Tracing the history from the earliest traditions to the fall of the Ottoman Empire
There are times when words are superfluous. Sultan Ghalib Al-Qu’aiti has written an outstanding history of the Holy Cities and the Pilgrimage from the earliest traditions till 1925. This monumental work is not only meant for Muslims, but also for Westerners interested in the history of Islamic civilization.
Islam was from its beginning a world religion that spread rapidly from the Holy Cities to the whole of Arabia. It then spread to the Persian Empire, many provinces of the Byzantine Empire, the Sub-Continent, East and Southeast Asia, China and also North Africa, Spain, Bosnia and Albania. During the 20th century, Islam reached South America, South Korea, Japan and further expanded in Europe, Africa and North America.
For all Muslims, Makkah is a Holy City, the site of the first sanctuary dedicated to the One God, Allah, and our Creator. Therefore, Makkah is associated with our origin; and performing the pilgrimage is a return to that Origin. It is touching to read how Muslims and rulers, throughout the world, have always helped maintain Makkah and Al-Madinah and have given generous donations for works of expansion and necessary repairs.
“In truth, the charity displayed by the Muslim world toward the Holy Cities and their citizens, rulers and denizens was and has been generous indeed throughout the ages and considerable portions of it also did adopt the guise of the excavation of springs (“Uyun”), the digging of wells (“Abar”), the establishment of schools (“Kuttab”), colleges (“Madaris”), hospices (“Arbitah”), free kitchens (“Matabekh”) and hospitals (“Bimaristan”) with regular allowances for those who tended to them and manned them, as well as for the beneficiaries such as scholars, students, physicians, patients requiring medicine and other needy,” writes Al-Qu’aiti.
Al-Qu’aiti highlights the remarkable and little known philanthropic role played by women throughout the ages in Makkah and Al-Madinah. We learn that the daughter of Sultan Sulayman I, Mehromah Sultan was involved in a water project similar in scope to those carried out by the generous Zubaydah, the daughter of the Caliph Abu Ja’far Al-Mansur. Mehromah Sultan helped secure water for Makkah thanks to a ten years project “of hard labor and the well nigh impossible task of cutting the water’s course almost entirely through hard granite and other rock, inch by inch and which, even before its completion in 1572, had cost over 500,000 gold pieces”.
The author also credits the Queen Mother of the Sultanates of Bijapur and Golkundah, Hayat Bakshi Beygam, of popularizing rice in the Hejaz. Every year for decades, she would send at least one boat transporting at least 500 tons of rice for distribution in charity in the two Holy Cities.
The book, which is filled with anecdotes, brings alive the fascinating history of the Holy Cities and the key role they have played in the history of Islam. In that respect, the author reminds us that besides a religious role, the two cities played also an important commercial and cultural role.
Ibn Jubayr writes in his “Travel Accounts” that in a single day during the Haj (Pilgrimage), rich quality merchandise are sold such as: “jewels, rubies and every other precious stone; all varieties of perfumes like musk, camphor, ambergris, aloe wood and Indian herbs, alongside several other imports from India and Ethiopia and Iraqi and Yemeni products beside others from Khorasan, as well as goods from Morocco… If these were to be distributed over all the different countries, it would require active markets to be created for them and all these would have benefited from the exercise commercially.”
In time, Makkah ceased to be the most significant commercial center in the world. However, throughout the centuries, famous scholars have continuously visited the Holy City and even stayed to teach. Consequently, Makkah was always an active intellectual hub despite the existence of major Islamic universities in Cairo, Fez, and Baghdad for example. In addition, Makkah remains to this day the center of the whole of the Islamic world.
“The Holy Cities, The Pilgrimage and The World of Islam” also abounds with little known information concerning the character and personality of rulers and historical figures. The passage describing the departure of Fakhri Pasha is particularly moving. The Ottoman general was determined to perform, until the very end, his duty of protecting the City of his beloved Prophet (peace be upon him). Addressing his soldiers, he said:
“Soldiers, I appeal to you in the presence of the Apostle, who rests in his grave, but hears the words being spoken here. I invite you to engage yourselves to defend him to our last cartridge and our last breath, no matter how strong our enemies may be.”
Eventually, Fakhri had to surrender because the Sharif Husayn ibn Ali had been officially recognized as “King of the Hejaz.” As he was escorted out of Al-Madinah, he managed to escape from his captors. He headed straight to the grave of the Holy Prophet where he laid down his sword, in an ultimate gesture of apology, for not living up to his oath.
The significance of the Holy Cities, Makkah and Al-Madinah for Islam and Muslims is great and this historical epic does them justice. Al-Qu’aiti writes with a formidable passion, which shines throughout this inspiring and indispensable book.