Rym Aoudia, brings to us the life of the brave Muslim traveler, who visited of what corresponds to 44 countries in our times
“(The believers whose lives Allah has purchased are) those who turn to Allah in repentance, who worship (Him), who praise (Him), who go out (or travel, in Allah’s cause)…” (At-Taubah 9:112)
Islam insists on the importance of learning and contemplating about Allah’s creation. For Ibn Battuta, traveling was an experience that allowed him to do so. It was an opportunity to gain knowledge, observe nature, and understand different societies. As he traveled vast lands and crossed seas, Ibn Battuta became the greatest traveler of the 14th century and is regarded as an equivalent to Marco Polo. With approximately 75,000 miles traveled, he far exceeded Marco Polo in the distance journeyed.
Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta, also known as Shams ad-Din, was born into a rich family in Tangier Morocco on February 24th 1304 C.E. His aim was to become a judge. After his studies, he left Morocco to perform Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. This was a summer day on June 14th, which marked the beginning of his journeys. He was only 21 years old at that time. Even though his main reason to travel was to perform Hajj, he developed a passion to travel. This passion led to his adventurous travels that lasted for 30 years. During this period he frequently went back to Mecca to perform Hajj.
Back then, traveling was not safe by land and sea. Ibn Battuta first traveled alone on land by riding a donkey. He then joined a caravan with other pilgrims and traders for protection. Some walked, others rode horses, mules, donkeys, or camels. By the time they reached Cairo, Egypt, the caravan had several thousand members. He also traveled by horse, camel, and sailboat.
Ibn Battuta visited the lands of every Muslim ruler of his time like Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. He also traveled to Sri Lanka, China, and South Russia. He stayed in India for several years and was appointed as the ambassador to the Emperor of China. These countries were then mostly under the governments of Muslim leaders. During these travels, he had the opportunity to gain religious and legislative knowledge and to meet Muslim scholars.
After thirty years of traveling, he returned to Fez, Morocco. At the court of Sultan Abu Inan, he dictated accounts of his journey to Ibn Jazay al-Kalbi. These accounts are known as the famous travels, or Rihla, of Ibn Battuta. The travel accounts were completed in three months. Nowadays, one can read a translation of his travels in English.
One can greatly learn about society in Ibn Battuta’s time through his travels. For instance, from his accounts of the sea voyages and references to shipping, one notices how Muslims completely dominated the naval movement of the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Chinese waters. One also observes how a mutual respect existed between the Muslims and Christians. Even though the Christian traders underwent certain restrictions, most of the financial negotiations were carried out on the basis of equality.
He was a careful observer of the societies he visited. He paid close attention to people’s dress and architecture. He also observed their social customs, rituals, governmental organization, and local attitudes. Literary scholars are fascinated with his role as an early example for travel literature.
In Fez in 1364 C.E, Ibn Battuta passed away. His historic travel accounts that transcend time still contribute to society and continue to be a source of learning.