Ibn Battuta, the famous 14th century Muslim scholar, was only 21 years old when he embarked on his travels from his home in Tangiers (modern day Morocco). What initially started out as a travel for performing hajj turned into a three-decade long journey.
During this time, despite travel not being as easy as it is today, he visited an astonishing 44 countries. This is thrice the number of countries that the most famous of travelers, Marco Polo, was able to visit in his lifetime.
Ibn Battuta Travels Took Him Far
By land or by sea, ibn battuta travels took him far, to Central Asia, India, South East Asia, North Africa, a brief detour to Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), and ended in China – an intense devotion, it appears, to Prophet Muhammad’s edict “Seek knowledge, even unto China”.
Battuta’s extensive travels also meant that he saw different kinds of Muslim practices, as well as cultural norms surrounding women. Himself being a devotee of Sufism, and coming from a family of Islamic legal scholars in the Maliki tradition, he was taken aback to find that not all Muslim cultures observed the rules of gender segregation. For instance, he saw how Mongol and Turkish women, called khatuns, enjoyed not only a freedom and equality that was different to the customs of his own land, but also had a visible and active role in the governing of their states.
Not only did Ibn Battuta get to meet royal women, he also had the chance to escort princesses. During his visit to Central Asia, Ibn Battuta gained the opportunity of escorting Ozbeg Khan’s wife, Princess Bayalun, who was a daughter of Andronicus III, Emperor of the Roman Byzantium, to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), where she would give birth to her child. According to Battuta, when he first told Princess Bayalun of how far he had journeyed from his native land, “she wept in pity and compassion and wiped her face with a handkerchief that lay before her.”
Upon his return to Morocco in 1354, the Sultan hired a poet, Ibn Juzayy, to write the Rihla. It documents the entire thirty years of his travels, and remains one of the most valuable, and sometimes only, historical accounts of many events that took place in the medieval Muslim world.