The Travels of Ibn Battuta

A nearly 30 year journey across Africa, Arabia, India, and China, over land and sea, was his destiny fulfilled. 

Ibn Battuta, whose full name was Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Lawati al-Tanji, came from a family of qadis, or religious Islamic judges, and was himself trained as a qadi. At the age of 22, he turned down a bride and career in his home town of Tangiers, Morocco to travel the world with wanderlust. He turned east to face the rising sun and set off on a journey that would seal his fate as one of the world’s most famous travelers. He is essentially the Marco Polo of the Muslim and Arab world.

His trip began in the June of 1325 AD. From Tangiers, Morocco he set off on a caravan across the Sahara Desert to Alexandria, Egypt where he hoped to spend time with one Shaikh Abu Abdallah al-Murshidi, famed to be a miraculous holy man. This shaikh invited Ibn Battuta to eat, pray, and sleep in his monastery. One night, while Ibn Battuta was sleeping on the shaikh’s roof–for the summer heat was too hot to bear indoors—he had a magnificent dream: a giant bird lifted him from the starlit rooftop and flew him over a cascading dreamscape of yellow, blue, and green swathes of light. The next day, the shaikh called Ibn Battuta into his quarters and told him that he saw him being flown away by a great bird in a dream. Amazed that the shaikh saw his dream, Ibn Battuta listened as the shaikh prophesized that he would travel from the deserts of Arabia, over many seas and barren lands, through the jungles of India, to ultimately find himself in the farthest reaches of the East, China; and that along the way he will encounter two of the Shaikh’s brothers who will save his life. The prophecy would all come true.

He visited Egypt, the Levant, Arabia, Asia Minor, the Black Sea, Central Asia, the coast of East Africa, India, the Indian Ocean, and China, as well as Spain and West Africa.

His adventures took him on camel-back to the courts of kings and sultans all over the world, to the caves of ascetic monks, rural towns and war-torn villages alike. He saw the grand metropolises of Damascus, Delhi, Constantinople, and Khanbaliq (Beijing). Seeing along the way the flourishing of trade in rich markets and bazaars surrounded by lush gardens and fountains, mighty castles full of rubies and emeralds and gemstones galore, witch trials, cannibals, and monstrous warlords. He endured rough roads and long, harsh caravan routes, stormy seas, and tangled jungles full of dangerous tribes and armies. He escaped shipwrecks and robbers and even death; and enjoyed a year of respite on a tropical island with multiple wives. He traveled with many diverse companions including merchants, soldiers, diplomats, princesses and eunuchs, and his own personal slave boys and slave girls. He served in both mosques and armies, and displayed the characteristics of both a righteous monk and a mean, medieval man.

Early on in his travels, he had briefly settled in Mecca (Mecca, Saudi Arabia) where he furthered his religious training and would return in between voyages. His standing as a learned qadi and his appeal as a traveler from the far-flung exotic West of Morocco were his tickets around the world. He was well-received most everywhere in the world by hosts who were eager to hear his tales or learn from his knowledge of Islam.

On his return home about 25 years later, he had to carefully avoid the ravages of the plague. He came home to find his father long passed and his mother dead from the plague, so he also traveled to Spain and West Africa until finally settling back in Morocco in 1354 AD. He lived the reminder of his life in Morocco as an esteemed gentleman in quiet luxury until his death in 1369 AD at the age of 65.

The journals he kept of his travels offer a wonderful view of the world during the 14th century. For further reading, The Travels of Ibn Battutah, edited by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, is recommended.

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