Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah vol. II

Part II - AL-Madinah

Chapter XXI

The People of Al-Madinah

Richard F. Burton

AL-MADINAH contains but few families descended from the Prophet’s Auxiliaries. I heard only of four whose genealogy is undoubted. These were,

1. The Bayt al-Ansari, or descendants of Abu Ayyub, a most noble race whose tree ramifies through a space of fifteen hundred years. They keep the keys of the Kuba Mosque, and are Imams in the Harim, but the family is no longer wealthy or powerful.

2. The Bayt Abu Jud: they supply the Harim with Imams and Muezzins.1 I was told that there are now but two surviving members of this family, a boy and a girl.

3. The Bayt al-Shaab, a numerous race. Some of the members travel professionally, others trade, and others are employed in the Harim.

4. The Bayt al-Karrani, who are mostly engaged in commerce.

There is also a race called Al-Nakhawilah,2 who, according to some, are descendants of the Ansar, whilst others derive them from Yazid, the son of Muawiyah: the latter opinion is improbable, as the Caliph in question was a mortal foe to Ali’s family, which is inordinately venerated by these people. As far as I could ascertain, they abuse the Shaykhayn (Abu Bakr and Omar): all my informants agreed upon this point, but none could tell me why they neglected to bedevil Osman, the third object of hatred to the Shiah persuasion. They are numerous and warlike, yet they are despised by the townspeople, because they openly profess heresy, and are moreover of humble degree. They have their own priests and instructors, although subject to the orthodox Kazi; marry in their own sect, are confined to low offices, such as slaughtering animals, sweeping, and gardening, and are not allowed to enter the Harim during life, or to be carried to it after death. Their corpses are taken down an outer street called the Darb al-Janazah—Road of Biers—to their own cemetery near Al-Bakia. They dress and speak Arabic, like the townspeople; but the Arabs pretend to distinguish them by a peculiar look denoting their degradation: it is doubtless the mistake of effect for cause, about all such

“Tribes of the wandering foot and weary breast.”

A number of reports are current about the horrid customs of these people, and their community of women3 with the Persian pilgrims who pass through the town. It need scarcely be said that such tales coming from the mouths of fanatic foes are not to be credited. I regret not having had an opportunity to become intimate with any of the Nakhawilah, from whom curious information might be elicited. Orthodox Moslems do not like to be questioned about such hateful subjects; when I attempted to learn something from one of my acquaintance, Shaykh Ula al-Din, of a Kurd family, settled at Al-Madinah, a man who had travelled over the East, and who spoke five languages to perfection, he coldly replied that he had never consorted with these heretics. Sayyids and Sharifs,4 the descendants of the Prophet, here abound. The Benu Hosayn of Al-Madinah have their head-quarters at Suwayrkiyah:5 the former place contains six or seven families; the latter, ninety-three or ninety-four. Anciently they were much more numerous, and such was their power, that for centuries they retained charge of the Prophet’s tomb. They subsist principally upon their Amlak, property in land, for which they have title-deeds extending back to Mohammed’s day, and Aukaf, religious bequests; popular rumour accuses them of frequent murders for the sake of succession. At Al-Madinah they live chiefly at the Hosh Ibn Saad, a settlement outside the town and south of the Darb al-Janazah. There is, however, no objection to their dwelling within the walls; and they are taken to the Harim after death, if there be no evil report against the individual. Their burial-place is the Bakia cemetery. The reason of this toleration is, that some are supposed to be Sunni, or orthodox, and even the most heretical keep their Rafz6 (heresy) a profound secret. Most learned Arabs believe that they belong, like the Persians, to the sect of Ali: the truth, however, is so vaguely known, that I could find out none of the peculiarities of their faith, till I met a Shirazi friend at Bombay. The Benu Hosayn are spare dark men of Badawi appearance, and they dress in the old Arab style still affected by the Sharifs,—a Kufiyah (kerchief) on the head,7 and a Banish, a long and wide-sleeved garment resembling our magicians’ gown, thrown over the white cotton Kamis (shirt): in public they always carry swords, even when others leave weapons at home. There are about two hundred families of Sayyid Alawiyah,—descendants of Ali by any of his wives but Fatimah, they bear no distinctive mark in dress or appearance, and are either employed at the temple or engage at trade. Of the Khalifiyah, or descendants of Abbas, there is, I am told, but one household, the Bayt Al-Khalifah, who act as Imams in the Harim, and have charge of Hamzah’s tomb. Some declare that there are a few of the Siddikiyah, or descendants from Abu Bakr; others ignore them, and none could give me any information about the Benu Najjar.

The rest of the population of Al-Madinah is a motley race composed of offshoots from every nation in Al-Islam. The sanctity of the city attracts strangers, who, purposing to stay but a short time, become residents; after finding some employment, they marry, have families, die, and are buried there with an eye to the spiritual advantages of the place. I was much importuned to stay at Al-Madinah. The only known physician was one Shaykh Abdullah Sahib, an Indian, a learned man, but of so melancholic a temperament, and so ascetic in his habits, that his knowledge was entirely lost to the public. Why dost thou not, said my friends, hire a shop somewhere near the Prophet’s Mosque? There thou wilt eat bread by thy skill, and thy soul will have the blessing of being on holy ground. Shaykh Nur also opined after a short residence at Al-Madinah that it was bara jannati Shahr, a very heavenly City, and little would have induced him to make it his home. The present ruling race at Al-Madinah, in consequence of political vicissitudes, is the Sufat,8 sons of Turkish fathers by Arab mothers. These half-castes are now numerous, and have managed to secure the highest and most lucrative offices. Besides Turks, there are families originally from the Maghrib, Takruris, Egyptians in considerable numbers, settlers from Al-Yaman and other parts of Arabia, Syrians, Kurds, Afghans, Daghistanis from the Caucasus, and a few Jawis—Java Moslems. The Sindis, I was told, reckon about one hundred families, who are exceedingly despised for their cowardice and want of manliness, whilst the Baluch and the Afghan are respected. The Indians are not so numerous in proportion here as at Meccah; still Hindustani is by no means uncommonly heard in the streets. They preserve their peculiar costume, the women persisting in showing their faces, and in wearing tight, exceedingly tight, pantaloons. This, together with other reasons, secures for them the contempt of the Arabs. At Al-Madinah they are generally small shopkeepers, especially druggists and sellers of Kumash (cloth), and they form a society of their own. The terrible cases of misery and starvation which so commonly occur among the improvident Indians at Jeddah and Meccah are here rare.

The Hanafi school holds the first rank at Al-Madinah, as in most parts of Al-Islam, although many of the citizens, and almost all the Badawin, are Shafeis. The reader will have remarked with astonishment that at one of the fountain-heads of the faith, there are several races of schismatics, the Benu Hosayn, the Benu Ali, and the Nakhawilah. At the town of Safra there are said to be a number of the Zuyud schismatics,9 who visit Al-Madinah, and have settled in force at Meccah, and some declare that the Bayazi sect10 also exists.

The citizens of Al-Madinah are a favoured race, although the city is not, like Meccah, the grand mart of the Moslem world or the meeting-place of nations. They pay no taxes, and reject the idea of a Miri, or land-cess, with extreme disdain. Are we, the children of the Prophet, they exclaim, to support or to be supported? The Wahhabis, not understanding the argument, taxed them, as was their wont, in specie and in materials, for which reason the very name of those Puritans is an abomination. As has before been shown, all the numerous attendants at the Mosque are paid partly by the Sultan, partly by Aukaf, the rents of houses and lands bequeathed to the shrine, and scattered over every part of the Moslem world. When a Madani is inclined to travel, he applies to the Mudir al-Harim, and receives from him a paper which entitles him to the receipt of a considerable sum at Constantinople. The Ikram (honorarium), as it is called, varies with the rank of the recipient, the citizens being divided into these four orders, viz.

First and highest, the Sadat (Sayyids),11 and Imams, who are entitled to twelve purses, or about £60. Of these there are said to be three hundred families.

The Khanahdan, who keep open house and receive poor strangers gratis. Their Ikram amounts to eight purses, and they number from a hundred to a hundred and fifty families.

The Ahali12 (burghers) or Madani properly speaking, who have homes and families, and were born in Al-Madinah. They claim six purses.

The Mujawirin, strangers, as Egyptians or Indians, settled at, though not born in, Al-Madinah. Their honorarium is four purses.

The Madani traveller, on arrival at Constantinople, reports his arrival to his Consul, the Wakil al-Haramayn. This Agent of the two Holy Places applies to the Nazir al-Aukaf, or Intendant of Bequests; the latter, after transmitting the demand to the different officers of the treasury, sends the money to the Wakil, who delivers it to the applicant. This gift is sometimes squandered in pleasure, more often profitably invested either in merchandise or in articles of home-use, presents of dress and jewellery for the women, handsome arms, especially pistols and Balas13 (yataghans), silk tassels, amber pipe-pieces, slippers, and embroidered purses. They are packed up in one or two large Sahharahs, and then commences the labour of returning home gratis. Besides the Ikram, most of the Madani, when upon these begging trips, are received as guests by great men at Constantinople. The citizens whose turn it is not to travel, await the Aukaf and Sadakat (bequests and alms),14 forwarded every year by the Damascus Caravan; besides which, as has been before explained, the Harim supplies even those not officially employed in it with many perquisites.

Without these advantages Al-Madinah would soon be abandoned to cultivators and Badawin. Though commerce is here honourable, as everywhere in the East, business is slack,15 because the higher classes prefer the idleness of administering their landed estates, and being servants to the Mosque. I heard of only four respectable houses, Al-Isawi, Al-Shaab, Abd al-Jawwad, and a family from Al-Shark (the Eastern Region).16 They all deal in grain, cloth, and provisions, and perhaps the richest have a capital of twenty thousand dollars. Caravans in the cold weather are constantly passing between Al-Madinah and Egypt, but they are rather bodies of visitors to Constantinople than traders travelling for gain. Corn is brought from Jeddah by land, and imported into Yambu or via Al-Rais, a port on the Red Sea, one day and a half’s journey from Safra. There is an active provision trade with the neighbouring Badawin, and the Syrian Hajj supplies the citizens with apparel and articles of luxury—tobacco, dried fruits, sweetmeats, knives, and all that is included under the word “notions”. There are few store-keepers, and their dealings are petty, because articles of every kind are brought from Egypt, Syria, and Constantinople. As a general rule, labour is exceedingly expensive,17 and at the Visitation time a man will demand fifteen or twenty piastres from a stranger for such a trifling job as mending an umbrella. Handicraftsmen and artisans—carpenters, masons, locksmiths, potters, and others—are either slaves or foreigners, mostly Egyptians.18 This proceeds partly from the pride of the people. They are taught from their childhood that the Madani is a favoured being, to be respected however vile or schismatic; and that the vengeance of Allah will fall upon any one who ventures to abuse, much more to strike him.19 They receive a stranger at the shop window with the haughtiness of Pashas, and take pains to show him, by words as well as by looks, that they consider themselves as good gentlemen as the king, only not so rich. Added to this pride are indolence, and the true Arab prejudice, which, even in the present day, prevents a Badawi from marrying the daughter of an artisan. Like Castilians, they consider labour humiliating to any but a slave; nor is this, as a clever French author remarks, by any means an unreasonable idea, since Heaven, to punish man for disobedience, caused him to eat daily bread by the sweat of his brow. Besides, there is degradation, moral and physical, in handiwork compared with the freedom of the Desert. The loom and the file do not conserve courtesy and chivalry like the sword and spear; man extends his tongue, to use an Arab phrase, when a cuff and not a stab is to be the consequence of an injurious expression. Even the ruffian becomes polite in California, where his brother-ruffian carries his revolver, and those European nations who were most polished when every gentleman wore a rapier, have become the rudest since Civilisation disarmed them.

By the tariff quoted below it will be evident that Al-Madinah is not a cheap place.20 Yet the citizens, despite their being generally in debt, manage to live well. Their cookery, like that of Meccah, has borrowed something from Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Persia, and India: as all Orientals, they are exceedingly fond of clarified butter.21 I have seen the boy Mohammed drink off nearly a tumbler-full, although his friends warned him that it would make him as fat as an elephant. When a man cannot enjoy clarified butter in these countries, it is considered a sign that his stomach is out of order, and all my excuses of a melancholic temperament were required to be in full play to prevent the infliction of fried meat swimming in grease, or that guest-dish,22 rice saturated with melted—perhaps I should say—rancid butter. The Samn of Al-Hijaz, however, is often fresh, being brought in by the Badawin; it has not therefore the foul flavour derived from the old and impregnated skin-bag which distinguishes the ghi of India.23 The house of a Madani in good circumstances is comfortable, for the building is substantial, and the attendance respectable. Black slave-girls here perform the complicated duties of servant-maids in England; they are taught to sew, to cook, and to wash, besides sweeping the house and drawing water for domestic use. Hasinah (the Charmer, a decided misnomer) costs from $40 to $50; if she be a mother, her value is less; but neat-handedness, propriety of demeanour, and skill in feminine accomplishments, raise her to $100, £25. A little black boy, perfect in all his points, and tolerably intelligent, costs about a thousand piastres; girls are dearer, and eunuchs fetch double that sum. The older the children become, the more their value diminishes; and no one would purchase, save under exceptional circumstances, an adult slave, because he is never parted with but for some incurable vice. The Abyssinian, mostly Galla, girls, so much prized because their skins are always cool in the hottest weather, are here rare; they seldom sell for less than £20, and they often fetch £60. I never heard of a Jariyah Bayza, a white slave girl, being in the market at Al-Madinah: in Circassia they fetch from £100 to £400 prime cost, and few men in Al-Hijaz could afford so expensive a luxury. The Bazar at Al-Madinah is poor, and as almost all the slaves are brought from Meccah by the Jallabs, or drivers, after exporting the best to Egypt, the town receives only the refuse.24

The personal appearance of the Madani makes the stranger wonder how this mongrel population of settlers has acquired a peculiar and almost an Arab physiognomy. They are remarkably fair, the effect of a cold climate; sometimes the cheeks are lighted up with red, and the hair is a dark chestnut—at Al-Madinah I was not stared at as a white man. The cheeks and different parts of the children’s bodies are sometimes marked with Mashali or Tashrih, not the three long stripes of the Meccans,25 but little scars generally in threes. In some points they approach very near the true Arab type, that is to say, the Badawi of ancient and noble family. The cheek-bones are high and saillant, the eye small, more round than long, piercing, fiery, deep-set, and brown rather than black. The head is small, the ears well-cut, the face long and oval, though not unfrequently disfigured by what is popularly called the lantern-jaw; the forehead high, bony, broad, and slightly retreating, and the beard and mustachios scanty, consisting of two tufts upon the chin, with, generally speaking, little or no whisker. These are the points of resemblance between the city and the country Arab. The difference is equally remarkable. The temperament of the Madani is not purely nervous, like that of the Badawi, but admits a large admixture of the bilious, and, though rarely, the lymphatic. The cheeks are fuller, the jaws project more than in the pure race, the lips are more fleshy, more sensual and ill-fitting; the features are broader, and the limbs are stouter and more bony. The beard is a little thicker, and the young Arabs of the towns are beginning to imitate the Turks in that abomination to their ancestors—shaving. Personal vanity, always a ruling passion among Orientals, and a hopeless wish to emulate the flowing beards of the Turks and the Persians—perhaps the only nations in the world who ought not to shave the chin—have overruled even the religious objections to such innovation. I was more frequently appealed to at Al-Madinah than anywhere else, for some means of removing the opprobrium Kusah, or scant-bearded man. They blacken the beard with gall-nuts, henna, and other preparations, especially the Egyptian mixture, composed of sulphate of iron one part, ammoniure of iron one part, and gall-nuts two parts, infused in eight parts of distilled water. It is a very bad dye. Much refinement of dress is now found at Al-Madinah,Constantinople, the Paris of the East, supplying it with the newest fashions. Respectable men wear either a Benish or a Jubbah; the latter, as at Meccah, is generally of some light and flashy colour, gamboge, yellow, tender green, or bright pink. This is the sign of a dressy man. If you have a single coat, it should be of some modest colour, as a dark violet; to appear always in the same tender green, or bright pink, would excite derision. But the Hijazis, poor and rich, always prefer these tulip tints. The proper Badan, or long coat without sleeves, still worn in truly Arab countries, is here confined to the lowest classes. That ugliest of head-dresses, the red Tunisian cap, called Tarbush,26 is much used, only the Arabs have too much regard for their eyes and faces to wear it, as the Turks do, without a turband. It is with regret that one sees the most graceful head-gear imaginable, the Kufiyah and the Aakal, proscribed except amongst the Sharifs and the Badawin. The women dress, like the men, handsomely. Indoors they wear, I am told, a Sudayriyah, or boddice of calico and other stuffs, like the Choli of India, which supports the bosom without the evils of European stays. Over this is a Saub, or white shirt, of the white stuff called Halaili or Burunjuk, with enormous sleeves, and flowing down to the feet; the Sarwal or pantaloons are not wide, like the Egyptians’, but rather tight, approaching to the Indian cut, without its exaggeration.27 Abroad, they throw over the head a silk or a cotton Milayah, generally chequered white and blue. The Burka (face-veil), all over Al-Hijaz is white, a decided improvement in point of cleanliness upon that of Egypt. Women of all ranks die the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands black; and trace thin lines down the inside of the fingers, by first applying a plaster of henna and then a mixture, called Shadar, of gall-nuts, alum, and lime. The hair, parted in the centre, is plaited into about twenty little twists called Jadilah.28 Of ornaments, as usual among Orientals, they have a vast variety, ranging from brass and spangles to gold and precious stones; and they delight in strong perfumes, musk, civet, ambergris, attar of rose, oil of jasmine, aloe-wood, and extract of cinnamon. Both sexes wear Constantinople slippers. The women draw on Khuff, inner slippers, of bright yellow leather, serving for socks, and covering the ankle, with Papush of the same material, sometimes lined with velvet and embroidered with a gold sprig under the hollow of the foot. In mourning the men show no difference of dress, like good Moslems, to whom such display of grief is forbidden. But the women, who cannot dissociate the heart and the toilette, evince their sorrow by wearing white clothes and by doffing their ornaments. This is a modern custom: the accurate Burckhardt informs us that in his day the women of Al-Madinah did not wear mourning.

The Madani generally appear abroad on foot. Few animals are kept here, on account, I suppose, of the expense of feeding them. The Cavalry are mounted on poor Egyptian nags. The horses generally ridden by rich men are generally Nijdi, costing from $200 to $300. Camels are numerous, but those bred in Al-Hijaz are small, weak, and consequently little prized. Dromedaries of good breed, called Ahrar29 (the noble) and Namani, from the place of that name, are to be had for any sum between $10 and $400; they are diminutive, but exceedingly swift, surefooted, sagacious, thoroughbred, with eyes like the antelope’s, and muzzles that would almost enter a tumbler. Mules are not found at Al-Madinah, although popular prejudice does not now forbid the people to mount them. Asses come from Egypt and Meccah: I am told that some good animals are to be found in the town, and that certain ignoble Badawi clans have a fine breed, but I never saw any. Of beasts intended for food, the sheep is the only common one in this part of Al-Hijaz. There are three distinct breeds. The larger animal comes from Nijd and the Anizah Badawin, who drive a flourishing trade; the smaller is a native of the country. Both are the common Arab species, of a tawny colour, with a long fat tail. Occasionally one meets with what at Aden is called the Berberah sheep, a totally different beast,white, with a black broad face, a dew-lap, and a short fat tail, that looks as if twisted up into a knot: it was doubtless introduced by the Persians. Cows are rare at Al-Madinah. Beef throughout the East is considered an unwholesome food, and the Badawi will not drink cow’s milk, preferring that of the camel, the ewe, and the goat. The flesh of the latter animal is scarcely ever eaten in the city, except by the poorest classes.

The manners of the Madani are graver and somewhat more pompous than those of any Arabs with whom I ever mixed. This they appear to have borrowed from their rulers, the Turks. But their austerity and ceremoniousness are skin-deep. In intimacy or in anger the garb of politeness is thrown off, and the screaming Arab voice, the voluble, copious, and emphatic abuse, and the mania for gesticulation, return in all their deformity. They are great talkers as the following little trait shows. When a man is opposed to more than his match in disputing or bargaining, instead of patiently saying to himself, S’;il crache il est mort, he interrupts the adversary with a “Sall’ ala Mohammed”,—Bless the Prophet. Every good Moslem is obliged to obey such requisition by responding, “Allahumma salli alayh”,—O Allah bless him! But the Madani curtails the phrase to “A’n”,30 supposing it to be an equivalent, and proceeds in his loquacity. Then perhaps the baffled opponent will shout out Wahhid, i.e., Attest the unity of the Deity; when, instead of employing the usual religious phrases to assert that dogma, he will briefly ejaculate “Al”, and hurry on with the course of conversation. As it may be supposed, these wars of words frequently end in violent quarrels; for, to do the Madani justice, they are always ready to fight. The desperate old feud between the Juwwa, and the Barra, the town and the suburbshas been put down with the greatest difficulty. The boys, indeed, still keep it up, turning out in bodies and making determined onslaughts with sticks and stones.31

It is not to be believed that in a town garrisoned by Turkish troops, full of travelled traders, and which supports itself by plundering Hajis, the primitive virtues of the Arab could exist. The Meccans, a dark people, say of the Madani, that their hearts are black as their skins are white.32 This is, of course, exaggerated; but it is not too much to assert that pride, pugnacity, a peculiar point of honour and a vindictiveness of wonderful force and patience, are the only characteristic traits of Arab character which the citizens of Al-Madinah habitually display. Here you meet with scant remains of the chivalry of the Desert. A man will abuse his guest, even though he will not dine without him, and would protect him bravely against an enemy. And words often pass lightly between individuals which suffice to cause a blood feud amongst Badawin. The outward appearance of decorum is conspicuous amongst the Madani. There are no places where Corinthians dwell, as at Meccah, Cairo, and Jeddah. Adultery, if detected, would be punished by lapidation according to the rigour of the Koranic law33; and simple immorality by religious stripes, or, if of repeated occurrence, by expulsion from the city. But scandals seldom occur, and the women, I am told, behave with great decency.34 Abroad, they have the usual Moslem pleasures of marriage, lyings-in, circumcision feasts, holy isitations, and funerals. At home, they employ themselves with domestic matters, and especially in scolding “Hasinah” and “Zaafaran”. In this occupation they surpass even the notable English housekeeper of the middle orders of societythe latter being confined to knagging at her slavey, whereas the Arab lady is allowed an unbounded extent of vocabulary. At Shaykh Hamid’s house, however, I cannot accuse the women of

        “Swearing into strong shudders
The immortal gods who heard them.”

They abused the black girls with unction, but without any violent expletives. At Meccah, however, the old lady in whose house I was living would, when excited by the melancholy temperament of her eldest son and his irregular hours of eating, scold him in the grossest terms, not unfrequently ridiculous in the extreme. For instance, one of her assertions was that he—the son—was the offspring of an immoral mother; which assertion, one might suppose, reflected not indirectly upon herself. So in Egypt I have frequently heard a father, when reproving his boy, address him by “O dog, son of a dog!” and “O spawn of an Infidel—of a Jew—of a Christian!” Amongst the men of Al-Madinah I remarked a considerable share of hypocrisy. Their mouths were as full of religious salutations, exclamations, and hackneyed quotations from the Koran, as of indecency and vile abuse—a point in which they resemble the Persians. As before observed, they preserve their reputation as the sons of a holy city by praying only in public. At Constantinople they are by no means remarkable for sobriety. Intoxicating liquors, especially Araki, are made in Al-Madinah, only by the Turks: the citizens seldom indulge in this way at home, as detection by smell is imminent among a people of water-bibbers. During the whole time of my stay I had to content myself with a single bottle of Cognac, coloured and scented to resemble medicine. The Madani are, like the Meccans, a curious mixture of generosity and meanness, of profuseness and penuriousness. But the former quality is the result of ostentation, the latter is a characteristic of the Semitic race, long ago made familiar to Europe by the Jew. The citizens will run deeply in debt, expecting a good season of devotees to pay off their liabilities, or relying upon the next begging trip to Turkey; and such a proceeding, contrary to the custom of the Moslem world, is not condemned by public opinion. Above all their qualities, personal conceit is remarkable: they show it in their strut, in their looks, and almost in every word. I am such an one, the son of such an one, is a common expletive, especially in times of danger; and this spirit is not wholly to be condemned, as it certainly acts as an incentive to gallant actions. But it often excites them to vie with one another in expensive entertainments and similar vanities. The expression, so offensive to English ears, “Inshallah Bukra”—Please God, tomorrow—always said about what should be done to-day, is here common as in Egypt or in India. This procrastination belongs more or less to all Orientals. But Arabia especially abounds in the “Tawakkal al’ Allah, ya Shaykh!”—Place thy reliance upon Allah, O Shaykh!—enjoined when a man should depend upon his own exertions. Upon the whole, however, though alive to the infirmities of the Madani character, I thought favourably of it, finding among this people more of the redeeming point, manliness, than in most Eastern nations with whom I am acquainted.

The Arabs, like the Egyptians, all marry. Yet, as usual, they are hard and facetious upon that ill-treated subject—matrimony. It has exercised the brain of their wits and sages, who have not failed to indite notable things concerning it. Saith Harikar al-Hakim (Dominie Do-All) to his nephew Nadan (Sir Witless), whom he would dissuade from taking to himself a wife, “Marriage is joy for a month and sorrow for a life, and the paying of settlements and the breaking of back (i.e. under the load of misery), and the listening to a woman’s tongue!” And again we have in verse:

“They said ‘marry!’ I replied, ‘far be it from me
To take to my bosom a sackful of snakes.
I am free—why then become a slave?
May Allah never bless womankind!’”

And the following lines are generally quoted, as affording a kind of bird’s-eye view of female existence:

“From 10 (years of age) unto 20,
A repose to the eyes of beholders.35
From 20 unto 30,
Still fair and full of flesh.
From 30 unto 40,
A mother of many boys and girls.
From 40 unto 50,
An old woman of the deceitful.
From 50 unto 60,
Slay her with a knife.
From 60 unto 70,
The curse of Allah upon them, one and all!”

Another popular couplet makes a most unsupported assertion:

“They declare womankind to be heaven to man,
I say, ‘Allah, give me Jahannam, and not this heaven.’”

Yet the fair sex has the laugh on its side, for these railers at Al-Madinah as at other places, invariably marry. The marriage ceremony is tedious and expensive. It begins with a Khitbah or betrothal: the father of the young man repairs to the parent or guardian of the girl, and at the end of his visit exclaims, “The Fatihah! we beg of your kindness your daughter for our son.” Should the other be favourable to the proposal, his reply is, “Welcome and congratulation to you: but we must perform Istikharah36” (religious lot casting); and, when consent is given, both pledge themselves to the agreement by reciting the Fatihah. Then commence negotiations about the Mahr or sum settled upon the bride37; and after the smoothing of this difficulty follow feastings of friends and relatives, male and female. The marriage itself is called Akd al-Nikah or Ziwaj. A Walimah or banquet is prepared by the father of the Aris (groom), at his own house, and the Kazi attends to perform the nuptial ceremony, the girl’s consent being obtained through her Wakil, any male relation whom she commissions to act for her. Then, with great pomp and circumstance, the Aris visits his Arusah (bride) at her father’s house; and finally, with a Zuffah or procession and sundry ceremonies at the Harim, she is brought to her new home. Arab funerals are as simple as their marriages are complicated. Neither Naddabah (myriologist or hired keener), nor indeed any female, even a relation, is present at burials as in other parts of the Moslem world,38 and it is esteemed disgraceful for a man to weep aloud. The Prophet, ho doubtless had heard of those pagan mournings, where an effeminate and unlimited display of woe was often terminated by licentious excesses, like the Christian’s half-heathen wakes, forbad [a]ught beyond a decent demonstration of grief. And his strong good sense enabled him to see through the vanity of professional mourners. At Al-Madinah the corpse is interred shortly after decease. The bier is carried though the streets at a moderate pace, by friends and relatives,39 these bringing up the rear. Every man who passes lends his shoulder for a minute, a mark of respect to the dead, and also considered a pious and a prayerful act. Arrived at the Harim, they carry the corpse in visitation to the Prophet’s window, and pray over it at Osman’s niche. Finally, it is interred after the usual Moslem fashion in the cemetery Al-Bakia.

Al-Madinah, though pillaged by the Wahhabis, still abounds in books. Near the Harim are two Madrasah or colleges, the Mahmudiyah, so called from Sultan Mahmud, and that of Bashir Agha: both have large stores of theological and other works. I also heard of extensive private collections, particularly of one belonging to the Najib al-Ashraf, or chief of the Sharifs, a certain Mohammed Jamal al-Layl, whose father is well-known in India. Besides which, there is a large Wakf or bequest of books, presented to the Mosque or entailed upon particular families.40 The celebrated Mohammed Ibn Abdillah al-Sannusi41 has removed his collection, amounting, it is said, to eight thousand volumes, from Al-Madinah to his house in Jabal Kubays at Meccah. The burial-place of the Prophet, therefore, no longer lies open to the charge of utter ignorance brought against it by my predecessor.42 The people now praise their Olema for learning, and boast a superiority in respect of science over Meccah. Yet many students leave the place for Damascus and Cairo, where the Riwak al-Haramayn (College of the Two Shrines) in the Azhar Mosque University, is always crowded; and though Omar Effendi boasted to me that his city was full of lore, he did not appear the less anxious to attend the lectures of Egyptian professors. But none of my informants claimed for Al-Madinah any facilities of studying other than the purely religious sciences.43 Philosophy, medicine, arithmetic, mathematics, and algebra cannot be learnt here. I was careful to inquire about the occult sciences, remembering that Paracelsus had travelled in Arabia, and that the Count Cagliostro (Giuseppe Balsamo), who claimed the Meccan Sharif as his father, asserted that about A.D. 1765 he had studied alchemy at Al-Madinah. The only trace I could find was a superficial knowledge of the Magic Mirror. But after denying the Madani the praise of varied learning, it must be owned that their quick observation and retentive memories have stored up for them an abundance of superficial knowledge, culled from conversations in the market and in the camp. I found it impossible here to display those feats which in Sind, Southern Persia, Eastern Arabia, and many parts of India, would be looked upon as miraculous. Most probably one of the company had witnessed the performance of some Italian conjuror at Constantinople or Alexandria, and retained a lively recollection of every manœuvre. As linguists they are not equal to the Meccans, who surpass all Orientals excepting only the Armenians; the Madani seldom know Turkish, and more rarely still Persian and Indian. Those only who have studied in Egypt chaunt the Koran well. The citizens speak and pronounce44 their language purely; they are not equal to the people of the southern Hijaz, still their Arabic is refreshing after the horrors of Cairo and Maskat.

The classical Arabic, be it observed, in consequence of an extended empire, soon split up into various dialects, as the Latin under similar circumstances separated into the Neo-Roman patois of Italy, Sicily, Provence, and Languedoc. And though Niebuhr has been deservedly censured for comparing the Koranic language to Latin and the vulgar tongue to Italian, still there is a great difference between them, almost every word having undergone some alteration in addition to the manifold changes and simplifications of grammar and syntax. The traveller will hear in every part of Arabia that some distant tribe preserves the linguistic purity of its ancestors, uses final vowels with the noun, and rejects the addition of the pronoun which apocope in the verb now renders necessary.45 But I greatly doubt the existence of such a race of philologists. In Al-Hijaz, however, it is considered graceful in an old man, especially when conversing publicly, to lean towards classical Arabic. On the contrary, in a youth this would be treated as pedantic affectation, and condemned in some such satiric quotation as

There are two things colder than ice,
A young old man, and an old young man.

1.    Ibn Jubayr relates that in his day a descendant of Belal, the original Muezzin of the Prophet, practised his ancestral profession at Al-Madinah.     [back]

2.    This word is said to be the plural of Nakhwali,one who cultivates the date tree, a gardener or farmer. No one could tell me whether these heretics had not a peculiar name for themselves. I hazard a conjecture that they may be identical with the Mutawalli (also written Mutawilah, Mutaalis, Metoualis, &c., &c.), the hardy, courageous, and hospitable mountaineers of Syria, and Cœlesyria Proper. This race of sectarians, about 35,000 in number, holds to the Imamship or supreme pontificate of Ali and his descendants. They differ, however, in doctrine from the Persians, believing in a transmigration of the soul, which, gradually purified, is at last orbed into a perfect star. They are scrupulous of caste, and will not allow a Jew or a Frank to touch a piece of their furniture: yet they erect guest-houses for Infidels. In this they resemble the Shiahs, who are far more particular about ceremonial purity than the Sunnis. They use ablutions before each meal, and herein remind us of the Hindus.     [back]

3.    The communist principles of Mazdak the Persian (sixth century) have given his nation a permanent bad fame in this particular among the Arabs.     [back]

4.    In Arabia the Sharif is the descendant of Hasan through his two sons, Zaid and Hasan al-Musanna: the Sayyid is the descendant of Hosayn through Zayn al-Abidin, the sole of twelve children who survived the fatal field of Kerbela. The former devotes himself to government and war; the latter, to learning and religion. In Persia and India, the Sharif is the son of a Sayyid woman and a common Moslem. The Sayyid Nejib al-Taraf (noble on one side) is the son of a Sayyid father and a common Moslemah. The Sayyid Nejib al-Tarafayn (noble on both sides) is one whose parents are both Sayyids.     [back]

5.    Burckhardt alludes to this settlement when he says, In the Eastern Desert, at three or four days’ journey from Medinah, lives a whole Bedouin tribe, called Beni Aly, who are all of this Persian creed. I travelled to Suwayrkiyah, and found it inhabited by Benu Hosayn. The Benu Ali are Badawin settled at the Awali, near the Kuba Mosque: they were originally slaves of the great house of Auf, and are still heretical in their opinions.     [back]

6.     Refusing, rejecting. Hence the origin of Rafizi, a rejector, a heretic. Inna rafaznahum, verily we have rejected them, (Abu Bakr, Omar, and Osman,) exclaim the Persians, glorying in the opprobrious epithet.     [back]

7.    Sayyids in Al-Hijaz, as a general rule, do not denote their descent by the green turband. In fact, most of them wear a red Kashmir shawl round the head, when able to afford the luxury. The green turband is an innovation in Al-Islam. In some countries it is confined to the Sayyids; in others it is worn as a mark of distinction by pilgrims. Khudabakhsh, the Indian, at Cairo generally dressed in a tender green suit like a Mantis.     [back]

8.    Plural of Suftaha—half-caste Turk.     [back]

9.    Plural of Zaydi. These are well-known schismatics of the Shiah persuasion, who abound in Southern Arabia.     [back]

10.    The Bayazi sect flourishes near Maskat, whose Imam or Prince, it is said, belongs to the heretical persuasion. It rejects Osman, and advocates the superiority of Omar over the other two Caliphs.     [back]

11.    Sadat is the plural of Sayyid. This word in the Northern Hijaz is applied indifferently to the posterity of Hasan and Hosayn.    [back]

12.    The plural of Ahl, an inhabitant (of a particular place). The reader will excuse my troubling him with these terms. As they are almost all local in their application, and therefore are not explained in such restricted sense by lexicographers, the specification may not be useless to the Oriental student.     [back]

13.    The Turkish yataghan. It is a long dagger, intended for thrusting rather than cutting, and has a curve, which, methinks, has been wisely copied by the Duke of Orleans, in the bayonet of the Chasseurs de Vincennes.     [back]

14.    See chapter xvii.    [back]

15.    Omar Effendi’s brothers, grandsons of the principal Mufti of Al-Madinah, were both shopkeepers, and were always exhorting him to do some useful work, rather than muddle his brains and waste his time on books.    [back]

16.    See chapter xiv.     [back]

17.    To a townsman, even during the dead season, the pay of a gardener would be 2 piastres, a carpenter 8 piastres per diem, and a common servant (a Bawwab or porter, for instance), 25 piastres per mensem, or £3 per annum, besides board and dress. Considering the value of money in the country, these are very high rates.     [back]

18.    Who alone sell milk, curds, or butter. The reason of their monopoly has been given in Chapter xiii.     [back]

19.    History informs us that the sanctity of their birth-place has not always preserved the people of Al-Madinah. But the memory of their misfortunes is soon washed away by the overwhelming pride of the race.     [back]

20.    The market is under the charge of an Arab Muhtasib or Bazar-master, who again is subject to the Muhafiz or Pasha governing the place. The following was the current price of provisions at Al-Madinah early in August, 1853: during the Visitation season everything is doubled:

1 lb. mutton, 2 piastres, (beef is half-price, but seldom eaten; there is no buffalo meat, and only Badawin will touch the camel).
A fowl, 5 piastres.
Eggs, in summer 8, in winter 4, for the piastre.
1 lb. clarified butter, 4 piastres, (when cheap it falls to 2 ½ Butter is made at home by those who eat it, and sometimes by the Egyptians for sale).
1 lb. milk, 1 piastre.
1 lb. cheese, 2 piastres, (when cheap it is 1, when dear 3 piastres per lb.)
A Wheaten loaf weighing 12 dirhams, 10 parahs. (There are loaves of 24 dirhams, costing ½ piastre.)
1 lb. dry biscuits, (imported), 3 piastres.
1 lb. of vegetables, ½ piastre.
1 Mudd dates, varies according to quality from 4 piastres to 100.
1 lb. grapes, 1 ½ piastre.
A lime, 1 parah.
A pomegranate, from 20 parahs to 1 piastre. A water-melon, from 3 to 6 piastres each.
1 lb. peaches, 2 piastres.
1 lb. coffee, 4 piastres, (the Yamani is the only kind drunk here).
1 lb. tea, 15 piastres, (black tea, imported from India).
1 lb. European loaf-sugar, 6 piastres, (white Egyptian, 5 piastres brown Egyptian, 3 piastres; brown Indian, for cooking and conserves, 3 piastres).
1 lb. spermaceti candles, 7 piastres, (called wax, and imported from Egypt).
1 lb. tallow candles, 3 piastres.
1 Ardeb wheat, 295 piastres.
1 Ardeb onions, 33 piastres, (when cheap 20, when dear 40).
1 Ardeb barley, 120 piastres, (minimum 90, maximum 180).
1 Ardeb rice, Indian, 302 piastres, (it varies from 260 to 350 piastres, according to quality).
Durrah or maize is generally given to animals, and is very cheap.
Barsim (clover, a bundle of) 3 Wakkiyahs, (36 Dirhams), costs 1 parah.
Adas or Lentil is the same price as rice.
1 lb. Latakia tobacco, 16 piastres.
1 lb. Syrian tobacco, 8 piastres.
1 lb. Tumbak (Persian), 6 piastres.
1 lb. olive oil, 6 piastres, (when cheap it is 4).
A skin of water, ½ piastre.
Bag of charcoal, containing 100 Wukkah, 10 piastres. The best kind is made from an Acacia called Samur. The Parah (Turkish), Faddah (Egyptian), or Diwani (Hijazi word), is the 40th part of a piastre, or nearly the quarter of a farthing. The piastre is about 2 and two-fifths pence. Throughout Al-Hijaz there is no want of small change, as in Egypt, where the deficiency calls for the attention of the Government.     [back]

21.    Physiologists have remarked that fat and greasy food, containing a quantity of carbon, is peculiar to cold countries; whereas the inhabitants of the tropics delight in fruits, vegetables, and articles of diet which do not increase caloric. This must be taken cum grano. In Italy, Spain, and Greece, the general use of olive oil begins. In Africa and Asia—especially in the hottest parts—the people habitually eat enough clarified butter to satisfy an Esquimaux.    [back]

22.    In Persia, you jocosely say to a man, when he is threatened with a sudden inroad of guests, Go and swamp the rice with Raughan (clarified butter).    [back]

23.    Among the Indians, ghi, placed in pots carefully stopped up and kept for years till a hard black mass only remains, is considered a panacea for diseases and wounds.     [back]

24.    Some of these slaves come from Abyssinia: the greater part are driven from the Galla country, and exported at the harbours of the Somali coast, Berberah, Tajurrah, and Zayla. As many as 2000 slaves from the former place, and 4000 from the latter, are annually shipped off to Mocha, Jeddah, Suez, and Maskat. It is strange that the Imam of the latter place should voluntarily have made a treaty with us for the suppression of this vile trade, and yet should allow so extensive an importation to his dominions.     [back]

25.    More will be said concerning the origin of this strange custom, when speaking of Meccah and the Meccans.     [back]

26.    The word Tarbush is a corruption from the Persian Sarpush, head-covering, head-dress. The Anglo-Saxon further debases it to Tarbush. The other name for the Tarbush, Fez, denotes the place where the best were made. Some Egyptians distinguish between the two, calling the large high crimson cap Fez, the small one Tarbush.    [back]

27.    In India, as in Sind, a lady of fashion will sometimes be occupied a quarter of an hour in persuading her bloomers to pass over the region of the ankle.    [back]

28.    In the plural called Jadail. It is a most becoming head-dress when the hair is thick, and when—which I regret to say is rare in Arabia—the twists are undone for ablution once a day.    [back]

29.    Plural of Hurrah, the free, the noble.    [back]

30.    See vol. i., p. 436, ante.    [back]

31.    This appears to be, and to have been, a favourite weapon with the Arabs. At the battle of Ohod, we read that the combatants amused themselves with throwing stones. On our road to Meccah, the Badawi attacked a party of city Arabs, and the fight was determined with these harmless weapons. At Meccah, the men, as well as the boys, use them with as much skill as the Somalis at Aden. As regards these feuds between different quarters of the Arab towns, the reader will bear in mind that such things can co-exist with considerable amount of civilization. In my time, the different villages in the Sorrentine plain were always at war. The Irish still fight in bodies at Birkenhead. And in the days of our fathers, the gamins of London amused themselves every Sunday by pitched battles on Primrose Hill, and the fields about Marylebone and St. Pancras.    [back]

32.    Alluding especially to their revengefulness, and their habit of storing up an injury, and of forgetting old friendships or benefits, when a trivial cause of quarrel arises.    [back]

33.     The sentence is passed by the Kazi: in cases of murder, he tries the criminal, and, after finding him guilty, sends him to the Pasha, who orders a Kawwas, or policeman, to strike off his head with a sword. Thieves are punished by mutilation of the hand. In fact, justice at Al-Madinah is administered in perfect conformity with the Shariat or Holy Law.    [back]

34.    Circumcisio utriusque sexus apud Arabos mos est vetustissimus. Aiunt theologi mutilationis hujus religiosae inventricem esse Saram, Abrahami uxorem quae, zelotypia incitata, Hagaris amorem minuendi gratia, somnientis puellae clitoridem exstirpavit. Deinde, Allaho jubente, Sara et Abrahamus ambo pudendorum partem cultello abscissere. Causa autem moris in viro mundities salusque, in puella impudicitiae prophylactica esse videntur. Gentes Asiaticae sinistra tantum manu abluentes utuntur; omnes quoque feminarem decies magis quam virorum libidinem aestimant. (Clitoridem amputant, quia, ut monet Aristoteles, pars illa sedes est et scaturigo venerisrem plane profanam cum Sonninio exclamemus!) Nec excogitare potuit philosophus quanti et quam portentosi sunt talis mutilationis effectus. Mulierum minuuntur affectus, amor, voluptas. Crescunt tamen feminini doli, crudelitas, vitia et insatiabilis luxuria. (Ita in Eunuchis nonnunquam, teste Abelardo, suberstat cerebelli potestas, quum cupidinis satiandi facultas plane discessit.) Virilis quoque circumcisio lentam venerem et difficilem efficit. Glandis enim mollities frictione induratur, dehinc coitus tristis, tardus parumque vehemens. Forsitan in quibusdam populis localis quoque causa existit; caruncula immoderate crescente, amputationis necessitas exurgit. Deinde apud Somalos, gentem Africanam, excisio nympharum abscissioni clitoridis adjungitur. Feminina circumcisio in Kahira Egyptiana et El Hejazio mos est universalis. Gens Bedouina uxorem salvam ducere nolit. Shaykh al-Nawawi de Uxore ducenda, &c., &c.    [back]

35.    A phrase corresponding with our “beauté du diable.”    [back]

36.    This means consulting the will of the Deity, by praying for a dream in sleep, by the rosary, by opening the Koran, and other such devices, which bear blame if a negative be deemed necessary. It is a custom throughout the Moslem world, a relic, doubtless, of the Azlam or Kidah (seven divining-arrows) of the Pagan times. At Al-Madinah it is generally called Khirah.    [back]

37.    Among respectable citizens 400 dollars would be considered a fair average sum; the expense of the ceremony would be about half. This amount of ready money (£150) not being always procurable, many of the Madani marry late in life.    [back]

38.    Boys are allowed to be present, but they are not permitted to cry. Of their so misdemeaning themselves there is little danger; the Arab in these matters is a man from his cradle.    [back]

39.    They are called the Asdikah; in the singular, Sadik.    [back]

40.    From what I saw at Al-Madinah, the people are not so unprejudiced on this point as the Cairenes, who think little of selling a book in Wakf. The subject of Wakf, however, is an extensive one, and does not wholly exclude the legality of sale.    [back]

41.    This Shaykh is a Maliki Moslem from Algiers, celebrated as an Alim (sage), especially in the mystic study Al-Jafr. He is a Wali or saint; but opinions differ as regards his Kiramat (saint’s miracles): some disciples look upon him as the Mahdi (the forerunner of the Prophet), others consider him a clever impostor. His peculiar dogma is the superiority of live over dead saints, whose tombs are therefore not to be visited—a new doctrine in a Maliki! Abbas Pasha loved and respected him, and, as he refused all presents, built him a new Zawiyah (oratory) at Bulak; and when the Egyptian ruler’s mother was at Al-Madinah, she called upon him three times, it is said, before he would receive her. His followers and disciples are scattered in numbers about Tripoli and, amongst other oases of the Fezzan, at Siwah, where they saved the Abbé Hamilton’s life in A.D. 1843.    [back]

42.    Burckhardt’s Travels in Arabia, vol. ii. p. 174.    [back]

43.    Of which I have given an account in chapter xvi.    [back]

44.    The only abnormal sound amongst the consonants heard here and in Al-Hijaz generally is the pronouncing of k (ق) a hard g—for instance, Guran for Kuran (a Koran), and Haggi or Hakki (my right). This g, however, is pronounced deep in the throat, and does not resemble the corrupt Egyptian pronunciation of the jim (j, ج), a letter which the Copts knew not, and which their modern descendants cannot articulate. In Al-Hijaz, the only abnormal sounds amongst the vowels are o for ú, as Khokh, a peach, and ŏ for ŭ, as Ohod for Uhud. The two short vowels fath and kasr are correctly pronounced, the former never becoming a short e, as in Egypt (El for Al and Yemen for Yaman), or a short i, as in Syria ( “min” for “man” who? &c.) These vowels, however, are differently articulated in every part of the Arab world. So says St. Jerome of the Hebrew: Nec refert atrum Salem aut Salim nominetur; cum vocalibus in medio literis perraro utantur Hebraei; et pro voluntate lectorum, ac varietate regionum, eadem verba diversis sonis atque accentibus proferantur.    [back]

45.    e.g., Ant Zarabtthou struckedstfor Zarabta. The final vowel, suffering apocope, would leave “Zarabt” equally applicable to the first person singular and the second person singular masculine.    [back]

Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah vol. II - Contents    |     Chapter XXII - A Visit to the Saints’ Cemetery

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