If you were asked who you thought were some of the greatest travelers of all time, who would you say?
* Marco Polo….
* Vasco da Gama…
* Christopher Columbus….
* David Livingstone….
* Captain Cooke….?
Possibly any of the above, but have any of us heard about a Medieval, Morrocan, Muslim traveller, writer called Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battutah?
WHO WAS HE?
Ibn Battuta was born on Feb 25th 1304, in Morocco. He was born into the Lawata tribe, of Berber descent. So he would have been a good example of an average middle-class medieval Muslim! He came from a family of Islamic legal scholars in Tangier, who performed the role of Judges at that time, so his education was in Islamic law.
WHEN DID HE START TRAVELING?
When he was 21 years old (1325) ,he decided to go on the Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca). This trip should have taken him 16 months, But he did not return to Morocco for 24 years!
WHY DID HE TRAVEL?
Although his main aim initially may have been to fulfill his religious duty and broaden his education by studying under a variety of famous scholars (which he did do) he soon began to travel for its own sake: for the joy of learning about new countries and people. One of his rules was never to travel any road a second time!
HOW FAR DID HE TRAVEL?
His journey lasted about 27 years and he traveled a total of 75000 miIes, 120000 kms, from 1325 – 1353. In his 4 sets of travels, he covered nearly the whole of the known Islamic world at the time and then some:
West: North Africa, West Africa, Southern and Eastern Europe
East: Middle East, India, Central Asia, SE Asia and China.
He surpassed all his predecessors in the extent of his travels.
Ibn Battuta was called “curious observer”, in that he was interested in ways of life. And although he did not discover any new lands, not make a major contribution to scientific geography, he did leave lasting historical and geographical significance in his writings. His book called “RIHLAH” (Arabic for “journey”) sheds great light on many aspects of social, cultural and political history of many areas of the Medieval Muslim world. He was indeed one of the most ambitious travelers on the Silk Road.
WHAT HAPPENED WHEN HE FINISHED HIS TRAVELS?
He returned to Morocco, and took up the role of Judge, as his father before him and his father before that….
His desire was to travel the Earth, and in his time he covered a very large chunk of that. It is interested that his name lives on these days in some quite interesting ways:
- there is a film: Journey to Mecca
- in a video game
- a nursery rhyme
- songs about him
- and an animated cartoon series in Asia
- and…. his name is often used as a “nick-name” for people who love to travel!!