Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Preface to the Third Edition.

AFTER a lapse of twenty-five years, a third edition of my Pilgrimage has been called for by the public, to whom I take this opportunity of returning thanks. Messrs. Mullan have chosen the very best opportunity. My two publications concerning the Khedival Expeditions to Midian (“The Gold Mines of Midian,” and “The Land of Midian Revisited”), are, as I have stated in the Preface, sequels and continuations of this Pilgrimage from which the adventures forming their subject may be said to date.

The text has been carefully revised, and the “baggage of notes” has been materially lightened.1 From the Appendix I have removed matter which, though useful to the student, is of scant general interest. The quaint and interesting “Narrative and Voyages of Ludovicus Vertomannus, Gentleman of Rome,” need no longer be read in extracts, when the whole has been printed by the Hakluyt Society. (The Travels of Ludovico di Varthema in Egypt, Syria, Arabia Deserta and Arabia Felix, in Persia, India, and Ethiopia, A.D. 1503 to 1508. Translated from the original Italian edition of 1510, with a Preface by John Winter Jones, Esq., F.S.A., and edited, with notes and an Introduction, by George Percy Badger, late Government Chaplain in the Presidency of Bombay. London.) On the other hand, I have inserted after the Appendix, with the permission of the author, two highly interesting communications from Dr. Aloys Sprenger, the well-known Orientalist and Arabist, concerning the routes of the Great Caravans. My friend supports his suspicions that an error of direction has been made, and geographers will enjoy the benefit of his conscientious studies, topographical and linguistic.

The truculent attacks made upon pilgrims and Darwayshes call for a few words of notice. Even that learned and amiable philanthropist, the late Dr. John Wilson of Bombay (“Lands of the Bible,” vol. ii., p. 302) alludes, in the case of the Spaniard Badia, alias Ali Bey al-Abbasi, to the “unjustifiable fanciful disguise of a Mohammedan Pilgrim.” The author of the Ruddy Goose Theory (“Voice of Israel from Mount Sinai”) and compiler of the “Historical Geography of Arabia” has dealt a foul blow to the memory of Burckhardt, the energetic and inoffensive Swiss traveller, whose name has ever been held in the highest repute. And now the “Government Chaplain” indites (Introduction, p. xxvii.) the following invidious remarks touching the travels of Ludovico di Varthema — the vir Deo carus, be it remarked, of the learned and laical Julius Caesar Scaliger:

“This is not the place to discuss the morality of an act involving the deliberate and voluntary denial of what a man holds to be truth in a matter so sacred as that of Religion. Such a violation of conscience is not justifiable by the end which the renegade (!) may have in view, however abstractedly praiseworthy it may be; and even granting that his demerit should be gauged by the amount of knowledge which he possesses of what is true and what false, the conclusion is inevitable, that nothing short of utter ignorance of the precepts of his faith, or a conscientious disbelief in them, can fairly relieve the Christian, who conforms to Islamism without a corresponding persuasion of its verity, of the deserved odium all honest men attach to apostasy and hypocrisy.”

The reply to this tirade is simply, “Judge not; especially when you are ignorant of the case which you are judging.” Perhaps also the writer may ask himself, Is it right for those to cast stones who dwell in a tenement not devoid of fragility? The second attack proceeds from a place whence no man would reasonably have expected it. The author of the “Narrative of a Year’s Journey through Central and Eastern Arabia” (vol. i., pp. 258-59) thus expresses his opinions:—

“Passing oneself off for a wandering Darweesh, as some European explorers have attempted to do in the East, is for more reasons than one a very bad plan. It is unnecessary to dilate on that moral aspect of the proceeding which will always first strike unsophisticated minds. To feign a religion which the adventurer himself does not believe, to perform with scrupulous exactitude, as of the highest and holiest import, practices which he inwardly ridicules, and which he intends on his return to hold up to the ridicule of others, to turn for weeks and months together the most sacred and awful bearings of man towards his Creator into a deliberate and truthless mummery, not to mention other and yet darker touches, — all this seems hardly compatible with the character of a European gentleman, let alone that of a Christian.”

This comes admirably a propos from a traveller who, born a Protestant, of Jewish descent, placed himself “in connection with,” in plain words took the vows of, “the order of the Jesuits,” an order “well-known in the annals of philanthropic daring”; a popular preacher who declaimed openly at Bayrut and elsewhere against his own nation, till the proceedings of a certain Father Michael Cohen were made the subject of an official report by Mr. Consul-General Moore (Bayrut, November 11, 1857); an Englishman by birth who accepted French protection, a secret mission, and the “liberality of the present Emperor of the French”; a military officer travelling in the garb of what he calls a native (Syrian) “quack” with a comrade who “by a slight but necessary fiction passed for his brother-in-law2”; a gentleman who by return to Protestantism violated his vows, and a traveller who was proved by the experiment of Colonel (now Sir Lewis) Pelly to have brought upon himself all the perils and adventures that have caused his charming work to be considered so little worthy of trust. Truly such attack argues a sublime daring. It is the principle of “vieille coquette, nouvelle devote”; it is Satan preaching against Sin. Both writers certainly lack the “giftie” to see themselves as others see them.

In noticing these extracts my object is not to defend myself: I recognize no man’s right to interfere between a human being and his conscience. But what is there, I would ask, in the Moslem Pilgrimage so offensive to Christians — what makes it a subject of “inward ridicule”? Do they not also venerate Abraham, the Father of the Faithful? Did not Locke, and even greater names, hold Mohammedans to be heterodox Christians, in fact Arians who, till the end of the fourth century, represented the mass of North-European Christianity? Did Mr. Lane neverconform by praying at a Mosque in Cairo? did he ever fear to confess it? has he been called an apostate for so doing? Did not Father Michael Cohen prove himself an excellent Moslem at Wahhabi-land?

The fact is, there are honest men who hold that Al-Islam, in its capital tenets, approaches much nearer to the faith of Jesus than do the Pauline and Athanasian modifications which, in this our day, have divided the Indo-European mind into Catholic and Roman, Greek and Russian, Lutheran and Anglican. The disciples of Dr. Daniel Schenkel’s school (“A Sketch of the Character of Jesus,” Longmans, 1869) will indeed find little difficulty in making this admission. Practically, a visit after Arab Meccah to Angle-Indian Aden, with its “priests after the order of Melchisedeck,” suggested to me that the Moslem may be more tolerant, more enlightened, more charitable, than many societies of self-styled Christians.

And why rage so furiously against the “disguise of a wandering Darwaysh?” In what point is the Darwaysh more a mummer or in what does he show more of betise than the quack? Is the Darwaysh anything but an Oriental Freemason, and are Freemasons less Christians because they pray with Moslems and profess their belief in simple unitarianism?

I have said. And now to conclude.

After my return to Europe, many inquired if I was not the only living European who has found his way to the Head Quarters of the Moslem Faith. I may answer in the affirmative, so far, at least, that when entering the penetralia of Moslem life my Eastern origin was never questioned, and my position was never what cagots would describe as in loco apostatae.

On the other hand, any Jew, Christian, or Pagan, after declaring before the Kazi and the Police Authorities at Cairo, or even at Damascus, that he embraces Al-Islam, may perform, without fear of the so-called Mosaic institution, “Al-Sunnah,” his pilgrimage in all safety. It might be dangerous to travel down the Desert-line between Meccah and Al-Madinah during times of popular excitement; but the coast route is always safe. To the “new Moslem,” however, the old Moslem is rarely well affected; and the former, as a rule, returns home unpleasantly impressed by his experiences.

The Eastern world moves slowly — eppur si muove. Half a generation ago steamers were first started to Jeddah: now we hear of a projected railroad from that port to Meccah, the shareholders being all Moslems. And the example of Jerusalem encourages us to hope that long before the end of the century a visit to Meccah will not be more difficult than a trip to Hebron.

Ziyadeh hadd-i-adab!


London, 31st March, 1879.

1 These omitted notes and appendices have all been restored to the present Edition.

2 The brother-in-law, Barakat J’rayj’ray, has since that time followed suit: educated at the Jesuit college of Mu’allakah (Libanus) he has settled as a Greek Catholic priest at the neighbouring town of Zahleh.


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