By Siti Nabihah Binti Ahmad Mukhadzir

Once upon a time, there was a Muslim scholar who loved to discover new places. This passion had slowly rooted in him as he spent most of his early adulthood in foreign lands. Amazingly, his journeys managed to cover around 73, 000 miles (117, 000 km) across the different regions. Plus, throughout these expeditions, he endured new knowledge as he went through unpredicted circumstances as a stranger in the unfamiliar lands, which he had visited. Due to his extensive journeys, he is often called as the greatest traveler in human history. This person was called Ibn Battuta who lived in the 8th century (hijri calendar).

His full name was Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta. He was born on 24th February, 703H in Tangier, Morocco, and grew up during the Merinid Dynasty. His family originated from the Berber background and served as judges in their community. Then, this tradition was followed by Ibn Battuta as he had also studied jurisprudence (law, fiqh) as his early qualification.[1] Apart from that, his family was serious about proper education, therefore Ibn Battuta had been raised in intellectual lifestyle that shaped his positive attitude towards knowledge. Therefore, Ibn Battuta left his parental home as he wanted to pursue higher education, which was not provided around his land. He found that many outstanding scholars were living in the area of the Middle East, and this reason encouraged him to start traveling. The long and amazing journey of Ibn Battuta began with this reason of seeking knowledge.

When Ibn Battuta decided to leave his homeland, he was 21 years old. He went to Mecca. Along with the goal of the continuation of his studies in Hijaz, he also intended to do a pilgrimage. He rode a donkey to make his journey faster than walking. He said in his work that, I set out alone, I didn’t have a travel companion or a group of travelers to join. I had just strong desire to visit these famous places of learning. I had to be strong to have left loved ones. I left my home as birds leave its nest.”

While traveling, he was not always alone as he stopped at different places and met the people. At one place, he met the governor of one state and was appreciated by the governor with the gifts (alms) in the form of gold and woolen cloth.[2] He also stayed at different madrassahs (religious schools) during his journey for a rest. After that, his next destination for taking a rest before reaching Mecca was Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. Later, when he was about to leave the place, there was a dispute regarding the caravan of pilgrimage troop from Tunis. Due to his knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence, he considered helping as his responsibility and served as a judge to settle the dispute in peace. This was a new experience for him in practicing his knowledge in foreign lands.

Ibn Battuta continued his journey. After 16 months of traveling and hardships, he reached the ultimate destination of all Muslims, Makkah al-Mukarramah. In October 1326 CE, he arrived at Makkah and spent a month there while engaging himself in spiritual activities. He also had a chance to meet other Muslims from different parts of the Muslim world. Later he continued his journey towards Baghdad by joining a caravan of pilgrimages returning to Baghdad. This was the very point, where Ibn Battuta’s globetrotting had begun. His enthusiasm towards traveling was exposed as he was a person who loved to discover and learn new things. Later, he has been a guest upon an invitation by a well-known Sufi man in Egypt, Burhan al-Din the Lame. By seeing the spirit and passion of Ibn Battuta towards traveling, this man suggested to him to visit another fellow Sufis: one in China and another two in India.

Ibn Battuta was excited to visit these Sufis but he didn’t straightly go there. He decided for another stopping place, which was Damascus. Since Damascus had many well-known religious scholars in the Arab-speaking world, it was easier for him to take a shelter for a while in any madrassa, to sleep there and study.[3] Later on, he started a new journey to India, by crossing the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan. At that time, it was the tradition of the King of India to promote and outsider to hold the positions of the judges and ministers. When Ibn Battuta traveled to Delhi, his group of 22 members was attacked by 82 Hindu thugs. But Ibn Battuta managed to cope with the situation leaving 13 thugs killed. As a result, he was appointed as the judge of Delhi and he served there for 8 years before leaving the place.

While in India, he was really keen to step his foot on the soil of China. He tried to convince the king of India, Muhammad al-Tughluq, to let him resign so he could travel to China. Then the king promised to send him as an ambassador to China while bringing together with him the ships-loads with the goods to give to the Yuan emperor, as the sign of diplomatic relation between India and China. In his account in Rihla, he stated that being in China was truly an awkward experience for him. Since Muslims in China were a small minority, Ibn Battuta felt like an outsider in this foreign land. He further stated in his Rihla that,

“China was beautiful, but it did not please me. On the contrary, I was greatly troubled thinking about the way paganism dominated this country. Whenever I went out of my lodging, I saw many blameworthy things. That disturbed me so much that I stayed indoors most of the time and only went out when necessary. During my stay in China, whenever I saw any Muslims I always felt as though I were meeting my own family and close kinsmen”.[4]

In 1349 he returned to his homeland, Tangier. As soon as he reached his home, he found that his mother passed away due to the Black Death, meanwhile his father died 15 years ago. He spent only a few days in Tangier and continued his journeys. He visited Spain, North Africa and Mali. Later on, in 1354, he went to Fez, Morocco. The local sultan, Abu Inan, appointed one of the royal secretaries, Ibn Djozy, to hold the responsibility of writing the stories narrated by Ibn Battuta. Ibn Battuta had an astonishing memory. Yet, few facts and dates had been forgotten unintentionally by him.

All memories of Ibn Battuta written by Ibn Djozy was given a title of Rihla. It could be classified as the major contribution of Ibn Battuta to the development of Muslim historiography. Rihla is an Arabic word, which meant ‘journey’ or ‘travels’. It closely related to the meaning of a quest, with the connotations of a voyage undertaken for the sake of divine knowledge of Islam. Accordingly, this term “Rihla” was especially credited to the written account of  Ibn Battuta. [5] Today, this book has been translated into many languages,  including into English and French.

Some people like to compare Ibn Battuta with another well-known traveler at the same time, Marco Polo. Although they were both travelers and enjoyed gaining new experiences plus with the outstanding determination to accomplish their travels, but there is a different aspect of viewing on them. What is making both of them especial is related to their personalities and backgrounds.

Marco Polo was a merchant from Europe who gained no formal education. He had visited unfamiliar cultures. He was assimilated into the local cultures of each land he visited, learning of how to dress, speak and behave like locals.  Yet, Ibn Battuta’s accounts are more about people and geographical wonders. Besides, Marco Polo was a person who focused on reporting accurate information. This is how today we are lucky to have two different travelers’ accounts written 600 years ago. [6]

Ibn Battuta is a model for today’s generation. In order to seek knowledge, he left his home during the early age, which means he left his comfort zone in order to discover new knowledge and wisdom. With his wide journeys across the different regions, Ibn Battuta experienced hardship and faced difficulties, but he never stopped. Thanks to him, we have a wide information about the life of the previous nations, geographical details, culture, norms, tradition and religion of bygone people, which is very important for studying history.

Apart from that, Ibn Battuta traveled in order to learn more about humans and nature, which are important for the development of knowledge and human society. In surah al-Hujurat, verse 13, Allah S.W.T. says:

يَا أيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَاُنثَی وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

“O people! We have created you from male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (one) who fears Allah. Indeed, Allah is Omniscient, All-Aware”. [7]

This ayah perfectly shows the importance of learning about differences among different nations and tribes. Feeling and expressing the sense of superiority over other nations based on ethnic or tribal differences is totally against the sunnatullah. Laws of Allah. Having differences in many aspects should be viewed as a gift from Allah s.w.t to all mankind because such variety will not only benefit humans in terms of the realization of the Greatness of Allah, but also it is also an exciting for humans to experience this beauty in their lives.

For instance, we can travel to India in order to experience their wonderful culture and traditions. Or, we can also travel to European lands to feel and experience how the winter season looks like and how the people there survive and live in the freezing climate. Allah is Ar-Rahman, Allah is Ar-Rahim. It is a fact that there are many other wonderful experiences to be discovered and this excitement of the first time stepping on foreign lands and enjoying the air of the foreign lands had been experienced by Ibn Battuta.

Keep calm and let’s travel in order to realize the encouragement of Allah s.w.t as what have been mentioned in the verse 13, Surah Al-Hujurat.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Chughtai A. S. (1990). Ibn Battuta – The Great Traveller. Retrieved on May 1990 from http://www.silk-road.com/artl/ibn_battuta.shtml

Team T. E. Ibn Battuta. Retrieved from http://www.muslimheritage.com/article/ibn-battuta

Brown. C. S. Muslim Traveling Judge. Retrieved on https://school.bighistoryproject.com/media/khan/articles/U8_Battuta_2014_740L.pdf

Rihla. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rihla

Surah Al-Hujurat, Chapter 49. https://www.al-islam.org/enlightening-commentary-light-holy-quran-vol-17/surah-al-hujurat-chapter-49#surah-al-hujurat-verse-13

NOTES:

[1] A. S. Chugthai, Ibn Battuta – The Great Traveller, retrieved May 1990. Retrieved on 1990 http://www.silk-road.com/artl/ibn_battuta.shtml

[2] The Editorial Team, Ibn Battuta, (No date) retrieved on http://www.muslimheritage.com/article/ibn-battuta

[3] Cynthia Stokes Brown, Muslim Traveling Judge, (No date) retrieved on https://school.bighistoryproject.com/media/khan/articles/U8_Battuta_2014_740L.pdf

[4] Ibid

[5] (No name) Rihla (No date) retrieved on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rihla

[6] Ibid

[7] (No name) Surah Al-Hujurat, Chapter 49. (No date) retrieved on https://www.al-islam.org/enlightening-commentary-light-holy-quran-vol-17/surah-al-hujurat-chapter-49#surah-al-hujurat-verse-13

Writer is a UG student at the department of History and Civilization, International Islamic University Malaysia

 

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