Mekka and Djidda are inhabited by the same class of people; and their character and customs are the same. I have already remarked that all the rich Mekkawys have houses at Djidda, and that the commercial employments of the two cities are alike.
The inhabitants of Mekka may be all styled foreigners, or the offspring of foreigners, except a few Hedjaz Bedouins, or their descendants, who have settled here. The ancient tribe of Koreysh, which was divided into a wandering and a settled branch, is almost extinct. There are some Bedouins of Koreysh still in the neighbourhood; but the settled Koreysh, who were the inhabitants of Mekka in the time of Mohammed, have either been destroyed, or have migrated, in consequence of the frequent intestine wars. At this moment three Koreysh families only, descendants of the ancient tribe of that name, are found at Mekka, the head of one of which is the Nayb, or keeper of the mosque; and the two others are poor people, also attached to its service. The neighbourhood of the great mart of Djidda, the yearly arrival of immense caravans, and the holy house, have attracted, however, a sufficient number of strangers to supply the place of the Koreysh. In every hadj some of the pilgrims remain behind: the Mohammedan, whenever resident for any time in a town, takes a wife, and is thus often induced to settle permanently on the spot. Hence most of the Mekkawys are descendants of foreigners from distant parts of the globe, who have adopted Arabian manners, and, by intermarrying, have produced a race which can no longer be distinguished from the indigenous Arabians. On questioning shopkeepers, merchants, olemas, metowafs, and indeed people of every description, they are found to be the sons, grandsons, or descendants of foreigners. The most numerous are those whose fathers came from Yemen and Hadramaut; next to them in numbers are the descendants of Indians, Egyptians, Syrians, Mogrebyns, and Turks. There are also Mekkawys of Persian origin; Tatars, Bokhars, Kurds, Afghans; in short, of almost every Mohammedan country in the world. The Mekkawy is careful in preserving, by tradition, the knowledge of his original country. My metowaf or guide traced his descent to an Usbek Tatar, from the neighbourhood of Bokhara, and whenever any hadjys arrived from that quarter, he never failed to recommend himself as their guide, though entirely ignorant of their language.
There is, however, one branch of the ancient Arabians remaining in Mekka; these are the native Sherifs, (as distinguished from the descendants of foreign Sherifs who have settled here:) they derive their pedigree from Hassan and Hosseyn, the sons of Fatme, the daughter of Mohammed; a descent claimed equally by the other Sherifs, but whose genealogies are supposed to be less authentic. The Mekka Sherifs form a large class, into which no foreigners are admitted, and it is spreading over many other parts of Arabia. I am not thoroughly acquainted with their history, or the period at which they began to branch out into particular tribes; and I can only state that they acknowledge many, but not all Sherifs of Yemen, and other parts of the Hedjaz, as their distant relations: at present they are divided into several tribes, out of one of which the reigning Sherif must be chosen, as I shall mention below. At Mekka a difference is observed in the name given to the Sherifs, according to their profession. Those who are employed in study and the law, and occupied more or less about the temple and its dependencies are called Seyd, while those who become soldiers, and mix in state affairs, are known exclusively by the term Sherif. The Seyds are followers of religion (say the Mekkawys), the Sherifs are soldiers. The son usually follows the vocation of the father. These native Sherifs are the head men of the town, or at least were so before their pride was broken by the Turkish conquest.
Though a mixed population, the inhabitants of Mekka wear the same sort of dress, and have the same customs; and although of different origin, they seem to be much less tenacious of their national costume and manners in this holy city than any where else. In Syria and Egypt, strangers from all parts of Asia retain with the greatest strictness the dress and mode of living of their native countries, though established for life in their new abodes; a circumstance which renders the view of an eastern bazar infinitely more interesting than any large assemblage of people in Europe. In the Hedjaz, on the contrary, most of the foreign visitors change their native costume for that of the people of the country; and their children born there are brought up and clothed in the fashion of the Mekkawys. The Indians, as I have already remarked in speaking of Djidda, offer an exception to this general rule; they form a distinct colony, and retain their native language, which the children of other strangers usually forget, their mothers being in many instances Arabs, natives of Mekka.
The colour of the Mekkawy and Djiddawy is a yellowish sickly brown, lighter or darker according to the origin of the mother, who is very often an Abyssinian slave. Their features approach much nearer to those of Bedouins than I have observed in any townsmen of the East; this is particularly observable in the Sherifs, who are gifted with very handsome countenances; they have the eye, face, and aquiline nose of the Bedouin, but are more fleshy. The lower class of Mekkawys are generally stout, with muscular limbs, while the higher orders are distinguishable by their meagre emaciated forms, as are also all those inhabitants who draw their origin from India or Yemen. The Bedouins who surround Mekka, though poor, are much stronger-bodied than the wealthier Bedouins of the interior of the Desert, probably because their habits are less roving, and because they are less exposed to the hardships of long journies. The Mekkawy, it may be generally said, is inferior in strength and size to the Syrian or Egyptian, but far exceeds him in expressive features, and especially in the vivacity and brilliancy of the eye.
All the male natives of Mekka and Djidda are tattooed with a particular mark, which is performed by their parents when they are forty days of age. It consists of three long cuts down both cheeks; and two on the right temple, the scars of which, sometimes three or four lines in breadth, remain through life. It is called Meshále. The Bedouins do not follow this practice; but the Mekkawys pride themselves in the distinction, which precludes the other inhabitants of the Hedjaz from claiming, in foreign countries, the honour of being born in the holy cities. This tattooing is sometimes, though very seldom, applied to female children. The people of Bornou, in the interior of Africa, have a similar, though much slighter, mark on both cheeks.
The dress of the higher classes, in winter, is a cloth benish, or upper cloak; and a djubbe, or under cloak, likewise of cloth, and such as is worn in all parts of Turkey. A showy silk gown, tied with a thin cashmere sash, a white muslin turban, and yellow slippers, constitute the rest of the dress. In summer, instead of the cloth benish, they wear one of very slight silk stuff, of Indian manufacture, called Mokhtar khána.
The highest classes, who affect the Turkish fashion in their dress, wear red Barbary caps under the turban; those of the other classes are of linen richly embroidered with silk, the work of the women of Mekka, and a common present from a woman to her lover: on the top sometimes are embroidered in large characters sentences of the Koran.
The gowns of well-dressed people of the middle class are generally of white India muslin, without any lining; they are called beden, and differ from the common Levantine antery, in being very short, and without sleeves, and in being of course much cooler: over the beden a djubbe of light cloth, or Indian silk stuff, is worn, which, in time of great heat, a man throws over his shoulders; the gown and under-shirt are then his only covering. The shirts are of Indian silk or Egyptian or Anatolian linen, and as fine as the wearer can afford to purchase.
The lower classes usually wear, at least in summer, nothing but a shirt, and instead of trowsers a piece of yellow Indian nankin, or striped Egyptian linen round their loins; over this, in winter, they have a beden of striped Indian calico, but without a belt to tie it round the body.
The lower and middle classes wear sandals instead of shoes, a custom very agreeable in this hot climate, as it contributes to the coolness of the feet. The best sandals come from Yemen, where all kinds of leather manufacture seem to flourish.
In summer, many people, and all the lower Indians, wear the cap only, without the turban. The usual turban is of Indian cambric, or muslin, which each class ties round the head in a particular kind of fold. Those who style themselves Olemas, or learned doctors, allow the extremity to fall down in a narrow stripe to the middle of their back. The Mekkawys are cleaner in their dress than any Eastern people I have seen. As white muslin, or white cambric, forms the principal part of their clothing, it requires frequent washing; and this is regularly done, so that even the poorest orders endeavour to change their linen at least once a week. With the higher and middle classes, the change is, of course, more frequent. The rich wear every day a different dress; and it is no uncommon thing with many to possess thirty or forty suits. The people of the Hedjaz delight in dress much more than the northern Mohammedans; and the earnings of the lower classes are mostly spent in clothes. When a Mekkawy returns home from his shop, or even after a short walk into the town, he immediately undresses, hangs up his clothes over a cord tied across his sitting-room, takes off his turban, changes his shirt, and then seats himself upon his carpet, with a thin under-cap upon his head. In this dishabille they receive visitors; and to delineate a Mekkawy, he should be represented sitting in his undress, near a projecting latticed window, having in one hand a sort of fan, generally of this form, [not included] made of chippings of date-leaves, with which he drives away the flies; and in the other, the long snake of his Persian pipe.
On feast-days they display their love of dress in a still higher degree; from the richest to the poorest, every one must then be dressed in a new suit of clothes; and if he cannot afford to buy, he hires one from the dealers for two or three days. On these occasions, as much as one hundred piastres are sometimes given for the hire of a dress, worth altogether, perhaps, fifteen hundred or two thousand piastres. No one is then content with a dress suited to his station in life, but assumes that of the class above him. The common shopkeeper, who walks about the whole year in his short gown, with a napkin round his loins, appears in a pink-coloured benish, lined with satin, a gold-embroidered turban, a rich silk sash, worked with silver thread, and a djombye, or crooked knife, stuck in his sash, the scabbard of which is covered with coins of silver and gold. The children are dressed out in the same expensive manner; and a person would submit to be called a thief, rather than allow those of equal rank to exceed him in finery. In general, the most gaudy colours are preferred; and the upper cloak must always be a contrast in colour to the garment worn beneath it. During festivals, cashmere shawls are also worn, though seldom seen at other times, except on women, and the warlike Sherifs; but every Mekkawy in easy circumstances has an assortment of them in his wardrobe. After the feast, the fine suit is laid aside, and every one returns to his wonted station. Every grown-up Mekkawy carries a long stick; among the lower orders, they may rather be called bludgeons. An olema is never seen without his stick. Few persons go armed, except among the lower classes, or the Sherifs, who carry crooked knives in their belts.
The women of Mekka and Djidda dress in Indian silk gowns, and very large blue striped trowsers, reaching down to the ankles, and embroidered below with silver thread; over these they wear the wide gown called habra, of black silk stuff, used in Egypt and Syria; or a blue and white striped silk mellaye of Indian manufacture. The face is concealed by a white, or light blue borko; on the head, covered by the mellaye, they wear a cap like the men’s, around which a piece of coloured muslin is tightly twisted in folds. The head-dress is said to be less ornamented with gold coins, pearls, and jewels, than that of the ladies of Egypt and Syria; but they have, at least, one string of sequins tied round it: many have gold necklaces, bracelets, and silver ankle-rings. The poorer women wear the blue Egyptian shirt, and large trowsers, like those already mentioned; and bracelets of horn, glass, or amber.
The children of Mekka are not so spoiled by their parents as they are in other countries of the East; as soon as they can walk freely, they are allowed to play in the street before the house, clad in very light clothes, or rather half-naked. On this account, probably, they are stouter and healthier than the bandaged children of Syria and Egypt; of whom it may be truly said that they are often nursed to death.
There are few families at Mekka, in moderate circumstances, that do not keep slaves. Mohammed found the African slave-trade so firmly established in Arabia, that he made no effort to abolish it; and thus he has confirmed, and extended throughout Northern Africa, this traffic, with all its attendant cruelties, besides those which have followed the propagation of Islam. The male and female servants are negroes, or noubas, usually brought from Sowakin: the concubines are always Abyssinian slaves. No wealthy Mekkawy prefers domestic peace to the gratification of his passions; they all keep mistresses in common with their lawful wives: but if a slave gives birth to a child, the master generally marries her, or, if he fails to do so, is censured by the community. The keeping of Abyssinian concubines is still more prevalent at Djidda. Many Mekkawys have no other than Abyssinian wives, finding the Arabians more expensive, and less disposed to yield to the will of the husband. The same practice is adopted by many foreigners, who reside in the Hedjaz for a short time. Upon their arrival, they buy a female companion, with the design of selling her at their departure; but sometimes their stay is protracted; the slave bears a child; they marry her, and become stationary in the town. There are very few men unmarried, or without a slave. This, indeed, is general in the East, and no where more so than at Mekka. The mixture of Abyssinian blood has, no doubt, given to the Mekkawys that yellow tinge of the skin which distinguishes them from the natives of the Desert.
Among the richer classes, it is considered shameful to sell a concubine slave. If she bears a child, and the master has not already four legally married wives, he takes her in matrimony; if not, she remains in his house for life; and in some instances the number of concubines is increased to several dozen, old and young. The middling and lower classes in Mekka are not so scrupulous as their superiors: they buy up young Abyssinians on speculation; educate them in the family; teach them cooking, sewing, &c.; and then sell them at a profit to foreigners, at least such as prove barren. I have been informed by physicians, barbers, and druggists, that the practice of causing abortion is frequent here. The seed of the tree which produces the balsam of Mekka, is the drug commonly used for this purpose. The Mekkawys make no distinction whatever between sons born of Abyssinian slaves and those of free Arabian women.
The inhabitants of Mekka have but two kinds of employment — trade, and the service of the Beitullah, or Temple; but the former has the preference, and there are very few olemas, or persons employed in the mosque, who are not engaged in some commercial affairs, though they are too proud to pursue them openly. The reader has probably remarked, in the foregoing description of Mekka, how few artisans inhabit its streets; such as masons, carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, smiths, &c., and these are far inferior, in skill, to the same class in Egypt. With the exception of a few potteries and dying-houses, the Mekkawys have not a single manufactory; but, like the people of Djidda, are dependent upon other countries for a supply of their wants. Mekka, therefore, has necessarily a considerable degree of foreign commerce, which is chiefly carried on, during the pilgrimage, and some months preceding it, by the wealthy hadjys, who bring from every Muselman country its native productions to Djidda, either by sea or across the Desert from Damascus, exchanging them amongst each other; or receiving from the merchants of Mekka the goods of India and Arabia, which the latter have accumulated the whole year in their warehouses. At this period, Mekka becomes one of the largest fairs of the East, and certainly the most interesting, from the variety of nations which frequent it. The value of the exports from Mekka is, however, greatly superior to that of the imports, and a considerable sum of money, in dollars and sequins, required to balance them. Of these, some part finds its way to Yemen and India; and about one-fourth remains in the hands of the Mekkawys. So profitable is this trade, that the goods bought at Djidda from the merchants, who purchase them out of the ships which arrive there from India, yield, when sold wholesale at Mekka, during the Hadj, a clear gain of twenty to thirty per cent., and of fifty per cent. when sold in retail. It is not surprising, therefore, that all the people of Mekka are merchants. Whoever can make up a sum of a few hundred dollars, repairs to Djidda, and lays it out on goods, which he exposes for sale during the pilgrimage. Much profit is also fraudulently made: great numbers of hadjys are ignorant of the Arabic language, and are consequently placed in the hands of brokers or interpreters, who never fail to make them pay dearly for their services; indeed, all Mekka seems united in the design of cheating the pilgrims.
Formerly, when the caravans enjoyed perfect security on the road, goods were chiefly transported by land to. Mekka: at present, few merchants trust their property to the hazards of a passage across the Desert; they rather forego the advantage of importing them into Mekka duty-free, the great privilege possessed by the caravans, and carry them by sea to Djidda, on which road all the hadjys of Africa and Turkey pay a double duty; once in Egypt, and again at Djidda both duties are received by Mohammed Aly. At present, therefore, the smaller traffic only is carried on by the caravans, which remain but a few days at Mekka. The shopkeepers and retail dealers of the city derive greater profits from them than the wholesale merchants. The principal business of the latter occurs during the months previous to the pilgrimage, when foreign merchants arrive by the way of Djidda, and have full leisure to settle their affairs before the Hadj takes place.
In time of peace with the interior, there is a considerable trade with the Bedouins, and especially with the inhabitants of the towns of Nedjed, who are in want of India goods, drugs, and articles of dress, which they procure either from Medina, or at a cheaper rate from Mekka. Coffee, so much used in the Desert, is imported by the people of Nedjed themselves, who send their own caravans to the coffee country of Yemen.
The Mekkawys, especially those who are not sufficiently opulent to trade in India goods, (which require a good deal of ready cash, and lie sometimes long on hand,) employ their capital during the interval of the Hadj, in the traffic of corn and provisions. This was much more profitable formerly than it is at present; for Mohammed Aly having made these articles a monopoly, the people are now obliged to purchase the grain in Djidda, at the Pasha’s own price, and to be contented with a moderate gain on re-selling it at Mekka. After paying freight, however, it still leaves a profit of fifteen or twenty per cent.; and it is a species of traffic peculiarly attractive to the smaller capitals, as, the prices being very variable, it is a lottery by which money may sometimes be doubled in a short time.
At the approach of the pilgrimage, every kind of provision rises in value; and, in a smaller proportion, every other article of trade. Those who have warehouses filled with corn, rice, and biscuits, are sure to obtain considerable profits. To provide food, during their stay, for an influx of population amounting to sixty thousand human beings, and for twenty thousand camels, together with provisions for their return homewards, is a matter of no small moment, and Mohammed Aly has not yet ventured to take the whole of it into his hands. Every Mekkawy possessing a few dollars, lays them out in the purchase of some kind of provision, which, when the Hadj approaches, he transports upon his ass from Djidda to Mekka.
Whenever the interior of Arabia is open to caravans, Bedouins from all the surrounding parts purchase their yearly provision of corn at Mekka; which itself also, in time of peace, receives a considerable quantity of corn from Yemen, especially Mokhowa, a town which is ten days’ journey distant, at the western foot of the great chain, and the mart of the Arabs who cultivate those mountains. I heard that the imports from Mokhowa amounted to half the demand of Mekka; but this seems doubtful, though I have no means of forming a correct estimate, as the route is at present unfrequented, and Mekka receives its provisions wholly from Djidda. The consumption of grain, it may be observed, is much greater in Arabia than in any of the surrounding countries; the great mass of the population living almost entirely upon wheat, barley, lentils, or rice; using no vegetables, but a great deal of butter.
Unless a person is himself engaged in commercial concerns, or has an intelligent friend among the wholesale merchants, it is difficult, if not impossible, for him to obtain any accurate details of so extensive a trade as that carried on by Mekka. I shall, therefore, abstain from making any partial, and, on that account, probably erroneous remarks, on its different branches, with which I am not well acquainted, and which I could find no one at Mekka to explain to me.
It will naturally be supposed that Mekka is a rich town: it would be still more so, if the lower classes did not so rapidly spend their gains in personal indulgences. The wholesale merchants are rich; and as the whole of their business is carried on with ready money, they are less exposed to losses than other Eastern merchants. Most of them have an establishment at Djidda, and the trade of both towns is closely connected. During the time of the Wahabys, the interior of Arabia was opened to Mekka; but the foreign imports, by sea and land, were reduced to what was wanted for the use of the inhabitants. The great fair of the pilgrimage no longer took place; and although some foreign hadjys still visited the holy city, they did not trust their goods to the chance of being seized by the Wahabys. Under these circumstances, the principal inducement with the Mekkawys to remain in the town, namely, their unceasing gains, no longer existed. The rich waited for a renewal of the Hadj caravans; but many of the poor, unable longer to find subsistence, retired from Mekka, and settled at Djidda, or other harbours on the Red Sea; whither they have been followed by many of the more respectable traders.
Trade is carried on by means of brokers, many of whom are Indians: in general, the community of Indians is the wealthiest in Mekka. They are in direct intercourse with all the harbours of Hindostan, and can often afford to undersell their competitors.
Many of them, as has been already observed, are stationary here, while others are constantly travelling backward and forward between India and the Hedjaz. They all retain their native language, which they teach their children, and also many merchants of Mekka superficially, so that most of the latter understand, at least, the Hindostanee numerals, and the most ordinary phrases employed in buying and selling. The Indians labour under great difficulties in learning Arabic; I never heard any of them, however long resident in the Hedjaz, speak it with a tolerable accent: in this respect they are inferior to the Turks, whose pronunciation of Arabic so often affords subject of ridicule to the Arabian mob. The children of Indians, born at Mekka, of course speak Arabic as their native language. The Indians have the custom of writing Arabic with Hindostanee characters.
They are said to be extremely parsimonious; and, from what I saw of them in the houses of some of their first merchants, they seem to deserve the character. They are shrewd traders, and an overmatch, sometimes, even for the Arabians. They are despicable, from their want of charity; but they display among themselves a spirited manner, which makes them respected, and even sometimes dreaded, at Mekka. Many of them have partners in India; consequently they receive their goods cheaper than they can be bought from the Indian ships at Djidda: hence the inferior dealers and shopkeepers at Mekka often find it more convenient to purchase from them at short credit, than to go to Djidda, where every thing must be paid for in ready money. With the exception of one or two houses, no Arabian merchants of Mekka receive their goods direct from India, but purchase them from the India fleet. Of all the people at Mekka none are more strict in the performance of their religious rites than the Indians.
Dealers, when bargaining in the presence of others from whom they wish to conceal their business, join their right hands under the corner of the gown or sleeve of one of the parties; by touching the different joints of the fingers they note the numerals, and thus silently conclude their bargain.
The Mekkawys who do not ostensibly follow commerce, are attached to the government, or to the establishment of the mosque; but as I have already said, they all engage, more or less, in some branch of traffic, and the whole population looks forward to the period of the Hadj as the source of their income.
The persons attached to the mosque have regular salaries, partake in the general presents made to it, expect many private donations from charitable devotees, and share in the stipends which are brought by the Syrian and Egyptian caravans. These stipends, called Surra, (of which I have already given an account,) derive their origin principally from the Sultans of Constantinople, who, upon their accession to the throne, generally fix a certain yearly sum for the maintenance of the poor, and the worthiest individuals of Mekka and Medina. They are distributed in both towns by the Kadhy, as he thinks proper; but if a person has been once presented with a stipend, he enjoys it for life, and it descends to his children. He receives a ticket signed by the Kadhy, the Sherif, and the Surra-writer, and his name is entered in a register at Mekka, of which a duplicate is sent annually by the returning Hadj to Constantinople, where the name is enrolled in the general Surra-book. The Surra is made up at Constantinople in a great number of small packets, each containing the stipulated sum, and indorsed with the name of the individual to whom it is destined. If any fresh sum is sent to be distributed, the Kadhy divides it, informs the inspector of the Surra at Constantinople to whom the money has been given, and in the following year the additional packages, addressed to the new pensioners, are added to the former number. Some of the Surras are brought from Egypt, but the far greater part from Constantinople, by way of Syria: this part is very regularly received. Each caravan has its own Surra-writer, whose duty also it is to distribute all the other money or tribute which the caravan pays to Bedouins and Arabs, on its road to Mekka.
The Surra for Mekka is distributed in the mosque, under the windows of the Kadhy’s house, after the departure of the Hadj. There are persons who receive so small a sum as one piastre; the greater number from ten to twenty piastres; but there are a few families who receive as much as two thousand piastres annually. Although not always given to the most worthy, many poor families derive support from this allowance. The tickets are transferable; the Kadhy and the Sherif must sign the transfer; and the new name, a small compliment being given to the Kadhy’s scribe, is registered and sent to Constantinople. In former times a Mekkawy could scarcely be induced to sell his Surra, which he considered an honour as well as the most certain provision for his family. The value, however, of the Surra has much changed. During the time of the Wahabys the tickets had almost entirely lost their value, as for eight years their holders had received no pay. They have now recovered a little; but some were lately sold at two years and a half purchase, which may afford an idea of the opinion current at Mekka as to the stability of the Turkish government, or the probability of the return of the Wahabys.
The idlest, most impudent, and vilest individuals of Mekka adopt the profession of guides (metowaf or delyl); and as there is no want of those qualities, and a sufficient demand for guides during the Hadj, they are very numerous. Besides the places which I have described in the town, the metowafs accompany the hadjys to all the other places of resort in the sacred district, and are ready to perform every kind of service in the city. But their utility is more than counterbalanced by their importunity and knavery. They besiege the room of the hadjy from sun-rise to sun-set; and will not allow him to do any thing without obtruding their advice: they sit down with him to breakfast, dinner, and supper; lead him into all possible expenses, that they may pocket a share of them; suffer no opportunity to pass of asking him for money; and woe to the poor ignorant Turk who employs them as his interpreter in any mercantile concern. My first delyl was the man of Medina at whose house I lodged during the last days of Ramadhan. On returning to Mekka a second time, I unfortunately met him in the street; and though I was far from giving him a hearty welcome, having sufficient reason to suspect his honesty, he eagerly embraced me, and forthwith made my new lodgings his home. At first he accompanied me every day in my walks round the Kaaba, to recite the prayers used on that occasion: these, however, I soon learned by heart, and therefore dispensed with his services on the occasion. He sat down regularly at dinner with me, and often brought a small basket, which he ordered my slave to fill with biscuits, meat vegetables or fruit, and carried away with him. Every third or fourth day he asked for money: “It is not you who give it,” he said; “it is God who sends it to me.” Finding there was no polite mode of getting rid of him, I told him plainly, that I no longer wanted his services; language to which a Mekka delyl is not accustomed. After three days, however, he returned, as if nothing had happened, and asked me for a dollar. “God does not move me to give you any thing,” I replied; “if he judged it right, he would soften my heart, and cause me to give you my whole purse.” “Pull my beard,” he exclaimed, “if God does not send you ten times more hereafter than what I beg at present.” “Pull out every hair of mine,” I replied, “if I give you one para, until I am convinced that God will consider it a meritorious act.” On hearing this he jumped up, and walked away, saying, “We fly for refuge to God, from the hearts of the proud and the hands of the avaricious.” These people never speak ten words without pronouncing the name of God or Mohammed; they are constantly seen with the rosary in their hands, and mumble prayers even during conversation. This character of the metowafs is so applicable to the people of Mekka in general, that at Cairo they use the following proverb, to repress the importunity of an insolent beggar: “Thou art like the Mekkawy, thou sayest ‘Give me,’ and ‘I am thy master.’”
As I was obliged to have a delyl, I next engaged an old man of Tatar origin, with whom having made a sort of treaty at the outset, I had reason to be tolerably satisfied. What I paid at Mekka to the delyls, and at the places of holy visit, amounted, perhaps, altogether to three hundred and fifty piastres, or thirty dollars; but I gave no presents, either to the mosque, or to any of its officers, which is done only by great hadjys, or by those who wish to be publicly noticed. Some of the delyls are constantly stationed near the Kaaba, waiting to be hired for the walks round it; and if they see a pilgrim walking alone, they often, unasked, take hold of his hand, and begin to recite the prayers. The charge for this service is about half a piastre; and I have observed them bargaining with the hadjy at the very gate of the Kaaba, in the hearing of every body. The poorer delyls are contented with the fourth of a piastre. Many shopkeepers, and people of the third class, send their sons who know the prayers by heart, to this station, to learn the profession of delyl. Those who understand the Turkish language earn great wages. As the Turkish hadjys usually arrive by way of Djidda, in parties of from eight to twelve, who have quitted their homes in company, and live together at Mekka, one delyl generally takes charge of the whole party, and expects a fee in proportion to their number. It often happens that the hadjys, on returning home, recommend him to some other party of their countrymen, who, on reaching Djidda, send him orders to provide lodgings for them in Mekka, to meet them at Djidda, to superintend their short journey to the holy city, and to guide them in the prayers that must be recited on first entering it. Some of these delyls are constantly found at Djidda during the three months immediately preceding the Hadj: I have seen them on the road to Mekka, riding at the head of their party, and treated by them with great respect and politeness. A Turk from Europe, or Asia Minor, who knows not a word of Arabic, is overjoyed to find a smooth-tongued Arab who speaks his language, and who promises all kinds of comforts in Mekka, which he had been taught to consider as a place where nothing awaited him but danger and fatigue. A delyl who has twelve Turkish hadjys under his care for a month, generally gains as much as suffices for the expenses of his house during the whole year, besides new clothing for himself and all his children.
Some of these delyls have a very singular office. The Mohammedan law prescribes that no unmarried woman shall perform the pilgrimage; and that even every married woman must be accompanied by her husband, or at least a very near relation (the Shafay sect does not even allow the latter). Female hadjys sometimes arrive from Turkey for the Hadj; rich old widows, who wish to see Mekka before they die; or women who set out with their husbands, and lose them on the road by disease. In such cases, the female finds at Djidda, delyls (or, as this class is called, Muhallil) ready to facilitate their progress through the sacred territory in the character of husbands.
The marriage contract is written out before the Kadhy; and the ladt, accompanied by her delyl, performs the pilgrimage to Mekka, Arafat, and all the sacred places. This, however, is understood to be merely a nominal marriage; and the delyl must divorce the woman on his return to Djidda: if he were to refuse a divorce, the law cannot compel him to it, and the marriage would be considered binding; but he could no longer exercise the lucrative profession of delyl; and my informant could only recollect two examples of the delyl continuing to be the woman’s husband. I believe there is not any exaggeration of the number, in stating that there are eight hundred full-grown delyls, besides boys who are learning the profession. Whenever a shopkeeper loses his customers, or a poor man of letters wishes to gain as much money as will purchase an Abyssinian slave, he turns delyl. The profession is one of little repute; but many a prosperous Mekkawy has, at some period of his life, been a member of it.
From trade, stipends, and the profits afforded by hadjys, the riches which annually flow into Mekka are very considerable, and might have rendered it one of the richest cities in the East, were it not for the dissolute habits of its inhabitants. With the exception of the first class of merchants, who, though they keep splendid establishments, generally live below their income, and a great part of the second class, who hoard up money with the view of attaining the first rank, the generality of Mekkawys, of all descriptions and professions, are loose and disorderly spendthrifts. The great gains which they make during three or four months, are squandered in good living, dress, and the grossest gratifications; and in proportion as they feel assured of the profits of the following year, they care little about saving any part of those of the present. In the month of Moharram, as soon as the Hadj is over, and the greater part of the pilgrims have departed, it is customary to celebrate marriage and circumcision feasts. These are celebrated at Mekka in a very splendid style; and a man that has not more than three hundred dollars to spend in the year, will then throw away half that sum in the marriage or the circumcision of his child. Neither the sanctity of the holy city, nor the solemn injunctions of the Koran, are able to deter the inhabitants of Mekka from the using of spirituous liquors, and indulging in all the excesses which are the usual consequences of drunkenness. The Indian fleet imports large quantities of raky in barrels. This spirit, mixed with sugar, and an extract of cinnamon, is sold under the name of cinnamon-water. The Sherifs in Mekka and Djidda, great merchants, olemas, and all the chief people are in the habit of drinking this liquor, which they persuade themselves is neither wine nor brandy, and therefore not prohibited by the law. The less wealthy inhabitants cannot purchase so dear a commodity; but they use a fermented liquor made from raisins, and imported from Tayf, while the lower classes drink bouza. During my stay at Tayf, a Turk belonging to the suite of Mohammed Aly Pasha distilled brandy from grapes, and publicly sold it at forty piastres the bottle.
The Mekkawys are very expensive in their houses: the rooms are embellished with fine carpets, and an abundance of cushions and sofas covered with brocade: amidst the furniture is seen much beautiful china-ware, and several nargiles adorned with silver. A petty shopkeeper would be ashamed to receive his acquaintances in a house less splendidly fitted up. Their tables also are better supplied than in any other country of the East, where even respectable families live economically in this respect. A Mekkawy, even of the lower class, must have daily on his table meat which costs from one and a half to two piastres the pound; his coffee-pot is never removed from the fire; and himself, his women and children are almost constantly using the nargile, and the tobacco which supplies it cannot be a very trifling expense.
The women have introduced the fashion, not uncommon in Turkey, of visiting each other at least once a week with all their children; the visit lasts the whole day, and an abundant entertainment is provided on the occasion: the vanity of each mistress of a house makes her endeavour to surpass her acquaintances in show and magnificence; thus a continual expense is entailed on every family. Among the sources of expenditure must be enumerated the purchasing of Abyssinian female slaves who are kept by the men, or money bestowed on the public women whom several of them frequent. Considerable sums are also lavished in sensual gratification still more vicious and degrading, but unfortunately as prevalent in the towns of the Hedjaz as in some other parts of Asia, or in Egypt under the Mamelouks. It has been already observed that the temple of Mekka itself, the very sanctuary of the Mohammedan religion, is almost publicly and daily contaminated by practices of the grossest depravity: to these no disgrace is here attached; the young of all classes are encouraged in them by the old, and even parents have been so base as to connive at them for the sake of money. From such pollution, however, the encampments of the Arabian Bedouins are exempt; although their ancestors were not, in this respect, immaculate, if we may credit some scandalous anecdotes recorded by Eastern historians.
But my account of the public women (who are very numerous) must here be resumed. I have already observed that the quarter called Shab Aamer was the residence of the poorer class; those of the higher order are dispersed over the town. Their outward behaviour is more decent than that of any public women in the East, and it requires the experienced eye of a Mekkawy to ascertain by a particular movement in her gait, that the veiled female passing before him belongs to the venal tribe. I shall not venture to speak of the married women of the Hedjaz: I have heard anecdotes related, little to their credit; but in the East, as in other countries, the young men sometimes boast of favours which they never have enjoyed. The exterior demeanour of the women of Djidda and Mekka is very decorous: few of them are ever seen walking or riding in the street; a practice so common at Cairo, though contrary to Oriental ideas of propriety: and I lived in three different houses at Mekka without having seen the unveiled faces of the female inmates.
The great merchants of Mekka live very splendidly: in the houses of Djeylany, Sakkat, Ageyl, and El Nour, are establishments of fifty or sixty persons. These merchants obtained their riches principally during the reign of Ghaleb, to whom Djeylany and Sakkat served as spies upon the other merchants. Their tables are furnished daily in abundance with every native delicacy, as well as with those which India and Egypt afford. About twenty persons sit down to dinner with them; the favourite Abyssinian slaves, who serve often as writers or cashiers, are admitted to the table of their master; but the inferior slaves and the servants are fed only upon flour and butter. The china and glass ware, in which the dishes are served up, is of the best quality; rose-water is sprinkled on the beards of the guests after dinner, and the room is filled with the odours of aloe-wood, burnt upon the nargiles. There is great politeness without formality; and no men appear in a more amiable light, than the great Mekkawys dispensing hospitality to their guests. Whoever happens to be sitting in the outer hall, when dinner is served up, is requested to join at table, which he does without conceiving himself at all obliged by the invitation, while the host, on his part, appears to think compliance a favour conferred upon him.
The rich Mekkawys make two meals daily, one before mid-day, the other after sun-set; the lower classes breakfast at sun-rise, and eat nothing more till near sun-set. As in the negro countries, it is very indecorous for a man to be seen eating in the streets: the Turkish soldiers, who retain their native manners, are daily reprehended by the people of Mekka for their ill-breeding in this respect.
Before the Turkish conquest, and the wars of the Sherif with the Wahabys which preceded it, the merchants of Mekka led a very happy life. During the months of May and June they went to attend the sale of India goods at Djidda. In July and August (unless the Hadj happened in these months) they retired to their houses at Tayf, where they passed the hottest season, leaving their acting partners or writers at Djidda and Mekka. During the months of the pilgrimage, they were of course always at Mekka; and every wealthy Mekkawy family followed the Hadj to Arafat as a tour of pleasure, and encamped for three days at Wady Muna.
In the month of Radjeb, which is the seventh after the month of the Hadj, a caravan used always to set out from Mekka for Medina, composed of several hundred merchants, mounted upon dromedaries. At that time a large fair was held at Medina, and frequented by many of the surrounding Bedouins, and people of the Hedjaz and Nedjed.
The merchandize for its supply was sent from Mekka by a heavy caravan of camels, which set out immediately after the merchants, and was called Rukub el Medina. [In general, the Arabs of the Hedjaz call the caravans Rukub; speaking of the Baghdad caravan, they say Rukub es’ Shám, or Rukub el Erak.] They remained about twenty days at Medina, and then returned to Mekka. This frequent, yet regular change of abode, must have been very agreeable to the merchants, particularly in those times, when they could calculate with certainty that the next pilgrimage would be a source of new riches to them. Tayf and Medina being now half-ruined, the merchants of Mekka resort to Djidda, as their only place of recreation: but even those who have wives and houses there, talk of their establishments at Mekka as their only real homes, and in it they spend the greater part of the year.
The inhabitants of Mekka, Djidda, and (in a less degree) of Medina, are generally of a more lively disposition than either the Syrians or Egyptians. None of those silent, grave automatons are seen here, so common in other parts of the Levant, whose insensibility, or stupidity is commonly regarded among themselves as a proof of feeling, shrewdness, and wisdom.
The character of the Mekkawy resembles, in this respect, that of the Bedouin; and did not greediness of gain often distort their features, the smile of mirth would always be on their lips. In the streets and bazars, in the house, and even in the mosque, the Mekkawy loves to laugh and joke. In dealing with each other, or in talking on grave subjects, a proverb, a pun, or some witty allusion, is often introduced, and produces laughter. As the Mekkawys possess, with this vivacity of temper, much intellect, sagacity, and great suavity of manners, which they well know how to reconcile with their innate pride, their conversation is very agreeable; and whoever cultivates a mere superficial acquaintance with them, seldom fails to be delighted with their character. They are more polite towards each other, as well as towards strangers, than the inhabitants of Syria and Egypt, and retain something of the good-natured disposition of the Bedouins, from whom they derive their origin. When they accost each other in the streets for the first time in the course of the day, the young man kisses the elder’s hand, or the inferior that of his superior in rank, while the latter returns the salute by a kiss upon the forehead. Individuals of equal rank and age, not of the first class, mutually kiss each other’s hands. [In shaking hands, the people of the Hedjaz lay hold of each other’s thumbs with the whole hand, pressing it, and again opening the hand three or four times. This is called Mesáfeha, and is said to have been a habit of Mohammed.] They say to a stranger, “O faithful,” or “brother;” and the saying of the prophet, “that all faithful are brethren,” is constantly upon their lips. “Welcome, a thousand times welcome,” says a shopkeeper to his foreign customer; “you are the stranger of God, the guest of the holy city; my whole property is at your disposal.” When the service of any one is wanted, the applicant says, “Our whole subsistence, after God, is owing to you pilgrims; can we do less than be grateful?” If in the mosque a foreigner is exposed to the sun, the Mekkawy will make room for him in a shady place; if he passes a coffee-shop, he will hear voices calling him to enter and take a cup of coffee; if a Mekkawy takes a jar to drink from any public water-seller, he will offer it, before he sets it to his mouth, to any passenger; and upon the slightest acquaintance, he will say to his new friend, “When will you honour me at home, and take your supper with me?” When they quarrel among themselves, none of those scurrilous names or vile language is heard, so frequently used in Egypt and Syria; blows are only given on very extraordinary occasions, and the arrival of a respectable person puts an immediate stop to any dispute, on his recommending peace: “God has made us great sinners,” they will then say, “but he has bestowed upon us, likewise, the virtue of easy repentance.”
To these amiable qualities the Mekkawys add another, for which they must also be commended: they are a proud race, and though their pride is not founded upon innate worth, it is infinitely preferable to the cringing servility of the other Levantines, who redeem their slavish deference to superiors by the most overbearing haughtiness towards those below them. The Mekkawys are proud of being natives of the holy city, of being the countrymen of their prophet; of having preserved, in some degree, his manners; of speaking his pure language; of enjoying, in expectation, all the honours in the next world, which are promised to the neighbours of the Kaaba; and of being much freer men than any of the foreigners whom they see crowding to their city. They exhibit this pride to their own superiors, whom they have taught to treat them with great forbearance and circumspection; and they look upon all other Mohammedan nations as people of an inferior order, to whom their kindness and politeness are the effect of their condescension. Many good consequences might result from this pride, without which a people cannot expect to sustain its rank among nations. It has prevented the people of Mekka from sinking so deep into slavery as some of their neighbours; but it excites them to nothing laudable, while its more immediate effects are seen in the contempt which they entertain for foreigners. This contempt, as I have already remarked, in speaking of Djidda, is chiefly displayed towards the Turks, whose ignorance of the Arabic language, whose dress and manners, the meanness of their conduct whenever they cannot talk as masters; their cowardice exhibited whenever the Hadj has been assailed in its route across the Desert, and the little respect that was shown to them by the Governors of Mekka, as long as the Sherif’s power was unbroken, have lowered them so much in the estimation of the Arabians, that they are held in the Hedjaz as little better than infidels; and although many of the Mekkawys are of Turkish origin, they heartily join the rest of their townsmen in vilifying the stock from which they sprang. The word Turky has become a term of insult towards each other among the children. Noszrany (Christians), or Yahoudy (Jews), are often applied to the Turks by the people of Mekka; and their manners and language afford a perpetual source of ridicule or reproach. The Syrians and Egyptians experience similar effects from the pride of the people of the Hedjaz, but especially the former, as the Egyptians, of all foreigners, approach nearest to the people of Arabia in customs and language, and keep up the most intimate intercourse with them. But the haughty Syrian Moslim, who calls Aleppo or Damascus “Om el Donia,” (the mother of the world,) and believes no race of men equal to his own, nor any language so pure as the Syrian, though it is undoubtedly the worst dialect of the Arabic next to the Moggrebyn, is obliged to behave here with great modesty and circumspection, and at least to affect politeness. Although an Arab, he is reproached with dressing and living like a Turk; and to the epithet Shámy (Syrian) the idea is attached of a heavy, untutored clown. If the Arabians were to see the Turks in the countries where they are masters, their dislike towards them would be still greater; for it must be said, that their behaviour in the holy city is, in general, much more decent and conformable to the precepts of their religion, than in the countries from which they come.
The Mekkawys believe that their city, with all the inhabitants, is under the especial care of Providence, and that they are so far favoured above all other nations. “This is Mekka! this is the city of God!” they exclaim, when any surprise is expressed at the greater part of them having remained in the town during the stagnation of trade and the absence of pilgrims: “None ever wants his daily bread [h]ere; none fears here the incursion of enemies.” That Saoud saved the town from pillage; that no plundering took place when the Turkish cavalry, under Mostafa Bey, recaptured it from the Wahabys; that the capture of Sherif Ghaleb led to no massacres within the precincts of Mekka, are to them so many visible miracles of the Almighty, to prove the truth of that passage of the Koran, (chap. 106.) in which it is said, “Let them adore the God of the house (the Kaaba), who feeds them in hunger, and secures them from all fear.” But they forget to look back to their own history, which mentions many terrible famines and sanguinary battles, that have happened in this sacred asylum. Indeed, the Hedjaz has suffered more from famine than, perhaps, any other Eastern country. The historians abound with descriptions of such lamentable events: I shall only mention one that happened in 1664, when, as Asamy relates, many people sold their own children at Mekka for a single measure of corn; and when, at Djidda, the populace fed publicly on human flesh.
A Mekkawy related to me, that having once resolved to abandon the city, in consequence of the non-arrival of Turkish hadjys, who supplied his means of subsistence, an angel appeared to him in his sleep on the night previous to his intended departure. The angel had a flaming sword in his hand, and stood upon the gate of Mekka, through which the dreamer was about to leave the town, and exclaimed, “Unbeliever, remain! the Mekkawys shall eat honey, while all the other people of the earth shall be content with barley bread!” In consequence of this vision he abandoned his project, and continued to live in the town.
The exterior politeness of the people of Mekka is in the same proportion to their sincerity, as are their professions of zealous faith and adherence to their religion, with the observance of its precepts. Many of them, especially those who have no particular interest in imposing upon the hadjys by an appearance of extreme strictness, are very relaxed in observing the forms of their religion, thinking it quite sufficient to be Mekkawys and to utter pious ejaculations in public, or supposing that the rigid practice of its precepts is more particularly incumbent upon foreign visitors, who see Mekka only once in their life. Like the Bedouins, many of them are either very irregular in their prayers, or do not pray at all. During the Friday’s prayers, which every Moslim resident in a town is bound to attend, the mosque is filled chiefly with strangers, while many of the people of Mekka are seen smoking in their shops. After the pilgrims have left the town, the service in the mosque is very thinly attended. They never distribute alms, excusing themselves by saying that they were placed by Providence in this town to receive charity, and not to bestow it. They ape the manners recorded of Mohammed, but in his most trifling habits only: their mustachios are cut short, and their beard kept regularly under the scissors, because it was the prophet’s custom to do so. In like manner they allow the end of the turban to fall loosely over the cap; every other day they put kohhel or antimony on their eye-lids, and have always in their hands a messouak or tooth-brush made of a thin branch of the shrub Arak, or one imported by the Persian hadjys. They know by heart many passages of the Koran and Hadyth, (or sacred traditions,) and allude to, or quote them every moment; but they forget that these precepts were given for rules of conduct, and not for mere repetition. Intoxicating liquors are sold at the very gates of the mosque: the delyls themselves act in direct contradiction of the law by loudly reciting prayers in the mosque to their pupils the hadjys, in order to allure by their sonorous voices other pilgrims to their guidance, carrying at the same time the common large stick of the Mekkawys. It is also a transgression against the law, when the intoxicating hashysh is openly smoked: cards are played in almost every Arab coffee-house, (they use small Chinese cards,) though the Koran directly forbids games of hazard. The open protection afforded by the government to persons both male and female of the most profligate character, is a further encouragement to daily transgressions against the rigid principles of the Mohammedan law. Cheating and false swearing have ceased to be crimes among them. They are fully conscious of the scandal of these vices: every delyl exclaims against the corruption of manners, but none set an example of reformation; and while acting constantly on principles quite opposite to those which they profess, they unanimously declare that times are such, as to justify the saying, “In el Haram fi belád el Harameyn,” “that the cities forbidden to infidels abound with forbidden things.”
In a place where there is no variety of creeds, persecution cannot show itself; but it is probable that the Mekkawys might easily be incited to excesses against those whom they call infidels: for I have always remarked in the East, that the Muselmans most negligent in performing the duties of their religion are the most violent in urging its precepts against unbelievers; and that the grossest superstition is generally found among those who trifle with their duties, or who, like many Osmanlys, even deride them, and lay claim to free-thinking. There is no class of Turks more inveterate in their hatred against Christians than those who, coming frequently into intercourse with them, find it convenient to throw off for a while the appearance of their prejudices. In all the European harbours of the Mediterranean, the Moggrebyns live like unbelievers; but when at home, nothing but fear can induce them to set bounds to their fanaticism. It is the same with the Turks in the Archipelago, and I might adduce many examples from Syria and Egypt in corroboration of this assertion. If fanaticism has somewhat decreased within the last twenty years throughout the Turkish empire, the circumstance, I think, may be ascribed solely to the decreasing energy of the inhabitants, and the growing indifference for their own religion, and certainly not to a diffusion of more philanthropic or charitable principles. The text of the Mohammedan law is precise in inciting its followers to unceasing hatred and contempt of all those who profess a different creed. This contempt has not decreased; but animosity gives way to an exterior politeness, whenever the interest of the Mohammedan is concerned. The degree of toleration enjoyed by the Christians, depends upon the interest of the provincial government under which they live: and if they happen to be favoured by it, the Turkish subject bows to the Christian. In all the eastern countries which I have visited, more privileges are allowed to Christians in general than the Moslim code prescribes; but their condition depends upon the fiat of the governor of the town or district; as they experienced about seven years since at Damascus, under Yousef Pasha, when they were suddenly reduced to their former abject state. Twenty years ago, a Copt of Egypt was in much the same situation as a Jew is now in Barbary; but at present, when the free-thinking, though certainly not liberal, Mohammed Aly finds it his interest to conciliate the Christians, a Greek beats a Turk without much fear of consequences from the mob; and I know an instance of an Armenian having murdered his own Muselman servant, and escaped punishment, on paying a fine to government, although the fact was publicly known. Convinced as the Turks must now be, in many parts of the East, of the superiority of these Europeans, whom they cannot but consider as the brethren of their Christian subjects, their behaviour towards the latter will, nevertheless, be strictly regulated by the avowed sentiments of their governors; and it would be as easy for Mohammed Aly by a single word to degrade the Christians in Egypt, as he found it to raise them to their present consideration, superior, I believe, to what they enjoy in any other part of Turkey.
The hatred against Christians is nearly equal in every part of the Ottoman empire; and if the Moslims sacrifice that feeling, it is not to the principles of charity or humanity, but to the frown of those who happen to be in power; and their baseness is such, that they will kiss today the hands of him whom they have trodden under foot yesterday. In examining into the fanatical riots, many of which are recorded in the chanceries of the European consuls in the Levant, it will generally be found that government had a share in the affrays, and easily succeeded in quelling them. The late Sultan Selim, in his regenerating system, which led him to favour the Christians, found no opposition from the mass of his people, but from the jealous Janissaries; and when the latter had prevailed, the demi-Gallicized grandees of Constantinople easily sunk again into Sunnys. Sometimes, indeed, a rash devotee, or mad Sheikh or Dervish at the head of a few partisans, affords an exception to these general statements; and will insult a Christian placed in the highest favour with the public authorities, as happened at Damascus in 1811, to the Greek Patriarch, after Yousef Pasha had been repulsed: but his countrymen, although cherishing the same principles, and full of the same uncharitableness, seldom have the courage to give vent to their feelings, and to follow the example of the Saint. None of those genuine popular commotions, which were once so frequent in Europe, when the members of the reigning church saw individuals of a rival persuasion extending their influence, are now witnessed in the East. Whatever may be thought of it in a moral point of view, we must respect the energy of a man who enters headlong into a contention, of at least uncertain issue, and generally detrimental to his own worldly interests, merely because he fancies or believes that his religious duty commands his exertions. The Moslim of the Turkish empire, as far as I have had an opportunity of remarking, easily suppresses his feelings, his passions, the dictates of his conscience, and what he supposes agreeable to the will of the Almighty, at the dictates of his interest, or according to the wish or example of the ruling power.
In the time of the Sherif, Christians were often ill treated at Djidda; they could not wear the European dress, or approach the quarter of the town situated towards the gate of Mekka. But since the arrival of Mohammed Aly’s army, they walk about, and dress as they like. In December 1814, when two Englishmen passed the gate of Mekka on a walk round the town, (the first persons, probably, in a European dress, who had ever passed the holy boundary,) a woman was heard to exclaim, “Truly the world must be near its end, if Kafirs (or infidels) dare to tread upon this ground!” Even now, if a Christian dies there, it is not permitted that he should be interred on shore; the body is carried to a small desert island in the harbour. When, in 1815, the plague raged in the Hedjaz, an event which had never before been known, the Kadhy of Djidda, with the whole body of olemas, waited upon the Turkish governor of the city, to desire him to demolish a windmill which some Greek Christians from Cairo had built withoutside one of the gates, by order of Mohammed Aly. They were certain, they said, that the hand of God had visited them on account of this violation of the sacred territory by Christians. Some years ago an English ship was wrecked near Djidda, and among various spoils obtained from the wreck by Sherif Ghaleb was a large hog, an animal probably never before seen at Djidda: this hog, turned loose in the town with two ostriches, became the terror of all the sellers of bread and vegetables; for the mere touching of so unclean an animal as the hog, even with the edge of the gown, renders the Moslim impure, and unable to perform his prayers without previous ablution. The animal was kept for six months, when it was offered by the Sherif to an American captain for fifty dollars; but such a price being of course refused, it soon after died of a surfeit, to the great satisfaction of the inhabitants.
The Mekkawys, however, tolerate within their walls notorious heretics. I have already mentioned the Ismaylys, an idolatrous sect from India, who appear here in the garb of Moslims. The Persian hadjys, well known as sectaries of Aly, and revilers of Mohammed and his immediate followers, are not subjected to any particular inconveniences. The Sherif tolerated them, but levied a capitation-tax on each. The Sherifs, however, themselves, as I shall presently explain, are mostly of the sect of Zyoud, Muselmans who dispute with the orthodox Sunnyes (the great opponents of the Persian sectaries,) several of their principal dogmas.
Whenever the word Christian or European is mentioned by the Mekkawys, it is coupled with the most opprobrious and contemptuous epithets. They include them all in the appellation of Káfer, without having any clear ideas of the different nations of which they are composed. The English, however, being more in contact with them, from their Indian possessions, are often called exclusively “El Kafer,” or “the Infidels;” and whenever this appellation is so used, the English are to be understood. Thus, they say “El Kafer fy’l Hind,” the Kafer in India; or “Merkeb el Kafer fy Djidda,” the Kafer’s ship at Djidda, always meaning the English.
When the French invaded Egypt, a Moggrebyn saint at Mekka, called Sheikh el Djeylany, a distant relation of a wealthy merchant at Mekka, and who had for some time been in the habit of delivering lectures in the great mosque, mounted the pulpit, and preached a crusade against the infidels, who had seized upon the gate of the Kaaba, as Egypt is styled. Being a very eloquent speaker, and held in much veneration, many Arabs flocked to his standard, others gave him money; and it is said that even many women brought him their gold and silver trinkets, to assist him in his holy enterprise. He embarked at Djidda with his zealous followers, on board a small fleet, and landed at Cosseir. The governments of Mekka and Djidda seem to have had little share in the enterprise, though they threw no obstacles in its way. The fate of these Arabs (many of whom were of the same Wahaby tribes who afterwards offered so much resistance to Mohammed Aly), and the fury with which they encountered the French in Upper Egypt, are already known to the reader by Denon’s animated description. Sheikh Djeylany was killed, and very few of his followers returned. I believe their number is rather over-rated by Denon; for I never heard it stated at more than fifteen hundred.
The Mekkawys, like the inhabitants of Turkey, are in general free from the vices of pilfering and thieving; and robberies are seldom heard of, although, during the Hadj, and in the months which precede and follow it, Mekka abounds with rogues, who are tempted by the facility of opening the locks of this country.
Formerly the slaves of the Sherif were noted for their disorderly behaviour; Ghaleb, however, established good order among them; and during his reign, a burglary was never committed without the discovery and punishment of the perpetrator.
The streets of Mekka abound with beggars and poor hadjys, who are supported by the charity of strangers; for the Mekkawys think themselves privileged to dispense with this duty. Of them, however, many adopt mendicity as a profession, especially during the Hadj, when the pilgrims are bound to exercise that virtue which is so particularly enjoined by the precepts of Mohammed. The greater part of the beggars are Indians, others Syrians, Moggrebyns, and Egyptians: the Negroes are but few, as these generally prefer labour to begging; but a large proportion comes from Yemen. It is generally said in the East, that Mekka is the paradise of beggars: some perhaps may save a little money, but the wretched aspect of others plainly shows how much their expectations must have been disappointed. The Indians are the most modest among them; they accost the passenger with the words “Ya allah’ya kerim!” “O God, O bounteous God!” and if alms are refused, they walk away, without a word except the repetition of “Ya allah, ya kerim.” Not so the Yemeny or Mekkawy; “Think of your duty as a pilgrim,” he cries; “God does not like the cold-hearted; will you reject the blessings of the faithful? Give, and it shall be given unto thee; and with these and many other pious sentences they address the passenger, and when they have the alms safe in their hand, they often say, as my delyl did, “It is God, and not you, who gives it to me.” Some of these beggars are extremely importunate, and seem to ask for alms as if they were legally entitled to it. While I was at Djidda, a Yemen beggar mounted the minaret daily, after mid-day prayer, and exclaimed loud enough to be heard through the whole bazar, “I ask from God fifty dollars, a suit of clothes, and a copy of the Koran; O faithful, hear me, I ask of you fifty dollars,” &c. &c. This he repeated for several weeks, when at last a Turkish pilgrim, struck by the singularity of the beggar’s appeal, desired him to take thirty dollars, and discontinue his cries, which reflected shame upon the charity of all the hadjys present. “No,” said the beggar, “I will not take them, because I am convinced that God will send me the whole of what I beg of him so earnestly.” After repeating his public supplication for some days more, the same hadjy gave him the whole sum that he asked for; but without being thanked. I have heard people exclaim in the mosques at Mekka, immediately after prayers, “O brethren, O faithful, hear me! I ask twenty dollars from God, to pay for my passage home; twenty dollars only. You know that God is all-bountiful, and may send me a hundred dollars; but it is twenty dollars only that I ask. Remember that charity is the sure road to paradise.” There can be no doubt that this practice is sometimes attended with success.
But learning and science cannot be expected to flourish in a place where every mind is occupied in the search of gain, or of paradise; and I think I have sufficient reason for affirming that Mekka is at present much inferior even in Mohammedan learning to any town of equal population in Syria or Egypt. It probably was not so when the many public schools or Medreses were built, which are now converted into private lodgings for pilgrims. El Fasy says, that in his time there were eleven medreses in Mekka, besides a number of rebats, or less richly endowed schools, which contained also lodgings for poor hadjys; many of the Rebats in the vicinity of the mosque still remain, but are used only as lodging-houses. There is not a single public school in the town where lectures are given, as in other parts of Turkey; and the great mosque is the only place where teachers of Eastern learning are found. The schools in which boys are taught to read and write, are, as I have already mentioned, held in the mosque, where, after prayers, chiefly in the afternoon, some learned olemas explain a few religious books to a very thin audience, consisting principally of Indians, Malays, Negroes, and a few natives of Hadramaut and Yemen, who, attracted by the great name of Mekka, remain here a few years, until they think themselves sufficiently instructed to pass at home for learned men. The Mekkawys themselves, who wish to improve in science, go to Damascus or to Cairo. At the latter many of them are constantly found, studying in the mosque El Azhar.
The lectures delivered in the mosque at Mekka resemble those of other Eastern towns. They are delivered gratis; each lecture occupies one hour or two; and any person may lecture who thinks himself competent to the task, whether he belongs to the mosque or not. This happens also in the Azhar at Cairo, where I have seen more than forty different persons occupied at the same time in delivering their lectures. The subjects of the lectures in the Beitullah of Mokka, are, as usual, dissertations on the law, commentaries on the Koran, and traditions of the Prophet. There were none, during my residence, on grammar, logic, rhetoric, or the sciences, nor even on the Towhyd, or explanation of the essence or unity of God, which forms a principal branch of the learning of Moslim divines. I understood, however, that sometimes the Arabic syntax is explained, and the Elfye Ibn Malek on grammar. But the Mekkawys who have acquired an intimate knowledge of the whole structure of their language, owe it to their residence at Cairo.
There is no public library attached to the mosque; the ancient libraries, of which I have already spoken, have all disappeared. The Nayb el Haram has a small collection of books which belonged originally to the mosque; but it is now considered as his private property, and the books cannot be hired without difficulty. The Azhar at Cairo is on a very different footing. To each of the Rowak, or private establishments for the different Mohammedan nations, which it contains, (and which are now twenty-six in number,) a large library is annexed, and all the members of the Rowak are at liberty to take books from it to assist them in their studies. Mekka is equally destitute of private libraries, with the exception of those of the rich merchants, who exhibit a few books to distinguish them from the vulgar; or of the olemas, of whom some possess such as are necessary for their daily reference in matters of law.
The Wahabys, according to report, carried off many loads of books; but they were also said to have paid for every thing they took: it is not likely that they carried away all the libraries of Mekka, and I endeavoured in vain to discover even a single collection of books. Not a book-shop or a book-binder is found in Mekka. After the return of the Hadj from Arafat, a few of the poorer olemas expose some books for sale in the mosque, near Bab-es’-Salam: all those which I saw were on the law, korans with commentaries, and similar works, together with a few on grammar. No work on history, or on any other branch of knowledge, could be found; and, notwithstanding all my pains, I could never obtain a sight of any history of Mekka, although the names of the authors were not unknown to the Mekkawys. They told me that book-dealers used formerly to come here with the Hadj from Yemen, and sell valuable books, brought principally from Szanaa and Loheya. The only good work I saw at Mekka was a fine copy of the Arabic Dictionary called Kamous; it was purchased by a Malay for six hundred and twenty piastres; at Cairo it might be worth half that sum. Many pilgrims inquired for books, and were inclined to pay good prices for them; and it was matter of surprise to me that the speculating Mekkawys did not avail themselves of this branch of trade, not so lucrative certainly as that of coffee and India goods. I much regretted my total want of books, and especially the copies of the historians of Mekka, which I had left at Cairo; they would have led me to many inquiries on topography, which by Azraky in particular is treated with great industry.
The Persian hadjys and the Malays are those who chiefly search for books: the Wahabys, it is said, were particularly inquisitive after historical works; a remark I heard repeated at Medina. During my stay at Damascus, which is the richest book-market in the East, and the cheapest, from being very little frequented by Europeans, I heard that several Arabs of Baghdad, secretly commissioned for that purpose by Saoud, the Wahaby chief, had purchased there many historical works. When Abou Nokta plundered the harbours of Yemen, he carried off a great number of books, and sent them to Derayeh.
The scarcity of valuable books at Mekka may, perhaps, be ascribed to the continual purchases made by pilgrims; for there are no copyists at Mekka to replace the books which have been exported. [At Cairo, I saw many books in the Hedjaz character, some of which I purchased.] The want of copyists is, indeed, a general complaint also in Syria and Egypt, and must, in the end, lead to a total deficiency of books in those countries, if the exportation to Europe continues. There are at Cairo, at this time, not more than three professed copyists, who write a good hand, or who possess sufficient knowledge to enable them to avoid the grossest errors. At Mekka, there was a man of Lahor, who wrote Arabic most beautifully, though he spoke it very indifferently. He sat in a shop near Bab-es’-Salam, and copied for the hadjys such prayers as it was necessary to recite during the pilgrimage. The hand-writing of the Hedjaz is different from that used in Egypt or Syria; but a little practice makes it easily read. In general, not only every country, but every province, even, of the East, has its peculiar mode of writing, which practice alone can enable one to distinguish. There are shades of difference in the writing of the Aleppines, of the people of Damascus, and of Acre; and, in Egypt, the writing of a Cahirein is easily distinguished from that of a native of Upper Egypt. That of the Moslims is different every where from that of the Christians, who are taught to write by their priests, and not by Turkish schoolmasters. The Copts of Egypt have also a character differing from that of the other Christians established in the country. An experienced person knows, from the address of a letter, the province and the race to which the writer belongs. The dialects, and the style of letter-writing are not less distinguishable than the hand-writing; and this remark is particularly applicable to the complimentary expressions with which the letters always abound. The style of Syria is the most flowery; yet even in letters of mere business we find it used. That of Egypt is less complimentary; that of the Hedjaz is simple and manly, and approaches to Bedouin frankness, containing, before the immediate purport of the letter, only a few words of inquiry after the health and welfare of the person addressed. Each country has also its peculiar manner of folding a letter. In the Hedjaz, letters are sealed with gum-Aabic; and a small vessel full of the diluted gum is suspended near the gate of every large house or khan.
Whatever may be the indifference of the Mekkawys for learning, [I may mention, as a strong proof of the neglect of learning at Mekka, that of a dozen persons, respectable from their situations in life, of whom I inquired respecting the place Okath, not one of them knew where it was, or if it still existed. The Okath was the place where the ancient Arabian poets, as late even as the time of Mohammed, used to recite their works to crowds assembled there at a great fair. The prize poems were afterwards suspended at the Kaaba. It is to this custom that we owe the celebrated poems called the Seba Moallakat. A Bedouin of Hodheyl told me that the Okath was now a ruined place in the country of Beni Naszera, between two and three days’ journey south of Tayf. But in El Fasy’s history, I find it stated to be one day’s journey from Tayf; and that it ceased to be frequented as a fair in A.H. 1229. El Azraky says that it was at that distance from Tayf, on the road to Szanaa in Yemen, and belonged to the tribe of Beni Kanane.] the language of their city is still more pure and elegant, both in phraseology and pronunciation, than that of any other town where Arabic is spoken. It approaches more nearly than any other dialect to the old written Arabic, and is free from those affectations and perversions of the original sense, which abound in other provinces. I do not consider the Arabic language as on the decline: it is true, there are no longer any poets who write like Motanebbi, Abol’ Ola, or Ibn el Faredh; and a fine flowing prose the Arabs never possessed. The modern poets content themselves with imitating their ancient masters, humbly borrowing the sublime metaphors and exalted sentiments produced from nobler and freer breasts than those of the olemas of the present day. But even now, the language is deeply studied by all the learned men; it is the only science with which the orthodox Moslim can beguile his leisure hours, after he has explored the labyrinth of the law; and every where in the East it is thought an indispensable requisite of a good education, not only to write the language with purity, but to have read and studied the classic poets, and to know their finest passages by heart. The admiration with which Arabic scholars regard their best writers, is the same as that esteem in which Europeans hold their own classics. The far greater part of the Eastern population, it is true, neither write nor read; but of those who have been instructed in letters, a much larger proportion write elegantly, and are well read in the native authors, than among the same class in Europe.
The Mekkawys study little besides the language and the law. Some boys learn at least as much Turkish as will enable them to cheat the Osmanly pilgrims to whom their knowledge of that tongue may recommend them as guides. The astronomer of the mosque learns to know the exact time of the Sun’s passing the meridian, and occupies himself occasionally with astrology and horoscopes. A Persian doctor, the only avowed medical professor I saw at Mekka, deals in nothing but miraculous balsams and infallible elixirs; his potions are all sweet and agreeable; and the musk and aloe-wood which he burns, diffuse through his shop a delicious odour, which has contributed to establish his reputation. Music, in general so passionately loved among the Arabs, is less practised at Mekka than in Syria and Egypt. Of instruments they possess only the rababa, (a kind of guitar,) the nay, (a species of clarinet,) and the tambour, or tambourine. Few songs are heard in the evenings, except among the Bedouins in the skirts of the town. The choral song called Djok, is sometimes sung by the young men at night in the coffee-houses, its measure being accompanied with the clapping of hands. In general, the voices of the Hedjazys are harsh, and not clear: I heard none of those sonorous and harmonious voices which are so remarkable in Egypt, and still more in Syria, whether giving utterance to love songs, or chanting the praises of Mohammed from the minarets, which in the depth of night has a peculiarly grand effect. Even the Imams of the mosque, and those who chant the anthems, in repeating the last words of the introductory prayers of the Imam, men who in other places are chosen for their fine voices, can here be distinguished only by their hoarseness and dissonance.
The Sherif has a band of martial music, similar to that kept by Pashas, composed of kettle-drums, trumpets, fifes, &c.: it plays twice a day before his door, and for about an hour on every evening of the new moon.
Weddings are attended by professional females, who sing and dance: they have, it is said, good voices, and are not of that dissolute class to which the public singers and dancers belong in Syria and Egypt. The Mekkawys say, that before the Wahaby invasion, singers might be heard during the evening in every street, but that the austerity of the Wahabys, who, though passionately fond of their own Bedouin songs, disapproved of the public singing of females, occasioned the ruin of all musical pursuits:— this, however, may be only an idle notion, to be ranked with that which is as prevalent in the East as it is in Europe, that old times were always better in every respect than the present.
The sakas or water-carriers of Mekka, many of whom are foreigners, having a song which is very affecting from its simplicity and the purpose for which it is used, the wealthier pilgrims frequently purchase the whole contents of a saka’s water-skin, on quitting the mosque, especially at night, and order him to distribute it gratis among the poor. While pouring out the water into the wooden bowls, with which every beggar is provided, they exclaim “Sebyl Allah, ya atshan, Sebyl!” “hasten, O thirsty, to the ways of God!” and then break out in the following short song of three notes only, which I never heard without emotion.
Ed-djene wa el moy fezata ly Saheb es-sabyl “Paradise and forgiveness be the lot of him who gave you this water!”
I cannot describe the marriage-feasts as celebrated at Mekka, not having attended any; but I have seen the bride carried to the house of her husband, accompanied by all her female friends. No canopy is used on this occasion, as in Egypt, nor any music; but rich clothes and furniture are displayed, and the feasting is sumptuous, and often lasts for three or four days. On settling a marriage, the money to be paid for the bride is carried in procession from the house of the bridegroom to that of the girl’s father; it is borne through the streets upon two tabourets, wrapped up in a rich handkerchief, and covered again with an embroidered satin stuff. Before the two persons who hold these tabourets, two others walk, with a flask of rose-water in one hand, and a censer in the other, upon which all sorts of perfumes and odours are burning. Behind them follow, in a long train, all the kindred and friends of the bridegroom, dressed in their best clothes. The price paid for virgins among the respectable classes, varies at Mekka from forty to three hundred dollars, and from ten to twenty dollars among the poor classes. Half the sum only is usually paid down; the other half is left in possession of the husband, who pays it in case he should divorce his wife.
The circumcision feasts are similar to those at Cairo: the child, after the operation, is dressed in the richest stuffs, set upon a fine horse highly adorned, and is thus carried in procession through the town with drums beating before him.
Funerals differ in nothing from those in Egypt and Syria.
The people of Mekka, in general, have very few horses; I believe that there are not more than sixty kept by private individuals. The Sherif has about twenty or thirty in his stables; but Sherif Ghaleb had a larger stud. The military Sherifs keep mares, but the greater part of these were absent with the army. The Bedouins, who are settled in the suburb Moabede, and in some other parts of the town, as being concerned with public affairs, have also their horses; but none of the merchants or other classes keep any. They are afraid of being deprived by the Sherif of any fine animal they might possess, and therefore content themselves with mules or gedishes (geldings of a low breed). Asses are very common, but no person of quality ever rides upon them. The few horses kept at Mekka are of noble breed, and purchased from the Bedouins: in the spring they are usually sent to some Bedouin encampment, to feed upon the fine nutritious herbage of the Desert. Sherif Yahya has a gray mare, from the stud of Ghaleb, which was valued at twenty purses; she was as beautiful a creature as I ever saw, and the only one perfectly fine that I met with in the Hedjaz. The Bedouins of that country, and those especially around Mekka, are very poor in horses; a few Sheikhs only having any, pasture being scarce, and the expense of a horse’s keep being three piastres a day.
In the Eastern plain, behind Tayf, horses are more numerous, although much less so than in Nedjed and the deserts of Syria, in consequence of the comparative scarcity of corn, and the uncertainty of the rain; a deficiency of which often leaves the Bedouin a whole year without vegetation; a circumstance that rarely happens in the more northern deserts, where the rains seldom fail in the proper seasons.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48