Ibn Battuta 1304-1369
(Full name Abu Abdallah Muhamad ibn Abdallah ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Lawati) Moroccan travel writer and historian.
Renowned for his travels throughout the Islamic world and beyond, Ibn Battuta is believed to have covered over 75,000 miles in his journeys—three times the distance of Marco Polo's famous journey to Cathay. Battuta recounted his travels, dictated from memory, for one of the principal secretaries of the Sultan of Morocco. Battuta's narrative includes accounts of places, persons, societies, customs and ceremonies he encountered, and proves a rare chronicle of Islamic life during the fourteenth century.
Ibn Batutta was born on February 24, 1304 at Tangiers, Morocco. He is believed to have belonged to an upper class family that settled in Tangiers many generations before Battuta's birth. Many of the men in his family served as qadis, or judges, a profession Battuta also adopted once he finished his travels and settled in Fez. Battuta began his journeys in 1325, visiting lands throughout the Islamic realm. He enjoyed the favor of many of the lords at whose courts he stopped, often serving them as a courtier or ambassador. Battuta was married and divorced several times, and at one time owned slaves. He also traveled as a religious pilgrim, assimilating the lessons he learned from the various holy men he encountered. Battuta escaped the Black Death—a plague that devastated populations worldwide—in 1348. When his extravagance and prominence aroused the suspicions of rulers in Delhi and the Maldive Islands, Battuta again managed to avoid disaster and was allowed to continue his travels.
Upon his return to Fez Ibn Battuta regaled the Sultan of Morocco and his court with tales of his adventures. The Sultan then hired a secretary, Ibn Juzayy, to document the tales in writing. The resulting rhila, or travel book, entitled Tuhfat al-nuzzār fī Gharā'ib al-amsār wa-‘ajā'ib al-asfār [Gift to Those Eager to Observe the Wonders of Cities and Marvels of Journeys, 1358], contains Juzayy's transcription of Battuta's tales, edited and embellished upon by the secretary, who at times drew upon the writings of Ibn Jubayr, a twelfth-century Andulusian scholar.
Battuta's narrative is valued for the literary merits of its vivid description and comprehensive analysis of medieval Islamic life as well as for its utility to archeologists and other scholars for whom the work serves as a unique guide to the relics and ruins of the society in which Ibn Battuta lived. Critics have assessed the rhila's credibility as a historic document, concluding that many dates and exact details were greatly altered by Battuta and Juzayy. The treatment of women in the narrative has been examined by at least one critic, Marina A. Tolmacheva, who maintains that the travelogue is an historically and culturally significant account of the quality of life for Muslim women in Battuta's era. Modern writers continue to publish accounts of their attempts to retrace Battuta's route, providing their own descriptions of their surroundings and comparing them with the depiction of the same locations in the fourteenth century.
Tuhfat al-nuzzār fī Gharā'ib al-amsār wa-‘ajā'ib al-asfār [Gift to Those Eager to Observe the Wonders of Cities and Marvels of Journeys] (travelogue) 1358
Ibn Battuta: Travels in Asia and Africa, 1325-1354 (translated by H. A. R. Gibb, edited by Robert M. McBride) 1929
Travels of Ibn Battuta a.d. 1325-1354 (translated by H. A. R. Gibb, with revisions and notes from the Arabic text edited by C. Defrémery and B. R. Sanguinetti) 1958
Ibn Battuta in Black Africa (translated and edited with commentary by Said Hamdun and Noël King) 1994
(The entire section is 94 words.)
SOURCE: Gibb, H. A. R. Introduction to Ibn Battuta: Travels in Asia and Africa, 1325-1354, translated and selected by Robert M. McBride, pp. 1-42. New York: Robert M. McBride and Company, 1929.
[In the following excerpt, Gibb describes Ibn Battuta's travels and discusses the value of his work.]
1. IBN BATTúTA AND HIS WORK
To the world of today the men of medieval Christendom already seem remote and unfamiliar. Their names and deeds are recorded in our history-books, their monuments still adorn our cities, but our kinship with them is a thing unreal, which costs an effort of the imagination. How much more must this apply to the great Islamic civilization, that stood over against medieval Europe, menacing its existence and yet linked to it by a hundred ties that even war and fear could not sever. Its monuments too abide, for those who may have the fortune to visit them, but its men and manners are to most of us utterly unknown, or dimly conceived in the romantic image of the Arabian Nights. Even for the specialist it is difficult to reconstruct their lives and see them as they were. Histories and biographies there are in quantity, but the historians, for all their picturesque details, seldom show the ability to select the essential and to give their figures that touch of the intimate which makes them live again for the reader. It is in this faculty that Ibn Battúta excels....
(The entire section is 4661 words.)
SOURCE: Norris, H. T. “Ibn Battūta's Andalusian Journey.” Geographical Journal 125, no. 2 (June 1959): 186-96.
[In the following essay, Norris traces Ibn Battuta's travels to Andalusia, describing the places he visited and presenting the journey as it might have appeared to the traveler.]
It is strange that Shaykh Abū ‘Abdallah Muḥammad Ibn Baṭṭūṭah, one of the greatest of Muslim travellers, should have delayed his major visit to Spain until the latter part of his career. He was born in Tangier, within sight of the Spanish coast, on 24 February 1304 and he died in 1368/69, in Morocco, “the best of countries, for in it fruits are plentiful and running water and nourishing food are never exhausted.”
He was a Berber, combining literary pursuits with an insatiable thirst for travel. It is on his personal record of the political and social conditions of Islām in the fourteenth century rather than on his geographical observations that posterity has assessed his achievement. The religious devotion of the Moor and the enthusiasm of the scholar impelled him to enter new regions of Asia and Africa, within and without the Muslim world; to Egypt, Asia Minor, Arabia, Persia, India, China and the Indies and eventually to West Africa.
Twenty-four years of his life were spent in Eastern travel by land and sea and sometimes he was exposed to great physical danger....
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SOURCE: Hamdun, Said and Noël King. Introduction to Ibn Battuta in Black Africa, pp. 1-9, 12. Princeton, N. J.: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1994.
[In the following excerpt from an essay first published in 1975, Hamdun and King offer an evaluation of Ibn Battuta's travel narrative.]
Ibn Baṭṭūṭa, who was born at Tangier in North Africa in 1304 and died not far from there some sixty-five years later, was the greatest of the pre-modern travellers and will go down in history as being notable among the travellers of all time. Benjamin of Tudela, a Jew from Spain who in the second half of the twelfth century travelled to Baghdad and back, hardly touched central or south Asia and did not penetrate Africa. Marco Polo (1254-1324), a Christian, reached China and returned to Venice by way of south-east Asia and India, but he did not get into Africa. Chinese travellers reached Europe but did not go inland in Arabia or to West Africa, or even pass through the hinterland of Arab Africa.
On his side, ibn Baṭṭūṭa set out from his home town in North Africa at the age of twenty-one, and travelled till he was nearly fifty. He went across the countries we would today call Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Syria, then southwards through Jordan into Arabia to Mecca. There he spent some years and from there visited Iraq and Iran as well as southern Arabia. He visited the coast...
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SOURCE: Netton, Ian Richardson. “Myth, Miracle, and Magic in the Rihla of Ibn Battuta.” Journal of Semitic Studies 29, no. 1 (spring 1984): 131-40.
[In the following essay, Netton argues that the Rihla of Ibn Battuta is structured like a frame story for fantastic tales.]
The riḥla in mediaeval Arabic literature is, perhaps, best regarded as an art form rather than a formal geography. Indeed, Janssens believes that Ibn Baṭṭūṭa considered the actual travel as an art as well, one that had its own set rules and regulations including a canon not to retrace one's steps wherever possible.1 But academic, scientific geography did not interest Ibn Baṭṭūṭa: he contributed nothing to its development though he assuredly profited from its knowledge.2 Where he is of use to historians of geography, he is “the supreme example of le géographe malgré lui” as H. A. R. Gibb elegantly put it.3
The itineraries and purposes of the travel, coupled with the interests and prejudices of the narrator, dictated the artistic format in which they were set down. Differences in the first created clear differences in the second, resulting in some variation in type within the riḥla genre itself. The most obvious illustration of this is seen in a brief comparison of the Riḥlas4 of Ibn Jubayr (1145-1217;...
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SOURCE: Dunn, Ross E. “Persia and Iraq.” In The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the 14th Century, pp. 81-105. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.
[In the following entry, Dunn describes Ibn Battuta's travels in the Iraq-Persia region.]
He also said: “After us the descendants of our clan will wear gold embroidered garments, eat rich and sweet food, ride fine horses, and embrace beautiful women but they will not say that they owe all this to their fathers and elder brothers, and they will forget us and those great times.”1
The Yasa of Genghis Kahn
When Ibn Battuta made his first excursion to Iraq and western Persia, more than a century had passed since the birth of the Mongol world empire. For a Moroccan lad born in 1304 the story of Genghis Khan and the holocaust he brought down on civilized Eurasia was something to be read about in the Arabic version of Rashid al-Din's History of the Mongols. The Tatar storm blew closer to England than it did to Morocco and had no repercussions on life in the Islamic Far West that Ibn Battuta's great grandfather was likely to have noticed. For the inhabitants of Egypt and the Levant the Mongol explosion had been a brush with catastrophe, mercifully averted by Mamluk victories but imagined in the dark tales told by fugitives from the dead...
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SOURCE: Netton, Ian Richard. “Arabia and the Pilgrim Paradigm of Ibn Battuta: A Braudelian Approach.” In Arabia and the Gulf: From Traditional Society to Modern States, pp. 29-42. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1986.
[In the following essay, Netton argues that Ibn Battuta's account of his travels is not a random narrative, but is organized to show the patterns and characteristics of the Islamic world of his era.]
The Riḥla of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa (ad 1304-1368/9 or 1377) has been tackled over the years by a multitude of scholars in a variety of different ways. Often, however, the various studies which have been published have concentrated—to use, loosely, a not inappropriate pair of Ismā‘īlī terms—on a zāhir exposition of the text and its problems rather than on an analysis of a bāṭin structure. I do not, of course, mean that the Riḥla might have a secondary meaning but that it has been analysed, for example, more often as a straight travelogue,1 a problematic chronology,2 a vehicle or mirror of Muslim institutions3 and a focus for stylistic comparison.4 The translation of three-quarters of it into English by H.A.R. Gibb for the Hakluyt Society series has placed it—at least for English non-Arabists—firmly within that type of travel genre or tradition in which the Hakluyt Society has always specialised....
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SOURCE: Allouch, Adel. “A Study of Ibn Battūtah's Account of His 726/1326 Journey through Syria and Arabia.” Journal of Semitic Studies 35, no. 2 (autumn 1990): 283-99.
[In the following essay, Allouche evaluates the narrative credibility of Ibn Battuta's travel accounts, especially with regard to chronology.]
The Riḥlah of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah (d. 770/1368-9) encompasses a wide spectrum of information regarding the lands this famed traveller visited in almost thirty years of continuous travel, from 725/1325 to 754/1354. The commonly accepted view, since the Riḥlah's first edition by C. Defrémery and B. R. Sanguinetti,1 has been that Ibn Baṭṭūṭah dictated his account from memory to Ibn Juzayy and that the degree of accuracy or inaccuracy of this work reflects the clarity of the author's recollections. The chronology of the Riḥlah is inconsistant regarding the arrangement of narration of contemporary events. In a lengthy article published in 1962, the Czech scholar Ivan Hrbek dealt with some of the anachronistic information in the Riḥlah and made an attempt at establishing a chronology up to the year 735/1334. Despite its many merits, Hrbek's chronology includes a number of questionable readjustments that may not withstand close scrutiny. In fact, the author himself, in an addendum to the same article, abandoned some of his own conclusions in...
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SOURCE: Abercrombie, Thomas J. “Ibn Battuta, Prince of Travelers.” National Geographic 180, no. 6 (December 1991): 2-49.
[In the following essay, Abercromie chronicles his own journey following in the footsteps of Ibn Battuta.]
“In the name of Allah, the Benevolent, the Compassionate,” intones the blue-robed imam, his deep voice challenging the silence of the Sahara. Behind him, along a line he has scratched in the sand, men and boys of the caravan form a ragged rank, facing distant Mecca.
“Guide us on the straight path, the path of those you have blessed … not those who have gone astray,” the imam prays, concluding the Koran's opening chapter, the fatiha, fitting invocation for a caravan departure. In unison the caravanners kneel, then bow, pressing their foreheads into the sand.
In the cool shadows of morning they rejoin the line of beasts tethered head to tail and wait for a signal. Beside me the madougou, or caravan boss, raises his staff, jerks the rope halter on his lead camel, and, to shouts and the clanging of pans and bowls, the half-mile-long train grudgingly lurches forward.
I walk along with madougou Idris Daouda. Like his grandfather, who led the prayers, Idris wears the long blue robes of a Tuareg tribesman and a voluminous black turban wrapped to veil all but his eyes. From a sling across his shoulder slaps a...
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SOURCE: Tolmacheva, Marina A. “Ibn Battuta on Women's Travel in the Dar al-Islam.” In Woman and the Journey: The Female Travel Experience, edited by Bonnie Frederick and Susan H. McLeod, pp. 119-40. Pullman, Wash.: Washington State University Press, 1993.
[In the following essay, Tolmacheva examines the situation of Islamic women in the fourteenth century through Ibn Battuta's accounts of women's travel.]
Studies of Islamic culture have not explored the subject of travel by medieval women. It has been recently noted that, in general, “the role of travel in Muslim societies and in Islamic doctrine is not a topic which has been systematically explored by historians or social scientists.”1 The few studies undertaken on travel by modern Islamic women have focused on religious pilgrimage or journeys to the West; legal aspects of travel have not been addressed at all. Yet the issue of women's spatial mobility under Islam is sufficiently important to studies of both gender and modernization that a widely read work on male-female relations in modern Muslim society defines itself as “a book about sexual space boundaries.”2
In the current sweep of reaction against social freedoms gained by contemporary Muslim women in some areas of life, tradition-inspired restrictions on women's public life and physical mobility play such an important role that it may be difficult...
(The entire section is 8603 words.)
SOURCE: Dunn, Ross E. Foreword to Ibn Battuta in Black Africa, translated by Said Hamdun and Noël King, pp. ix-xxxii. Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1994.
[In the following essay, Dunn comments on the cultural background of the places Ibn Battuta visited in Africa.]
In 1325 ad the young legal scholar Abu Abdallah ibn Battuta set out from his native city of Tangier on the north coast of Morocco to make the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. “I braced my resolution to quit all my dear ones,” he tells us in his celebrated Rihla, or Book of Travels. “I set out alone, having neither fellow-traveler in whose companionship I might find cheer nor caravan whose party I might join.”1 His departure may have been poignant, but his loneliness did not last long. Within a few days he was meeting all sorts of people on the road, and as he traveled back and forth across the Eastern Hemisphere during the ensuing twenty-nine years, he made hundreds of friends, married numerous women, fathered several children, and counted among his associates eminent scholars, royal officials, rich merchants, and Mongol kings.
Indeed, one of the more fascinating aspects of Ibn Battuta's travels through the equivalent of nearly fifty modern countries is that he was repeatedly running into people he knew. Wandering lost in the remote forests of northern Turkey, he met up with “an...
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Beckingham, Charles. “In Search of Ibn Battuta.” Asian Affairs: Journal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs 8, no.3 (October 1977): 263-77.
Discusses his own discoveries while retracing part of Ibn Battuta's journey.
Davis, Dick. “Ibn Battuta.” The Paris Review, 27, no. 98 (winter 1985): 88.
Poetic tribute to Ibn Battuta.
Mackintosh-Smith, Tim. Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah. New York: Welcome Rain Publishers, 351 p.
Contemporary travel diary that offers an account of the exploration of some of the remains of the places and things Ibn Battuta saw and recounted.
Additional coverage of Ibn Battuta's life and career is contained in the following source published by the Gale Group: World Literature and Its Times, Vol. 2.
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