To reach Mecca, Richard Burton had himself circumcised and travelled in disguise, passing himself off as “a wandering Dervish.” It was a substantial risk: if he had been discovered, Burton would have been killed immediately. In the passage below, he explains why he chose the disguise:
No character in the Moslem world is so proper for disguise as that of the Dervish. It is assumed by all ranks, ages, and creeds; by the nobleman who has been disgraced at court, and by the peasant who is too idle to till the ground; by Dives, who is weary of life, and by Lazarus, who begs his bread from door to door. Further, the Dervish is allowed to ignore ceremony and politeness, as one who ceases to appear upon the stage of life ; he may pray or not, marry or remain single as he pleases, be respectable in cloth of frieze as in cloth of gold, and no one asks him — the chartered vagabond — Why he comes here? or Wherefore he goes there? He may wend his way on foot or alone, or ride his Arab mare followed by a dozen servants; he is equally feared without weapons as swaggering through the streets armed to the teeth. The more haughty and offensive he is to the people, the more they respect him; a decided advantage to the traveller of choleric temperament. In the hour of imminent danger, he has only to become a maniac, and he is safe; a madman in the East, like a notably eccentric character in the West, is allowed to say or do whatever the spirit directs. Add to this character a little knowledge of medicine, a “moderate skill in magic, and a reputation for caring for nothing but study and books,” together with capital sufficient to save you from the chance of starving, and you appear in the East to peculiar advantage. The only danger of the “Mystic Path” which leads or is supposed to lead to heaven is that the Dervishes ragged coat not unfrequently covers the cut-throat, and if seized in the society of such a “brother” you may reluctantly become his companion, under the stick or on the stake.
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