The Path to Mecca.Every Traveller Has a Story

By Muhammad Diyab

In my personal view, travel literature represents the highest level of 
enjoyment, excitement and knowledge, as all the knowledge that we have acquired 
about the world has come from previous travellers who viewed the world through 
their own eyes. 

The regular Hajj pilgrimage over the ages has provided us with the biggest 
record of the history of the two holy cities, Mecca and Medina. Travellers 
included Muslims who went to perform the Hajj pilgrimage as well as spies who 
were sent by major imperialist countries to determine the source of inspiration 
for Muslims and the impact of the Hajj pilgrimage on the residents of the areas 
under the influence [of imperialists]. Those travellers - some of whom were 
Westerners driven by their sense of adventure to explore areas unknown in their 
Western culture - claimed to have embraced Islam and gave themselves Arabic 

Ludovico Di Varthema from Bologna, who called himself Yunus al Masri, was the 
first European Christian to enter Mecca and Medina. In 1503, he began his 
famous journey from Venice to Cairo, then to Beirut, Tripoli, Aleppo, and 
Damascus where he learnt Arabic, then on to Medina, Mecca, Jeddah, Jizan and 
Aden where he was arrested on the charge of being a Christian spy for the 
Portuguese. On the same day, he was taken to the Sultan's palace to be executed 
but the sentence was postponed as the sultan was absent. He was kept in jail 
for a long time before he was released and continued his journey to numerous 
Yemeni cities and then India and from there he left for Europe. 

The Spanish traveller Domingo Badia Y Leblich passed himself off as Ali Bey al 
Abbassi, a prince from the Abbasid Caliphate. Many believed he was a spy for 
Napoleon. He arrived in Mecca in 1806 as part of an Egyptian convoy of pilgrims 
and suffered the horrors of the sea during his journey such as looting and 

Other travellers included the Dutch traveller Van Den Broecke, the Englishman 
Joseph Pitts, Carsten Niebuhr from Germany and many others, each with a story 
that deserves to be told. 

Among the most important books to have been published recently in this 
particular field is 'Jamhara al Rihlaat' [A Collection of Journeys] by renowned 
Saudi researcher and media figure Ahmed Muhammad Mahmoud who is dedicating 
years to completing this great encyclopaedia, which will contain over ten 
volumes when it is finished. The book might be the most important encyclopaedia 
of Hajj pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina over different ages and is unparalleled 
in terms of its comprehensiveness and accuracy. The researcher followed the 
trails of many travellers with a deep analysis of several journeys. With this 
work, the writer presents a book that combines various old and new travel 
books, which, in its entirety, can be considered a record of numerous scenes 
from these two holy cities and the paths to these cities. We need to read such 
a comprehensive record not only to get to know how others viewed us but more 
importantly to strengthen our understanding of our history. 

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