Personal narrative of a pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah
Mirza Firuz Shah
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Akbar Shah II 1806–1837
Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890)
Publisher and Place:
G.P.Putnam & Co., New York - 1856
Royal Mughal Ref:
Sir Richard Francis Burton KCMG FRGS (19 March 1821 - 20 October 1890) was a British explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat. He was known for his travels and explorations within Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures. According to one count, he spoke 29 European, Asian and African languages.
Burton's best-known achievements include a well-documented journey to Mecca, in disguise at a time when Europeans were forbidden access on pain of death; an unexpurgated translation of One Thousand and One Nights (commonly called The Arabian Nights in English after early translations of Antoine Galland's French version); the publication of the Kama Sutra in English; and a journey with John Hanning Speke as the first Europeans to visit the Great Lakes of Africa in search of the source of the Nile.
First explorations and journey to Mecca (1851-53)
Motivated by his love of adventure, Burton got the approval of the Royal Geographical Society for an exploration of the area, and he gained permission from the board of directors of the British East India Company to take leave from the army. His seven years in India gave Burton a familiarity with the customs and behavior of Muslims and prepared him to attempt a Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca and, in this case, Medina). It was this journey, undertaken in 1853, which first made Burton famous. He had planned it whilst traveling disguised among the Muslims of Sindh, and had laboriously prepared for the adventure by study and practice (including undergoing the Muslim tradition of circumcision to further lower the risk of being discovered).
Although Burton was certainly not the first non-Muslim European to make the Hajj (Ludovico di Varthema did this in 1503), his pilgrimage is the most famous and the best documented of the time. He adopted various disguises including that of a Pashtun to account for any oddities in speech, but he still had to demonstrate an understanding of intricate Islamic traditions, and a familiarity with the minutiae of Eastern manners and etiquette. Burton's trek to Mecca was dangerous, and his caravan was attacked by bandits (a common experience at the time). As he put it, though "... neither Koran or Sultan enjoin the death of Jew or Christian intruding within the columns that note the sanctuary limits, nothing could save a European detected by the populace, or one who after pilgrimage declared himself an unbeliever". The pilgrimage entitled him to the title of Hajji and to wear the green head wrap. Burton's own account of his journey is given in A Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Mecca (1855).
When Burton returned to the British Army, he sat for examination as an Arab linguist. The examiner was Robert Lambert Play fair, who disliked Burton. As Professor George Percy Badger knew Arabic well, Play fair asked Badger to oversee the exam. Having been told that Burton could be vindictive, and wishing to avoid any animosity should Burton fail, Badger declined. Play fair conducted the tests and sent the results to Badger. Despite Burton's success living as an Arab, Badger failed him. Badger later told Burton that "After looking them over, I sent them back to him with a note eulogizing your attainments and remarking on the absurdity of the Bombay Committee being made to judge your proficiency inasmuch as I did not believe that any of them possessed a tithe of the knowledge of Arabic you did."
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