chapter  5
The Procession of the Syrian Pilgrimage Caravan Through Damascus
Pages 11

In the past the Syrian pilgrimage caravan has had considerable importance. This was due to the fact that an imperial irade would arrive, appointing one of the greatest dignitaries in Istanbul as amin al-surra (custodian of the purse) on behalf of the sultan. This was established by the late Ottoman Sultan Selim I, as gifts for the people of Damascus [or Syria?], Jerusalem, and the Two Shrines. On 15 Sha‘ban several scholars, imams, khatibs, and some of the officials in the department of waqfs, proceed to the anteroom of the imperial palace in Istanbul. The amin al-surra presents himself before His Majesty the sultan, the Victorious, the Commander of the Faithful. A group of the pilgrimage officers also have specially arrived from Syria to accompany the amin al-surra to the anteroom. As is customary, they gather there, then set out together in a large procession (to be described later) and go to Scutari. It was here that the march of the surra used to start when it proceeded to Damascus by land via Anatolia. They remain there until [37] mid-Ramadan. Then they request permission of the sultan to

depart. When the imperial irade arrives, nowadays they travel by sea to Beirut, and thence to Damascus.1 If the amin al-surra must attend to any such affairs in Beirut as cashing a bill of exchange, he would remain there to settle them; if not, he would proceed directly to Damascus. The wali of Syria, in his administrative council, would have already started to provide for the needs of the pilgrimage to Hejaz: establishing fees and prices for transportation, litters, sedans, seats, and palfreys; appointing muqawwims, those entitled to rent camels and tents to the pilgrims, or bring them water; selecting one of them to be in charge of carrying the mahmil, the surra, the amin al-surra, the jukhadar, and other officials of the pilgrimage, such as the superintendent. This muqawwim is called the chief camel-master {bash muqawwim). This is done with the knowledge [and consent] of the superintendent of the pilgrimage who takes it from and returns it to Damascus. Formerly, the super­ intendent of the pilgrimage used to be the wali of the vilayet of Syria. One of the duties ascribed to him was to accompany the Syrian pilgrimage to Mecca to supervise it, going and returning, in the same manner that the wali of Tripoli in Syria [now in Lebanon] used to lead the relief convoy {jurdi) to meet the Syrian pilgrimage with supplies, as will be detailed later. Two or three days after the amin al-surra arrives [in Damascus] he starts distributing their due to those deserving the charity of the surra, whether in cash, grain, clothes, slippers, shoes, snuff, or other things, according to the written instructions in the ledger he received from the department of waqfs in Istanbul. Then a representative [38] of those deserving the surra comes to Damascus from Jerusalem. He brings along legal proof of his being the representative entitled to obtain the charity allotted for the Jerusalemites. Then the Syrian and other pilgrims busy themselves to acquire provisions, clothes, riding animals, fodder, water skins, tents, and the like, that they need. The superintendent of the pilgrimage starts buying what he and his retinue would need in the way of provisions, ammunition, and equipment. He also supplies information to the surgeon-physician the government has appointed to accompany the pilgrimage, to doctor and cure the pilgrims free of cost and to supply them with free medicine. The physician prepares for this and buys whatever medicine and drugs he may need for the pilgrims on the road, so that he may be ready to set out. The pilgrims call him the dispenser of medicine {aUshafi [ ?] or healer [possibly surgeon {al-nitasi)]). 1. This change from travel by land to sea dates from 1866; see PSVSI: 69.