Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Chapter VI.

The Mosque.

THEN the Byzantine Christians, after overthrowing the temples of Paganism, meditated re-building and re-modelling them, poverty of invention and artistic impotence reduced them to group the spoils in a heterogeneous mass.1 The sea-ports of Egypt and the plains and mountains of Syria abounding in pillars of granite, syenite and precious marbles, in Pharaonic, Grecian, and Roman statuary, and in all manner of structural ornaments, the architects were at no loss for material. Their Syncretism, the result of chance and precipitancy, of extravagance and incuriousness, fell under eyes too ignorant to be hurt by the hybrid irregularity: it was perpetuated in the so-called Saracenic style, a plagiarism from the Byzantine,2 and it was reiterated in the Gothic, an offshoot from the Saracenic.3 This fact accounts in the Gothic style for its manifold incongruities of architecture, and for the phenomenon, — not solely attributable to the buildings having been erected piecemeal, — of its most classic period being that of its greatest irregularity.

Such “architectural lawlessness,” such disregard for symmetry, — the result, I believe, of an imperfect “amalgamation and enrichment,” — may doubtless be defended upon the grounds both of cause and of effect. Architecture is of the imitative arts, and Nature, the Myriomorphous, everywhere delighting in variety, appears to abhor nothing so much as perfect similarity and precise uniformity. To copy her exactly we must therefore seek that general analogy compatible with individual variety; in fact, we should avoid the over-display of order and regularity. And again, it may be asserted that, however incongruous these disorderly forms may appear to the conventional eye, we find it easy to surmount our first antipathy. Perhaps we end in admiring them the more, as we love those faces in which irregularity of feature is compensated for by diversity and piquancy of expression.

There is nothing, I believe, new in the Arab Mosque; it is an unconscious revival of the forms used from the earliest ages to denote by symbolism the worship of the generative and the creative gods. The reader will excuse me if I only glance at a subject of which the investigation would require a volume, and which, discussed at greater length, would be out of place in such a narrative as this.

The first Mosque in Al-Islam was erected by Mohammed at Kuba, near Al-Madinah: shortly afterwards, when he entered Meccah as a conqueror, he destroyed the three hundred and sixty idols of the Arab Pantheon, and thus purified that venerable building from its abominations. He had probably observed in Syrian Bostra the two forms appropriated by the Christians to their places of worship, the cross and the parallelogramic Basilica; he therefore preferred for the prayers of the “Saving Faith” a square, — some authors say, with, others without, a cloister. At length in the reign of Al-Walid (A.H. 90) the cupola, the niche, and the minaret made their appearance; and what is called the Saracenic style became for ever the order of the Moslem world.

The Hindus I believe to have been the first who symbolised by an equilateral triangle their peculiar cult, the Yoni-Linga: in their temple architecture, it became either a conoid or a perfect pyramid. Egypt denoted it by the obelisk, peculiar to that country; and the form appeared in different parts of the world: thus in England it was a mere upright stone, and in Ireland a round tower. This we might expect to see. D’Hancarville and Brotier have successfully traced the worship itself, in its different modifications, to all people: the symbol would therefore be found everywhere. The old Arab minaret is a plain cylindrical or polygonal tower, without balcony or stages, widely different from the Turkish, modern Egyptian, and Hijazi combinations of tube and prism, happily compared by a French traveller to “une chandelle coiffee d’un eteignoir.” And finally the ancient minaret, made solid as all Gothic architecture is, and provided with a belfry, became the spire and steeple of our ancestors.

From time immemorial, in hot and rainy lands, a hypaethral court, either round or square, surrounded by a covered portico, was used for the double purpose of church and mart, — a place where God and Mammon were worshipped turn by turn. In some places we find rings of stones, like the Persian Pyroetheia; in others, circular concave buildings representing the vault of heaven, where Fire, the divine symbol, was worshipped; and in Arabia, columnar aisles, which, surmounted by the splendid blue vault, resemble the palm-grove. The Greeks adopted this idea in the fanes of Creator Bacchus; and at Pozzuoli, near Naples, it may be seen in the building vulgarly called the Temple of Serapis. It was equally well known to the Kelts: in some places the Temenos was a circle, in others a quadrangle. And such to the present day is the Mosque of Al-Islam.

Even the Riwak or porches surrounding the area in the Mosque are revivals of older forms. “The range of square buildings which enclose the temple of Serapis are not, properly speaking, parts of the fane, but apartments of the priests, places for victims, and sacred utensils, and chapels dedicated to subordinate deities, introduced by a more complicated and corrupt worship, and probably unknown to the founders of the original edifice.” The cloisters in the Mosque became cells, used as lecture rooms, and stores for books bequeathed to the college. They are unequal, because some are required to be of larger, others to be of smaller, dimensions. The same reason causes difference of size when the building is distributed into four hyposteles opening upon the area: the porch in the direction of the Ka’abah, where worshippers mostly congregate, demands greater depth than the other three. The wings were not unfrequently made unequal, either from want of building materials, or because the same extent of accommodation was not required in both. The columns were of different substances; some of handsome marble, others of rough stone meanly plastered over, with dissimilar capitals, vulgarly cut shafts of various sizes; here with a pediment, there without, now turned upside down, then joined together by halves in the centre, and almost invariably nescient of intercolumnar rule. This is the result of Byzantine syncretism, carelessly and ignorantly grafted upon Arab ideas of the natural and the sublime. Loving and admiring the great, or rather the big in plan,4 they care little for the execution of mere details, and they have not the acumen to discern the effect which clumsy workmanship, crooked lines, and visible joints, — parts apparently insignificant, — exercise upon the whole of an edifice. Their use of colours was a false taste, commonly displayed by mankind in their religious houses, and statues of the gods. The Hindus paint their pagodas, inside and outside; and rub vermilion, in token of honour, over their deities. The Persian Colossi of Kaiomars and his consort on the Balkh road and the Sphinx of Egypt, as well as the temples of the Nile, still show traces of artificial complexion. The fanes in classic Greece have been dyed. In the Forum Romanum, one of the finest buildings, still bears stains of the Tyrian purple. And to mention no other instances, in the churches and belfries of Modern Italy, we see alternate bands of white and black material so disposed as to give them the appearance of giant zebras. The origin of “Arabesque” ornament must be referred to one of the principles of Al-Islam. The Moslem, forbidden by his law to decorate his Mosque with statuary and pictures,5 supplied their place with quotations from the Koran, and inscriptions, “plastic metaphysics,” of marvellous perplexity.

His alphabet lent itself to the purpose, and hence probably arose that almost inconceivable variety of lace-like fretwork, of incrustations, of Arabesques, and of geometric flowers, in which his eye delights to lose itself.6

The Meccan Mosque became a model to the world of Al-Islam, and the nations that embraced the new faith copied the consecrated building, as religiously as Christendom produced imitations of the Holy Sepulchre.7 The Mosque of Omar at Jerusalem, of Amru at Babylon on the Nile, and of Taylun at Cairo were erected, with some trifling improvements, such as arched cloisters and inscribed cornices, upon the plan of the Ka’abah. From Egypt and Palestine the ichnography spread far and wide. It was modified, as might be expected, by national taste; what in Arabia was simple and elegant became highly ornate in Spain,8 florid in Turkey, sturdy in Syria, and effeminate in India. Still divergence of detail had not, even after the lapse of twelve centuries, materially altered the fundamental form.

Perhaps no Eastern city affords more numerous or more accessible specimens of Mosque architecture than Cairo. Between 300 and 400 places of worship;9 some stately piles, others ruinous hovels, many new, more decaying and earthquake-shaken, with minarets that rival in obliquity the Pisan monster, are open to the traveller’s inspection. And Europeans by following the advice of their hotel-keeper have penetrated, and can penetrate, into any one they please.10 If architecture be really what I believe it to be, the highest expression of a people’s artistic feeling, — highest because it includes all others, — to compare the several styles of the different epochs, to observe how each monarch building his own Mosque, and calling it by his own name, identified the manner of the monument with himself, and to trace the gradual decadence of art through one thousand two hundred years, down to the present day, must be a work of no ordinary interest to Orientalists. The limits of my plan, however, compel me to place only the heads of the argument before the reader. May I be allowed to express a hope that it will induce some learned traveller to investigate a subject in every way worthy his attention?

The desecrated Jami’ Taylun (ninth century) is simple and massive, yet elegant, and in some of its details peculiar.11 One of the four colonnades12 still remains unoccupied by paupers to show the original magnificence of the building; the other porches are walled up, and inhabited. In the centre of a quadrangle about 100 paces square is a domed building springing from a square which occupies the proper place of the Ka’abah. This “Jami’13” Cathedral is interesting as a point of comparison. If it be an exact copy of the Meccan temple as it stood in A.D. 879, it shows that the latter has greatly altered in this our modern day.

Next in date to the Taylun Mosque is that of the Sultan al-Hakim, third Caliph of the Fatimites, and founder of the Druze mysteries. The minarets are remarkable in shape, as well as size: they are unprovided with the usual outer gallery, they are based upon a cube of masonry, and they are pierced above with apertures apparently meaningless. A learned Cairene informed me that these spires were devised by the eccentric monarch to disperse, like large censers, fragrant smoke over the city during the hours of prayer. The Azhar and Hasanayn14 Mosques are simple and artless piles, celebrated for sanctity, but remarkable for nothing save ugliness. Few buildings, however, are statelier in appearance, or give a nobler idea of both founder and architect than that which bears Sultan Hasan’s name. The stranger stands awe-struck before walls high towering without a single break, a hypaethral court severe in masculine beauty, a gateway that might suit the palace of the Titans, and a lofty minaret of massive grandeur. This Mosque (finished about A.D. 1363), with its fortress aspect, owns no more relationship to the efforts of a later age than does Canterbury Cathedral to an Anglo-Indian “Gothic.” For dignified beauty and refined taste, the Mosque and tomb of Kaid Bey and the other Mamluk kings are admirable. Even in their present state, picturesqueness presides over decay, and the traveller has seldom seen aught more striking than the rich light of the stained glass pouring through the first shades of evening upon the marble floor.

The modern Mosques must be visited to see Egyptian architecture in its decline and fall. That of Sittna Zaynab (our Lady Zaynab), founded by Murad Bey, the Mamluk, and interrupted by the French invasion, shows, even in its completion, some lingering traces of taste. But nothing can be more offensive than the building which every tourist flogs donkey in his hurry to see — old Mohammed Ali’s “Folly” in the citadel. Its Greek architect has toiled to caricature a Mosque to emulate the glories of our English “Oriental Pavilion.” Outside, as Monckton Milnes sings,

“The shining minarets, thin and high,”

are so thin, so high above the lumpy domes, that they look like the spindles of crouching crones, and are placed in full sight of Sultan Hasan the Giant, so as to derive all the disadvantages of the contrast. Is the pointed arch forgotten by man, that this hapless building should be disgraced by large and small parallelograms of glass and wood,15 so placed and so formed as to give its exterior the appearance of a European theatre coiffe with Oriental cupolas? Outside as well as inside, money has been lavished upon alabaster full of flaws; round the bases of pillars run gilt bands; in places the walls are painted with streaks to resemble marble, and the wood-work is overlaid with tinsel gold. After a glance at these abominations, one cannot be surprised to hear the old men of Egypt lament that, in spite of European education, and of prizes encouraging geometry and architecture, modern art offers a melancholy contrast to antiquity. It is said that H. H. Abbas Pasha proposes to erect for himself a Mosque that shall far surpass the boast of the last generation. I venture to hope that his architect will light the “sacred fire” from Sultan Hasan’s, not from Mohammed Ali’s, Turco-Grecian splendours. The former is like the genuine Osmanli of past ages, fierce, cold, with a stalwart frame, index of a strong mind — there was a sullen grandeur about the man. The latter is the pert and puny modern Turk in pantaloons, frock coat and Fez, ill-dressed, ill-conditioned, and ill-bred, body and soul.

We will now enter the Mosque Al-Azhar. At the dwarf wooden railing we take off our slippers, hold them in the left hand, sole to sole, that no dirt may fall from them, and cross the threshold with the right foot, ejaculating Bismillah, &c. Next we repair to the Mayza’ah, or large tank, for ablution, without which it is unlawful to appear in the House of Allah. We then seek some proper place for devotion, place our slippers on some other object in front of us to warn the lounger, and perform a two-bow prayer in honour of the Mosque.16 This done, we may wander about, and inspect the several objects of curiosity.

The moon shines splendidly upon a vast open court, paved with stones which are polished like glass by the feet of the Faithful. There is darkness in the body of the building, a large oblong hall, at least twice too lengthy for its height, supported by a forest of pillars, thin, poor-looking, crooked marble columns, planted avenue-like, upon torn and dirty matting. A few oil lamps shed doubtful light over scanty groups, who are debating some point of grammar, or are listening to the words of wisdom that fall from the mouth of a Wa’iz.17 Presently they will leave the hypostyle, and throw themselves upon the flags of the quadrangle, where they may enjoy the open air and avoid some fleas. It is now “long vacation”: so the holy building has become a kind of Caravanserai for travellers; perhaps a score of nations meet in it; there is a confusion of tongues, and the din at times is deafening. Around the court runs a tolerably well-built colonnade, whose entablature is garnished with crimson arabesques, and in the inner wall are pierced apartments, now closed with plank doors. Of the Riwak, as the porches are called, the Azhar contains twenty-four, one for each recognised nation in Al-Islam, and of these fifteen are still open to students.18 Inside them we find nothing but matting and a pile of large dingy wooden boxes, which once contained the college library; they are now, generally speaking, empty.19

There is nothing worth seeing in the cluster of little dark chambers that form the remainder of the Azhar. Even the Zawiyat al-Umyan (or the Blind men’s Oratory), a place where so many “town and gown rows” have emanated, is rendered interesting only by the fanaticism of its inmates, and the certainty that, if recognised in this sanctum, we shall run the gauntlet under the staves of its proprietors, the angry blind.

The Azhar is the grand collegiate Mosque of this city, — the Christ Church, in fact, of Cairo, — once celebrated throughout the world of Al-Islam. It was built, I was told, originally in poor style by one Jauhar al-Kaid,20 originally the slave of a Moorish merchant, in consequence of a dream that ordered him to “erect a place whence the light of science should shine upon Al-Islam.”

It gradually increased by “Wakf21” (entailed bequests) of lands, money, and books; and pious rulers made a point of adding to its size and wealth. Of late years it has considerably declined, the result of sequestrations, and of the diminished esteem in which the purely religious sciences are now held in the land of Egypt.22 Yet it is calculated that between 2000 and 3000 students of all nations and ages receive instruction here gratis.

Each one is provided with bread, in a quantity determined by the amount of endowment, at the Riwak set apart for his nation,23 with some article of clothing on festival days, and a few piastres once a year. The professors, who are about 150 in number, may not take fees from their pupils; some lecture on account of the religious merit of the action, others to gain the high title of “Teacher in Al Azhar.24” Six officials receive stipends from the government, — the Shaykh al-Jami’ or dean, the Shaykh al-Sakka, who regulates the provision of water for ablution, and others that may be called heads of departments.

The following is the course of study in the Azhar. The school-boy of four or five years’ standing has been taught, by a liberal application of the maxim “the Green Rod is of the Trees of Paradise,” to chant the Koran without understanding it, the elementary rules of arithmetic, and, if he is destined to be a learned man, the art of writing.25 He then registers his name in Al-Azhar, and applies himself to the branches of study most cultivated in Al-Islam, namely Nahw (syntax), Fikh (the law), Hadis (the traditions of the Prophet), and Tafsir, or Exposition of the Koran.

The young Egyptian reads at the same time Sarf, or Inflexion, and Nahw (syntax). But as Arabic is his mother-tongue, he is not required to study the former so deeply as are the Turks, the Persians, and the Indians. If he desire, however, to be a proficient, he must carefully peruse five books in Sarf,26 and six in Nahw.27

Master of grammar, our student now applies himself to its proper end and purpose, Divinity. Of the four schools those of Abu Hanifah and Al-Shafe’i are most common in Cairo; the followers of Ibn Malik abound only in Southern Egypt and the Berberah country, and the Hanbali is almost unknown. The theologian begins with what is called a Matn or text, a short, dry, and often obscure treatise, a mere string of precepts; in fact, the skeleton of the subject. This he learns by repeated perusal, till he can quote almost every passage literatim. He then passes to its “Sharh,” or commentary, generally the work of some other savant, who explains the difficulty of the text, amplifies its Laconicisms, enters into exceptional cases, and deals with principles and reasons, as well as with mere precept. A difficult work will sometimes require “Hashiyah,” or “marginal notes”; but this aid has a bad name:—

“Who readeth with note,

But learneth by rote,”

says a popular doggrel. The reason is, that the student’s reasoning powers being little exercised, he learns to depend upon the dixit of a master rather than to think for himself. It also leads to the neglect of another practice, highly advocated by the Eastern pedagogue.

“The lecture is one.

The dispute (upon the subject of the lecture) is one thousand.”

In order to become a Fakih, or divine of distinguished fame, the follower of Abu Hanifah must peruse about ten volumes,28 some of huge size, written in a diffuse style; the Shafe’i’s reading is not quite so extensive.29 Theology is much studied, because it leads directly to the gaining of daily bread, as priest or tutor; and other scientific pursuits are neglected for the opposite reason.

The theologian in Egypt, as in other parts of Al-Islam, must have a superficial knowledge of the Prophet’s traditions. Of these there are eight well known collections,30 but only the first three are generally read.

School-boys are instructed, almost when in their infancy, to intone the Koran; at the university they are taught a more exact system of chanting. The style called “Hafs” is most common in Egypt, as it is indeed throughout the Moslem world. And after learning to read the holy volume, some savans are ambitious enough to wish to understand it: under these circumstances they must dive into the ’Ilm al-Tafsir,31 or the Exegesis of the Koran.

Our student is now a perfect Fakih or Mulla.32 But the poor fellow has no scholarship or fellowship — no easy tutorship — no fat living to look forward to. After wasting seven years, or twice seven years, over his studies, and reading till his brain is dizzy, his digestion gone, and his eyes half blind, he must either starve upon college alms, or squat, like my old Shaykh Mohammed, in a druggist’s shop, or become pedagogue and preacher in some country place, on the pay of L8 per annum. With such prospects it is wonderful how the Azhar can present any attractions; but the southern man is essentially an idler, and many become Olema, like Capuchins, in order to do nothing. A favoured few rise to the degree of Mudarris (professors), and thence emerge Kazis and Muftis. This is another inducement to matriculate; every undergraduate having an eye upon the Kazi-ship, with as much chance of obtaining it as the country parocco has of becoming a cardinal. Others again devote themselves to laical pursuits, degenerate into Wakils (lawyers), or seek their fortunes as Katibs — public or private accountants.

To conclude this part of the subject, I cannot agree with Dr. Bowring when he harshly says, upon the subject of Moslem education: “The instruction given by the Doctors of the Law in the religious schools, for the formation of the Mohammedan priesthood, is of the most worthless character.”33 His opinion is equally open to objection with that of those who depreciate the law itself because it deals rather in precepts than in principle, in ceremonies and ordinances rather than in ethics and aesthetics. Both are what Eastern faiths and Eastern training have ever been, — both are eminently adapted for the Oriental mind. When the people learn to appreciate ethics, and to understand psychics and aesthetics, the demand will create a supply. Meanwhile they leave transcendentalism to their poets and philosophers, and they busy themselves with preparing for heaven by practising the only part of their faith now intelligible to them — the Material.

It is not to be supposed that a nation in this stage of civilisation could be so fervently devout as the Egyptians are, without the bad leaven of bigotry. The same tongue which is employed in blessing Allah, is, it is conceived, doing its work equally well in cursing Allah’s enemies. Wherefore the Kafir is denounced by every sex, age, class, and condition, by the man of the world,34 as by the boy at school; and out of, as well as in, the Mosque. If you ask your friend who is the person with a black turband, he replies,

“A Christian. Allah make his Countenance cold!”

If you inquire of your servant, who are the people singing in the next house, it is ten to one that his answer will be,

“Jews. May their lot be Jahannam!”

It appears unintelligible, still it is not less true, that Egyptians who have lived as servants under European roofs for years, retain the liveliest loathing for the manners and customs of their masters. Few Franks, save those who have mixed with the Egyptians in Oriental disguise, are aware of their repugnance to, and contempt for, Europeans — so well is the feeling veiled under the garb of innate politeness, and so great is their reserve when conversing with those of strange religions. I had a good opportunity of ascertaining the truth when the first rumour of a Russian war arose. Almost every able-bodied man spoke of hastening to the Jihad, — a crusade, or holy war, — and the only thing that looked like apprehension was the too eager depreciation of their foes. All seemed delighted with the idea of French co-operation, for, somehow or other, the Frenchman is everywhere popular. When speaking of England, they were not equally easy: heads were rolled, pious sentences were ejaculated, and finally out came the old Eastern cry, “Of a truth they are Shaytans, those English.35” The Austrians are despised, because the East knows nothing of them since the days when Osmanli hosts threatened the gates of Vienna. The Greeks are hated as clever scoundrels, ever ready to do Al-Islam a mischief. The Maltese, the greatest of cowards off their own ground, are regarded with a profound contempt: these are the proteges which bring the British nation into disrepute at Cairo. And Italians are known chiefly as “istruttori” and “distruttori”36 — doctors, druggists, and pedagogues.

Yet Egyptian human nature is, like human nature everywhere, contradictory. Hating and despising Europeans, they still long for European rule. This people admire an iron-handed and lion-hearted despotism; they hate a timid and a grinding tyranny.37 Of all foreigners, they would prefer the French yoke, — a circumstance which I attribute to the diplomatic skill and national dignity of our neighbours across the Channel.38 But whatever European nation secures Egypt will win a treasure. Moated on the north and south by seas, with a glacis of impassable deserts to the eastward and westward, capable of supporting an army of 180,000 men, of paying a heavy tribute, and yet able to show a considerable surplus of revenue, this country in western hands will command India, and by a ship-canal between Pelusium and Suez would open the whole of Eastern Africa.39

There is no longer much to fear from the fanaticism of the people, and a little prudence would suffice to command the interests of the Mosque.40 The chiefs of corporations,41 in the present state of popular feeling, would offer even less difficulty to an invader or a foreign ruler than the Olema. Briefly, Egypt is the most tempting prize which the East holds out to the ambition of Europe, not excepted even the Golden Horn.

1 In the capitals of the columns, for instance.

2 This direct derivation is readily detected in the Mosques at Old Cairo.

3 The roof supported by arches resting on pillars, was unknown to classic antiquity, and in the earliest ages of Al-Islam, the cloisters were neither arched nor domed. A modern writer justly observes, “A compound of arcade and colonnade was suggested to the architects of the Middle Ages by the command that ancient buildings gave them of marble columns.”

4 “The Oriental mind,” says a clever writer on Indian subjects, “has achieved everything save real greatness of aim and execution.” That the Arab mind always aimed, and still aims, at the physically great is sufficiently evident. Nothing affords the Meccans greater pride than the vast size of their temple. Nothing is more humiliating to the people of Al-Madinah than the comparative smallness of their Mosque. Still, with a few exceptions, Arab greatness is the vulgar great, not the grand.

5 That is to say, imitations of the human form. All the doctors of Al-Islam, however, differ on this head: some absolutely forbidding any delineation of what has life, under pain of being cast into hell; others permitting pictures even of the bodies, though not of the faces, of men. The Arabs are the strictest of Misiconists; yet even they allow plans and pictures of the Holy Shrines. Other nations are comparatively lax. The Alhambra abounds in paintings and frescoes. The Persians never object to depict in books and on walls the battles of Rustam, and the Turks preserve in the Seraglio treasury of Constantinople portraits, by Greeks and other artists, of their Sultans in regular succession.

6 This is at least a purer taste than that of our Gothic architects, who ornamented their cathedrals with statuary so inappropriate as to suggest to the antiquary remains of the worship of the Hellespontine god.

7 At Bruges, Bologna, (St. Stefano), and Nurnberg, there are, if I recollect right, imitations of the Holy Sepulchre, although the “palmer” might not detect the resemblance at first sight. That in the Church of Jerusalem at Bruges was built by a merchant, who travelled three times to Palestine in order to ensure correctness, and totally failed. “Arab art,” says a writer in the “Athenaeum,” “sprang from the Koran, as the Gothic did from the Bible.” He should have remembered, that Arab art, in its present shape, was borrowed by Al-Walid from the Greeks, and, perhaps, in part from the Persians and the Hindus, but that the model buildings existed at Meccah, and in Al-Yaman, centuries before the people had “luxurious shawls and weavings of Cashmere” to suggest mural decoration.

8 See Theophile Gautier’s admirable description of the Mosque at Cordova.

9 Joseph Pitts, of Exeter, declares that Cairo contained in his day (A.D. 1678-93) 5 or 6000 Mosques, public and private; at the same time he corrects Mr. Collins, who enumerated 6000 public, and 20,000 particular buildings, and M. de Thevenot, who (Part I. p. 129), supplied the city with 23,000!

10 In Niebuhr’s time, a Christian passing one of the very holy buildings on foot was liable to be seized and circumcised. All Mosques may now be entered with certain precautions. When at Cairo, I heard occasionally of a Frank being spat at and insulted, but the instances were rare.

11 The “Handbook” contains the story current among the learned concerning the remarkable shape of the minaret.

12 The columns support pointed arches, which, therefore, were known at Cairo 200 years before they were introduced into England. By the discoveries of M. Mariette, it is now ascertained that the Egyptians were perfectly acquainted with the round arch and key-stone at a period antecedent to the architectural existence of Greece.

13 A “Jami’” is a place where people assemble to pray — a house of public worship. A “Masjid” is any place of prayer, private or public. From “Masjid” we derive our “Mosque”: its changes on the road to Europe are almost as remarkable as that described in the satiric lines, —

“Alfana vient d’equus, sans doute,

Mais il faut avouer aussi,

Qu en venant de la jusqu’ici

Il a bien change sur la route.”

14 So called, because supposed to contain relics of Hasan and Husayn, the martyred grandsons of Mohammed. The tradition is little credited, and the Persians ostentatiously avoid visiting the place. “You are the first ’Ajami that ever said the Fatihah at this holy spot,” quoth the Mujawir, or guardian of the tomb, after compelling me, almost by force, to repeat the formula, which he recited with the prospect of a few piastres.

15 This is becoming the fashion for young Egyptians, who will readily receive a pair of common green persiennes in exchange for fine old windows of elaborately carved wood. They are as sensible in a variety of other small matters. Natives of a hot climate generally wear slippers of red and yellow leather, because they are cool and comfortable: on the banks of the Nile, the old chaussure is gradually yielding to black shoes, which blister the feet with heat, but are European, and, therefore, bon ton. It must, however, be confessed that the fine old carved wood-work of the windows was removed because it was found to be dangerous in cases of fire.

16 Irreligious men neglect this act of propriety. There are many in Egypt who will habitually transgress one of the fundamental orders of their faith, namely, never to pray when in a state of religious impurity. In popular Argot, prayer without ablution is called Salat Mamlukiyah, or “slaves’ prayers,” because such men perform their devotions only in order to avoid the master’s staff. Others will touch the Koran when impure, a circumstance which highly disgusts Indian Moslems.

17 An “adviser,” or “lecturer,” — any learned man who, generally in the months of Ramazan and Muharram, after the Friday service and sermon, delivers a discourse upon the principles of Al-Islam.

18 Amongst them is a foundation for Jawi scholars. Some of our authors, by a curious mistake, have confounded Moslem Jawa (by the Egyptians pronounced Gawa), with “Goa,” the Christian colony of the Portuguese.

19 Cairo was once celebrated for its magnificent collections of books. Besides private libraries, each large Mosque had its bibliotheca, every MS. of which was marked with the word “Wakf” (entailed bequest), or “Wukifa l’Illahi Ta’ala” (bequeathed to God Almighty). But Cairo has now for years supplied other countries with books, and the decay of religious zeal has encouraged the unprincipled to steal and sell MSS. marked with the warning words. The Hijaz, in particular, has been inundated with books from Egypt. Cairo has still some large libraries, but most of them are private property, and the proprietors will not readily lend or give access to their treasures. The principal opportunity of buying books is during the month Ramazan, when they are publicly sold in the Azhar Mosque. The Orientalist will, however, meet with many disappointments; besides the difficulty of discovering good works, he will find in the booksellers, scribes, et hoc genus omne, a finished race of scoundrels.

20 Lane (Mod. Egyptians) has rectified Baron von Hammer-Purgstall’s mistake concerning the word “Azhar”; our English Orientalist translates it the “splendid Mosque.” I would venture to add, that the epithet must be understood in a spiritual and not in a material sense. Wilkinson attributes the erection of the building to Jauhar al-Kaid, general under Al-Moaz, about A.D. 970. Wilson ascribes it partly to Al-Moaz the Fatimite (A.D. 973), partly to his general and successor, Al-Hakim (?).

21 Wakf, property become mortmain. My friend Yacoub Artin declares that the whole Nile Valley has parcel by parcel been made Wakf at some time or other, and then retaken.

22 If I may venture to judge, after the experience of a few months, there is now a re-action in favour of the old system. Mohammed Ali managed to make his preparatory, polytechnic, and other schools, thoroughly distasteful to the people, and mothers blinded their children, to prevent their being devoted for life to infidel studies. The printing-press, contrasting in hideousness with the beauty of the written character, and the contemptible Arabic style of the various works translated by order of government from the European languages, have placed arms in the hands of the orthodox party.

23 Finding the Indian Riwak closed, and hearing that an endowment still belonged to it, I called twice upon the Shaykh or Dean, wishing to claim the stipend as a precedent. But I failed in finding him at home, and was obliged to start hurriedly for Suez. The Indians now generally study in the Sulaymaniyah, or Afghan College.

24 As the attending of lectures is not compulsory, the result is that the lecturer is always worth listening to. May I commend this consideration to our college reformers at home? In my day, men were compelled to waste — notoriously to waste — an hour or two every morning, for the purpose of putting a few pounds sterling into the pocket of some droning Don.

25 The would-be calligrapher must go to a Constantinople Khwajah (schoolmaster), and after writing about two hours a day regularly through a year or two, he will become, if he has the necessary disposition, a skilful penman. This acquirement is but little valued in the present day, as almost nothing is to be gained by it. The Turks particularly excel in the ornamental character called “Suls.” I have seen some Korans beautifully written; and the late Pasha gave an impetus to this branch of industry, by forbidding, under the plea of religious scruples, the importation of the incorrect Korans cheaply lithographed by the Persians at Bombay. The Persians surpass the Turks in all but the Suls writing. Of late years, the Pashas of Cairo have employed a gentleman from Khorasan, whose travelling name is “Mirza Sanglakh” to decorate their Mosques with inscriptions. I was favoured with a specimen of his art, and do not hesitate to rank him the first of his age, and second to none amongst the ancients but those Raphaels of calligraphy, Mir of Shiraz, and Rahman of Herat. The Egyptians and Arabs, generally speaking, write a coarse and clumsy hand, and, as usual in the East, the higher the rank of the writer is, the worse his scrawl becomes.

26 The popular volumes are, 1. Al-Amsilah, showing the simple conjugation of the triliteral verb; 2. Bisi’a, the work of some unknown author, explaining the formation of the verb into increased infinities, the quadrilateral verb, &c.; 3. The Maksu’a, a well-known book written by the great Imam Abu’ Hanifah; 4. The “Izzi,” an explanatory treatise, the work of a Turk, “Izzat Effendi.” And lastly, the Marah of Ahmad al-Sa’udi. These five tracts are bound together in a little volume, printed at the government establishment. Al-Amsilah is explained in Turkish, to teach boys the art of “parsing”; Egyptians generally confine themselves in Al-Sarf to the Izzi, and the Lamiyat al-Af’al of the grammarian Ibn Malik.

27 First, the well-known “Ajrumiyah” (printed by M. Vaucelle), and its commentary, Al-Kafrawi. Thirdly, the Alfiyah (Thousand Distichs) of Ibn Malik, written in verse for mnemonic purposes, but thereby rendered so difficult as to require the lengthy commentary of Al-Ashmumi. The fifth is the well-known work called the Katr al-Nida (the Dew Drop), celebrated from Cairo to Kabul; and last of all the “Azhari.”

28 I know little of the Hanafi school; but the name of the following popular works were given to me by men upon whose learning I could depend. The book first read is the text, called Marah al-Falah, containing about twenty pages, and its commentary, which is about six times longer. Then comes the Matn al-Kanz, a brief text of from 35 to 40 pages, followed by three long Sharh. The shortest of these, “Al-Tai,” contains 500 pages; the next, “Mulla Miskin,” at least 900; and the “Sharh Ayni” nearly 2000. To these succeeds the Text “Al-Durar,” the work of the celebrated Khusraw, (200 pages), with a large commentary by the same author; and last is the Matn Tanwir Al-Absar, containing about 500 pages, and its Sharh, a work upwards of four times the size. Many of these books may be found — especially when the MS. is an old one — with Hashiyah, or marginal notes, but most men write them for themselves, so that there is no generally used collection. The above-mentioned are the works containing a full course of theological study; it is rare, however, to find a man who reads beyond the “Al-Kanz,” with the shortest of its commentaries, the “Al-Tai.”

29 He begins with a little text called, after the name of its author, Abu Shuja’a of Isfahan, and proceeds to its commentary, a book of about 250 pages, by Ibn Kasim of Ghazzah (Gaza). There is another Sharh, neatly four times larger than this, “Al-Khatib”; it is seldom read. Then comes Al-Tahrir, the work of Zakariya al-Ansari, — a celebrated divine buried in the Mosque of Al-Shafe’i, — and its commentary by the same author, a goodly MS. of 600 pages. Most students here cry: “Enough!” The ambitious pass on to Al-Minhaj and its commentary, (1600 pages). Nor need they stop at this point. A man may addle his brains over Moslem theology, as upon Aristotle’s schoolmen, till his eyesight fails him — both subjects are all but interminable.

30 The three best known are the Arbain al-Nawawi, and the Sahihayn — “the two (universally acknowledged to be) trustworthy,” — by Al-Muslim and Al-Bokhari, celebrated divines. The others are Al-Jami’ al-Saghir, “the smaller collection,” so called to distinguish it from a rarer book, Al-Jami’ al-Kabir, the “greater collection”; both are the work of Al-Siyuti. The full course concludes with Al-Shifa, Shamail, and the labours of Kazi Ayyaz.

31 Two Tafsirs are known all over the modern world. The smaller one is called Jalalani (“the two Jalals,” i.e. the joint work of Jalal al-Siyuti and Jalal al-Mahalli), and fills two stout volumes octavo. The larger is the Exposition of Al-Bayzawi, which is supposed to contain the whole subject. Some few divines read Al-Khazin.

32 To conclude the list of Moslem studies, not purely religious. Al-Mantik (or logic) is little valued; it is read when judged advisable, after Al-Nahw, from which it flows, and before Ma’ani Bayan (rhetoric) to which it leads. In Egypt, students are generally directed to fortify their memories, and give themselves a logical turn of mind, by application to Al-Jabr (algebra). The only logical works known are the Isaghuji (the [Greek text] of Porphyry), Al-Shamsiyah, the book Al-Sullam, with its Sharh Al-Akhzari, and, lastly, Kazi Mir. Equally neglected are the Tawarikh (history) and the Hikmat (or philosophy), once so ardently cultivated by Moslem savans; indeed, it is now all but impossible to get books upon these subjects. For upwards of six weeks, I ransacked the stalls and the bazar, in order to find some one of the multitudinous annals of Al-Hijaz, without seeing for sale anything but the fourth volume of a large biographical work called al-Akd al-Samin fi Tarikh al-Balad al-Amin.

The ’Ilm al-’Aruz, or Prosody, is not among the Arabs, as with us, a chapter hung on to the tail of grammar. It is a long and difficult study, prosecuted only by those who wish to distinguish themselves in “Arabiyat,” — the poetry and the eloquence of the ancient and modern Arabs. The poems generally studied, with the aid of commentaries, which impress every verse upon the memory, are the Burdah and the Hamziyah, well-known odes by Mohammed of Abusir. They abound in obsolete words, and are useful at funerals, as on other solemn occasions. The Banat Su’adi, by Ka’ab al-Ahbar (or Akhbar), a companion of the Apostle, and the Diwan ’Umar ibn Fariz, a celebrated mystic, are also learned compositions. Few attempt the bulky volume of Al-Mutanabbi — though many place it open upon the sofa, — fewer still the tenebrous compositions of Al-Hariri; nor do the modern Egyptians admire those fragments of ancient Arab poets, which seem so sweetly simple to the European ear. The change of faith has altered the national taste to such an extent, that the decent bard must now sing of woman in the masculine gender. For which reason, a host of modern poetasters can attract the public ear, which is deaf to the voices of the “Golden Song.”

In the exact sciences, the Egyptian Moslems, a backward race according to European estimation, are far superior to the Persians and the Moslems of India. Some of them become tolerable arithmeticians, though very inferior to the Coptic Christians; they have good and simple treatises on algebra, and still display some of their ancestors’ facility in the acquisition of geometry. The ’Ilm al-Mikat, or “Calendar-calculating,” was at one time publicly taught in the Azhar; the printing-press has doomed that study to death.

The natural sciences find but scant favour on the banks of the Nile. Astronomy is still astrology, geography a heap of names, and natural history a mass of fables. Alchemy, geomancy, and summoning of fiends, are pet pursuits; but the former has so bad a name, that even amongst friends it is always alluded to as ’Ilm al-Kaf, — the “science of K,” so called from the initial letter of the word “Kimiya.” Of the state of therapeutics I have already treated at length.

Aided by the finest of ears, and flexible organs of articulation, the Egyptian appears to possess many of the elements of a good linguist. The stranger wonders to hear a Cairene donkey-boy shouting sentences in three or four European dialects, with a pronunciation as pure as his own. How far this people succeed in higher branches of language, my scanty experience does not enable me to determine. But even for students of Arabic, nothing can be more imperfect than those useful implements, Vocabularies and Dictionaries. The Cairenes have, it is true, the Kamus of Fayruzabadi, but it has never been printed in Egypt; it is therefore rare, and when found, lost pages and clerical errors combined with the intrinsic difficulty of the style, exemplify the saying of Golius, that the most learned Orientalist must act the part of a diviner, before he can perform that of interpreter. They have another Lexicon, the Sihah, and an abbreviation of the same, the Sihah al-Saghir (or the lesser), both of them liable to the same objections as the Kamus. For the benefit of the numerous students of Turkish and Persian, short grammars and vocabularies have been printed at a cheap price, but the former are upon the model of Arabic, a language essentially different in formation, and the latter are mere strings of words.

As a specimen of the state of periodical literature, I may quote the history of the “Bulak Independent,” as Europeans facetiously call it. When Mohammed Ali, determining to have an “organ,” directed an officer to be editor of a weekly paper, the officer replied, that no one would read it, and consequently that no one would pay for it. The Pasha remedied this by an order that a subscription should be struck off from the pay of all employes, European and Egyptian, whose salary amounted to a certain sum. Upon which the editor accepted the task, but being paid before his work was published, he of course never supplied his subscribers with their copies.

33 Would not a superficial, hasty, and somewhat prejudiced Egyptian or Persian say exactly the same thing about the systems of Christ Church and Trinity College?

34 And when the man of the world, as sometimes happens, professes to see no difference in the forms of faith, or whispers that his residence in Europe has made him friendly to the Christian religion, you will be justified in concluding his opinions to be latitudinarian.

35 I know only one class in Egypt favourable to the English, — the donkey boys, — and they found our claim to the possession of the country upon a base scarcely admissible by those skilled in casuistry, namely, that we hire more asses than any other nation.

36 The story is, that Mohammed Ali used to offer his flocks of foreigners their choice of two professions, — “destruction,” that is to say, physic, or “instruction.”

37 Of this instances abound. Lately an order was issued to tax the villages of the Badawin settled upon the edge of the Western desert, who, even in Mohammed Ali’s time, were allowed to live free of assessment. The Aulad ’Ali, inhabitants of a little village near the Pyramids, refused to pay, and turned out with their matchlocks, defying the Pasha. The government then insisted upon their leaving their houses, and living under hair-cloth like Badawin, since they claimed the privileges of Badawin. The sturdy fellows at once pitched their tents, and when I returned to Cairo (in December, 1853), they had deserted their village. I could offer a score of such cases, proving the present debased condition of Egypt.

38 At Constantinople the French were the first to break through the shameful degradation to which the ambassadors of infidel powers were bribed, by 300 or 400 rations a day, to submit. M. de Saint Priest refused to give up his sword. General Sebastiani insisted upon wearing his military boots; and the Republican Aubert Dubajet rejected the dinner, and the rich dress, with which “the naked and hungry barbarian who ventured to rub his brow upon the Sublime Porte,” was fed and clothed before being admitted to the presence, saying that the ambassadors of France wanted neither this nor that. At Cairo, M. Sabatier, the French Consul-general, has had the merit of doing away with some customs prejudicial to the dignity of his nation. The next English envoy will, if anxious so to distinguish himself, have an excellent opportunity. It is usual, after the first audience, for the Pasha to send, in token of honour, a sorry steed to the new comer. This custom is a mere relic of the days when Mohammed the Second threatened to stable his charger in St. Peter’s, and when a ride through the streets of Cairo exposed the Inspector-general Tott, and his suite, to lapidation and an “avanie.” To send a good horse is to imply degradation, but to offer a bad one is a positive insult.

39 As this canal has become a question of national interest, its advisability is surrounded with all the circumstance of unsupported assertion and bold denial. The English want a railroad, which would confine the use of Egypt to themselves. The French desire a canal that would admit the hardy cruisers of the Mediterranean into the Red Sea. The cosmopolite will hope that both projects may be carried out. Even in the seventh century Omar forbade Amru to cut the Isthmus of Suez for fear of opening Arabia to Christian vessels. As regards the feasibility of the ship-canal, I heard M. Linant de Bellefonds — the best authority upon all such subjects in Egypt — expressly assert, after levelling and surveying the line, that he should have no difficulty in making it. The canal is now a fact. As late as April, 1864, Lord Palmerston informed the House of Commons that labourers might be more usefully employed in cultivating cotton than in “digging a canal through a sandy desert, and in making two harbours in deep mud and shallow water.” It is, however, understood that the Premier was the only one of his Cabinet who took this view. Mr. Robert Stephenson, C.E., certainly regretted before his death the opinion which he had been induced to express by desire.

40 There are at present about eighteen influential Shaykhs at Cairo, too fanatic to listen to reason. These it would be necessary to banish. Good information about what goes on in each Mosque, especially on Fridays, when the priests preach to the people, and a guard of honour placed at the gates of the Kazi, the three Muftis, and the Shaykh of the Azhar, are simple precautions sufficient to keep the Olema in order.

41 These Rakaiz Al-’Usab, as they are called, are the most influential part of the immense mass of dark intrigue which Cairo, like most Oriental cities, conceals beneath the light surface. They generally appear in the ostensible state of barbers and dyers. Secretly, they preside over their different factions, and form a kind of small Vehm. The French used to pay these men, but Napoleon, detecting them in stirring up the people, whilst appearing to maintain public tranquillity, shot eighteen or twenty (about half their number), and thereby improved the conduct of the rest. They are to be managed, as Sir Charles Napier governed Sind, — by keeping a watchful eye upon them, a free administration of military law, disarming the population, and forbidding large bodies of men to assemble.


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