Fez - At a time when there was no modern transportation, no communication facilities, no accurate maps of the geography of the world, scarce knowledge of other peoples and cultures, ample risks and hurdles, some people ventured and set out for the discovery of far off places leaving marvelous travel accounts that only attest to their exceptional spirits. One of those people is certainly Morocco’s famous medieval traveler Ibn Battuta.
Fez – At a time when there was no modern transportation, no communication facilities, no accurate maps of the geography of the world, scarce knowledge of other peoples and cultures, ample risks and hurdles, some people ventured and set out for the discovery of far off places leaving marvelous travel accounts that only attest to their exceptional spirits. One of those people is certainly Morocco’s famous medieval traveler Ibn Battuta.
Abu Abdallah Muhammad Ibn Abdallah Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim al-Lawait [an Amazigh group] Ibn Battuta al-Tanji (“of Tangier”) was born in Tangier on February 24, 1304. His well-to-do Amazigh family provided him with the means to have education in the religious sciences in general and the Maliki law in particular. In June 1325, at the age of 22, Ibn Battuta resolved to leave his birthplace for the pilgrimage Hajj, “part from those dearest to me, female and male, and take leave of my home just like birds fly from their nests.”
Probably, on his way to Mecca to fulfill the fifth pillar of Islam, Ibn Battuta never thought that this journey will inspire him to be the first traveler in the medieval times; a traveler whose journey spanned over thirty years and covered three times the distance of his European contemporary traveler Marco Polo (1254-1324). Much of Ibn Battuta’s life and travels are recorded in his famous book Rihla (journey) –a work greater in volume than that of Marco Polo – which he dictated to the author of works on poetry, Islamic law and theology, Muhammed Ibn Juzayy. The later was appointed as Ibn Battuta’s collaborator by the exalted command of the Sultan of Morocco Abou Inan Faris (1348-58).
A shrewd and careful observer, Ibn Battuta recounts his travels from West Africa to China and tells of the marvels of the places he set foot in. Sometimes, he received patronage from famous kings and Sultans, and occasionally he got employed by local rulers; he served as a qadi (judge) in Delhi and in the Maldives. During his travels, Ibn Battuta endured immense troubles; he was robbed many times, captured by bandits, attacked by pirates, shipwrecked, and often fell gravely ill, but eventually managed to establish his reputation as the world’s famous medieval traveler.
Miles and miles away from his home country, he always grew homesick, but his mission was stronger than the feeling inside him. He writes: “the memory of my homeland moved me, affection for my people and friends, and love for my country which for me is better than all others.” His strong allegiance to Morocco, Islam and the Maliki law are very legible in his accounts. In the Rihla he recounts a small incident when he met a man who looked familiar like a Moroccan in China. When he asked him, he discovered that the man was from Ceuta (a city very close to Tangier) at which points he greeted him anew and embraced him and wept together. This simple act reflects Ibn Batuta’sv sense of “home” and his powerful ties to Tangier and Morocco. In all the places he visited, Ibn Battuta identified himself as Maghribi and was often know by others as al-Maghribi (the Moroccan).
Certainly, Ibn Battuta’s life experiences and bulky book can by no means be summarized in this short article. He talked prodigiously about distant cultures and people; he described the wonders of the pyramids and the marvels of Alexandria, depicted his travels in Al-Andalus, talked about the wondrous lifestyle of the Sawakin (in Sudan), gave detailed accounts of the people and practices of the Maldives islands, extolled the benefits of the coconuts, reflected on the reign of the Indian Muslim Sultan Muhammed Ibn Tughluq etc. Ibn Battuta retired to Morocco in 1354 to stay for good and worked as a judge until his death in either 1368 or 1369, after attaining what no other person had attained as he writes:
I have indeed –praise be to God – attained my desire in this world which was to travel through the earth, and have attained in this respect what no other person has attained to my knowledge. The world to come remains, but my hope is strong in the mercy and clemency of God, and the attainment of my desire to enter the Garden of Paradise.
For further readings:
– David Waines, The Odyssey of Ibn Battuta: Uncommon Tales of a Medieval Adventurer
– Roxanne L. Euben, Journey to the other Shore: Muslim and Western Travelers in Search of Knowledge
– Juan E. Campo, Encyclopedia of Islam
Roxanne L. Euben, Journey to the other Shore: Muslim and Western Travelers in Search of Knowledge (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2006), P.64.
 David Waines, The Odyssey of Ibn Battuta: Uncommon Tales of a Medieval Adventurer (London: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2010) P.141.