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The Travels of ibn Battatu

1325-1354

 

Sheikh Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Lawati, more commonly called ibn Battuta, was a Moroccan traveler born in Tangier. He was also a Muslim, and a strong believer in the Qu’ran (Koran). He was even thought to have had the entire book memorized by the time he was 12 years old. On June 13, 1325 at the age of 21, he left Tangier to make his first of many hijras, a journey from his place of birth to Mecca. He arrived 3,000 miles later in Alexandria, Egypt. There, he stayed with a mystic whom he met in Alexandria. One night, he had a prophetic dream of the future. This dream told him that he would go in his lifetime many times to Mecca, Yemen, and also travel east. He arrived in Mecca 16 months after leaving Tangier. Here, he got the title of hajji—one who has performed the sacred city’s rituals.

In Mecca, he signed up with a caravan of hajjis returning to Baghdad. After arriving in Baghdad, he traveled back to Mecca to complete two years of study there. Following his studies, he took a sea voyage to Yemen and as far south as Kilwa, in today’s Tanzania. After he had traveled south, he returned once again to Mecca. He also traveled to China and other parts of Asia, fulfilling the dream he had had on his first trip to Mecca.

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During his travels that followed his first hijra, he visited the birthplace of Jesus, the tombs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the Mount of Olives. He described Jerusalem saying, "it glows like a mass of light and flashes with the gleam of lightning." He traveled 55 days from Damascus across the Arabian desert to get to his final destination. Travel was dangerous in the desert because there were many robbers and looting tribes, but Ibn Battuta had a hundred horsemen to protect him on his way.

His final journey was to Mali. He began this journey in Morocco and it lasted 25 days to until he reached Terhazza. He said of this city, "No one lives here except the slaves…they dig for the salt and find it in thick slabs, their houses and mosques are built of salt, roofed with camel skins." On the ten-day stretch to Oualata, in western Africa, they would send a scout ahead of them to tell the people to have water ready for them when they arrived, sometimes the scout never made it and when that happened, most would perish.

When Ibn Battuta finally reached Mali, he sought out the ruler, Mansa Sulayman, and found him to be "a miserly king. Not for two months did the royal hospitality gift arrive: three loaves of bread, and a piece of beef fried in native oil, and a calabash of sour curds. When I saw this, I burst out laughing." He made careful notes about the clothing of the people in Mali. Men always wore clean clothing. Even if there was very little of it, it was always clean. He was a bit shocked however, by the dress habits of the women, who "go about in front of everyone naked, without a stitch of clothing." He said that trade in Mali was good, and all one needed was nothing more than a little salt, some glass beads and perfume, in order to purchase his every want. He also commended some of the practices of the people of Mali, such as devotion to prayer, and their concern for learning the Qu’ran by heart.

After finishing his travels, he settled in Fez, Morocco in 1354. He died there in 1369 at the age of 64. Ibn Battuta was known the only medieval traveler who is known to have visited the lands of every Muslim ruler of his time. After traveling for over thirty years, covering 75,000 miles, across two continents, through 44 countries, he had said that his country, Morocco, was "the best of countries, for its fruits are plentiful, and running water and nourishing food are never exhausted."

Sources:

Thomas Abercrombie National Geographic. v. 180. n. 6 (Dec 1991) p. 2.

Cambridge History of Africa vol. 3. Cambridge University Press. 1977

A. S. Chughtai, Ibn Battuta-The Great Traveler <http://www.ummah.net/history/scholars/ibn_battuta/> Site maintained by Islamic Gatewat. From an article which originally appeared in Muslim Technologist, March 1990.


Edited, Researched and Written by:
Kelsey Link and Sarah Beckstrom
December 17, 1999

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