K.C.M.G., F.R.G.S., &c., &c., &c.
EDITED BY HIS WIFE, ISABEL BURTON.
“Our notions of Mecca must be drawn from the Arabians; as no unbeliever
is permitted to enter the city, our travellers are silent.”—Gibbon, chap.
IN TWO VOLUMES
Dark and the Desert and Destriers me ken,
And the Glaive and the Joust, and Paper and Pen.
AL-MADINAH AND MECCAH.
THE PEOPLE OF AL-MADINAH.
AL-MADINAH contains but few families descended from the Prophet’s
Auxiliaries. I heard only of four whose genealogy is undoubted. These
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
Mu’ezzins.[FN#l] I was told that there are now but two surviving members
of this family, a boy and a girl.
3. The Bayt al-Sha’ab, 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,[FN#2] who,
[p.2]according to some, are descendants of the Ansar, whilst others
derive them from Yazid, the son of Mu’awiyah: 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 Shi’ah
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.”
number of reports are current about the horrid
[p.3]customs of these people, and their community of women[FN#3] 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,[FN#4] the descendants of the
Prophet, here abound. The Benu Hosayn of Al-Madinah have their
head-quarters at Suwayrkiyah:[FN#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
[p.4]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
Sa’ad, 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 “Rafz[FN#6]” (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,[FN#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
[p.5]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.