LIKE the Mekkans, the people of Medina are for the greater part strangers, whom the Prophet’s tomb, and the gains which it insures to its neighbours, have drawn to this place. But few original Arabs, descendants of those families who lived at Medina when Mohammed came from Mekka, now remain in the town; on the contrary, we find in it colonies from almost every quarter of the Muselman empire, east and west. I was informed, that of the original Arab residents, to whom the Mohammedan writers apply the name of El Ansar, and who at Mohammed’s entrance were principally composed of the tribes of Ows and Khezredj, only about ten families remain who can prove their descent by pedigrees, or well-ascertained traditions: they are poor people, and live as peasants in the suburbs and gardens. The number of Sherifs descended of Hassan, the grandson of Mohammed, is considerable; but most of them are not originally from this place, their ancestors having come hither from Mekka, during the wars waged by the Sherifs for the possession of that town. They almost all belong to the class of olemas, very few military sherifs, like those of Mekka, being found here. Among them is a small tribe of Beni Hosseyn, descended from Hosseyn, the brother of Hassan. They are said to have been formerly very powerful at Medina, and had appropriated to themselves the chief part of the income of the mosque: in the thirteenth century, (according to Samhoudy,) they were the privileged guardians of the Prophet’s tomb; but at present they are reduced to about a dozen families, who still rank among the grandees of the town and its most wealthy inhabitants. They occupy a quarter by themselves, and obtain very large profits, particularly from the Persian pilgrims who pass here. They are universally stated to be heretics, of the Persian sect of Aly, and to perform secretly the rites of that creed, although they publicly profess the doctrines of the Sunnys. This report is too general, and confirmed by too many people of respectability, to be doubted: but the Beni Hosseyn have powerful influence in the town, in appearance strictly comply with the orthodox principles, and are therefore not molested.
It is publicly said that the remnants of the Ansars, and great numbers of the peasant Arabs who cultivate the gardens and fields in the neighbourhood of the town, are addicted to the same heresy. The latter, called Nowakhele, (a name implying that they live among date-trees,) are numerous, and very warlike. They had offered determined resistance to the Wahabys, and in civil contests have proved always superior to the town’s-people. They are said to be descendants of the partisans of Yezid, the son of Mawya, who took and sacked the town sixty years after the Hedjra. They marry only among themselves; and exhibit on all occasions a great esprit de corps. Many of them publicly profess the creed of Aly when in their date-groves, but are Sunnys whenever they come to town. Some of them are established in the suburbs, and they have monopolised the occupation of butchers. In quarrels I have heard individuals among them publicly called sectaries and rowafedh, without their ever denying it. In the Eastern Desert, at three or four days’ journey from Medina, lives a whole Bedouin tribe, called Beni Aly, who are all of this Persian creed; and it is matter of astonishment to find the two most holy spots of the orthodox Muselman religion surrounded, one by the sectaries of Zeyd, and the other by those of Aly, without an attempt having been made to dislodge them.
Among the ancient families of Medina are likewise reckoned a few descendants of the Abassides, now reduced to great poverty: they go by the name of Khalifye, implying that they are descended from the Khalifes.
Most of the inhabitants are of foreign origin, and present as motley a race as those of Mekka. No year passes without some new settlers being added to their number; and no pilgrim caravan crosses the town without leaving here a few of its travellers, who stop at first with the intention of remaining for a year or two only, but generally continue to reside here permanently. Descendants of people from northern Turkey are very numerous; but the greater part trace their origin to settlers of the southern countries of Arabia, Yemen and Hadramaut, and from Syria, and Egypt, and many also from Barbary. My cicerone was called Sheikh Sad-eddyn el Kurdy, because his grandfather was a Kurd who had settled here: the proprietor of the house in which I lived was Seyd Omar, a Sherif of the Yafáÿ tribe of Yemen, whose ancestors had come hither several hundred years since. Indians are likewise found, but in less number than at Mekka. As there, they are druggists, and petty shopkeepers; but I believe that no Indian wholesale dealers in their native products are to be found at Medina. They adhere to their national dress and manners, forming a small colony, and rarely intermarry or mix with the other inhabitants.
The individuals of different nations settled here have in their second and third generations all become Arabs as to features and character; but are, nevertheless, distinguishable from the Mekkans; they are not nearly so brown as the latter, thus forming an intermediate link between the Hedjaz people and the northern Syrians. Their features are somewhat broader, their beards thicker, and their body stouter, than those of the Mekkans; but the Arab face, the expression, and cast of features are in both places the same.
The Medinans in their dress resemble more the Turkish than their southern neighbours: very few of them wear the beden, or the national Arab cloak without sleeves; but even the poorer people dress in long gowns, with a cloth djobbe, or upper cloak, or, instead of it, an abba, of the same brown and white stripe as is common in Syria and all over the Desert. Red Tunis bonnets and Turkish shoes are more used here than at Mekka, where the lower classes wear white bonnets, and sandals. People in easy circumstances dress well, wearing good cloth cloaks, fine gowns, and, in winter, good pelisses, brought from Constantinople by way of Cairo; which I found a very common article of dress in January and February, a season when it is much colder here than Europeans would expect it to be in Arabian deserts. Generally speaking, we may say that the Medinans dress better than the Mekkans, though with much less cleanliness: but no national costume is observed here; and, particularly in the cold of winter, the lower classes cover themselves with whatever articles of dress they can obtain at low prices in the public auctions; so that it is not uncommon to see a man fitted out in the dress of three or four different countries-like an Arab as high as his waist, and like a Turkish soldier over his breast and shoulders. The richer people make a great display of dress, and vie with each other in finery. I saw more new suits of clothes here, even when the yearly feasts were terminated, than I had seen before in any other part of the East. As at Mekka, the Sherifs wear no green, but simple white muslin turbans, excepting those from the northern part of Turkey, who have recently settled here, and who continue to wear the badge of their noble extraction.
Prior to the Wahaby conquest, when the inhabitants were often exposed to bloody affrays among themselves, they always went armed with the djombye, or crooked Arabian knife: at present few of these are seen; but every body, from the highest to the lowest, carries in his hand a long heavy stick. The rich have their sticks headed with silver; others fix iron spikes to them; and thus make a formidable weapon, which the Arabs handle with much dexterity. The women dress like those of Mekka; blue gowns being worn by the lower classes, and silk mellayes by the higher.
The Bedouins settled in and near the suburbs, use exactly the same costume as those of the Syrian Desert: a shirt, abba, a kessye on the head, a leathern girdle in which the knife is stuck, and sandals on the feet. Even those who have become settlers, form a distinct race, and do not intermix with the rest of the town’s-people. They preserve their national dress, language, and customs, and live in their houses as they would under tents in the Desert. Of all Eastern nations, the Arabian Bedouins perhaps are those who abandon their national habits with most reluctance. In Syria, in Egypt, and in the Hedjaz, settlements are seen, the members of which have become cultivators for several centuries back; yet they have adopted only few of the habits of peasants, and still pride themselves on their Bedouin origin and manners.
The Medinans have not the same means of gaining a living, as the Mekkans. Although this town is never free from foreign pilgrims, there is never that immense influx of hadjys which renders Mekka so populous for several months in the year, and which makes it a market for all parts of the East. The hadjys who come to Medina are seldom merchants, or at least do not go there for mercantile pursuits, and therefore leave on the coast their heavy baggage. Even the Syrian merchants who pass with the great caravan seldom engage in trade, unless it be for some camel-loads of tobacco and dried fruits. The Medina trade is therefore merely for home consumption, and to supply the neighbouring Bedouins with articles of dress and provisions. These are received by way of Yembo, and come almost exclusively from Egypt. No great merchants are settled in Medina: the trade is merely retail; and those who possess capital, generally invest it in goods, as usual throughout Syria and Egypt, there not being any public institution like banks, or trading societies, or national funds, from which the capitalist might derive interest for his money. The Turkish law rigorously forbids the taking of interest; and even if it were otherwise, there is not any government nor any class of men to which the people would intrust considerable sums. The investment of capital in landed property is also liable to great risk. [By a decree of Mohammed Aly in 1813, the purchase of land in Egypt is rendered impracticable; for it orders all the Moltezims (or landed proprietors who shared in the possession of villages and grounds, and who formed a class living on their rents in the country towns,) to receive their yearly revenue from the Pasha’s treasury, where they suffered every kind of humiliation and injustice; and the whole of the soil was declared to be the property of government, or in other words of Mohammed Aly himself, who leaves the cultivation of it to the fellahs on his own terms. It happened lately that the Fellahs, who farmed five thousand acres belonging to the village of Damkour near Cairo, were deprived of their leases on the land being declared public property, because the Pasha wished to sow clover for his cavalry upon the soil that the Fellahs had possessed. Landed property in Syria also subjects the owner to great inconveniences: he is oppressed by every governor of a district, and by every soldier who passes; he suffers in his receipts from the extortions of the Pashas, which generally fall more heavily upon the cultivator than upon the monied man: and if he do not constantly watch his peasants, he is most probably cheated out of all his profits.] The usual method is to enter into partnership with different petty merchants or retail dealers, and obtain a share of their profits; but it is subject to almost as much anxiety as an active trade, from the necessity of keeping a constant account with the partners, and incessantly watching them. Usury is practised, and an annual interest from thirty to fifty per cent is paid at Cairo for money: but few of the Turkish merchants descend to this practice, which is reckoned dishonorable. Usury is wholly in the hands of Jews, and Christians the outcasts of Europe. There is, perhaps, nothing in the present deplorable state of eastern society that has a more baneful effect upon the minds and happiness of the people, than the necessity of continuing during their whole lives in business full of intrigues and chances. The cheering hopes which animate an European, the prospect of enjoying in old age the profits of early exertions, are unknown to the native of the East, whose retirement would bring nothing but danger, by marking him as wealthy in the eyes of his rapacious governor. The double influence of the Turkish government and Muselman religion have produced such an universal hypocrisy, that there is scarcely a Mohammedan (whose tranquil air, as he smokes his pipe reclining on the sofa, gives one an idea of the most perfect contentment and apathy,) that does not suffer under all the agonies of envy, unsatisfied avarice, ambition, or the fear of losing his ill-gotten property.
Travellers who pass rapidly through the East, without a knowledge of the language, and rarely mixing with any but persons interested in misrepresenting their true character, are continually deceived by the dignified deportment of the Turks, their patriarchal manners and solemn speeches — although they would ridicule a Frenchman who, after a few months’ residence in England, and ignorant of the English language, should pretend to a competent knowledge of the British character and constitution; not recollecting that it is much easier for a Frenchman to judge of a neighbouring European nation, than for any European to judge of Oriental nations, whose manners, ideas, and notions are so different from his own. For my own part, a long residence among Turks, Syrians, and Egyptians, justifies me in declaring that they are wholly deficient in virtue, honour, and justice; that they have little true piety, and still less charity or forbearance; and that honesty is only to be found in their paupers or idiots. Like the Athenians of old, a Turk may perhaps know what is right and praiseworthy, but he leaves the practice to others; though, with fine maxims on his lips, he endeavours to persuade himself that he acts as they direct. Thus he believes himself to be a good Muselman, because he does not omit the performance of certain prayers and ablutions, and frequently invokes the forgiveness of God.
At Medina several persons engage in small commercial transactions, chiefly concerning provisions; a lucrative branch of traffic, as the town depends for its support upon the caravans from Yembo, which are seldom regular, and this circumstance causes the prices of provisions continually to fluctuate. The evil consequence of this is, that the richer corn-dealers sometimes succeed in establishing a monopoly, no grain remaining but in their warehouses, the petty traders having been obliged to sell off. Whenever the caravans are delayed for any considerable time, corn rises to an enormous price; and as the chiefs of the town are thus interested, it can scarcely be supposed that the magistrates would interfere.
Next to the provision-trade, that with the neighbouring Bedouins is the most considerable: they provide the town with butter, honey, (a very essential article in Hedjaz cookery,) sheep, and charcoal; for which they take, in return, corn and clothing. Their arrival at Medina is likewise subject to great irregularity; and if two tribes happen to be at war, the town is kept for a month at the mercy of the few substantial merchants who happen to have a stock of those articles in hand. When I first reached Medina, no butter was to be had in the market, and corn was fifty per cent dearer than at Yembo; soon after, it was not to be had at all in the market: at another time salt failed; the same happened with charcoal; and in general the provision-market was very badly regulated. In other eastern towns, as at Mekka and Djidda, a public officer, called Mohteseb, is appointed to watch over the sale of provisions; to take care that they do not rise to immoderate prices, and fix a maximum to all the victualling traders, so that they may have a fair but not exorbitant profit. But this is not the case at Medina, because the Mohteseb is there without any authority. Corn is sold twenty per cent dearer in one part of the town than in another, and the same with every other article, so that foreigners unacquainted with the ways of the place are made to suffer materially. During my stay, the communication with Yembo was kept up by a caravan of about one hundred and fifty camels, which arrived at Medina every fortnight, and by small parties of Bedouin traders with from five to ten camels, which arrived every five or six days. The far greater part of the loads was destined for the army of Tousoun Pasha; the rest consisted of merchandize and provisions; but the latter were very inadequate to the wants of the town. I heard from a well-informed person, that the daily consumption of Medina was from thirty to forty erdebs, or twenty-five to thirty-five Hedjaz camel-loads. The produce of the fields which surround the town, is said to be barely sufficient for four months’ consumption; for the rest, therefore, it must depend upon Yembo, or imports from Egypt. In time of peace there is plenty: but lately, since the Turkish army has been stationed here, the Bedouins fear to trust their camels in the hands of the Turks, and the supply has fallen much below the wants of the town. The inhabitants were put to great inconvenience on that account, and had greatly reduced their consumption of corn, and eaten up the last of their stock on hand. Tousoun Pasha had very imprudently seized a great number of the Bedouins’ camels, and obliged them to accompany his army, which had so terrified them, that, previous to Mohammed Aly’s arrival, famine was apprehended from the want of beasts of transport. The Pasha endeavoured to restore confidence, and some of the Bedouins began to return with their beasts.
In time of peace, corn caravans arrive also from Nedjed, principally from that district of it called Kasym; but these were altogether interrupted. I was informed that the transport trade in provisions from Yembo had been shut up for several years after the conquest of Medina by the Wahabys, whose chief, Saoud, wished to favour his own subjects of Nedjed; and that Medina in the mean time drew all its supplies from Nedjed, and its own fields. Provisions were now excessively dear: the lower class lived almost entirely upon dates, and very coarse barley bread; few could afford a little butter, much fewer meat. The fruit of the lotus, or Nebek, which ripened in the beginning of March, induced them to quit the dates, and became almost their sole nourishment for several months; large heaps of it were seen in the market, and a person might procure enough to satisfy himself for a pennyworth of corn, which was usually taken in exchange instead of money, by the Bedouins, who brought the fruit to the town. The vegetables cultivated in the gardens are chiefly for the use of foreigners, and are of very indifferent flavour. Arabs dislike them, and they are only used by those who have acquired the relish in foreign countries. Fresh onions, leeks, and garlic, are the only vegetables of which the Arabs are fond.
The prime article of food at Medina, as I have already stated, is dates. During the two or three months of the date-harvest, (for this fruit is not all ripe at the same time, each species having its season), from July till September, the lower classes feed on nothing else; and during the rest of the year dried dates continue to be their main nourishment. The date-harvest is here of the same importance as that of wheat in Europe, and its failure causes general distress. “What is the price of dates at Mekka or Medina?” is always the first question asked by a Bedouin who meets a passenger on the road. Of these dates a considerable part is brought to Medina from distant quarters, and especially from Fera, a fertile valley in the possession of the Beni Aamer tribe, where there are numerous date-groves: it is three or four days’ journey from Medina, and as many from Rabegh in the mountains. The dates are brought from thence in large baskets, in which they are pressed together into a paste, as I have already mentioned.
Although commercial dealings are pretty universal, yet few of the inhabitants ostensibly follow them. Most of the people are either cultivators, or, in the higher classes, landed proprietors, and servants of the mosque. The possession of fields and gardens is much desired; to be a land-owner is considered honorable; and the rents of the fields, if the date-harvest be good, is very considerable. If I may judge from two instances reported to me, the fields are sold at such a rate, as to leave to the owner, in ordinary years, an income of from twelve to sixteen per cent upon his capital, after giving up, as is generally done, half the produce to the actual cultivators. Last year, however, it was calculated that their money yielded forty per cent. The middling classes cannot afford to lay out their small capital in gardens, because to them sixteen or twenty per cent would be an insufficient return; and, in the Hedjaz, no person who trades with a trifling fund is contented with less than fifty per cent annually; and in general they contrive, by cheating foreigners, to double their capital. Those, therefore, only are land-owners, who by trade, or by their income from the mosque, and from hadjys, have already acquired considerable wealth.
The chief support of Medina is from the mosque and the hadjys. I have already mentioned the Ferrashyn, or servants of the mosque, and their profits; to them must be added a vast number of people attached to the temple, whose offices are mere sinecures, and who share in the income of the Haram; a train of ciceroni or mezowars; and almost every householder, who lets out apartments to the pilgrims Besides the share in the income of the mosque, the servants of every class have their surra or annuity, which is brought from Constantinople and Cairo; and all the inhabitants besides enjoy similar yearly gifts, which also go by the name of surra. These stipends, it is true, are not always regularly distributed, and many of the poorest class, for whom they were originally destined, are now deprived of them; the sums, however, reach the town, and are brought into circulation. [Kayd Beg, Sultan of Egypt, after having, in A.H. 881, rebuilt the mosque, appropriated a yearly income of seven thousand five hundred erdebs for the inhabitants of the town, to be sent from Egypt; and Sultan Soleyman ibn Selim allowed five thousand erdebs for the same purpose. (See Kotobeddyn and Samhoudy.)] Many families are, in this manner, wholly supported by the surra, and receive as much as 100l. and 200l sterling per annum, without performing any duty whatever. The Medinans say, that without these surras the town would soon be abandoned to the land-owners and cultivators; and this consideration was certainly the original motive for establishing them, and the numerous wakfs, or pious foundations, which in all parts of the Turkish empire are annexed to the towns or mosques. At present the surra is misapplied, and serves only to feed a swarm of persons in a state of complete idleness, while the poor are left destitute, and not the smallest encouragement is given to industry. As to want of industry, Medina is still more remarkable than Mekka. It wants even the most indispensable mechanics; and the few that live here are foreigners, and only settle for a time. There is a single upholsterer, and only one locksmith in the town; carpenters and masons are so scarce, that to repair a house, they must be brought from Yembo. Whenever the mosque requires workmen, they are sent from Cairo, or even from Constantinople, as was the case during my stay, when a master-mason from the latter place was occupied in repairing the roof of the building. All the wants of the town, down to the most trifling articles, are supplied by Egypt. When I was here, not even earthen water jars were made. Some years ago a native of Damascus established a manufacture of this most indispensable article; but he had left the town, and the inhabitants were reduced to the necessity of drinking out of the half-broken jars yet left, or of importing others, at a great expense, from Mekka No dying, no woollen manufactures, no looms, no tanneries nor works in leather, no iron-works of any kind are seen; even nails and horse-shoes are brought from Egypt and Yembo. In my account of Mekka, I attributed the general aversion of the people of the Hedjaz from handicrafts, to their indolence and dislike of all manual labour. But the same remark is not applicable to Medina, where the cultivators and gardeners, though not very industrious in improving their land, are nevertheless a hard-working people, and might apply themselves to occupations in town, without undergoing greater bodily labour than they endure in their fields. I am inclined to think that the want of artisans here is to be attributed to the very low estimation in which they are held by the Arabians, whose pride often proves stronger than their cupidity, and prevents a father from educating his sons in any craft. This aversion they probably inherit from the ancient inhabitants, the Bedouins, who, as I have remarked, exclude, to this day, all handicraftsmen from their tribes, and consider those who settle in their encampment as of an inferior cast, with whom they neither associate nor intermarry. They are differently esteemed in other parts of the East, in Syria, and in Egypt, where the corporations of artisans are almost as much respected as they were in France and Germany during the middle ages. A master craftsman is fully equal in rank and consideration to a merchant of the second class; he can intermarry with the respectable families of the town, and is usually a man of more influence in his quarter, than a merchant who possesses three times more wealth than himself. The first Turkish emperors did every thing in their power to favour industry and the arts; and fifty years ago they still flourished in Syria and Egypt: in the former country they are now upon the decline, except, perhaps, at Damascus; in Egypt they are reduced to the lowest state: for, while Mohammed Aly entices English and Italian workmen into his service, who labour on his sole account, and none of whom prosper, he oppresses native industry, by monopolizing its produce, and by employing the greater part of the workmen himself, at a daily salary thirty per cent less than they might get, if they were permitted to work on their own account, or for private individuals.
The only industrious persons found in Medina are the destitute pilgrims, especially those from Syria, who abound here, and who endeavour by hard labour, during a few months, to earn money sufficient for the expenses of their journey homewards. They work only at intervals, and on their departure the town is often without any artisans for a considerable time. Whilst I resided in Medina, there was but one man who washed linen; when he went away, as the Arabian women will rarely condescend to be so employed, the foreign hadjys were all obliged to wash for themselves. Under these circumstances a traveller cannot expect to find here the most trifling comforts; and even money cannot supply his wants. Here is, however, one class of men, to whom I have already referred in describing Mekka, and who render themselves equally useful at Medina. I mean the black pilgrims from Soudan. Few negroes, or Tekayrne, as they are called, come to Mekka, without visiting Medina also, a town even more venerable in their estimation than Mekka. The orthodox sect of Málekites, to which they belong, carry, in general, their respect for Mohammed further than any of the three other sects; and the negroes, little instructed as they usually are, may be said to adore the Prophet, placing him, if not on a level with the Deity, at least very little below him. They approach his tomb with a terrified and appalled conscience, and with more intense feelings than when they visit the Kaaba; and they are fully persuaded, that the prayers which they utter while standing before the window of the Hedjra, will sooner or later obtain their object. A negro hadjy once asked me, after a short conversation with him in the mosque, if I knew what prayers he should recite to make Mohammed appear to him in his sleep, as he wished to ask him a particular question; and when I expressed my ignorance, he told me that the Prophet had here appeared to a great many of his countrymen. These people furnish Medina with fire-wood, which they collect in the neighbouring mountains, and sell to great advantage. If none, or only few of them, happen to be at Medina, no wood can be got even for money. They likewise serve as carriers or porters; and such of them as are not strong enough for hard work, make small mats and baskets of date-leaves. They usually live together in some of the huts of the public place called El Menakh, and remain till they have earned money enough for their journey home. Very few of them are beggars; of forty or fifty whom I saw here, only two or three resorted to mendicity, being unfit for any other vocation. In general beggars are much less numerous at Medina than at Mekka; and most of the foreign beggars, as at Mekka, are Indians. Few hadjys come here without either bringing the necessary funds, or being certain of gaining their livelihood by labour, the distance of Medina from the sea being much greater than that of Mekka, and the road through the Desert being dreaded by absolute paupers. It may be calculated that only one-third of the pilgrims who visit Mekka go also to Medina. The Egyptian caravan of pilgrims seldom passes by the town. [Whenever the Egyptian caravan passes by Medina, it is always on its return from Mekka, and then remains, like the Syrian, for three days only. In going from Cairo to Mekka, this caravan never visits Medina.] Medina has pilgrims during the whole year, there being no prescribed season for visiting the tomb; and they usually stay here about a fortnight or a month. They are in the greatest number during the months following the pilgrimage to Arafat, and likewise during the month of Rabya el Thany, on the 12th of which, the birth-day of Mohammed, or Mouled el Naby, is celebrated.
The Medinans make up for the paucity of beggars in their own town by going elsewhere to beg. It is a custom with those inhabitants of the town who have received some education, and can read and write, to make a mendicant journey in Turkey once or twice in their lives. They generally repair to Constantinople, where, by means of Turkish hadjys, whom they have known in their own town, they introduce themselves among the grandees, plead poverty, and receive considerable presents in clothes and money, being held in esteem as natives of Medina, and neighbours of the Prophet’s tomb. Some of these mendicants serve as Imáms in the houses of the great. After a residence of a couple of years, they invest the alms they have collected in merchandize, and thus return with a considerable capital. There are very few individuals of the above description at Medina, who have not once made the grand tour of Turkey: I have seen several of them at Cairo, where they quartered themselves upon people with whom their acquaintance at Medina had been very slight, and became extremely disagreeable by their incessant craving and impudence. There are few large cities in Syria, Anatolia, and European Turkey, where some of these people are not to be found. For their travelling purposes, and for the duties incumbent upon them as ciceroni in their own town, many individuals learn a little Turkish; and it is their pride to persuade the Turkish pilgrims, that they are Turks, and not Arabians, however little they may like the former.
The Medinans generally are of a less cheerful and lively disposition than the Mekkans. They display more gravity and austerity in their manners, but much less than the northern Turks. They outwardly appear more religious than their southern neighbours. They are much more rigid in the observance of their sacred rites, and public decorum is much more observed at Medina than at Mekka: the morals, however, of the inhabitants appear to be much upon the same level with those of the Mekkans; all means are adopted to cheat the hadjys. The vices which disgrace the Mekkans are also prevalent here; and their religious austerity has not been able to exclude the use of intoxicating liquors. These are prepared by the negroes, as well as date-wine, which is made by pouring water over dates, and leaving it to ferment. On the whole, I believe the Medinans to be as worthless as the Mekkans, and greater hypocrites. They, however, wish to approach nearer to the northern Turkish character; and, for that reason, abandon the few good qualities for which the Mekkans may be commended. In giving this general character of the Medinans, I do not found it merely on the short experience I had of them in their own town, but upon information acquired from many individuals, natives of Medina, whom I met in every part of the Hedjaz. They appear to be as expensive as the Mekkans. There were only two or three people in Medina reputed to be worth ten or twelve thousand pounds sterling, half of which might be invested in landed property, and the other half in trade. The family of Abd el Shekour was reckoned the richest. The other merchants have generally very small capitals, from four to five hundred pounds only; and most of the people attached to the mosque, or who derive their livelihood from stipends, and from pilgrims, spend, to the last farthing, their yearly income. They outwardly appear much richer than the Mekkans, because they dress better; but, not the slightest comparison can be made between the mass of property in this town and that in Mekka.
In their own houses, the people of Medina are said to live poorly, with regard to food; but their houses are well furnished, and their expense in dress is very considerable. Slaves are not so numerous here as at Mekka; many, however, from Abyssinia are found here, and some females are settled, as married women. The women of the cultivators, and of the inhabitants of the suburbs, serve in the families of the town’s-people, as domestics, principally to grind corn in the hand-mills. The Medina women behave with great decency, and have the general reputation of being much more virtuous than those of Mekka and Djidda.
The families that possess gardens go to great expense in entertaining their friends, by turns, at their country houses, where all the members, men and women, of the families invited assemble together. It is said that this fashion is carried to great excess in spring-time, and that the Medinans vie with each other in this respect, so that it becomes a matter of public notoriety, whether such a person has given more or less country parties, during the season, than his neighbours. A few families pass the whole year at their gardens; among these was the large family of a saint, established in a delightful little garden to the south of the town. This man is greatly renowned for his sanctity, so much so, that Tousoun Pasha himself once kissed his hands. I paid him a visit, like many other pilgrims, in the first days of my arrival, and found him seated in an arched recess or large niche adjoining the house, from whence he never moved. He was more polite than any saint I had ever seen, and was not averse to talk of worldly matters. I had heard that he possessed some historical books, which he would perhaps sell; but upon inquiry, I learnt from him that he did not trouble himself with any learning except that of the Law, the Koran, and his language. He gave me a nargyle to smoke, and treated me with a dish of dates, the produce of his own garden; and after I had put, on taking leave, a dollar under the carpet upon which I sat, (an act usual, as it was said, on such an occasion,) he accompanied me to the garden-gate, and begged me to repeat my visit.
Smoking nargyles, or the Persian pipe, is as general here as at Mekka; common pipes are more in use here than in other parts of the Hedjaz, the climate being colder. The use of coffee is immoderate. In the gardens fruit can be bought with coffee-beans as well as with money; and the fondness for tea in England and Holland is not equal to that of the Arabians for coffee.
The people of Medina keep no horses. Except those of the Sheikh el Haram, and a few of his suite, I believe there is not one horse kept in this town. In general, these parts of Arabia are poor in horses, because there is no fine pasture for them: the Bedouins to the N. and E. of the town, in the Desert, have, on the contrary, large breeds. The gardens of Medina might afford pasturage; and formerly, when there were warlike individuals in the town, horses were kept by them, and expeditions planned against Bedouins with whom they happened to be at war. At present the spirit of the Medinans is more pacific; and the few horses yet kept when the Wahabys captured the town, were immediately sold by their owners, to escape the military conscription to which principally the horsemen in the Wahaby dominions were subjected. Some of the richer families kept mules, and also dromedaries. Asses are very common, especially among the cultivators, who bring to town upon them the produce of their fields. They are of a smaller breed than those of Mekka and the Hedjaz. The wants of the Turkish army had caused a great diminution in the number of camels formerly kept by the cultivators, who sold them, under the apprehension of their being placed in requisition. The Bedouins of the eastern Desert, at three or four days’ journey from the town, are rich in camels; a strolling party of the horsemen of Tousoun Pasha sent in, during my stay, seven hundred of them, which they had taken from a single encampment of the Beni Hetym tribe.
It is not unworthy of remark, that Medina, as far as I know, is the only town in the East from which dogs are excluded: they are never permitted to pass the gate into the interior, but must remain in the suburbs. I was told that the watchmen of the different quarters assemble once a year to drive out any of those animals that might have crept unperceived into the town. The apprehension of a dog entering the mosque, and polluting its sanctity, probably gave rise to their exclusion; they are, however, tolerated at Mekka.
Among the sheep of this neighbourhood, a small species is noticed with a white and brown spotted skin; the same species is likewise known about Mekka. It is of a diminutive size: they are bought up by foreigners, and carried home with them as rarities from the Holy Land. At Cairo they are kept in the houses of the grandees, who cause them to be painted red, with henna, and hang a collar with little bells round their necks, to amuse the children.
I believe the people of Medina have no other times of public rejoicing than the regular feast-days, except the Mouled el Naby or Prophet’s birth-day, on the twelfth of the month of Rabya el Thany. This is considered a national festival: all the shops are shut during the day, and every one appears in his best dress. Early in the morning the olemas and a number of well-dressed people assemble in the mosque, where one of the Khatybs, after a short sermon, reads an account of Mohammed’s actions, from his birth to his death; after which the company, at least the chief people present, are treated with lemonade, or liquorice-water. The zealous Muselmans pass the night preceding this day in prayer. The lady of Mohammed Aly Pasha, who, having performed the pilgrimage to Mekka, came here to visit the tomb, and see her son Tousoun Pasha, passed the greater part of the night in devotion at the mosque: when she returned to a house she had taken for that purpose, close by the gate of the mosque, her son paid her a short visit, and then left her to repose, while he himself ordered a carpet to be spread in the middle of the street, and there slept, at the threshold of his mother’s dwelling; offering a testimony of respect and humility which does as much honour to the son, as to the character of the mother who could inspire him with such sentiments. The wife of Mohammed Aly is a highly respectable woman, and very charitable without ostentation. Her son Tousoun I believe to be the only one of the family, whose breast harbours any noble feeling; the rest are corrupted by the numerous vices inseparable from a Turkish grandee: but he has given, in many instances, proofs of elevated sentiment; and even his enemies cannot deny his valour, generosity, filial love, and good-nature. We must regret, that he is as much inferior in intellect to his father and his brother Ibrahim, as he is superior to them in moral character. His mother had appeared here with all the pomp of an eastern queen: from her donations to the temple, and to the poor, she was regarded by the people as an angel sent from heaven. She brought to her son presents to the value of about twenty-five thousand pounds sterling, among which were remarked twelve complete suits, including every article of dress, from the finest Cashmere shawl down to the slippers; a diamond ring worth five thousand pounds; and two beautiful Georgian slaves. In her retinue there was also a Georgian slave of great beauty and rare accomplishments, whom Mohammed Aly had lately married at Mekka; but as she had not yet borne any children, she was considered much inferior in rank to Tousoun’s mother, who counted three Pashas as her own sons. [Ismayl Pasha is the younger brother of the two mentioned above. It is reported that Ibrahim Pasha is not the son of Mohammed Aly, but was adopted by him when he married his mother, then the widow of an Aga of Karala, on the Hellespont, the native town of the present Pasha of Egypt.] This slave had belonged to the Kadhy of Mekka, who brought her from Constantinople. Mohammed Aly, who had heard his own women praise her beauty and accomplishments, obliged the Kadhy, much against his will, to part with her for the sum of fifty thousand piastres, and soon after presented her with the marriage contract.
I can say little of any customs peculiar to the Medinans, having had so few opportunities of mixing with them. I may, however, mention, that in the honours they pay to the dead, they do not comply with the general rules observed in the Fast. I believe this to be the only town where women do not howl and cry on the death of a member of the family. The contrary practice is too generally known to need repetition here; or that, in other parts of the Levant, a particular class of women is called in, on that occasion, whose sole profession is that of howling, in the most heart-rending accents, for a small sum paid to them by the hour. There is no such practice here, (though it is known in other parts of the Hedjaz) and it is even considered disgraceful. The father of a family died in a house next to that where I lived, and which communicated with it. His death happened at midnight, and his only boy, moved by natural feelings, burst into loud lamentations. I then heard his mother exclaiming, “For God’s sake, do not cry: what a shame to cry! You will expose us before the whole neighbourhood;” and after some time she contrived to quiet her child. There is also a national custom observed at funerals: the bier, on issuing from the house of the deceased, is carried upon the shoulders of some of his relations or friends, the rest of whom follow behind; but when the procession advances into the street, every by-stander, or passenger, hastens to relieve the bearers for a moment; some giving way to others, who press forward to take in their turn the charge, which is done without stopping. The bier, thus unceasingly passes from shoulders to shoulders, till it is finally deposited near the tomb. If we could suppose for a moment, that this simple and affecting custom was the offspring of true feeling, it would prove much more sensibility than what is displayed in the funeral pomp with which Europeans accompany their dead to the grave. But in the East every thing is done according to ancient custom: it originated, no doubt, in the impulse of feeling, or a sense of duty and piety in those who introduced it; but has become, in these days, a mere matter of form.
The women of Medina never wear mourning; in which respect they differ from those of Egypt. It has been often stated by travellers, that the people of the East have no mourning dresses; but this is erroneous, as to Egypt at least, and part of Syria. The men, it is true, never indulge in this practice, which is prohibited by the spirit of the law; but the women, in the interior of the house, wear mourning in every part of Egypt: for this purpose, they first dye their hands blue, with indigo; they put on a black borko, or face-veil, and thus follow the funeral through the streets; and if they can afford it, they put on a black gown, and. even a black shift. They continue to wear their mourning for seven, or fifteen, or sometimes for forty days.
As to the state of learning, I shall add that the Medinans are regarded as more accomplished olemas than the Mekkans; though, as I have mentioned above, there are few, if any, public schools. Several individuals study the Muselman sciences at Damascus, and Cairo, in both of which cities there are pious foundations for the purpose. As at Mekka there is no public book-market, the only books I saw exposed for sale were in some retail clothes-shops near the Bab es’ Salam. There are said to be some fine private libraries; I saw one in the house of a Sheikh, where at least three thousand volumes were heaped up; but I could not examine them. As it often happens in the East, these libraries are all wakf, that is, have been presented to some mosque by its founder, or entailed upon some private family, so that the books cannot be alienated. The Wahabys are said to have carried off many loads of books.
Notwithstanding my repeated inquiries here, as well as at Mekka, I could never hear of a single person who had composed, or even made short notes of, the history of his own times, or of the Wahabys. It appeared to me, on the whole, that literature flourished as little at Medina as in other parts of the Hedjaz; and that the sole occupation of all was getting money, and spending it in sensual gratifications.
The language of the Medinans is not so pure as that of the Mekkans; it approaches much nearer to that of Egypt; and the Syrians established here continue for several generations to retain a tinge of their native dialect. It is common to hear natives talk, or at least utter a few words of Turkish. The gardeners and husbandmen in the neighbourhood have a dialect and certain phrases of their own, which often afford subject for ridicule to the inhabitants of the town.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05