Who was Ibn Battuta? - Quotes & Biography

Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
Ibn Battuta, who started to travel a year after Marco Polo's death, left a remarkable legacy of travel and a recording of life in the Muslim world of the 14th century. His quotes, now over six centuries old, still inspire people everywhere to travel and experience the world.

A Muslim Odyssey: The Travels of Ibn Battuta

Ibn Battuta was born in the 14th century in what is modern-day Morocco. This was a time when the fastest way to travel was by ship, if you were lucky enough; most travel was by horse, camel, or walking. In an age when we can theoretically be anywhere on the planet within 24 hours, this may not seem remarkable. Yet, imagine walking from your town or city to the next closest town or city. It might take not just hours, but days. Now imagine traveling from your continent to another without a plane. It might take not years, but decades.

At a time when much of the European world was considered in the Dark Ages, the Muslim world to the east was flourishing. Even though the bubonic plague (also known as the Black Death) was ravishing the Eastern Muslim world as well as the European, there existed a thriving economic and cultural trade in the east. Ibn's first real trip was the Hajj, the Fifth Pillar of Islam which says that every Muslim, if possible, must visit and perform certain rituals in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. In 1325, Ibn set out on this trip that stretched into an odyssey. While Ibn Battuta is not as well-known as Marco Polo (1254-1324), Ibn probably traveled much more extensively than Marco Polo.

13th century Hajj pilgrims

The Muslim world at that time stretched from the mouth of the Mediterranean, at what is now Spain and Morocco, to the South China Sea. These Muslim trade and pilgrim routes were the highways that Ibn Battuta travelled along. Along the way, Ibn had numerous wives and even experienced culture shock, a feeling you get when another culture is unfamiliar or has different attitudes. Ibn commented that perhaps clothing was too revealing in Africa or that women might have too much freedom in places like Turkey.

Ibn's travel took in most of the known world at that time. Note the following alphabetical list is open to scholarly debate whether Ibn managed to visit all these places, with modern-country equivalents as most of these countries did not exist then: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Jordan, Libya, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Spain, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen.

Ibn Battauta travelled from West Africa to Far East Asia
Eurasia and Africa

A Sense of Wonder

If you have ever traveled, even if only locally, there has probably been a moment when you saw or experienced something for the first time and if only for a brief moment, you sat in wonder. What delights the reader when you read Ibn Battuta's story is a feeling of being there: colorful imagery, a flair for drama, and a sense of timing conveys a real beauty that feels present, even though it is far in the past. Ibn Battuta was one of the world's first real travel writers:

On the bank of the Nile opposite Old Cairo is the place known as The Garden, which is a pleasure park and promenade, containing many beautiful gardens, for the people of Cairo are given to pleasure and amusements. I witnessed a fete once in Cairo for the sultan's recovery from a fractured hand; all the merchants decorated their bazaars and had rich stuffs, ornaments and silken fabrics hanging in their shops for several days.

If you close your eyes after reading this, you can see the shops and the colored fabrics moving in the wind.

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