Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Chapter XXVIII.

The Ceremonies of the Yaum Al-Tarwiyah, or the First Day.

AT ten A.M., on the 8th Zu’l Hijjah, A.H. 1269 (Monday, 12th Sept., 1853), habited in our Ihram, or pilgrim garbs, we mounted the litter. Shaykh Mas’ud had been standing at the door from dawn-time, impatient to start before the Damascus and the Egyptian caravans made the road dangerous. Our delay arose from the tyrannical conduct of the boy Mohammed, who insisted upon leaving his little nephew behind. It was long before he yielded. I then placed the poor child, who was crying bitterly, in the litter between us, and at last we started.

We followed the road by which the Caravans entered Meccah. It was covered with white-robed pilgrims, some few wending their way on foot1; others riding, and all men barefooted and bareheaded. Most of the wealthier classes mounted asses. The scene was, as usual, one of strange contrasts: Badawin bestriding swift dromedaries; Turkish dignitaries on fine horses; the most picturesque beggars, and the most uninteresting Nizam. Not a little wrangling mingled with the loud bursts of Talbiyat. Dead animals dotted the ground, and carcasses had been cast into a dry tank, the Birkat al-Shami which caused every Badawi to hold his nose.2 Here, on the right of the road, the poorer pilgrims, who could not find houses, had erected huts, and pitched their ragged tents. Traversing the suburb Al-Ma’b’dah (Ma’abadah), in a valley between the two barren prolongations of Kayka’an and Khandamah, we turned to the north-east, leaving on the left certain barracks of Turkish soldiery, and the negro militia here stationed, with the Saniyat Kuda’a in the background. Then, advancing about 3000 paces over rising ground, we passed by the conical head of Jabal Nur,3 and entered the plain of many names.4 It contained nothing but a few whitewashed walls, surrounding places of prayer, and a number of stone cisterns, some well preserved, others in ruins. All, however, were dry, and water-vendors crowded the roadside. Gravel and lumps of granite grew there like grass, and from under every large stone, as Shaykh Mas’ud took a delight in showing, a small scorpion, with tail curled over its back, fled, Parthian-like, from the invaders of its home. At eleven A.M., ascending a Mudarraj, or flight of stone steps, about thirty yards broad, we passed without difficulty, for we were in advance of the caravans, over the Akabah, or Steeps,5 and the narrow, hill-girt entrance, to the low gravel basin in which Muna lies.

Muna, more classically called Mina,6 is a place of considerable sanctity. Its three standing miracles are these: The pebbles thrown at “the Devil” return by angelic agency to whence they came; during the three Days of Drying Meat rapacious beasts and birds cannot prey there; and, lastly, flies do not settle upon the articles of food exposed so abundantly in the bazars.7 During pilgrimage, houses are let for an exorbitant sum, and it becomes a “World’s Fair” of Moslem merchants. At all other seasons it is almost deserted, in consequence, says popular superstition, of the Rajm or (diabolical) lapidation.8 Distant about three miles from Meccah, it is a long, narrow, straggling village, composed of mud and stone houses of one or two stories, built in the common Arab style. Traversing a narrow street, we passed on the left the Great Devil, which shall be described at a future time. After a quarter of an hour’s halt, spent over pipes and coffee, we came to an open space, where stands the Mosque “Al-Khayf.” Here, according to some Arabs, Adam lies, his head being at one end of one long wall, and his feet at another, whilst the dome covers his omphalic region. Grand preparations for fireworks were being made in this square; I especially remarked a fire-ship, which savoured strongly of Stambul. After passing through the town, we came to Batn al-Muhassir, “The Basin of the Troubler,9” (Satan) at the beginning of a descent leading to Muzdalifah (the Approacher), where the road falls into the valley of the Arafat torrent.

At noon we reached the Muzdalifah, also called Mashar al-Haram, the “Place dedicated to religious Ceremonies.10” It is known in Al-Islam as “the Minaret without the Mosque,” opposed to Masjid Nimrah, which is the “Mosque without the Minaret.” Half-way between Muna and Arafat, it is about three miles from both. There is something peculiarly striking in the distant appearance of the tall, solitary tower, rising abruptly from the desolate valley of gravel, flanked with buttresses of yellow rock. No wonder that the ancient Arabs loved to give the high-sounding name of this oratory to distant places in their giant Caliph-empire.

Here as we halted to perform the mid-day prayer, we were overtaken by the Damascus Caravan. It was a grand spectacle. The Mahmil, no longer naked as upon the line of march, flashed in the sun all green and gold. Around the moving host of white-robed pilgrims hovered a crowd of Badawin, male and female, all mounted on swift dromedaries, and many of them armed to the teeth. As their drapery floated in the wind, and their faces were veiled with the “Lisam,” it was frequently difficult to distinguish the sex of the wild being, flogging its animal to speed. These people, as has been said, often resort to Arafat for blood-revenge, in hopes of finding the victim unprepared. Nothing can be more sinful in Al-Islam than such deed — it is murder, “made sicker” by sacrilege; yet the prevalence of the practice proves how feeble is the religion’s hold upon the race. The women are as unscrupulous: I remarked many of them emulating the men in reckless riding, and striking with their sticks every animal in the way.

Travelling Eastward up the Arafat Fiumara, after about half an hour we came to a narrow pass called Al-Akhshabayn11 or the “Two Rugged Hills.” Here the spurs of the rock limited the road to about a hundred paces, and it is generally a scene of great confusion. After this we arrived at Al-Bazan (the Basin),12 a widening of the plain; and another half-hour brought us to the Alamayn (the “Two Signs”), whitewashed pillars, or rather thin, narrow walls, surmounted with pinnacles, which denote the precincts of the Arafat plain. Here, in full sight of the Holy Hill, standing boldly out from the deep blue sky, the host of pilgrims broke into loud Labbayks. A little beyond, and to our right, was the simple enclosure called the Masjid Nimrah.13 We then turned from our eastern course northwards, and began threading our way down the main street of the town of tents which clustered about the southern foot of Arafat. At last, about three P.M., we found a vacant space near the Matbakh, or kitchen, formerly belonging to a Sharif’s palace, but now a ruin with a few shells of arches.

Arafat is about six hours’ very slow march, or twelve miles,14 on the Taif road, due east of Meccah. We arrived there in a shorter time, but our weary camels, during the last third of the way, frequently threw themselves upon the ground. Human beings suffered more. Between Muna and Arafat I saw no fewer than five men fall down and die upon the highway: exhausted and moribund, they had dragged themselves out to give up the ghost where it departs to instant beatitude.15 The spectacle showed how easy it is to die in these latitudes16; each man suddenly staggered, fell as if shot; and, after a brief convulsion, lay still as marble. The corpses were carefully taken up, and carelessly buried that same evening, in a vacant space amongst the crowds encamped upon the Arafat plain.17

The boy Mohammed, who had long chafed at my pertinacious claim to Darwaysh-hood, resolved on this occasion to be grand. To swell the party he had invited Omar Effendi, whom we accidentally met in the streets of Meccah, to join us[;] but failing therein, he brought with him two cousins, fat youths of sixteen and seventeen, and his mother’s ground-floor servants. These were four Indians: an old man; his wife, a middle-aged woman of the most ordinary appearance; their son, a sharp boy, who spoke excellent Arabic18; and a family friend, a stout fellow about thirty years old. They were Panjabis, and the bachelor’s history was instructive. He was gaining an honest livelihood in his own country, when suddenly one night Hazrat Ali, dressed in green, and mounted upon his charger Duldul19 — at least, so said the narrator — appeared, crying in a terrible voice, “How long wilt thou toil for this world, and be idle about the life to come?” From that moment, like an English murderer, he knew no peace; Conscience and Hazrat Ali haunted him.20 Finding life unendurable at home, he sold everything; raised the sum of twenty pounds, and started for the Holy Land. He reached Jeddah with a few rupees in his pocket[;] and came to Meccah, where, everything being exorbitantly dear and charity all but unknown, he might have starved, had he not been received by his old friend. The married pair and their son had been taken as house-servants by the boy Mohammed’s mother, who generously allowed them shelter and a pound of rice per diem to each, but not a farthing of pay. They were even expected to provide their own turmeric and onions. Yet these poor people were anxiously awaiting the opportunity to visit Al-Madinah, without which their pilgrimage would not, they believed, be complete. They would beg their way through the terrible Desert and its Badawin — an old man, a boy, and a woman! What were their chances of returning to their homes? Such, I believe, is too often the history of those wretches whom a fit of religious enthusiasm, likest to insanity, hurries away to the Holy Land. I strongly recommend the subject to the consideration of our Indian Government as one that calls loudly for their interference. No Eastern ruler parts, as we do, with his subjects; all object to lose productive power. To an “Empire of Opinion” this emigration is fraught with evils. It sends forth a horde of malcontents that ripen into bigots; it teaches foreign nations to despise our rule; and it unveils the present nakedness of once wealthy India. And we have both prevention and cure in our own hands.

As no Moslem, except the Maliki, is bound to pilgrimage without a sum sufficient to support himself and his family, all who embark at the different ports of India should be obliged to prove their solvency before being provided with a permit. Arrived at Jeddah, they should present the certificate at the British Vice-Consulate, where they would become entitled to assistance in case of necessity. The Vice-Consul at Jeddah ought also to be instructed to assist our Indian pilgrims. Mr. Cole, when holding that appointment, informed me that, though men die of starvation in the streets, he was unable to relieve them. The highways of Meccah abound in pathetic Indian beggars, who affect lank bodies, shrinking frames, whining voices, and all the circumstance of misery, because it supports them in idleness.

There are no fewer than fifteen hundred Indians at Meccah and Jeddah, besides seven or eight hundred in Al-Yaman. Such a body requires a Consul.21 By the representation of a Vice-Consul when other powers send an officer of superior rank to Al-Hijaz, we voluntarily place ourselves in an inferior position. And although the Meccan Sharif might for a time object to establishing a Moslem agent at the Holy City with orders to report to the Consul at Jeddah, his opposition would soon fall to the ground.

With the Indians’ assistance the boy Mohammed removed the handsome Persian rugs with which he had covered the Shugduf, pitched the tent, carpeted the ground, disposed a Diwan of silk and satin cushions round the interior, and strewed the centre with new Chibuks, and highly polished Shishahs. At the doorway was placed a large copper fire-pan, with coffee-pots singing a welcome to visitors. In front of us were the litters, and by divers similar arrangements our establishment was made to look fine. The youth also insisted upon my removing the Rida, or upper cotton cloth, which had become way-soiled, and he supplied its place by a rich cashmere, left with him, some years before, by a son of the King of Delhi. Little thought I that this bravery of attire would lose me every word of the Arafat sermon next day.

Mount Arafat during the Pilgrimage

Arafat, anciently called Jabal Ilal ([Arabic]), “the Mount of Wrestling in Prayer,” and now Jabal al-Rahmah, the “Mount of Mercy,” is a mass of coarse granite split into large blocks, with a thin coat of withered thorns. About one mile in circumference, it rises abruptly to the height of a hundred and eighty or two hundred feet, from the low gravelly plain — a dwarf wall at the Southern base forming the line of demarcation. It is separated by Batn Arnah ([Arabic]), a sandy vale,22 from the spurs of the Taif hills. Nothing can be more picturesque than the view it affords of the azure peaks behind, and the vast encampment scattered over the barren yellow plain below.23 On the North lay the regularly pitched camp of the guards that defend the unarmed pilgrims. To the Eastward was the Sharif’s encampment, with the bright Mahmils and the gilt knobs of the grandees’ pavilions; whilst on the Southern and Western sides the tents of the vulgar crowded the ground, disposed in Dowar, or circles. After many calculations, I estimated the number to be not fewer than 50,000 of all ages and sexes; a sad falling off, it is true, but still considerable.

Ali Bey (A.D. 1807) calculates 83,000 pilgrims; Burckhardt (1814), 70,000. I reduce it, in 1853, to 50,000; and in A.D. 1854, owing to political causes, it fell to about 25,000. Of these at fewest 10,000 are Meccans, as every one who can leave the city does so at pilgrimage-time. The Arabs have a superstition that the numbers at Arafat cannot be counted, and that if fewer than 600,000 mortals stand upon the hill to hear the sermon, the angels descend and complete the number. Even this year my Arab friends declared that 150,000 spirits were present in human shape. It may be observed that when the good old Bertrand de la Brocquiere, esquire-carver to Philip of Burgundy, declares that the yearly Caravan from Damascus to Al-Madinah must always be composed of 700,000 persons, and that this number being incomplete, Allah sends some of his angels to make it up, he probably confounds the Caravan with the Arafat multitude.

The Holy Hill owes its name24 and honours to a well-known legend. When our first parents forfeited Heaven by eating wheat, which deprived them of their primeval purity, they were cast down upon earth. The serpent descended at Ispahan, the peacock at Kabul, Satan at Bilbays (others say Semnan and Seistan), Eve upon Arafat, and Adam at Ceylon. The latter, determining to seek his wife, began a journey, to which earth owes its present mottled appearance. Wherever our first father placed his foot — which was large — a town afterwards arose; between the strides will always be “country.” Wandering for many years, he came to the Mountain of Mercy, where our common mother was continually calling upon his name, and their recognition gave the place the name of Arafat. Upon its summit, Adam, instructed by the archangel Gabriel, erected a Mada’a, or place of prayer: and between this spot and the Nimrah Mosque the couple abode till death. Others declare that after recognition, the first pair returned to India, whence for 44 years in succession they visited the Sacred City at pilgrimage-time.

From the Holy Hill I walked down to look at the camp arrangements. The main street of tents and booths, huts and shops, was bright with lanterns, and the bazars were crowded with people and stocked with all manner of Eastern delicacies. Some anomalous spectacles met the eye. Many pilgrims, especially the soldiers, were in laical costume. In one place a half-drunken Arnaut stalked down the road, elbowing peaceful passengers and frowning fiercely in hopes of a quarrel. In another part, a huge dimly-lit tent, reeking hot, and garnished with cane seats, contained knots of Egyptians, as their red Tarbushes, white turbands, and black Za’abuts showed, noisily intoxicating themselves with forbidden hemp. There were frequent brawls and great confusion; many men had lost their parties, and, mixed with loud Labbayks, rose the shouted names of women as well as of men. I was surprised at the disproportion of female nomenclature — the missing number of fair ones seemed to double that of the other sex — and at a practice so opposed to the customs of the Moslem world. At length the boy Mohammed enlightened me. Egyptian and other bold women, when unable to join the pilgrimage, will pay or persuade a friend to shout their names in hearing of the Holy Hill, with a view of ensuring a real presence at the desired spot next year. So the welkin rang with the indecent sounds of O Fatimah! O Zaynab! O Khayz’ran!25 Plunderers, too, were abroad. As we returned to the tent we found a crowd assembled near it; a woman had seized a thief as he was beginning operations, and had the courage to hold his beard till men ran to her assistance. And we were obliged to defend by force our position against a knot of grave-diggers, who would bury a little heap of bodies within a yard or two of our tent.

One point struck me at once — the difference in point of cleanliness between an encampment of citizens and of Badawin. Poor Mas’ud sat holding his nose in ineffable disgust, for which he was derided by the Meccans. I consoled him with quoting the celebrated song of Maysunah, the beautiful Badawi wife of the Caliph Mu’awiyah. Nothing can be more charming in its own Arabic than this little song; the Badawin never hear it without screams of joy.

“O take these purple robes away,

Give back my cloak of camel’s hair,

And bear me from this tow’ring pile

To where the Black Tents flap i’ the air.

The camel’s colt with falt’ring tread,

The dog that bays at all but me,

Delight me more than ambling mules —

Than every art of minstrelsy;

And any cousin, poor but free,

Might take me, fatted ass! from thee.26

The old man, delighted, clapped my shoulder, and exclaimed, “Verily, O Father of Mustachios, I will show thee the black tents of my tribe this year!”

At length night came, and we threw ourselves upon our rugs, but not to sleep. Close by, to our bane, was a prayerful old gentleman, who began his devotions at a late hour and concluded them not before dawn. He reminded me of the undergraduate my neighbour at Trinity College, Oxford, who would spout Aeschylus at two A.M. Sometimes the chant would grow drowsy, and my ears would hear a dull retreating sound; presently, as if in self-reproach, it would rise to a sharp treble, and proceed at a rate perfectly appalling. The coffee-houses, too, were by no means silent; deep into the night I heard the clapping of hands accompanying merry Arab songs, and the loud shouts of laughter of the Egyptian hemp-drinkers. And the guards and protectors of the camp were not “Charleys” or night-nurses.

1 Pilgrims who would win the heavenly reward promised to those who walk, start at an early hour.

2 The true Badawi, when in the tainted atmosphere of towns, is always known by bits of cotton in his nostrils, or by his kerchief tightly drawn over his nose, a heavy frown marking extreme disgust.

3 Anciently called Hira. It is still visited as the place of the Prophet’s early lucubrations, and because here the first verse of the Koran descended. As I did not ascend the hill, I must refer readers for a description of it to Burckhardt, vol. i. p. 320.

4 Al-Abtah, “low ground”; Al Khayf, “the declivity”; Fina Makkah, the “court of Meccah”; Al-Muhassib (from Hasba, a shining white pebble), corrupted by our authors to Mihsab and Mohsab.

5 The spot where Kusay fought and where Mohammed made his covenant.

6 If Ptolemy’s “Minœi” be rightly located in this valley, the present name and derivation “Muna” (desire), because Adam here desired Paradise of Allah, must be modern. Sale, following Pococke, makes “Mina” (from Mana) allude to the flowing of victims’ blood. Possibly it may be the plural of Minyat, which in many Arabic dialects means a village. This basin was doubtless thickly populated in ancient times, and Moslem historians mention its seven idols, representing the seven planets.

7 According to Mohammed the pebbles of the accepted are removed by angels; as, however, each man and woman must throw 49 or 70 stones, it is fair to suspect the intervention of something more material. Animals are frightened away by the bustling crowd, and flies are found in myriads.

8 This demoniacal practice is still as firmly believed in Arabia as it formerly was in Europe.

9 Probably because here Satan appeared to tempt Adam, Abraham, and Ishmael. The Qanoon e Islam erroneously calls it the “Valley of Muhasurah,” and corrupts Mashar al-Haram into “Muzar al-Haram” (the holy shrine).

10 Many, even since Sale corrected the error, have confounded this Mashar al-Haram with Masjid al-H?r?m of Meccah. According to Al-Fasi, quoted by Burckhardt, it is the name of a little eminence at the end of the Muzdalifah valley, and anciently called Jabal Kuzah; it is also, he says, applied to “an elevated platform inclosing the mosque of Muzdalifah.” Ibn Jubayr makes Mashar al-Haram synonymous with Muzdalifah, to which he gives a third name, “Jami.”

11 Buckhardt calls it “Mazoumeyn,” or Al-Mazik, the pass. “Akeshab” may mean wooded or rugged; in which latter sense it is frequently applied to hills. Kayka’an and Abu Kubays at Meccah are called Al-Akshshabayn in some books. The left hill, in Ibn Jubayr’s time, was celebrated as a meeting-place for brigands.

12 Kutb al-Din makes another Bazan the Southern limit of Meccah.

13 Burckhardt calls this building, which he confounds with the “Jami Ibrahim,” the Jami Nimre; others Namirah, Nimrah, Namrah, and Namurah. It was erected, he says, by Kait Bey of Egypt, and had fallen into decay. It has now been repaired, and is generally considered neutral, and not Sanctuary ground, between the Harim of Meccah and the Holy Hill.

14 Mr. W. Muir, in his valuable Life of Mahomet, vol. i, p. ccv., remarks upon this passage that at p. 180 ante, I made Muna three miles from Meccah, and Muzdalifah about three miles from Muna, and Arafat three miles from Muzdalifah — a total of nine. But the lesser estimate does not include the outskirts of Meccah on the breadth of the Arafat Plain. The Calcutta Review (art. 1, Sept. 1853) notably errs in making Arafat eighteen miles east of Meccah. Ibn Jubayr reckons five miles from Meccah to Muzdalifah, and five from this to Arafat.

15 Those who die on a pilgrimage become martyrs.

16 I cannot help believing that some unknown cause renders death easier to man in hot than in cold climates; certain it is that in Europe rare are the quiet and painless deathbeds so common in the East.

17 We bury our dead, to preserve them as it were; the Moslem tries to secure rapid decomposition, and makes the graveyard a dangerous as well as a disagreeable place.

18 Arabs observe that Indians, unless brought young into the country, never learn its language well. They have a word to express the vicious pronunciation of a slave or an Indian, “Barbaret al-Hunud.” This root Barbara ([Arabic]), like the Greek “Barbaros,” appears to be derived from the Sanscrit Varvvaraha, an outcast, a barbarian, a man with curly hair.

19 Ali’s charger was named Maymun, or, according to others, Zu’l Janah (the winged). Indians generally confound it with “Duldul,” Mohammed’s mule.

20 These visions are common in history. Ali appeared to the Imam Shafe’i, saluted him — an omen of eternal felicity — placed a ring upon his finger, as a sign that his fame should extend wide as the donor’s, and sent him to the Holy Land. Ibrahim bin Adham, the saint-poet hearing, when hunting, a voice exclaim, “Man! it is not for this that Allah made thee!” answered, “It is Allah who speaks, his servant will obey!” He changed clothes with an attendant, and wandered forth upon a pilgrimage, celebrated in Al-Islam. He performed it alone, and making 1100 genuflexions each mile, prolonged it to twelve years. The history of Colonel Gardiner, and of many others amongst ourselves, prove that these visions are not confined to the Arabs.

21 There is a Consul for Jeddah now, 1879, but till lately he was an unpaid.

22 This vale is not considered “standing-ground,” because Satan once appeared to the Prophet as he was traversing it.

23 According to Kutb al-Din, the Arafat plain was once highly cultivated. Stone-lined cisterns abound, and ruins of buildings are frequent. At the Eastern foot of the mountain was a broad canal, beginning at a spur of the Taif hills, and conveying water to Meccah; it is now destroyed beyond Arafat. The plain is cut with torrents, which at times sweep with desolating violence into the Holy City, and a thick desert vegetation shows that water is not deep below the surface.

24 The word is explained in many ways. One derivation has already been mentioned. Others assert that when Gabriel taught Abraham the ceremonies, he ended by saying “A’arafata manasik’ak?”— hast thou learned thy pilgrim rites? To which the Friend of Allah replied, “Araftu!”— I have learned them.

25 The latter name, “Ratan,” is servile. Respectable women are never publicly addressed by Moslems except as “daughter,” “female pilgrim,” after some male relation, “O mother of Mohammed,” “O sister of Omar,” or, tout bonnement, by a man’s name. It would be ill-omened and dangerous were the true name known. So most women, when travelling, adopt an alias. Whoever knew an Afghan fair who was not “Nur Jan,” or “Sahib Jan”?

26 The British reader will be shocked to hear that by the term “fatted ass” the intellectual lady alluded to her husband. The story is that Mu’awiyah, overhearing the song, sent back the singer to her cousin and beloved wilds. Maysunah departed with her son Yazid, and did not return to Damascus till the “fatted ass” had joined his forefathers. Yazid inherited, with his mother’s talents, all her contempt for his father; at least the following quatrain, addressed to Mu’awiyah, and generally known in Al-Islam, would appear to argue anything but reverence:—

“I drank the water of the vine: that draught had power to rouse

Thy wrath, grim father! now, indeed, ’tis joyous to carouse!

I’ll drink! — Be wroth! — I reck not! — Ah! dear to this heart of mine

It is to scoff a sire’s command, to quaff forbidden wine.”


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