Sir Richard Burton's mission to prove Islam's equality stars at books auction

United States President Barack Obama has been firm in his support to build a mosque two blocks away from New York's World Trade Center site, scene of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"As a citizen, and as president, I believe Muslims have the same right to practise their religion as anyone else in this country," he told attendant reporters at the White House over the weekend.

And, roughly 160 years ago, another man set out to make a similar point...

Sir Richard Burton in Arabic dress

Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) was an English explorer and polymath dedicated to his belief that Islam is equal to Christianity and Judaism.

These beliefs led Burton - also a writer, soldier, orientalist, ethnologist, linguist, poet, hypnotist, fencer and diplomat - on a kind of proto-journalistic quest. In 1853, he travelled in disguise as an Indian Muslim on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.

The journey, and subsequent published account, brought Burton fame as an adventurer but also as a man of considerable knowledge about Arabs, their customs and their way of life.

Collectors had a chance to acquire some of this knowledge for themselves at Bloombury's Bibliophile Sale last Thursday, August 12.

Among the sale's historic lots was an 1855-56 First Edition of Burton's Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah, in three volumes.

This copy was actually a presentation copy from the author, including three lithographed frontispieces, 11 lithographed plates, four maps or plans, and three folding terracotta pastedowns with printed advertisements.

The three volumes of Burton's Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage
to El-Medinah and Meccah

Despite occasional spotting, rubbing, a few foxed endpapers, and some fraying to spine ends and corners, the volumes carried a pre-sale estimate of £2,000-3,000.

Each book was sold in its original blue cloth, with gilt lettering on the spine and black ornamental borders.

Billed as "very rare", these historic and important volumes sold for a final price of £3,400 in Thursday's auction.


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