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Al Tawafah: Religious guidance for pilgrims since Ottoman Era - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- Religious guidance for those who perform Haj or Umra known as Al Tawafah is as old as the Grand Holy Mosque itself. This guidance indicates the supplications and prayers to recite during the circling the holy Ka”bah. The people of Mecca made this one of the professions along with other services to pilgrims such as Rifadah (reception) and Siqayyah (offering water). The person who chooses to provide this type of religious guidance is referred to as &#34Al Mutawef.&#34

Faysal Rashidi, a Mutawef noted, &#34the name to be given to those guides differs. In Mecca they are called Mutawefeen (plural for Mutawef) while the people in Medina call them Adilla” (Arabic for guides in a literal sense). During the mid 1960”s, many of the young men in Mecca practiced al-Tawafah despite their youth. Among those was Hussein Al Khayatt, who is now an old man. He became a Mutawef at the young age of nine as he used to recite prayers for people to repeat after him while they carried him on their shoulders. Hussein Al Khayatt with reference to this period said, &#34What distinguished this profession was that I learnt many words of different languages according to the nationality of the pilgrims to whom I was offering guidance.&#34

According to Ahmad Al Sebae”i in his book &#34History of Mecca,&#34 the history of Tawafah as an official profession (before that it was voluntarily) dates back to the Ottoman era. The idea began when it emerged that there was a problem in communication with the pilgrims who did not speak Arabic, or struggled with the language, especially the Turks. Ibrahim Bin Zahirah was the first officially proclaimed Mutawef. Before that, he had been one of the judges of the Ottoman state in Mecca. Thus, Tawafah first stemmed from the judiciary and was restricted to the noble families however it was quickly adopted by all social classes. According to Mohamed Al Kurdi in his book &#34The Virtuous History of Mecca&#34 which studied the reports that were written in the reign of Al-Ashraf (the descendants of the Prophet), the prices of the Tuwafah guidance ranged according to the pilgrims” nationality. Prices varied from a few Indian Rupees, to an Ottoman Pound, or a Majidi Riyal depending on where the pilgrim came from.

The ”Mataf” (the radius around the Ka”bah that is circled by pilgrims) or as the people of Mecca call it the ”Sahan”, was considered the border of the mosque as there were no gates. Before expansions of the mosque took place, a narrow road between each two houses formed a direct path to the mosque. This was before the first expansion that took place during the reign of Caliph ”Omar Ibn Al Khattab in which lanterns were placed on top of the houses. More changes took place under the reign of Abdel Malik Ibn Marwan.

During the caliphate times, people would gather in the Mataf, the ground of which was covered by stones and sand. Due to the heat, ”Omar Ibn Al Khattab paved it with soft pebbles. At a later stage, ”Abdullah Ibn Al Zubair was the first to decorate the Mataf with ceramics in 64A.H. The kings and caliphs ever since have rushed to improve the ground of the Mataf with various materials. In 980 A.H, it was decorated with mountainous stones, and in 1003 A.H with Marmar stone. By 1006 A.H, it was redecorated with white marble during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Mohamed Khan.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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