Ibn Battutah

1304 CE - 1368 CE

Morocco

Primary Goal:

“To travel through the earth” and to “never, so far as possible, to cover a second time any road.”

Achievement:

He traveled to all the nations in the Islamic world plus some others, traveled further and for a longer period than any other contemporary.


Ibn Battuta is an explorer with an unusually well documented life. We can tell much of his story in his own words; almost everything that is known of his travels is known because he told his story and had it written down later in his life. One early biography exists of Ibn Battuta, which was written in the mid-1300s. It was published in the 1400s in the Al-Durar al-Kamina, a compilation study of eminent Muslims, and it says as follows:

Muhammed b. Abdallah b. Muhammed b. Ibrahim b. Muhammed b. Ibrahim b. Yusuf, of the tribe of Luwata and the city of Tanja, Abu Abdallah Ibn Batuttah. Ibn al-Khatib says: he had a modest share of the sciences, and journeyed to the East in Rajab seven hundred and twenty-five, traveled through its lands, penetrated into Iraq al-Ajam, then entered India, Sind and China, and returned through al-Yaman. He made the Pilgrimage in the year twenty-six, and met a great host of kings and sheikhs. He spent some time at Mecca as a “sojourner,” and then returned to India, where the king appointed him to the office of qadi. He came away later and returned to the Maghrib, where he related his doings and what had befallen him, and what he had learned of its people. Our sheikh Abu’l-Barakat Ibn al-Balfiqi told us of many strange things which he had seen. Among them was that he claimed to have entered Constantinople and to have seen in its church twelve thousand bishops. He subsequently crossed the Strait to the Spanish coast and visited the Negrolands. Thereafter the ruler of Fez summoned him and commanded him to commit his travels to writing. Ends. (The author indicates the quote from the 1300s ends here.)

I have seen in the handwriting of Ibn Marzuq the statement that Abu Abdallah ibn Juzayy put his work into elegant literary style by command of the sultan Abu Inan. Al-Balfiqi had charged him with lying, but Ibn Marzuq cleared him of the charge; he added that he lived to the year 70 (1368-9) and died while holding the office of qadi in some town or other. Ibn Marzuq said also: “And I know of no person who has journeyed through so many lands as he did on his travels, and he was withal generous and welldoing.”

Ibn Battuta was born in 1304 in the city of Tangier, in Morocco in Northern Africa. His family had a traditional role in society: they acted as qadis. Qadis are the traditional judges in Islam society who have jurisdiction over matters of religion. Because this was to be Ibn Battuta’s profession, he probably received an extremely thorough education as a young man. He set out, at twenty-one years old, to make the traditional pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca that able-bodied Muslims traditionally take. He described the experience of visiting holy places in his stories:

We presented ourselves forthwith at the Sanctuary of God Most High within her, the place of abode of His Friend Ibrahim and scene of mission of His Chosen One, Muhammad (God bless and give him peace.) We entered the illustrious Holy House, wherein ‘he who enters is secure,’ by the gate of the Banu Shaiba and saw before our eyes the illustrious Ka‘ba (God increase it in veneration), like a bride who is displayed upon the bridal-chair of majesty, and walks with proud step in the mantles of beauty, surrounded by the companies which had come to pay homage to the God of Mercy, and being conducted to the Garden of Eternal Bliss. We made around it the seven-fold circuit of arrival and kissed the holy Stone; we performed a prayer of two bowings at the Maqam Ibrahim and clung to the curtains of the Ka’ba at the Multazam between the door and the Black Stone, where prayer is answered; we drank of the water of Zamzam, which, being drunk of, possesses the qualities which are related in the Tradition handed down from the Prophet (God bless and give him peace); then, having run between al-Safa and al-Marwa, we took up our lodging there in a house near the Gate of Ibrahim. Praise be to God, Who hath honoured us by visitation to this holy House, and hath caused us to be numbered amongst those included in the prayer of al-Khalil (blessing and peace upon him), and hath rejoiced our eyes by the vision of the illustrious Ka’ba and the honourable House, of the holy Stone, of Zamzam and the Hatim.

Of the wondrous doings of God Most High is this, that He has created the hearts of men with an instinctive desire to seek these sublime sanctuaries, and yearning to present themselves at their illustrious sites, and has given the love of them such power over men’s hearts that none alights in them but they seize his whole heart, nor quits them but with grief at separation from them, sorrowing at his far journey away from them, sorrowing at his far journey away from them, filled with longing for them, and purposing to repeat his visitation to them. For their blessed soil is the focus of all eyes, and love of it the marrow of all hearts, in virtue of a wise disposition of God which achieves its sublime purpose, and in fulfillment of the prayer of His Friend (upon him be peace). Intensity of yearning brings them near while yet far off, presents them to the eye while yet unseen, and makes of little account to him who seeks them the fatigues which he meets and the distress which he endures. How many a weakling sees death before reaching them, and beholds destruction on their road, yet when God brings him safely to them he welcomes them with joy and gladness, as though he had not tasted bitterness, nor suffered torment and affliction for their sakes! Truly this is a divine thing and a God-given benefit, a proof uncontaminated by ambiguity, unobscured by dubiety, and inaccessible to deception, which is of compelling cogency in the perception of men of understanding, and shatters the rationalism of the intellectuals. He whose soul God Most High hath sustained [by granting him] to alight in those regions and to present himself in that court, upon him hath God bestowed the greatest of all favours and possession of the best of both abodes, that of his present world and the other of the world to come. It is meet for him, therefore, that he should abundantly give thanks for what He has bestowed upon him. May God Most High number us amongst those whose visitation is accepted, whose merchandise in seeking to perform it brings him gain [in the world to come], whose actions in the cause of God are written [in the Book of Life], and whose burdens of sin are effaced by the acceptance [of the merit earned by the Pilgrimage], through His loving kindness and graciousness.