Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Basran Hajj Route under the Ottomans

As the co-author of an article about a section of the early Islamic hajj route from Basra, I found interesting this account from Suraiya Faroqhi's book on the hajj under the Ottomans:
High-level Ottoman administrators were much worried about the possibility that Shi'i pilgrims to Mecca might make contact with the adherents of the (Safavid) Shah on Ottoman territory.  This concern also is expressed in the very impractical route that many Iranian pilgrims were required to follow.  For most Iranians it would have been easiest to travel to Baghdad and from there to the Iraqi port of Basra, which was in Ottoman hands.  After crossing the Persian Gulf, the pilgrims would already have been on the Arabian peninsula, even though the latter needed to be crossed from east to west before reaching the Hejaz.  But the alternative which the Ottoman authorities imposed upon the pilgrims was far longer and more dangerous...  (In 1564-5) all Iranian pilgrims were required to take the 'official' caravan routes by way of Damascus, Cairo and Yemen.  The notables of Basra lobbied for a caravan of their own, but their request was rather sharply turned down...
On the other hand, the cessation of legal connections between Basra and Mecca generated political problems of its own.  The notables of the province of al-Hasa (eastern Arabia), a fairly recent acquisition, no doubt suffered economic disadvantages due to this regulation.  They therefore exerted pressure upon the Ottoman governor to have the route reopened.  No doubt it was to the advantage of the Ottoman authorities to gain the loyalty of the influential families of this outlying border province...The districts which made up the new province were controlled by local shaykh, who had ruled the area before the coming of the Ottomans.  If not won over to the Ottoman side, it was not unlikely that, at the next opportunity, they would go over to the Shah of Iran or even the Portuguese.
Local notables succeeded in winning the reopening of the pilgrim route through Basra in the early 1570's, but only briefly as relations with the Safavids worsened.  This pattern of pilgrims being able to travel directly from Basra to Mecca only under favorable political conditions would continue through the 1600's.



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