

4 The visitor from Al-Madinah would be badly received by the women of his family, if he did not present them on his return with a few boxes of dates, some strings of the same fruit, and skins full of henna powder. Even the Olema allow such articles to be carried away, although they strictly forbid keepsakes of earth or stone.

5 This fruit must not be confounded with the enucleated conserve of dates, which in Arabia, as in Egypt, is known by the name of Ajwah. The Arabs infinitely despise the stuff sold at Alexandria and Cairo, declaring that it is fit only for cows. The Ajwah of the Oases, particularly of Siwah, is of excellent quality.

6 So in A.D. 1272 the Crucifix spoke to St. Thomas Aquinas. Superstitions are of no age or country.

7 At Al-Madinah —

12 Dirhams. . . . . . . . . . . (drams). . . . . . . . make 1 Wukkiyah (ounce).
20 Wukkiyah. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Ratl (pound).
33 Wukkiyah and 3 . . . (drams). . . . . . . . . . . 1 Wukkah (less than 2 lbs).
4 Wukkah. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 1 Mudd.
24 Mudd. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Ardeb.

This Ratl, or pound, is the larger one applied to particular articles of commerce-such as meat, vegetables, and clarified butter; coffee, rice, soap, &c., are sold by the smaller Ratl of Meccah, equal to 140 dirhams. In Egypt, the Ratl is 144 Dirhams or 12 Wukkiyahs, — about 1 lb. 2 oz. and 8 dwts. troy.

8 “Necklace of Syria.” I was told they derive this name from the place where they are made. “Al-Safra” (on the Meccah road) being also called Al-Sham (Damascus).

9 This is a translation of the Arab word “Tazkir,” which is certainly more appropriate than our “caprification” applied to dates.

10 The male tree is known by its sterility. In some countries only the fecundating pollen is scattered over the female flower, and this doubtless must have been Nature’s method of impregnating the date.

11 The resemblance is probably produced by the similarity of treatment. At Al-Madinah, as in Italy, the vine is “married” to some tall tree, which, selfish as a husband, appropriates to itself the best of everything, — sun, breeze, and rain.

12 This thorn (the Rhamnus Nabeca, or Zizyphus Spina Christi) is supposed to be that which crowned the Saviour’s head. There are Mimosas in Syria; but no tree, save the fabled Zakhum, could produce the terrible apparatus with which certain French painters of the modern school have attempted to heighten the terrors of the scene.

13 For what reason I am entirely unable to guess, our dictionaries translate the word Sidr (the literary name of the tree that bears the Nebek) “Lote-tree.” No wonder that believers in “Homeric writ” feel their anger aroused by so poor a realisation of the beautiful myth.

14 The only pears in Al-Hijaz, I believe, are to be found at Taif, to which place they were transplanted from Egypt.

15 Travellers always remark the curious pot-bellied children on the banks of the Nile. This conformation is admired by the Egyptians, who consider it a sign of strength and a promise of fine growth.

16 I believe Kuba to be about three miles S.S.E. of Al-Madinah; but Al-Idrisi, Ibn Haukal, and Ibn Jubayr all agree in saying two miles.

17 Osman, the fourth Companion, was absent at this time, not having returned from the first or Little Flight to Abyssinia.

18 Some believe that in this Mosque the direction of prayer was altered from Jerusalem to Meccah, and they declare, as will presently be seen, that the Archangel Gabriel himself pointed out the new line. M.C. de Perceval forgets his usual accuracy when he asserts “le Mihrab de la Mosquee de Medine, qui fut d’abord place au Nord, fut transfere au Midi: et la Mosquee prit le nom de ‘Masjid-el-Kiblatayn,’ Mosquee des deux Kiblah. In the first place, the Mihrab is the invention of a later date, about ninety years; and, secondly, the title of Al-Kiblatyn is never now given to the Mosque of Al-Madinah.

19 This degrading report caused certain hypocrites to build a kind of rival chapel called the Mosque Zarar. It was burnt to the ground shortly after its erection, and all known of it is, that it stood near Kuba.

20 Some say on Monday, probably because on that day Mohammed alighted at Kuba. But the present practice of Al-Islam, handed down from generation to generation, is to visit it on the Saturday.

21 There is on this day at Kuba a regular Ziyarat or visitation. The people pray in the Harim of Al-Madinah, after which they repair to the Kuba Mosque, and go through the ceremonies which in religious efficacy equal an Umrah or Lesser pilgrimage. In books I have read that the 15th of Ramazan is the proper day.

22 This is believed to be the spot where the Prophet performed his first Rukat, or prayer-bow.

23 “Mabrak” is the locative noun from the triliteral root “Baraka-he blessed, or he (the camel) knelt upon the ground.” Perhaps this philological connection may have determined Mohammed to consider the kneeling of the dromedary a sign that Allah had blessed the spot.

24 “Ayat” here means a verset of the Koran. Some authors apply the above quoted lines to the Prophet’s Mosque at Al-Madinah exclusively, others to both buildings.

25 Ibn Jubayr informs us that Abu Bakr, Ayishah, and Omar had habitations at Kuba.

26 Some authors mention a second Bir al-Aris, belonging in part to the Caliph Osman. According to Yakut, “Aris” is the Hebrew or Syriac word for a peasant; he quotes the plural form Arisun and Ararisah.

27 Others assert, with less probability, that the article in question was lost by one Ma’akah, a favourite of Osman. As that ill-fated Caliph’s troubles began at the time of this accident, the ring is generally compared to Solomon’s. Our popular authors, who assert that Mohammed himself lost the ring, are greatly in error.

28 According to some authors, Mohammed drew a bucket of water, drank part of the contents, spat into the rest, and poured it back into the well, which instantly became sweet. Ibn Jubayr applies the epithet Bir Al-Taflat peculiarly to the Aris well: many other authors are not so exact.

29 The pious perform the Lesser Ablution upon the brink of the seven wells, and drink of the remnant of the water in “Tabarruk” or to secure the blessings of God.

30 Some alter the 3rd, the 5th, and the 7th names to Bir al-Nabi, a well in the Kuba gardens, Bir al-Ghurbal, and Bir al-Fukayyir, where the Prophet, together with Salman the Persian and others of his companions, planted date trees. The Bir al-Aris has already been described. The Bir al-Ghars, Gharas or Ghurs, so called, it is said, from the place where it was sunk, about half a mile N.E. of the Kuba Mosque, is a large well with an abundance of water. Mohammed used to perform ablution on its brink, and directed Ali to wash his corpse with seven skins full of the water. The Bir Rumah is a large well with a spring at the bottom, dug in the Wady al-Akik, to the north of the Mosque Al-Kiblatayn. It is called “Kalib Mazni” (the old well of Mazni), in this tradition; “the best of old wells is the old well of Mazni.” And ancient it must be if the legend say true, that when Abu Karb besieged Al-Madinah (A.D. 495), he was relieved of sickness by drinking its produce. Some assert that it afforded the only sweet water in Al-Madinah when the Prophet arrived there. The town becoming crowded by an influx of visitors, this water was sold by its owner, a man of the Benu Ghaffar tribe, or according to others, by one Mazni, a Jew. Osman at last bought it by paying upwards of 100 camels. The Bir Buza’at, or Biza’at, or Bisa’at, is in the Nakhil or palm plantations, outside the Bab al-Shami or North-western gate of Al-Madinah on the right of the road leading to Ohod. Whoever washes in its waters three times shall be healed. The Bir Busat is near the Bakia cemetery, on the left of the road leading to Kuba. The Prophet used to bathe in the water, and he declared it healthy to the skin. The Bir Bayruha, under whose trees the Prophet was fond of sitting, lies outside the Bab Dar al-Ziyafah, leading to Mount Ohod. The Kamus gives the word “Bayruha upon the measure of Fayluha.” Some authorities upon the subject of Ziyarat, write Bayruha, “Bir Ha,” — the well of Ha, and variously suppose “Ha” to be the name of a man, a woman, or a place. Yahut mentions other pronunciations: “Bariha,” “Bariha,” “Bayriha,” &c. The Bir Ihn is in a large garden E. of Kuba. Little is said in books about this well, and the people of Al-Madinah do not know the name.


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