RIYADH: Finnish Ambassador Pekka Voutilainen recently delivered a lecture on George August Wallin, the Finnish orientalist and explorer of the Arabian Peninsula.
Delivered at the ambassador’s residence, the lecture was preceded by an interesting speech on Western explorers of the Arabian Peninsula by Saudi historian and former Shoura Council member Mohammed Al-Zulfa.
“St. John Philby (1885-1960), T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935), Gerald de Gaury (1897-1984), and George August Wallin (1811-1852) are some explorers we ought to remember,” Al-Zulfa said. The ambassador said that Wallin was born in 1811, and in 1829, he enrolled at the University of Helsinki to study Oriental languages, graduating with an MA in 1836.
In 1839, Wallin went to St. Petersburg (Russia) where he met Sheikh Muhammad Sayyad Al-Tantawi who taught him Arabic, Middle Eastern and Arab history, and Islamic culture. “Wallin made his first expedition to the Arab world with the help of a grant from the University of Helsinki. He made his first desert journey in 1845 and the second in 1846. He traveled via Taima and Tabuk and again as far as Hail to turn from there to both Baghdad and Persia, in his third and last journey in 1847,” the ambassador said.
Wallin was not only the first European to visit Al-Jouf and Hail, but also the first European scholar to collect bedouin poetry and make observations on bedouin dialects.
Wallin died in 1852 having become one of the most respected Arabists of his time. His Arabic name “Abdul Wali” is engraved on his tombstone in Helsinki.
It is believed that Wallin had become a Muslim in order to visit the two most sacred cities, Makkah and Madinah. It is said that Wallin wrote once that he found European culture oppressive and that he couldn’t adapt himself to Europe.
In his book, “Scenes from Northern Arabic Peninsula,” he described his journey to the northern part of the Kingdom. He praised the reformist movement of Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Wahab.
The alliance of Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Wahab with Diriyyah Gov. Prince Mohammed bin Saud in 1744 led to the emergence of the Saudi state that developed in less than two centuries into what is known today as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.