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John Lewis Burckhardt

Travels in Arabia, published in London, 1829

Vol 1, pp. 287-295 [from the chapter called "Description of the Beitullah, or Great Mosque, at Mekka."]
Vol 2, pp. 186-189 [from the chapter called "Description of Medina."]

Vol 1, pp. 287-295 [from the chapter called "Description of the Beitullah, or Great Mosque, at Mekka."]

The first officer of the mosque is the Nayb el Haram, or Hares el Haram, the guardian who keeps the keys of the Kaaba. In his hands are deposited the sums bestowed as presents to the building, and which he distri-

[p. 288] butes in conjunction with the Khady: under his directions, also, the repairs of the building are carried on.* I have been assured, but do not know how truly, that the Nayb el Haram's yearly accounts, which are countersigned by the Sherif and Khady, and sent to Constantinople, amount to three hundred purses, merely for the expenses of the necessary repairs, lighting, carpets, &c., and the maintenance of the eunuchs belonging to the temple. This officer happens at present to be one of the heads of the three only families descended from the ancient Koreysh who remain resident at Mekka. Next to him, the second officer of the mosque in rank is the Aga of the eunuchs, or, as he is called, Agat el Towashye. The eunuchs perform the duties of police officers in the temple;Ý they prevent disorders, and daily wash and sweep, with large brooms, the pavement aound the Kaaba. In time of rain, I have seen

*: The honour of keeping the keys of the Kaaba, and the profits arising from it, were often subjects of contention among the ancient Arabian tribes.
Ý: The employment of slaves or eunuchs in this moque is of very ancient date. Mawya Ibn Aly Sofyan, a short time after Mohammed, first ordered slaves for the Kaaba. Vid. Fasy.


[p. 289] the water stand on the pavement to the height of a foot; on such occasions many of the hadjys assist the eunuchs in removing it through several holes made in the pavement, which, it is said, lead to large vaults beneath the Kaaba, though the historians of Mekka and of the temple make no mention of them. The eunuchs are dressed in the Constantinopolitan kaouk, with wide robes, bound by a sash, and carry a long stick in their hands. The engraving of their dress given by d'Ohsson is strikingly correct; as are, in general, all the representations of costume in that work, which I had an opportunity of comparing with the original.* The number of eunuchs now exceeds forty, and they are supplied by Pashas and other grandees, who send them, when young, as presents to the mosque: one hundred dollars are sent with each as an outfit. Mohammed Aly presented ten young eunuchs to the mosque. At present there are ten grown-up

*: This excellent work is the only perfect source of information respecting the laws and constitution of the Turkish empire; but it must not be forgotten that the practices prevalent in the provinces are, unfortunately, often in direct contravention of the spirit and letter of the code of law, as explained by the author.


[p. 290] persons, and twenty boys; the latter live together in a house, till they are sufficiently instructed to be given in charge to their elder brethren, with whom they remain a few years, and then set up their own establishments. Extraordinary as it may appear, the grown-up eunuchs are all married to black slaves, and maintain several male and female slaves in their houses as servants. They affect great importance; and in case of quarrels or riots, lay freely about them with their sticks. Many of the lower classes of Mekka kiss their hands on approaching them. Their chief, or Aga, whom they elect among themselves, is a great personage, and is entitled to sit in the presence of the Pasha and the Sherif. The eunuchs have a large income from the revenues of the mosque, and from private donations of the hadjys; they also receive regular stipends from Constantinople, and derive profit from trade; for, like almost all the people of Mekka, and even the first clergy, they are more or less engaged in traffic; and their ardour in the pursuit of commercial gain is much greater than that which they evince in the execution of their official duties, being equalled only by the eagerness with which they court the friendship of wealthy hadjys.

[p. 291] Most of the eunuchs, or Towashye, are negroes; a few were copper-coloured Indians. One of the former is sometimes sent to the Soudan countries, to collect presents for the Kaaba. The fate of a eunuch of this description is described by Bruce. Some years since a Towashye obtained permission to return to Soudan, on presenting another person to the mosque in his stead. He then repaired to Borgo, west of Darfour, and is now the powerful governor of a province.

Whenever negro hadjys come to Mekka, they never fail to pay assiduous court to the Towashyes. A Towashye, after having been once attached to the service of the Kaaba, which confers on him the appellation of Towashye el Neby (the Prophet's eunuch), can never enter into any other service.

In the time of Ramadhan, (the last days of which month, in 1814, I passed at Mekka,) the mosque is particularly brilliant. The hadjys, at that period, (which happened to be in the hottest time of the year,) generally performed the three first daily prayers at home, but assembled in large crowds in the mosque, for their evening devotions. Every one then carried in his handkerchief a few dates, a little bread and cheese, or some

[p. 292] grapes, which he placd before him, waiting for the moment of the call to evening prayers, to be allowed to break the fast. During this period of suspense, they would politely offer to their neighbours a part of their meal, and receive as much in return. Some hadjys, to gain the reputation of particular charitableness, were going from man to man, and placing before each a few morsels of viands, followed by beggars, who, in their turn, received these morsels from those hadjys before whom they had been placed. As soon as the Imam on the top of Zemzem began his cry of "Allahou Akbar," (God is most great!) every one hastened to drink of the jar of Zemzem water placed before him, and to eat something, previous to joining in the prayer; after which they all returned home to supper, and again revisited the mosque, for the celebration of the last evening orisons. At this time, the whole square and colonnades were illuminated by thousands of lamps; and, in addition to these, most of the hadjys had each his own lantern standing on the ground before him. The brillancy of this spectacle, and the cool breeze pervading the square, caused multitudes to linger here till midnight. This square, the only wide and open place in the

[p. 293] whole town, admits through all its gates the cooling breeze; but this the Mekkawys ascribe to the waving wings of those angels who guard the mosque. I witnessed the enthusiasm of a Darfour pilgrim, who arrived at Mekka on the last night of Ramadhan. After a long journey across barren and solitary deserts, on his entering the illuminated temple, he was so much struck with its appearance, and overawed by the black Kaaba, that he fell prostrate close by the place where I was sitting, and remained long in that posture of adoration. He then rose, burst into a flood of tears, and in the height of his emotion, instead of reciting the usual prayers of the visitor, only exclaimed, "O God, now take my soul, for this is Paradise!"

The termination of the Hadj gives a very different appearance to the temple. Disease and mortality, which succeed to the fatigues endured on the journey, or are caused by the light covering of the ihram, the unhealthy lodgings at Mekka, the bad fare, the sometimes absolute want, fill the mosque with dead bodies, carried thither to receive the Imam's prayer, or with sick persons, many of whom, when their dissolution approaches, are

[p. 294] brought to the colonnades, that they may either be cured by a sight of the Kaaba, or at least have the satisfaction of expiring within the sacred enclosure. Poor hadjys, worn out with disease and hunger, are seen dragging their emaciated bodies along the columns; and when no longer able to stretch forth their hand to ask the passenger for charity, they place a bowl to receive alms near the mat on which they lay themselves. When they feel their last moments approaching, they cover themselves with their tattered garments; and often a whole day passes before it is discovered that they are dead. For a month subsequent to the conclusion of the Hadj, I found, almost every morning, corpses of pilgrims lying in the mosque; myself and a Greek hadjy, whom accident had brought to the spot, once closed the eyes of a poor Mogrebyn pilgrim, who had crawled into the neighbourhood of the Kaaba, to breathe his last, as the Moslems say, "in the arms of the Prophet and of the guardian angels." He intimated by signs his wish that we should sprinkle Zemzem water over him; and while we were doing so, he expired: half an hour afterwards he was buried. There are several

[p. 295] persons in the service of the mosque employed to wash carefully the spot on which those who expire in the mosque have lain, and to bury all the poor and friendless strangers who die at Mekka.

Vol 2, pp. 186-189 [from the chapter called "Description of Medina."]

The police of the mosque, the office of washing the Hedjra and the whole of the building, of lighting the lamps, &c. &c. is entrusted to the care of forty or fifty eunuchs, who have an establishment similar to that of the eunuchs of the Beitullah at Mekka; but they are persons of greater consequence here: they are more richly dressed, though in the same costume; usually wear fine Cashmere shawls and gowns of the best Indian silk stuffs, and assume airs of great importance. When they pass through the Bazar, every body hastens to kiss their hands; and they exercise considerable influence in the internal affairs of the town. They have large stipends, which are sent annually from Constantinople by the Syrian Hadj caravan; they

[p. 187] share also in all donations made to the mosque, and they expect presents from every rich hadjy, besides what they take as fees from the visiters [sic] of the Hedjra. They live together in one of the best quarters of Medina, to the eastward of the mosque, and their houses are said to be furnished in a more costly manner tha any others in the town. The adults are all married to black or Abyssinian slaves.

The black eunuchs, unlike those of Europe, become emaciated; their features are extremely coarse, nothing but the bones being distinguishable; their hands are those of a skeleton, and their whole appearance is extremely disgusting. By the help of thick clothing they hide their leanness; but their bony features are so prominent, that they can be distinguished at first sight. Their voice, however, undergoes little, if any change, and is far from being reduced to that fine feminine tone so much admired in the Italian singers.

The chief of the eunuchs is called Sheikh el Haram; he is also the chief of the mosque, and the principal person in the town; being consequently of much higher rank than the Aga, or chief of the eunuchs at Mekka. He is himself a eunuch, sent from Constanti-

[p. 188] nople, and usually belonging to the court of the Grand Signor, who sends him hither by way of punishment or exile, in the same way as Pashas are sent to Djidda. The present Sheikh el Haram had been formerly Kislar Agassi, or prefect of the women of the Emperor Selym, which is one of the first charges in the court. Whether it was the dignity of his former employ, of which the eastern grandees usually retain the rank through life, even if they are dispossessed of it, or his new dignity of Sheikh el Haram, that gave him his importance, I am unable to say; but he took, on every occasion, precedence of Tousoun Pasha, whose rank was that of Pasha of Djidda, and of three tails; and the latter, whenever they met, kissed the Sheikh's hands, which I have seen him do in the mosque. He has a court composed in a manner similar to that of a Pasha, but much less numerous. His dress is given with the most minute accuracy in D'Ohhson's [sic] work: it consists of a fine pelisse, over a rich embroidered silk gown, made in the fashion of the capital; a khandjar, or dagger, set with diamonds, stuck in his belt; and a kaouk, or high bonnet, on his head. The present Sheikh kept about a dozen horses: whenever

[p. 189] he walked out, a number of servants, of Ferrýshyn of the mosque, armed with large sticks, walked before him.

The person of the Sheikh el Haram was respected by the Wahabys: when Saoud took Medina, he permitted the Sheikh, with several other eunuchs, to retire to Yembo, with his wives, and all his baggage and valuables; but would not receive another into the town; and the eunuchs themselves then appointed one of their number to preside over them, till after an interval of eight years, when the present Chief was sent from Constantinople; but his influence over the affairs of the town is reduced to a mere shadow of what it was.

A eunuch of the mosque would be highly affonted if he were so termed by any person. Their usual title is Aga. Their chief takes the title of Highness, or Sadetkom, like a Pasha, or the Sherif of Mekka.

Besides those eunuchs, the mosque reckons among its servants a number of the inhabitants of the town; these are called Ferrýshyn, a name implying that their duty consists in keeping the mosque clean, and spreading the carpetsÉ