THE FALL OF JEDDA AND MECCA
When the World War pulled Turkey into the maelstrom,
with Great Britain, France, Russia, and Italy pitted
against her, it was the hour of opportunity for Arabia.
Unable to obtain sufficient funds and ammunition,
Shereef Hussein was compelled to let many months pass
by without declaring himself. Then came the news of
the surrender of Kut el Amara by General Townsend.
This was a serious reverse for the Allies and an important
victory for the Turks. Hussein could no longer hold his
followers. He sent word to the British Government that
he could not stand by and permit his people to remain
subject to the Turks. He asked for assistance, but before
receiving a reply, with all the pent-up fury and hatred
of five hundred years of oppression and dishonour, the
Arabs of the Hedjaz leaped at the throats of the Turks.
From all parts of the desert came the swarthy, lean,
picturesque sons of Ishmael to avenge and free themselves
Hussein and his four sons had worked out all the
details of their plan for the revolution, but kept them
secret until a few weeks before they touched off the fuse.
They did not even dare to trust their close associates,
because in Turkish territory plots were usually dis-
covered before they matured, and no man knew whom
he could trust. Not only were there spies but innumer-
able spies on spies.
Early in 1916, when Lieutenant Lawrence was making
a reputation for himself with the Secret Corps in Cairo,
Grand Shereef Hussein sent word to all the tribes of
Holy Arabia to be ready at a moment’s notice. Then,
on June 9, he gave the signal. At the same instant he
himself publicly denounced Enver, Talaat, Djemal, and
their infamous Committee of Unity and Progress. Simul-
taneous attacks were launched against Mecca, Jeddah,
the seaport to the holy city, and Medina, three of the
least known and most interesting cities in the world.
And before we continue on to the point in the Arab
revolt where Lawrence made his entrance, let us stop
and see these centres of life in the Hedjaz whence came
so many of Lawrence’s associates.
When you land at Jeddah you blink your eyes and
pinch yourself to see if you are awake. The Koran
forbids the use of intoxicating hquors, but either the
architects who designed this city were not faithful
Mussulmans or most of the buildings were constructed
before Mohammed introduced prohibition into Arabia.
The streets of Jeddah are a bewildering maze of narrow
zigzag cafions between tall tottering houses, which look
as though they had been joggled about by incessant
earthquakes. Many of the houses are of five and six
stories and are used only for the accommodation of
pilgrims who pass through on their way to Mecca during
Ramadam, a time when the population of the city
increases from twenty thousand to perhaps one hundred
thousand. The most fittmg way I can think of describing
this weird Arabian seaport is to say that it looks hke any
ordinary Oriental city might look to a man suffering from
delirium tremens. The Leaning Tower of Pisa would be
in an appropriate setting if it were transferred to Jeddah.
Symmetry seems to be an unknown quantity in this
part of the Near East. It is said that an Arab carpenter
cannot draw a right angle, and an Arab waiter never
puts a tablecloth on square. The sacred shrine of the
Mohammedans in Mecca, known as the Kaaba, meaning
” cube,” has none of its sides or angles equal. Arab
streets are seldom parallel, and even ” the street that is
called straight ” in Damascus is not straight ! Jeddah,
with its inebriated buildings, its crazy, fragile balconies,
its leaning minarets, its lazy Arab merchants squatting
cross-legged on top of tables in front of chaotic shops,
its fantastic arcaded bazaars covered in with patchwork
roofs pieced together like the sails of a Chinese junk, is
the nearest approach to a futurist paradise of any city
in the world.
Arabia is indeed a topsy-turvy land. Where we
measure most of our liquids and weigh most of our sohds,
they weigh their liquids and measure their sohds. Where
we use knives and forks and spoons, they use their
hands. Where we use tables and chairs they recline on
the floor. Where we mount from the left, they mount
their camels and horses from the right. We read from
left to right, while they read from right to left. The
desert dweller keeps his head covered in the summer and
winter alike, and his feet usually unprotected. Where
we take off our hats in entering a friend’s house, they
take off their shoes.
In addition to its Arab population, Jeddah is in-
habited by the remnants of a thousand pilgrimages,
descendants of pilgrims who had sufficient money to
enable them to reach Mecca but not enough to enable
them to leave Arabia after fulfilling their religious vows.
I , Many of them are poverty-stricken and barely able to
eke out a living at the odd jobs which they get during
the short pilgrimage season each year. Among them are
Javanese, Phihppinos, Malays, representatives of a
dozen different Indian races, Kurds, Turks, Egyptians,
Sudanese, Abyssinians, Senegalese, tribesmen from the
Sahara, Zanzibaris, Yemenites, Somalis, and numerous
One afternoon, accompanied by Major Goldie, an
officer attached to the British mission which had its
headquarters there during the campaign, I rode out
through the Mecca gate to the Abyssinian quarter.
The dwellings of these primitive people are round huts
with conical thatched roofs, surrounded by high kraal
fences made of rusty petrol and preserved meat tins.
We pulled up our ponies in front of a hut where a negro
woman was busy tanning a hide. The moment she saw
us she began screaming : ” Oh, why have you come to
destroy my home ? Oh, why are you going to carry away
my child ? Oh ! Oh ! Oh ! What have I done that
you should want to shoot me ? ” Although Goldie did
his best to reassure her, she continued this wail until we
rode out of hearing.
On either side of Jeddah, a few miles distant, are
small ports which foreigners scrupulously avoid visiting.
Tourists have never been welcome because these villages
for man}^ years have been slave-trading centres. Here
negroes, smuggled across from the African coast, were
sold to wealthy Arabs. The Turkish Government winked
at this vicious commerce, but Hussein and his sons
have tried to stamp it out. As a result of their
stand on the slavery question, the price of a well-built
young negro has advanced from the pre-war quotation of
£50 to £300 or even as high as £500. Although the trade
may continue surreptitiously for a short time, the new
King, Amir Ali, is bitterly opposed to it and doing his best
to drive it out.
Beyond the north gate of the Jeddah wall Major
Goldie took me to see what thousands of Mohammedans
believe to be the tomb of the common ancestor of us all.
There is a century-old tradition to the effect that it was
here near Jeddah that the ark grounded after the Great
Flood. According to one version of the story, on his
six hundred and first birthday, not long after the waters
had abated, Noah and his three sons, Shem, Ham, and
Japheth, w^ere walking along the beach when they came
to a depression in the sand. This depression seemed to
resemble a human form. It was about three hundred
feet long. Ham asked his father what he thought it
could be, and the venerable patriarch replied, ” Ham,
my lad, that is the last resting-place of Mother
Of course there are many educated Mohammedans
who laugh at this legend, but, nevertheless, a wall three
hundred feet long has been built around the supposed
depression, and within this enclosure is a white mosque
where thousands of women worship every year. They
beheve Mother Eve was three hundred feet in height.
Just think how the rest of us must have degenerated !
But the city takes its name from this tomb, for the word
” Jeddah ” means grandmother or ancestress.
Since the time of Mohammed, no Jews, Christians,
followers of Zoroaster, or other unbelievers, have been
welcome anywhere in the Hedjaz except along the coast.
None but the faithful are even allowed to go beyond the
Jeddah wall through the east gate, which leads in the
direction of Mecca. The British officers who were
stationed in Jeddah from the outbreak of the revolution
until the end of the war scrupulously observed this
unwritten law. During the campaign no Allied repre-
sentatives ever visited the forbidden capital of the king
of the Hedjaz — at any rate not officially or for publication
King Hussein even went so far as to request the British
authorities to instruct all officers piloting seaplanes
attached to warships cruising in the Red Sea under no
circumstances to profane the air by flying over either
Mecca or Medina.
This very day millions of Moslems are turning their
faces five times toward Mecca and declaring over and
over again :
” La ilaha Allah wa Muhammad-ar-rasul Allah !
There is but one God, Allah, and Mohammed is His
Mecca and Medina, its sister metropolis of the desert,
are the two most mysterious cities in the world. Any
man in the vicinity of either who declared that Christ was
the Son of God would be torn to pieces.
Since the time of Mohammed, Mecca and Medina
have been forbidden to all but Moslems. In fact, the
fanatical followers of the founder of Islam would destroy
any intruder whom they even suspected of being an
unbeliever. For this reason all conferences between
King Hussein and the representatives of the British and
French Governments were held in Jeddah.
We have a record of only a dozen or so Christians who
have visited Mecca during the past one thousand years
— and hved to tell the tale. The most celebrated of
these, of course, was Sir Richard Burton. Fewer still
have visited Medina. At the end of the eighteenth
century a puritanical and fanatical sect from Central
Arabia called the Wahabis overran the Hedjaz and cap-
tured Mecca. They were driven out by an Egyptian
army under Mohammed AH, and for a time an adventurer
and ex-sergeant in the Black Watch had the unique
honour of acting as governor of Medina and guardian of
the Tomb of the Prophet.
Not only do all Mohammedans turn toward Mecca to
pray, because it was the birthplace of their Prophet, but
many of them build their houses, and even their out-
houses, facing Mecca ; and when they die, they are
buried facing Mecca.
Mohammed enjoined his followers to make pilgrimages
to Mecca. He advocated this in order to satisfy the
pagans of Arabia, who had been doing it for centuries.
The city has no economic importance, but the pilgrims
who go there each year during the month of Zu el Hajz
are a source of income to its one hundred and fifty
Tens of thousands of pilgrims visit Mecca annually,
although for many who come from far-off lands two
years are required to make the trip.
Some journey overland across Central Africa from
the valley of the Senegal and the mouth of the Congo ;
others cross overland through the heart of Asia ; and I
have been in Singapore when pilgrim ships passed
through the Straits of Malacca with thousands of pilgrims
packed on their open decks. After performing the
religious rites at Mecca the pilgrims return home, paint
their beards, and are forever afterwards known as haj
or holy men. While in Mecca they are given a ticket
which guarantees their entrance into paradise.
Those who approach Holy Arabia by sea are required
to take off their usual garments before leaving the ship
and garb themselves in the ihram, a costume consisting
of two white strips of cloth, one to go round the waist
and the other to be thrown over the shoulders. Fre-
quently two ordinary Turkish towels are used for this
I purpose. When those who make the pilgrimage by land
arrive within thirty-five miles of Mecca they are treading
on holy ground. They remove their head-dress and their
I shoes, and the remainder of the journey is made with
i uncovered head and bare feet. They bathe and shave
land trim their nails and wear nothing but the ihram.
Nor are they allowed to shave or bathe or trim their
nails again until after they have performed their rehgious
rites in Mecca, and until they have visited Mount Ararat
near Mecca and completed a ceremony known as throwing
stones at the three devils.
What a spectacle for the cinema when that vast
stream of humanity, many riding on camels, many of
them trudging barefoot and bareheaded, starts up the
desert road from Jeddah to Mecca garbed in nothing but
Turkish towels ! Of course the women who make the
pilgrimage wear a different garment. Their costume
consists of a long strip of linen which not only completely
covers the body but envelops the head as well. Over
their faces they place straw masks with thin slits through
which they see. Many of the women and old men ride in
shukdufs, weird wooden shelters on the backs of camels.
The region about Mecca is all holy. Pilgrims are not
ermitted to disturb the wild animals nor even to cut
e thorns or desert herbs. The holy city of Islam is
ocated in a narrow pocket between the hills where two
alleys join. Three forts frown down upon Mecca from
e heights and were occupied by Turkish troops until
ing Hussein’s followers drove them out.
In the centre of Mecca is the Great Mosque, which
was built as a place of pagan worship many centuries
before the birth of Mohammed. It is known as the
Mosque of the Kaaba or Masjid Al Haram, which means
” the sacred temple.” Within the courtyard is a small
cube-shaped building, the famous Kaaba. It is covered
over with a gorgeous holy carpet of black silk with a wide
border of gold lettering, texts from the Koran. The roof
is supported by piUars of aloe wood. Around the edge is
a spout of gold, which carries off rain-water.
Embedded in one of the walls is the most sacred
object in the world to more than two hundred millions of
people. It is the black stone of meteoric origin which the
Mohammedans beheve was tossed down from heaven by
the Angel Gabriel to Father Abraham. They say it was
once whiter than milk but that it has been turned black
by the sins of the people who have kissed it. Others say
that it derived its colour from Adam’s tears. It has
been broken in seven pieces, and its parts are now held
together by a background of cement surrounded by a
silver band studded with silver nails.
The followers of the Prophet believe that this cube-
shaped building rests directly underneath the throne of
God. They say it was lowered down from heaven at the
request of Adam and that it is an exact duphcate of one
that he had seen in paradise before his expulsion, called
Beit al Mamur, and frequented by angels. Very few
people ever enter the Kaaba, but those who do keep their
eyes down in an attitude of reverence and humble sub-
mission to divine power. If a pilgrim from Syria enters
it, for the rest of his life he never goes barefoot, because
he believes that his skin has touched holy ground and
therefore must never be placed on profane earth again.
The holy carpet which covers the Kaaba is replaced
each year by a new one. Formerly there were two sent
each year, one of which came down from Damascus from
the Sultan of Turkey, while the other was made in Cairo
and presented to the mosque by the Sultan of Egypt.
When a new one is put up, the old one is cut into bits by
the pilgrims, who take the pieces home for souvenirs.
According to tradition, from the dawn of creation to
judgment day at least one pilgrim is always supposed to
be engaged in walking seven times around the Kaaba.
But about every twenty years great floods come and
fill all the streets of Mecca, including the mosque, and
when these floods occur men are hired to swim around it
day and night in order that the ceremony may never be
The pilgrims kiss the black stone, run around the
building seven times, take a drink from a holy well
called Zem Zem and kiss the stone again. Sir Richard
Burton said that when he tried to kiss the black stone he
found himself in a milling throng of religious devotees,
each of whom was trying to force his way through the
crowd in order that he might press his hps against the
most sacred object in the world. He said that these
religious enthusiasts were all calling out their prayers in
loud voices, and between sentences of their prayers they
would stop and curse the man who was elbowing them
away from the black stone.
The most important well in Mecca is this well of
Zem Zem in the courtyard of the mosque. The water in
it is slightly brackish but is said to be delightful when
one becomes accustomed to using it. The well is eight
feet wide and quite deep. According to Moslem tradition
one of the direct routes to heaven is through the bottom
of this well. The pilgrims from India, who take such
superstitions literally, frequently threw themselves into
the well, making the water undrinkable for days. In
fact, so many people tried this short cut to paradise that
it became necessary to stretch a net over the bottom to
break their faU.
There is an ancient tradition among Mohammedans
that the approach of the day of resurrection will be
indicated by the sun rising in the West, and by the ap-
pearance of a monster which will rise out of the earth in
the courtyard of the Masjid Al Haram. This beast is
to be sixty cubits in height, just twice as high as the Lord
commanded Noah to make the ark. It is to be a complex
combination of eleven different animals, having the
head of a bull, the eyes of a hog, the ears of an elephant,
the horns of a stag, the neck of a giraffe, the breast of a
lion, the colour of a tiger, the back of a cat, the tail of a
ram, the legs of a camel, and the voice of an ass. She is
to bring with her the rod of Moses and the seal of Solomon.
So swift will be this monster that none will escape.
With the rod of Moses she will smite all true believers on
the cheek, branding them with a mark which will indicate
that they are of the faithful. Unbelievers will be
stamped with the seal of King Solomon.
It is also believed that this strange beast will speak
Arabic. After the appearance of this mammoth creature
all mortals who have inhabited the earth since the dawn
of creation will be required to cross a valley on a hair,
from which the iniquitous will tumble off into the fires
of hell, while the pure in heart will cross safely into
Paradise. There are many different versions of this
tradition which were believed in by the adherents of
other religions long before the time of Mohammed.
Among other signs believed by some to be indications
of the approach of the day of resurrection are a war with
the Turks ; the advancement of the meanest to positions
of dignity and power ; the coming of Antichrist from
Khorasan, mounted on an ass and followed by seventy
thousand Jews ; the return of Jesus, who certain Moham-
medans believe will embrace the Mohammedan religion,
marry a wife, slay Antichrist, and rule the earth in peace
and security ; and the bestowal of the power of speech on
all animals, birds, fishes, reptiles, and inanimate things.
Until recently Mecca was, perhaps, the most evil and
licentious city in the world ” The holier the city, the
wickeder its people,” runs the Arab proverb. A block
away from the Holy Kaaba stands the slave market,
which was closed not long ago by Hussein. There were
in the city of Mecca until recently, and perhaps still are,
many women who are legally married and divorced almost
monthly, and sometimes bi-monthly. A pilgrim arriving
at Mecca, before King Hussein’s puritanical regime, could
i be legally married during the time he was a resident and
performing his religious rites. He could then have his
! marriage legally dissolved when he left the city.
The people of Mecca do not share those fine primitive;
virtues and simplicity of tastes which have made the
Bedouin famous. Since olden times those born there
have been distinguished from other Arabians by three
scars on the cheek — a trade-mark of viciousness, say
visitors to Mecca. The language of the Meccans is the
most salacious to be found anywhere in the dissolute East.
The city is filled with unspeakable diseases and practices.
Travellers have described scenes occurring in the Great
Mosque as licentious as any reported to have occurred in
the most dissolute days of ancient times.
But now to return to the story of the capture of these
Hussein supervised the attack on Mecca, while Feisal
and Ali were in command of the force directed against
Medina. The Grand Shereef was successful at Mecca.
The forts on the three hills overlooking that forbidden
and sacred city were garrisoned by the Sultan’s most
faithful Circassian mercenaries and by picked Turkish
troops. Oh the day of the attack the Arabs swept
through the gates and captured the main bazaar, the
residential section, the administration buildings, and the
sacred mosque of the Holy Kaaba. For a fortnight the
battle raged around the two smaller forts, which were
finally taken. During all this fighting the aged Shereef
remained in his palace directing operations in spite of
scores of Turkish three-inch shells that riddled his
The Turks might have been able to hang on for
many months had it not been for their own folly. The
Ottoman seems to be a Mohammedan in theory only,
occasionally adhering to the ritual, and even less fre-
quently adhering to the spirit of the Koran. Heedless of
the deep-set religious feelings of their enemies and co-
religionists, they suddenly began to bombard the mosque
of the Kaaba, the most sacred shrine of all Islam. One
shell actually struck the black stone, burning a hole in
the holy carpet and killing nine Arabs who were kneeling
in prayer. Hussein’s followers were so enraged by this
impious act that they swarmed over the walls of the
great fort and captured it after desperate hand-to-hand
fighting with knives and daggers.
Both Mecca and the near-by seaport of Jeddah were
captured during the first month’s fighting. Jeddah was
taken in five days as a result of the cooperation of five
small British merchantmen under Captain Boyle, a daring
red-headed Irishman, who was second in command to Sir
Rosslyn Wemyss, then admiral of the Near Eastern
More than a thousand Turkish and German prisoners
were taken at Jeddah. The bombardment of this port
of entry to the holy city of Mecca nearly started a revolu-
tion in India. The eighty million Mohammedans living in
India are the most fanatical of all Islam, in many respects.
They erroneously charged the British with having
bombarded one of their holy places. As a matter of fact
Jeddah, being merely the port to Mecca, has never been
regarded as a holy city by the Arabs themselves, and is
the one city in the Hedjaz to which unbelievers have
always been admitted.
At Medina the Bedouin, under Shereefs Feisal and
Ali, were less successful. The tribesmen in northern
Hedjaz who had rallied round the Shereefian flag, swept
out of the desert mists early on the same morning in
June on which the attack was launched against Mecca.
Occupying all the palm-groves which extend for miles
around the outskirts, they drove the Turkish outposts
from the gardens of the Medina palaces, fabled for their
sparkling fountains, apricot, banana and pomegranate
orchards. The troops of the garrison withdrew inside the
city walls. There they knew they had the additional
protection afforded by the Tomb of Mohammed, the tomb
which causes Medina to be regarded as the second hoHest
city of Islam. Although Feisal and Ah could have
brought up cannon from Jeddah and perhaps taken the
city by storm after a bombardment, Hussein refused to
permit this for fear of causing the destruction of the
Prophet’s tomb, a catastrophe which would have incurred
the anger of every one of the two hundred and fifty million
Mohammedans in the world.
Medina is the city to which Mohammed made his
hegira or fhght from Mecca in July, 622 A.D., to save
himself from the daggers of assassins hired by his religious
enemies. All Mohammedans count time not from the birth
of Christ, but from the date of that fhght. Mohammed
was buried in Medina, and on one side of him rests his
favourite daughter, Fatima, and on the other side the
second of the great Arabian rulers, Cahph Omar. But
between the graves of Mohammed and Omar a space was
left, so the Moslem say, that Christ upon His second
I coming and death may be buried by the side of the
i Prophet. So Medina, in addition to being a city of con-
siderable commercial importance, is a great pilgrimage
Shortly after the war commenced, the Turks, in order
to facilitate the movement of troops to quell uprisings
in Arabia, but ostensibly to make it easier for pilgrims
to reach Medina from the north, built a single-track
railway-line all the way down from Damascus. One of the
first acts that the attacking Bedouin hordes committed
when they approached Medina was to tear up several miles
of rails with their bare hands, in order to isolate the garri-
son. After surrounding the town the Arabs sat down to
await its surrender ; but the Turks, encouraged by their in-
activity, slipped out of the gates at dawn, surprised some
of the Arabs who were camping in the suburb of Awali,
and set fire to all the houses. Large numbers of women
and children were shot down by machine guns, and scores
of others were burned alive in their homes.
This so enraged the Bedouin, and the thousands of
Arab townsmen who came out of Medina to join Feisal
and Ali, that they immediately assaulted the great
Turkish fort just outside the walls of the city. But the
Turks opened fire with their heavy artillery and mowed
great gaps in the tightly-packed whirling mass of frenzied
Arabians. Never having encountered artillery fire before
in their lives, the frenzy soon turned to panic, and the
mob fled to the shelter of a near-by hill. Seeing this, the
Turkish commander sent out a force of picked men to
cut them to pieces.
Shereef Feisal saw the phght of his men and dashed
up on his horse, utterly regardless of the bursting shrapnel
and machine-gun fire from the fort which raked the
intervening open ground. The Bedouin whom he had
brought up to help him rescue the broken and panic-
stricken forces that had made the original attack on the
fort, held back, reluctant to face the enemy fire that
formed such a deadly barrage between them and their
comrades. But Feisal laughed and rode on alone. To
give his followers confidence he even made his horse walk
across the open space.
Unwilling to be put to shame by their fearless com-
mander, the reheving force gave a wild desert cry and
charged, the name of Allah on the lips of every warrior.
The two forces then combined and made a second attempt
to storm the fort. Their ammunition was nearly ex-
hausted. Night, which comes in Arabia with a sudden-
ness suggestive of an electrician switching off the sun’s
light, dropped down like a black curtain just in time to
save them from annihilation.
On the morrow, Feisal and Ali called all the tribal
chieftains to a conference at their pavihon, and it was
agreed that for the present it was futile to continue the
attack ; so they retired into the hills fifty miles to the
south and camped astride the pilgrim road to prevent any
Turkish forces from attempting to retake Mecca. The
Turks at once repaired the railway line connecting them
with Damascus, drove the thirty thousand civihan Arabs
living in Medina out into the desert, brought down rein-
forcements from Syria, and fortified the city to resist all
future attacks. After the war refugees from Medina were
found all over the Turkish Empire, in Jerusalem, Konia,
Damascus, Aleppo, and Constantinople.
The Arabs, however, were still in undisputed possession
of Mecca, and with the possible exception of the capture
of Jerusalem and, later on, the combined capture of
Damascus, Beyrouth and Aleppo by Allenby’s army and
the Arabs, the fall of Mecca is sure to rank in history
as one of the greatest disasters ever suffered by the
descendants of Othman. To her control of the holy
city of Mecca Turkey largely owed her leadership of the
Mohammedan peoples of the world.
Then came a long pause. The Arabs were unable to
go on with their revolution because they had expended
all their ammunition. Shereef Hussein again appealed to
the Allies, and the British responded. At that critical
moment young Lawrence appeared on the Arabian stage.