The Holy Cities of Arabia
By Eldon Rutter. William Facey and Sharon Sharpe, intro.
2015, Arabian Publishing, 978-0-99298-082-5, £40 hb.
Reviewed by Caroline Stone on February 1, 2016
On its publication in 1928, The Holy Cities of Arabia was much admired, but since then it has been almost completely neglected. It is a pleasure to have it available again in a new edition. Not only does Eldon Rutter provide probably the best description of Makkah and Madinah written by a European, but he was in Arabia at a particularly significant moment: 1925–26. This was the time that Abdulaziz Al Sa‘ud brought the Hijaz region of the western Peninsula into his realm and Rutter—who had embraced Islam in Malaysia where worked after serving in the British Army in the Middle East in World War I—met him on several occasions. Fluent in Arabic, Rutter immersed himself in traditional life in the Holy Cities, providing a vivid picture of the people and customs there. His book is therefore an important historical resource as well as a fascinating travel account. The introduction does an excellent job of tracing Rutter’s tangled life, a story almost as intriguing as the one he himself tells. There are useful maps, interesting photographs—the fruit of much research—as well as full notes, bibliography and appendices.