Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje on Makkah as a Centre of Pan-Islamism and Anticolonialism

By Spahic Omer

(Contents: Hurgronje as a man on a mission; Hurgronje as a dual personality; Hurgronje as an international dignitary; Hurgronje’s perception of the hajj pilgrimage; Pan-Islamism between Constantinople (Istanbul) and Makkah; From Makkah as a training ground to Aceh as a battleground; The state of education and civilisation (modernisation) in Makkah; Makkah in Islamic and Orientalist focus; Hurgronje and the limelight of Makkah; Makkah versus Cairo; Legitimising westernisation and colonisation; The case of the Jawah; Conclusion) 

Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936) was a Dutch Orientalist and colonial administrator. He was a pioneer in the modern and scientific study of Islam in the West. If what Edward Said called “modern Orientalism” commenced after the last third of the 18th century, then the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries signified the climax of that process. Certainly, Hurgronje was one of the leading protagonists and his ideas and scientific works stood for the crème de la crème of the yields. So influential was he that, in many ways, he came to epitomise the age in which he lived and its ideological direction. He was an academic luminary and a cultural celebrity.

In the early days of Orientalism, Western scholars and political as well as military officials worked hand in hand to undermine the vigour of Muslim cultural and civilisational presence. Expectations and standards were minimal, commensurate with the efforts invested and the strategies that were in place, and also with the nature of prevalent circumstances from a practical and operational point of view. But later as the Muslim world dramatically declined and its institutional wellbeing started to hang in the balance, Orientalism became enlivened. Sensing that ultimate victory might be not only attainable and complete, but also very near, Orientalists wielded an arrogant swagger. There was no limit to their valour and remits. Their ingenuity and “scientific resourcefulness” seemed limitless too.

In short, the range of the Orientalist representation of Islam, Muslims and the Muslim world (Orient, or the “other”) grew enormously. With more and more Europeans interacting with Muslims more freely and more confidently, and with many others living in the latter’s midst with greater authority and discipline, the pressing questions and subject matters were handled more systematically and with more effective methodologies. Thus, Orientalism as a Western branch of learning was winding up its evolution and was rapidly acquiring its coveted qualities, such as being scholarly refined, scientific and experiential. Orientalists were gradually feeling at home as much in the Muslim world surrounded by Muslims as within the compass of Orientalism as a science. The remoteness of Orient’s exoticism and curio was withering by the day, and its idiosyncrasy and barbarity were getting triumphed over as quickly and as efficiently.

Hurgronje as a man on a mission 

Hurgronje was a student of theology in the Leiden University where he obtained his doctorate in 1880 in the field of Islamic studies. The topic of his PhD dissertation was “Het Mekkansche Feest” (in Dutch), which means “The Meccan Festival”. It was about the full description of the origins and significance of the rites of hajj as Islamic pilgrimage. He was then appointed a lecturer at the University of Leiden (1880-1889). 

As part of his academic engagements, Hurgronje in 1884-1885 had an opportunity to visit and stay for a year in Arabia, about half the year in Makkah and half the year in Jeddah. According to some reports, however, his stay in Arabia lasted eight or eleven months in total. At any rate, it is certain that he stayed in Makkah around six months, from February 22, 1885 until August, 1885. Before that he stayed in Jeddah – six, five or two months – in the house of the Dutch Consul. In the character of a student of Islam and its impact on social and political life in a society yet to be affected forthrightly by Western influences, he wanted to stay longer in Makkah and to perform the pilgrimage of hajj as well, which would have characterised the climax both of his intellectual growth and personal accomplishments. However, he was involved in an apparent misunderstanding, yet a precarious incident, due to which he was asked to leave Makkah. Hence, his studies were cut short and he was unable to be present during hajj

The misunderstanding in question was international in character and was connected with Arabian archaeology, in particular with the Tayma Stela (a slab with an ancient religious inscription) as a prized artefact. In a nutshell, Hurgronje was accused – baselessly though – of a complicity in an international plot that targeted the relic. As a result, it soon became noised abroad that he was no Muslim convert given up to the study of the Islamic sacred law, but a Christian in disguise, whose object was the stealing of local antiquities. “Needless to say what fate overtakes the Frank detected in Mecca”, was the concluding remark of Augustus Ralli after extensively dwelling on the matter. 

In passing, Hurgronje might have arrived in Jeddah in 1884 during or just before the hajj season (September, 1884), witnessing but oblique properties and secondary effects of the spectacle. His target was the hajj term of the following year, which was in September, 1885. But – as said before – in early August, only one month and a half before the commencement of hajj, he had to abandon his mission and leave the city of Makkah. As far as hajj was concerned in its role as the pinnacle and Holy Grail of Hurgronje’s life journey, it was a case of so near yet so far for him.

Hurgronje’s study of Islamic sciences aimed to investigate the effects of Islam on human and social development within the pristine socio-economic, religious, cultural and political realities of Makkah. His unique anthropological and ethnographical approach was spurred by a perception of defects in the methods of European Orientalists whose knowledge was derived wholly from books and some other secondary sources. Hurgronje was convinced that nothing except an empirical method and his own sojourn in Makkah as the spiritual centre of Islam and the entire Muslim world could do the trick. He needed – and wanted – to be an influencer. The scholarly discipline of Orientalism needed it. It needed a Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje.

For this extraordinary mission of his, extraordinary measures had to be taken. Hurgronje thus pretended to be a Muslim, assuming the pseudonym “Abd al-Ghaffar”. He yet underwent circumcision on January 5, 1885 at the hands of a certain Sayyid Muhammad Muzayyin, which can be gleaned from the contents of his diary wherein a vivid account of the practice has been presented. Such was part of his making the conversion to Islam public, among Muslims that is.  His excellent command of Arabic and vast knowledge of Islamic studies, in addition, proved very useful, rendering his case doubtless to each of sceptical officials, inquisitive scholars and the credulous public. He is reported to have admitted in a letter to a college friend about one year later that his professed Islam was nothing but a decoy.

Hurgronje’s ostensible conversion to Islam attracted much controversy. His supporters jump to his defence by saying that doing so was necessary for the sake of realising sets of magnanimous goals. Whatever actions as might have been necessitated thereby, regardless of whether they could be considered ethically or morally bad, were worthwhile so long as desired end results have been achieved. This is the implication of the slogan “the end justifies the means”. 

However, others beg to differ. To them, by feigning that he had embraced Islam and had become a member of Islamic community, Hurgronje had acted in an insincere way towards all those honest Muslims in Jeddah and Makkah, and later in Indonesia as well, who had given him their unreserved trust and their brotherly love and had regarded him as one of their own. That is to say, he was a traitor and hypocrite. He reciprocated people’s trust with pretence and deceit, and their goodwill and affection with a knife in the back.

Recognizing the extent of the controversy, Jan Just Witkam in his “Introduction” to Hurgronje’s master work “Mekka in the Latter Part of the 19th Century”, attempted somehow to quieten the storm. He did not want the polemic to stand by any means in the way of and to possibly take the shine off the man’s remarkable scientific reputation as well as contributions. Jan Just Witkam wrote that Hurgronje had always avoided to speak out publicly about his contentious conversion to Islam. In his letters, to his mother, to his teacher M.J. de Goeje in Leiden, to his friends Theodor Noldeke and Ignaz Goldziher, and possibly a few others as well, he had been more straightforward on this, but always up till a certain level only. 

Jan Just Witkam then elaborated, adding a new dimension to the quandary: “For the agnostic expert of Islamic Law that Snouck Hurgronje was, Islam was a series of outward acts, to be performed without rational questioning and under certain conditions by which they got legal validity. In this sense he had certainly become a Muslim, someone who practices submission. Whether he was also a believer, a mu’min, someone with the inner conviction that Islam was the true and only possible religion, Snouck Hurgronje thought of no relevance to outsiders, since that was something between man and his Creator, who was the only One to look into the hearts and to judge accordingly. For our appreciation of Snouck Hurgronje’s study of daily life in Jeddah and Mecca as he participated in it in 1884–1885 it is an irrelevant question.”

From 1890 (or 1889) to 1906 Hurgronje was professor of Arabic at Batavia (the capital of the Dutch East Indies, present-day Jakarta, Indonesia) and, as a government adviser on colonial affairs, he originated and developed a Dutch colonial policy towards Islam that prevailed until the termination of Dutch rule in Indonesia in 1942. Though he was tolerant of Islamic religious life, his policy as a colonial official was to repress Islamic political activism.

As a councillor to the Dutch government, Hurgronje took an active role in the latter part of the Aceh war (1873–1904). (From 1904 to 1914 the war continued as isolated guerrilla insurgencies). “He used his knowledge of Islamic culture to devise strategies which significantly helped crush the resistance of the Aceh inhabitants and impose Dutch colonial rule on them, ending a 40-year war with varying casualty estimates of between 50,000 and 100,000 inhabitants dead and about a million wounded. His success in the Aceh War earned him influence in shaping colonial administration policy throughout the rest of the Dutch East Indies.”

Hurgronje’s military recommendations centred on breaking Acehnese resistance primarily by force.  He promoted the view that resistance in Aceh was religious in character, led by Islamic leaders and scholars who were intent on waging a holy war (jihad) against the infidel Dutch. The government was hesitant, however, and only adopted the recommendations in 1896 after several incidents.

In his own words, Hurgronje was commissioned by the Dutch government to proceed to Aceh in July, 1891, to make a special study of the religious element in the political conditions of that country. That was the last phase in his meticulous study of Aceh and its people’s stubborn resistance to the Dutch rule. Hitherto he gained some knowledge from literature and from his experiences in Arabia where he had intermingled with many Acehnese and Jawah groups (the Jawah were the peoples of the East-Indian Archipelago and Malaya). Nonetheless, spending some time in direct relations with the Acehnese on their own soil was required to round off the knowledge previously gained. The overall aim was to identify – and do away with – the causes of the people’s fanaticism and dogged resistance.

Though Hurgronje remained a colonial adviser until 1933, he returned in 1906 to the Netherlands, where he was professor of Arabic and Islamic institutions at the University of Leiden until his death. He returned from Indonesia to the Netherlands because he was convinced that his counsels were unsatisfactorily put into operation.

Hurgronje as a dual personality 

Hurgronje was a dual personality. He was at once a scholar and a colonisation official. The two sides of his were subtly interwoven into a whole. They at acute junctures delicately separated and at yet more critical junctures converged again. They mutually supported one another, with one giving sense to and deriving its strength – and legitimacy – from the other. From a Western perspective, Hurgronje’s being a great scholar of Islam and the ethnographies of some of its peoples was augmented by his successful translation of his knowledge into suppressive colonisation policies and programs; and his being a distinguished counsellor was buttressed by his immense theoretical and empirical knowledge in the required fields. In every book, article or lecture of his, a sensible observer is capable of distinguishing an artful interplay between the two facets.

For example, while his two major works, namely “Mekka in the Latter Part of the 19th Century” and “The Achehnese”, can be seen as masterpieces in descriptive anthropology and social together with behavioural sciences, they at the same time served as guide books for knowing the enemies and as blueprints for prevailing over and controlling them. Hurgronje’s books, therefore, were at once classic and modern, enlightening and directing, and also fascinating and repulsive. Just like their author, the books were multitiered and polychromatic. One needs to know what exactly he wants from those books and how to get it. Otherwise, one may easily be misguided and tricked into misreading them. Time and again, it follows, one is not sure whether to like and appreciate, or to loathe and depreciate, the man.

It was because of this disposition of the author that, by way of illustration, no sooner had he questioned and even repudiated the claims that Prophet Muhammad was one possessed, a poet, a soothsayer, a sorcerer, an impostor, one epileptic or hysteric, etc., than he emphasised and elaborated that the Prophet was an opportunist and cunning manipulator especially concerning the notion of the universality of Islamic message and the expedient relationships with the Jews and Christians (the People of Scripture) in the interest of conceptualising and propagandising the former. 

Similarly, while he endorsed and preached that Islam was a monotheistic and great religion, correcting several European misconceptions about it in the process – one of the most important one, perhaps, being the idea of the “harem” – he, all the same, expounded that Islam was spread by force only; that the Qur’an contains the large number of weak points which were later exploited by Jewish and Christian polemicists; that the work of Muhammad as the illiterate Arabian prophet features numberless mistakes, in particular where he maintained that he was repeating and confirming the contents of Jewish and Christian scriptures; that the Makkan rites of pagan origin were incorporated into Islam – most of all such as were related to the holy sites and ceremonies of hajj – albeit only after the purification which was required by Islam’s monotheistic penchant. 

The author furthermore worked tirelessly on brainwashing, colonising and subjugating Muslims, while at the same time advocating that Muslims and their societies should be modernised, that they were capable of progress and were inclined to the coveted goals of peace, freedom and cooperation. As if he, on account of his matchless cunningness and duplicity, was suggesting that Islam as a derivative and unoriginal – that is to say, plagiarised – religion was bendy and accommodating enough as to have room for a few other philosophical and applied constituents dictated by the vicissitudes of modern and, certainly, most critical times. Islam, it goes without saying, was set to evolve, and be evolved, even further. It was against this backdrop that Hurgronje emphatically promoted the notions of civilisation, progress, modernisation and peaceful interactions between East and West (Orient and Occident). He did so as much to Muslims as to non-Muslims, and as much in his capacity as a scholar as a colonisation bureaucrat. To him, jihad as a concept and systematic pursuit was a medieval phenomenon that entailed extremism and should be rescinded on account of the potencies of modern civilisation and progress.

Jan Just Witkam stated that the 21st-century reader should realise that Hurgronje’s book on Makkah in the latter part of the 19th century is a classic, but in many ways it is also a modern book. It describes Makkan society in the 1880’s, and as such it is an important historical source – in fact till today the only one on the subject. “The lively and at times humouristic style in which Snouck Hurgronje describes the motives and feelings of some of the inhabitants of Mecca keeps his narrative fresh and attractive. In addition, his ideas of how to have dealings with people of different cultures and religions, and how to describe these, are downright modern.”

Hurgronje as an international dignitary

With the two mentioned books on Makkah and Aceh, principally, Hurgronje made a name for himself. They signified the underpinning and axis of most of his other writings. They comprised the quintessence of his thought. Consequently, he became an undisputed authority in the pertinent fields and his books became standard references. He grew into an international dignitary.

In 1914, he was invited to the US to deliver a series of lectures. The visit was memorable, the interest unprecedented, and the legacy generated thereby historic. He was invited by, and the lecturers were delivered under the auspices of, the American Committee for Lectures on the History of Religions. The Committee was established in 1892, for the purpose of instituting popular courses in the History of Religions, somewhat after the style of the Hibbert Lectures in England, to be delivered by the best scholars of Europe and the US, in various cities, such as Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. 

The lectures were delivered before the following Institutions: Columbia University, Yale University, The University of Pennsylvania, Meadville Theological Seminary, The University of Chicago, The Lowell Institute, and the Johns Hopkins University. The lectures were: Some points concerning the origin of Islam; The religious development of Islam; The political development of Islam; Islam and modern thought. 

The lectures were later published in the form of a book titled “Mohammedanism, Lectures on Its Origin, Its religious and Political Growth, and Its Present State”. Just like the rest of Hurgronje’s scholarly works, this book, too, quickly turned into an international academic reference and a masterpiece. In the opinion of Richard Gottheil from Columbia University, the lectures were destined to be remembered for a long time “for the cool judgment and the careful poise they evinced.” The impact of the mentioned book, clearly, was an attestation to the prognosis.

Moreover, when in 1914 the Ottoman government declared jihad (holy war), as part of World War I in which the Ottomans participated as one of the Central Powers or Empires together with Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria, the move excited interest above and beyond its connection with the ongoing war. According to Richard Gottheil, the move “has raised the whole question of the validity and effectiveness of this measure as a political instrument in the hands of a modern Mohammedan government. Students of Islam have asked themselves of what use this weapon, taken from the arsenal of a theocratic form of sovereignty, could be in a state which is in process of conforming to the present-day theory of secular and democratic control.”

The issue was extremely complex and knotty. It was also sensitive and needed to be handled with a great deal of insight and prudence. Not many were able to do that, and that is where Hurgronje came in. He produced a commanding study on the matter, which was perceived both as outstanding and timely. The title of the study was “The holy war made in Germany” and was originally published in a Dutch periodical in 1915. It was then almost immediately in the same year translated into English and was published as a book with the same title.

The study was dubbed a work of a master. In the book’s “Introduction”, Richard Gottheil wrote that there were few so well equipped or so competent to effect such a study – especially in the relations of the question to the larger problems of the day – as was Hurgronje. Eulogizing the intellectual acumen of the author, Richard Gottheil further said: “(Hurgronje was) one of the rare Europeans who have ever travelled in that part of Arabia considered by Mohammedans to be sacred and exclusive, his stay of eight months in the capital of their faith (1884-1885) enabled him not only to write the most complete and the most reliable history of that city (Mekka), but also to talk with the faithful from all the corners of the Mohammedan world. As Councillor to the Government of Netherlands-India, he spent the years 1889-1906 in Batavia, where he came into closest touch with the development of Islam in the farthest East.”

In addition, the revolt of the Sharif (Emir) of Makkah in June, 1916, against the Turkish overlord-ship sent shockwaves through the restless Muslim world in particular, and the attentive whole world in general. People were taken aback by the sudden development. Many speculations as to the causes of the revolt and its probable outcomes, were rampant. It was hard to get to the bottom of the occurrence for there were at that point of time very few parts of the habitable globe about which the ordinary student of international affairs knew so little as he did about Arabia. Life there remained in much of its medieval and pristine plainness as well as simplicity; and even scholars who were especially concerned about Islam and about the several hundred millions of its devotees were little better situated in receiving accurate information of that which was occurring in the “Holy Land”. 

Here, as well, Hurgronje with his expertise and “wisdom” rose to prominence. Shortly after the revolution episode in Makkah Hurgronje published in a Dutch newspaper three articles that represented his comprehensive and lucid explanation of the situation created by the revolt proclamation of the Sharif. The articles were well received and were soon translated into English. They were then combined and were published like so as a book which was titled “The Revolt in Arabia”. At the end of the book, in an appendix, there was also an English translation of the revolt proclamation of the Sharif (Emir) of Makkah.

In the “Foreword” of the book it is said about the unparalleled knowledge and capability of Hurgronje: “No one living knows its (Muslim Holy Land’s) history better than does Professor Snouck Hurgronje of the University of Leiden. To his vast knowledge upon all subjects connected with Mohammedanism and gained from an extensive reading of its literature, he has added personal observation during the year that he spent in Mecca and Jiddah. He has been able to get an insight into the various questions involved in its tangled history at the present day, and to learn at first hand of the parties which are rivals for leadership there.”

Hurgronje’s perception of the hajj pilgrimage 

If the holy city of Makkah was the nucleus of Hurgronje’s thought so was the hajj pilgrimage as the former’s pivot. It was preoccupying Hurgronje’s intellectual life and direction from the very first days, as the title of his PhD dissertation can testify. But hajj to Hurgronje was not that which people – Muslims, that is – normally believed. His understanding was deviously different, exemplifying his cardinal ideas about Islam en bloc, such as its unoriginality, liability and plagiarised character.

In brief, hajj to Hurgronje was “that curious set of ceremonies of pagan Arabian origin which Mohammed has incorporated into his religion, a durable survival that in Islam makes an impression as singular as that of jumping processions in Christianity.” To be fair to Hurgronje, he at another place, while reiterating the same point, added that those pagan religious ceremonies were assimilated only after they had been purified (Islamised), which was required by the monotheistic spirit of Islam.

There was a significant current of Hurgronje’s thought that underpinned – and determined – this perception.  Hurgronje believed that the spiritual goods with which Islam set out into the world were far from imposing. It preached and offered to the world the simplest form of monotheism. Prophet Muhammad knew too well how little qualified he was for legislative work to undertake it unless absolutely necessary. Thus, a form of legislative and even religious minimalism was adopted. 

Religious formalities and behavioural conventions were generally amalgams of following indigenous Arabian elements and imitating Jewish and Christian sacraments – so far as Prophet Muhammad knew them. No wonder, then, that Hurgronje was of the view that certain scholars’ assertion that Islam was the Jewish religion simplified according to Arabic wants and amplified by some Christian and Arabic traditions, contained a great deal of truth. So much so that the initial period of Islam’s growth and expansion was regarded as one of naively adopting institutions, doctrines and traditions. Nevertheless, that was soon followed by an awakening to the consciousness that Islam could not well absorb any more of such foreign elements without endangering its independent character. “Then a sorting began; and the assimilation of the vast amount of borrowed matter, that had already become an integral part of Islam, was completed by submitting the whole to a peculiar treatment.”

The case of hajj, however, was totally different. There was nothing in it that was either Jewish or Christian. It was purely an Arabian institution, exuding the pure Mohammedan spirit and identity. And there was a reason for that, which, however, did not reflect a principle but an expediency.

Being what he is – according to Hurgronje – Prophet Muhammad never pretended to preach a new religion. He demanded in the name of Allah the same Islam (submission) that Moses, Jesus and former prophets had demanded of their nations. In his earlier revelations, Muhammad always drew parallels between his Qur’an and the contents of the sacred books of Jews and Christians, in the sure conviction that those communities will confirm his assertions. 

But after migrating to Madinah, Muhammad was disillusioned by finding out that neither Jews nor Christians were prepared to acknowledge an Arabian unlettered prophet, not even for the Arabs only. He, therefore, was forced to adjust his strategies. In consequence, he started to distinguish between the true contents of the earlier scriptures and that which had been made of them by the falsification of later Jews and Christians. He became more critical of and more judgmental about the legacies of the latter. As part of the new strategies, furthermore, Muhammad preferred to connect his own revelations more immediately with those of Abraham, no books of whom could be cited against him, and who was acknowledged by Jews and Christians without being himself either a Jew or a Christian. 

This turn, this particular connection of Islam with Abraham, made it possible for Muhammad, “by means of an adaptation of the biblical legends concerning Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael, to include in his religion a set of religious customs of the Meccans.” This applied most unequivocally to the conception and phenomenon of hajj, in which case it became most Arabian and so, most native and most home-grown, and became one of the most prominent Islamic services that cultivated all dimensions of the Muslim community, individually and collectively.

Hurgronje concluded that Islam thus became “more Arabian, and at the same time more independent of the other revealed religions, whose degeneracy was demonstrated by their refusal to acknowledge Mohammed. All this is to be explained without the supposition of conscious trickery or dishonesty on the part of Mohammed. There was no other way for the unlettered Prophet, whose belief in his mission was unshaken, to overcome the difficulties entailed by his closer acquaintance with the tenets of other religions.”

Pan-Islamism between Constantinople (Istanbul) and Makkah

Having been in tune with all Orientalists – together with Western architects of a new political world order – Hurgronje promulgated the prospects of civilising and modernising the Muslim world. Such, nonetheless, denoted no more than a misdirection and smokescreen. In truth, the attempts were aimed at the westernisation, control and exploitation of Muslims and their diverse human and natural capacities. Rampant colonisation in the latter part of the 19th and the early 20th centuries was an indication. It was a precursor of things to come.

From Hurgronje’s perspective, Western approaches and tactics should be astute, sundry and flexible. They should evolve with the evolution of circumstances. Muslims and their civilisation should not be seen as a monolithic existential reality. They were as diverse and multifaceted as the world itself. Yet, they were its microcosm. Nor were Muslims strangers to the ideas of cultural sophistication and civilisational progress, albeit in traditional, i.e., medieval, terms. Hence, Muslims should be approached and enticed with the best that the West, as an alternative cultural and civilisational paradigm, can offer. Of the items that were expected to feature most prominently on the agenda were education, economic development, acculturation, freedom, democracy and welfare. Discourses on coexistence (pluralism), cooperation and integration could be very useful too, especially when conjoined with the former. In the process, allies within and without the world of Islam should be sought out and closely cooperated with.

Accordingly, for instance, Hurgronje was in favour neither of radical anti-Islamic polemics nor of attempts to proselytise Muslims. In modern times, those were grinding to a halt insofar as producing and sustaining any tangible results was concerned. They were becoming more counterproductive than ever. It was almost as though no Muslim could be genuinely convinced of the mendacity of the universe of Islam as a way of life, or to be genuinely proselytised and converted to Christianity. The battles, notwithstanding, did not fundamentally change. The minds and hearts of Muslims were still the target, howbeit by dint of modern-day styles and methods. Instead of the fading credenda of Christianity, the “infallible gospels” of Western modernity, democracy, science, liberty and progress, have been served.

Hurgronje thus contended that there was no reasonable hope of the conversion of important numbers of Muslims to any Christian denomination. Broad-minded missionary societies have therefore given up the old fruitless proselytising methods and have turned to social improvement in the way of education, medical treatment and the like. It cannot be denied, that what they wanted above all to bring to Muslims was just what they most energetically hitherto declined to accept. On the other hand, the advocates of a purely civilising mission were bound to acknowledge that – but for rare exceptions – the desire of incorporating Muslim nations into the Western world of thought did not rouse the devoted, self-denying enthusiasm inspired by the vocation of propagating a religious belief. “The ardour displayed by some missionaries in establishing in the Dar al-Islam Christian centres from which they distribute to the Mohammedans those elements of our civilisation which are acceptable to them deserves cordial praise; the more so because they themselves entertain but little hope of attaining their ultimate aim of conversion.”

Hurgronje believed that Makkah was an epitome of the East-West (Orient-Occident) dilemma. It was the spiritual centre of Muslims. It likewise was their direction and the object of their spiritual and emotional aspirations and cravings. Simply said, it was an axis of Muslim unity and power, and was the end of all otherworldly ends. If Constantinople (Istanbul) was the material centre of the Muslim world, Makkah was its spiritual centre, and in respect of looking towards both these centres, all Muslims formed a whole.

However, the problem was that Makkah, in addition, was a safe haven for what the West had perceived as traditionalists, conservatives and fanatics. As such, in its capacity as the focal point of pilgrimage (hajj and ‘umrah) and the qiblah (direction in prayers and, by extension, in all life initiatives of a faithful Muslim spirituality-wise) Makkah easily fascinated and magnetized all kindred sentiments and like-minded persons from the entire Muslim realm. Briefly, the city was the Muslim centre of gravity. It was its model. 

At the same time, though, Makkah was physically inaccessible to Western powers and influences. It was prohibited to non-Muslims and was known by a heavenly decree as a place of safety and security, in which case a Muslim, under all circumstances, could be an optimist, could harbour a hope, and could dream of an eventual sanctuary and asylum. In the midst of the local and global upheavals of the latter 19th and early 20th centuries, Makkah was increasingly functioning as a utopian context as much for people as for ideas. The sacredness and purity of the city served as a confluence of thoughts and programs as to how to preserve the integrity and future of Islam, Muslims and Islamic civilisation, and how to resist the rapid and simultaneously aggressive advances of Western powers and their civilisational values and benchmarks. Makkah was a locus of escapism, so to speak. 

Whereas the West could only look from a distance and study the happenings in a roundabout manner. The situation was calling for wisdom, creativity and lateral thinking. Makkah was proving by the day a serious hub of pan-Islamism as a political ideology advocating in the face of westernisation and Western expansionism the unity of Muslims under one Islamic country or state (caliphate). If the political and possibly intellectual dimensions of pan-Islamism were worked out in Istanbul, its spiritual and sentimental qualities were created, continuously bolstered and applied nowhere else better but under the auspices of the inviolability of the city of Makkah. 

While the former category had to grapple with numerous social, political and ideological challenges, from inside and outside its domains, in the end conceding to them, the latter was able to operate at relative liberty and without any serious restrictions. While the former, furthermore, was officially spearheaded by Sultan Abdul Hamid II (d. 1918) and some members of Muslim intellectual elites in Istanbul, the latter was spontaneously championed and practiced not only by the scholars and teachers of Makkah, but also by students, ordinary population and the majority of pilgrims. That is to say, while in Istanbul pan-Islamism was, first and foremost, an academic issue, in Makkah, on the other hand, it was an institution and a matter of actual existence. While in Istanbul it was a dream, in Makkah it was a reality. The city of Makkah – as it were – was pan-Islamism incarnate.

The ideology of pan-Islamism targeted the realisation of the unity among all Muslims in order to resist the colonial occupation of Muslim lands. Divisions, infightings and shallow nationalist programs were only to cause and deepen further rifts between Muslim states and their peoples. It was believed that universal Muslim brotherhood and unity, positively, were more important than ethnic and national identities. They were a much more potent force. 

It is not surprising, therefore, that the pan-Islamism pattern of Istanbul ultimately failed, whereas the one in Makkah, even though never succeeded as a unifying agenda of the Ummah (Muslim community), at no time stopped holding promise, nor displaying signs of eternal confidence and vivacity. Many a time it was the only shining light in the gloom of the Muslim real existence.

About the pan-Islamism pattern of Istanbul Sir Edwin Pears said in 1917 that Sultan Abdul Hamid II created and employed pan-Islamism as a weapon against Great Britain, and to oppose European – but especially British – influence in Egypt. The author then categorically declared that the idea completely failed, partly due to the Sultan’s and his government’s incompetence and partly due to the overall situation in the Muslim world as a whole and in Turkey and Istanbul as its capital specifically.

Sir Edwin Pears wrote in his book “Life of Abdul Hamid”: “All attempts in the direction of pan-Islamism made by Abdul Hamid completely failed. Many Indian Moslems (who were under the British yoke and were targeted by the enterprise) during the last forty years visited Turkey. Some of them were barristers-at-law, and the impression generally left was that, while they went to Constantinople as the pious Jew of old time might have gone to Jerusalem, they left it with far other feelings. They hoped to see Islam at its best; they went away greatly disappointed. They were often kindly treated and made much of by good Moslems, but the longer their stay in Islambol the more completely did they realise the maladministration of government, and especially the disgraceful condition of the courts of law. Even in Turkey itself pan-Islamism as a living force can hardly be said to have existed during Abdul Hamid’s reign, for pan-Islamism in the sense in which the term is usually employed means a fighting force in favour of the faith. However much the religion of Mahomet may have been aided by the sword in the early centuries of its progress, its spread was much more due to its ideas and its opposition to the corrupt practices of some of the degraded Eastern sects of Christianity than to violence. The time has long passed since Turks were ready to fight simply for the spread of their faith.”

Conversely, the pan-Islamism pattern of Makkah was regarded as real and perilous. Nobody could deny it. It was a threat to the growing Western imperialist interests in the Muslim world. Hence, one of the reasons for Hurgronje’s clandestine visit to Makkah was to study the threat and to come up with suggestions as to how best to deal with it, exclusively with reference to the Dutch government and its own colonialist plans.

In the judgment of Jan Just Witkam, in the “Introduction” to Hurgronje’s magnum opus “Mekka in the Latter Part of the 19th Century”, Hurgronje had come to Arabia, with a special focus on Makkah and its annual hajj season, for more than one reason. One of the principal reasons, of course, was to study Islam in all its aspects in its very centre, in an environment where it was least influenced by non-Islamic elements and where it was not under foreign rule. The aim, moreover, was to participate and experience the hajj pilgrimage. In the end, however, the author did not even participate in hajj since he was forced to leave Makkah well before the season. Even so, the stay in Makkah was not perceived as a failure.

That means that there was another major reason for which Hurgronje had visited Makkah and had attempted to stay in it as long as possible and which functioned as a benchmark of success. That reason was purely political. It was colonization-centric and might have been as important as the others related to knowledge and experience. Certainly, though, all of the reasons were interconnected and greatly supported each other. Neither would have been fulfilled without the others. 

About the last imperialism-allied reason Jan Just Witkam had this to say. Makkah had become, in the eyes of European colonial powers with Muslim subjects, a safe haven for religious fundamentalist activities. The term “Muslim fanatics” was used in late-19th-century discourse for describing such as had subscribed to the ideology of Islamic fundamentalism and had lived accordingly. The city was seen as a place from where pan-Islamic ideas could unhindered radiate all over the Muslim world, a large part of which was by then governed by European nations, the hated unbelievers. These nations felt threatened by pan-Islamism, an ideology which made of the Turkish Sultan and Caliph, in addition to being master of his own subjects, also the ruler of the hearts and minds of all other Muslims in the world, as if he were a sort of Islamic pope. The whole idea was a clever ploy of the Ottomans and they eagerly exploited the concept. (Parenthetically, the Westerners counter-promoted the idea as anachronistic and impractical in modern times. It was yet wholly un-Islamic.) 

“To have up-to-date and accurate information about the pan-Islamic ideas living within the Southeast-Asian community in Mecca was therefore deemed of prime importance by the Dutch government, and Snouck Hurgronje had taken upon himself the task to acquire more intimate knowledge on the Jawah, as the people of the Malayan world are called in Western Arabia. In this connection there was another, more practical reason for political fact-finding in Mecca: The Netherlands had found itself, from 1873 onwards, in a state of war of attrition against the Sultanate of Aceh, an independent state on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, and it was a war with strong Islamic overtones. Snouck Hurgronje’s funds for his Meccan expedition had partly been allotted for the specific purpose of finding out to what extent the war was ideologically supported by segments in the Jawah community in Mecca.”

From Makkah as a training ground to Aceh as a battleground

Due to this, in his “Mekka in the Latter Part of the 19th Century” Hurgronje firstly spoke about daily and family lives in Makkah in the book’s Part One and Part Two respectively. That served as a prelude to Part Three where he spoke about learning in Makkah, deciphering and discerning thereby the milieu in which a particular mind-set and a particular behavioural template have been moulded. All that functioned primarily as a background – and a frame of reference – for the final Part Four wherein the psychology and conduct (geopolitics) of the Jawah community in Makkah were discussed. In a way, the instance of the Jawah community was a case study.

One can yet claim that the whole book, albeit most directly its Part Four, acted as a prolegomenon to Hurgronje’s another magnum opus, namely “The Achehnese”, which denoted the apex of the author’s thought and socio-political activism. Little wonder, then, that the last points mentioned in the book “Mekka in the Latter Part of the 19th Century” revolved around whether the Jawah people taken as a whole, and the Jawah pilgrims in particular, were savages and how educated and enlightened they were and could have been. Hurgronje also mentioned that the Jawah were the “Dutch Jawah” and that the only way for not getting the wrong impression about them was the constant growth of his countrymen’s “knowledge” of the spiritual life of the Jawah both at home and abroad in Makkah. 

It was then most appropriate to allude in the last but one sentence of the book on Makkah to a voyage from Jeddah, as the gateway to Makkah, to Batavia. In this way, as if the book transports a reader in geographical terms from Makkah as a training ground for the Jawah, and especially the Acehnese, to the territory of Aceh as a battlefield, and in intellectual terms from the book on Makkah to the one on Aceh. For that reason – it seems logical – did Hurgronje begin his latter book by referring to his proceeding or traveling, and with him his readership, to Aceh, so as to embark on a scientific study of the status and role of religion in the political landscape of that country. Next he explicitly stated that doing so was a follow-up to the processes of obtaining in Makkah “an intimate knowledge of the influence of Mohammedan fanaticism upon the obstinate resistance of the Achehnese to Dutch rule.”

The state of education and civilisation (modernisation) in Makkah 

Hurgronje was of the view that Makkah was uncivilised and medievally backward. It was dull and dismal, and still resembling the Middle Ages. For a modern man there could hardly be a better opportunity imagined for getting a true vision of the primitivism of the Middle Ages than what is offered to the Orientalist by a few months stay in Makkah. Hurgronje did exactly that, so he communicated his views with hindsight. He was convinced that he spoke nothing save the experiential truth. Inasmuch as Islam was treated by some historians of Christianity as belonging to its heretical offspring, if one was only able to abstract himself for a moment from all dogmatic prejudice and to become a Makkan with the Makkans – one of the “neighbours of Allah” – one would be able to feel in the city and in its holy mosque as if he was living and conversing with “our ancestors of five or six centuries ago.”

Makkans were depicted as living in the cocoon of their primitivism and ignorance. Living aloof from the rest of the world, they developed myriads of misconceptions and prejudices about the outside world, with special reference to non-Muslims (infidels). According to Hurgronje, many thousands of Makkans do not travel in their whole lives further than Taif and Madinah. They even go unwillingly to Jeddah, unless really necessary. This was so because from their childhood they were taught that the most terrifying thing was to come in contact with unbelievers. They were also taught, mostly by their mothers and other womenfolk, that unbelievers (kafirs, infidels) were horrible monsters, their pale complexion gave the impression of the leprosy and they cannot look up to Heaven, and so seldom walked with an upright carriage, and they had to shade their eyes with their great hat-brims; men and women sat shamelessly together, and quaffed wine; they were unclean, for they entered rooms with their dirty shoes, and did not know how to purify themselves, as is seemly, after going to stool or after copulation; they were of coarse manners, for they laughed loud like hyenas, and spoke all at once with violent gestures even when they were not yet drunk; they had no religion and were disoriented and shameless. On account of these and similar traditions against which the objections of well-informed persons were of no avail, the young Makkans (those of Madinah were in a still higher degree) shrank from meeting with unbelievers as they would from meeting with ghosts. The situation was similar to a Western man seeing for the first time a madman or plague-stricken man.

Furthermore, education in Makkah was medieval, superficial and mismanaged. To Hurgronje, that not only was a problem, but also the source of all other problems. In the late 19th century in Makkah yearly two or three hundred thousand Muslims from all parts of the world would come together to celebrate hajj. From all those countries, in the wake of hajj, many young people were keen to settle in the holy city for years to devote themselves to the study of the sacred science. Arabic grammar and style, prosody, logic, and other preparatory branches, the sacred trivium, canonical law, dogmatics, and mysticism, and, for the more advanced, exegesis of the Qur’an and Tradition (sunnah) and some other branches of supererogation – were taught “in the mediaeval way from mediaeval text-books or from more modern compilations reproducing their contents and completing them more or less by treating modern questions according to the same methods.”

The classes were conducted inside the holy mosque (al-masjid al-haram) which consisted of a vast central courtyard, with the Ka’bah in the middle, surrounded by large roofed galleries or riwaqs. This spatial arrangement of the mosque afforded lots of free space for the forming of study circles whereby students would sit down around their teachers and would listen to their lectures. There was more than enough time between the appointed hours of prescribed prayers for doing so. Neither hot weather nor rain could disrupt classes. The lure of the extraordinary blessing (barakah) associated with the holy mosque played a pivotal role too.

Hurgronje called the holy mosque of Makkah the only university building in the city. Such was the case before in the earliest times, and remained the case ever since. Makkah proved unconducive to the tendency of independent madrasahs (schools and colleges) which was from the 10th century rapidly evolving elsewhere in the Muslim world. Undeniably, there were madrasahs built in Makkah as well, as part of a wide-ranging trend, however no sooner had they been instituted than Makkah’s incompatibility with such uncommon educational institutions started to come to the fore, causing their intended purpose and function to be ineffective and ultimately short-lived.

Hurgronje wrote, based on the conventional knowledge of Islamic and Makkah history, that in the past there were three major madrasahs in Makkah built in 1233, 1477 and 1565. They were fine establishments duly furnished with libraries, lecture halls and living rooms. Besides these there were many other smaller ones of the same kind founded by members of royalties and rich pilgrims. However, “bad management and various abuses have brought all these institutions to decay, only a few years having generally passed before the process of decay began, the mismanagement diminishing the income of the foundation to such a degree that the salaries could no more be paid and the privilege of free lodging not being sufficient to attract teachers and students, while want of money entailed also neglect of the building. Then the administrators or Governments officials began to treat the madrasahs as abandoned property. Sometimes they established themselves as lodgers in the building. Sometimes they let the beautiful lodgings, appreciated for the proximity of the Mosque, to rich pilgrims or inhabitants of Mekka.” Only a few of the poorer rooms during Hurgronje’s stay in Makkah were still occupied by poor teachers and students, and here and there the rich occupier of the best rooms would arrange for a lecture out of respect for the founder to be given weekly in the hall or a room of the building. “In general the word madrasah in Makkah has come to mean a fine house near the mosque, and the population at large has lost all idea of its original meaning.”

In this educational environment of the 19th century, there was naturally no place for profane sciences, while even in the department of sacred knowledge people have known no higher aim than the preservation of the indispensable results of past intellectual activities. There was no room for modernisation and civilisation – in the Western sense of the word – either. Hurgronje maintained that, like every dogmatic system, Islam has always been unfriendly to natural science and to mathematics. The pious mind of a layman does not necessarily exclude the study of physics, although that study does not encourage his pious state of mind. But the representatives of sacred science were almost obliged to condemn enquiries into the laws of creation. There can be no laws of nature, but only a “habit of the Creator” who may at any time make the sun rise in the west. The pure experimental sciences, moreover, have never belonged to the knowledge of Islam “any more than our astronomy has belonged to the knowledge of Christianity.” Medicine, likewise, was a mere trade rather than a study.

The same held true with regard to the rest of profane or worldly sciences. There were always warnings against the prevailing inroads of modern unlawful usages and generally against the infidel culture that might have contaminated the world of science. For example, a Makkan used to deny the utilisation of the products of modern science such as steam and telegraphy, which, he would say, were in truth not new discoveries, and have brought more evil than good, and also of modern medicine, which he would say has availed nought against death. In passing, the government printing press was opened in Makkah shortly before Hurgronje’s visit. He mentioned that a Muslim classic on history “History of Muslim Conquests” was printed during his stay in Makkah.

Having been the centre of Islamic traditionalism and religious fanaticism, Makkah, it goes without saying, was more representative and more expressive of this learning state of affairs than any other Muslim centre. The circumstance was as such for quite a while. 

When Domenec Francesc Jordi Badia i Leblich, aka Ali Bey el Abbassi, (d. 1818) – a Spanish scientist, explorer, soldier and spy – secretly visited Makkah and performed hajj in 1807, he similarly highlighted that there was no Muslim city where the arts and crafts were so little known as in Makka; that the sciences and learning in the city were found in the same state of deficiency as the arts and crafts; that there were no regular schools, except those where children used to learn basic reading and writing skills; that there were only a few incompetent doctors; and that the people of Makkah were the most ignorant of mortals.

By the same token, when John Lewis Burckhardt (d. 1817), a Swiss scholar, Orientalist, traveller, explorer and geographer, travelled to Makkah in 1814-1815 for a clandestine hajj he described the city’s state of learning as follows. “I think I have sufficient reason for affirming that Mekka is at present much inferior even in Mohammedan learning to any town of equal population in Syria or Egypt. It probably was not so when the many public schools or Medreses were built, which are now converted into private lodgings for pilgrims. There is not a single public school in the town where lectures are given, as in other parts of Turkey; and the great mosque is the only place where teachers of Eastern learning are found. The schools in which boys are taught to read and write, are, as I have already mentioned, held in the mosque, where, after prayers, chiefly in the afternoon, some learned olemas explain a few religious books to a very thin audience, consisting principally of Indians, Malays, Negroes, and a few natives of Hadramaut and Yemen, who, attracted by the great name of Mekka, remain here a few years, until they think themselves sufficiently instructed to pass at home for learned men. The Mekkawys themselves, who wish to improve in science, go to Damascus or to Cairo. At the latter many of them are constantly found, studying in the mosque El Azhar. The subjects of the lectures in the Beitullah (the holy mosque) of Mekka, are, as usual, dissertations on the law, commentaries on the Koran, and traditions of the Prophet. There were none, during my residence, on grammar, logic, rhetoric, or the sciences, nor even on the Towhyd, or explanation of the essence or unity of God, which forms a principal branch of the learning of Moslim divines.”

These “scientific findings” of Hurgronje in the fields of Makkah’s anthropology and sociology Augustus Ralli understood as the completion of the works of some of his prolific predecessors, namely Ali Bey el Abbassi, John Lewis Burckhardt and Richard Francis Burton (d. 1890). Ali Bey el Abbassi was the first Western man of scientific acquirements to reach the holy city of Makkah. The knowledge that he gained Burckhardt corrected and amplified. Burton’s commanding personality fixed the gaze of the world. And finally, Hurgronje’s highly methodical studies put the last touches on the productions of all three, but especially on the scientific proclivity, as well as yield, of Burckhardt.

Makkah in Islamic and Orientalist focus

Ali Shariati, while reflecting on the meaning and significance of hajj and the succession of its rituals, said that the land of Makkah is tranquil and peaceful. That is so on purpose and as part of a heavenly design. Instead of fear, hatred and war, the desert is characterised by security and peace. An atmosphere of worship where people are free to connect to the spiritual kingdom of Almighty Allah is prevalent. Thus, an ecosystem of physical bareness and desolation has been turned into a milieu of spiritual abundance and emotional ecstasy. It has been turned into a catalyst of all goodness and virtue. As a result, Makkah has established its reputation as a spiritual paradise, so to speak, and even a type of celestial city within a terrestrial setting.

Going to Makkah for the sake of performing either hajj or ‘umrah as a lesser pilgrimage – or simply being associated with the city in any way – implies one’s and mankind’s progression towards Allah. It is a symbolic demonstration of the philosophy of creation at large and that of mankind specifically. Moreover, it is a simultaneous show of many things; it is a “show of creation”, a “show of history”, a “show of unity”, a “show of Islamic ideology” and a “show of every positivity of the Muslim ummah”. The pilgrimage is a progression towards self-actualisation. Such is a goal, whereas Makkah, both as an idea and experience, is an incentive, locus and facility.

Makkah always had it all. Even in times of crises nobody could diminish, never mind take away, its divine and otherworldly import as well as beauty. The latter was always there as a sign of Allah’s generosity and providence. It was inspiring, radiating optimism and showing the direction. It never stopped performing as an illuminant and a beacon of hope. Makkah at all times was able to transcend intrigues, catastrophes and vendettas. The latter’s worldliness and temporality were no match for its ontological exclusivity and otherworldliness. 

Without a doubt, Makkah was bigger than all empires, states, caliphs, sultans and ideologies that vied for it. It was preordained to rule, not to be ruled. And this, truly, was Makkah’s forte. It concentrated on intellectual (highly advanced and refined) spirituality and spiritual intellectualism. It did not by any means appertain to the material development of civilisation, nor to the quantifiable and everyday aspects of culture.

The same was the case in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the Muslim world was crumbling and, in terms of civilisational output, was at its lowest ebb. Makkah and hajj provided a sense of relief. They facilitated a form of escapism or a mental diversion from the upsetting aspects of people’s everyday lives. The circumstance likewise spelled a chance to individually and collectively reflect on what was going on and why, and to perhaps regroup for a counter-initiative. 

That is why the hajj season, apart from being the largest annual convention of faith, is also an annual conference, or meeting, of Muslims, so as to illustrate, reaffirm and as much as possible galvanise the strengths of the Muslim ummah. In retrospect, the Prophet’s farewell hajj was one of the most historic and most consequential episodes not only in Muslim history, but also in the history of mankind. It set the highest standards in righteousness, integrity, humanity and civilisational excellence.

Ali Shariati said about this: “In this yearly convention, assembled far from the borders of blood shedding countries, Muslims from all spheres of the world and different political systems are invited by the Guardian the King and the God of the people to gather under the sky of these mountains to have a free talk to help overcome their problems. And a scientific convention, but not in the auditoriums of academicians, the assembly of university professors or the meeting of scientists and super-specialists. No, rather it is a theological and ideological seminar where every literate or illiterate, professor or factory worker, famous spiritual leader or simple farmer can participate and has the right to speak openly. All ranks, positions, degrees and colours are left behind at miqat. Here all represent ONE – Man, and all have the same degree – hajj. That is all! There is no higher rank for mankind than reaching Ibrahim’s position and here everyone has been asked to play his role. At the end of these ceremonies, before you return to your homelands, you must ask yourselves this unanimous question of all ages: “What should we do for the community?” And to find the answer. Just sit down and think about what you have done during hajj!”

It was owing to these truths that Makkah and hajj – in their capacities as the symbols of Muslim unity and brotherhood, as the marketers of Muslim often dormant dynamism and power, and as the schools of virtue, perseverance and freedom – attracted the attention of Western Orientalists, explorers and spies. However, Makkah and hajj were not to be discovered and studied just like any other Oriental urban environment and like any other religious sacrament. Rather, they were to be meticulously scrutinised, decoded and interpreted. Each and every stage of discovery needed to be allied to an ideological predilection and be set against the backdrop of regional and international geopolitics. 

Indeed, Makkah and hajj were perennially intrinsic nemeses of all Orientalism, imperialism and colonisation axes. They signified their antitheses and their spirit the antidote to the latter’s malice. Enduring perpetually off-limits to non-Muslims and to their direct interferences and influences, everything that was transpiring in Makkah and above all during hajj was intended to nullify and if possible weed out the malice. According to a Western anthropologist, pilgrimage in general and in association with any religion carries greater political significance than any other ritual. He further believed that the far-reaching political implications of hajj make it the most important pilgrimage of all. Hence, the major protagonists in the international politics of the late 19th and early 20th century, such as England, France, the Netherlands and Russia, which at the same time either colonised or directly ruled over certain parts of the Muslim world, scrambled to try to control hajj and its participants via numerous laws, governmental positions, institutions and commissions.

As Eileen Kane wrote in her book “Russian Hajj, Empire and the Pilgrimage to Mecca” concerning the case of Russia: “In this tense post-1905 context of political flux and contestation over religious policy, the hajj posed a particular challenge to Stolypin (Russia’s minister of internal affairs who had appointed a hajj director for the empire). To ignore it was out of the question. The disorders of the 1907–8 hajj season, and the fears they stoked within the regime about sanitary and political threats to the empire, had made the need to organise the hajj more urgent than ever. At the same time, as Stolypin saw it, organisation offered a chance for Russia to ingratiate itself with its twenty-million-strong Muslim population, to demonstrate its policy of religious toleration and support for Islam, and to win Muslim loyalties at a critical moment. Political revolutions in 1908 in both the Ottoman Empire and Persia had only deepened tsarist officials’ concerns about Muslim loyalties.”

The similar thing Richard Francis Burton, an Englishman, had in mind when he said that during his time – almost the end of the 19th century – there were no fewer than fifteen hundred Indians permanently in Makkah and Jeddah, besides seven or eight hundred in Yemen. He declared that such a multitude – plus the regular influx of thousands of pilgrims from the British Raj – required a British Consul in Jeddah, in line with what other superpowers were doing. People needed assistance and guidance. Burton believed that by the representation of a Vice-Consul, when other powers had sent an officer of superior rank to the Hijaz, they (the English) voluntarily placed themselves in an inferior position.

Hurgronje and the limelight of Makkah

As far as Hurgronje was concerned, he shared a similar outlook about Makkah. In his mind – as well – the city and its hajj ceremony were posing a threat to the Dutch colonial aspirations. He espoused that the Makkan fanatical religious sentiment and its medieval educational and acculturational systems were strengthening and promoting pan-Islamic tendencies. One can only imagine how distraught Hurgronje was when ordered to leave Makkah before being able to perform hajj himself and before witnessing on the ground and empirically verifying much of what he was expounding. When all is said and done, his mission in Makkah was anticlimactic. In a sense, it was not fully accomplished.  

Hurgronje believed that Makkah, more than any other Islamic religious and intellectual centre, resisted efforts to liberate Islam from the chains of the authority of the past ages. The faithful cultivators of mediaeval Islamic sciences preferred to live in Makkah, free from Western influence and control. Even the predilection of foreign students of law and theology was turning more and more towards Makkah. The more modernised other centres have become, the more conservative and alienated Makkah came to be.

How immoderate Hurgronje’s viewpoints have been demonstrates this example. In the context of his discourse about the origin of Islam, he firstly said that a vigorous combating of the prevalent fictions concerning Islam in the West would have been impossible. Such were their quantity and entrenchment. Doing so would have exposed a scholar to a similar treatment as that which during Hurgronje’s era would have befallen any Englishman who maintained the cause of the Boers (the Dutch and Huguenot population that settled in southern Africa in the late 17th century). Hurgronje then went on and said that such a scholar, due to his extreme and unacceptable views, “would have been as much of an outcast as a modern inhabitant of Mecca who tried to convince his compatriots of the virtues of European policy and social order.”

In other words, Hurgronje believed that so divergent, at all ideological and operational levels, the essence of Makkah and the essence of European values and European civilisational trajectory have been that any kind – as well as degree – of compatibility between them was impossible. Any such attempt was destined to be held as anomalous and aberrant, and to end in failure. Its protagonists, in equal measure, were destined to be presumed outcasts and national pariahs. All this boded ill for potential modernists and their modernisation agendas either within the Muslim or Western colonisers’ circles. The treatment of a modernist scholar in Makkah would have been akin to the treatment of an antediluvian and perverse scholar in Europe.

Hurgronje further opined – in all likelihood with the aim of sowing an extra doubt in the minds and hearts of Muslims and to pave the way for propagating the philosophies of nationalism, westernisation and modernity – that originally hajj was an Arabian affair. Prophet Muhammad adopted it as such, but later made a concession and changed it into an international affair. What happened thereafter was unexpected. Hurgronje wrote that “Mohammed never could have foreseen that the consequence of his concession to deeply rooted Arabic custom would be that in future centuries Chinese, Malays, Indians, Tatars, Turks, Egyptians, Berbers and negroes would meet on this barren desert soil and carry home profound impressions of the international significance of Islam.”

Still more astonishing was the verity that many people from all those countries were keen to settle in Makkah for years to devote themselves to the study of the sacred science. The mentality of those people was such that they learned those things not for curiosity, but in order to acquire the only true direction for their lives in this world and the salvation of their souls in the world to come. All that despite the fact that everything about the life in Makkah and its educational system was medieval and regressive. It was reminiscent of the spirit of the Middle Ages and was anti-civilisation. Whatever positive was inherent in it was either negligible or latent.

Hurgronje presented a vivid picture of the medieval and backward state of education in Makkah, which was behind a primitive mentality and culture. He said that the most important lectures inside the mosque (al-masjid al-haram) were delivered during the forenoon and in the evening. A walk, at one of those hours, through the mosque’s courtyard and under its colonnades, with ears opened to all sides, would enable anyone to get a general idea of the objects of mental exercise of the Muslim international assembly. There one could find a sheikh of pure Arab descent explaining to his audience, composed of white Syrians or Circassians, of brown and yellow Abyssinians and Egyptians, of Negroes, Chinese and Malays, the probable and improbable legal consequences of marriage contracts, not excepting those between men and the jinn (genies). There a Negro scholar was explaining the ontological evidence of the existence of a Creator and the logical necessity of His having twenty qualities, inseparable from, but not identical with, His essence. In the midst of another circle a learned mufti of indeterminably mixed extraction demonstrated to his pupils from the standard work of al-Ghazali the absolute vanity of law and doctrine to those whose hearts were not purified from every attachment to the world. Most of the branches of Islamic (Mohammedan) learning were represented within the walls of the holy mosque (which Hurgronje, like the rest of Orientalists, called “the temple”) by more or less famous scholars. And still there were a great number of private lectures delivered at home by professors who did not like to be disturbed by the unavoidable noise in the mosque, which during the whole day additionally served as a meeting place for friends or business men, as an exercise hall for Qur’an reciters, and even as a passage for people going from one part of the town to the other.

Hurgronje then proceeded to round off the picture of Makkah’s total backwardness – just because it defied modernisation and change – which was so profound and powerful that in the eyes of its population the modern world, with all its problems, its emotions, its learning and science, hardly existed. Hurgronje said: “In order to complete your mediaeval dream with a scene from daily life, you have only to leave the mosque by the Bab Dereybah, one of its twenty-two gates, where you may see human merchandise exhibited for sale by the slave brokers, and then to have a glance, outside the wall, at a camel caravan, bringing firewood and vegetables into the town, led by Bedouins whose outward appearance has as little changed as their minds since the day when Mohammed began here to preach the Word of Allah.”

Having been ostensibly fair and willing to present the other side of the coin, Hurgronje also said that the same was true insofar as the greater part of the world represented by Makkah’s international exhibition of Islam was concerned. Revealing that the overall attitude was mutual, he next reminded that the Western world did not fare better either. The average modern man, he recalled, did not understand much more of the mental life of the two hundred millions to whom the barren Makkah – not only geologically, but also culturally and intellectually speaking – has become the great centre.

Makkah versus Cairo

As a small digression, Cairo represented the other current of thought that was predominant in the Muslim world. The two: Makkah and Cairo, were geographically not far distant from each other, but were situated at the opposite poles of spiritual and intellectual life. In the judgment of Hurgronje, “for centuries Cairo has stood unrivalled as a seat of Mohammedan learning of every kind; and even now the Haram of Mecca is not to be compared to the Azhar mosque as regards the number and the fame of its professors and the variety of branches cultivated. In the last half-century (that is, the second half of the 19th century), however, the ancient repute of the Egyptian metropolis has suffered a good deal from the enormous increase of European influence in the land of the Pharaohs; the effects of which have made themselves felt even in the Azhar. Modern programs and methods of instruction have been adopted; and, what is still worse, modernism itself, favoured by the late Mufti Muhammed Abduh (d. 1905), has made its entrance into the sacred lecture-halls.”

Many reformist scholars in Cairo have sought to liberate and modernise the Islamic thought on the basis of independent interpretation of the Qur’an. The efforts stood in contradistinction to “the way of the Wahhabi reformers, who tried a century before to restore the institutions of Mohammed’s time in their original purity, but on the contrary with the object of adapting Islam by all means in their power to the requirements of modern life.”

The feature was a segment of the legacy of Muhammad Ali (d. 1849), the Ottoman governor and the de facto ruler of Egypt (1805-1848). He was reputed as the founder of modern Egypt. He sought to modernise the country along the Western lines in the spheres of military, economy, culture and education. It stands to reason that it was as much symbolism as coincidence that Muhammad Ali fought and defeated the Wahhabis in a war of attrition from 1811 to 1818. While it would be a farfetched assumption to claim that the war denoted a clash between the material and immaterial forces of modernism and those of traditionalism, the same to a degree was the case – even though sheer politics and power struggle had a full bearing on the conflict.  

Though moderately represented and having made some significant strides, modernisation in Cairo was still very slow and insipid. It was rather a crusade of individuals – or small groups at most – and was yet to be fully institutionalised. It stood for a tug of war especially in the spheres of institutions, policy making, administration and implementation. New modern institutions of learning were established, as the most conspicuous consequence, sidestepping the reputation and physical presence of the Azhar which was rapidly losing its appeal in the minds of both traditionalists and modernists. A troop of modernist scholars and modernist political leaders were in charge of the project. Yet inside the Azhar itself there were clear and wide rifts between reformists and traditionalists. The former followed the philosophy and example of Muhammad Abduh and the latter, having constituted the majority of the professors and students, have simply been labelled as the opponents of modernity.

Thus, despite myriads of obstacles, Cairo, in a way, was becoming a direction and centre of Islamic reformation and modernity, whereas Makkah was moving in an opposite direction. Both adopted some form of unyielding disposition, with each side carving out its independent path and self-rule, and minding its own business. There was little in the real world that was common to them and that could bring them closer to each other. As if the two ambits and trends were drifting apart day after day. Constantly they were at once criticised and extolled by their respective enthusiasts and critics. 

To illustrate the point, Hurgronje cited the example of a book that had been published in Cairo in 1911, and which contained “a description of the present Khedive’s pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina”. The book was titled “al-Rihlah al-Hijaziyyah” (The Journey or Expedition in the Hijaz) and was written by Muhammad Labib al-Batanuni. What was characteristic about the book was its modern approach, style and methodology. As Hurgronje put it, the book was “one of the numerous interesting specimens of the mental development effected in Egypt in the last years.” Its author evidently possessed “a good deal of the scholastic learning to be gathered in the Azhar and no European erudition in the stricter sense of the word.” 

The topics of the book have been treated “almost as fully and accurately as we could desire from the hand of the most accomplished European scholar.” Notwithstanding that the author was inquisitive, articulate and innovative in his ways of dealing with various religious, social and political issues, he did not disturb “the mind of the pious reader by any historical criticism of the traditions connected with the House of Allah, the Black Stone, and the other sanctuaries, but he loses no opportunity to show his dislike of all superstition; sometimes, as if to prevent Western readers from indulging in mockery, he compares Meccan rites or customs with superstitious practices current amongst Jews or Christians of today.”

Hurgronje concluded that although the mentioned book had been adopted by the Egyptian Department of Public Instruction as a reading book for the schools, in Makkah, on the contrary, a scholar of the old style would have shaken his head at the novel style and the atypically presented contents of the book and would have exclaimed: “We seek refuge near Allah from Satan, the cursed!”

Legitimising westernisation and colonisation 

In this way Hurgronje acknowledged the inevitability of modernising the Muslim world and also some of the immense problems the enterprise was facing. It was not a question of if, but when and how Muslims were going to become an integral part of the modern world. The question whether Muslims should be left alone and their Islam left unreformed as it was for centuries, was no longer an object of serious discussion. Such were the dynamics of the time that the reforming processes were at work essentially everywhere, in some parts with surprising rapidity. Hurgronje therefore stressed that “we can only try to prognosticate the solution which the near future reserves for the problem, how the Moslim world is to be associated with modern thought.”

In the problem the whole civilised world and the whole world of Islam – which was yet to be civilised (modernised) – were concerned. The problem of Islam lay at the basis of the existential question for all Muslim countries and groups. At the same time, it claimed as well the attention of all the other nations partaking in the international exchange of material and spiritual goods. Trying to display his impartiality, Hurgronje added that the matter would have been more generally established and appreciated if “some knowledge of Islam were more widely spread amongst ourselves; if it were better realised that Islam is next akin to Christianity.”

Hurgronje next put forth a few suggestions as to how to accomplish the mission. He firstly affirmed the universal truth to the effect that Muslims will never reject their own traditions of thirteen centuries and will adopt a new religious faith. However, they were becoming ever better disposed to associate their intellectual, social, and political life with that of the modern world. In the eyes of Hurgronje, that was promising and represented the starting point for two divisions of mankind which for centuries had lived “their own lives separately in mutual misunderstanding, from which to pursue their way arm in arm to the greater advantage of both.”

Moreover, Muslims’ religious autonomy was to be respected somewhat. They had to be left alone to reconcile the new ideas which they wanted with the old ones with which they could not dispense. However, the experiences of Makkah and Cairo brought home the message that Muslims were neither universally willing nor capable of, or adequately equipped to, do so. Hence, the West was duty-bound to intervene and help Muslims in adapting their educational system – more than anything else – to modern requirements. 

An outstanding aspect of the proposed adaptation process was the revision of the Islamic medieval canonical law on holy war (jihad) which was still identifiable in the Muslim mind with power and right in politics. The dogmas of Islam on the subject of jihad were disseminated as so fanatical and so extremist that they supplied the principal stimulus to the adamant, “vicious” and “inhuman” rebellion in Aceh – by way of example. Hurgronje was critical of some devastating tactics adopted by Aceh anticolonial and freedom fighters, which had been established in the name of jihad, saying as for instance that “for serious attacks they made use of fanatics who, fortified by the assurance of their teachers that anyone who fell in a war against infidels would go straight to heaven, eagerly went to their death, and of assassins who pretended to be friendly so as to help the cause by gaining admission to some camp and there plunging into slaughter.”

It became necessary that Muslims were tamed and kept in check, but the ideology, as well as culture, of jihad was a hindrance. The world of mysticism – chiefly its pseudo types – was to be propagated instead, as it was more inclined to the notions of pacifism and fatalism. That is why Hurgronje repeatedly elaborated, for example, that the Prophet is said to have declared void all knowledge and fulfilment of the law which lacked mystic experience. He also harangued that true faith and true knowledge could be reached only by the way of mysticism, although knowledge of and obedience to the law, as well as orthodox faith, were indispensable conditions. Edward Said accordingly observed that Hurgronje’s studies of Islamic mysticism were highly refined and that he considered it the essential part of Islam.

Hurgronje reckoned that the principal condition for a “fruitful friendly” intercourse of this kind is that “we make the Moslim world an object of continual serious investigation in our intellectual centres.” He further underlined that his vast experiences and scientific investigations had impressed him with the firm conviction “that between Islam and the modern world an understanding is to be attained, and that no period has offered a better chance of furthering it than the time in which we are living.”

However, Hurgronje’s vocabulary was uniquely subtle. The terms “modernisation”, “civilisation”, “studying and understanding Islam”, “coexistence”, “cooperation”, “education”, “liberation”, etc., were to be viewed but within the framework of his colonisation pursuit, which, at the end of the day, was his raison d’etre. His entire thought and life engagements, one way or another, were predicated on the latter. That was the reason why, as per Edward Said, he went directly from his studies of Islam to being an adviser to the Dutch government on handling its Muslim Indonesian colonies. Which explains why he did not regard colonisation as a bad thing, let alone dehumanising and a crime. Rather, it was a positive thing and a sign of aid, deliverance, refinement and facilitation. It was an evidence of discharging responsibilities. The barbarism and primitiveness of the Orient were to be replaced by the sophistication and enlightenment of the Occident. In the process of so doing, force and ill-treatment were not to be openly prioritised. Except that the last point – parenthetically – was a sheer cliché, yet a deception, if one considers how much Hurgronje was able to tolerate, and even recommend, the use of force and violence in Aceh. 

In that vein Hurgronje proposed that Islamic law, despite it occasionally yielding to the pressure of history and society by making concessions to the use and customs of the people and the arbitrariness of their rulers, should be distinguished as an important subject of study in the West. That was so firstly because Islamic law still retained a considerable influence on the intellectual life of Muslims, and secondly because, apart from abstract reasons connected with the history of law, civilisation and religion, studying Islamic law was demanded by some practical purposes as well. Hence, “the more intimate the relations of Europe with the Muslim East become, the more Muslim countries fall under European suzerainty, the more important it is for us Europeans to become acquainted with the intellectual life, the religious law, and the conceptual background of Islam.” That is to say, to know Islam and the Muslim world was to know how much different from and at variance with the West they were, validating Western suzerainty and control over Muslim nations. And to know the Muslim world was to know that which the West had been entrusted with improving and safeguarding.

Hurgronje explicitly proclaimed concerning the Dutch colonisation of the thirty-five millions of Muslims in Indonesia that history had merely placed them “under the guardianship of my own country.” He yet insinuated that his overall mission was noble and that he was a faithful servant. In connection with his lectures on Islam (Mohammedanism) – and the rest of his scholarly activities – he said that it would be a great satisfaction to him if his efforts were to cause some of his hearers to consider the problem of Islam as one of the most important of their time, and its solution worthy of their interest and of a claim on their exertion.

As a little detour, furthermore, within the framework of his giving ideological and matter-of-fact preference to Makkah over Istanbul – so as to make it stand out as the obvious and focused, but also isolated, target – Hurgronje endeavoured time after time to undermine the latter and its status as a “centre”. He as a case in point branded Sultan Abdul Hamid II a “tyrant” and a “despot” and his rule a “tyrannical sway” that obstructed freedom, justice and genuine progress. Members of the political leadership in Istanbul and their governance, furthermore, were not qualified to be on an equal footing with the historical institution of caliphate whose surviving validity, nonetheless, had been seriously questioned. 

Accordingly, the Sultan was not in a position to ask Muslims to swear their allegiance to him, particularly such as were not ruled by his government – like those Muslims in the East-Indian Archipelago. Nor was he in a position to proclaim and invite Muslims to jihad, which was a thorn in Hurgronje’s eye and which he repeatedly dubbed a medieval iniquitous institution that embodied the Muslim medieval fanaticism. New organisational and government alternatives were emerging instead, and the modern European powers – as a matter of practicality and even urgency – were playing a prominent role. Whenever he could, correspondingly, Hurgronje wasted no time in discrediting the Istanbul-based political version of pan-Islamism. He did so especially in his book “The holy war made in Germany”.

On these points Hurgronje elaborated, while additionally authorising and defending colonisation: “This important change is a natural consequence of the modernisation of Mohammedan political life, a movement through which the expounders of a law which has endeavoured to remain stationary since the year 1000 must necessarily get into straits. This explains also why the religious life of Mohammedans is in some respects freer in countries under non-Mohammedan authority, than under a Mohammedan government. Under English, Dutch, or French rule the ulamas are less interfered with in their teaching, the muftis in their recommendations, and the qadhis in their judgments of questions of marriage and inheritance than in Turkey, where the life of Islam, as state religion, lies under official control.”

The case of the Jawah 

The reputation of Makkah as a centre of traditionalism and pan-Islamism was greatly affecting the Jawah, especially the Acehnese on account of the ongoing Aceh war. Each year thousands of people from all walks of life thronged the holy city for hajj, exposing themselves to ideologically “hazardous elements” and politically “undesirable influences”, while the Dutch government could do nothing, or extremely little, about the matter. Hajj was gradually developing into a prospective time bomb. Hurgronje acknowledged that the object of his study of Islam and the Acehnese was to identify – and potentially cure – the exact nature and scope of the influences of Islamic fanaticism, as practiced especially in pan-Islamic Makkah, on the people of Aceh and their steadfast opposition to the Dutch presence in their country.   

The problem was compounded by a steady increase in the number of pilgrims and by the fact that many people following the hajj season were keen either on settling permanently in Makkah or on staying behind longer for pure scholarly and religious purposes. Those people, naturally, became more indoctrinated, developing in the process a special affinity for the character of the holy city, in which case they grew into agents of the same perspective for the future legions of Jawah pilgrims. They thus morphed from being influenced to becoming influencers. So significant was the role of this Jawah community in Makkah – or the Jawah colony, as Hurgronje called it – that in essence it represented the future of the peoples out of whom it was composed and continually increased, and all parts worked in their own fashion at the hastening of the foreseen process of development. Hurgronje summed up the phenomenon in a sense that the hajj served indirectly as a channel through which currents of intensive Muslim religious and socio-political life found their way to the Jawah lands. Those hundreds and sometimes even only dozens who remained in Makkah – some eventually fully integrating themselves into the Makkan society – were seen as most important and most critical.

The Jawah were known as kind and pious. However, they were also reputed as naive and gullible, for many lacked the foundation of a thorough religious training. The presence of the infidel Dutch rulers, moreover, made them crave for a thorough Islamic affiliation and even identity. Everything associated with Makkah and the life in it was therefore perceived as ideal and dreamlike. It was a utopia. This credulity has rendered many Jawah pilgrims to be too vulnerable and to be too easily seduced into subscribing to diverse religious and political currents. The same applied to the situation back home where if the agitators were Arabs, they could always be sure of an amount of success.

The Jawah pilgrims either directly or indirectly through the members of the Jawah colony in Makkah regularly got affected by the exchanges of ideas and experiences that unavoidably transpired in Makkah during the hajj term. Although the language barrier might have posed a problem, yet the mere spectacle of hajj as the international exhibition of Islam and the psychological attachment to every aspect thereof, was sufficient to leave an undeletable mark on the mind and soul of every pilgrim. The morale and determination of the Jawah could in no way be the same after hearing – for example – from the lips of Indian Muslims but words of most acrimonious hatred against the British, and from the lips of Algerians the words of bitterest animosity towards France as “the empire of the insane” and Paris as the capital of infidelity and “the paradise of the infidel”. The assessment of all other enemies of Islam, colonial or otherwise, did not fare much better.

Needless to say that the Jawah pilgrims supplied their own share of the indignant colonial sentiment to their counterparts from elsewhere in the Muslim world. Hajj likewise was an opportunity for the Jawah who had arrived from different parts of the Dutch East Indies to exchange their domestic insights and experiences vis-à-vis the Dutch imperialist presence in their midst. National viewpoints were as important as international ones. In consequence, numerous real, exaggerated and outright fabricated accounts were circulated. They portrayed the military and moral victories of local populations, the losses and growing weaknesses of the enemy, a bright future for the oppressed and a bleak one for the oppressor, miraculous ingredients associated with certain battles and certain individuals, etc. 

In his book on Makkah in the latter part of the 19th century, Hurgronje reported some conversations as featured such accounts, and which he himself had heard while in the city. He said: “I could go on almost indefinitely if I wanted to give all conversations similar to the one given above to which I found opportunity to listen whilst in Mekka, and in which above all it was the pilgrims from Jawah lands (i.e. not those settled in Mekka) who exchanged their opinions. These conversations were for me less delightful than instructive.” The author then admitted that the Dutch should console themselves with the thought that the pictures of French, English and Russians drawn in Makkah by the Muslims over whom they had ruled were not more flattering than those of the Dutch drawn by the Jawah.

In the Jawah and certainly all Malay lands the people cherished entirely legendary or semi-legendary traditions as to the introduction and rise of Islam and its culture and civilisation. In contrast to such peoples as the Egyptians, Turks, Persians and Indians, who had played a great role on the stage of Islam, the Jawah stepped on the same stage with modesty and reserve “as if to proclaim with every footfall their conviction that they have not themselves earned their part in the blessings of Islam.” As a result, all Islamic cultural and civilisational centres notwithstanding, Makkah remained to the Jawah the greatest centre in every sense of the word. All other centres played second fiddle to it. That additionally explicates why the Jawah when in Makkah mostly observe, admire, listen and absorb. They are seldom over-assertive and big-headed. And when they return, they rarely stop harking back to the status and role of Makkah, and rarely stop contemplating and relating their lives to its sublimity. 

While historically staying on the periphery of the development of Islamic culture and civilisation, the last thing the Jawah wanted was to weaken even further their relationship with Makkah as the focal point of their religious and cultural existence. On the contrary, modern times presented them with a great many opportunities to reverse the trend to some extent. Those opportunities needed to be seized and taken full advantage of. The colonisation however was a setback. Its episode was the sternest test yet, which the Jawah were determined to pass at all costs. 

This is how Hurgronje explained one of many impacts of pan-Islamic Makkah on Jawah pilgrims:  “Although many hundreds of the pilgrims annually returning from Mekka bring only a vague notion of the Hajj ceremonies from the journey, not even the most stupid come back from Mekka without a deep impression of the hitherto unknown world. The politico-religious might of Islam hitherto known to them only from popular legends about the grey early times and from fairy-like visions as to the end time, has proclaimed itself as a living reality. At home they had heard of the great Sultan of Rum (Constantinople) to whom the six infidel sultans must submit and pay tribute, but they noted in life not the least sign of his All-Power. Their country folk, settled in Mekka, even after having become worldly-wise still retain those naive impressions of European conditions. They learn indeed that in reality there are more than six infidel sultans, and that there is sometimes something lacking in regard to submission towards the chief Moslim sultan, but they still remain under the impression that an infidel Power only gained significance by being represented in Constantinople. They thus strengthen their compatriots, who come as pilgrims, in their first amazement at the actual greatness of Islam.”

Hurgronje recapped the pan-Islamic religious and political influences of Makkah and its hajj ceremony on the Jawah as follows. He firstly acknowledged that such influences were enormous and diverse. However, since the illustrious power of the government displayed itself much more brilliantly in Constantinople, or Istanbul, than in Makkah, and a few widely travelled Jawah could report over what they had superficially seen, the former was also elevated to the status of the material centre, albeit only to complement and reinforce the ubiquitous rank of Makkah.

Hurgronje next understood that all Jawah were not affected in like measure. Some were more and others less fanatical or pious. Those who had studied at home in full-fledged traditional religious and educational institutions, and in mosques, were “most open to pan-Islamic influences”. What is more, among the vast and uneducated masses of pilgrims there were always a few who were disposed to draw from the hajj and Makkah experiences the seeds of raw fanaticism. But they all became influenced by the active intercourse with fellow pilgrims from the entire Archipelago and with the Jawah settled in Makkah, and by the impressions which developed from those exchanges of thought. The effects pertained to the might of Islam in general and anti-colonial resistance in particular, and the prospect of defying all unbelievers, which Islam was spreading from its spiritual centre. At any rate, though, all Jawah pilgrims returned home as better and more disciplined faithful. They were better Muslims.

Those influences could also be discerned in the handbooks and scholarly references used in teaching in Muslim schools in Java, Sumatra and Borneo. The latest literary publications in Makkah were always the priority. Among the merchandise exported out of Makkah featured above all printed books the authors of which were either from the Jawah settled in Makkah, or Makkan scholars especially esteemed by the Jawah. John Lewis Burckhardt also observed that the Jawah, together with Persian pilgrims, were those who chiefly searched for and bought books in Makkah.

To Hurgronje, as a consequence, Makkah, hajj and the blooming Jawah community or colony in Makkah represented the heart of the religious life of the East-Indian Archipelago. Numerous arteries pumped from thence fresh blood in ever accelerating tempo to the entire body of the Muslim populace of Indonesia. Hurgronje explained both the effects and strategies to confront them in this manner: “Here the threads of all mystic societies of the Jawah run together, from thence they draw the literature used in their religious schools, here, through the mediation of friends and relatives settled down, they take part in pan-Islamic life and effort. Just as now no dam can be set against the pilgrim-stream, so now nobody can do anything to prevent every flow backwards and forwards from bringing to Arabia seeds which there develop, return to the East-Indies as cultivated plants, and multiply themselves again. It is thus important to the Government to know what goes on in Mekka, what elements are exported from there every year, and how by skilful handling these can be won over to support the Government or at least made harmless. Then it will be possible, without breach of peace, to steer the spiritual life, avoiding measures based upon misunderstanding, at times hateful and at other times too lax; in some cases entirely ‘taking the wind out of the sails’ from the influences streaming from the intellectual heart of Islam, and in others at least moderating them.”

What Hurgronje proposed for the whole Muslim population of Indonesia he also proposed for the exceptional problem connected with Aceh. The latter was part of the former after all.  However, since the relations between Aceh and its Dutch colonisers were those of virulent warfare, his language was different. He sounded more ill-disposed and more judgmental. He sounded more commanding. Encapsulating his entire colonisation philosophy, Hurgronje proposed that Aceh and its people be brought into the comity of civilised states or at least to be rendered tamed and harmless to it. Their ethos and trajectory had to be changed and their religious understanding and overall educational culture be revisited. The processes of appeasing, reforming and civilising Aceh and its people were to be based on the proven carrot-and-stick approach. 

The crux of the problem in the eyes of Hurgronje and the Dutch invaders was that from Islam (Mohammedanism), which for centuries they are reputed to have accepted, Aceh and its people only learnt “a large number of dogmas relating to hatred of the infidel without any of their mitigating concomitants; so that the Achehnese made a regular business of piracy and man-hunting at the expense of the neighbouring non-Mohammedan countries and islands, and considered that they were justified in any act of treachery or violence to European (and latterly to American) traders who came in search of pepper, the staple product of the country. Complaints of robbery and murder on board ships trading in Achehnese parts thus grew to be chronic.”


Hurgronje was one of the most prominent and most influential Orientalists. He was an international intellectual celebrity. He lived and worked at the time when Islamic civilisation was exposed to the unprecedented challenges of modernity and the Muslim world was undergoing the most difficult – and painful – changes yet. Within the uncharted territories of modernity, both as a philosophy and a concrete civilisational reality, Islam-West (Orient-Occident) relations were developing on rather unfair terms against the backdrop of the growing Western appetite for colonisation and imperialism. 

Hurgronje was an active participant in the events. Apart from being a leading scholar of Islam and the Muslim world – from the Orientalist point of view – he was also an advisor to the Dutch government for its colonisation project in the Dutch East Indies. Scores of Dutch undertakings and policies came about primarily due to Hurgronje’s involvements and counsels. His main contributions revolved around explaining and confronting the cardinal Islamic principles of Muslim unity and brotherhood (known in the 19th and 20th centuries in global intellectual together with political circles as pan-Islamism), jihad or holy war (as part of a total meritorious struggle for the sake of God) as a stimulus for anticolonialism, the origins and evolution of the Islamic religious and political thought, and the interpretation of Islam as a source of political identity and action in contemporary contexts (paving thereby the way for what later came to be known in the West as political Islam). The focal point of the implementation of Hurgronje’s ideas and programs were the East-Indian Archipelago with the Jawah groups in general and the Acehnese in particular, and the holy city of Makkah as the spiritual and emotional centre of all Muslims and the home of the thriving Jawah community (colony).

Some of the most noteworthy deductions of Hurgronje were those to the effect that the idea of pan-Islamism was initiated by Muslim political leaders concentrated in Constantinople (Istanbul) so as to seek solace in its potential intrigues for many a political and religious failure; that pan-Islamism could not work with any program except with the worn-out and flagrantly impracticable program of world-conquest by Islam, which however had lost its hold on all sensible adherents of Islam; that although pan-Islamism was not organised, nonetheless in Muslim countries under European rule – including Indonesian territories under the Dutch – it often would oppose the normal development of a mutually desirable relation between the governing and the governed; that the pan-Islamic idea had penetrated into the East-Indian Archipelago but it found little favourable ground, making thus Makkah, in its capacity as the locus of the religious and intellectual dimensions of pan-Islamism, and the blooming Jawah community in it, the heart of and the source of biggest dangers to the religious life of the Archipelago; that history had entrusted the native population of Indonesia to the civilisational care of the Dutch, legitimising thus colonisation; and that the waning notions of caliphate, jihad, Islamic conquests and Muslim universal unity were medieval iniquities and the anachronistic forms of Muslim fanaticism, which were proving powerless in the face of the dynamic and prolific processes of westernisation, civilisation and modernisation.***

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *