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Depiction of Indian Society in the Travelogues of Saudi Writer Muhammad bin Nasser Al-Aboudi

Dr. Mohammad Salim
 (PDF, ICSSR, New Delhi)

      This research paper deals with the role of the travelogues of the Saudi writer Muhammad bin Nasser Al-Aboudi in portraying Indian society with all its dimensions, classes, rituals and traditions, its achievements and failures in modern time. Al-Aboudi addresses through his writings various social, cultural issues present in the Indian society. In his travelogues, we find Al-Aboudi discussing issues of the people in all parts of the country, in its Northern and Southern parts as well as its Eastern and Western parts, trying to narrate events and facts, in addition to talking about rituals and traditions practiced by people, as well as addressing the religious beliefs held by Hindus, Buddhists, and people of other religions in India. We also find him mentioning in his books the problems, difficulties, and challenges faced by the poor and needy in India in light of the scarcity of resources and the lack of effective planning for the success of humanitarian, social, and health projects in effective way.

Key words: Al-Aboudi, Travelogues, Indian society, Indian rituals and traditions

         The Saudi traveler Muhammad bin Nasser Al-Aboudi is considered as one of the great travelers of the modern era. He made many visits to different continents of the world and penned his observations, experiences, and impressions in his travelogues. Due to his dedication, persistence and richness in the genre of travelogue writing, people called him “the Dean of Travelogue writers,” as we see him visiting many countries of the world, seeing their achievements and landmarks, and witnessing their cultures, the rituals of their men, and their traditions, which he very aptly recorded in his various travelogues. He wrote more than one hundred and sixty books on travel literature, in addition to his extensive writings in the fields of language, literature, and other genres.

      This great traveler was born in the city of Buraidah in Al-Qassim, in Saudi Arabia, in 1930 AD. He obtained primary education in the schools of his locality, like the children of his time, as the government system of education at that time did not exist the way we find now in Saudi Arabia. Al-Aboudi received his primary education and studied the Qur’an, Hadith, literature, and other Islamic and linguistic sciences. He acquired his education at the hands of some of the great sheikhs of his time. He assumed the position of Assistant Secretary-General of the World Muslim League. As its Assistant Secretary-General, he visited various countries of the world, with the aim of investigating and exploring the social, religious, political and economic conditions of Muslims in those countries. However, in addition to that, Al-Aboudi tried to record the conditions of ordinary people in those countries, which led to the emergence of great travelogues written by this great traveler.

His Visit to India

      The traveler Al-Aboudi visited various parts of India several times, and saw its cultural and civilizational landmarks. These visits to India proved to make him acquire extensive experience and gave him information about these remote places. The number of his travelogues about India reached seventeen books. Thus, Al-Aboudi made a major contribution to travel literature, and left behind a rich literary legacy that benefits subsequent generations and provides them with knowledge and information about the conditions of different peoples and communities in many countries around the world. Al-Aboudi’s many visits to various countries of the world provided him information about people’s cultures, rituals and traditions.

Themes in the Writings of Al-Aboudi:

      In his travelogues, Al-Aboudi addresses the social issues prevailing in human societies in the world. We find him presenting accurate pictures of the conditions of Muslims in African, Asian, European and various other countries. For example, we find him mentioning in his book “With the Polish Muslims” the conditions and circumstances of the people in this European country while describing the country and its men. While writing about this, Al-Aboudi describes the beauty of the women there, saying: “They are extremely beautiful. They are of the Slavic race, which our Arab ancestors call the Slavic race. The strange thing is that given the beauty of the features in their faces and the freshness or pink color that tends to… “The golden color in their look,”[1] and he describes in his other book about the beauty of French women, saying: “I have not seen, in the abundance of women appearances from all over the world, anything like the French woman in her tenderness when she lays down with a man, in her quality and in her face when she beautifies him, and in her mastery of her work if she loves him.”[2]

      It becomes clear to us after looking closely at Al-Aboudi’s travelogues that the dry, declarative style sometimes prevails in his style, despite him possessing a superior linguistic and literary ability to depict and describe scenes, sights, and landmarks. Al-Aboudi was gifted with fine taste. His travelogues seem to have a religious characteristic, as the goal behind his travelogues was to explore the conditions of Muslims in different parts of the world, and to learn about the reality of their lives and livelihood. There is no doubt that he made his best efforts and did well in this field. He always aimed to learn about the conditions of Muslims in different countries. What added research and scientific value to his writings is that the writer closely witnessed the global regions he visited, and saw the cultural components and landmarks, the ways of living of the people residing there, and their social and cultural issues, which provided him with extensive experiences that helped him in his depiction of those regions and writing about them in detail.

Al-Aboudi’s Visits to India and his Travelogues about it:

       In addition to his visits to various countries of the world, Al-Aboudi made many visits to India and its various parts. In his travelogues, he recorded all the cultural and civilizational landmarks and modern developments that he witnessed in India, in addition to writing about the social and economic conditions, and the religious beliefs the people.. The number of his travelogues about India reaches seventeen books. Among them we find the following books: “Muhammad bin Nasser Al-Aboudi: Travel in Kashmir and (Talk about the past and present of Muslims),” “In Western India (observations and conversations about Muslim affairs),” “A Look at North India, Part One,” and “Part Two”, “In the Far East of India”, “North-East India (His travel in the States of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and Discourse on Muslims”), “In Central India (Travels and Discourses on the Muslim, Past and Present)”, and “In South India (Travels in the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnatak), “Rajasthan, the Land of the Kings (Visits and talks about Muslims),” “Travel to Malabar,” “Travel in Kashmir,” and other books about India, its rituals, conditions, traditions and livelihood.

     Al-Aboudi wrote the above-mentioned travelogues after his many visits to various parts of India. In these travelogues, he presented accurate and wonderful pictures of social, political and economic conditions, and mentioned religious beliefs and explained the prevailing societal traditions in India. He himself says in the introduction to one of his travel books writing: “I had a share in delivering goodness from the land of the Two Holy Mosques to those brothers in religion, until I visited the Indian states from the far north in Kashmir to the far south of India in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and to the east of them the state of Orissa and nearby state of Bengal, and to its west are the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. He mentioned the political conditions of Muslims and their population because Muslims number more than one hundred million people and are the largest Muslim minority in the world after Indonesia.”[3]

Issues that Al-Aboudi addressed in his Travelogues:

         We mentioned in the previous lines that Al-Aboudi discussed in his travelogues the rituals, customs, cultures and traditions prevailing in India, as well as the religious beliefs, rituals and practices that people believe and practice. Among the issues he addressed in his travelogues, we find Indian women issues heavily present in his writings, in addition to writing about the issue of female infanticide by killing the fetus. Al-Aboudi also recounts his visits to some of the sacred places of the Hindus and Buddhists. For example, his book “A Look at the North India, Part One” is considered one of the most important things written by Sheikh Al-Aboudi in this regard. The book talks about the historical places and Hindu religious centers that he visited deliberately and some of which he passed by on the way without deliberately visiting them. In this regard, the author mentions India’s oddities of ancient beliefs and customs, and he also mentions the history of female infanticide in India and the status of women in the past and the present time. He also discusses the political situation and its causes while mentioning the sectarian institutions and organizations in India.”[4]

            The above mentioned travelogue by Al Aboudi also discusses the conditions of Indian women in the past and present, and presents pictures of their suffering and their difficult and arduous work with men. We also see him addressing the issue of female infanticide in India and the spread of this matter in various parts of the country. In this regard, he says: “We read in newspapers, articles, and news stories about the killing of girls in their mother’s womb or at birth. If the widows were burned alive, the Indians ruled that female infants should be infantilized upon birth, and statistics and articles were published about the number of infantilized daughters in India, and the strange thing is that most of these case were prevalent among the rich classes more than the poor, then this epidemic has spread in recent years to other classes, from “Bhoomi Har, Yadav, and other castes, even the Brahmins have also adopted this harsh tradition, as the number of the infanticide has reached more than a thousand girls annually in the state of Bihar alone. They kill the girl either by putting salt in her mouth or any other toxic substance, and if she does not die by this, she will be suffocated until she dies.”[5]

       Al-Aboudi also describes the economic conditions of the Indians and their harsh living conditions in his travelogues, and talks about the difficulties faced by the common men, and the problems they suffer to make their living. In addition to talking about economic affairs, Al-Aboudi also mentions the suffering of Indian women and the harsh conditions that they go through. Al-Aboudi mentions abject poverty, which forces them to do this hard work for a meager and small wage, while they wear the traditional Indian dress for women, which is the “sari”, the bottom of which reaches the floor. He saw in the city of Mumbai something strange that he had not seen anywhere else in the world, which was sidewalk dwellings, which are made-up and temporary dwellings. A large number of people live their entire lives on the sidewalks of the streets, with no housing other than sackcloth or a piece of cardboard on which to sleep. They make it like the big box you see in most Indian cities. As for the place to attend to nature’s call so it is public places. As for food, it is what is available, and as for clothing, it is what is on the skin and nothing else.”[6] Al-Aboudi brilliantly drew a comparison between India’s advancement and progress in the field of scientific research and the manufacture of missiles and aircrafts. In this context, the writer raises a question as to whether it would be better to solve the problems of those hungry people who have no refuge or shelter instead of spending huge sums of money on such research.”[7]

His Writings about Indian Religious Customs and Beliefs:

     Al-Aboudi wrote about different Indian beliefs and religions. In this regard, he mixes his observations and experiences that he gained during his visits with what he read in newspapers and books. In one of his travelogues, Al-Aboudi mentions about his observation of Indians burning the bodies of their dead ones on the bank of the Ganges River, while he saw the people collecting firewood. In this regard, he says: “So we arrived and saw a dead person who was about to be burned, and next to him we saw a man stripped of everything except a rag around his waist and a large piece of wood who was turning the remains of the dead person over the fire, setting the remains of the wood on fire, and turning it to the middle of the fire. He turns it with his stick until it is burned and rests from it after an exhausting process that lasts for three complete hours in front of a burning fire.”[8]


        Al-Aboudi made valuable and rich contributions to the field of travelogue writings about India and its beliefs, customs, culture and society. Perhaps we would not be making exaggerations if we say that his numerous travelogues and the themes he addressed in them indicate his ingenuity, brilliance, and superiority in this field. His travelogues about India are rich, offering a wealth of information and providing diverse experiences. His honest, keen and wonderful observations about some of the difficulties and challenges that people in India face are truly amazing. In view of all that we have read and seen we can say that Al-Aboudi is truly considered as the “Dean of Arab Travelogue Writers.”



[1] . With Polish Muslim, Muhammad bin Nasser Al Aboudi, pp. 96

[2] . A Month in West Africa, Observations and Talks about Muslims- pp. 12

[3] . A Look at the North India, Part 1, pp. 20

[4] . A Look at the North India, Part 1, pp. 22, 23

[5] Ibid, pp. 22- 23

[6] . A Look at the North India, Part 1, pp. 23

[7] . Ibid, pp. 24

[8] . North East of India, Muhammad bin Nasser Al Aboudi, pp. 95