Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Appendix VI.

Giovanni Finati.

THE third pilgrim on our list is Giovanni Finati, who, under the Moslem name of “Haji Mohammed,” made the campaign against the Wahhabis for the recovery of Meccah and Al-Madinah. A native of Ferrara, the eldest of the four scions of a small landed proprietor, “tenderly attached to his mother,” and brought up most unwillingly for a holy vocation — to use his own words, “instructed in all that course of frivolous and empty ceremonials and mysteries, which form a principal feature in the training of a priest for the Romish Church,” in A.D. 1805, Giovanni Finati’s name appeared in the list of Italian conscripts. After a few vain struggles with fate, he was marched to Milan, drilled and trained; the next year his division was ordered to the Tyrol, where the young man, “brought up for the church,” instantly deserted. Discovered in his native town, he was sent under circumstances of suitable indignity to join his regiment at Venice, where a general act of grace, promulgated on occasion of Napoleon’s short visit, preserved him from a platoon of infantry. His next move was to Spalato, in Dalmatia, where he marched under General Marmont to Cattaro, the last retreat of the hardy and warlike Montenegrins. At Budoa, a sea-port S.E. of Ragusa, having consulted an Albanian “captain-merchant,” Giovanni Finati, and fifteen other Italians —

“including the sergeant’s wife,” swore fidelity to one another, and deserted with all their arms and accoutrements. They passed into the Albanese territory, and were hospitably treated as “soldiers, who had deserted from the infidel army in Dalmatia,” by the Pasha, posted at Antivari to keep check upon the French operations. At first they were lodged in the Mosque, and the sergeant’s wife had been set apart from the rest; but as they refused to apostatize they were made common slaves, and worked at the quarries till their “backs were sore.” Under these circumstances, the sergeant discovering and promulgating his discovery that “the Mahometans believe as we do in a god; and upon examination that we might find the differences from our mother church to be less than we had imagined,”— all at once came the determination of professing to be Mohammedans. Our Italian Candide took the name of Mahomet, and became pipe-bearer to a Turkish general officer in the garrison. This young man trusted the deserter to such an extent that the doors of the Harim were open to him1, and Giovanni Finati repaid his kindness by seducing Fatimah, a Georgian girl, his master’s favourite wife. The garrison then removed to Scutari. Being of course hated by his fellow servants, the renegade at last fell into disgrace, and exchanging the pipe-stick for the hatchet, he became a hewer of wood. This degradation did not diminish poor Fatimah’s affection: she continued to visit him, and to leave little presents and tokens for him in his room. But presently the girl proved likely to become a mother — their intercourse was more than suspected — Giovanni Finati had a dread of circumcision,2 so he came to the felon resolution of flying alone from Scutari. He happened to meet his “original friend the captain-merchant,” and in March, 1809, obtained from him a passage to Egypt, the Al-Dorado to which all poverty-struck Albanian adventurers were then flocking. At Alexandr[i]a the new Mahomet, after twice deserting from a Christian service, at the risk of life and honour, voluntarily enlisted as an Albanian private soldier in a Moslem land; the naïvete with which he admires and comments upon his conduct is a curious moral phenomenon. Thence he proceeded to Cairo, and became a “Balik bash” (corporal), in charge of six Albanian privates, of Mohammed Ali’s body-guard. Ensued a campaign against the Mamluks in Upper Egypt, and his being present at the massacre of those miscreants in the citadel of Cairo — he confined his part in the affair to plundering from the Beys a “saddle richly mounted in silver gilt,” and a slave girl with trinkets and money. He married the captive, and was stationed for six months at Matariyah (Heliopolis), with the force preparing to march upon Meccah, under Tussun Pasha. Here he suffered from thieves, and shot by mistake his Bim Bashi or sergeant, who was engaged in the unwonted and dangerous exercise of prayer in the dark. The affair was compromised by the amiable young commander-in-chief, who paid the blood money amounting to some thousand piastres. On the 6th October, 1811, the army started for Suez, where eighteen vessels waited to convey them to Yambu’. Mahomet assisted at the capture of that port, and was fortunate enough to escape alive from the desperate action of Jadaydah.3 Rheumatism obliged him to return to Cairo, where he began by divorcing his wife for great levity of conduct. In the early part of 1814, Mahomet, inspired by the news of Mohammed Ali Pasha’s success in Al-Hijaz, joined a reinforcement of Albanians, travelled to Suez, touched at Yambu’ and at Jeddah, assisted at the siege and capture of Kunfudah, and was present at its recapture by the Wahhabis. Wounded, sick, harassed by the Badawin, and disgusted by his commanding officer, he determined to desert again, adding, as an excuse, “not that the step, on my part at least, had the character of a complete desertion, since I intended to join the main body of the army;” and to his mania for desertion we owe the following particulars concerning the city of Meccah.

“Exulting in my escape, my mind was in a state to receive very strong impressions, and I was much struck with all I saw upon entering the city; for though it is neither large nor beautiful in itself, there is something in it that is calculated to impress a sort of awe, and it was the hour of noon when everything is very silent, except the Muezzins calling from the minarets.

“The principal feature of the city is that celebrated sacred enclosure which is placed about the centre of it; it is a vast paved court with doorways opening into it from every side, and with a covered colonnade carried all round like a cloister, while in the midst of the open space stands the edifice called the Caaba, whose walls are entirely covered over on the outside with hangings of rich velvet,4 on which there are Arabic inscriptions embroidered in gold.

“Facing one of its angles (for this little edifice is of a square form),5 there is a well which is called the well Zemzem, of which the water is considered so peculiarly holy that some of it is even sent annually to the Sultan at Constantinople; and no person who comes to Meccah, whether on pilgrimage or for mere worldly considerations, ever fails both to drink of it and to use it in his ablutions, since it is supposed to wipe out the stain of all past transgressions.

“There is a stone also near the bottom of the building itself which all the visitants kiss as they pass round it, and the multitude of them has been so prodigious as to have worn the surface quite away.

“Quite detached, but fronting to the Caaba, stand four pavilions (corresponding to the four sects of the Mahometan religion), adapted for the pilgrims; and though the concourse had of late years been from time to time much interrupted, there arrived just when I came to Meccah two Caravans of them, one Asiatic and one from the African side, amounting to not less than about 40,000 persons, who all seemed to be full of reverence towards the holy place.6

After commenting on the crowded state of the city, the lodging of pilgrims in tents and huts, or on the bare ground outside the walls,7 and the extravagant prices of provisions, Haji Mahomet proceeds with his description.

“Over and above the general ceremonies of the purification at the well, and of the kissing of the corner-stone,8 and of the walking round the Caaba a certain number of times in a devout manner, every one has also his own separate prayers to put up, and so to fulfil the conditions of his vow and the objects of his particular pilgrimage.”

We have then an account of the Mosque-pigeons, for whom it is said, “some pilgrims bring with them even from the most remote countries a small quantity of grain, with which they may take the opportunity of feeding these birds.” This may have occurred in times of scarcity; the grain is now sold in the Mosque.

“The superstitions and ceremonies of the place,” we are told, “are by no means completed within the city, for the pilgrims, after having performed their devotions for a certain time at the Caaba, at last in a sort of procession go to a place called Arafat, an eminence which stands detached in the centre of a valley; and in the way thither there is a part of the road for about the space of a mile where it is customary to run.9 The road also passes near a spot where was formerly a well which is superstitiously supposed to be something unholy and cursed by the Prophet himself. And for this reason, every pilgrim as he goes by it throws a stone; and the custom is so universal and has prevailed so long that none can be picked up in the neighbourhood, and it is necessary therefore to provide them from a distance, and some persons even bring them out of their own remote countries, thinking thereby to gain the greater favour in the sight of Heaven.10

“Beyond this point stands a column,11 which is set up as the extreme limit of the pilgrimage, and this every pilgrim must have passed before sunrise; while all such as have not gone beyond it by that time must wait till the next year, if they wish to be entitled to the consideration and privileges of complete Hajis, since, without this circumstance, all the rest remains imperfect.

“The hill of Arafat lying at a distance of seven hours from Meccah, it is necessary to set out very early in order to be there in time; many of the pilgrims, and especially the more devout amongst them, performing all the way on foot.

“When they have reached the place12 all who have any money according to their means sacrifice a sheep, and the rich often furnish those who are poor and destitute with the means of buying one.

“Such a quantity of sacrifices quite fills the whole open space with victims, and the poor flock from all the country round to have meat distributed to them.

“After which, at the conclusion of the whole ceremony, all the names are registered by a scribe appointed for the purpose13: and when this is finished the African and Asiatic Caravans part company and return to their own several countries, many detachments of the pilgrims visiting Medinah in the way.”

Being desirous of enrolment in some new division of Mohammed Ali’s army, Finati overcame the difficulty of personal access to him by getting a memorial written in Turkish and standing at the window of a house joined on to the enclosure of the great temple. After the sixth day the Pasha observed him, and in the “greatest rage imaginable” desired a detailed account of the defeat at Kunfudah. Finati then received five hundred piastres and an order to join a corps at Taif, together with a strict charge of secre[c]y, “since it was of importance that no reverse or check should be generally talked of.” Before starting our author adds some “singular particulars” which escaped him in his account of Meccah.

“Many of the pilgrims go through the ceremony of walking the entire circuit of the city upon the outside; and the order in which this is performed is as follows. The devoted first goes without the gates, and, after presenting himself there to the religious officer who presides, throws off all his clothes, and takes a sort of large wrapping garment in lieu of them to cover himself; upon which he sets off walking at a very quick pace, or rather running, to reach the nearest of the four corners of the city, a sort of guide going with him at the same rate all the way, who prompts certain ejaculations or prayers, which he ought to mention at particular spots as he passes; at every angle he finds a barber, who with wonderful quickness wets and shaves one quarter of his head, and so on; till he has reached the barber at the fourth angle, who completes the work. After which the pilgrim takes his clothes again, and has finished that act of devotion.14

“There is also near the holy city an eminence called the hill of light,15 as I imagine from its remarkable whiteness. Upon this the pilgrims have a custom of leaping while they repeat at the same time prayers and verses of the Koran. Many also resort to a lesser hill, about a mile distant from the city, on which there is a small Mosque, which is reputed as a place of great sanctity.

“An annual ceremony takes place in the great temple itself which is worth mentioning before I quit the subject altogether.

“I have already spoken of the little square building whose walls are covered with hangings of black and gold, and which is called the Caaba. Once in the year,16 and once only, this holy of holies is opened, and as there is nothing to prevent admission it appears surprising at first to see so few who are willing to go into the interior, and especially since this act is supposed to have great efficacy in the remission of all past sins. But the reason must be sought for in the conditions which are annexed, since he who enters is, in the first place, bound to exercise no gainful pursuit, or trade, or to work for his livelihood in any way whatever; and, next, he must submit patiently to all offences and injuries, and must never again touch anything that is impure or unholy.17

“One more remark with reference to the great scene of sacrifice at Arafat. Though the Pasha’s power in Arabia had been now for some time established, yet it was not complete or universal by any means — the Wahhabees still retaining upon many sides a very considerable footing, so that open and unprotected places, even within half a day’s journey of Meccah, might be liable to surprise and violence.”

For these reasons, our author informs us, a sufficient force was disposed round Arafat, and the prodigious multitude went and returned without molestation or insult.18

After the pilgrimage Haji Mahomet repaired to Taif. On the road he remarked a phenomenon observable in Al-Hijaz — the lightness of the nights there. Finati attributes it to the southern position of the place. But, observing a perceptible twilight there, I was forced to seek further cause. May not the absence of vegetation, and the heat-absorbing nature of the soil — granite, quartz, and basalt — account for the phenomenon19? The natives as usual, observing it, have invested its origin with the garb of fable.

It is not my intention to accompany Mahomet to the shameful defeat of Taraba, where Tussun Pasha lost three quarters of his army, or to the glorious victory of Bissel, where Mohammed Ali on the 10th January, 1815, broke 24,000 Wahhabis commanded by Faysal bin Sa’ud. His account of this interesting campaign is not full or accurate like Mengin’s; still, being the tale of an eye-witness, it attracts attention. Nothing can be more graphic than his picture of the old conqueror sitting with exulting countenance upon the carpet where he had vowed to await death or victory, and surrounded by heaps of enemies’ heads.20

Still less would it be to the purpose to describe the latter details of Haji Mahomet’s career, his return to Cairo, his accompanying Mr. Bankes to upper Egypt and Syria, and his various trips to Aleppo, Kurdistan, the Sa’id, the great Oasis, Nabathaea, Senna’ar, and Dongola. We concede to him the praise claimed by his translator, that he was a traveller to no ordinary extent; but beyond this we cannot go. He was so ignorant that he had forgotten to write21; his curiosity and his powers of observation keep pace with his knowledge22; his moral character as it appears in print is of that description which knows no sense of shame: it is not candour but sheer insensibility which makes him relate circumstantially his repeated desertions, his betrayal of Fatimah, and his various plunderings.

1 He describes the Harim as containing “the females of different countries, all of them young, and all more or less attractive, and the merriest creatures I ever saw.” His narration proves that affection and fidelity were not wanting there.

2 Mr. Bankes, Finati’s employer and translator, here comments upon Ali Bey’s assertion, “Even to travellers in Mahometan countries, I look upon the safety of their journey as almost impossible, unless they have previously submitted to the rite.” Ali Bey is correct; the danger is doubled by non-compliance with the custom. Mr. Bankes apprehends that “very few renegadoes do submit to it.” In bigoted Moslem countries, it is considered a sine qua non.

3 See Chap. xiii. of this work.

4 “Black cloth, according to Ali Bey; and I believe he is correct.” So Mr. Bankes. If Ali Bey meant broad-cloth, both are in error, as the specimen in my possession — a mixture of silk and cotton — proves.

5 Ali Bey showed by his measurements that no two sides correspond exactly. To all appearance the sides are equal, though it is certain they are not; the height exceeds the length and the breadth.

6 Ali Bey (A.D. 1807) computes 80,000 men, 2,000 women, and 1,000 children at Arafat. Burckhardt (A.D. 1814) calculated it at 70,000. I do not think that in all there were more than 50,000 souls assembled together in 1853.

7 Rich pilgrims always secure lodgings; the poorer class cannot afford them; therefore, the great Caravans from Egypt, Damascus, Baghdad, and other places, pitch on certain spots outside the city.

8 An incorrect expression; the stone is fixed in a massive gold or silver gilt circle to the S.E. angle, but it is not part of the building.

9 Ali Bey is correct in stating that the running is on the return from Arafat, directly after sunset.

10 This sentence abounds in blunders. Sale, Ali Bey, and Burckhardt, all give correct accounts of the little pillar of masonry — it has nothing to do with the well — which denotes the place where Satan appeared to Abraham. The pilgrims do not throw one stone, but many. The pebbles are partly brought from Muzdalifah, partly from the valley of Muna, in which stands the pillar.

11 Mr. Bankes confounds this column with the Devil’s Pillar at Muna. Finati alludes to the landmarks of the Arafat plain, now called Al-Alamayn (the two marks). The pilgrims must stand within these boundaries on a certain day (the 9th of Zu’l Hijjah), otherwise he has failed to observe a rital ordinance.

12 He appears to confound the proper place with Arafat. The sacrifice is performed in the valley of Muna, after leaving the mountain. But Finati, we are told by his translator, wrote from memory — a pernicious practice for a traveller.

13 This custom is now obsolete, as regards the grand body of pilgrims. Anciently, a certificate from the Sharif was given to all who could afford money for a proof of having performed the pilgrimage, but no such practice at present exists. My friends have frequently asked me, what proof there is of a Moslem’s having become a Haji. None whatever; consequently impostors abound. Sa’adi, in the Gulistan, notices a case. But the ceremonies of the Hajj are so complicated and unintelligible by mere description, that a little cross-questioning applied to the false Haji would easily detect him.

14 No wonder Mr. Bankes is somewhat puzzled by this passage. Certainly none but a pilgrim could guess that the author refers to the rites called Al-Umrah and Al-Sai, or the running between Mounts Safa and Marwah. The curious reader may compare the above with Burckhardt’s correct description of the ceremonies. As regards the shaving, Finati possibly was right in his day; in Ali Bey’s, as in my time, the head was only shaved once, and a few strokes of the razor sufficed for the purpose of religious tonsure.

15 Jabal Nur, anciently Hira, is a dull grey as of granite; it derives its modern name from the spiritual light of religion. Circumstances prevented my ascending it, so I cannot comment upon Finati’s “custom of leaping.”

16 Open three days in the year, according to Ali Bey, the same in Burckhardt’s, and in my time. Besides these public occasions, private largesses can always turn the key.

17 I heard from good authority, that the Ka’abah is never opened without several pilgrims being crushed to death. Ali Bey (remarks Mr. Bankes) says nothing of the supposed conditions annexed. In my next volume [Part iii. (“Meccah”) of this work] I shall give them, as I received them from the lips of learned and respectable Moslems. They differ considerably from Finati’s, and no wonder; his account is completely opposed to the strong good sense which pervades the customs of Al-Islam. As regards his sneer at the monastic orders in Italy — that the conditions of entering are stricter and more binding than those of the Ka’abah, yet that numbers are ready to profess in them — it must not be imagined that Arab human nature differs very materially from Italian. Many unworthy feet pass the threshold of the Ka’abah; but there are many Moslems, my friend, Omar Effendi, for instance, who have performed the pilgrimage a dozen times, and would never, from conscientious motives, enter the holy edifice.

18 In 1807, according to Ali Bey, the Wahhabis took the same precaution, says Mr. Bankes. The fact is, some such precautions must always be taken. The pilgrims are forbidden to quarrel, to fight, or to destroy life, except under circumstances duly provided for. Moreover, as I shall explain in another part of this work, it was of old, and still is, the custom of the fiercer kind of Badawin to flock to Arafat — where the victim is sure to be found — for the purpose of revenging their blood-losses. As our authorities at Aden well know, there cannot be a congregation of different Arab tribes without a little murder. After fighting with the common foe, or if unable to fight with him, the wild men invariably turn their swords against their private enemies.

19 So, on the wild and tree-clad heights of the Neilgherry hills, despite the brilliance of the stars, every traveller remarks the darkness of the atmosphere at night.

20 Mohammed Ali gave six dollars for every Arab head, which fact accounts for the heaps that surrounded him. One would suppose that when acting against an ene[m]y, so quick and agile as the Arabs, such an order would be an unwise one. Experience, however, proves the contrary.

21 “Finati’s long disuse of European writing,” says Mr. Bankes, “made him very slow with his pen.” Fortunately, he found in London some person who took down the story in easy, unaffected, and not inelegant Italian. In 1828, Mr. Bankes translated it into English, securing accuracy by consulting the author, when necessary.

22 His translator and editor is obliged to explain that he means Cufic, by “characters that are not now in use,” and the statue of Memnon by “one of two enormous sitting figures in the plain, from which, according to an old story or superstition, a sound proceeds when the sun rises.” When the crew of his Nile-boat “form in circle upon the bank, and perform a sort of religious mummery, shaking their heads and shoulders violently, and uttering a hoarse sobbing or barking noise, till some of them would drop or fall into convulsions,”— a sight likely to excite the curiosity of most men — he “takes his gun in pursuit of wild geese.” He allowed Mr. Bankes’ mare to eat Oleander leaves, and thus to die of the commonest poison. Briefly, he seems to have been a man who, under favourable circumstances, learned as little as possible.


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