Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Chapter XXXIII.

Places of Pious Visitation at Meccah.

THE traveller has little work at the Holy City. With exceptions of Jabal Nur and Jabal Saur,1 all the places of pious visitation lie inside or close outside the city. It is well worth the while to ascend Abu Kubays; not so much to inspect the Makan al-Hajar and the Shakk al-Kamar,2 as to obtain an excellent bird’s-eye view of the Harim and the parts adjacent.3

The boy Mohammed had applied himself sedulously to commerce after his return home; and had actually been seen by Shaykh Nur sitting in a shop and selling small curiosities. With my plenary consent I was made over to Abdullah, his brother. On the morning of the 15th Zu’l Hijjah (19th Sept.) he hired two asses, and accompanied me as guide to the holy places.

Mounting our animals, we followed the road before described to the Jannat al-Ma’ala, the sacred cemetery of Meccah. A rough wall, with a poor gateway, encloses a patch of barren and grim-looking ground, at the foot of the chain which bounds the city’s western suburb, and below Al-Akabah, the gap through which Khalid bin Walid entered Meccah with the triumphant Prophet.4 Inside are a few ignoble, whitewashed domes: all are of modern construction, for here, as at Al-Bakia, further north, the Wahhabis indulged their levelling propensities.5 The rest of the ground shows some small enclosures belonging to particular houses — equivalent to our family vaults — and the ruins of humble tombs, lying in confusion, whilst a few parched aloes spring from between the bricks and stones.6

The cemetery is celebrated in local history: here the body of Abdullah bin Zubayr was exposed by order of Hajjaj bin Yusuf; and the number of saints buried in it has been so numerous, that even in the twelfth century many had fallen into oblivion. It is visited by the citizens on Fridays, and by women on Thursdays, to prevent that meeting of sexes which in the East is so detrimental to public decorum. I shall be sparing in my description of the Ma’ala ceremonies, as the prayers, prostrations, and supplications are almost identical with those performed at Al-Bakia.

After a long supplication, pronounced standing at the doorway, we entered, and sauntered about the burial-ground. On the left of the road stood an enclosure, which, according to Abdullah, belonged to his family. The door and stone slabs, being valuable to the poor, had been removed, and the graves of his forefathers appeared to have been invaded by the jackal. He sighed, recited a Fatihah with tears in his eyes, and hurried me away from the spot.

The first dome which we visited covered the remains of Abd al-Rahman, the son of Abu Bakr, one of the Worthies of Al-Islam, equally respected by Sunni and by Shi’ah. The tomb was a simple catafalque, spread with the usual cloth. After performing our devotions at this grave, and distributing a few piastres to guardians and beggars, we crossed the main path, and found ourselves at the door of the cupola, beneath which sleeps the venerable Khadijah, Mohammed’s first wife. The tomb was covered with a green cloth, and the walls of the little building were decorated with written specimens of religious poetry. A little beyond it, we were shown into another dome, the resting-place of Sitt Aminah, the Prophet’s mother.7 Burckhardt chronicles its ill-usage by the fanatic Wahhabis: it has now been rebuilt in that frugal style that characterizes the architecture of Al-Hijaz. An exceedingly garrulous old woman came to the door, invited us in, and superintended our devotions; at the end of which she sprinkled rosewater upon my face. When asked for a cool draught, she handed me a metal saucer, whose contents smelt strongly of mastic, earnestly directing me to drink it in a sitting posture. This tomb she informed us is the property of a single woman, who visits it every evening, receives the contributions of the Faithful, prays, sweeps the pavement, and dusts the furniture. We left five piastres for this respectable maiden, and gratified the officious crone with another shilling. She repaid us by signalling to some score of beggars that a rich pilgrim had entered the Ma’ala, and their importunities fairly drove me out of the hallowed walls.

Leaving the Jannat al-Ma’ala, we returned towards the town, and halted on the left side of the road, at a mean building called the Masjid al-Jinn (of the Genii). Here was revealed the seventy-second chapter of the Koran, called after the name of the mysterious fire-drakes who paid fealty to the Prophet. Descending a flight of steps — for this Mosque, like all ancient localities at Meccah, is as much below as above ground — we entered a small apartment containing water-pots for drinking and all the appurtenances of ablution. In it is shown the Mauza al-Khatt (place of the writing), where Mohammed wrote a letter to Abu Mas’ud after the homage of the Jinnis. A second and interior flight of stone steps led to another diminutive oratory, where the Prophet used to pray and receive the archangel Gabriel. Having performed a pair of bows, which caused the perspiration to burst forth as if in a Russian bath, I paid a few piastres, and issued from the building with much satisfaction.

We had some difficulty in urging our donkeys through the crowded street, called the Zukak al-Hajar. Presently we arrived at the Bayt al-Nabi, the Prophet’s old house, in which he lived with the Sitt Khadijah. Here, says Burckhardt, the Lady Fatimah first saw the light8; and here, according to Ibn Jubayr, Hasan and Hosayn were born. Dismounting at the entrance, we descended a deep flight of steps, and found ourselves in a spacious hall, vaulted, and of better appearance than most of the sacred edifices at Meccah. In the centre, and well railed round, stood a closet of rich green and gold stuffs, in shape not unlike an umbrella-tent. A surly porter guarded the closed door, which some respectable people vainly attempted to open by honeyed words: a whisper from Abdullah solved the difficulty. I was directed to lie at full length upon my stomach, and to kiss a black-looking stone — said to be the lower half of the Lady Fatimah’s quern9 — fixed at the bottom of a basin of the same material. Thence we repaired to a corner, and recited a two-bow at the place where the Prophet used to pray the Sunnat and the Nafilah, or supererogatory devotions.10

Again remounting, we proceeded at a leisurely pace homewards, and on the way passed through the principal slave-market. It is a large street roofed with matting, and full of coffee-houses. The merchandise sat in rows, parallel with the walls. The prettiest girls occupied the highest benches, below were the plainer sort, and lowest of all the boys. They were all gaily dressed in pink and other light-coloured muslins, with transparent veils over their heads; and, whether from the effect of such unusual splendour, or from the re-action succeeding to their terrible land-journey and sea-voyage, they appeared perfectly happy, laughing loudly, talking unknown tongues, and quizzing purchasers, even during the delicate operation of purchasing. There were some pretty Gallas, douce-looking Abyssinians, and Africans of various degrees of hideousness, from the half-Arab Somal to the baboon-like Sawahili. The highest price of which I could hear was £60. And here I matured a resolve to strike, if favoured by fortune, a death-blow at a trade which is eating into the vitals of industry in Eastern Africa. The reflection was pleasant — the idea that the humble Haji, contemplating the scene from his donkey, might become the instrument of the total abolition of this pernicious traffic.11 What would have become of that pilgrim had the crowd in the slave-market guessed his intentions?

Passing through the large bazar, called the Suk al-Layl, I saw the palace of Mohammed bin Aun, quondam Prince of Meccah. It has a certain look of rude magnificence, the effect of huge hanging balconies scattered in profusion over lofty walls, claire-voies of brickwork, and courses of various-coloured stone. The owner is highly popular among the Badawin, and feared by the citizens on account of his fierce looks, courage, and treachery. They described him to me as vir bonus, bene strangulando peritus; but Mr. Cole, who knew him personally, gave him a high character for generosity and freedom from fanaticism. He seems to have some idea of the state which should “hedge in” a ruler. His palaces at Meccah, and that now turned into a Wakalah at Jeddah, are the only places in the country that can be called princely. He is now a state prisoner at Constantinople, and the Badawin pray in vain for his return.12

The other places of pious visitation at Meccah are briefly these:—

1. Natak al-Nabi, a small oratory in the Zukak al-Hajar. It derives its name from the following circumstance.

As the Prophet was knocking at the door of Abu Bakr’s shop, a stone gave him God-speed, and told him that the master was not at home. The wonderful mineral is of a reddish-black colour, about a foot in dimension, and fixed in the wall somewhat higher than a man’s head. There are servants attached to it, and the street sides are spread, as usual, with the napkins of importunate beggars.

2. Maulid al-Nabi, or the Prophet’s birthplace.13 It is a little chapel in the Suk al-Layl, not far from Mohammed bin Aun’s palace. It is below the present level of the ground, and in the centre is a kind of tent, concealing, it is said, a hole in the floor upon which Aminah sat to be delivered.

3. In the quarter “Sha’ab Ali,” near the Maulid al-Nabi, is the birthplace of Ali, another oratory below the ground. Here, as in the former place, a Maulid and a Ziyarah are held on the anniversary of the Lion’s birth.

4. Near Khadijah’s house and the Natak al-Nabi is a place called Al-Muttaka, from a stone against which the Prophet leaned when worn out with fatigue. It is much visited by devotees; and some declare that on one occasion, when the Father of Lies appeared to the Prophet in the form of an elderly man, and tempted him to sin by asserting that the Mosque-prayers were over, this stone, disclosing the fraud, caused the Fiend to flee.

5. Maulid Hamzah, a little building at the old Bab Umrah, near the Shabayki cemetery. Here was the Bazan, or channel down which the Ayn Hunayn ran into the Birkat Majid. Many authorities doubt that Hamzah was born at this place.14

The reader must now be as tired of “Pious Visitations” as I was.

Before leaving Meccah I was urgently invited to dine by old Ali bin Ya Sin, the Zemzemi; a proof that he entertained inordinate expectations, excited, it appeared, by the boy Mohammed, for the simple purpose of exalting his own dignity. One day we were hurriedly summoned about three P.M. to the senior’s house, a large building in the Zukak al-Hajar. We found it full of pilgrims, amongst whom we had no trouble to recognise our fellow-travellers, the quarrelsome old Arnaut and his impudent slave-boy. Ali met us upon the staircase, and conducted us into an upper room, where we sat upon diwans, and with pipes and coffee prepared for dinner. Presently the semicircle arose to receive a eunuch, who lodged somewhere in the house. He was a person of importance, being the guardian of some dames of high degree at Cairo and Constantinople: the highest place and the best pipe were unhesitatingly offered to and accepted by him. He sat down with dignity, answered diplomatically certain mysterious questions about the dames, and applied his blubber lips to a handsome mouthpiece of lemon-coloured amber. It was a fair lesson of humility for a man to find himself ranked beneath this high-shouldered, spindle-shanked, beardless bit of neutrality; and as such I took it duly to heart.

The dinner was served up in a Sini, a plated copper tray about six feet in circumference, and handsomely ornamented with arabesques and inscriptions. Under this was the usual Kursi, or stool, composed of mother-o’-pearl facets set in sandal-wood; and upon it a well-tinned and clean-looking service of the same material as the Sini. We began with a variety of stews — stews with spinach, stews with Bamiyah (hibiscus), and rich vegetable stews. These being removed, we dipped hands in Biryani, a meat pillaw, abounding in clarified butter; Kimah, finely chopped meat; Warak Mahshi, vine leaves filled with chopped and spiced mutton, and folded into small triangles; Kabab, or bits of roti spitted in mouthfuls upon a splinter of wood; together with a Salatah of the crispest cucumber, and various dishes of water-melon cut up into squares.

Bread was represented by the Eastern scone, but it was of superior flavour, and far better than the ill-famed Chapati of India. Our drink was water perfumed with mastic. After the meat came a Kunafah, fine vermicelli sweetened with honey, and sprinkled with powdered white sugar; several stews of apples and quinces; Muhallibah, a thin jelly made of rice, flour, milk, starch, and a little perfume; together with squares of Rahah,15 a confiture highly prized in these regions, because it comes from Constantinople. Fruits were then placed upon the table; plates full of pomegranate grains and dates of the finest flavour.16 The dinner concluded with a pillaw of rice and butter, for the easier discussion of which we were provided with carved wooden spoons.

Arabs ignore the delightful French art of prolonging a dinner. After washing your hands, you sit down, throw an embroidered napkin over your knees, and with a “Bismillah,” by way of grace, plunge your hand into the attractive dish, changing ad libitum, occasionally sucking your finger-tips as boys do lollipops, and varying that diversion by cramming a chosen morsel into a friend’s mouth. When your hunger is satisfied, you do not sit for your companions; you exclaim “Al Hamd!” edge away from the tray, wash your hands and mouth with soap, display signs of repletion, otherwise you will be pressed to eat more, seize your pipe, sip your coffee, and take your “Kayf.” Nor is it customary, in these lands, to sit together after dinner — the evening prayer cuts short the seance. Before we rose to take leave of Ali bin Ya Sin, a boy ran into the room, and displayed those infantine civilities which in the East are equivalent to begging a present. I slipped a dollar into his hand; at the sight of which he, veritable little Meccan, could not contain his joy. “The Riyal!” he exclaimed; “the Riyal! look, grandpa’, the good Effendi has given me a Riyal!” The old gentleman’s eyes twinkled with emotion: he saw how easily the coin had slipped from my fingers, and he fondly hoped that he had not seen the last piece. “Verily thou art a good young man!” he ejaculated, adding fervently, as prayers cost nothing, “May Allah further all thy desires.” A gentle patting of the back evidenced his high approval.

I never saw old Ali after that evening, but entrusted to the boy Mohammed what was considered a just equivalent for his services.

1 Jabal Nur, or Hira, has been mentioned before. Jabal Saur rises at some distance to the South of Meccah, and contains the celebrated cave in which Mohammed and Abu Bakr took refuge during the flight.

2 The tradition of these places is related by every historian. The former is the repository of the Black Stone during the Deluge. The latter, “splitting of the moon,” is the spot where the Prophet stood when, to convert the idolatrous Kuraysh, he caused half the orb of night to rise from behind Abu Kubays, and the other from Jabal Kayka’an, on the Western horizon. This silly legend appears unknown to Mohammed’s day.

3 The pilgrimage season, strictly speaking, concluded this year on the 17th September (13th Zu’l Hijjah); at which time travellers began to move towards Jeddah. Those who purposed visiting Al-Madinah would start about three weeks afterwards, and many who had leisure intended witnessing the Muharram ceremonies at Meccah.

4 This is the local tradition; it does not agree with authentic history. Muir (Life of Mahomet, vol. iv. p. 126) reminds me that Khalid and his Badawin attacked the citizens of Meccah without the Prophet’s leave. But after the attack he may have followed in his leader’s train.

5 The reason of their Vandalism has been noticed in a previous volume.

6 The Aloe here, as in Egypt, is hung, like the dried crocodile, over houses as a talisman against evil spirits. Burckhardt assigns, as a motive for it being planted in graveyards, that its name Saber denotes the patience with which the believer awaits the Last Day. And Lane remarks, “The Aloe thus hung (over the door), without earth and water, will live for several years, and even blossom: hence it is called Saber, which signifies patience.” In India it is hung up to prevent Mosquitoes entering a room. I believe the superstition to be a fragment of African fetichism. The Gallas, to the present day, plant Aloes on graves, and suppose that when the plant sprouts the deceased has been admitted into the gardens of “Wak”— the Creator. Ideas breed vocables; but seldom, except among rhymesters, does a vocable give birth to a popular idea: and in Arabic “Sibr,” as well as “Sabr,” is the name of the Aloe.

7 Burckhardt mentions the “Tomb of Umna, the mother of Mohammed,” in the Ma’ala at Meccah; and all the ciceroni agree about the locality. Yet historians place it at Abwa, where she gave up the ghost, after visiting Al-Madinah to introduce her son to his relations. And the learned believe that the Prophet refused to pray over or to intercede for his mother, she having died before Al-Islam was revealed.

8 Burckhardt calls it “Maulid Sittna Fatimah”: but the name “Kubbat el Wahy,” applied by my predecessor to this locality, is generally made synonymous with Al-Mukhtaba, the “hiding-place” where the Prophet and his followers used in dangerous times to meet for prayer.

9 So loose is local tradition, that some have confounded this quern with the Natak al-Nabi, the stone which gave God-speed to the Prophet.

10 He would of course pray the Farz, or obligatory devotions, at the shrine.

11 About a year since writing the above a firman was issued by the Porte suppressing the traffic from Central Africa. Hitherto we have respected slavery in the Red Sea, because the Turk thence drew his supplies; we are now destitute of an excuse. A single steamer would destroy the trade, and if we delay to take active measures, the people of England, who have spent millions in keeping up a West African squadron, will not hold us guiltless of negligence. NOTE TO SECOND EDITION. — The slave trade has, since these remarks were penned, been suppressed with a high hand; the Arabs of Al-Hijaz resented the measure by disowning the supremacy of the Porte, but they were soon reduced to submission.

12 The Prince was first invested with the Sharifat by Mohammed Ali of Egypt in A.D. 1827, when Yahya fled, after stabbing his nephew in the Ka’abah, to the Benu Harb Badawin. He was supported by Ahmad Pasha of Meccah, with a large army; but after the battle of Tarabah, in which Ibrahim Pasha was worsted by the Badawin, Mohammed Bin Aun, accused of acting as Sylla, was sent in honourable bondage to Cairo. He again returned to Meccah, where the rapacity of his eldest son, Abdullah, who would rob pilgrims, caused fresh misfortunes. In A.D. 1851, when Abd al-Muttalib was appointed Sharif, the Pasha was ordered to send Bin Aun to Stambul — no easy task. The Turk succeeded by a manœuvre. Mohammed’s two sons, happening to be at Jeddah, were invited to inspect a man-of-war, and were there made prisoners. Upon this the father yielded himself up; although, it is said, the flashing of the Badawi’s sabre during his embarkation made the Turks rejoice that they had won the day by state-craft. The wild men of Al-Hijaz still sing songs in honour of this Sharif. NOTE TO SECOND EDITION. — Early in 1856, when the Sharif Abd al-Muttalib was deposed, Mohammed bin Aun was sent from Constantinople to quiet the insurrection caused by the new slave laws in Al-Hijaz. In a short space of time he completely succeeded.

13 The 12th of Rabia al-Awwal, Mohammed’s birthday, is here celebrated with great festivities, feasts, prayers, and perusals of the Koran. These “Maulid” (ceremonies of nativity) are by no means limited to a single day in the year.

14 The reader is warned that I did not see the five places above enumerated. The ciceroni and books mention twelve other visitations, several of which are known only by name.

1. Al-Mukhtaba, the “hiding-place” alluded to in the preceding pages. Its locality is the subject of debate.
2. Dar al-Khayzaran, where the Prophet prayed secretly till the conversion of Omar enabled him to dispense with concealment.
3. Maulid Omar, or Omar’s birthplace, mentioned in books as being visited by devotees in the 14th Rabia al-Awwal of every year.
4. Abu Bakr’s house near the Natak al-Nabi. It is supposed to have been destroyed in the twelfth century.
5. Maulid Ja’afar al-Tayyar, near the Shabayki cemetery.
6. Al-Mada’a, an oratory, also called Naf al-Arz, because creation here began.
7. Dar al-Hijrah, where Mohammed and Abu Bakr mounted for the flight.
8. Masjid al-Rayah, where the Prophet planted his flag when Meccah surrendered.
9. Masjid al-Shajarah, a spot at which Mohammed caused a tree to advance and to retire.
10. Masjid al-Ja’aranah, where Mohammed clad himself in the pilgrim garb. It is still visited by some Persians.
11. Masjid Ibrahim, or Abu Kubays.
12. Masjid Zu Tawa.

15 Familiar for “Rahat al-Hulkum,”— the pleasure of the throat — a name which has sorely puzzled our tourists. This sweetmeat would be pleasant did it not smell so strongly of the perruquier’s shop. Rosewater tempts to many culinary sins in the East; and Europeans cannot dissociate it from the idea of a lotion. However, if a guest is to be honoured, rosewater must often take the place of the pure element, even in tea.

16 Meccah is amply supplied with water-melons, dates, limes, grapes, cucumbers, and other vegetables from Taif and Wady Fatimah. During the pilgrimage season the former place sends at least 100 camels every day to the capital.

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