Provisions for the Journey

Translated by: Daniel Majchrowicz

…This was the general state of things for four days. Now it seems the passengers as a whole have become bored with the journey and are content to sit and watch the land pass by. During all this time, we have not seen another ship pass. I’ve been quite eager to see one, and I’d mentioned to Muhammad Shīs Khan on several occasions that he should ask the captain to inform me when one was to pass. Today, after five days, Muhammad Shīs Khan informed me that a ship would pass us at some point today. I was disappointed to learn in the next morning that it passed us the previous night. I learned that another ship would pass today. All the passengers watched it excitedly.

Today the mountains of Aden came into view. Our ship began to sail alongside them. We didn’t stop at Aden like other ships normally do, though. The lights of the city were visible throughout the night and for as long as I could see them I did not go to bed, and instead stayed up to watch this interesting spectacle. I could see the lighthouse until fairly late in the night. But as for Aden, I was unable to see anything more than its lights. This disappointed me.

21st Sha’ban – I offer all to God, through whose kindness this disappointment has been laid to rest. Today, I was able to set my eyes on an Arab city. Using my binoculars, I discerned a factory, though I could not read its name, which was written in English. Nevertheless, it is a small-ish, beautiful city. For as long as it remained in sight, all the passengers, including the European ones, continues to view it with delight. I put on a burqa and gazed at it through my binoculars. My father, Khasar sahib, had brought them for me a few years ago, and now they were paying off. They were unusable after sitting unused for so long, but I got the chief engineer of the ship to fix them for me.

The chief engineer is going to become a Muslim soon, inshallah.  He often speaks to Muhammad Shīs Khan about religious matters, but the two also joke around with one another. He often studies Khwaja Kamaluddin sahib’s English translation of the Holy Quran.[1] When he reads the Quran, he does so in his room with the door closed, in studious contemplation. He has written to his three or four children, instructing them to abandon church and religious study until he has returned to England. Insha allah, he will become a Muslim soon. He tells Muhammad Shīs Khan that he fervently wiShīs to perform the hajj. Muhammad Shīs Khan invited him to come along with us, but he replied with sorrow, ‘who would allow me to enter there? Only people like Lord Headley,[2] rich people, can go there. I’m just a poor man.’

When Shīs Khan conveyed to me the extent of his desire, I had him deliver a letter to the chief engineer in which I thanked him for his interest in Islam. Our religion, I wrote, is such that anyone with sense and wisdom, on examining it closely, would be unable to turn away. Your desire to make a pilgrimage to the Ka’ba can be fulfilled very soon, and very easily. Islam loves and values the poor. This is seen in the very word ‘Islam’ itself, which means ‘security’ and ‘peace.’ In our eyes, there is no difference between you and Lord Headley. The only difference is that he has already recited the kalma [the attestation of faith], whereas you will recite it soon, insha allah. If you announce your intention to convert while on the ship and enter into Islam with a true heart, then I will take you along with me to Mecca Mukarrama and assist you in every way possible. On receiving the letter, he thanked me profusely and praised my ideas and courage. Since that day he has addressed me as his elder sister. He has learned to say al-salam alaik from Muhammad Shīs Khan, and now has all the passengers annoyed with him. Our illiterate Muslims jump with surprise and fear when they hear him say salam. He is a good-natured Englishman. Perhaps I have a good impression of his principles because he will be a Muslim soon, insha allah. I gave him the name Salahuddin.  …

[On our arrival at the quarantine island of Kamran near our destination of Jeddah] small boats came up to the ship, and there was such a hue and cry among the passengers that the boat was nearly flipped upside down. Since the luggage was to remain aboard all of the passengers were desperate to tie their money to their waists so that it wasn’t stolen. Passengers continued to leave the boat from nine in the morning until one in the afternoon. Many of the first class passengers left as well, ignoring the instructions of the crew. There were only six or seven rooms’ worth of people left. We left for Kamran in the very last boat. By the time we got there, most people had already been through the sanitization process. I went straight to where the doctor was sitting and lay down on a bed by him. In the meanwhile, Muhammad Shīs Khan arrived, and I asked him to inform the doctor that since I’d had a runny nose and a fever since the previous night it would be best if I could be excused the mandatory bath. He told the lady doctor as much, but it seemed she couldn’t care less.

What happened next was that I went into the room where you change your clothes for the bath. This is a large room where there are 1.5-yard towels stacked up to a height of about twelve palms. The women working in this room are incredibly ill-bred and rude. Their behavior is like that of wild animals. They treat the pilgrims very badly and don’t say anything directly unless it’s crass. When I entered, ten or twelve of the Arab women from Bahrain, the mother of Muhammad Amin, and the wife of Hafiz Hamidullah sahib Dehlavi were already there, in addition to a few other foreign women. We were told to take off our clothes and tie towels around ourselves. I refused. One, because I was ill, and second, because the towels were not large enough to cover my private areas. One of the workers told me that this is all we would be allowed, and then gave me a few choice words. I ripped right back into her. I told her that worthless women like you are looting the honor of noble women. How dare you speak to me in this way? Get out of the room. We’ll manage the bathing ourselves. She immediately went out and called for a nurse who did not yet know what was going on inside.

The nurse came to me and began to explain.  ‘Sister, we have no choice, these are the government’s orders.’

‘What kind of government is this, and who can obey such a terrible order? I’d rather die than wear this towel.’

‘You’re getting the others excited.’

‘Absolutely, I am! Look at the way you are looting our honor.’

‘There are only women here. There are no men.’

‘You go and take your clothes off in front of the men. I’m not going to take my clothes off in front of women, and nor am I going to put on one of these hand-sized towels. This is un-Islamic. You ill-mannered women!’

When she heard this she got very angry and immediately left the room. I went out behind her. She went to the doctor and complained to him in Arabic. I also went up to him and said, ‘Doctor, first of all, I’ve already had you informed that I am unwell. And even if I was well, I still wouldn’t bathe with and in front of so many other people.” The doctor took my pulse. Because I was so angry, my temperature was even higher than before. After taking my pulse, he told the lady doctor in English that I really did have a fever, and then, turning to me, said gently that if I did not follow the regulations all the other women would protest as well. Again to the lady doctor, he said, ‘please go with her and insist that they not pour water over her.’ I went back inside and asked the lady doctor to give me at least three towels. When I had removed my clothes, she gave me a few. I had no choice but to change my clothes. Back in the main room I watched the Arab women from Bahrain wail as those terrible workers forcibly stripped off their clothing. The women from Delhi asked me where I’d been. I replied that I’d been to complain to the government. Each of the women was given but one towel.

A poor person’s anger hurts none but themselves

We all proceeded into the bathing room together. Here we were forced to face a new calamity. Affixed to the ceiling of the bathing room were about twenty sieve-like devices from which water flowed when the handle was turned. The lady doctor put me in a corner of the room away from the others and left. The four angels of hell were posted in that room. One after the other, they dragged the women to the shower of water and forced them to stand beneath it. The room was filled with women alternately soaking in the water, shivering from having been soaked in the water, or standing in horror.[3] It looked for all the world like the Day of Judgment. Al-hamdu lillah, I was standing far away wrapped up in three or four towels. Even so, quite a lot of water flew through the air and landed on me. One of my towels was soaking wet. All of a sudden, one of the female servants opened a door behind me and, using gestures, told me go to through it. I went, and what did I see but dozens of women sitting there, soaked to the bone. As soon as I entered one of them asked me, ‘didn’t you take a bath?’ I told her that I had a fever. Another one asked me the same thing. I didn’t reply. Then a third. Then a fourth. Now, I was already worked up from before, and their incessant accusations made it even worse. Finally, I became totally fed up and told them to mind their own business and not worry about what others were doing if it didn’t concern them.

‘It’s a good thing that I didn’t have to bathe, so what’s it to you?’

‘Well! Someone’s a hothead.’

‘Her money’s made her haughty.’

‘She gave a bribe, and now she shows up totally dry.’

‘No ma’am, she pulled a fast one to get out of it. The women with her haven’t come out yet.’

‘Were you alone in the bathing room?’

‘Yes,’ I replied. As this was happening, all the other women that were with me came into the room shaking and shivering. They’d just come from the steam room. All of our clothes were returned to us, now very warm. The room was extremely humid. To make a long story short, we all thanked god when we were finally released from that prison.

As soon as I came out I ran into Maulvi sahib and continued on with him. There was a building some distance away that was designated for the first class passengers, but most of them thought it was pointless to go so far for comfort and instead spread out wherever they found space. When I got to the building I found that our beds had been prepared, but that there were no arrangements for purdah. Accordingly, I strung up ropes and set up a section for purdah, claiming only a fourth of the room for myself. Now this part of the room was a purdah space for women, and the rest of the room was open to the others. Having seen us come to the first class area, other first class passengers showed up as well. When I had finished with this work and went to find the women who were living in the cabin opposite ours, I saw that there were small huts with curtains in front of them that were filled with countless women. I said to them, ‘Come with me, I’ve set up a nice little space for us.’ Muhammad Amin’s mother and Hafiz Hamidullah’s wife came with me. The others said that they were settled in and would stay where they were.

As it turns out, by the time we got back my fever had grown even worse than before. I threw myself into bed. My temperature must have been around 102°. I skipped lunch. Around four in the afternoon, the doctor and lady doctor came to do an examination. At that time around ten percent of the passengers had come down with fevers, first, because the weather on Kamran was bad to begin with, and second, because they were forced to bathe in cold water, then put into a warm room where they were drenched in sweat, and finally pushed outside, soaking wet, into the wind. Such a disaster can only be compared to Judgment Day. What else was supposed to happen, if not a fever?

I don’t understand what was achieved from this forced bath at Kamran. My experience was the opposite of the intent, by which I mean that the only result was that the healthy became ill. There were two passengers who were already sick when they boarded the ship. One of them was determined by the doctors to have small pox, and the other diarrhea. They were both detained at Kamran. Now I was worried that they might decide to detain me as well. Muhammad Shīs Khan asked me again and again if he should bring medicine. I told him not to even mention the fever in front of me. ‘For god’s sake, just be quiet.’

My fever got worse after sunset. I had to walk around all day, and now I wasn’t capable of getting up. I didn’t have dinner, and by night my temperature was 104°, or even higher. I passed a restless night, sometimes getting out of bed and lying on the floor. The wind sent tremors through my body. My eyes were swollen, my back aching, and my body was covered in spots that made me itch the whole night. I spent the night praying to god. In the morning, I told Muhammad Shīs Khan to get us back on the boat before anyone else. But then I learned that the gates to this prison still hadn’t been opened. We were locked up in a vast yard surrounded by iron fences. There were two larges gates at either end, both locked, and no one could come in or go out. The walls were higher than a person is tall.

Eventually one of the locks was removed and people were beginning to be allowed out. Although everyone told me not to, I went out and sat by the area where the boats were waiting to load passengers and take them back to the ship. At that time three boats had already carried pilgrims back to the ship. When they returned, we rode them back to the ship, too. Doctors were performing inspections at the top of the ladders. I told Muhammad Shīs Khan to tell the doctor that they’d set up a really splendid quarantine, one that makes the healthy sick.

The doctors made some medicine for me and came to check on me frequently that evening. Once all the pilgrims were back on the ship the Captain went to Kamran to pay a ten rupee per person fee which came to a total of twelve thousand rupees. Now we were ready to leave.

Tuesday, 25 Sha’ban – At four in the afternoon the ship left Kamran and notices were posted that we would be reach Yamlam in thirty-two hours, and that everyone should have finished their ablutions by morning. There would be one whistle before Yamlam and another when we had drawn even with it. A third would be sounded when we had passed it. These whistles would indicate when the pilgrims should put on their ihrams.[4] But people responded to this by saying that we are not going to put on our ihrams when told to by a kafir whistle, whether Yamlam comes or not. We are going to put them on right now. Thus, they did their ablutions and put their ihrams on as soon as we left Kamran. There was such chaos on the ship at this time that only god could save us. Every person wanted to be the first to put on their ihram. I still had a fever, so I stayed in my room and slept.


[1] Khwaja Kamaluddin is also briefly discussed in Begum Habibullah An’am’s piece in the Veiled Voyagers anthology.

[2] Rowland Allanson-Winn (1855-1935) was an Irish peer. He converted to Islam in 1913 and was closely associated with the Woking mosque and its leader, Khwaja Kamaluddin. He first performed the Hajj in 1923.

[3] For an alternative view of this experience, see Nur Begum (p. 14), who speaks of the experience more positively: “Praise be to God! What a wonderful, merciful and luxurious thing! Mothers and sisters all came together here, and laughing and playing, they dutifully washed themselves.”

[4] A garment made of two pieces of white, unstitched cloth worn during the Hajj. They are to be put on at pre-determined locations on the route to Mecca, of which Yamlam is one.