Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Travels in Arabia - by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt

Free US/UK Kindle Classic

This travel book seems to have several title variations, but I am settling on Travels in Arabia; comprehending an account of those territories in Hedjaz which the Mohammedans regard as sacred. (US Edition)  (UK Edition 

It is by a Swiss adventurer named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt who knew Arabic and traveled disguised as an Arab.  (He should not be confused with English writer Charles Montagu Doughty who wrote a travel book with a similar title.)  This is a book put together from Burckhardt's letters and papers home and published posthumously in 1829. Now armchair traveler, you can rediscover it!

Here is a caveat.  You have to page through tedious notes on the assembling and publication of the book before you finally come to the book.  Then you will find the original page numbers are inserted in brackets for some reason beyond my understanding and each time that causes a paragraph to appear even in the middle of a sentence!  You will notice that in the excerpt below.  It is OK, you get used to it . . .

The price of every thing had risen here to an unusual height, the imports from the interior of Arabia having entirely ceased, while the whole population of the Hedjaz, now increased by a Turkish army and its numerous followers, and a host of pilgrims who were daily coming in, wholly depended for its supply upon the imports from Egypt. My little stock of money was therefore spent during my illness, and before I was sufficiently recovered to walk out. The Greek captain, though he had shown himself ready to afford me the common services of humanity, was not disposed to trust to the
[p.3] honour or respectability of a man whom he knew to be entirely destitute of money.

This privation causes him to sell his slave and travel in the guise of a "reduced Egyptian gentleman."

He went on the Hadj and there is some question as to whether he converted to Islam.

I have heard people exclaim in the mosques at Mekka, immediately after prayers, “O brethren, O faithful, hear me! I ask twenty dollars from God, to pay for my passage home; twenty dollars only. You know that God is all- bountiful, and may send me a hundred dollars; but it is twenty dollars only that I ask. Remember that charity is the sure road to paradise.” There can be no doubt that this practice is sometimes attended with success.

Quite a find, such an early travelers tale from an area much in the news today.  Any understanding we can gather of people elsewhere helps us understand our own selves better.  I have turned on the television and heard preachers instructing their electronic flock to pray exactly as is quoted above.

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