The World’s Greatest Traveller: Ibn Battuta
The song “Ibn Battuta, bagal me joota” from Ishqiya is probably the closest you’ve been to world’s greatest traveller: Ibn Battuta. Let’s get to know about this avid voyager who dedicated his life to travel and traversed 1,21,000 kilometres in an era without phones, planes and even cars. Introducing Ibn Battuta…
Who was Ibn
Born in a rich Moroccan family, Ibn Battuta shortened his full name, “Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Al Lawati Al Tanji Ibn Battuta” to only the last two words. He studied Islamic Judiciary to become a judge and at the age of 21, he made his first journey to Mecca (Hajj), 5000 kilometres away. He didn’t come home till 24 years later! It was on this voyage to Hajj that he decided to dedicate his life to travel with nothing but two rules: 1. Visit only the Muslim world and 2. Never travel the same road twice; both of which he ended up breaking.
After his voyage to Hajj where Ibn got himself a wife, he left Mecca to visit Persia and later Baghdad (Iraq). In this journey, he detoured to visit present day’s Turkey and Iraq and returned to Baghdad, infected with diarrhoea. Holding on to his Islamic penchant, Ibn proceeded to the Arabian Peninsula after another Hajj. He started with Jeddah on the Red Sea coast in Saudi Arabia and then went to Yemen, spending about four years in the region.
Ibn’s next trip was a medieval cruise to the coast of Somalia, to the then-prospering and large city of Mogadishu. After brief stopovers at Somalia and the Swahili coast, he sailed back to Arabia, and then to Mecca again for another Hajj. After a year in Mecca (1330 or 1332), Ibn broke his first rule and travelled to Constantinople (a Christian land) with the caravan of a pregnant queen. There he saw the famous church of Hagia Sophia and shared his travel tales with an orthodox priest. From there, he journeyed to Afghanistan, to later enter India.
Ibn in India
Yes, Ibn visited and stayed in India, a Muslim nation in the 14th Century. On arriving in Delhi around 1332-33, Ibn was appointed as a Judge (Qadi) by Muhammad Bin Tughluq in his court to enforce/promote Islamic laws on Indian soil. This Indian stint of around eight years wasn’t very conducive for Ibn, owing to his ceased travels and unpopularity of Islam in India. He accepted to be the ambassador to China’s Yuan Dynasty in order to detach from Tughluq and start his long-awaited exodus from India.
With several detours and difficulties (including assassination attempts and pirates’ attacks), his journey to China took him four years, during which, Ibn stayed at Gujarat, Kozhikode, Assam, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Philippines, and finally China. But his inability to reach China in time to take his position made him stay away from Tughluq on his return to India. He once again stayed in Kozhikode from where he left for Mecca and then to Morocco, his home.
Ibn returned home after Mecca to find both his parents dead because of Black Death, a plague responsible for 350 to 375 million deaths across the world in the 14th Century. Soon after his arrival, he left on a voyage that took him to Al-Andalus (present day Spain and Portugal), North Africa and Timbaktu (Mali). In 1353, he was commanded by the Sultan of Morocco to return home, where he arrived by 1354 with a caravan of 600 black female slaves.
On returning home, Ibn dictated his narratives to a scholar (a wish of Sultan) who chronicled them in Arabic. Appointed as a judge in Morocco, he died in 1368 or 1369 for reasons unknown. After anonymity for centuries, these manuscripts were discovered and published in various languages. Today, they are collectively known as a grand travelogue called Al Rihla (The Journey). The Rihla gives an account of various distant and heterogeneous civilisations of the 14th century with insights in to their now inconceivable traditions, extravagance and slavery.
If it were not for these travelogues, the world’s greatest traveller and his escapades to over 44 modern countries would have been lost in the pages of history.