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Ian Straughn

Islamic Archaeology

Archaeology and Religion

Islamic Landscapes

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
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Posted at Apr 09/2007 12:40AM:
Reem Y.: Response paper #3

Richard Burton’s journey to Arabia is not of a spiritual one but rather an “expedition into Arabia” as he phrased it to The Royal Geographical Society. Many scholars did not reach to a final agreement concerning the real reason behind his journey but they consider it a smart attempt in his career, which led him to fame. His journal is of an interesting achievement for a small number of non-Arab travelers at that time were able to go to the hajj taking back the experiences they’ve encountered during the rite, to their countries. However, I believe Burton’s writing is an unreliable source because of the contradictory directions he took throughout the expedition, or as a result of the different characters he attempted to disguise himself with in order to continue his journey. He, as an orientalist presented the negativity and corruption of the Muslims, from religious men to the local inhabitants, the Bedouins, and the rulers more than he spoke of the beautiful sides they might have had. Ibn Jubayr on the other hand managed to overcome biases and therefore he talked of the corruption, misuse of holy sites, and war, next to that he addressed the generosity and spirituality of the Arabs. He described Mecca and it’s architecture, the same with Medina and the prophet’s tomb, the hajj caravan, the people, the land, the culture, the economy, the products, the festivals, the religious rituals, and many other aspects of life. In my opinion, it would be helpful to read Ibn Jubayr before embarking on the Hajj whereas in Burton’s writing it is more of a scientific documentation, which the personal experience fades away throughout the pages. So, if I was to go to the Hajj for religious purposes or for the experience of it, or even just to enter Mecca, I would take in account reading the hajj guide to guide me practically, and the journey of Ibn Jubayr to give me an idea about the lifestyle and to picture the experience. But I do not think reading Burtons’ writings which I feel are somewhat exaggerated in some parts, would help me get ready spiritually or practically for traveling. In page 199 of One Thousand Roads to Mecca, an example of the exaggerated description about Burton was made when the writer said: “Burton spent about a month in Medina. It is as though he had lived there half his life.” He can find a city and place it on the map after staying there for eleven days but it requires more than a month to develop an understanding of a culture different than the one you are familiar with. Finally it is necessary to read as many different opinions as possible about the hajj in order to form an unbiased image or at least an image for yourself.