THE 22nd July was a grand trial of temper to our little party. The position of Bir Abbas exactly resembles that of Al-Hamra, except that the bulge of the hill-girt Fiumara is at this place about two miles wide. There are the usual stone-forts and palm-leaved hovels for the troopers, stationed here to hold the place and to escort travellers, with a coffee-shed, and a hut or two, called a bazar, but no village. Our encamping ground was a bed of loose sand, with which the violent Samum filled the air; not a tree or a bush was in sight; a species of hardy locust and swarms of flies were the only remnants of animal life: the scene was a caricature of Sind. Although we were now some hundred feet, to judge by the water-shed, above the level of the sea, the mid-day sun scorched even through the tent; our frail tenement was more than once blown down, and the heat of the sand made the work of repitching it painful. Again my companions, after breakfasting, hurried to the coffee-house, and returned one after the other with dispiriting reports. Then they either quarrelled desperately about nothing, or they threw themselves on their rugs, pretending to sleep in very sulkiness. The lady Maryam soundly rated her surly son for refusing to fill her chibuk for the twelfth time that morning, with the usual religious phrases, “Allah direct thee into the right way, O my son!” — meaning that he was going to the bad, and “O my calamity, thy mother is a lone woman, O Allah!” — equivalent to the European parental plaint about grey hairs being brought down in sorrow to the grave. Before noon a small caravan which followed us came in with two dead bodies, — a trooper shot by the Badawin, and an Albanian killed by sun-stroke, or the fiery wind.1 Shortly after mid-day a Caravan, travelling in an opposite direction, passed by us; it was composed chiefly of Indian pilgrims, habited in correct costume, and hurrying towards Meccah in hot haste. They had been allowed to pass unmolested, because probably a pound sterling could not have been collected from a hundred pockets, and Sa’ad the Robber sometimes does a cheap good deed. But our party, having valuables with them, did not seem to gather heart from this event. In the evening we all went out to see some Arab Shaykhs who were travelling to Bir Abbas in order to receive their salaries. Without such douceurs, it is popularly said and believed, no stone walls could enable a Turk to hold Al-Hijaz against the hill-men. Such was our system in Afghanistan-most unwise, teaching in limine the subject to despise rulers subject to blackmail. Besides which, these highly paid Shaykhs do no good. When a fight takes place or a road is shut, they profess inability to restrain their clansmen; and the richer they are, of course the more formidable they become. The party looked well; they were Harb, dignified old men in the picturesque Arab costume, with erect forms, fierce thin features, and white beards, well armed, and mounted upon high-bred and handsomely equipped dromedaries from Al-Shark.2 Preceded by their half-naked clansmen, carrying spears twelve or thirteen feet long, garnished with single or double tufts of black ostrich feathers, and ponderous matchlocks, which were discharged on approaching the fort, they were not without a kind of barbaric pomp.
Immediately after the reception of these Shaykhs, there was a parade of the Arnaut Irregular horse. About 500 of them rode out to the sound of the Nakus or little kettle-drum, whose puny notes strikingly contrasted with this really martial sight. The men, it is true, were mounted on lean Arab and Egyptian nags, ragged-looking as their clothes; and each trooper was armed in his own way, though all had swords, pistols and matchlocks, or firelocks of some kind. But they rode hard as Galway “buckeens,” and there was a gallant reckless look about the fellows which prepossessed me strongly in their favour. Their animals, too, though notable “screws,” were well trained, and their accoutrements were intended for use, not show. I watched their manoeuvres with curiosity. They left their cantonments one by one, and, at the sound of the tom-tom, by degrees formed a “plump” or “herse” — column3 it could not be called-all huddled together in confusion. Presently the little kettle-drum changed its note and the parade its aspect. All the serried body dispersed as would Light Infantry, now continuing their advance, then hanging back, then making a rush, and all the time keeping up a hot fire upon the enemy. At another signal they suddenly put their horses to full speed, and, closing upon the centre, again advanced in a dense mass. After three-quarters of an hour parading, sometimes charging singly, often in bodies, to the right, to the left, and straight in front, halting when requisite, and occasionally retreating, Parthian-like, the Arnauts turned en masse towards their lines. As they neared them, all broke off and galloped in, ventre a terre, discharging their shotted guns with much recklessness against objects assumed to denote the enemy. But ball-cartridge seemed to be plentiful hereabouts; during the whole of this and the next day, I remarked that bullets, notched for noise, were fired away in mere fun.4
Barbarous as these movements may appear to the Cavalry Martinet of the “good old school,” yet to something of the kind will the tactics of that arm of the service, I humbly opine, return, when the perfect use of the rifle, the revolver, and field artillery shall have made the present necessarily slow system fatal. Also, if we adopt the common sense opinion of a modern writer,5 and determine that “individual prowess, skill in single combats, good horsemanship, and sharp swords render cavalry formidable,” these semi-barbarians are wiser in their generation than the civilised, who never practise arms (properly so called), whose riding-drill never made a good rider, whose horses are over-weighted, and whose swords are worthless. They have yet another point of superiority over us; they cultivate the individuality of the soldier, whilst we strive to make him a mere automaton. In the days of European chivalry, battles were a system of well-fought duels. This was succeeded by the age of discipline, when, to use the language of Rabelais, “men seemed rather a consort of organ-pipes, or mutual concord of the wheels of a clock, than an infantry and cavalry, or army of soldiers.” Our aim should now be to combine the merits of both systems; to make men individually excellent in the use of weapons, and still train them to act naturally and habitually in concert. The French have given a model to Europe in the Chasseurs de Vincennes, — a body capable of most perfect combination, yet never more truly excellent than when each man is fighting alone. We, I suppose, shall imitate them at some future time.6
A distant dropping of fire-arms ushered in the evening of our first melancholy day at Bir Abbas. This, said my companions, was a sign that the troops and the hill-men were fighting. They communicated the intelligence, as if it ought to be an effectual check upon my impatience to proceed; it acted, however, in the contrary way. I supposed that the Badawin, after battling out the night, would be less warlike the next day; the others, however, by no means agreed in opinion with me. At Yambu’ the whole party had boasted loudly that the people of Al-Madinah could keep their Badawin in order, and had twitted the boy Mohammed with their superiority in this respect to his townsmen, the Meccans. But now that a trial was impending, I saw none of the fearlessness so conspicuous when peril was only possible. The change was charitably to be explained by the presence of their valuables; the “Sahharahs,” like conscience, making cowards of them all. But the young Meccan, who, having sent on his box by sea from Yambu’ to Jeddah, felt merry, like the empty traveller, would not lose the opportunity to pay off old scores. He taunted the Madinites till they stamped and raved with fury. At last, fearing some violence, and feeling answerable for the boy’s safety to his family, I seized him by the nape of his neck and the upper posterior portion of his nether garments, and drove him before me into the tent.
When the hubbub had subsided, and all sat after supper smoking the pipe of peace in the cool night air, I rejoined my companions, and found them talking, as usual, about old Shaykh Sa’ad. The scene was appropriate for the subject. In the distance rose the blue peak said to be his eyrie, and the place was pointed out with fearful meaning. As it is inaccessible to strangers, report has converted it into another garden of Iram. A glance, however, at its position and formation satisfied me that the bubbling springs, the deep forests, and the orchards of apple-trees, quinces and pomegranates, with which my companions furnished it, were a “myth,” whilst some experience of Arab ignorance of the art of defence suggested to me strong doubts about the existence of an impregnable fortress on the hill-top. The mountains, however, looked beautiful in the moonlight, and distance gave them a semblance of mystery well suited to the themes which they inspired.
That night I slept within my Shugduf, for it would have been mere madness to sleep on the open plain in a place so infested by banditti. The being armed is but a poor precaution near this robbers’ den. If you wound a man in the very act of plundering, an exorbitant sum must be paid for blood-money. If you kill him, even to save your life, then adieu to any chance of escaping destruction. Roused three or four times during the night by jackals and dogs prowling about our little camp, I observed that my companions, who had agreed amongst themselves to keep watch by turns, had all fallen into a sound sleep. However, when we awoke in the morning, the usual inspection of goods and chattels showed that nothing was gone.
The next day (July 23rd) was a forced halt, a sore stimulant to the traveller’s ill-humour; and the sun, the sand, the dust, the furious Samum, and the want of certain small supplies, aggravated our grievance. My sore foot had been inflamed by a dressing of onion skin which the lady Maryam had insisted upon applying to it.7 Still being resolved to push forward by any conveyance that could be procured, I offered ten dollars for a fresh dromedary to take me on to Al — Madinah. Shaykh Hamid also declared he would leave his box in charge of a friend and accompany me. Sa’ad the Demon flew into a passion at the idea of any member of the party escaping the general evil; and he privily threatened Mohammed to cut off the legs of any camel that ventured into camp. This, the boy-who, like a boy of the world as he was, never lost an opportunity of making mischief-instantly communicated to me, and it brought on a furious dispute. Sa’ad was reproved and apologised for by the rest of the party; and presently he himself was pacified, principally, I believe, by the intelligence that no camel was to be hired at Bir Abbas. One of the Arnaut garrison, who had obtained leave to go to Al-Madinah, came to ask us if we could mount him, as otherwise he should be obliged to walk the whole way. With him we debated the propriety of attempting a passage through the hills by one of the many by-paths that traverse them: the project was amply discussed, and duly rejected.
We passed the day in the usual manner; all crowded together for shelter under the tent. Even Maryam joined us, loudly informing Ali, her son, that his mother was no longer a woman but a man; whilst our party generally, cowering away from the fierce glances of the sun, were either eating or occasionally smoking, or were occupied in cooling and drinking water. About sunset-time came a report that we were to start that night. None could believe that such good was in store for us; before sleeping, however, we placed each camel’s pack apart, so as to be ready for loading at a moment’s notice; and we took care to watch that our Badawin did not drive their animals away to any distance. At last, about 11 P.M., as the moon was beginning to peep over the Eastern wall of rock, was heard the glad sound of the little kettle-drum calling the Albanian troopers to mount and march. In the shortest possible time all made ready; and, hurriedly crossing the sandy flat, we found ourselves in company with three or four Caravans, forming one large body for better defence against the dreaded Hawamid.8 By dint of much manoeuvring, arms in hand, — Shaykh Hamid and the “Demon” took the prominent parts, — we, though the last comers, managed to secure places about the middle of the line. On such occasions all push forward recklessly, as an English mob in the strife of sight-seeing; the rear, being left unguarded, is the place of danger, and none seeks the honour of occupying it.
We travelled that night up the Fiumara in an Easterly direction, and at early dawn (July 24th) found ourselves in an ill-famed gorge called Shuab al-Hajj,9 the “Pilgrimage Pass.” The loudest talkers became silent as we neared it, and their countenances showed apprehension written in legible characters. Presently from the high precipitous cliff on our left, thin blue curls of smoke-somehow or other they caught every eye-rose in the air; and instantly afterwards rang the sharp cracks of the hillmen’s matchlocks, echoed by the rocks on the right. My Shugduf had been broken by the camel’s falling during the night, so I called out to Mansur that we had better splice the framework with a bit of rope: he looked up, saw me laughing, and with an ejaculation of disgust disappeared. A number of Badawin were to be seen swarming like hornets over the crests of the hills, boys as well as men carrying huge weapons, and climbing with the agility of cats. They took up comfortable places on the cut-throat eminence, and began firing upon us with perfect convenience to themselves. The height of the hills and the glare of the rising sun prevented my seeing objects very distinctly, but my companions pointed out to me places where the rock had been scarped, and where a kind of rough stone breastwork-the Sangah of Afghanistan-had been piled up as a defence, and a rest for the long barrel of the matchlock. It was useless to challenge the Badawin to come down and fight us like men upon the plain; they will do this on the Eastern coast of Arabia, but rarely, if ever, in Al-Hijaz. And it was equally unprofitable for our escort to fire upon a foe ensconced behind stones. Besides which, had a robber been killed, the whole country would have risen to a man; with a force of 3,000 or 4,000, they might have gained courage to overpower a Caravan, and in such a case not a soul would have escaped. As it was, the Badawin directed their fire principally against the Albanians. Some of these called for assistance to the party of Shaykhs that accompanied us from Bir Abbas; but the dignified old men, dismounting and squatting in council round their pipes, came to the conclusion that, as the robbers would probably turn a deaf ear to their words, they had better spare themselves the trouble of speaking.
We had therefore nothing to do but to blaze away as much powder, and to veil ourselves in as much smoke, as possible; the result of the affair was that we lost twelve men, besides camels and other beasts of burden. Though the bandits showed no symptoms of bravery, and confined themselves to slaughtering the enemy from their hill-top, my companions seemed to consider this questionable affair a most gallant exploit.
After another hour’s hurried ride through the Wady Sayyalah, appeared Shuhada, to which we pushed on,
“Like nighted swain on lonely road,
When close behind fierce goblins tread.”
Shuhada is a place which derives its name, “The Martyrs,” because here are supposed to be buried forty braves that fell in one of Mohammed’s many skirmishes. Some authorities consider it the cemetery of the people of Wady Sayyalah.10 The once populous valley is now barren, and one might easily pass by the consecrated spot without observing a few ruined walls and a cluster of rude Badawin graves, each an oval of rough stones lying beneath the thorn trees on the left of and a little off the road. Another half hour took us to a favourite halting-place, Bir al-Hindi,11 so called from some forgotten Indian who dug a well there. But we left it behind, wishing to put as much space as we could between our tents and the nests of the Hamidah. Then quitting the Fiumara, we struck Northwards into a well-trodden road running over stony rising ground. The heat became sickening; here, and in the East generally, at no time is the sun more dangerous than between eight and nine A.M. Still we hurried on. It was not before eleven A.M. that we reached our destination, a rugged plain covered with stones, coarse gravel, and thorn trees in abundance; and surrounded by inhospitable rocks, pinnacle-shaped, of granite below, and in the upper parts fine limestone. The well was at least two miles distant, and not a hovel was in sight; a few Badawi children belonging to an outcast tribe fed their starveling goats upon the hills. This place is called “Suwaykah”; it is, I was told, that celebrated in the history of the Arabs.12 Yet not for this reason did my comrades look lovingly upon its horrors: their boxes were safe and with the eye of imagination they could now behold their homes. That night we must have travelled about twenty-two miles; the direction of the road was due East, and the only remarkable feature in the ground was its steady rise.
We pitched the tent under a villainous Mimosa, the tree whose shade is compared by poetic Badawin to the false friend who deserts you in your utmost need. I enlivened the hot dull day by a final affair with Sa’ad the Demon. His alacrity at Yambu’ obtained for him the loan of a couple of dollars: he had bought grain at Al-Hamra, and now we were near Al-Madinah: still there was not a word about repayment. And knowing that an Oriental debtor discharges his debt as he pays his rent, namely, with the greatest unwillingness, — and that, on the other hand, an Oriental creditor will devote the labour of a year to recovering a sixpence, I resolved to act as a native of the country, placed in my position, would; and by dint of sheer dunning and demanding pledges, to recover my property. About noon Sa’ad the Demon, after a furious rush, bare-headed, through the burning sun, flung the two dollars down upon my carpet: however, he presently recovered temper, and, as subsequent events showed, I had chosen the right part. Had he not been forced to repay his debt, he would have despised me as a “freshman,” and would have coveted more. As it was, the boy Mohammed bore the brunt of unpopular feeling, my want of liberality being traced to his secret and perfidious admonitions. He supported his burden the more philosophically, because, as he notably calculated, every dollar saved at Al-Madinah would be spent under his stewardship at Meccah.
At four P.M. (July 24th) we left Suwaykah, all of us in the crossest of humours, and travelled in a N.E. direction. So “out of temper” were my companions, that at sunset, of the whole party, Omar Effendi was the only one who would eat supper. The rest sat upon the ground, pouting, grumbling, and-they had been allowed to exhaust my stock of Latakia-smoking Syrian tobacco as if it were a grievance. Such a game at naughty children, I have seldom seen played even by Oriental men. The boy Mohammed privily remarked to me that the camel-men’s beards were now in his fist, — meaning that we were out of their kinsmen, the Harb’s, reach. He soon found an opportunity to quarrel with them; and, because one of his questions was not answered in the shortest possible time, he proceeded to abuse them in language which sent their hands flying in the direction of their swords. Despite, however, this threatening demeanour, the youth, knowing that he now could safely go to any lengths, continued his ill words, and Mansur’s face was so comically furious, that I felt too much amused to interfere. At last the camel-men disappeared, thereby punishing us most effectually for our sport. The road lay up rocky hill and down stony vale; a tripping and stumbling dromedary had been substituted for the usual monture: the consequence was that we had either a totter or a tumble once per mile during the whole of that long night. In vain the now fiery Mohammed called for the assistance of the camel-men with the full force of his lungs: “Where be those owls, those oxen of the oxen, those beggars, those cut-off ones, those foreigners, those Sons of Flight13? withered be their hands! palsied be their fingers! the foul mustachioed fellows, basest of the Arabs that ever hammered tent-peg, sneaking cats, goats of Al-Akhfash!14 Truly I will torture them the torture of the oil,15 the mines of infamy! the cold of countenance!16” The Badawi brotherhood of the camel-men looked at him wickedly, muttering the while, — “By Allah! and by Allah! and by Allah! O boy, we will flog thee like a hound when we catch thee in the Desert!” All our party called upon him to desist, but his temper had got completely the upper hand over his discretion, and he expressed himself in such classic and idiomatic Hijazi, that I had not the heart to stop him. Some days after our arrival at Al-Madinah, Shaykh Hamid warned him seriously never again to go such perilous lengths, as the Beni Harb were celebrated for shooting or poniarding the man who ventured to use to them even the mild epithet “O jackass!” And in the quiet of the city the boy Mohammed, like a sobered man shuddering at dangers braved when drunk, hearkened with discomposure and penitence to his friend’s words. The only immediate consequence of his abuse was that my broken Shugduf became a mere ruin, and we passed the dark hours perched like two birds upon the only entire bits of framework the cots contained.
The sun had nearly risen (July 25th) before I shook off the lethargic effects of such a night. All around me were hurrying their camels, regardless of rough ground, and not a soul spoke a word to his neighbour. “Are there robbers in sight?” was the natural question. “No!” replied Mohammed; “they are walking with their eyes,17 they will presently see their homes!” Rapidly we passed the Wady al-Akik,18 of which,
“O my friend, this is Akik, then stand by it,
Endeavouring to be distracted by love, if not really a lover,”19
and a thousand other such pretty things, have been said by the Arab poets. It was as “dry as summer’s dust,” and its “beautiful trees” appeared in the shape of vegetable mummies. Half an hour after leaving the “Blessed Valley” we came to a huge flight of steps roughly cut in a long broad line of black scoriaceous basalt. This is termed the Mudarraj or flight of steps over the western ridge of the so-called Al-Harratayn.20 It is holy ground; for the Apostle spoke well of it. Arrived at the top, we passed through a lane of dark lava, with steep banks on both sides, and after a few minutes a full view of the city suddenly opened upon us.21
We halted our beasts as if by word of command. All of us descended, in imitation of the pious of old, and sat down, jaded and hungry as we were, to feast our eyes with a view of the Holy City.
“O Allah! this is the Harim (sanctuary) of Thy Apostle; make it to us a Protection from Hell Fire, and a Refuge from Eternal Punishment! O open the Gates of Thy Mercy, and let us pass through them to the Land of Joy!” and “O Allah, bless the last of Prophets, the Seal of Prophecy, with Blessings in number as the Stars of Heaven, and the Waves of the Sea, and the Sands of the Waste-bless him, O Lord of Might and Majesty, as long as the Corn-field and the Date-grove continue to feed Mankind22!” And again, “Live for ever, O Most Excellent of Prophets! — live in the Shadow of Happiness during the Hours of Night and the Times of Day, whilst the Bird of the Tamarisk (the dove) moaneth like the childless Mother, whilst the West-wind bloweth gently over the Hills of Nijd, and the Lightning flasheth bright in the Firmament of Al-Hijaz!”
Such were the poetical exclamations that rose all around me, showing how deeply tinged with imagination becomes the language of the Arab under the influence of strong passion or religious enthusiasm. I now understood the full value of a phrase in the Moslem ritual, “And when his” (the pilgrim’s) “eyes shall fall upon the Trees of Al-Madinah, let him raise his Voice and bless the Apostle with the choicest of Blessings.” In al[l] the fair view before us nothing was more striking, after the desolation through which we had passed, than the gardens and orchards about the town. It was impossible not to enter into the spirit of my companions, and truly I believe that for some minutes my enthusiasm rose as high as theirs. But presently when we remounted,23 the traveller returned strong upon me: I made a rough sketch of the town, put questions about the principal buildings, and in fact collected materials for the next chapter.
The distance traversed that night was about twenty-two miles in a direction varying from easterly to north-easterly. We reached Al-Madinah on the 25th July, thus taking nearly eight days to travel over little more than 130 miles. This journey is performed with camels in four days, and a good dromedary will do it without difficulty in half that time.24
1 The natives of Al-Hijaz assured me that in their Allah-favoured land, the Samum never kills a man. I “doubt the fact.” This Arnaut’s body was swollen and decomposing rapidly, the true diagnostic of death by the poison-wind. (See Ibn Batuta’s voyage, “Kabul.”) However, as troopers drink hard, the Arabs may still be right, the Samum doing half the work, arrack the rest. I travelled during the months of July, August, and September, and yet never found myself inconvenienced by the “poison-wind” sufficiently to make me tie my Kufiyah, Badawi-fashion, across my mouth. At the same time I can believe that to an invalid it would be trying, and that a man almost worn out by hunger and fatigue would receive from it a coup de grace. Niebuhr attributes the extraordinary mortality of his companions, amongst other causes, to a want of stimulants. Though these might doubtless be useful in the cold weather, or in the mountains of Al-Yaman, for men habituated to them from early youth, yet nothing, I believe, would be more fatal than strong drink when travelling through the Desert in summer heat. The common beverage should be water or lemonade; the strongest stimulants coffee or tea. It is what the natives of the country do, and doubtless it is wise to take their example. The Duke of Wellington’s dictum about the healthiness of India to an abstemious man does not require to be quoted. Were it more generally followed, we should have less of sun-stroke and sudden death in our Indian armies, when soldiers, fed with beef and brandy, are called out to face the violent heat. At the same time it must be remembered, that foul and stagnant water, abounding in organic matter, is the cause of half the diarrhoea and dysentry which prove so fatal to travellers in these regions. To the water-drinker, therefore, a pocket-filter is indispensable.
2 Al-Shark, “the East,” is the popular name in the Hijaz for the Western region as far as Baghdad and Bassorah, especially Nijd. The latter province supplies the Holy Land with its choicest horses and camels. The great heats of the parts near the Red Sea appear prejudicial to animal generation; whereas the lofty table-lands and the broad pastures of Nijd, combined with the attention paid by the people to purity of blood, have rendered it the greatest breeding country in Arabia.
3 I mean a civilised column. “Herse” is the old military name for a column opposed to “Haye,” a line. So we read that at far-famed Cressy the French fought en battaille a haye, the English drawn up en herse. This appears to have been the national predilection of that day. In later times, we and our neighbours changed style, the French preferring heavy columns, the English extending themselves into lines.
4 The Albanians, delighting in the noise of musketry, notch the ball in order to make it sing the louder. When fighting, they often adopt the excellent plan-excellent, when rifles are not procurable-of driving a long iron nail through the bullet, and fixing its head into the cartridge. Thus the cartridge is strengthened, the bullet is rifled, and the wound which it inflicts is death. Round balls are apt to pass into and out of savages without killing them, and many an Afghan, after being shot or run through the body, has mortally wounded his English adversary before falling. It is false philanthropy, also, to suppose that in battle, especially when a campaign is commencing, it is sufficient to maim, not to kill, the enemy. Nothing encourages men to fight so much, as a good chance of escaping with a wound-especially a flesh wound. I venture to hope that the reader will not charge these sentiments with cruelty. He who renders warfare fatal to all engaged in it will be the greatest benefactor the world has yet known.
5 The late Captain Nolan.
6 The first symptom of improvement will be a general training to the Bayonet exercise. The British is, and for years has been, the only army in Europe that does not learn the use of this weapon: how long does it intend to be the sole authority on the side of ignorance? We laughed at the Calabrese levies, who in the French war threw away their muskets and drew their stilettos; and we cannot understand why the Indian would always prefer a sabre to a rifle. Yet we read without disgust of our men being compelled, by want of proper training, to “club their muskets” in hand-to-hand fights, — when they have in the bayonet the most formidable of offensive weapons, — and of the Kafirs and other savages wresting the piece, after drawing off its fire, from its unhappy possessor’s grasp.
7 I began to treat it hydropathically with a cooling bandage, but my companions declared that the water was poisoning the wound, and truly it seemed to get worse every day. This idea is prevalent throughout Al-Hijaz; even the Badawin, after once washing a cut or a sore, never allow air or water to touch it.
8 Hawamid is the plural of Hamidah, Shaykh Sa’ad’s tribe.
9 Shuab properly means a path through mountains, or a watercourse between hills. It is generally used in Arabia for a “Valley,” and sometimes instead of Nakb, or the Turkish Bughaz, a “Pass.”
10 Others attribute these graves to the Beni Salim, or Salmah, an extinct race of Hijazi Badawin. Near Shuhada is Jabal Warkan, one of the mountains of Paradise, also called Irk al-Zabyat, or Thread of the Winding Torrent. The Prophet named it “Hamt,” (sultriness), when he passed through it on his way to the Battle of Badr. He also called the valley “Sajasaj,” (plural of Sajsaj, a temperate situation), declared it was a valley of heaven, that 70 prophets had prayed there before himself, that Moses with 70,000 Israelites had traversed it on his way to Meccah, and that, before the Resurrection day, Isa bin Maryam should pass through it with the intention of performing the Greater and the Lesser Pilgrimages. Such are the past and such the future honours of the place.
11 The Indians sink wells in Arabia for the same reason which impels them to dig tanks at home, — “nam ke waste,” — “for the purpose of name”; thereby denoting, together with a laudable desire for posthumous fame, a notable lack of ingenuity in securing it. For it generally happens that before the third generation has fallen, the well and the tank have either lost their original names, or have exchanged them for others newer and better known.
12 Suwaykah derives its name from the circumstance that in the second, or third, year of the Hijrah (Hegira), Mohammed here attacked Abu Sufiyan, who was out on a foray with 200 men. The Infidels, in their headlong fight, lightened their beasts by emptying their bags of “Sawik.” This is the old and modern Arabic name for a dish of green grain, toasted, pounded, mixed with dates or sugar, and eaten on journeys when it is found difficult to cook. Such is the present signification of the word: M.C. de Perceval (vol. iii., p. 84) gives it a different and a now unknown meaning. And our popular authors erroneously call the affair the “War of the Meal-sacks.”
13 A popular but not a bad pun — “Harb” (Fight), becomes, by the alteration of the H, “Harb” (Flight).
14 The old Arabic proverb is “A greater wiseacre than the goat of Akhfash”; it is seldom intelligible to the vulgar.
15 That is to say, “I will burn them (metaphorically) as the fiery wick consumes the oil,” — a most idiomatic Hijazi threat.
16 A “cold-of-countenance” is a fool. Arabs use the word “cold” in a peculiar way. “May Allah refrigerate thy countenance!” i.e. may it show misery and want. “By Allah, a cold speech!” that is to say, a silly or an abusive tirade.
17 That is to say, they would use, if necessary, the dearest and noblest parts of their bodies (their eyes) to do the duty of the basest (i.e. their feet).
18 Writers mention two Al-Akik. The superior comprises the whole site of Al-Madinah, extending from the Western Ridge, mentioned below, to the cemetery Al-Bakia. The inferior is the Fiumara here alluded to; it is on the Meccan road, about four miles S.W. of Al-Madinah, and its waters fall into the Al-Hamra torrent. It is called the “Blessed Valley” because the Prophet was ordered by an angel to pray in it.
19 The esoteric meaning of this couplet is, “Man! this is a lovely portion of God’s creation: then stand by it, and here learn to love the perfections of thy Supreme Friend.”
20 Al-Harratayn for Al-Harratani, the oblique case of the dual and plural noun being universally used for the nominative in colloquial Arabic. The other one of the Two Ridges will be described in a future part of this Book.
21 The city is first seen from the top of the valley called Nakb, or Shuab Ali, close to the Wady al-Akik, a long narrow pass, about five miles from Al-Madinah. Here, according to some, was the Mosque Zu’l Halifah, where the Prophet put on the Pilgrim’s garb when travelling to Meccah. It is also called “The Mosque of the Tree,” because near it grew a fruit tree under which the Prophet twice sat. Ibn Jubayr considers that the Harim (or sacred precincts of Al-Madinah) is the space enclosed by three points, Zu’l Halifah, Mount Ohod, and the Mosque of Kuba. To the present day pilgrims doff their worldly garments at Zu’l Halifah.
22 That is to say, “throughout all ages and all nations.” The Arabs divide the world into two great bodies: first themselves, and, secondly, “’Ajami,” i.e. all that are not Arabs. Similar bi-partitions are the Hindus and Mlenchhas, the Jews and Gentiles, the Greeks and Barbarians, &c., &c.
23 Robust religious men, especially those belonging to the school of Al-Malik, enter into Al-Madinah, after the example of Ali, on foot, reverently, as the pilgrims approach Meccah.
24 Barbosa makes three days’ journey from Yambu’ to Al-Madinah, D’Herbelot eight, and Ovington six. The usual time is from four to five days. A fertile source of error to home geographers, computing distances in Arabia, is their neglecting the difference between the slow camel travelling and the fast dromedary riding.
The following is a synopsis of our stations:—
|1. From Yambu’, 18th July, to Musahhal, N.E||16||64 miles|
|2. From Musahhal, 19th July, to Bir Sa’id, S. and E||34|
|3. From Bir Sa’id, 20th July, to Al.Hamra, N.E||14|
|4. From Al.Hamra, 21st July, to Bir Abbas, E||24||68 miles|
|5. From Bir Abbas, 23rd July, to Suwaykah, E||22|
|6. From Suwaykah, 24thJuly, to Al.Madinah, N. and E||22|
|Total English miles||132|
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06