Travels of Ibn Battuta

Travels of Ibn Battuta

Muslim legal scholar Ibn Battuta recorded an account of his travels during the first half of the fourteenth century. His book of personal accounts reveals the wide scope of the Muslim world at that time.

Ibn Battuta was born in the city of Tangier, part of modern-day Morocco, on February 25, 1304. Tangier is on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean where Africa and Europe nearly touch.

During the life of Ibn Battuta, Islamic civilization stretched from the Atlantic coast of West Africa across northern Africa, the Middle East, and India to Southeast Asia.

Ibn Battuta’s urge to travel was spurred by his interest in finding the best teachers and he also wanted to make a special trip to Mecca, called the “hajj.” For Muslims, the trip is a religious duty to be done at least once in life.

On June 14, 1325, 21-year-old Ibn Battuta began his journey to Mecca. Like the famous, Italian traveler Marco Polo, who had completed his travels a few years before, Ibn Battuta would write a book introducing people to parts of the world he saw. He detailed his wanderings in “The Travels of Ibn Battuta.”

Ibn Battuta entered Mecca in mid-October 1326. It had taken him a year and four months to get there. He stayed a month, taking part in all the ritual experiences and talking with people from every Islamic land. Then, his real globetrotting began.

Ibn Battuta led a complete life while traveling. He studied and prayed; he worked in the legal profession; he had astonishing adventures; he married at least 10 times and left children growing up all over Afro-Eurasia. A few examples of these activities provide a good picture of his life’s journey.

Upon arriving in Delhi, India, Ibn Battuta sought an official career from the Muslim king of India named Muhammad Tughluq. King Tughluq appointed him judge of Delhi. After eight years, Ibn Battuta was eager for new work and the king agreed to send him as India’s representative to China. He made Ibn Battuta responsible for taking shiploads of goods to the emperor.

Ibn Battuta was set to sail from Calcutta with a large ship holding the goods for the Chinese emperor. Everything and everybody was loaded for departure, but Ibn Battuta spent the last day in the city attending Friday prayers. That evening a storm blew in, and the large ship sank.

From there, Ibn Battuta continued on to China. Ibn Battuta’s passages about China are just a small part of his whole story. The details are so sketchy and confusing that some scholars doubt that he even went to China. He wrote in “Travels”:

“China was beautiful, but it did not please me. On the contrary, I was greatly troubled thinking about the way paganism dominated this country. Whenever I went out of my lodging, I saw many blameworthy things. That disturbed me so much that I stayed indoors most of the time and only went out when necessary.”

Ibn Battuta returned home to Tangier in 1349. Both his parents had died and Ibn Battuta stayed in Tangier only a few days before leaving to visit North Africa, Spain, and West Africa.

He returned from that trip in 1354 to Fez, Morocco, where he and a scholar collaborated for two years to record his experiences. Little is known about Ibn Battuta’s life after the writing of his book. He died in 1368 or 1369; the place of his death is not known.

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