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

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”.

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(A map of Ibn Battuta’s travels)

After all, his journey wasn’t always easy. His travels meant encounters with robbers and bandits in the caravans that he traveled with. In Delhi, where he served as qadi to the Sultan, he was appointed as ambassador to the Mongol court of China. Before Ibn Battuta and the companions on the mission with him were able to leave India, they were attacked by a rebel band of Hindus in the Doab. Battuta was chased across the the fields, confronted by 40 bowmen, robbed of his sword and every Thus came about Ibn Battuta’s compilation of his voyages, famously known as the Rihla, which translates to “journey” or “voyage” in Arabic, which produced a rich and varied account of the social, political and cultural markers of the medieval Islamic world.
In fact, there’s even a crater on the moon that’s been named after him (as well as the Tangier airport).
Despite his devotion to traveling, there were occasions when he felt homesick. In the Rihla, he wrote:
I departed alone, without the companionship of a fellow traveller, or in the assembly of a caravan…As my parents were still alive, it weighed grievously upon me to part from them, and both they and I were afflicted with sorrow.”
thing he had except his shirt, pants, and cloak. He was then taken to the robbers’ camp, where he bargained his way out of his death by offering the bandits his expensive tunic.
While this was not the only event where Battuta encountered death (there were more encounters with robbers, bandits, as well as a forty-day shipwreck off the coast of India), there was a wealth of experiences and good fortunes that Battuta had in the thirty or so years as well.
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(Ibn Battuta in Egypt, illustrated in mid of the 19th century)

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.”

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(Andronicus III)

While not much is known about his married life, Ibn Battuta had ten (known) wives, one of whom he later divorced, and five children over the course of his travels.
But in other areas, he was a pretty staunch Muslim. When visiting the court of Turko-Mongol House of Genghis, he expressed his distaste for the millet beer, qumizz, which flowed in abundance at the court.
By the end of his life, Ibn Battuta was a pretty wealthy man. He had met over fifty heads of states, and served more than a dozen of them. He would meet officials, khans, benevolent women, and they would gift him with dinars, gold, wool, silks, horses and a range of other things. His hospitality gifts weren’t just limited to clothes, horses and money, though. He had slaves and concubines as well.
ibn battuta travels

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.

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I am currently pursuing my Bachelor's in English Literature. I was honorary mention in the Abdus Salam Award for Imaginative Fiction in 2017 and 2018. When I'm not studying or writing, I enjoy poetry, nature documentaries, and Studio Ghibli films.

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