Photographers of the Hajj
The advent of photography in the mid 19th century is of crucial importance to the history of the Hajj; for the first time, the pilgrimage and the holy cities could be accurately and realistically documented. The recording of the Hajj and of Mecca and Medina through photographs began with Muhammad Sadiq Bey who first travelled to Arabia in 1861. Highlighted here are two other pioneering figures, Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, the first European photographer and the Meccan doctor that he instructed, al-Sayyid ‘Abd al-Ghaffar.
Muhammad Sadiq Bey (1832-1902)
No one before me has ever taken such photographs.
Muhammad Sadiq Bey was an Egyptian army engineer and surveyor and the first person to take photographs of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and the Hajj. Travelling several times to the Hijaz in an official capacity as treasurer of the pilgrims’ caravan, he first went in 1861 taking with him a device known as a wet-plate collodion camera, a technique invented in the 1850s which used glass plate negatives. These were more robust than paper negatives and produced clear photographic images which could be reproduced in large numbers on albumen-coated paper. In 1880 Sadiq Bey returned to the Hijaz and took photographs of buildings and interiors in Mecca and Medina, as well as of important Meccan officials. He was also able to take panoramic pictures of the holy mosque at Mecca from multiple angles. Sadiq Bey’s pioneering achievement was noted with great interest in Arabic and European magazines and he won a gold medal at the Venice geographical exhibition in 1881. He published Mash‘al al-Mahmal (The Torch of the Mahmal) in 1881, which contains his collection of photographs, a history of the mahmal and the kiswa cloth which covered the Ka‘ba, and his observations of Mecca and Medina. Further publications include Dalil al-Hajj (The Guide to the Hajj) in 1896, a distillation of his journeys. Later publications on the holy cities often used Sadiq Bey’s photographs, including Muhammad Batanuni’s The Journey to Hijaz and Subhi Saleh’s Pèlerinage à la Mecque et à Medine. (See Badr el-Hage Photographies anciennes de la Mecque et de Médine, 1880-1947 (Paris 2005)
The photographs of Muhammad Sadiq Bey
Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936)
This is a group portrait of the Dutch Consular staff in Jedda in 1884 by an unknown photographer. Chritsiaan Snouck Hurgronje is the young man standing on the right, wearing a white shirt and a fez.
Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje was a Dutch Orientalist scholar and adviser on ‘Native Affairs’ to the Dutch colonial government. After obtaining his doctorate on the pre-Islamic origins of the Hajj in 1880, Hurgronje travelled to Jedda in 1884 with a view to going to Mecca to observe the Hajj for himself. He brought with him a camera and in the Dutch consulate at Jedda, he used it to photograph pilgrims from Java, Sumatra and the other islands within the Dutch East Indies. Later in 1884 he is said to have converted to Islam and was allowed to go to Mecca. While in Mecca, he made a study of the customs of the Meccans and the Jawa – Southeast Asian pilgrims who had settled in Mecca. Unfortunately, before he was able to witness the Hajj, he was denounced to the Ottoman authorities as an impostor. He had to leave Mecca abruptly leaving his camera behind so that it could be used by Sayyid Abd al-Ghaffar, the doctor he had trained. On his return he began work on his publications: his two-volume German-language work Mekka came out in 1888–9, and as an accompaniment to this work he published a volume of plates: the Bilder-Atlas zu Mekka , which came out in 1888. One year later, a second portfolio appeared under the title Bilder aus Mekka (1889). The Bilder Atlas-zu Mekka (1888) contains 75 loose plates, including photographs of the inhabitants of Mecca and Jedda, the Ottoman governor of the Hijaz Othman Pasha, Mecca’s important families including the children of the guardians of the sanctuary, the Bani Shayba, and pilgrims from across the Islamic world. (See C. Snouck Hurgronje (translated by J.H. Monahan with introduction by J.J. Witkam) Mekka in the Latter Part of the 19th Century. Daily Life, Customs and Learning (Leiden, Brill 2007)
This photograph is a group portrait of the Dutch Consular staff in Jedda in 1884 by an unknown photographer. Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje is the young man standing on the right, wearing a white shirt and a fez.
Al-Sayyid ‘Abd al-Ghaffar ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Baghdadi (dates unknown, active 1880s)
Al-Sayyid ‘Abd al-Ghaffar was a physician and eye doctor from Mecca who later went on to study dentistry. He met Snouck Hurgronje in Jedda and hosted him during his stay in Mecca. He had already experimented with photography and Snouck Hurgronje, nervous of taking photographs in Mecca itself, asked for his help. The doctor also gave Snouck Hurgronje the free run of his studio, which was situated in the Jiyad quarter of Mecca. Although in the introduction to the first volume of Bilder-Atlas zu Mekka (1888) Snouck mentions ‘an Arab trained by me in photography’ he does not credit him with any specific photographs and it was only subsequently discovered that many of the photographs in Snouck Hurgronje’s publications were in fact taken by ‘Abd al-Ghaffar and his name was erased from the photographs. (See A. ‘Vrolik An Early Photograph of the Egyptian Mahmal in Mecca Reflections on Intellectual Property and Modernity in the Work of C. Snouck Hurgronje’ in The Hajj: Collected Essays (V. Porter and L. Saif (eds) London 2013 pp. 206-213)