Islam’s Great Historian: The man who travelled for thirty years

Friday 17 May 2013

Shamsuddin Mohammed, “Ibn Battuta”, the great Muslim adventurer of Morocco, was born on 17th of Rajab 703 AH (corresponding to Feb. 24, 1304) to an educated family in Tangier.

Ibn Battuta was the only medieval traveler who is known to have visited the lands of every Muslim ruler of his time. He also traveled to Ceylon, China, Byzantium and south Russia. His travels are estimated to have spanned no less than 75,000 miles, a distance unheard of before the age of engines.

His very first adventures took place in Egypt, Syria and Hijaz. Ibn Battuta traveled to Makkah by land, following the North African coast through Tlemcen, Béjaïa and Tunis, where he stayed for two months.

In the early spring of 1326, following a journey of over 3,500 km, Ibn Battuta arrived at the port of Alexandria, spending several weeks visiting sites in the area, then heading inland to Cairo. After spending about a month in Cairo, he traveled through Syria and Palestine, and visited Al-Khalil (Hebron), the place of burial of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), Prophet Ishaq (Isaac) and Prophet Yaqub (Jacob), then went on to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in Al-Quds (Jerusalem), in addition to Bethlehem, the birth place of Prophet Jesus.

After spending the month of Ramadan in Damascus, he joined a caravan, traveling 1,500 km to Madinah, where he stayed for four days. He then went to Makkah to perform Haj. This was his first pilgrimage, which he performed in 726 AH after traveling 3,500 km in 16 months.

His second adventure spanned Baghdad, Tabriz, Mosul and Mardin. On Nov. 17, 1326, he embarked on another tour and joined a large caravan of pilgrims returning to Iraq. In Najaf, he visited the mausoleum of Ali bin Abi Talib. He then visited Isfahan and Shiraz and returned to Baghdad in June 1327. Shortly after, Ibn Battuta briefly joined the royal caravan, then turned northward onto the Silk Road to Tabriz. Once back in Mosul, he joined a caravan of pilgrims and returned to Makkah for his second pilgrimage. This time, he stayed for more than two years, attending sermons by learned Ulema. This made him an authority on jurisprudence and earned him the title of chief judge (qadhi), a role he would periodically undertake in other Islamic states.
Yemen, Somalia, Tanzania and Oman were next on his list. Ibn Battuta embarked once again on a new journey to Jeddah, Zabid, Ta’izz and Aden. He then boarded a ship to Zeila, visiting Mogadishu in Somalia. From Somalia, he continued his journey southward to modern Tanzania. As monsoon winds shifted northward, he returned to Makkah for his third pilgrimage via Oman, passing through the Straits of Hormuz, Bahrain and Yamamah.

His fourth adventure included Constantinople, Central Asia and India. After spending another year in Makkah, Ibn Battuta planned the longest journey of his life. Knowing that only the Indian and Egyptian regions were spared the harm and destruction caused by the Mongols, he decided to witness the grandeur of the Muslim empire in India.
In 1332, Ibn Battuta embarked on his largest tour of the eastern world. He traveled toward the north and took a ship from the Latakia port in Syria and moved to Konya and Sinope by crossing the Black Sea. From Sinope, he took a sea route to Crimea of the Golden Horde realm and reached up to Azov and Majar, finally reaching Bolghar, which was the northernmost point he had reached.

He then returned to Astrakhan and came to the Christian territory of Constantinople with a procession. He met the Byzantine emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos, visited the famous church of Hagia Sophia and returned to Astrakhan. Passing through the Caspian Sea, he visited the famous cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Balakh, Herat, Tus, Mashhad, Nishapur and crossed over the Hindukush mountain, entering India via Ghazni and Kabul in Afghanistan. He later visited Lahri (near modern Karachi), Sukkur, Multan, Sirsa and Hansi, finally reaching Delhi.

At that time, India was ruled by Sultan Mohammed Tughlaq, who was renowned as the wealthiest man in the Muslim world. The Sultan of Delhi appointed him as chief judge (qadhi) in his court. Though a foreigner, Ibn Battuta served the state for six years. Sultan later designated him as his ambassador to the ruling Yuan dynasty in China.

His fifth trip was to the Maldives, Ceylon and China. From Delhi, he marched to Khambat in Gujarat and then to Kozhikode (Calicut in Kerala) by ship, where he visited a mosque built by early Muslims. Ibn Battuta then traveled to the Maldives, which was ruled by a Muslim king, and was appointed once again as judge of the Muslim state. He stayed there for nine months, studying the life pattern of the natives. From the Maldives, he sailed to Ceylon and visited Adam’s Peak, returning to the Maldives via Kozhikode.

Finally, he caught a ship to China and sailed out from the Maldives. He reached Chittagong and Sonargaon in modern Bangladesh but took a short detour to Sylhet to meet a saint named Shah Jalal, then went up north to Assam. Sailing along the Arakan coast, he came to Sumatra, Indonesia, Malacca, Vietnam, the Philippines and finally, Quanzhou in the Fujian province of China.

From there, he went to Hangzhou, near present-day Shanghai, then traveled through the canal to Beijing.

The return journey from China to Morocco was yet another adventure. From Quanzhou, Ibn Battuta came to Calicut, India, then to Basra in Iraq, passing through Strait of Hormuz and reaching Damascus in 1348. He then returned to Makkah to perform his seventh and final pilgrimage. From Makkah, he turned toward Morocco via Sardinia. He returned home to Tangier in 1349 only to find his parents had died awaiting his return.

Ibn Battuta’s sixth trip spanned the Andalus region and North Africa. After a short stay at Tangier, Ibn Battuta heard that King Alfonso XI of Castile and Leon had threatened to attack the Muslim territory of the Gibraltar port and enrolled himself with the “mujahideen” (fighters) to defend the port. Ibn Battuta visited the Muslim territories of Valencia and Gharnata and returned home after seeing Marrakech.

During his seventh expedition to Mali and Timbuktu, Ibn Battuta passed through Fez and arrived at Sijilmasa, a town on the northern edge of Sahara Desert. He set out in February 1352 on camel and after 25 days, reached the dry salt mines of Taghaza.

Ibn Battuta’s sea voyages and references reveal that Muslims dominated the maritime activity of the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Ibn Battuta visited China sixty years after Marco Polo (1254-1324) and traveled 75,000 miles, superseding Marco Polo and Vasco de Gama (1469-1524).


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