The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: a Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century
“The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century” Translation: Ross E. Dunn Ibn Batutta was a self-proclaimed scholar of the fourteenth century who traveled extensively throughout sub-Saharan Africa under the banner of Islam, and wrote of his travels in an autobiographical book entitled ‘The Travels of Ibn Battuta’. The financing for his ventures was derived from Muslim rulers inhabiting the cities he visited.
His text regarding the cities and their occupants provide great insight into the cultural diversity and economic conditions of medieval Africa, Middle East and Asia.Ibn Battuta also exposes intricate details of daily life regarding food, clothing and rituals. His journals relay a precarious existence where food is not always palatable; clothing is optional and indigenous rituals conflict with his own beliefs. Religious studies students may question the need for this intricate detail; however, Ibn Battuta was gathering the crucial knowledge to help other Muslims make the journey. His observances also allowed community leaders to learn of the actions of other community leaders.Among his many observations Ibn Battuta describes the terrain where he travels and the manner in which each community receives him. On many occasions, particularly when crossing the desert, advance notice was sent to make provisions for his lodging.
This advanced notice also served a vital task, to arrange for a group of people to meet the traveling party several days outside of town with the necessary supplies to complete the journey. The text discloses unfortunate events where couriers were lost, resulting in the death of entire parties because additional supplies were never sent to meet them.Recording this type of information would be an invaluable resource for other Muslims who desire to go on a pilgrimage. The Travels also discuss the danger of storms at sea and seasonal conditions that limited the availability of this mode of transportation. The rigorous and perilous nature of distant travel is emphasized in the text and endured often by Ibn Battuta throughout his life. Although he expresses a modicum of regret at his abstinence from a stationary life, his descriptions of events and beautiful places belie his propensity for wanderlust.This seems a rather unexpected attitude for a religious scholar caught in the midst of desert travel.
But from the standpoint of the reader, beauty serves as reward for the hardships endured on the journey. Several other passages in the text divulge the author’s valuation of nature and beauty. The Ibn Battuta reflects an almost pantheistic attitude that is simultaneously appreciative and respectful of both the desert and cultivated gardens. It is likely that this expressed reverence toward nature was intended as an enticement or encouragement his audience to travel.Interestingly enough Battuta also expresses knowledge about Plato Although Ibn Battuta seems to be content with all facets of nature, and speaks highly of the morals and purity of many men, discord appears when his beliefs are challenged by the perception of unconventional behavior, such as the wood burning ceremony in Om Obida, Persi, or the burning of widows in Hindustan, “The woman adorns herself, and is accompanied by cavalcade of the Infidel Hindoos and Brahmans, with drums, trumpets and men following her, both Infidel and Muslim alike” (emphasis mine) He also remarks about his shock regarding the public nudity of women.This is another example of direct contrast with his cultural heritage, which dictates that women are kept completely covered with the exception of their eyes. This reaction comes as no surprise because sexual infidelity, on behalf of women, is contrary to Ibn Battuta’s religious beliefs.
As an ulama, Ibn Battuta’s Muslim beliefs were far more conservative than many of the cultures he visited. The text of Ibn Battuta stands as a relevant work from and autobiographical standpoint, as well as a study of regional cultural diversity among Islamic communities.It can be said that Ibn Battuta functioned as a type of intelligentsia for the medival Muslim communities, spreading information between the many towns he visited. His journal entries could easily have influenced the attitudes of community leaders by allowing a direct comparison with the practices and habits of other rulers. Through this methodology, Battuta garnered a modicum of individual power.Although community leaders did not fear Ibn Battuta, his critique of their habits could cause other communities to question a particular leaders respect of Muslim charity laws. This would also call into question that leaders religious devotion to Muslim tradition.
Students of religious studies can use the text to discern historical information about the size and resources of ancient cities, trade relationships/predominant commodities of value, and similarities and differences in the cultures of the Fourteenth Century Islamicate.We are also given an idea of the prosperity of cities despite any possible bias the author might have held toward particular regions or rulers. Closer examination reveals, for the most part, Muslim reverence for travelers on pilgrimage and particularly those of the Ulama class. Perhaps most importantly, the author relays information about daily Muslim life in the medieval age that is not readily available from other academic sources.