Travel Writing Highlight: Ibn Battuta

al_aqsa mosqueBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

So who exactly was Ibn Battuta, other than a guy who had a mall in Dubai named after him? We’re getting answers from a very extensive website called “The Travels of Ibn Battuta – A Virtual Tour with the 14th Century Traveler” that seems to be designed for grade school students. Frustratingly, many of the graphics don’t show up. But most of them do, and the text is thorough and clear. Nick Bartel is the author, and he says:

Ibn Battuta started on his travels when he was 20 years old in 1325. His main reason to travel was to go on a Hajj, or a Pilgrimage to Mecca, as all good Muslims want to do. But his traveling went on for about 29 years and he covered about 75,000 miles visiting the equivalent of 44 modern countries…

At Damascus, things really got serious — 820 miles to go to Medina, where the Prophet is entombed. Ibn Battuta saw Cairo, Algiers, Tunis, Anatolia, Delhi, even the ruined Alexandria lighthouse before its stones were recycled. He went just about every place that people knew there was to go in those times. This site lists of the types of foods a traveler in the old days would find in the various places, which is rather delightful.

Of course the fame of Ibn Battuta grew explosively with the release earlier this year of the 45-minute IMAX-format movie Journey to Mecca, which has by now been seen in every corner of the world. At Islam Online, the lecturer and aspiring filmmaker Azad Essa thoughtfully reviews that film and says the man’s knowledge and experience made him welcome in every country he passed through. “He functioned as a judge and ambassador for various rulers as his vast perspective as a traveler and his command of Islamic law held him in good stead everywhere…” In The Jakarta Post, Martina Zainal looks at the movie from the spiritual perspective:

For Muslims who have performed the hajj it is a nostalgic reminder of their own heartfelt quest for righteousness; for Muslims yet to go, a very up-close-and-personal look at what they can look forward to when they do make their own journey to Mecca.

Meam Wye also has plenty of good information and food for thought at a site called Shining History – Medieval Islamic Civilization, whose purpose is to focus on the contributions of Muslim innovators to the fields of science, technology, mathematics, astronomy, geography, and more. A very erudite look at the deeper meaning of Ibn Battuta’s influence is found at Pragati, written by Jayakrishnan Nair, who covers history, archaeology and current affairs. A fellow who calls himself Young B Emcee says “Ibn Battuta was probably the driving force in my exploration appetite. His writings intrigued me so much that I tried to recreate his steps…”

Naturally, not everything we hear is wonderful. Maryam Omidi, who writes from the Maldives, quotes Foreign Minister Dr. Ahmed Shaheed: “Referring to the Moroccan scholar and explorer, Ibn Battuta, who worked as a judge in the Maldives in the 14th century, Shaheed said a number of Maldivians fainted when Battuta ordered a thief’s hand to be amputated.” Timothy Burke says, “Read Ibn Battuta’s accounts of his journeys and you’ll see him offering distortions and exoticizations galore, generally based on surface impressions and gut reactions.” Dr Farish A. Noor is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. At Rethinking Islam, he says “Ibn Battuta was, of course a bad traveller and a fussy tourist…” and also adds some even more unkind remarks.

Back on the bright side, publisher Marcus Wiener offers the traveler’s own book, Ibn Battuta in Black Africa, translated by Noel Q. King and edited by Said Hamdun. Taylor Luck took a fine picture of an ancient fort in Jordan that Ibn Battuta visited. And Shari toured the Ibn Battuta Mall and posted some great photos of it. She describes the mall’s five sections: China, India, Persia, Egypt and Andalusia, and says, “This roughly covers the area that Ibn Battuta covered in his world travels, the entire known area of Islam in his time.” The picture on this page is not a mall, but Jerusalem’s ancient Al-Aqsa Mosque.

photo courtesy of hoyasmeg , used under this Creative Commons license

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