Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Chapter XXIX.

The Ceremonies of the Yaum Arafat, or the Second Day.

THE morning of the ninth Zu’l Hijjah (Tuesday, 13th Sept.) was ushered in by military sounds: a loud discharge of cannon warned us to arise and to prepare for the ceremonies of this eventful day.

After ablution and prayer, I proceeded with the boy Mohammed to inspect the numerous consecrated sites on the “Mountain of Mercy.” In the first place, we repaired to a spot on rising ground to the south-east, and within a hundred yards of the hill. It is called “Jami al-Sakhrah1”— the Assembling Place of the Rock — from two granite boulders upon which the Prophet stood to perform “Talbiyat.” There is nothing but a small enclosure of dwarf and whitewashed stone walls, divided into halves for men and women by a similar partition, and provided with a niche to direct prayer towards Meccah. Entering by steps, we found crowds of devotees and guardians, who for a consideration offered mats and carpets. After a two-bow prayer and a long supplication opposite the niche, we retired to the inner compartment, stood upon a boulder and shouted the “Labbayk.”

Thence, threading our way through many obstacles of tent and stone, we ascended the broad flight of rugged steps which winds up the southern face of the rocky hill. Even at this early hour it was crowded with pilgrims, principally Badawin and Wahhabis, who had secured favourable positions for hearing the sermon. Already their green flag was planted upon the summit close to Adam’s Place of Prayer. The wilder Arabs insist that “Wukuf” (standing) should take place upon the Hill. This is not done by the more civilised, who hold that all the plain within the Alamayn ranks as Arafat. According to Ali Bey, the Maliki school is not allowed to stand upon the mountain. About half way up I counted sixty-six steps, and remarked that they became narrower and steeper. Crowds of beggars instantly seized the pilgrims’ robes, and strove to prevent our entering a second enclosure. This place, which resembles the former, except that it has but one compartment and no boulders, is that whence Mohammed used to address his followers; and here, to the present day, the Khatib, or preacher, in imitation of the “Last of the Prophets,” sitting upon a dromedary, recites the Arafat sermon. Here, also, we prayed a two-bow prayer, and gave a small sum to the guardian.

Thence ascending with increased difficulty to the hill-top, we arrived at a large stuccoed platform,2 with prayer-niche and a kind of obelisk, mean and badly built of lime and granite stone, whitewashed, and conspicuous from afar. It is called the Makam, or Mada’a Sayyidna Adam.3 Here we performed the customary ceremonies amongst a crowd of pilgrims, and then we walked down the little hill.

Close to the plain we saw the place where the Egyptian and Damascus Mahmils stand during the sermon; and, descending the wall that surrounds Arafat by a steep and narrow flight of coarse stone steps, we found on our right the fountain which supplies the place with water. It bubbles from the rock, and is exceedingly pure, as such water generally is in Al-Hijaz.

Our excursion employed us longer than the description requires — nine o’clock had struck before we reached the plain. All were in a state of excitement. Guns fired incessantly. Horsemen and camel-riders galloped about without apparent object. Even the women and the children stood and walked, too restless even to sleep. Arrived at the tent, I was unpleasantly surprised to find a new visitor in an old acquaintance, Ali ibn Ya Sin the Zemzemi. He had lost his mule, and, wandering in search of its keepers, he unfortunately fell in with our party. I had solid reasons to regret the mishap — he was far too curious and too observant to suit my tastes. On the present occasion, he, being uncomfortable, made us equally so. Accustomed to all the terrible “neatness” of an elderly damsel in Great Britain, a few specks of dirt upon the rugs, and half a dozen bits of cinder upon the ground, sufficed to give him attacks of “nerves.”

That day we breakfasted late, for night must come before we could eat again. After mid-day prayer we performed ablutions; some the greater, others the less, in preparation for the “Wukuf,” or Standing. From noon onwards the hum and murmur of the multitude increased, and people were seen swarming about in all directions.

A second discharge of cannon (at about 3.15 P.M.) announced the approach of Al-Asr, the afternoon prayer, and almost immediately we heard the Naubat, or band preceding the Sharif’s procession, as he wended his way towards the mountain. Fortunately my tent was pitched close to the road, so that without trouble I had a perfect view of the scene. First swept a cloud of mace-bearers, who, as usual on such occasions, cleared the path with scant ceremony. They were followed by the horsemen of the Desert, wielding long and tufted spears. Immediately behind them came the Sharif’s led horses, upon which I fixed a curious eye. All were highly bred, and one, a brown Nijdi with black points, struck me as the perfection of an Arab. They were small, and all were apparently of the northern race.4 Of their old crimson-velvet caparisons the less said the better; no little Indian Nawab would show aught so shabby on state occasions.

After the chargers paraded a band of black slaves on foot bearing huge matchlocks; and immediately preceded by three green and two red flags, came the Sharif, riding in front of his family and courtiers. The prince, habited in a simple white Ihram, and bare-headed, mounted a mule; the only sign of his rank was a large green and gold embroidered umbrella, held over him by a slave. The rear was brought up by another troop of Badawin on horses and camels. Behind this procession were the tents, whose doors and walls were scarcely visible for the crowd; and the picturesque background was the granite hill, covered, wherever standing-room was to be found, with white-robed pilgrims shouting “Labbayk,” and waving the skirts of their glistening garments violently over their heads.

Slowly and solemnly the procession advanced towards the hill. Exactly at the hour Al-Asr, the two Mahmils had taken their station side by side on a platform in the lower slope. That of Damascus could be distinguished as the narrower and the more ornamented of the pair. The Sharif placed himself with his standard-bearers and his retinue a little above the Mahmils, within hearing of the preacher. The pilgrims crowded up to the foot of the mountain: the loud “Labbayk” of the Badawin and Wahhabis5 fell to a solemn silence, and the waving of white robes ceased — a sign that the preacher had begun the Khutbat al-Wakfah, or Sermon of the Standing (upon Arafat). From my tent I could distinguish the form of the old man upon his camel, but the distance was too great for ear to reach.

But how came I to be at the tent?

A short confession will explain. They will shrive me who believe in inspired Spenser’s lines —

“And every spirit, as it is more pure,

And hath in it the more of heavenly light,

So it the fairer body doth procure

To habit in.”—

The evil came of a “fairer body.” I had prepared en cachette a slip of paper, and had hid in my Ihram a pencil destined to put down the heads of this rarely heard discourse. But unhappily that red cashmere shawl was upon my shoulders. Close to us sat a party of fair Meccans, apparently belonging to the higher classes, and one of these I had already several times remarked. She was a tall girl, about eighteen years old, with regular features, a skin somewhat citrine-coloured, but soft and clear, symmetrical eyebrows, the most beautiful eyes, and a figure all grace. There was no head thrown back, no straightened neck, no flat shoulders, nor toes turned out — in fact, no “elegant” barbarisms: the shape was what the Arabs love, soft, bending, and relaxed, as a woman’s figure ought to be. Unhappily she wore, instead of the usual veil, a “Yashmak” of transparent muslin, bound round the face; and the chaperone, mother, or duenna, by whose side she stood, was apparently a very unsuspicious or complaisant old person. Flirtilla fixed a glance of admiration upon my cashmere. I directed a reply with interest at her eyes. She then by the usual coquettish gesture, threw back an inch or two of head-veil, disclosing broad bands of jetty hair, crowning a lovely oval. My palpable admiration of the new charm was rewarded by a partial removal of the Yashmak, when a dimpled mouth and a rounded chin stood out from the envious muslin. Seeing that my companions were safely employed, I entered upon the dangerous ground of raising hand to forehead. She smiled almost imperceptibly, and turned away. The pilgrim was in ecstasy.

The sermon was then half over. I was resolved to stay upon the plain and see what Flirtilla would do. Grace to the cashmere, we came to a good understanding. The next page will record my disappointment — that evening the pilgrim resumed his soiled cotton cloth, and testily returned the red shawl to the boy Mohammed.

The sermon always lasts till near sunset, or about three hours. At first it was spoken amid profound silence. Then loud, scattered “Amins” (Amens) and volleys of “Labbayk” exploded at uncertain intervals[.] At last the breeze brought to our ears a purgatorial chorus of cries, sobs, and shrieks. Even my party thought proper to be affected: old Ali rubbed his eyes, which in no case unconnected with dollars could by any amount of straining be made to shed even a crocodile’s tear; and the boy Mohammed wisely hid his face in the skirt of his Rida. Presently the people, exhausted by emotion, began to descend the hill in small parties; and those below struck their tents and commenced loading their camels, although at least an hour’s sermon remained. On this occassion, however, all hurry to be foremost, as the “race from Arafat” is enjoyed by none but the Badawin.

Although we worked with a will, our animals were not ready to move before sunset, when the preacher gave the signal of “Israf,” or permission to depart. The pilgrims,

“— swaying to and fro,

Like waves of a great sea, that in mid shock

Confound each other, white with foam and fear,”

rushed down the hill with a “Labbayk” sounding like a blast, and took the road to Muna. Then I saw the scene which has given to this part of the ceremonies the name of Al-Daf’a min Arafat — the “Hurry from Arafat.” Every man urged his beast with might and main: it was sunset; the plain bristled with tent-pegs, litters were crushed, pedestrians were trampled, camels were overthrown: single combats with sticks and other weapons took place; here a woman, there a child, and there an animal were lost; briefly, it was a chaotic confusion.

To my disgust, old Ali insisted upon bestowing his company upon me. He gave over his newly found mule to the boy Mohammed, bidding him take care of the beast, and mounted with me in the Shugduf. I had persuaded Shaykh Mas’ud, with a dollar, to keep close in rear of the pretty Meccan; and I wanted to sketch the Holy Hill. The senior began to give orders about the camel — I, counter-orders. The camel was halted. I urged it on: old Ali directed it to be stopped. Meanwhile the charming face that smiled at me from the litter grew dimmer and dimmer; the more I stormed, the less I was listened to — a string of camels crossed our path — I lost sight of the beauty. Then we began to advance. Again, my determination to sketch seemed likely to fail before the Zemzemi’s little snake’s eye. After a few minutes’ angry search for expedients, one suggested itself. “Effendi!” said old Ali, “sit quiet; there is danger here.” I tossed about like one suffering from evil conscience or from the colic. “Effendi!” shrieked the senior, “what art thou doing? Thou wilt be the death of us.” “Wallah!” I replied with a violent plunge, “it is all thy fault! There!” (another plunge)—“put thy beard out of the other opening, and Allah will make it easy to us.” In the ecstasy of fear my tormentor turned his face, as he was bidden, towards the camel’s head. A second halt ensued, when I looked out of the aperture in rear, and made a rough drawing of the Mountain of Mercy.

At the Akhshabayn, double lines of camels, bristling with litters, clashed with a shock more noisy than the meeting of torrents. It was already dark: no man knew what he was doing. The guns roared their brazen notes, re-echoed far and wide by the harsh voices of the stony hills. A shower of rockets bursting in the air threw into still greater confusion the timorous mob of women and children. At the same time martial music rose from the masses of Nizam and the stouter-hearted pilgrims were not sparing of their Labbayk6 and “id kum Mubarak7”—“May your Festival be happy!”

After the pass of the Two Rugged Hills, the road widened, and old Ali, who, during the bumping, had been in a silent convulsion of terror, recovered speech and spirits. This change he evidenced by beginning to be troublesome once more. Again I resolved to be his equal. Exclaiming, “My eyes are yellow with hunger!” I seized a pot full of savoury meat which the old man had previously stored for supper, and, without further preamble, began to eat it greedily, at the same time ready to shout with laughter at the mumbling and grumbling sounds that proceeded from the darkness of the litter. We were at least three hours on the road before reaching Muzdalifah, and being fatigued, we resolved to pass the night there.8 The Mosque was brilliantly illuminated, but my hungry companions9 apparently thought more of supper and of sleep than of devotion.10 Whilst the tent was being raised, the Indians prepared our food, boiled our coffee, filled our pipes, and spread our rugs. Before sleeping each man collected for himself seven “Jamrah”— bits of granite the size of a small bean.11 Then, weary with emotion and exertion, all lay down except the boy Mohammed, who preceded us to find encamping ground at Muna. Old Ali, in lending his mule, made the most stringent arrangements with the youth about the exact place and the exact hour of meeting — an act of simplicity at which I could not but smile. The night was by no means peaceful or silent. Lines of camels passed us every ten minutes, and the shouting of travellers continued till near dawn. Pilgrims ought to have nighted at the Mosque, but, as in Burckhardt’s time, so in mine, baggage was considered to be in danger thereabouts, and consequently most of the devotees spent the sermon-hours in brooding over their boxes.

1 Ali Bey calls it “Jami al-Rahmah”— of mercy.

2 Here was a small chapel, which the Wahhabis were demolishing when Ali Bey was at Meccah. It has not been rebuilt. Upon this spot the Prophet, according to Burckhardt, used to stand during the ceremonies.

3 Burckhardt gives this name to a place a little way on the left and about forty steps up the mountain.

4 In Solomon’s time the Egyptian horse cost 150 silver shekels, which, if the greater shekel be meant, would still be about the average price, £18. Abbas, the late Pasha, did his best to buy first-rate Arab stallions: on one occasion he sent a mission to Al-Madinah for the sole purpose of fetching a rare work on farriery. Yet it is doubted whether he ever had a first-rate Nijdi. A Badawi sent to Cairo by one of the chiefs of Nijd, being shown by the viceroy’s order over the stables, on being asked his opinion of the blood, replied bluntly, to the great man’s disgust, that they did not contain a single thoroughbred[.] He added an apology on the part of his laird for the animals he had brought from Arabia, saying, that neither Sultan nor Shaykh could procure colts of the best strain. For none of these horses would a staunch admirer of the long-legged monster called in England a thoroughbred give twenty pounds. They are mere “rats,” short and stunted, ragged and fleshless, with rough coats and a slouching walk. But the experienced glance notes at once the fine snake-like head, ears like reeds, wide and projecting nostrils, large eyes, fiery and soft alternately, broad brow, deep base of skull, wide chest, crooked tail, limbs padded with muscle, and long elastic pasterns. And the animal put out to speed soon displays the wondrous force of blood. In fact, when buying Arabs, there are only three things to be considered — blood, blood, and again blood. In Marco Polo’s time, Aden supplied the Indian market. The state of the tribes round the “Eye of Yaman” has effectually closed the road against horse-caravans for many years past. It is said that the Zu Mohammed and the Zu Hosayn, sub-families of the Benu Yam, a large tribe living around and north of Sana’a, in Al-Yaman, have a fine large breed called Al-Jaufi, and the clan Al-Aulaki, ([Arabic]), rear animals celebrated for swiftness and endurance. The other races are stunted, and some Arabs declare that the air of Al-Yaman causes a degeneracy in the first generation. The Badawin, on the contrary, uphold their superiority, and talk with the utmost contempt of the African horse. In India we now depend for Arab blood upon the Persian Gulf, and the consequences of monopoly display themselves in an increased price for inferior animals. Our studs are generally believed to be sinks for rupees. The Governments of India now object, it is said, to rearing, at a great cost, animals distinguished by nothing but ferocity. It is evident that Al-Hijaz never can stock the Indian market. Whether Al-Nijd will supply us when the transit becomes safer, is a consideration which time only can decide. Meanwhile it would be highly advisable to take steps for restoring the Aden trade by entering into closer relations with the Imam of Sana’a and the Badawi chiefs in the North of Al-Yaman.

5 I obtained the following note upon the ceremonies of Wahhabi pilgrimage from one of their princes, Khalid Bey:— The Wahhabi (who, it must be borne in mind, calls himself a Muwahhid, or Unitarian, in opposition to Mushrik — Polytheist — any other sect but his own) at Meccah follows out his two principal tenets, public prayer for men daily, for women on Fridays, and rejection of the Prophet’s mediation. Imitating Mohammed, he spends the first night of pilgrimage at Muna, stands upon the hill Arafat, and, returning to Muna, passes three whole days there. He derides other Moslems, abridges and simplifies the Ka’abah ceremonies, and, if possible, is guided in his devotions by one of his own sect.

6 This cry is repeated till the pilgrim reaches Muna; not afterwards.

7 Another phrase is “Antum min al-aidin”—“May you be of the keepers of festival!”

8 Hanafis usually follow the Prophet’s example in nighting at Muzdalifah; in the evening after prayers they attend at the Mosque, listen to the discourse, and shed plentiful tears. Most Shafe’is spend only a few hours at Muzdalifah.

9 We failed to buy meat at Arafat, after noon, although the bazar was large and well stocked; it is usual to eat flesh there, consequently it is greedily bought up at an exorbitant price.

10 Some sects consider the prayer at Muzdalifah a matter of vital importance.

11 Jamrah is a “small pebble;” it is also called “Hasa,” in the plural, “Hasayat.”

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