Pilgrims Carrying Supplies, Arms, and Coffins
Pilgrimage in the Past: Lucky is the Person Who Returns Back Safe
Before the founding of Saudi state, , a pilgrimage trip was full of risks, as banditry gangs frequently attacked pilgrims and pilgrims used to walk only together due to the lack of security as well as instability. When a man intended to go on pilgrimage, his relatives and friends saw him off as if he would leave them forever, and they used to say: "Lucky is the person who returns back safe from pilgrimage" as pilgrims faced too many risks, either banditry gangs; or natural disasters such as floods and rain or water scarcity; or predators and, above all, the royalties paid by convoys to be allowed to pass.
The Arabian Peninsula used to suffer from chaos and instability, as it consisted of small emirates and sheikhdoms, and whoever was going or leaving such places would be exposed to robbery; the convoys of pilgrims were the most affected by this chaos, as the banditry gangs did not consider any inviolability as regards pilgrims and they even used to kill the entire pilgrimage convoy in some cases. So, the conditions of the pilgrims, prior to Saudi Regime, were full of fear and panic most of the journey times, in addition to disease and physical stress, and robberies reached even the limits of Al-Haram.
Conditions and Horrors
Ibrahim Refaat, the author of the book «Mirror of the Two Holy Masjids» described the security conditions in Mecca in the early twentieth century saying that those who wanted to visit Jabal El-Nour, a mountain close to Al-Masgid Al Haram and has a Cave of Hira, had to carry enough water with them, and pilgrims had to be in the form of groups carrying arms to defend themselves from thieves who wanted to rob their belongings. One of the gruesome images he mentioned in his book that he had heard that a Bedouin had killed a pilgrim; but, he found only one Riyal with him; so people asked the Bedouin denouncing such crime: "Did you kill him for one Riyal only?" He said with a laugh: "A Riyal is better than him ».
Ibrahim Refaat says also that the authorities of that time were not taking any action against such chaos, hurting people, and pilgrims to the point that "the night during which we got from Mina to Mecca a fighting took place between Bedouins in front of the Cabinet without taking action, and eight were killed».
Confirming what the author mentioned in his book "Mirror of the Two Holy Masjids", Muhammad Tahir El-Kurdy says, in his book «True History of Mecca and Kaaba », that turmoil and fighting store up within the boundaries of Al-Haram during the Hajj season. He additionally states that in the month of pilgrimage of the year 1326 AH, turmoil store up between Safa and Bab El-Wadaa, and both sides fired. This incident resulted in killing some military personnel and civilians.
Hajj risks did not limit to thieves and banditry gangs, but the roads used by pilgrims were dangerous because of floods and rain, whether from inside or outside the Arabian Peninsula; to the point that some Kuwaiti pilgrims preferred, even, to travel by sea due to the lack of security in land routes in the Arabian Peninsula, and despite the travel by sea was tiresome; to the point that they travelled to Pompey and from it to Jeddah passing by Bahrain, Qatar, Dubai, Bandar Abbas, Muscat, and Karachi. Then ships sailed from Pompey to Oman, then Mukalla, Aden, and Berbera until they reached Jeddah. Pilgrims were braving these hardships for about a month to avoid the risks of travelling using land routes.
Similar to pilgrims from outside the Arabian Peninsula, who intended pilgrimage of the people of the island suffer most when they were heading for the pilgrimage, as they used to leaving their areas, both from the south or the east after the Eid al-Fitr in a journey of two months, on camels and walking. Some of them died on the way before reaching Al- Mashaer due to illness or snake bites, and they used to walk in groups as they feared banditry gangs.
Achieving Safety and Security
However, the image changed completely after the entrance of King Abdulaziz to Mecca, as establishing security and securing pilgrims' ways was his first concern. Shakib Arslan known as Amir al-Bayān (Arabic for "Prince of Eloquence") who performed Hajj in 1348 AH says: «If this comprehensive safety on lives and money which made Hijaz and Najd deserts safer from European metropolises is the only remarkable deed of the Saudi regime, that would suffice to highly praise such regime". He narrates how his cloak fell from the car while he was on the road to Taif, and people who passed by and this cloak lying on the side of the road, did not dare to touch it, and even convoys avoided the road deliberately so as not to pass on the cloak. Finally, Prince of Taif knew about the cloak and sent a car to get it, and when he made investigations about its owner, it was said to him: We, we went from there and probably it fell from our car. In the following day the Prince visited us and asked: "Did you lose any of your belongings on your way to Mecca?"
When I asked my hearties to inspect the belongings, they found that the black cloak is missing, and we had not noticed that; so I said to him: "a black Ahsai' cloak".
Shakib Arslan describes King Abdulaziz interest in the safety of the pilgrims in a denotable scene saying: "The convoys of pilgrims from Jeddah to Mecca were an uninterrupted thread, camels wobbled under Al-Shakadif", and ways often narrowed although they were wide. As the King was very compassionate towards pilgrims and citizens, he paid lots of attention to them, and always asked his driver to slow down".
That was because he feared that his car would touch a Shaqdaf, or hurt a camel or a group of camels. This is an obligation; a true ruler would comply with.
What was mentioned in the book "My Observations in Hijazz", authored by Abbass Metawally, who was a professor of Islamic Law at Cairo University, constitutes a proof of the prevalence of security and its achievement in the land of the Two Holy Masjids. The author described the security sensation he felt in the ways of the pilgrims, as their car broke down on the way from Mecca to Medina, saying: «Some Bedouins came asking for charity. One of them came to ask me for alms; but I gave another pretending to be rich and wealthy. So, he said: "Please pilgrim, give me!" and I answered:" Take what you want out of my pocket".
He said: "What did I do? Do you want to get my hand cut? Oh Boy! I ask nothing". I said: "We are away from them (meaning the government)"; but the man grew more insistent. I was astonished for this, repeated the words of our Lord Othman bin Affan may Allah be pleased with him (Allah draws closer by the rule of law than by Koran) and I gave him what we can. We stayed in our place to late at night, during which they brought water, milk, treated us with hospitality, and no one was bad to us ». He says: «the restoration of security happened in Hijaz only after the implementation of the law of Allah".
The author Ibrahim Al- Mazni narrates with his graceful style in his book (Journey to Hijaz) significant accidents proving the establishment of security by the King Abdulaziz; saying: "The path to Mecca is two ways: One for cars and one for pedestrians and camels. Camels were going in convoys, carrying various goods in boxes, bags, and plants, with only one child as guard for this convoy".
Then he narrates, with his famous style, how he lost his cane in the way from Jeddah to Mecca, and while they were resting in Shimeisy, he was surprised by the policeman asking if anyone of the delegation owned a cane, Mazni replied that he was its owner; so, the police officer said to him: "I found a cane in the road near the Roghama, so I closed the road before people till they find its owner".
Al-Mazni commented on that saying: «I will always remember that my cane closed the the road between Jeddah and Mecca for an entire hour, that did not decrease a minute or even a second, made people return from both sides, and made them stand on both sides facing each other, except those who decided to take another way".
To prove the lack of exaggeration in what he narrated about his cane and the prevalence of security, he says, "On our way, if we reached the station and the driver needed water to cool the high temperature of the motor, we used to shout at any person standing: "would you please bring some water", but no one would budge nor approach us; he would rather say, standing in his place "come to take what you want"; thus, the drivers descends to get the desired quantity of water. When we asked about the reason for this avoidance, we were told that it is carefulness as the stranger approaching the car, may coincide, unfortunately, with losing something from the car; so, the man would be accused of theft, and the thief penalty is hand cut. Ibn Saud secured people's lives and money; to the point that if anyone finds something in the road, he will not approach it till a policeman passes, carries it, and looks for the owner, and if they do not find the owner, they publish an announcement in Umm al-Qura newspaper under the title of "Findings".
Mirror of the Two Holy Masjids - Ibrahim Riffat Pasha
True history of Mecca and Kaaba - Muhammad Tahir Al-Kurdy
Charming Sensations of A Pilgrim to the Holiest Place - Al-Amir Shakib Arslan
My Observations in Hijaz - Abbas Metwally
Journey to Hijaz - iBrahim Abdelkader Mazni