Wanderluster of the Past - Ibn Battuta

Who is Ibn Battuta?

Ibn Battuta
Ibn Battuta

On 2nd Rajab 725 A.H. or 14th June 1325 BCE, Ibn Battuta left both his home and parents at age 21 to make his way to Mecca for the pilgrimage of Hajj. He was a Muslim traveler and explorer from Tangier, Morocco (before being a name of a luxury shopping mall in Dubai). His travels that covered over 117,000km which is equivalent to 44 modern countries such as North Africa to China and even Southeast Asia for a period of 30 years. This easily surpassed that of his predecessor, Marco Polo. He traveled mostly by land, meeting over 60 heads of states, taking up various jobs from a Qadi or judge to advisors for a dozen heads of states. This was all recorded in the Rihla which is a recording of his journey.

"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 [of Makkah and Madinah]. So I braced my resolution to quit all my dear ones...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, and both they and I were afflicted-with sorrow at this separation.” - Ibn Battuta

You might wonder how he was able to embark on such a journey especially living in a time of uncertainty and at a tender age of 21 without his parents. Even though he traveled to Muslim and non-Muslim territories, why does being a Muslim help create a comfortable environment for Ibn Battuta’s adventures?

Muslim Brotherhood, 'Ummah

First and foremost, Ibn Battuta started his journey started with a pilgrimage to Mecca for Hajj. Since he was a pilgrim, he received many alms from people he encountered when he traveled. Giving alms to those who were making their way to the Holy city of Mecca was customary and they would be viewed righteous and favorable in the eyes of god. Also, Muslims believed in the concept of ‘ummah where it emphasizes on the brotherhood among believers that goes beyond race and tribe which is a factor that helps strengthen the unity among Muslims. Hence, Ibn Battuta was well taken care of by his fellow Muslims with the understanding of taking care of each other on their spiritual journey.

Stability of religion

Moreover, Islam was the predominant religion in the Dar al-Islam (World of Islam) territory. The stability of a single religion in the region with common laws and regulations allowed for joint ventures and common understanding of one another. Ibn Battuta mostly traveled to territories with a Muslim government since Muslim traders had expanded their business to areas such as China and Indonesia which catalyst in setting up Muslim communities abroad and expanding the ideologies of Islam. Thus, this ensured that he was almost never alone during his travels as he often joined local caravans and traveled in groups which allowed him to benefit from the kindness of fellow Muslim travelers or pilgrims. Also, he traveled mostly by land, stability provided by Islam provided a safe environment for him to travel as it allows him to easily assimilate with the locals he encounters on his travels. He would usually join caravans with fellow Muslims during his travels and therefore, this secured his safety since in numbers during his travel.

MUSLIM scholar

As a Muslim and an Islamic scholar, he was well versed in Arabic and had a vast knowledge of the Quran, he would usually recite the Quran whenever he faced adversity during his travels as recorded in the Rihla. It was stated that he had read the Quran aloud in a day when he is in need to strengthen his moral beliefs. This gave him strength spiritually that allowed him to traveled as vastly as he did since it provided comfort in times of distress. As an Islamic scholar, he was given modest meals and free accommodation in madrasahs(a college for Islamic studies) or he could seek shelter in mosques that are widely found all over Dar al-Islam. This emphasizes how his faith provided him an ideal environment to carry out his travels and the kindness and charity of his fellow Muslim around ensured that he is constantly taken care of wherever he went.

All in all, Ibn Battuta’s beliefs as a Muslim aided him in his journey across 44 countries as it provided him support in terms of food and accommodation, provided him safety while traveling and spiritual strength to overcome adversity. Essentially, he was able to fulfill his wanderlust with the help of his beliefs and his brotherhood around the world.