1757 Hajj caravan raid

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1757 Hajj caravan raid
DateSeptember-Late October 1757
LocationAl-Qatranah (Damascus Eyalet) and Hallat Ammar (Jeddah Eyalet), Ottoman Empire
Result Hajj caravan plundered and pilgrims killed
 Ottoman Empire Bani Saqr
Bani Aqil
Bani Kulayb
Commanders and leaders
Ottoman Empire Husayn Pasha ibn Makki (Amir al-Hajj)
Musa Pasha  
Qa'dan al-Fa'iz (Bani Saqr chief)
Casualties and losses
~20,000 pilgrims killed or died of starvation/thirst

The 1757 Hajj caravan raid was the plunder and massacre of the Hajj caravan of 1757 on its return to Damascus from Mecca by Bedouin tribesmen led by Qa'dan al-Fa'iz of the Bani Saqr tribe. An estimated 20,000 pilgrims were either killed or died of hunger or thirst as a result of the raid. Although Bedouin raids on the Hajj caravan were fairly common, the 1757 raid represented the peak of such attacks.[1] Historian Aref Abu-Rabia called it the "most famous" Bedouin raid against the Hajj caravan.[2] The raid caused a crisis in the Ottoman government,[3] with senior high-ranking officials such as the Kizlar Agha, Aboukouf, and the former Wali of Damascus, As'ad Pasha al-Azm, executed for their alleged negligence or involvement, respectively.[4]


Performing the Hajj (annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca) is a sacred duty in Islam. During the Ottoman era in the Levant (1517–1917), as in previous periods, Muslim pilgrims from the Levant and Anatolia would assemble in Damascus and travel together[5] in a caravan stocked with goods and foodstuffs to Mecca under an armed guard led by a commander known as the amir al-hajj. The armed guard was present mainly to protect the caravan from Bedouin assaults as it traveled through various Bedouin tribes' territories.[6]

Major looting raids against the caravan normally occurred when the tribes were experiencing economic hardships. The Bedouin would typically be paid off by the amir al-hajj through a sarr (tribute) payment in return for safe passage through their territory.[7] The sarr money came from revenues collected by the amir al-hajj earmarked specifically for the Hajj caravan's protection and supply. Often, an amir al-hajj would pay half of the sarr to the most powerful Bedouin tribes en route to Mecca, and pay the other half on the return if the circumstances necessitated it. If the Bedouin tribes did not threaten the caravan on the return trip, the amir al-hajj would keep the remainder of the sarr payment to himself. Many times, despite payment of the sarr, the Bedouin tribes would loot the caravan regardless, although to a much lesser extent.[8] The tribes also received additional income from selling transport camels to pilgrims. In addition, Bedouin tribesmen were enlisted to serve as the caravan's auxiliary troops because of their familiarity with the territory and the predominantly Bedouin population that inhabited the areas along the route to Mecca. Thus, the Hajj caravan was a lucrative source of income for the tribes.[7]

In the decades prior to the 1757 raid, the predominant Bedouin tribes in the region between Damascus and the northern Hejaz were the Bani Saqr and the smaller tribes of Bani Aqil, Bani Kulayb and Sardiyah. However, beginning in the early 18th century, the much larger Anizzah tribe from Najd occupied the Syrian Desert region, displacing the other tribes. Consequently, the Ottoman commanders leading the Hajj gradually transferred the traditional duties normally entrusted with the Bani Saqr and its allies to the Anizzah. This deprived these tribes of a major income source and the religiously prestigious role of protecting the Muslim pilgrims.[7][9] The Bani Saqr and the Anizzah partook in joint raids against the Hajj caravan in 1700 and 1703.[10] The financial hardship of the Bani Saqr and the lesser tribes were exacerbated by a severe drought in 1756 and 1757.[7][11]

The raid[edit]

After having completed his dawrah tour in April 1757, Amir al-Hajj and Wali of Damascus Husayn Pasha ibn Makki departed with the pilgrim caravan in July,[12] and it arrived safely in Mecca several weeks after.[13] As the caravan set off for their return to Syria, the caravan's smaller advance guard under commander Musa Pasha was assaulted by Bani Saqr tribesmen commanded by Qa'dan al-Fa'iz at al-Qatranah, in central modern-day Jordan. The guard was plundered and dispersed, with soldiers fleeing south to Ma'an, southwest to Gaza, west to Jerusalem and north to the Hauran plain. Musa Pasha was personally attacked and managed to escape to the Hauran town of Daraa "nude and barefooted", according to historian Abbud al-Sabbagh. Musa later died of his wounds.[13]

Surviving soldiers of the advance guard arrived at Damascus to alert the authorities, who afterward dispatched a relief guard to support the main caravan, which by late September had reached the northern Hejaz town of Tabuk. The relief guard was attacked by the tribesmen at an area between al-Qatranah and Ma'an, and was not able to proceed much further than the Balqa plain. Husayn Pasha had too been alerted of the advance guard's plunder and the relief guard's dispersal, and attempted to reach out to Sheikh Qa'dan. Husayn Pasha's representatives offered Sheikh Qa'dan a bribe in exchange for safe passage to Damascus, but were rebuffed.[13]

The caravan's provisions were running low,[13] and Husayn Pasha departed Tabuk[9] with the caravan in late October with knowledge that the Bani Saqr and allied tribesmen, including the smaller Sardiyah, Bani Aqil and Bani Kulayb,[13] awaited them on the route.[9] On the third day of Husayn Pasha's march,[13] the Bedouin tribesmen launched their assault on the caravan between Tabuk and Dhat al-Hajj.[13] According to historian F. E. Peters, the site of the assault was Hallat Ammar, on the Tabuk-Ma'an road at the border between modern-day Jordan and Saudi Arabia.[9]

At the immediate outset of the raid, numerous pilgrims were killed.[13] The Bedouin tribesmen plundered the caravan of its remaining provisions and goods and withdrew.[9] Among the looted items was the highly decorated mahmal (litter) that represented the sovereignty of the Ottoman sultan.[4] Some 20,000 pilgrims were either killed by the attackers, died of their wounds, or died of hunger or thirst on the way back to Damascus.[14][15][16] Among the dead pilgrims was one of Sultan Osman III's sisters. Husayn Pasha survived, but did not return to Damascus, fearing for his safety.[9] The 18th-century Damascus-based chronicler Ahmed al-Budeiri recorded that pilgrims, men and women, were stripped of their clothing and left naked in the desert by the Bedouin raiders.[17]


The raid shocked people across the Ottoman Empire,[16] and the authorities in Damascus and the Ottoman capital, Istanbul. Sultan Osman III died on 30 October 1757 and was succeeded by Mustafa III. Sultan Mustafa had various imperial and provincial officials he held responsible for failing to secure the caravan punished. Husayn Pasha was immediately dismissed as Amir al-Hajj and Wali of Damascus and ultimately reassigned as Sanjak-Bey (district governor) of his hometown Gaza in 1762.[18] Husayn Pasha submitted a complaint to the authorities in Istanbul, alleging that the powerful Arab sheikh of the Galilee, Zahir al-Umar, incited the Bedouin tribes to launch the raid, which Zahir denied. Zahir requested an investigation into the matter and the investigating authorities concluded that he was not involved in the raid.[19] Moreover, Zahir curried favor with the authorities by buying the looted goods from the Bani Saqr and returning to the sultan the mahmal.[4]

Husayn Pasha's imperial patron and an official with some responsibilities regarding the Hajj caravan, the Kizlar Agha Aboukouf, was arrested, exiled to Rhodes and executed. Aboukouf's severed head was placed outside the imperial palace in Istanbul with the official justification for his death being his appointment of Husayn Pasha and dismissal of the former Wali of Damascus and Amir al-Hajj, As'ad Pasha al-Azm, who had successfully led the pilgrimage throughout his 14-year reign.[18][20] However, As'ad Pasha was also punished due to suspicions that he collaborated with the Bedouin raiders to attack the caravan in order to discredit his successor Husayn Pasha and convince the imperial authorities to restore him to office.[16][18] According to Ahmad Hasan Joudah, As'ad Pasha was exiled to Crete, but was executed on the way there, in March 1758. His severed head was also displayed in front of the sultan's palace.[18]


  1. ^ Cohen, p. 20.
  2. ^ Abu Rabia, pp. 2–3.
  3. ^ Özyüksel, p. 61.
  4. ^ a b c Joudah, 1987, pp. 41–42.
  5. ^ Sato, 2014, p. 134.
  6. ^ Damurdashi, 1991, p. 20.
  7. ^ a b c d Joudah, 1987, pp. 40–41.
  8. ^ Peters, p. 160.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Peters, p. 161.
  10. ^ Van der Steen, p. 177.
  11. ^ Hathaway and Barbir, p. 89.
  12. ^ Joudah, p. 39.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h Joudah, 1987, p. 40.
  14. ^ Dumper, p. 122.
  15. ^ Masters, ed. Agoston, p. 248.
  16. ^ a b c Burns, p. 245.
  17. ^ Hathaway and Barbir, pp. 89–90.
  18. ^ a b c d Joudah, 1987, p. 42.
  19. ^ Joudah, 1987, p. 41.
  20. ^ Peters, p. 162.