Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Chapter XVI.

A Visit to the Prophet’s Tomb.

Having performed the greater ablution, and used the toothstick as directed, and dressed ourselves in white clothes, which the Apostle loved, we were ready to start upon our holy errand. As my foot still gave me great pain, Shaykh Hamid sent for a donkey. A wretched animal appeared, raw-backed, lame of one leg, and wanting an ear, with accoutrements to match, a pack-saddle without stirrups, and a halter instead of a bridle. Such as the brute was, however, I had to mount it, and to ride through the Misri gate, to the wonder of certain Badawin, who, like the Indians, despise the ass.

“Honourable is the riding of a horse to the rider,

But the mule is a dishonour, and the donkey a disgrace,”

says their song. The Turkish pilgrims, however, who appear to take a pride in ignoring all Arab points of prejudice, generally mount donkeys when they cannot walk. The Badawin therefore settled among themselves, audibly enough, that I was an Osmanli, who of course could not understand Arabic, and they put the question generally,

“By what curse of Allah had they been subjected to ass-riders?”

But Shaykh Hamid is lecturing me upon the subject of the Mosque. The Masjid Al-Nabawi, or the Prophet’s Mosque, is one of the Haramayn, or the “two sanctuaries” of Al-Islam, and is the second of the three1 most venerable places of worship in the world; the other two being the Masjid al-Harim at Meccah (connected with Abraham) and the Masjid al-Aksa of Jerusalem (the peculiar place of Solomon). A Hadis or traditional saying of Mohammed asserts, “One prayer in this my Mosque is more efficacious than a thousand in other places, save only the Masjid al-Harim.2” It is therefore the visitor’s duty, as long as he stays at Al-Madinah, to pray there the five times per diem, to pass the day in it reading the Koran, and the night, if possible, in watching and devotion.

A visit to the Masjid al-Nabawi, and the holy spots within it, is technically called “Ziyarat” or Visitation.3 An essential difference is made between this rite and Hajj or pilgrimage. The latter is obligatory by Koranic order upon every Moslem once in his life: the former is only a meritorious action. “Tawaf,” or circumambulation of the House of Allah at Meccah, must never be performed at the Apostle’s tomb. This should not be visited in the Ihram or pilgrim dress; men should not kiss it, touch it with the hand, or press the bosom against it, as at the Ka’abah; or rub the face with dust collected near the sepulchre; and those who prostrate themselves before it, like certain ignorant Indians, are held to be guilty of deadly sin. On the other hand, to spit upon any part of the Mosque, or to treat it with contempt, is held to be the act of an Infidel.

Thus the learned and religious have settled, one would have thought, accurately enough the spiritual rank and dignity of the Masjid al-Nabawi. But mankind, especially in the East, must always be in extremes. The orthodox school of Al-Malik holds Al-Madinah, on account of the sanctity of, and the religious benefits to be derived from, Mohammed’s tomb, more honourable than Meccah. Some declare that the Apostle preferred his place of refuge, blessing it as Abraham did Meccah. Moreover, as a tradition declares that every man’s body is drawn from the ground in which he is buried, Al-Madinah evidently had the honour of supplying materials for the Apostle’s person. Others, like Omar, were uncertain which to prefer. The Wahhabis, on the other hand, rejecting the Intercession of the Apostle on the Day of Judgment, considering the grave of a mere mortal unworthy of notice, and highly disgusted by the idolatrous respect paid to it by certain foolish Moslems, plundered the sacred building with sacrilegious violence, and forbade visitors from distant countries to enter Al-Madinah.4

The general consensus of Al-Islam admits the superiority of the Bayt Allah (“House of God”) at Meccah to the whole world; and declares Al-Madinah to be more venerable than every part of Meccah, and consequently all the earth, except only the Bayt Allah. This last is a juste milieu view by no means in favour with the inhabitants of either place. In the meanwhile the Meccans claim unlimited superiority over the Madani: the Madani over the Meccans.

Passing through muddy streets, — they had been freshly watered before evening time, — I came suddenly upon the Mosque. Like that at Meccah, the approach is choked up by ignoble buildings, some actually touching the holy “enceinte,” others separated by a lane compared with which the road round St. Paul’s is a Vatican Square.5 There is no outer front, no general prospect of the Prophet’s Mosque; consequently, as a building, it has neither beauty nor dignity.

And entering the Bab al-Rahmah6 — the Gate of Pity, — by a diminutive flight of steps, I was astonished at the mean and tawdry appearance of a place so universally venerated in the Moslem world. It is not, like the Meccan Temple, grand and simple, the expression of a single sublime idea: the longer I looked at it, the more it suggested the resemblance of a museum of second-rate art, an old Curiosity-shop, full of ornaments that are not accessories, and decorated with pauper splendour.

The Masjid al-Nabi is a parallelogram about four hundred and twenty feet in length by three hundred and forty broad, the direction of the long walls being nearly north and south. As usual in Al-Islam, it is a hypaethral building with a spacious central area, called Al-Sahn, Al-Hosh, Al-Haswah, or Al-Ramlah,7 surrounded by a peristyle with numerous rows of pillars like the colonnades of an Italian cloister. The arcades or porticoes are flat-ceilinged, domed above with the small Media Naranja, or half-orange cupola of Spain, and divided into four parts by narrow passages, three or four steps below the level of the pavement. Along the whole inner length of the Northern short wall runs the Majidi Riwak, so called from the then reigning Sultan.8 The Western long wall is occupied by the Riwak of the Rahmah Gate; the Eastern by that of the Bab al-Nisa, the “Women’s Entrance.9

Embracing the inner length of the Southern short wall, and deeper by nearly treble the amount of columns than the other porticoes, is the main colonnade, called Al-Rauzah10 (the Garden), the adytum containing all that is venerable in the building. These four Riwaks, arched externally, are supported internally by pillars of different shape and material, varying from fine porphyry to dirty plaster. The Southern, where the sepulchre or cenotaph stands, is paved with handsome slabs of white marble and marquetry work, here and there covered with coarse matting, and above this by unclean carpets, well worn by faithful feet.11

But this is not the time for Tafarruj or lionising.

Shaykh Hamid warns me, with a nudge, that other things are expected of a Zair (visitor). He leads me to the Bab al-Salam, fighting his way through a troop of beggars, and inquires markedly if I am religiously pure.12 Then, placing our hands a little below and on the left of the waist, the palm of the right covering the back of the left, in the position of prayer, and beginning with the dexter feet,13 we pace slowly forwards down the line called the Muwajihat al-Sharifah, or “the Illustrous Fronting,” which, divided off like an aisle, runs parallel with the Southern wall of the Mosque. On my right hand walks the Shaykh, who recites aloud the following prayer, making me repeat it after him.14 It is literally rendered, as, indeed, are all the formulae, and the reader is requested to excuse the barbarous fidelity of the translation.

“In the Name of Allah and in the faith of Allah’s Apostle! O Lord, cause me to enter the Entering of Truth, and cause me to issue forth the Issuing of Truth, and permit me to draw near to Thee, and make me a Sultan Victorious15!” Then follow blessings upon the Apostle, and afterwards: “O Allah! open to me the Doors of Thy Mercy, and grant me Entrance into it, and protect me from the Stoned Devil!”

During this preliminary prayer we had passed down two-thirds of the Muwajihat al-Sharifah. On the left hand is a dwarf wall, about the height of a man, painted with arabesques, and pierced with four small doors which open into the Muwajihat. In this barrier are sundry small erections, the niche called the Mihrab Sulaymani,16 the Mambar, or pulpit, and the Mihrab al-Nabawi.17

The two niches are of beautiful mosaic, richly worked with various coloured marbles, and the pulpit is a graceful collection of slender columns, elegant tracery, and inscriptions admirably carved. Arrived at the Western small door in the dwarf wall, we entered the celebrated spot called Al-Rauzah, after a saying of the Apostle’s, “Between my Tomb and my Pulpit is a Garden of the Gardens of Paradise.18” On the North and West sides it is not divided from the rest of the portico; on the South runs the dwarf wall, and on the East it is limited by the west end of the lattice-work containing the tomb.

Accompanied by my Muzawwir I entered the Rauzah, and was placed by him with the Mukabbariyah19 behind me, fronting Meccah, with my right shoulder opposite to, and about twenty feet distant from, the dexter pillar of the Apostle’s Pulpit.20 There, after saying the afternoon prayers,21 I performed the usual two bows in honour of the temple,22 and at the end of them recited the hundred and ninth and the hundred and twelfth chapters of the Koran-the “Kul, ya ayyuha’l-Kafiruna,” and the “Surat al-Ikhlas,” called also the “Kul, Huw’ Allah,” or the Declaration of Unity; and may be thus translated:

“Say, He is the one God!

“The eternal God!

“He begets not, nor is He begot!

“And unto Him the like is not.”

After which was performed a single Sujdah (Prostration) of Thanks,23 in gratitude to Allah for making it my fate to visit so holy a spot.

This being the recognised time to give alms, I was besieged by beggars, who spread their napkins before us on the ground, sprinkled with a few coppers to excite generosity. But not wishing to be distracted by them, before leaving Hamid’s house I had changed two dollars, and had given the coin to the boy Mohammed, who accompanied me, strictly charging him to make that sum last through the Mosque.

My answer to the beggars was a reference to my attendant, backed by the simple action of turning my pockets inside out; and, whilst he was battling with the beggars, I proceeded to cast my first coup-d’oeil upon the Rauzah.

The “Garden” is the most elaborate part of the Mosque. Little can be said in its praise by day, when it bears the same relation to a second-rate church in Rome as an English chapel-of-ease to Westminster Abbey. It is a space of about eighty feet in length, tawdrily decorated so as to resemble a garden. The carpets are flowered, and the pediments of the columns are cased with bright green tiles, and adorned to the height of a man with gaudy and unnatural vegetation in arabesque. It is disfigured by handsome branched candelabras of cut crystal, the work, I believe, of a London house, and presented to the shrine by the late Abbas Pasha of Egypt.24

The only admirable feature of the view is the light cast by the windows of stained glass25 in the Southern wall. Its peculiar background, the railing of the tomb, a splendid filigree-work of green and polished brass, gilt or made to resemble gold, looks more picturesque near than at a distance, when it suggests the idea of a gigantic bird-cage. But at night the eye, dazzled by oil-lamps26 suspended from the roof, by huge wax candles, and by smaller illuminations falling upon crowds of visitors in handsome attire, with the richest and the noblest of the city sitting in congregation when service is performed,27 becomes less critical. Still the scene must be viewed with Moslem bias, and until a man is thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the East, the last place the Rauzah will remind him of, is that which the architect primarily intended it to resemble-a garden.

Then with Hamid, professionally solemn, I reassumed the position of prayer, and retraced my steps. After passing through another small door in the dwarf wall that bounds the Muwajihah, we did not turn to the right, which would have led us to the Bab al-Salam; our course was in an opposite direction, towards the Eastern wall of the temple. Meanwhile we repeated, “Verily Allah and His Angels28 bless the Apostle! O ye who believe, bless him, and salute Him with Honour!” At the end of this prayer, we arrived at the Mausoleum, which requires some description before the reader can understand the nature of our proceedings there.

The Hujrah29 or “Chamber” as it is called, from the circumstance of its having been Ayishah’s room, is an irregular square of from fifty to fifty-five feet in the South-East corner of the building, and separated on all sides from the walls of the Mosque by a passage about twenty-six feet broad on the South side, and twenty on the East. The reason of this isolation has been before explained, and there is a saying of Mohammed’s, “O Allah, cause not my Tomb to become an Object of Idolatrous Adoration! May Allah’s Wrath fall heavy upon the People who make the Tombs of their Prophets Places of Prayer30!”

Inside there are, or are supposed to be, three tombs facing the South, surrounded by stone walls without any aperture, or, as others say, by strong planking.31 Whatever this material may be, it is hung outside with a curtain, somewhat like a large four-post bed. The external railing is separated by a dark narrow passage from the inner, which it surrounds; and is of iron filigree painted of a vivid grass green, — with a view to the garden. Here carefully inserted in the verdure, and doubly bright by contrast, is the gilt or burnished brass work forming the long and graceful letters of the Suls character, and disposed into the Moslem creed, the Profession of Unity, and similar religious sentences.

On the South side, for greater honour, the railing is plated over with silver, and silver letters are interlaced with it. This fence, which connects the columns and forbids passage to all men, may be compared to the baldacchino of Roman churches. It has four gates: that to the South is the Bab al-Muwajihah; Eastward is the gate of our Lady Fatimah; westward the Bab al-Taubah (of Repentance), opening into the Rauzah or garden; and to the North, the Bab al-Shami or Syrian gate. They are constantly kept closed, except the fourth, which admits, into the dark narrow passage above alluded to, the officers who have charge of the treasures there deposited; and the eunuchs who sweep the floor, light the lamps, and carry away the presents sometimes thrown in here by devotees.32

In the Southern side of the fence are three windows, holes about half a foot square, and placed from four to five feet above the ground; they are said to be between three and four cubits distant from the Apostle’s head. The most Westerly of these is supposed to front Mohammed’s tomb, wherefore it is called the Shubak al-Nabi, or the Prophet’s window. The next, on the right as you front it, is Abu Bakr’s, and the most Easterly of the three is Omar’s.

Above the Hujrah is the Green Dome, surmounted outside by a large gilt crescent springing from a series of globes. The glowing imaginations of the Moslems crown this gem of the building with a pillar of heavenly light, which directs from three days’ distance the pilgrims’ steps towards Al-Madinah. But alas! none save holy men (and perhaps, odylic sensitives), whose material organs are piercing as their spiritual vision, may be allowed the privilege of beholding this poetic splendour.

Arrived at the Shubak al-Nabi, Hamid took his stand about six feet or so out of reach of the railing, and at that respectful distance from, and facing33 the Hazirah (or presence), with hands raised as in prayer, he recited the following supplication in a low voice, telling me in a stage whisper to repeat it after him with awe, and fear, and love:—

“Peace be upon Thee, O Apostle of Allah, and the Mercy of Allah and his Blessings! Peace be upon Thee, O Apostle of Allah! Peace be upon Thee, O Friend of Allah! Peace be upon Thee, O best of Allah’s Creation! Peace be upon Thee, O pure Creature of Allah! Peace be upon Thee, O Chief of Prophets! Peace be upon Thee, O Seal of the Prophets! Peace be upon Thee, O Prince of the Pious! Peace be upon Thee, O Apostle of the Lord of the (three) Worlds! Peace be upon Thee, and upon Thy Family, and upon Thy pure Wives! Peace be upon Thee, and upon all Thy Companions! Peace be upon Thee, and upon all the Prophets, and upon those sent to preach Allah’s Word! Peace be upon Thee, and upon all Allah’s righteous Worshippers! Peace be upon Thee, O thou Bringer of Glad Tidings! Peace be upon Thee, O Bearer of Threats! Peace be upon Thee, O thou bright Lamp! Peace be upon Thee, O thou Apostle of Mercy! Peace be upon Thee, O Ruler of Thy Faith! Peace be upon Thee, O Opener of Grief! Peace be upon Thee! and Allah bless Thee! and Allah repay Thee for us, O Thou Apostle of Allah! the choicest of Blessings with which He ever blessed Prophet! Allah bless Thee as often as Mentioners have mentioned Thee, and Forgetters have forgotten Thee! And Allah bless Thee among the First and the Last, with the best, the highest, and the fullest of Blessings ever bestowed on Man; even as we escaped Error by means of Thee, and were made to see after Blindness, and after Ignorance were directed into the Right Way. I bear Witness that there is no god but the God (Allah), and I testify that Thou art His Servant, and His Apostle, and His Faithful Follower, and Best Creature. And I bear Witness, O Apostle of Allah! that Thou hast delivered thy Message, and discharged Thy Trust, and advised Thy Faith, and opened Grief, and published Proofs, and fought valiantly for Thy Lord, and worshipped Thy God till Certainty came to Thee (i.e. to the hour of death). And we Thy Friends, O Apostle of Allah! appear before Thee, Travellers from distant lands and far Countries, through Dangers and Difficulties, in the Times of Darkness, and in the Hours of Day, longing to give Thee Thy Rights (i.e. to honour Thee by benediction and visitation), and to obtain the Blessings of Thine Intercession, for our Sins have broken our Backs, and Thou intercedest with the Healer. And Allah said,34 ‘And though they have injured themselves, they came to Thee, and begged Thee to secure their Pardon, and they found God an Acceptor of Penitence, and full of Compassion.’ O Apostle of Allah, Intercession! Intercession! Intercession35! O Allah, bless Mohammed and Mohammed’s Family, and give Him Superiority and high Rank, even as Thou didst promise Him, and graciously allow us to conclude this Visitation. I deposit on this spot, and near Thee, O Apostle of God, my everlasting Profession (of faith) from this our Day, to the Day of Judgment, that there is no god but Allah, and that our Lord Mohammed is His Servant and His Apostle.36 Amen! O Lord of the (three) Worlds!37

After which, performing Ziyarat38 for ourselves, we repeated the Fatihah or “opening” chapter of the Koran.

“In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate!

“Praise be to Allah, who the (three) Worlds made.

“The Merciful, the Compassionate.

“The King of the Day of Faith.

“Thee (alone) do we worship, and of Thee (alone) do we ask Aid.

“Guide us to the Path that is straight —

“The Path of those for whom thy Love is great, not those on whom is Hate, nor they that deviate.

“Amen! O Lord of Angels, Jinnis, and Men!39

After reciting this mentally with upraised hands, the forefinger of the right hand being extended to its full length, we drew our palms down our faces and did alms-deeds, a vital part of the ceremony. Thus concludes the first part of the ceremony of visitation at the Apostle’s tomb.

Hamid then stepped about a foot and half to the right, and I followed his example, so as to place myself exactly opposite the second aperture in the grating called Abu Bakr’s window. There, making a sign towards the mausoleum, we addressed its inmate, as follows:—

“Peace be upon Thee, O Abu Bakr, O Thou Truthful One! Peace be upon Thee, O Caliph of Allah’s Apostle over his People! Peace be upon Thee, O Companion of the Cave, and Friend in Travel! Peace be upon Thee, O Thou Banner of the Fugitives and the Auxiliaries! I testify Thou didst ever stand firm in the right Way, and wast a Smiter of the Infidel, and a Benefactor to Thine own people. Allah grant Thee through His Apostle Weal! We pray Almighty God to cause us to die in Thy Friendship, and to raise us up in Company with His Apostle and Thyself, even as He hath mercifully vouchsafed to us this Visitation.40

After which we closed one more step to the right, and standing opposite Omar’s window, the most easterly of the three, after making a sign with our hands, we addressed the just Caliph in these words:—

“Peace be upon Thee, O Omar! O Thou Just One! Thou Prince of True Believers! Peace be upon Thee, who spakest with Truth, and who madest Thy Word agree with the Strong Book! (the Koran): O Thou Faruk! (the Separator).41 O Thou Faithful One! who girdedst thy Loins with the Apostle, and the First Believers, and with them didst make up the full Number forty,42 and thus causedst to be accomplished the Apostle’s Prayer,43 and then didst return to Thy God a Martyr leaving the World with Praise! Allah grant Thee, through his Apostle and his Caliph and his Followers, the best of Good, and may Allah feel in Thee plenary Satisfaction!”

Shaykh Hamid, after wrenching a beggar or two from my shoulders, then permitted me to draw near to the little window, called the Apostle’s, and to look in. Here my proceedings were watched with suspicious eyes. The Persians have sometimes managed to pollute the part near Abu Bakr’s and Omar’s graves by tossing through the aperture what is externally a handsome shawl intended as a present for the tomb.44 After straining my eyes for a time, I saw a curtain,45 or rather hangings, with three inscriptions in long gold letters, informing readers that behind them lie Allah’s Apostle and the first two Caliphs.

The exact place of Mohammed’s tomb is moreover distinguished by a large pearl rosary, and a peculiar ornament, the celebrated Kaukab-al-Durri, or constellation of pearls, suspended to the curtain breast-high.46 This is described to be a “brilliant star set in diamonds and pearls,” placed in the dark that man’s eye may be able to bear its splendours: the vulgar believe it to be a “jewel of the jewels of Paradise.” To me it greatly resembled the round glass stoppers used for the humbler sort of decanters; but I thought the same of the Koh-i-Nur. Moreover I never saw it quite near enough to judge fairly, and I did not think fit to pay an exorbitant sum for the privilege of entering the inner passage of the baldaquin.47

Altogether the coup-d’oeil had nothing to recommend it by day. At night, when the lamps, hung in this passage, shed a dim light upon the mosaic-work of the marble floors, upon the glittering inscriptions, and the massive hangings, the scene is more impressive.

Never having seen the Tomb,48 I must depict it from books, — by no means an easy task. Most of the historians are silent after describing the inner walls of the Hujrah. Al-Kalkashandi declares in eo lapidem nobilem continere sepulchra Apostoli, Abubecr et Omar, circumcinctum peribole in modum conclavis fere usque ad tectum assurgente, quae velo serico nigro obligatur. This author, then, agrees with my Persian friends, who declare the sepulchre to be a marble slab. Ibn Jubayr, who travelled in A.H. 580, relates that the Apostle’s coffin is a box of ebony (abnus) covered with sandal-wood, and plated with silver; it is placed, he says, behind a curtain, and surrounded by an iron grating. Al-Samanhudi,49 quoted by Burckhardt, declares that the curtain covers a square building of black stones, in the interior of which are the tombs of Mohammed and of his two immediate successors. He adds that the tombs are deep holes; and that the coffin which contains the Apostle is cased with silver, and has on the top a marble slab inscribed “Bismillah! Allahumma salli alayh!” (“In the name of Allah! Allah have Mercy upon Him50!”)

The Apostle’s body, it should be remembered, lies, or is supposed to lie, stretched at full length on the right side, with the right palm supporting the right cheek, the face fronting Meccah, as Moslems are always buried, and consequently the body lies with the head almost due West and the feet due East. Close behind him is placed Abu Bakr, whose face fronts the Apostle’s shoulder51; and, lastly, Omar holds the same position with respect to his predecessor.

The places they are usually supposed to occupy, then, would be thus disposed. But Moslem historians are not agreed even upon so simple a point as this. Many prefer this position, in line [figure] -some thus, in unicorn [figure] — and others the right angle.52


It is popularly asserted that in the Hujrah there is now spare place for only a single grave, reserved for Isa bin Maryam after his second coming. The historians of Al-Islam are full of tales proving that though many of their earlier saints, as Osman the Caliph and Hasan the Imam, were desirous of being buried there; and that although Ayishah, to whom the room belonged, willingly acceded to their wishes, son of man has as yet been unable to occupy it.

After the Fatihah pronounced at Omar’s tomb, and the short inspection of the Hujrah, Shaykh Hamid led me round the south-east corner of the baldaquin.53 Turning towards the north, we stopped at what is commonly called the Mahbat Jibrail (“Place of the Archangel Gabriel’s Descent with the Heavenly Revelations”), or simply Al-Malaikah-the Angels. It is a small window in the Eastern wall of the Mosque; we turned our backs upon it, and fronting the Hujrah, recited the following prayer:—

“Peace be upon You, O Angels of Allah, the Mukarrabin (cherubs), and the Musharrifin (seraphs), the pure, the holy, honored by the Dwellers in Heaven, and by those who abide upon the Earth. O beneficent Lord! O Long-suffering! O Almighty! O Pitier! O thou Compassionate One! perfect our Light, and pardon our Sins, and accept Penitence for our Offences, and cause us to die among the Holy! Peace be upon Ye, Angels of the Merciful, one and all! And the Mercy of God and His Blessings be upon You!” After which I was shown the spot in the Hujrah where Sayyidna Isa shall be buried54 by Mohammed’s side.

Then turning towards the West, at a point where there is a break in the symmetry of the Hujrah, we arrived at the sixth station, the sepulchre or cenotaph of the Lady Fatimah. Her grave is outside the enceinte and the curtain which surrounds her father’s remains; so strict is Moslem decorum, and so exalted its opinion of the “Virgin’s”55 delicacy. The Eastern side of the Hujrah, here turning a little Westward, interrupts the shape of the square, in order to give this spot the appearance of disconnection with the rest of the building. The tomb, seen through a square aperture like those above described, is a long catafalque, covered with a black pall. Though there is great doubt whether the Lady be not buried with her son Hassan in the Bakia cemetery, this place is always visited by the pious Moslem. The following is the prayer opposite the grave of the amiable Fatimah:—

“Peace be upon Thee, Daughter of the Apostle of Allah! Peace be upon Thee, Daughter of the Prophet of Allah! Peace be upon Thee, thou Daughter of Mustafa! Peace be upon Thee, thou Mother of the Shurafa!56 (seed of Mohammed.) Peace be upon Thee, O Lady amongst Women! Peace be upon Thee, O fifth of the Ahl al-Kisa!57 Peace be upon Thee, O Zahra and Batul!58 (Pure and Virgin). Peace be upon Thee, O Daughter of the Apostle! Peace be upon Thee, O Spouse of our Lord Ali al-Murtaza! Peace be upon Thee, O Mother of Hasan and Husayn, the two Moons, the two Lights, the two Pearls, the two Princes of the Youth of Heaven, and Coolness of the Eyes59 (i.e. joy and gladness) of true Believers! Peace be upon Thee, and upon Thy Sire, Al-Mustafa, and Thy Husband, our Lord Ali! Allah honour his Face, and Thy Face, and Thy Father’s Face in Paradise, and Thy two Sons, the Hasanayn! And the Mercy of Allah and His Blessings!”

We then broke away as we best could from the crowd of female “askers,” who have established their Lares and Penates under the shadow of the Lady’s wing; and, advancing a few paces, we fronted to the North, and recited a prayer in honour of Hamzah, and of the martyrs who lie buried at the foot of Mount Ohod.60 We then turned to the right, and, fronting the Easterly wall, prayed for the souls of the blessed whose mortal spirits repose within Al-Bakia’s hallowed circuit.61

After this we returned to the Southern wall of the Mosque, and, facing towards Meccah, we recited the following supplication:— “O Allah! (three times repeated) O Compassionate! O Beneficent! O Requiter (of good and evil)! O Prince! O Ruler! O ancient of Benefits! O Omniscient! O Thou who givest when asked, and who aidest when Aid is required, accept this our Visitation, and preserve us from Dangers, and make easy our Affairs, and broaden our Breasts, (gladden our hearts), and receive our Prostration, and requite us according to our good Deeds, and turn not against us our evil Deeds, and place not over us one who feareth not Thee, and one who pitieth not us, and write Safety and Health upon us and upon Thy Slaves, the Hujjaj (pilgrims), and the Ghuzzat (fighters for the faith), and the Zawwar62 (visitors to the tomb), and the Home-dwellers and the Wayfarers of the Moslems, by Land and by Sea, and pardon those of the Faith of our Lord Mohammed One and All!”

From the Southern wall we returned to the “Apostle’s Window,” where we recited the following tetrastich and prayer:—

“O Mustafa! verily, I stand at Thy door,

A man, weak and fearful, by reason of my sins:

If Thou aid me not, O Apostle of Allah!

I die-for, in the world there is none generous as Thou art!”

“Of a Truth, Allah and His Angels bless the Apostle! O Ye who believe, bless Him and salute Him with salutation!63 O Allah! verily I implore Thy Pardon and supplicate Thine Aid in this World as in the next! O Allah! O Allah! abandon us not in this Holy Place to the consequences of our Sins without pardoning them, or to our Griefs without consoling them, or to our Fears, O Allah! without removing them. And Blessings and Salutation to Thee, O Prince of Apostles, Commissioned (to preach the word), and laud be to Allah, the Lord of the (three) Worlds!”

We turned away from the Hujrah, and after gratifying a meek-looking but exceedingly importunate Hindi beggar, who insisted on stunning me with the Chapter Y, S.,64 we fronted Southwards, and taking care that our backs should not be in a line with the Apostle’s face, stood opposite the niche called Mihrab Osman. There Hamid proceeded with another supplication. “O Allah! (three times repeated), O Safeguard of the Fearful, and Defender of those who trust in Thee, and Pitier of the Weak, the Poor, and the Destitute! accept us, O Beneficent! and pardon us, O Merciful! and receive our Penitence, O Compassionate! and have Mercy upon us, O Forgiver! — for verily none but Thou canst remit Sin! Of a Truth Thou alone knowest the hidden, and veilest Man’s Transgressions: veil, then, our Offences, and pardon our Sins, and broaden our Breasts, and cause our last Words at the Supreme Hour of Life to be the Words, ‘There is no god but Allah,65 and our Lord Mohammed is the Apostle of Allah!’ O Allah! cause us to live according to this Saying, O thou Giver of life; and make us to die in this Faith, O thou Ruler of Death! And the best of Blessings and the completest of Salutations upon the sole Lord of Intercession, our Lord Mohammed and His Family, and His Companions One and All!”

Lastly, we returned to the Garden,66 and prayed another two-bow prayer, ending, as we began, with the worship of the Creator.

Unfortunately for me, the boy Mohammed had donned that grand embroidered coat. At the end of the ceremony the Aghas, or eunuchs of the Mosque, a race of men considered respectable by their office, and prone to make themselves respected by the freest administration of club-law, assembled in Al-Rauzah to offer me the congratulation Ziyaratak Mubarak — “Blessed be thy Visitation,” — and to demand fees. Then came the Sakka, or water-carrier of the Mosque well, Zemzem,67 offering a tinned saucer filled from the holy source. And lastly I was beset by beggars.

Some were mild beggars and picturesque, who sat upon the ground immersed in the contemplation of their napkins; others, angry beggars who cursed if they were not gratified; and others noisy and petulant beggars, especially the feminine party near the Lady’s tomb, who captured me by the skirt of my garment, compelling me to ransom myself. There were, besides, pretty beggars, boys who held out the right hand on the score of good looks; ugly beggars, emaciated rascals whose long hair, dirt, and leanness entitled them to charity; and lastly, the blind, the halt, and the diseased, who, as Sons of the Holy City, demanded from the Faithful that support with which they could not provide themselves. Having been compelled by my companions, highly against my inclination, to become a man of rank, I was obliged to pay in proportion, and my almoner in the handsome coat, as usual, took a kind of pride in being profuse. This first visit cost me double what I had intended-four dollars-nearly one pound sterling, and never afterwards could I pay less than half that sum.68

Having now performed all the duties of a good Zair, I was permitted by Shaykh Hamid to wander about and see the sights. We began our circumambulation at the Bab al-Salam,69 the Gate of Salvation, the South-Western entrance pierced in the long wall of the Mosque. It is a fine archway handsomely encrusted with marble and glazed tiles; the many gilt inscriptions on its sides give it, especially at night-time, an appearance of considerable splendour. The portcullis-like doors are of wood, strengthened with brass plates, and nails of the same metal. Outside this gate is a little Sabil, or public fountain, where those who will not pay for the water, kept ready in large earthen jars by the “Sakka” of the Mosque, perform their ablutions gratis. Here all the mendicants congregate in force, sitting on the outer steps and at the entrance of the Mosque, up and through which the visitors must pass.

About the centre of the Western wall is the Bab alRahmah, the Gate of Pity, which admits the dead bodies of the Faithful when carried to be prayed over in the Mosque. There is nothing remarkable in its appearance; in common with the other gates it has huge folding doors, iron-bound, an external flight of steps, and a few modern inscriptions.

The Bab Majidi, or Gate of the Sultan Abd al-Majid, stands in the centre of the Northern wall; like its portico, it is unfinished, but its present appearance promises that it will eclipse all except the Bab al-Salam.

The Bab al-Nisa, or Gate of Women, is in the Eastern wall opposite the Bab al-Rahmah, with which it is connected by the “Farsh al-Hajar,” a broad band of stone, two or three steps below the level of the portico, and slightly raised above the Sahn or the hypaethral portion of the Mosque. And lastly, in the Southern portion of the same Eastern wall is the Bab Jibrail, the Gate of the Archangel Gabriel.70

All these entrances are arrived at by short external flights of steps leading from the streets, as the base of the temple, unlike that of Meccah, is a little higher than the foundation of the buildings around it. The doors are closed by the attendant eunuchs immediately after the night prayers, except during the blessed month Al-Ramazan and in the pilgrimage season, when pious visitors pay considerable fees there to pass the night in meditation and prayer.

The minarets are five in number; but one, the Shikayliyah, at the North-West angle of the building, has been levelled, and is still in process of being rebuilt. The Munar Bab al-Salam stands by the gate of that name: it is a tall, handsome tower, surmounted by a large ball or cone71 of brass gilt or burnished. The Munar Bab al-Rahmah, about the centre of the Western wall, is of more simple form than the others: it has two galleries, with the superior portion circular, and surmounted by the conical “extinguisher” — roof so common in Turkey and Egypt. On the North-East angle of the Mosque stands the Sulaymaniyah Munar, so named after its founder, Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent. It is a well-built and substantial stone-tower divided into three stages; the two lower portions are polygonal, the upper cylindrical, and each terminates in a platform with a railed gallery carried all round for the protection of those who ascend.

And lastly, from the South-East angle of the Mosque, supposed to be upon the spot where Belal, the Apostle’s loud-lunged crier, called the first Moslems to prayer, 72 springs the Munar Raisiyah, so called because it is appropriated to the Ruasa or chiefs of the Mu’ezzins. Like the Sulaymaniyah, it consists of three parts: the first and second stages are polygonal; and the third, a cylinder, is furnished like the lower two with a railed gallery. Both the latter minarets end in solid ovals of masonry, from which project a number of wooden triangles. To these and to the galleries on all festive occasions, such as the arrival of the Damascus caravan, are hung oil-lamps-a poor attempt at illumination, which may rationally explain the origin of the Madinite superstition concerning the column of light which crowns the Prophet’s tomb. There is no uniformity in the shape or the size of these four minarets, and at first sight, despite their beauty and grandeur, they appear somewhat bizarre and misplaced. But after a few days I found that my eye grew accustomed to them, and I had no difficulty in appreciating their massive proportions and lofty forms.

Equally irregular are the Riwaks, or porches, surrounding the hypaethral court. Along the Northern wall there will be, when finished, a fine colonnade of granite, paved with marble. The Eastern Riwak has three rows of pillars, the Western four, and the Southern, under which stands the tomb, of course has its columns ranged deeper than all the others. These supports of the building are of different material; some of fine marble, others of rough stone, plastered over and painted with the most vulgar of arabesques, — vermilion and black in irregular patches and broad streaks, like the stage-face of a London clown.73 Their size, moreover, is different, the Southern colonnade being composed of pillars palpably larger than those in the other parts of the Mosque. Scarcely any two shafts own similar capitals; many have no pedestal, and some of them are cut with a painful ignorance of art. I cannot extend my admiration of the minarets to the columns-in their “architectural lawlessness” there is not a redeeming point.

Of these unpraisable pillars three are celebrated in the annals of Al-Islam, for which reason their names are painted upon them, and five others enjoy the honour of distinctive appellations. The first is called Al-Mukhallak, because, on some occasion of impurity, it was anointed with a perfume called Khaluk. It is near the Mihrab al-Nabawi, on the right of the place where the Imam prays; and it notes the spot where, before the invention of the Pulpit, the Apostle, leaning upon the Ustuwanat al-Hannanah-the Weeping Pillar74 — used to recite the Khutbah or Friday sermon.

The second stands third from the Pulpit, and third from the Hujrah. It is called the Pillar of Ayishah, also the Ustuwanat al-Kurah, or the Column of Lots, because the Apostle, according to the testimony of his favourite wife, declared that if men knew the value of the place, they would cast lots to pray there: in some books it is known as the Pillar of the Muhajirin or Fugitives, and others mention it as Al-Mukhallak-the Perfumed.

Twenty cubits distant from Ayishah’s Pillar, and the second from the Hujrah, and the fourth from the Pulpit, is the Pillar of Repentance, or of Abu Lubabah. It derives its name from the following circumstance. Abu Lubabah was a native of Al-Madinah, one of the Auxiliaries and a companion of Mohammed, originally it is said a Jew, according to others of the Beni Amr bin Auf of the Aus tribe. Being sent for by his kinsmen or his allies, the Benu Kurayzah, at that time capitulating to Mohammed, he was consulted by the distracted men, women, and children, who threw themselves at his feet, and begged of him to intercede for them with the offended Apostle. Abu Lubabah swore he would do so: at the same time, he drew his hand across his throat, as much as to say, “Defend yourselves to the last, for if you yield, such is your doom.” Afterwards repenting, he bound himself with a huge chain to the date-tree in whose place the column now stands, vowing to continue there until Allah and the Apostle accepted his penitence-a circumstance which did not take place till the tenth day, when his hearing was gone and he had almost lost his sight.

The less celebrated pillars are the Ustuwanat al-Sarir, or Column of the Cot, where the Apostle was wont to sit meditating on his humble couch-frame of date-sticks. The Ustuwanat Ali notes the spot where the fourth Caliph used to pray and watch near his father-in-law at night. At the Ustuwanat al-Wufud, as its name denotes, the Apostle received envoys, couriers, and emissaries from foreign places. The Ustuwanat al-Tahajjud now stands where Mohammed, sitting upon his mat, passed the night in prayer. And lastly is the Makam Jibrail (Gabriel’s place), for whose other name, Mirbaat al-Bair, “the Pole of the Beast of Burden,” I have been unable to find an explanation.

The four Riwaks, or porches, of the Madinah Mosque open upon a hypaethral court of parallelogramic shape.

The only remarkable object in it75 is a square of wooden railing enclosing a place full of well-watered earth, called the Garden of our Lady Fatimah.76 It now contains a dozen date-trees-in Ibn Jubayr’s time there were fifteen. Their fruit is sent by the eunuchs as presents to the Sultan and the great men of Al-Islam; it is highly valued by the vulgar, but the Olema do not think much of its claims to importance. Among the palms are the venerable remains of a Sidr, or Lote tree,77 whose produce is sold for inordinate sums. The enclosure is entered by a dwarf gate in the South-Eastern portion of the railing, near the well, and one of the eunuchs is generally to be seen in it: it is under the charge of the Mudir, or chief treasurer. These gardens are not uncommon in Mosques, as the traveller who passes through Cairo can convince himself. They form a pretty and an appropriate feature in a building erected for the worship of Him “Who spread the Earth with Carpets of Flowers and drew shady Trees from the dead Ground.” A tradition of the Apostle also declares that “Acceptable is Devotion in the Garden and in the Orchard.”

At the South-East angle of this enclosure, under a wooden roof supported by pillars of the same material, stands the Zemzem, generally called the Bir al-Nabi, or “the Apostle’s well.” My predecessor declares that the brackishness of its produce has stood in the way of its reputation for holiness. Yet a well-educated man told me that it was as “light” (wholesome) water78 as any in Al-Madinah, — a fact which he accounted for by supposing a subterraneous passage79 which connects it with the great Zemzem at Meccah. Others, again, believe that it is filled by a vein of water springing directly under the Apostle’s grave: generally, however, among the learned it is not more revered than our Lady’s Garden, nor is it ranked in books among the holy wells of Al-Madinah.

Between this Zemzem well and the Eastern Riwak is the Stoa, or Academia, of the Prophet’s city. In the cool mornings and evenings the ground is strewed with professors, who teach the young idea, as an eminent orientalist hath it, to shout rather than to shoot.80 A few feet to the South of the palm garden is a moveable wooden planking painted green, and about three feet high; it serves to separate the congregation from the Imam when he prays here; and at the North-Eastern angle of the enclosure is a Shajar Kanadil, a large brass chandelier, which completes the furniture of the court.

After this inspection, the shadows of evening began to gather round us. We left the Mosque, reverently taking care to issue forth with the left foot, and not to back out of it as is the Sunnat or practice derived from the Apostle, when taking leave of the Meccan Temple.

To conclude this long chapter. Although every Moslem, learned and simple, firmly believes that Mohammed’s remains are interred in the Hujrah at Al-Madinah, I cannot help suspecting that the place is doubtful as that of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. It must be remembered that a tumult followed the announcement of the Apostle’s death, when the people, as often happens, believing him to be immortal,81 refused to credit the report, and even Omar threatened destruction to any one that asserted it.

Moreover the body was scarcely cold when the contest about the succession arose between the fugitives of Meccah and the auxiliaries of Al-Madinah: in the ardour of which, according to the Shi’ahs, the house of Ali and Fatimah-within a few feet of the spot where the tomb of the Apostle is now placed-was threatened with fire, and Abu Bakr was elected Caliph that same evening. If anyone find cause to wonder that the last resting-place of a personage so important was not fixed for ever, he may find many a parallel case in Al-Madinah. To quote no other, three several localities claim the honour of containing the Lady Fatimah’s mortal spoils, although one might suppose that the daughter of the Apostle and the mother of the Imams would not be laid in an unknown grave. My reasons for incredulity are the following:

From the earliest days the shape of the Apostle’s tomb has never been generally known in Al-Islam. For this reason it is that graves are made convex in some countries, and flat in others. Had there been a Sunnat,82 such would not have been the case.

The accounts of the learned are discrepant. Al-Samanhudi, perhaps the highest authority, contradicts himself. In one place he describes the coffin; in another he expressly declares that he entered the Hujrah when it was being repaired by Kaid-Bey, and saw in the inside three deep graves, but no traces of tombs.83 Either, then, the mortal remains of the Apostle had, despite Moslem superstition,84 mingled with the dust, (a probable circumstance after nearly nine hundred years’ interment), or, what is more likely, they had been removed by the Shi’ah schismatics who for centuries had charge of the sepulchre.85

And lastly, I cannot but look upon the tale of the blinding light which surrounds the Apostle’s tomb, current for ages past and still universally believed upon the authority of the attendant eunuchs, who must know its falsehood, as a priestly gloss intended to conceal a defect.

I here conclude the subject, committing it to some future and more favoured investigator. In offering the above remarks, I am far from wishing to throw a doubt upon an established point of history. But where a suspicion of fable arises from popular “facts,” a knowledge of man and of his manners teaches us to regard it with favouring eye.86

1 Others add a fourth, namely, the Masjid al-Takwa, at Kuba.

2 The Moslem divines, however, naïvely remind their readers, that they are not to pray once in the Al-Madinah Mosque, and neglect the other 999, as if absolved from the necessity of them. The passage in the text merely promises 1000 blessings upon that man’s devotion who prays at the Prophet’s Mosque.

3 The visitor, who approaches the Sepulchre as a matter of religious ceremony, is called “Zair,” his conductor “Muzawwir,” whereas the pilgrim at Meccah becomes a “Haji.” The Imam Malik disapproved of a Moslem’s saying, “I have visited the Prophet’s tomb,” preferring him to express himself thus — “I have visited the Prophet.” Others again dislike the latter formula, declaring the Prophet too venerable to be so visited by Amr and Zayd.

4 In A.D. 1807, they prevented Ali Bey (the Spaniard Badia) from entering Al-Madinah, and it appears that he had reason to congratulate himself upon escaping without severe punishment.

5 Nothing in the Spanish cathedrals suggests their oriental origin and the taste of the people, more than the way in which they are hedged in by secular buildings.

6 The ceremony of Ziyarat, however, begins at the Bab al-Salam. We rode up to this gate only in order to avoid the sun.

7 Haswah is a place covered with gravel: Ramlah, one which is sanded over. Both are equally applicable, and applied to the areas of Mosques. Al-Sahn is the general word; Al-Hosh is occasionally used, but is more properly applied to the court-yard of a dwelling-house.

8 This Riwak was begun about five or six years ago by Abd al-Majid. To judge from the size of the columns, and the other preparations which encumber the ground, this part of the building will surpass all the rest. But the people of Al-Madinah assured me that it will not be finished for some time, — a prophecy likely to be fulfilled by the present state of Turkish finance.

9 This gate derives its peculiar name from its vicinity to the Lady Fatimah’s tomb; women, when they do visit the Mosque, enter it through all the doors indifferently.

10 It is so called by the figure synecdoche: it contains the Rauzah or the Prophet’s Garden, and therefore the whole portico enjoys that honoured name.

11 These carpets are swept by the eunuchs, who let out the office for a certain fee to pilgrims, every morning, immediately after sunrise. Their diligence, however, does by no means prevent the presence of certain little parasites, concerning which politeness is dumb

12 Because if not pure, ablution is performed at the well in the centre of the hypaethra. Zairs are ordered to visit the Mosque perfumed, and in their best clothes, and the Hanafi school deems it lawful on this occasion only to wear dresses of pure silk.

13 In this Mosque, as in all others, it is proper to enter with the right foot, and to retire with the left.

14 I must warn the reader that almost every Muzawwir has his own litany, which descends from father to son: moreover, all the books differ at least as much as do the oral authorities.

15 That is to say, “over the world, the flesh, and the devil.”

16 This by strangers is called the Masalla Shafe’i, or the Place of Prayer of the Shafe’i school. It was sent from Constantinople about 100 years ago, by Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent. He built the Sulaymaniyah minaret, and has immortalised his name at Al-Madinah, as well as at Meccah, by the number of his donations to the shrine.

17 Here is supposed to have been one of the Prophet’s favourite stations of prayer. It is commonly called the Musalla Hanafi, because now appropriated by that school.

18 This tradition, like most others referring to events posterior to the Prophet’s death, is differently given, and so important are the variations, that I only admire how all Al-Islam does not follow Wahhabi example, and summarily consign them to oblivion. Some read “Between my dwelling-house (in the Mosque) and my place of Prayer (in the Barr al-Manakhah) is a Garden of the Gardens of Paradise.” Others again, “Between my house and my pulpit is a Garden of the Gardens of Paradise.” A third tradition — “Between my tomb and my pulpit is a Garden of the Gardens of Paradise, and verily my pulpit is in my Full Cistern,” or “upon a Full Cistern of the Cisterns of Paradise,” has given rise to a new superstition. “Tara,” according to some commentators, alludes especially to the cistern Al-Kausar; consequently this Rauzah is, like the black stone at Meccah, bona fide, a bit of Paradise, and on the day of resurrection, it shall return bodily to the place whence it came. Be this as it may, all Moslems are warned that the Rauzah is a most holy spot. None but the Prophet and his son-in-law Ali ever entered it, when ceremonially impure, without being guilty of deadly sin. The Mohammedan of the present day is especially informed that on no account must he here tell lies, or even perjure himself. Thus the Rauzah must be respected as much as the interior of the Bayt Allah at Meccah.

19 This is a stone desk on four pillars, where the Muballighs (or clerks) recite the Ikamah, the call to divine service. It was presented to the Mosque by Kaid-Bey, the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt.

20 I shall have something to say about this pulpit when entering into the history of the Harim.

21 The afternoon prayers being Farz, or obligatory, were recited, because we feared that evening might come on before the ceremony of Ziyarat (visitation) concluded, and thus the time for Al-Asr (afternoon prayers) might pass away. The reader may think this rather a curious forethought in a man who, like Hamid, never prayed except when he found the case urgent. Such, however, is the strict order, and my Muzawwir was right to see it executed.

22. This two-bow prayer, which generally is recited in honour of the Mosque, is here, say divines, addressed especially to the Deity by the visitor who intends to beg the intercession of his Prophet. It is only just to confess that the Moslems have done their best by all means in human power, here as well as elsewhere, to inculcate the doctrine of eternal distinction between the creature and the Creator. Many of the Maliki school, however, make the ceremony of Ziyarat to precede the prayer to the Deity.

23 The Sujdah is a single “prostration” with the forehead touching the ground. It is performed from a sitting position, after the Dua or supplication that concludes the two-bow prayer. Some of the Olema, especially those of the Shafe’i school, permit this “Sujdah of thanks” to be performed before the two-bow prayer if the visitor have any notable reason to be grateful.

24 The candles are still sent from Cairo.

25 These windows are a present from Kaid-Bey, the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt.

26 These oil lamps are a present from the Sultan.

27 The five daily liturgies are here recited by Imams, and every one presses to the spot on account of its peculiar sanctity.

28 In Moslem theology “Salat” from Allah means mercy, from the angels intercession for pardon, and from mankind blessing. The act of blessing the Prophet is one of peculiar efficacy in a religious point of view. Cases are quoted of sinners being actually snatched from hell by a glorious figure, the personification of the blessings which had been called down by them upon Mohammed’s head. This most poetical idea is borrowed, I believe, from the ancient Guebres, who fabled that a man’s good works assumed a beautiful female shape, which stood to meet his soul when winding its way to judgment. Also when a Moslem blesses Mohammed at Al-Madinah, his sins are not written down for three days, — thus allowing ample margin for repentance, — by the recording angel. Al-Malakayn (the two Angels), or Kiram al-Katibin (the Generous Writers), are mere personifications of the good principle and the evil principle of man’s nature; they are fabled to occupy each a shoulder, and to keep a list of words and deeds. This is certainly borrowed from a more ancient faith. In Hermas II. (command. 6), we are told that “every man has two angels, one of godliness, the other of iniquity,” who endeavour to secure his allegiance, — a superstition seemingly founded upon the dualism of the old Persians. Mediaeval Europe, which borrowed so much from the East at the time of the Crusades, degraded these angels into good and bad fairies for children’s stories.

29 Burckhardt writes this word Hedjra (which means “flight”). Nor is M. Caussin de Perceval’s “El Hadjarat” less erroneous. At Madinah it is invariably called Al-Hujrah-the chamber. The chief difficulty in distinguishing the two words, meaning “chamber” and “flight,” arises from our only having one h to represent the hard and soft h of Arabic,???? [Arabic text] and???? [Arabic text]. In the case of common saints, the screen or railing round the cenotaph is called a “Maksurah.”

30 Yet Mohammed enjoined his followers to frequent graveyards. “Visit graves; of a verity they shall make you think of futurity!” And again, “Whoso visiteth his two parents’ grave, or one of the two, every Friday, he shall be written a pious child, even though he might have been in the world, before that, a disobedient.”

31 The truth is no one knows what is there. I have even heard a learned Persian declare that there is no wall behind the curtain, which hangs so loosely that, when the wind blows against it, it defines the form of a block of marble, or a built-up tomb. I believe this to be wholly apocryphal, for reasons which will presently be offered.

32 The peculiar place where the guardians of the tomb sit and confabulate is the Dakkat al-Aghawat (eunuch’s bench) or Al-Mayda-the table-a raised bench of stone and wood, on the North side of the Hujrah. The remaining part of this side is partitioned off from the body of the Mosque by a dwarf wall, inclosing the “Khasafat al-Sultan,” the place where Fakihs are perpetually engaged in Khitmahs, or perusals of the Koran, on behalf of the reigning Sultan.

33 The ancient practice of Al-Islam during the recitation of the following benedictions was to face Meccah, the back being turned towards the tomb, and to form a mental image of the Prophet, supposing him to be in front. Al-Kirmani and other doctors prefer this as the more venerable custom, but in these days it is completely exploded, and the purist would probably be soundly bastinadoed by the eunuchs for attempting it.

34 This is the usual introduction to a quotation from the Koran.

35 It may easily be conceived how offensive this must be to the Wahhabis, who consider it blasphemy to assert that a mere man can stand between the Creator and the creature on the last day.

36 This is called the Testification. Like the Fatihah, it is repeated at every holy place and tomb visited at Al-Madinah.

37 Burckhardt mentions that in his day, among other favours supplicated in prayer to the Deity, the following request was made, — “Destroy our enemies, and may the torments of hell-fire be their lot!” I never heard it at the Prophet’s tomb. As the above benediction is rather a long one, the Zair is allowed to shorten it a discretion, but on no account to say less than “Peace be upon Thee, O Apostle of Allah” — this being the gist of the ceremony.

38 Though performing Ziyarat for myself, I had promised my old Shaykh at Cairo to recite a Fatihah in his name at the Prophet’s tomb; so a double recitation fell to my lot. If acting Zair for another person (a common custom, we read, even in the days of Al-Walid, the Caliph of Damascus), you are bound to mention your principal’s name at the beginning of the benediction, thus: “Peace be upon Thee, O Apostle of Allah from such an one, the son of such an one, who wants Thine Intercession, and begs for Pardon and Mercy.” Most Zairs recite Fatihahs for all their friends and relations at the tomb.

39 I have endeavoured in this translation to imitate the imperfect rhyme of the original Arabic. Such an attempt, however, is full of difficulties: the Arabic is a language in which, like Italian, it is almost impossible not to rhyme.

40 It will not be necessary to inform the reader more than once that all these several divisions of prayer ended with the Testification and the Fatihah.

41 Faruk, — the separator, — a title of Omar.

42 When the number of the Ashab or “Companions” was thirty-nine, they were suddenly joined by Omar, who thus became the fortieth.

43 It is said that Mohammed prayed long for the conversion of Omar to Al-Islam, knowing his sterling qualities, and the aid he would lend to the establishment of the faith.

44 This foolish fanaticism has lost many an innocent life, for the Arabs on these occasions seize their sabres, and cut down every Persian they meet. Still, bigoted Shi’ahs persist in practising and applauding it, and the man who can boast at Shiraz of having defiled Abu Bakr’s, Omar’s, or Osman’s tomb becomes at once a lion and a hero. I suspect that on some occasions when the people of Al-Madinah are anxious for an “avanie,” they get up some charge of the kind against the Persians. So the Meccans have sometimes found these people guilty of defiling the house of Allah-at which Infidel act a Shi’ah would shudder as much as a Sunni. This style of sacrilege is, we read, of ancient date in Arabia. Nafil, the Hijazi, polluted the Kilis (Christian church) erected by Abrahah of Sanaa to outshine the Ka’abah, and draw off worshippers from Meccah. The outrage caused the celebrated “affair of the Elephant.” (See D’Herbelot, Bibl. Or., v. “Abrahah.”)

45 Burckhardt, with his usual accuracy, asserts that a new curtain is sent when the old one is decayed, or when a new Sultan ascends the throne, and those authors err who, like Maundrell, declare the curtain to be removed every year. The Damascus Caravan conveys, together with its Mahmil or emblem of royalty, the new Kiswah (or “garment”) when required for the tomb. It is put on by the eunuchs, who enter the baldaquin by its Northern gate at night time, and there is a superstitious story amongst the people that they guard their eyes with veils against the supernatural splendours which pour from the tomb. The Kiswah is a black, purple, or green brocade, embroidered with white or with silver letters. A piece in my possession, the gift of Omar Effendi, is a handsome silk and cotton Damascus brocade, with white letters worked in it-manifestly the produce of manual labour, not the poor dull work of machinery. It contains the formula of the Moslem faith in the cursive style of the Suls character, seventy-two varieties of which are enumerated by calligraphists. Nothing can be more elegant or appropriate than its appearance. The old curtain is usually distributed amongst the officers of the Mosque, and sold in bits to pilgrims; in some distant Moslem countries, the possessor of such a relic would be considered a saint. When treating of the history of the Mosque, some remarks will be offered about the origin of the curtain.

46 The place of the Prophet’s head is, I was told, marked by a fine Koran hung up to the curtain This volume is probably a successor to the relic formerly kept there, the Cufic Koran belonging to Osman, the fourth Caliph, which Burckhardt supposes to have perished in the conflagration which destroyed the Mosque.

47 The eunuchs of the tomb have the privilege of admitting strangers. In this passage are preserved the treasures of the place; they are a “Bayt Mal al-Muslimin,” or public treasury of the Moslems; therefore to be employed by the Caliph (i.e. the reigning Sultan) for the exigencies of the faith. The amount is said to be enormous, which I doubt.

48 And I might add, never having seen one who has seen it. Niebuhr is utterly incorrect in his hearsay description of it. It is not “enclosed within iron railings for fear lest the people might surreptitiously offer worship to the ashes of the Prophet.” The tomb is not “of plain mason-work in the form of a chest,” nor does any one believe that it is “placed within or between two other tombs, in which rest the ashes of the first two Caliphs.” The traveller appears to have lent a credulous ear to the eminent Arab merchant, who told him that a guard was placed over the tomb to prevent the populace scraping dirt from about it, and preserving it as a relic.

49 Burckhardt writes this author’s name El Samhoudy, and in this he is followed by all our popular book-makers. Moslems have three ways of spelling it: 1. Al-Samhudi, 2. Al-Samahnudi, and 3. Al-Samanhudi. I prefer the latter, believing that the learned Shaykh, Nur al-Din Ali bin Abdullah al-Hasini (or Al-Husayni) was originally from Samanhud in Egypt, the ancient Sebennitis. He died in A.H. 911, and was buried in the Bakia cemetery.

50 Burckhardt, however, must be in error when he says “The tombs are also covered with precious stuffs, and in the shape of catafalques, like that of Ibrahim in the great Mosque of Meccah.” The eunuchs positively declare that no one ever approaches the tomb, and that he who ventured to do so would at once be blinded by the supernatural light. Moreover the historians of Al-Madinah all quote tales of certain visions of the Apostle, directing his tomb to be cleared of dust that had fallen upon it from above, in which case some man celebrated for piety and purity was let through a hole in the roof, by cords, down to the tomb, with directions to wipe it with his beard. This style of ingress is explained by another assertion of Al-Samanhudi, quoted by Burckhardt. “In A.H. 892, when Kaid-Bey rebuilt the Mosque, which had been destroyed by lightning, three deep graves were found in the inside, full of rubbish, but the author of this history, who himself entered it, saw no traces of tombs. The original place of Mohammed’s tomb was ascertained with great difficulty; the walls of the Hujrah were then rebuilt, and the iron railing placed round it, which is now there.”

51 Upon this point authors greatly disagree. Ibn Jubayr, for instance, says that Abu Bakr’s head is opposite the Apostle’s feet, and that Omar’s face is on a level with Abu Bakr’s shoulder.

52 The vulgar story of the suspended coffin has been explained in two ways. Niebuhr supposes it to have arisen from the rude drawings sold to strangers. Mr. William Bankes (Giovanni Finati, vol. ii., p. 289) believes that the mass of rock popularly described as hanging unsupported in the Mosque of Omar at Jerusalem was confounded by Christians, who could not have seen either of these Moslem shrines, with the Apostle’s Tomb at Al-Madinah.

53 Some Moslems end their Ziyarat at the Apostle’s Tomb; others, instead of advancing, as I did, return to the Apostle’s window, pray, and beg pardon for their parents and themselves, and ask all they desire, concluding with prayers to the Almighty. Thence they repair to the Rauzah or Garden, and standing at the column called after Abu Lubabah, pray a two-bow prayer there; concluding with the “Dua,” or benediction upon the Apostle, and there repeat these words: “O Allah, Thou hast said, and Thy word is true, ‘Say, O Lord, pardon and show Mercy; for Thou art the best of the Merciful,’ (chap. 23). O God, verily we have heard Thy Word, and we come for Intercession to Thy Apostle from our own Sins, repenting our Errors, and confessing our Shortcomings and Transgressions! O Allah, pity us, and by the Dignity of Thy Apostle raise our Place, (in the Heavenly Kingdom)! O Allah, pardon our Brothers who have preceded us in the Faith!” Then the Zair prays for himself, and his parents, and for those he loves. He should repeat, “Allah have mercy upon Thee, O Apostle of Allah!” seventy times, when an angel will reply, “Allah bless thee, O thou blesser.” Then he should sit before the Pulpit, and mentally conceive in it the Apostle surrounded by the Fugitives and the Auxiliaries. Some place the right hand upon the pulpit, even as Mohammed used to do. The Zair then returns to the column of Abu Lubabah, and repents his sins there. Secondly, he stands in prayer at Ali’s Pillar in front of the form. And, lastly, he repairs to the Ustuwanat al-Ashab (the Companions’ Column) the fourth distant from the Pulpit on the right, and the third from the Hujrah on the left; here he prays and meditates, and blesses Allah and the Apostle. After which, he proceeds to visit the rest of the holy places.

54 It is almost unnecessary to inform the reader that all Moslems deny the personal suffering of Christ, cleaving to the heresy of the Christian Docetes, — certain “beasts in the shape of men,” as they are called in the Epistles of Ignatius to the Smyrneans, — who believed that a phantom was crucified in our Saviour’s place. They also hold to the second coming of the Lord in the flesh, as a forerunner to Mohammed, who shall reappear shortly before the day of judgment. Bartema (Appendix 2) relates a story concerning the Saviour’s future tomb.

55 This epithet will be explained below. The reader must bear in mind, that this part of the Harim was formerly the house of Ali and Fatimah; it was separated from the Hujrah-the abode of Mohammed and Ayishah-only by a narrow brick wall, with a window in it, which was never shut. Omar Bin Abd al-Aziz enclosed it in the mosque, by order of Al-Walid, A.H. 90.

56 Plural of Sharif, a descendant of Mohammed.

57 The “people of the garment,” so called, because on one occasion the Apostle wrapped his cloak around himself, his daughter, his son-in-law, and his two grandsons, thereby separating them in dignity from other Moslems.

58 Burckhardt translates “Zahra” “bright blooming Fatimah.” This I believe to be the literal meaning of the epithet. When thus applied, however, it denotes “virginem [Greek text] nescientem,” in which state of purity the daughter of the Apostle is supposed to have lived. For the same reason she is called Al-Batul, the Virgin, — a title given by Eastern Christians to the Mother of our Lord. The perpetual virginity of Fatimah, even after the motherhood, is a point of orthodoxy in Al-Islam.

59 Meaning “joy and gladness in the sight of true believers.”

60 The prayer is now omitted, in order to avoid the repetition of it when describing a visit to Mount Ohod.

61 The prayers usually recited here are especially in honour of Abbas, Hasan, (Ali, called) Zayn al-Abidin, Osman, the Lady Halimah, the Martyrs, and the Mothers of the Moslems, (i.e. the Apostle’s wives), buried in the holy cemetery. When describing a visit to Al-Bakia, they will be translated at full length.

62 Hujjaj is the plural of Hajj-pilgrims; Ghuzzat, of Ghazi-crusaders; and Zawwar of Zair-visitors to Mohammed’s tomb.

63 “Taslim” is “to say Salam” to a person.

64 The Ya Sin (Y, S), the 36th chapter of the Koran, frequently recited by those whose profession it is to say such masses for the benefit of living, as well as of dead, sinners. Most educated Moslems commit it to memory.

65 Or more correctly, “There is no Ilah but Allah,” that is, “There is no god but the God.”

66 Some Zairs, after praying at the Caliph Osman’s niche, leave the Mosque, especially when the “Jama’at,” or public worship, is not being performed in the Rauzah. Others, as we did, pray alone in the Garden, and many authors prefer this conclusion to Visitation, for the reason above given.

67 This has become a generic name for a Well situated within the walls of a Mosque.

68 As might be expected, the more a man pays, the higher he estimates his own dignity. Some Indians have spent as much as 500 dollars during a first visit. Others have “made Maulids,” i.e., feasted all the poor connected with the temple with rice, meat, &c., whilst others brought rare and expensive presents for the officials. Such generosity, however, is becoming rare in these unworthy days.

69 This gate was anciently called the Bab al-Atakah, “of Deliverance.”

70 Most of these entrances have been named and renamed. The Bab Jibrail, for instance, which derives its present appellation from the general belief that the archangel once passed through it, is generally called in books Bab al-Jabr, the Gate of Repairing (the broken fortunes of a friend or follower). It must not be confounded with the Mahbat Jibrail, or the window near it in the Eastern wall, where the archangel usually descended from heaven with the Wahy or Inspiration.

71 By some wonderful process the “Printer’s Devil” converted, in the first edition, this “ball or cone” into “bull or cow.”

72 Belal, the loud-lunged crier, stood, we are informed, by Moslem historians, upon a part of the roof on one of the walls of the Mosque. The minaret, as the next chapter will show, was the invention of a more tasteful age.

73 This abomination may be seen in Egypt on many of the tombs, — those outside the Bal al-Nasr at Cairo, for instance.

74 The tale of this Weeping Pillar is well known. Some suppose it to have been buried beneath the pulpit: others-they are few in number-declare that it was inserted in the body of the pulpit.

75 The little domed building which figures in the native sketches, and in all our prints of the Al-Madinah Mosque, was taken down three or four years ago. It occupied part of the centre of the square, and was called Kubbat al-Zayt-Dome of Oil; or Kubbat al-Shama-Dome of Candles, — from its use as a store-room for lamps and wax candles.

76 This is its name among the illiterate, who firmly believe the palms to be descendants of trees planted there by the hands of the Prophet’s daughter. As far as I could discover, the tradition has no foundation, and in old times there was no garden in the hypaethral court. The vulgar are in the habit of eating a certain kind of date, “Al-Sayhani,” in the Mosque, and of throwing the stones about; this practice is violently denounced by the Olema.

77 Rhamnus Nabeca, Forsk. The fruit, called Nabak, is eaten, and the leaves are used for the purpose of washing dead bodies. The visitor is not forbidden to take fruit or water as presents from Al-Madinah, but it is unlawful for him to carry away earth, or stones, or cakes of dust, made for sale to the ignorant.

78 The Arabs, who, like all Orientals, are exceedingly curious about water, take the trouble to weigh the produce of their wells; the lighter the water, the more digestible and wholesome it is considered.

79 The common phenomenon of rivers flowing underground in Arabia has, doubtless, suggested to the people these subterraneous passages, with which they connect the most distant places. At Al-Madinah, amongst other tales of short cuts known only to certain Badawi families, a man told me of a shaft leading from his native city to Hazramaut: according to him, it existed in the times of the Prophet, and was a journey of only three days!

80 The Mosque Library is kept in large chests near the Bab al-Salam; the only MS. of any value here is a Koran written in the Sulsi hand. It is nearly four feet long, bound in a wooden cover, and padlocked, so as to require from the curious a “silver key.”

81 So the peasants in Brittany believe that Napoleon the First is not yet dead; the Prussians expect Frederick the Second; the Swiss, William Tell; the older English, King Arthur; and certain modern fanatics look forward to the re-appearance of Joanna Southcote. Why multiply instances in so well known a branch of the history of popular superstitions?

82 The Sunnat is the custom or practice of the Apostle, rigidly conformed to by every good and orthodox Moslem.

83 The reader will bear in mind that I am quoting from Burckhardt. When in Al-Hijaz and at Cairo, I vainly endeavoured to buy a copy of Al-Samanhudi. One was shown to me at Al-Madinah; unhappily, it bore the word Wakf (bequeathed), and belonged to the Mosque. I was scarcely allowed time to read it. (See p. 102, ante.)

84 In Moslem law, prophets, martyrs, and saints, are not supposed to be dead; their property, therefore, remains their own. The Olema have confounded themselves in the consideration of the prophetic state after death. Many declare that prophets live and pray for forty days in the tomb; at the expiration of which time, they are taken to the presence of their Maker, where they remain till the blast of Israfil’s trumpet. The common belief, however, leaves the bodies in the graves, but no one would dare to assert that the holy ones are suffered to undergo corruption. On the contrary, their faces are blooming, their eyes bright, and blood would issue from their bodies if wounded. Al-Islam, as will afterwards appear, abounds in traditions of the ancient tombs of saints and martyrs, when accidentally opened, exposing to view corpses apparently freshly buried. And it has come to pass that this fact, the result of sanctity, has now become an unerring indication of it. A remarkable case in point is that of the late Sharif Ghalib, the father of the present Prince of Meccah. In his lifetime he was reviled as a wicked tyrant. But some years after his death, his body was found undecomposed; he then became a saint, and men now pray at his tomb. Perhaps his tyranny was no drawback to his holy reputation. La Brinvilliers was declared after execution, by her confessor and the people generally, a saint; — simply, I presume, because of the enormity of her crimes.

85 NOTE TO THIRD EDITION:— I have lately been assured by Mohammed al-Halabi, Shaykh al-Olema of Damascus, that he was permitted by the Aghawat to pass through the gold-plated door leading into the Hujrah, and that he saw no trace of a sepulchre.

86 I was careful to make a ground-plan of the Prophet’s Mosque, as Burckhardt was prevented by severe illness from so doing. It will give the reader a fair idea of the main point, though, in certain minor details, it is not to be trusted. Some of my papers and sketches, which by precaution I had placed among my medicines, after cutting them into squares, numbering them, and rolling them carefully up, were damaged by the breaking of a bottle. The plan of Al-Madinah is slightly altered from Burckhardt’s. Nothing can be more ludicrous than the views of the Holy City, as printed in our popular works. They are of the style “bird’s-eye,” and present a curious perspective. They despise distance like the Chinese, — pictorially audacious; the Harrah, or ridge in the foreground appears to be 200 yards, instead of three or four miles, distant from the town. They strip the place of its suburb Al-Manakhah, in order to show the enceinte, omit the fort, and the gardens north and south of the city, enlarge the Mosque twenty-fold for dignity, and make it occupy the whole centre of the city, instead of a small corner in the south-east quarter. They place, for symmetry, towers only at the angles of the walls, instead of all along the curtain, and gather up and press into the same field all the venerable and interesting features of the country, those behind the artist’s back, and at his sides, as well as what appears in front. Such are the Turkish lithographs. At Meccah, some Indians support themselves by depicting the holy shrines; their works are a truly Oriental mixture of ground plan and elevation, drawn with pen and ink, and brightened with the most vivid colours-grotesque enough, but less unintelligible than the more ambitious imitations of European art.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51