A Berber Sunni Islamic Scholar Ibn Battuta at the age of 21 set off from his birthplace Tangier Morocco for an extended period (three decades). He was born into a highly respected Muslim family of judges so; he also wanted to become a judge. He left his home to go to Mecca to perform Hajj. He may not be a historical figure because not everyone knows about him. However, he visited most of the Islamic world and a few non-Muslim countries as well in premodern times. Ibn Battuta began his career as an explorer and traveler some two hundred years before Christopher Columbus (who discovered America).
A sneak-peak of Battuta’s life:
History has many famous travelers like Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus. Almost everyone has heard or read about them. But the irony is that most people don’t know about the world’s greatest Muslim traveler Ibn Battuta. Ibn Battuta was born into a Muslim religious family in Tangier, Morocco. He is well known for his excursions and account of his travels. He was raised in a family of religious scholars, so Ibn Battuta had to become a scholar. So, he decided to leave his hometown to study more about Islamic law and jurisprudence. He was a devout Muslim, so he wanted to perform Hajj.
When Ibn Battuta left Tangier, he was very young. He would not come back until he would fulfill his desire of traveling and exploring the world—a desire long cherished in his bosom.
Hajj—one of the five pillars of Islam:
Ibn Battuta had a desire to go to Mecca to perform Hajj. Hajj/Pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam and every Muslim has to perform Pilgrimage/Hajj at least once in life if he/she can afford. When Battuta started his first journey, his original aim was to perform the pilgrimage. Also, it was an excellent opportunity for him to visit different mosques, meet various scholars and learn more about Islamic law so that he can serve as a religious legal scholar.
At the beginning of the first journey, Ibn Battuta was all alone. Later he joined a caravan that was also heading to Mecca to perform Hajj.
Battuta’s desire to seek knowledge:
It has been already discussed above that Ibn Battuta wanted to explore the world to seek knowledge. Though the men in his family were scholars, there were not enough libraries or madrassas for higher study. He wanted to learn more, so it compelled him to travel across forty countries of modern maps. His desire to seek knowledge took him on an adventurous journey that lasted for thirty years.
Battuta as a gifted storyteller:
Ibn Battuta visited almost every country that was being ruled by the Muslim leaders at that time. Battuta is the only person who told the world about the abode of Islam in those days. He was welcomed by every country that he visited. He won hospitality and received gifts from the rulers.
When Ibn Battuta came back to Morocco, he narrated everything about his visits to the people. People got impressed after hearing his travel tales. The ruler of Morocco also asked him to write down his travel accounts. He narrated everything to Ibn Juzayy who wrote down his travelogue. It proved that Ibn Battuta was a geographer, explorer, traveler, and a great storyteller as well.
Did he visit China?
During his long journey that lasted for thirty years Ibn Battuta visited various countries that include:
He stayed for eight years in India where Sultan of Delhi appointed him as a Qadi. Well, it was a dream came true for Ibn Battuta as he always wanted to serve as a judge. Then Sultan of Delhi sent him to China as an ambassador. He left India but could not make it for China due to many obstacles. But after some time he succeeded to visit China as Battuta has described in his book “Rihla.” This is where the controversy begins. Many scholars believe that he never visited China and only boasts about it in his writings.
According to their claims, Ibn Battuta has stolen some parts of other writers in his book. They believe that he never went to China. Well, whatever the truth is he is one of the greatest travelers of the world who covered more than 72000 miles.
Ibn Battuta visited many lands and met a lot of people (including locals and rulers). He was shocked to see the cultural difference. He excitingly described everything in his famous book “Rihla.” If you are a traveling person, then you must read his book “Rihla” as it is a treasure trove. Battuta was an adventurous man who never gave up despite facing many dangers and challenges.