Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Chapter XXXI.

The Three Days of Drying Flesh.

ALL was dull after the excitement of the Great Festival. The heat of the succeeding night rendered every effort to sleep abortive; and as our little camp required a guard in a place so celebrated for plunderers, I spent the greater part of the time sitting in the clear pure moon-light.1

After midnight we again repaired to the Devils, and, beginning with the Ula, or first pillar, at the Eastern extremity of Muna, threw at each, seven stones (making a total of twenty-one), with the ceremonies before described.

On Thursday (Sept. 15th, 1853), we arose before dawn, and prepared with a light breakfast for the fatigues of a climbing walk. After half an hour spent in hopping from boulder to boulder, we arrived at a place situated on the lower declivity of the Jabal Sabir, the northern wall of the Muna basin. Here is the Majarr al-Kabsh, “the Dragging-place of the Ram,” a small, whitewashed square, divided into two compartments. The first is entered by a few ragged steps in the south-east angle, which lead to an enclosure thirty feet by fifteen. In the north-east corner is a block of granite (A), in which a huge gash, several inches broad, some feet deep, and completely splitting the stone in knife-shape, notes the spot where Ibrahim’s blade fell when the archangel Gabriel forbade him to slay Ismail his son. The second compartment contains a diminutive hypogaeum (B). In this cave the patriarch sacrificed the victim, which gives the place a name. We descended by a flight of steps, and under the stifling ledge of rock found mats and praying-rugs, which, at this early hour, were not overcrowded. We followed the example of the patriarchs, and prayed a two-bow prayer in each of the enclosures. After distributing the usual gratification, we left the place, and proceeded to mount the hill, in hope of seeing some of the apes said still to haunt the heights. These animals are supposed by the Meccans to have been Jews, thus transformed for having broken the Sabbath by hunting.2 They abound in the elevated regions about Arafat and Taif, where they are caught by mixing the juice of the Asclepias and narcotics with dates and other sweet bait.3 The Hijazi ape is a hideous cynocephalus, with small eyes placed close together, and almost hidden by a disproportionate snout; a greenish-brown coat, long arms, and a stern of lively pink, like fresh meat. They are docile, and are said to be fond of spirituous liquors, and to display an inordinate affection for women. Al-Mas’udi tells about them a variety of anecdotes. According to him their principal use in Hind and Chin was to protect kings from poison, by eating suspected dishes. The Badawin have many tales concerning them. It is universally believed that they catch and kill kites, by exposing the rosy portion of their persons and concealing the rest; the bird pounces upon what appears to be raw meat, and presently finds himself viciously plucked alive. Throughout Arabia an old story is told of them. A merchant was once plundered during his absence by a troop of these apes; they tore open his bales, and, charmed with the scarlet hue of the Tarbushes, began applying those articles of dress to uses quite opposite to their normal purpose. The merchant was in despair, when his slave offered for a consideration to recover the goods. Placing himself in the front, like a fugleman to the ape-company, he went through a variety of manœuvres with a Tarbush, and concluded with throwing it far away. The recruits carefully imitated him, and the drill concluded with his firing a shot; the plunderers decamped and the caps were recovered.

Failing to see any apes, we retired to the tent ere the sun waxed hot, in anticipation of a terrible day. Nor were we far wrong. In addition to the heat, we had swarms of flies, and the blood-stained earth began to reek with noisome vapours. Nought moved in the air except kites and vultures, speckling the deep blue sky: the denizens of earth seemed paralysed by the fire from above. I spent the time between breakfast and nightfall lying half-dressed upon a mat, moving round the tent-pole to escape the glare, and watching my numerous neighbours, male and female. The Indians were particularly kind, filling my pipe, offering cooled water, and performing similar little offices. I repaid them with a supply of provisions, which, at the Muna market-prices, these unfortunates could ill afford.

When the moon arose the boy Mohammed and I walked out into the town, performed our second lapidation,4 and visited the coffee-houses. The shops were closed early, but business was transacted in places of public resort till midnight. We entered the houses of numerous acquaintances, who accosted my companion, and were hospitably welcomed with pipes and coffee. The first question always was, “Who is this pilgrim?” and more than once the reply, “An Afghan,” elicited the language of my own country, which I could no longer speak. Of this phenomenon, however, nothing was thought: many Afghans settled in India know not a word of Pushtu, and even above the Passes many of the townspeople are imperfectly acquainted with it. The Meccans in consequence of their extensive intercourse with strangers and habits of travelling, are admirable conversational linguists. They speak Arabic remarkably well, and with a volubility surpassing the most lively of our continental nations. Persian, Turkish, and Hindustani are generally known: and the Mutawwifs, who devote themselves to various races of pilgrims, soon become masters of many languages.

Returning homewards, we were called to a spot by the clapping of hands5 and the loud sound of song. We found a crowd of Badawin surrounding a group engaged in their favourite occupation of dancing. The performance is wild in the extreme, resembling rather the hopping of bears than the inspirations of Terpischore. The bystanders joined in the song; an interminable recitative, as usual, in the minor key, and — Orientals are admirable timists — it sounded like one voice. The refrain appeared to be — “La Yayha! La Yayha!” to which no one could assign a meaning. At other times they sang something intelligible. For instance:—


That is to say —

“On the Great Festival-day at Muna I saw my lord.

I am a stranger amongst you, therefore pity me!”

This couplet may have, like the puerilities of certain modern and European poets, an abstruse and mystical meaning, to be discovered when the Arabs learn to write erudite essays upon nursery rhymes. The style of saltation, called Rufayah, rivalled the song. The dancers raised both arms above their heads, brandishing a dagger, pistol, or some other small weapon. They followed each other by hops, on one or both feet, sometimes indulging in the most demented leaps; whilst the bystanders clapped with their palms a more enlivening measure. This I was told is especially their war-dance. They have other forms, which my eyes were not fated to see. Amongst the Badawin of Al-Hijaz, unlike the Somali and other African races, the sexes never mingle: the girls may dance together, but it would be disgraceful to perform in the company of men.

After so much excitement we retired to rest, and slept soundly.

On Friday, the 12th Zu’l Hijjah, the camels appeared, according to order, at early dawn, and they were loaded with little delay. We were anxious to enter Meccah in time for the sermon, and I for one was eager to escape the now pestilential air of Muna.

Literally, the land stank. Five or six thousand animals had been slain and cut up in this Devil’s Punch-bowl. I leave the reader to imagine the rest. The evil might be avoided by building abattoirs, or, more easily still, by digging long trenches, and by ordering all pilgrims, under pain of mulct, to sacrifice in the same place. Unhappily, the spirit of Al-Islam is opposed to these precautions of common sense — “Inshallah” and “Kismat” must take the place of prevention and of cure. And at Meccah, the head-quarters of the faith, a desolating attack of cholera is preferred to the impiety of “flying in the face of Providence,” and the folly of endeavouring to avert inevitable decrees.6

Mounting our camels, and led by Mas’ud, we entered Muna by the eastern end, and from the litter threw the remaining twenty-one stones. I could now see the principal lines of shops, and, having been led to expect a grand display of merchandise, was surprised to find only mat-booths and sheds, stocked chiefly with provisions. The exit from Muna was crowded, for many, like ourselves, were flying from the revolting scene. I could not think without pity of those whom religious scruples detained another day and a half in this foul spot.

After entering Meccah we bathed, and when the noon drew nigh we repaired to the Harim for the purpose of hearing the sermon. Descending to the cloisters below the Bab al-Ziyadah, I stood wonder-struck by the scene before me. The vast quadrangle was crowded with worshippers sitting in long rows, and everywhere facing the central black tower: the showy colours of their dresses were not to be surpassed by a garden of the most brilliant flowers, and such diversity of detail would probably not be seen massed together in any other building upon earth. The women, a dull and sombre-looking group, sat apart in their peculiar place. The Pasha stood on the roof of Zemzem, surrounded by guards in Nizam uniform. Where the principal Olema stationed themselves, the crowd was thicker; and in the more auspicious spots nought was to be seen but a pavement of heads and shoulders. Nothing seemed to move but a few Darwayshes, who, censer in hand, sidled through the rows and received the unsolicited alms of the Faithful. Apparently in the midst, and raised above the crowd by the tall, pointed pulpit, whose gilt spire flamed in the sun, sat the preacher, an old man with snowy beard. The style of head-dress called Taylasan7 covered his turband, which was white as his robes,8 and a short staff supported his left hand.9 Presently he arose, took the staff in his right hand, pronounced a few inaudible words,10 and sat down again on one of the lower steps, whilst a Mu’ezzin, at the foot of the pulpit, recited the call to sermon. Then the old man stood up and began to preach. As the majestic figure began to exert itself there was a deep silence. Presently a general “Amin” was intoned by the crowd at the conclusion of some long sentence. And at last, towards the end of the sermon, every third or fourth word was followed by the simultaneous rise and fall of thousands of voices.

I have seen the religious ceremonies of many lands, but never — nowhere — aught so solemn, so impressive as this.

1 It is not safe to perform this ceremony at an early hour, although the ritual forbids it being deferred after sunset. A crowd of women, however, assembled at the Devils in the earlier part of the 11th night (our 10th); and these dames, despite the oriental modesty of face-veils, attack a stranger with hands and stones as heartily as English hop-gatherers hasten to duck the Acteon who falls in their way. Hence, popular usage allows stones to be thrown by men until the morning prayers of the 11th Zu’l Hijjah.

2 Traditions about these animals vary in the different parts of Arabia. At Aden, for instance, they are supposed to be a remnant of the rebellious tribe of ’ad. It is curious that the popular Arabic, like the Persian names, Sa’adan, Maymun, Shadi, &c., &c., are all expressive of (a probably euphuistic) “propitiousness.”

3 The Egyptians generally catch, train, and take them to the banks of the Nile, where the “Kurayeati” (ape-leader) is a popular character.

4 This ceremony, as the reader will have perceived, is performed by the Shafe’is on the 10th, the 11th, and the 12th of Zu’l Hijjah. The Hanafis conclude their stoning on the 13th. The times vary with each day, and differ considerably in religious efficacy. On the night of the 10th (our 9th), for instance, lapidation, according to some authorities, cannot take place; others permit it, with a sufficient reason. Between the dawn and sunrise it is Makruh, or disapproved of. Between sunrise and the declination is the Sunnat-time, and therefore the best. From noon to sunset it is Mubah, or permissible: the same is the case with the night, if a cause exist. On the 11th and 12th of Zu’l Hijjah lapidation is disapproved of from sunset to sunrise. The Sunnat is from noon to sunset, and it is permissible at all other hours. The number of stones thrown by the Shafe’is, is 49, viz., 7 on the 10th day, 7 at each pillar (total 21) on the 11th day, and the same on the 12th Zu’l Hijjah. The Hanafis also throw 21 stones on the 13th, which raises their number to 70. The first 7 bits of granite must be collected at Muzdalifah; the rest may be taken from the Muna valley; and all must be washed 7 times before being thrown. In throwing, the Hanafis attempt to approach the pillar, if possible, standing within reach of it. Shafe’is may stand at a greater distance, which should not, however, pass the limits of 5 cubits.

5 Here called Safk. It is mentioned by Herodotus, and known to almost every oriental people. The Badawin sometimes, though rarely, use a table or kettledrum. Yet, amongst the “Pardah,” or miuscal modes of the East, we find the Hijazi ranking with the Isfahani and the Iraki. Southern Arabia has never been celebrated for producing musicians, like the banks of the Tigris to which we owe, besides castanets and cymbals, the guitar, the drum, and the lute, father of the modern harp. The name of this instrument is a corruption of the Arabic “Al-’ud” ([Arabic text]), through liuto and luth, into lute.

6 NOTE TO THIRD EDITION. — Since this was written there have been two deadly epidemics, which began, it is reported, at Muna. The victims, however, have never numbered 700,000, nor is “each pilgrim required to sacrifice one animal at the shrine of Mohammed,”(!) as we find it in “Cholera Prospects,” by Tilbury Fox, M.D. (Hardwicke).

7 A scarf thrown over the head, with one end brought round under the chin and passed over the left shoulder composes the “Taylasan.”

8 As late as Ibn Jubayr’s time the preacher was habited from head to foot in black; and two Mu’ezzins held black flags fixed in rings on both sides of the pulpit, with the staves propped upon the first step.

9 Mr. Lane remarks, that the wooden sword is never held by the preacher but in a country that has been won from infidels by Moslems. Burckhardt more correctly traces the origin of the custom to the early days of Al-Islam, when the preachers found it necessary to be prepared for surprises. And all authors who, like Ibn Jubayr, described the Meccan ceremonies, mention the sword or staff. The curious reader will consult this most accurate of Moslem travellers; and a perusal of the pages will show that anciently the sermon differed considerably from, and was far more ceremonious than, the present Khutbah.

10 The words were “Peace be upon ye! and the Mercy of Allah and His Blessings!”


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