The Author visits Mecca: Description of the Al Kaaba, or House of God.
BEING freed from my blessed companion, I had an agreeable journey from Medina to Mecca, which is the most antient city in all Arabia; situated about two hundred miles south east of Medina, twenty one degrees and forty five minutes north latitude, and one hundred and sixteen degrees east longitude, from Philadelphia, according to late American calculations. I saw the great mosque in the centre of Mec|ca, which it is said, far surpasses in grandeur that of Sancta Sophia in Constantinople. It certainly is a very august building, the roof of which is refulgent; but even the Page 224 inhabitants smiled at my credulity, when I observed that I had read it was covered with plated gold. This mosque contains within its limits the grand object of the Mussulman's pilgrimage; the Al Kaaba, or house of God, said to have been built by the hands of the patriarch Abraham; to confirm which the Arabian priests shew a black stone, upon which they say Abraham laid his son Isaac, when he had bound him in preparation for his intend|ed sacrifice. This stone and building were great objects of veneration, before the mission of the prophet, and he artfully availed himself of this popular prejudice, in rendering the highest respect to the holy house, in his life time, and enjoin|ing upon his followers, without distinc|tion among males, to visit it once in their lives. The advent of the prophet was said to be announced from the four cor|ners of the house, which exhibit the four cardinal points. Few pilgrims are per|mitted Page 225 to enter this sacred, venerable building; but, after travelling, some of them perhaps a thousand miles, they are content to prostrate themselves in the courts, which surround it. Few Mahom|etans perform this pilgrimage in person; those who do are highly respected. This pilgrimage was enjoined, by the prophet, to be performed in person; but, when he laid this injunction, it is not probable he anticipated the extensive spread of his doctrines. So long as his disciples were limited by the boundaries of Arabia, or had only extended them|selves over a part of Syria, this pious journey was practicable and easy; but, when the crescent rose triumphant on the sea coast, and most of the interiour of Af|rica, when it shone with splendour in Persia, Tartary, and Turkey, and even adorned the Moorish minarit in Spain, actual pilgrimage was deemed impractica|ble; and the faithful were allowed to Page 226 visit the Kaaba by deputy. The inge|nuity of more modern times has alleviated this religious burthen still further, by al|lowing the deputy to substitute other at|tornies under him. Thus for example: the pious Mussulman in Belgrade will employ a friend at Constantinople, who will empower another friend at Scanda|roon to procure a confidential friend at Grand Cairo to go in the name of him at Belgrade, and perform his pilgrimage to Mecca. Certificates of these several sub|stitutions are preserved, and the lazy Mussulman hopes by this finesse to reap the rewards of the faithful in paradise.