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Ibn Battuta

Background

Ibn Battuta was born in the port city Tangier, in modern-day Morocco, in 1304. He came from a family of legal scholars. There was no college of higher learning in Tangier so he traveled to find the best teachers and the best libraries, which were then in Alexandria, Cairo, and Damascus.

Travels

In Tunis Ibn Battuta served as a paid judge for a caravan of pilgrims who needed their disputes settled by a well-educated man. While traveling, Ibn Battuta studied, prayed, and practiced his legal profession.

Ibn Battuta traveled to India via Afghanistan. Upon arriving in Delhi, he sought an official career from the Muslim king of India. The king appointed him judge of Delhi. Since he did not speak Persian, the language of the court, two scholars were appointed to do the work of hearing cases. After eight years, the king sent him as an ambassador to China.

Battuta’s narrative about China occupies less than 6 percent of his whole story. It is so sketchy and confusing that some scholars doubt that he ever went to China. He admits in the Travels that in China he was unable to understand or accept much of what he saw:

China was beautiful, but I was greatly troubled about the way paganism dominated this country. During my stay in China, whenever I saw any Muslims I always felt as though I were meeting my own family and close kinsmen.

His writing and his last years

Ibn Battuta returned home in 1354. In Morocco, the local sultan commissioned a young literary scholar to record Ibn Battuta’s experiences. The scholar wrote the whole story into literary form used for a journey in search of divine knowledge. The two men collaborated for two years, with Ibn Battuta telling his story and drafting notes about it.

The legacy of Ibn Battuta’s Travels

The Travels of Ibn Battuta had only modest impact on the Muslim world before the 19th century. French and English scholars eventually brought it to international attention.

How does Ibn Battuta’s account compare with that of Marco Polo’s? Both travelers lived by their wits. They took joy in discovering new experiences, and exercised amazing perseverance to complete extensive travels and return to their home countries.

Yet there were many differences. Ibn Battuta was an educated, cosmopolitan, upper-class man who traveled within a familiar Muslim culture, meeting like-minded people wherever he went. Polo was a merchant, not formally educated, who traveled to unfamiliar cultures, where he learned new customs. Ibn Battuta told more about himself, the people he met, and the importance of the positions he held. Marco Polo, on the other had, focused on reporting accurate information about what he had observed.


Source: Ibn Battuta
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