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Ibn Battutah

by Sonali from San Diego

An artist impression of Ibn Battutah (Top 10 Greatest World Explorers ())
An artist impression of Ibn Battutah (Top 10 Greatest World Explorers ())

The Exploration

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" (Proust, Marcel). Proust's quote describes Ibn Battutah's personality and life. Morocco was his homeland but he, "traveled to every civilized portion of the known non-Western world. From Morocco to China, from Russia to Mali, from Spain to Sumatra, he covered a staggering amount of ground: some 75,000 miles or 120,000 kilometers, not counting many detours" (Knight, Judson). He covered that ground by spending, "thirty years [of his life] visiting every Muslim country of his day and recorded in accurate detail the social and political life he observed on his journeys" (Levinson, David). Not only was he an explorer and diplomat, he became a lawyer and a learned scholar too. Battutah was born on Feb. 24, 1304 as Ab Abd al-Lh Muammad ibn Abd al-Lh l-Lawt -an ibn Baah, phonetically written as Arabic was his native tongue, to a well-off Muslim family. However, Ibn Battutah, is how he was known to researchers and, is the short form of his name. His death date is uncertain, but historians estimate the years 1368, 1369, or even as late as 1377. Battutah's legacy left his written account of his life the Rihla, where he showed his vast knowledge. His love to find more about the world and its people; he wanted to learn and study more, although he ran into personal hardships while doing so. His goal was to go to all of the known world and he did. Throughout his heroic voyage, Ibn Battutah continually demonstrated his bravery as he attempted to fulfill his thirst for knowledge.

A timeline map of where Battutah traveled (Britannica Kids (Encyclopdia Britannica))
A timeline map of where Battutah traveled (Britannica Kids (Encyclopdia Britannica))

Battutah proved his intrepidness when he overcame dangers and hardships, and was ready to go to unknown places. His life was an expedition from the beginning to the end: "Born in Tangier, a seaport in present-day Morocco in North Africa. He began to travel at the age of twenty-one years, when he made the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). On his way he passed through today's Egypt and Syria and returned through Iran and Iraq. On a second journey, he explored southern Arabia, East Africa, and the Persian Gulf. Ibn Battutah next traveled north to Constantinople and crossed southern Russia, Samarqand (now in Uzbekistan), and Afghanistan to arrive in Delhi, India. Ibn Battutah reached present-day Beijing via the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean, Ceylon (today's Sri Lanka), and Assam (a state in India) and from the East returned to Fes (Fez) in northern Morocco, thereby crossing half of the Earth. From Fes he went north to al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) in Europe and later traveled south across the Sahara Desert to the Sudan in north central Africa" (Levinson, David). Over the course of his life, Battutah traveled over 125,000 km (about 77,700 miles), which even now is  a huge accomplishment. The distance he traveled is similar to going from San Diego to New York, 30 times. He lived in and visited three continents, many countries, and countless cities. He was lucky to have seen such wonderful sights and had the opportunity to travel so much throughout world. He dared to go to unknown places without knowing what to expect. The beginning for Battutah when he started on his voyage was not an easy one: "I set out alone, having neither fellow-traveler in whose companionship, I might find cheer, nor caravan whose party I might join, but swayed by an overmastering impulse within me and a desire long-cherished in my bosom to visit these illustrious sanctuaries. So I braced my resolution to quit all my dear ones, female and male, and forsook my home as birds forsake their nests. My parents being yet in the bonds of life, it weighed sorely upon me to part from them" (Ibn Battutah, Tim Mackintosh-Smith, 3). He left his family and started on his journey, without a plan or others to travel with. He jumped into his voyage head-first without thinking about how he would accomplish it. Since he felt the desire to undertake an expedition so he did for no other reason than to quench his own thirst, his dream for adventure, and to see places he hadn't before. To start a journey as Battutah did took courage--it's difficult to leave family behind, especially when he didn't know when or if  he was coming back to Morocco. Having to set out on an expedition alone wasn't the only hardship Battutah overcame, he faced danger during a Indian diplomatic trip to China, he faced trouble from the sea when: "he was named the head of a mission to travel to the court of the last Mongol ruler of China with 15 returning Chinese emissaries. Unfortunately, the junk carrying the envoys and gifts was wrecked by a violent storm at Calicut, on the south coast of India. Ibn Battuta was left destitute, having lost a child in the disaster. Afraid of returning to Tughluq, he sailed for the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean, 400 miles southwest of Sri Lanka, where he was befriended by Queen Khadija. He was given an official post (Explorers & Discoverers of the World, Gale)." Battutah's child died in the shipwreck. This devastated him, however he used bravery and tried to start over by moving to another country. He also lost most of his material goods and still he secured another job in an unknown country, this time in a Queen's court. Battutah overcame the hardships in his life with ease. Continually during his life when faced with a choice: he took the harder route or the harder voyage, which took him to unknown places, that required him to be strong for himself and others.

Cover of excerpted translations of the Rihla (Barnes and Noble ())
Cover of excerpted translations of the Rihla (Barnes and Noble ())

Ibn Battutah's desire to gain knowledge helped both him and historians today learn more about the world. After twenty years when his voyage ended he went to the Morrocan sultan and: "the sultan assigned a young writer named Ibn Juzayy to assist him in recording his observations, and the result was the Rihla, whose title means simply "travel book." Completed in 1335, the work initially earned Ibn Battuta a number of detractors, as well as no small share of supporters, among Muslim readers. But in the years that followed, as the Arab world went further into decline and the torch of exploration passed to the West, the book all but disappeared. Ironically, when the Rihla was finally resurrected in the nineteenth century, it was by Westerners, and the book was soon translated into French, German, and English. In time Ibn Battuta came to be accorded his just recognition as a man who had recorded many sights and facts that would simply have been beyond the reach of a Western traveler. Aside from his visits to Mecca and other "forbidden" spots, Ibn Battuta gave valuable accounts of Muslim naval power, slavery, and marriage practices, as well as a uniquely Islamic view on tensions with Christianity and other religions" (Knight, Judson). Although he isn't as famous as Marco Polo and other explorers, he did more than them to help historians today with his detailed book, the Rihla which gives unmatched and invaluable insight as to how life was like in the 1300's. Battutah learned a lot while traveling and talking to other cultures. He gathered a collection of information that  had never been amassed all at once by a single person. In order to learn more, Battutah also went to study under famous scholars: "that he achieved his objectives is corroborated by long enumerations of scholars and Sufi saints whom he met and also by a list of diplomas conferred upon him. These studies qualified him for judicial offices" (Ivan Hrbek). Battutah achieved a higher level of education than normally obtained by a person of his background. The time he spent, to find the greatest teachers of his time, and learning he did, until he got enough degrees to become a judicial officer, showed dedication to learning. Battutah showed an interest and dedication for amassing knowledge as shown in the Rihla, the many certificates he obtained, and scholars he talked with.

Battutah riding a camel. (labmed.hallym ())
Battutah riding a camel. (labmed.hallym ())

"Only as a warrior can one withstand the path of knowledge. A warrior cannot complain or regret anything. His life is an endless challenge, and challenges cannot possibly be good or bad. Challenges are simply challenges" (Castaneda, Carlso, Tales of Power). Battutah went through challenges on his quest to gain knowledge. The shipwreck he survived led him to a fresh start. His amazing writing in the Rihla has helped historians understand how life worked during his time. He left his birthplace, family, and lost a child. I admire his courage and bravery; he stayed strong all throughout his life, adventurous, and ready to try new things. He traveled thousands of miles, over mountains and through valleys all so he could better himself. I dream to travel the world, observe so many new cultures, and meet new people as he did. He not only learned more, he found new eyes during his voyage. Battutah's dedication to learning and the lengths he went to achieve success are far beyond what I try now, however I strive to achieve his success one day. Whenever he faced a challenge he said yes and never backed down. He truly was a warrior,  an, "Arab traveler, and [a] writer. Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Abd Allah al-Lawati at-Tanji ibn Battutah, one of the greatest travelers of the Middle Ages" (Levinson, David).

Ibn Battutah bowing to a noble. (Ilankai Tamil Sangam (R Shanmugananthan,))
Ibn Battutah bowing to a noble. (Ilankai Tamil Sangam (R Shanmugananthan,))

Works Cited

"Abu Abdallah Ibn Battuta." Explorers & Discoverers of the World. Gale, 1993. Biography In Context. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

Hrbek, Ivan. Britannica Biographies. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 1-2. Britannica Biographies. 21 Mar. 12. Web. 25 Mar. 13.

Knight, Judson. "Ibn Battuta Explores the Non-Western World." Science and Its Times. Ed. Neil Schlager and Josh Lauer. Vol. 2: 700 to 1449. Detroit: Gale, 2001. 6-9. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.

Levinson, David. "Ibn Battuta." Encyclopedia of Modern Asia. Ed. Karen Christensen and David Levinson. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. Biography In Context. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

The Travels of Ibn Battutah. Trans. Ibn, Battutah. Tim Mackintosh-Smith. London: Picador, 2003. Print.

Page created on 4/25/2013 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 1/5/2017 10:21:03 PM

Related Links

Ibn Battutah Tour - Visit around the world with a virtual tour following Battutah's path
The Travels of Ibn Battutah - An English translation of Ibn Battutah's book, the Rihla
Journey to Mecca - An IMAX movie about Battutah's life
Unearthed - A video game avaliable on many platforms and languages based on Battutah's exploration
Ibn Battutah on the Web - This site has a collection of links to other sites and articles about Ibn Battutah

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