Egypt and the Mahmal
One of the most interesting objects belonging to the history of the Hajj is the mahmal. The mahmal was the ceremonial palanquin carried on a camel which was the centrepiece of the pilgrim caravan from Cairo to Mecca. It was made of embroidered fabrics and symbolized the authority of the sultan. The tradition of the mahmal began in the reign of the Mamluk Sultan Baybars (ruled 1260-77). Before departing on Hajj, the mahmal was paraded in the streets of Cairo with great pomp and ceremony and watched by thousands. It did not remain in Mecca but was brought back to Cairo by the returning caravan. After the collapse of the Mamluk Empire in 1517, the tradition of the mahmal was continued by the Ottoman sultans. At different times mahmals were also sent from Damascus and Yemen. The practice of sending the mahmal from Egypt to Mecca continued until 1926 after which the practice was discontinued. It continued, however, to be paraded in Cairo until 1952.
A great crown assembles to see the mahmal off, and it is escorted for some distance by the Governor and principal dignitaries "en grande tenue". The camel that has the honour of carrying it is of great size and, I believe, of the highest breeding.
Cover for mahmal (c. 1867-76, Cairo)
This Ottoman mahmal is made of red silk with green and dark cream silk appliqués, and embroidered with silver and silver-gilt wire.
It is one of the few to survive. The roundels at the top bear the embroidered monogram (tughra) of the Ottoman Sultan Abdülaziz (ruled 1861-76). On the sides is the name of Isma‘il, the Khedive of Egypt (ruled 1863 – 79) who presented this mahmal to be taken on Hajj. The "Throne Verse" from the Qur’an (Qur’an 2 - al-Baqara:255) is inscribed in sections all the way around.
Maqamat al-Hariri: Abu Zayd on Hajj (1237, Iraq)
The Maqamat (meaning assemblies) is a genre of Arabic literature. Written in rhymed prose, the Maqamat tells the story of a narrator, the merchant al-Harith, and a roguish figure called Abu Zayd. The manuscript was copied and illustrated by the great master of Arab painting, Yahya al-Wasiti.
This is a page from a thirteenth-century manuscript of the Maqamat dated to 1237 and made in Iraq. It is from the 31st ‘Maqama’, in which al- Harith joins a caravan to Mecca at Ramla in Palestine and meets Abu Zayd along the way. On the right, the caravan is shown en route, accompanied by the beating of drums and the blowing of trumpets. What may be one of the earliest representations of a mahmal (palanquin) is carried on a camel. There is another mahmal in black on the facing page. Yellow was the usual colour of the mahmal in the Mamluk period (1250 –1517).
On the left, Abu Zayd stands on a hillock and lectures to the pilgrims: "Oh you company of pilgrims… do you comprehend what you are undertaking so boldly? Do you imagine that the Hajj is the choosing of saddle beasts, the traversing of stations… that piety is the tucking up of sleeves, the emaciating of bodies, the separation of children, the getting far from your native place? No, by Allah… it is the sincerity of purpose for making for that building there, and the purity of submission".
Mahmal procession (1909, Egypt)
This is a panoramic view of the procession of the Egyptian delegation following the mahmal on a street in Mecca, taken in 1909. The arrival of the mahmal in Mecca was a major event during the pilgrimage season. Pilgrims from across the Muslim world and the inhabitants of Mecca flocked to see the progress of this splendid precession, vividly captured in this photograph.
Mahmal stencil lithograph (1850-1899)
This is a depiction of a procession of Muslim pilgrims departing from Egypt for Mecca, led by mounted guards at right, followed by a camel carrying the ornate mahmal, and musicians riding camels, surrounded by onlookers on a rocky plateau. The inscription at the bottom reads: "This is the Egyptian noble mahmal constructed by the King al-Zahir Baybars in Cairo in the year 675 [AH]." The inscription on the top right reads: "The shop of Hassan ‘Uwais in ‘Abidin street in Egypt’, probably the place where this print was sold." The opposite inscription explains that this is a depiction of the mahmal’s entrance near Sheikh Yunis which is the town in the background.
Mahmal at Mount ‘Arafat (20th century)
This is a print depicting an ornate mahmal with eight Egyptian men whose names are inscribed underneath them: (r. to l.), Doctor al-Husni, 'Abd al-Hamid Zaki, al-Sayagh Safwat, al-Bakbashi al-Mukhtar, Doctor Zaki, Doctor 'Arif, Amir al-Hajj, Amir al-Surra, and Nur al-Din Bek. Mount ‘Arafat is visible in the background. The inscription on the top left is the shahada (the declaration "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God".)