Background history of Ibn Battuta
Ever heard about Ibn Battuta? Oh, wait! You definitely should have heard about him: one of the greatest travelers that lived on earth. During his time on earth, he lived as an Islamic scholar with a difference, whose love for adventure was something indescribable. As much as the scholar lived an exemplary life in character and in the way he dealt with the people he met and lived with, so has his adventurous life also been a case of study that has made headlines in many magazines and journals, even many years after his death. For this article, we will be looking a bit into his personal life story, which is one of the most interesting to ever graze the earth, as well as picking some of his most important travels and talking about their highlights and significance to his overall life’s mission.
To complete grabs of his adventure, we will try to outline the events following each of his journey in a clear and vivid manner, and using easily understandable words to illustrate the events leading up to the journeys and part of what happened after each.
Ibn Battuta‘s had his first journey in 1325 at the age of 20 years. He embarked on his first trip with a sole and unquenchable intention to fulfill one of the biggest pillars of Islam, “Hajj”, or a pilgrimage to Mecca. It was the events that followed this intention that added up to make him and the intention as popular as they’ve become today. It is on record that the highly regarded scholar traveled on for a total period of 29 years. During that period, he covered an incredible mark of 75,000 miles, covering over 44 countries. They were as at that time mostly the world’s greatest and most popular places been governed by Muslim Scholars/Leaders of “Dar al-Islam”.
The numerous journeys of Ibn Battuta are not without stories of the dangers he met and overcome. Some of the most popular dangers that have been told about were attacks on him by bandits, a ship that almost drowned with him onboard, and his near beheading by a tyrant leader. He got married a few times in some of the places he visited to and of course had many children throughout his traveling days.
At a time, when he was old and nearing the end of his life, the King of Morocco decided to hear the complete travel stories of Ibn Battuta and get it documented. Thanks to that move, we now have different translations of the account available to us. The original title name of the researched book was: “Tuhfat al-anzar fi gharaaib al-amsar wa ajaaib al-asfar”, or “A reward to the people who Intend the Miracles of worlds and the Wonders of the journey”.
With such a long title, a lot of people have generally to call it “The Journeys of Ibn Battuta” or “Ibn Battuta’s Rihla”.
Ibn Battuta Travels to the Red Sea and East Africa
Ibn Battuta came to Mecca and lived there for about a year, dedicating himself to the study of Islamic precepts. After staying for about a year in Mecca, the great scholar along with other pilgrims moved to Jidda on the Red Sea Coast. History has it that he and his co-travelers made this journey crammed onto a small ship was known as dhows. According to accounts of the travels of the scholar, the sail was not a too pleasant one. Of course, The Red Sea has never been one that’s easy to navigate, especially being characterized with a lot of rocks and coral reefs just under the waterline. Legends have it that during that time, pirates were regular in the sea, and they stole from wealthy travelers. The scholar’s ship faced its own share of turbulence. The first two days of the sail was calm and enjoyable, but things eventually changed and they faced a wind that drove towards them. Of course, with the wind against them, it became a serious struggle and they were driving off. Sailors became grievously ill because of the waves that entered the vessel. By this time, the lives of the travelers were in the hands of God, and He helped deliver them by pushing them to shore. Fortunately for Ibn Battuta and the other passengers, there were available camels to be rented, and they continued their journey on land.
The sea struggle didn’t end Ibn Battuta’s adventures and quest for knowledge. He did not relent; instead, he succeeded in visiting coastal cities and villages around the Yemen high mountains. During his time in Taiz, he stayed with the Sultan, and a horse was given to him before his departure.
He departed Taiz and headed down to the coastal city of Aden which served as a guard to the entrance of the Red Sea. The coastal city was popular to travelers and traders who sailed through the eastern parts of the sea, and they were often charged for tax or tariffs when they pass their goods through the port. At that time, ships popularly brought spices, iron, steel, medicinal herbs, Indian silks, cloth dyes, pearls, African Ivory, cowrie shells, Chinese potteries, and fruits.
During the lifetime of Ibn Battuta, the western half of the Indian Ocean trading centers was controlled by Muslim traders, so it was easy for the scholar to migrate from one Muslim community along the coast of Africa to the coasts of India and Southeast Asia. Of course, he was a Muslim and had the brain, so there was no limitation to the places he could visit, especially since he was a part of the international brotherhood of Islam, hence he could take advantage of the charity and hospitality of Muslims wherever he went.
From Aden, Ibn Battuta traveled through many routes down the coast of East Africa. His journey this time was blessed by favorable weather conditions and it was easy to have a smooth sail. As his ship made its way down the east coast of Africa, the scholar had his first stop in Zeila, a port in a large Muslim community in the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia. The scholar brandished Zeila with such words as “dirty” and “stinking”. The reason for the stink according to him was the quantity of fish and all the blood of camels that were butchered in its alleyways. Owing to all these, the scholar spent his nights on his ship, during his short stay there, despite the rough nature of the water.
After a short stint in Zeila, he continued southwards along with a team of mostly traders who were transporting their wares to Mogadishu, which was then the busiest and richest port in the whole of East Africa. They arrived there after a fifteen days journey. The Indian Ocean port served as a popular trading center for Arabic, Persian, Indian, and European merchants who along with their wares brought in their religion, culture, and languages to the region.
With Ibn Battuta’s status as a real scholar of Islamic religion and law, it was not difficult for the locals to welcome him. He met and feasted with important people throughout the week, before continuing his trip southwards to Zanj and then Mombasa. He moved on to the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, before eventually arriving at Kilwa, which is a part of Tanzania today.
Sailing the Black Sea
Ibn Battuta had a lot of big and small trips throughout his life. One of the trips that we consider significant enough to be here is his sail across the black sea. After staying for more than a month and waiting for the weather to stabilize, Ibn Battuta boarded a ship with a small party with a mission to sail across the Black Sea. Prior to this time, the scholar had spent almost a month to recover, refreshing his mind with new knowledge of the Koran and of philosophy and history. According to him, that one month had again repurposed his life and set him physically and psychologically ready for his next trip. During the sail across the black sea, a severe storm had hit their ship and almost capsized it. It was so severe that at some point co-sailors thought they’ll not make it out alive, but after several days of turbulence and panic, their sail arrived the opposite coast. From here, they found their way to Kaffa, a Genoese colony with ships numbering above 200 in its harbor. Among the people living in this place where traders from Genoa, Egypt, Russia, Venice, and a lot of other places. It was a dominant Christian town, hence there was only one mosque, and as a staunch Islamic scholar who’s longing was to uphold the precepts of Islam, the settings of the town angered Ibn Battuta and his friend, but since there was almost nothing that they could do at that time to salvage the situation, they moved to a city with more Muslim population the next day.
At the ports of the black sea, the goods of the steppe were being traded, including furs, grains, timbers, salt, honey, and wax. Other goods that were traded included those that had come along from China or Persia. At that time, the trade of slaves was also popular in the region. War captives and sad children of poor parents were also traded sugar plantation farmers from Cyprus or rich buyers from Italy.
By the time Ibn Battuta visited the black seaports, they had been in the trans-regional trade networks for more than two thousand years.
Ibn Battuta and his party of co-travelers arrived al-Qiram just in time to join another 700 miles trip to the Volga River, with the king of the Golden Horde and his army being their needed protection throughout the trip.
Ibn Battuta Travels on a Mongol Caravan
It was quite easy for Ibn Battuta and his traveling party to follow the tracks of Kipchak Khan Ozberg caravan and this was largely as a result of the number of people traveling with the king. The rulers travel party was so big that it could be confused to be a big city traveling with its population. They even had markets and mosques on the move. It was even possible to spot kitchen smoke from the people that cooked on the journey. This was how big the ruler’s party was, and to the scholar and his own traveling party, it was great news, since it meant that the protection provided by the king’s men reached them too.
On this side of the world, traveling at that time was not without horse pulled wagons, although in some cases, the wagon was pulled by ox or camels.
Normally, a rich Mongol will have their caravan looking like a big town, although with few men in it. It was so big that a single girl could be leading up to 30 carts.
One act that really surprised the scholar was how the Turks had their animals loosened up and sent into the fields during stops without the need for shepherds. The confidence in which the owners did all these with was striking, but this what because the on theft was heavy. A thief proven guilty to be in possession of a stolen horse was forced to restore it with nine more, and in the event where he fails to deliver, his sons become the needed replacement
If he doesn’t have a son, he is slaughtered like an animal.
According to Ibn Battuta, the food consumed by the Turks includes millet porridge or “dugi”. They also ate boiled or roasted sheep or horse. According to the scholar’s account of his finding in this case, the Turks didn’t consume meats without their bones mixed with it. They made a special salt-water sauce, which they dipped their meat in to season it before eating. The scholar also found that the Turks considered eating sweets as a disgrace. Instead, they drank made milk and millet beer, which Ibn Battuta couldn’t take because he was a Muslim.
Travels to New Delhi
Ibn Battuta’s trip to new Delhi, is one of his adventures that are worth talking about. Through the high mountains of Afghanistan, the scholar made his way onto India, following after the footsteps of Turkish warriors, who invaded and conquered the Hindu farming people of the idea a century earlier and established the Delhi Sultanate. The Muslim soldiers had invaded the land, smashing the images and structures of the Hindu gods. After conquering the city, Turks from Afghanistan were brought in to replace the local Hindu leaders. The problem, however, was that the Muslim leaders brought in to rule the small cities in Delhi were not safe, as they continued to face strong opposition from the Hindu speaking people who were the majority in India. They were however threatened with periodic Mongol invasions from the north. In fact, as at 1323, The Chagatay Khan had even invaded India and was threatening Delhi before he was chased back across the Indus River by the feisty Sultan Muhammad Tughluq.
Slowly but steadily, India was becoming remodeled, with Muslim leaders gaining more control of the country and as was expected, their sphere of influence increased rapidly. Hindus even began to convert to Islam to find jobs in the new government. Becoming Muslims had its strong economic benefits, and the people recognized it.
As a strategy to strengthen the Sultans held on India, he needed more administrators, scholars, and judges to be on his side and uphold his principles. He needed poets, writers, and entertainers who will tell good things about the new leadership and help influence the people at the grass root. The Sultan found it difficult trusting the Hindus because he had strong fear that they’ll betray and rebel against him. Instead, he recruited talents from outside the country and rewarded them bountifully with good salaries and fabulous gifts. This single gesture brought in Muslims from Persia and Turkey, who were looking to leverage on the improved wages and other incentives to better their lives. Soon, the ruling elites adopted Persian as their official language. It was during this time that Ibn Battuta arrived the country, hoping that the Sultan would offer him employment.
However, Muhammad Tughluq has always been remembered as a ruler that was violent, erratic, and eccentric. His intelligence was renowned, so it was not surprising that he learned how to Persian poetry rather quickly and soon became a master in the art of calligraphy; he was so bright that he could comfortably debate issues bordering religion and conventional laws with highly schooled scholars. He also learned to speak and read Arabic so that he could fluently read religious texts like the Koran without help or transcription from anybody. However, there were a lot of instances where he stepped too far and made decisions that proved disastrous. He was known as a cruel man who was responsible for having rebels, thieves and good Muslim scholars who disagreed with him go through the same cruel punishment of gruesome murder. It was so bad that he punished even the friends of anyone who questioned any of his policies. According to Ibn Battuta, not a week passed at that time without the Sultan spilling the blood of Muslims right before the entrance of the palace. The methods he employed to kill these people were too gruesome to be mentioned.
Records have it that in late 1334, Ibn Battuta had moved to Delhi, in search of official employment. He signed a contract with a term that stated that he would stay in India. He applied wisdom in his approach to the Sultan, assembling gifts that included arrows, horses, camels, slaves, and other goods. It was great wisdom because he knew that the Sultan would give favors and gifts worth more than all his own gifts.
On arrival, Ibn Battuta got 2,000 silver dinars set up in a house that was completely furnished as welcoming gift. Although Muhammad Tughluq was not in Delhi as at the time of the arrival of Ibn Battuta, he heard of it and hired him in the service of the state without even seeing him. His employment came with an annual salary of 5,000 silver dinars. The average Hindu family lived on an average of 5 dinars per month.
Ibn Battuta and the other newcomers would later pay a visit to the Sultan on his return to Delhi, bearing their gifts. The Sultan was pleased with the arrival of Ibn Battuta and showered him with praises and material gifts.
Ibn Battuta eventually started out working as a judge and was given two assistants to help him interpret the Persian language and to help him out with administrative functions. He also joined the Sultan a lot of times in elaborate haunting expeditions. At that time, Ibn Battuta lived an extravagant life that pushed him into debt, although the Sultan paid off the debts.
Escape From Delhi
All the time while Ibn worked as a judge in Delhi, he was not comfortable with the tyrannical and always moody nature of the Sultan. The fear was that he could fall out of favor with the Sultan if he ever came at loggerheads in any decision with him, and that will come with a lot of disadvantages. When the Sultan offered him a task that was going to take him out of Delhi, Ibn Battuta welcomed it with open hands. He was in fact fascinated by the whole idea of being made as an ambassador of Sultan Muhammad Tughluq to the Mongol court of China. In the offer, he was to accompany 15 Chinese messengers back to their homeland, bearing gifts meant for the emperor. To the scholar, it was an opportunity to get away for Muhammad Tughluq and back to visiting more lands.
In 1341, Ibn Battuta set out as leader of a group moving from Delhi to China. The entourage bore gifts from Muhammad Tughluq to the emperor of Mongol. The gifts included: 200 Hindu slaves, 15 boy servants, 100 horses, and an incredible amount of swords, dishes, and clothes. The Sultan put about a thousand soldiers under the command of Ibn Battuta to help protect the treasury and supply until they were safely on board a ship headed for China.
It was only a few days into the journeys when 4,000 Hindu rebels attacked the traveling party. 4,000 were way more than the number of the traveling party, but Ibn Battuta claimed that he and his people easily defeated the rebels, despite their huge number. Later in the journey, they were again attacked and this time around, Ibn Battuta got separated from his companions. It was a force of over 10,000 horsemen. He managed to escape what was one of the greatest chases he faced throughout his lifetime. After the escape from Delhi, he again got confronted by another set of 40 Hindu robbers who took away all his possessions, except for his pants, shirt, and cloak. Some robbers abducted him and plotted to kill him at sunrise, but fortunately for Battuta, he could negotiate his release by giving his clothes to his abductors in return.
Eight days after his unprecedented release, the exhausted and almost naked scholar was rescued by a Muslim who carried him to a village. He recuperated quickly and within two days, he was ready to join and proceed with the party headed to China for his original mission.
The group continued without any trouble that they could not manage till they got to Daulatabad. In the city, they were safe. They rested there for a few days, before continuing on their journey. The group got to Gandhar within days from where they boarded four ships. Three of the ships were large dhows, and they carried all the gift items, including the slaves, while the fourth ship was a warship which had soldiers on board to defend them against pirate attacks.
All the ships headed south and soon got to the port of Calicut. According to Ibn Battuta, they were received amid a great ovation. The locals used trumpets, drums, horns, and flags to welcome the traveling party. Ibn Battuta also got to see 13 Chinese junks in the harbor. He was impressed by the size and design of the Chinese junks. They were bigger and could contain a lot more than the dhow. They would later continue their journey to China on three of those Chinese ships. The over 1,000 crew on board helped move their gifts to the bigger ships, while Ibn Battuta had some personal time in the mosque, of course planning to join the ship later that afternoon.
After his time in the mosque, just when he was going to join the board, something very terrible tragedy happened. A violent storm had come up and the captains were forced to order the ships to wait out the storm out to sea, in deeper waters. Throughout the night, Ibn Battuta waited and watched on helplessly as the storm continued to rage, and by the next day, watched in horror as the storm pushed two ships to shore, broke them and sank them. No crew member survived from the ship that he was supposed to be on. It was a tragedy. The slaves, slave boys, and horses were all gone.
The other ship that carried the servants, slave girls and Ibn Battuta’s luggage had already set sail to China. This meant that the scholar was left alone, without any penny, and the shame of failing once again as a leader. He felt terrible. There was a slim chance of catching up the other ship, and he took the option. He sailed for 10 days and arrived at another port, where he intended to wait for the ship, but the ship never turned up. He’ll later hear many months later that the ship was seized by “an infidel” in Indonesia.
He was stuck and didn’t know where to go. He thought of the idea of going back to the Sultan of Delhi, but that scared him because he was not sure how the Sultan would take the news of his failed trip to China. He decided that picking a job with another Muslim sultan would be safer for him. Ibn Battuta fought alongside this sultan in day-long battle as a way to win over the sultan’s heart. Of course, the battle won him the needed favor and before long, the Sultan liked him and offered a young wife to him, which he declined for obvious reasons.
Soon, another battle was looming, and a defeat seemed inevitable this time. Ibn Battuta managed a very difficult escape through the battle line and went on to Calicut for the fifth time. From here, he decided to take a trip to China on his own accord. With an assurance that the Muslim communities along the way would help him with the issues of hospitality and comfort. He headed to China alone, taking the long route, although this time he would make a brief tour of the Maldives before going on to Sri Lanka.
Journey to the Maldives
After his stay in Delhi and all the events that ensued, it was time for Ibn Battuta to go on. On his way to China, he stopped over in the Maldives Islands, and again this place was significant to his trips. The Maldives is a tiny nation that is bordered on the southwest of India by the Indian Ocean. The island is popular for rising just a few feet above sea level. During the Medieval times, the Maldives Islands played a very important role serving as the major export city of coconut fibers and cowrie shells which was used as a medium of exchange in parts of Africa and Malaysia. In the twelfth century, the Maldives saw a religious revolution in which most of its people converted to Islam, from Buddhism. This was as a result of the act of a pious Muslim from North Africa who singlehandedly used recitations of the Koran go get rid of a terrible demon.
When Ibn Battuta arrived at Male, the capital city of Maldives, he was only planning to stay a short while and go on with his journey. But as fate would have it, he arrived at a time, when the rulers were looking for someone who was grounded in the laws of Islam and understood Arabic well to take the role of a chief judge. The rulers were delighted when they realized that their visitor fit requirements, so the sent gifts of gold jewelry, pearls, and slave girls to Ibn Battuta as a way to convince him to stay and take the role. They even put machinery in place to prevent him from leaving by ship, so it meant that he had to stay. He presented his own terms for which he would stay in the island. Listed among his terms were: He would be carried around Male in a litter, or on a horseback ride. He took a wife from the place and lived flamboyantly just like a king. The resulting events favored Ibn Battuta, and before you knew it, he was already seen as a part of the royal family and in fact the most important judge across the country.
As a chief judge, he was enthusiastic about his job, worked hard and tried everything within his power to establish a society guided strictly by Muslim laws. Some of the laws he established encouraged whipping and public disgrace for anyone that failed to attend Friday prayers. When thieves were tried and found guilty, their right hand was cut off. Women who exposed their nakedness were ordered to cover up, although he was not too successful in this one.
He took additional three wives, who were highly connected, and as a result, his power and affluence increased, and the people feared him more.
It didn’t take too long before Ibn began to make enemies after all power comes with stepping on a lot of toes. He came to loggerheads with the governors, and after heated arguments and political plots, the scholar decided that it was time to move on, after spending 9 months in the islands. He quit his job and moved on with his three wives, although he would eventually divorce them.
The Visit to Sri Lanka
At this point, Ibn Battuta already had lots of adventures. He had largely had favors and victories in most of the places he had gone to. Finally, it was time to go to China, but not without a brief stopover in Sri Lanka. He stopped in Sri Lanka with a purpose to go to a holy site on pilgrimage. The mountain, Adams Peak was a sacred place for Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus at that time. The significance of the mountain to the religions was related to the rock that looked like a large footprint on it. To the Hindus, the print represented the footprint of Shiva, to the Buddhists, it was Buddha, while to the Muslims, it represented the footprint of Adam, the first man thrown by God from the seventh heaven according to accounts by old pilgrims.
Ibn Battuta went to meet the king of Ceylon when he arrived. The king loved the way Ibn Battuta told the story of his life adventures and entertained the scholar with his traveling party for three days, before giving them permission to climb Adam’s Peak. The ruler also showered Ibn Battuta with gifts of pearls and rubies, slaves and supplies.
After visiting the pilgrim’s site, Ibn Battuta and his party boarded another ship, which was provided by the king. Mid into their sail, there were faced by a very serious storm which brought them very close to death. Their ship was wrecked, but fortunately for Ibn Battuta, he and some of his possession survived this time again. Again, all his possession was taken by pirates who eventually overpowered him and his party.
Ibn Battuta had to board another ship to his former home in Male, where he stayed again for five days. By this time, his pregnant wife had delivered his son, and it was an opportunity to see the boy, before joining a Chinese junk that was headed to China.
Finally, Ibn Battuta Reaches China
After departing the Maldives, Ibn Battuta sailed for 40 days, before arriving the busy seaport of Quanzhou China.
A lot of the things he saw amazed him, but he was not impressed with the way the people went about their culture. In fact, he was completely uncomfortable with a culture that he barely understood. The Islamic scholar was greatly disturbed by the level of paganism going on in China that he had to limit himself from coming outside so that he would not see all the “blameworthy” things that the people did. Once in a while, he came across Muslims and every Muslim he met was family to him. Despite their culture, however, Ibn Battuta noted that China was the safest and most agreeable country in the world for anyone to visit.
After staying a while here and meeting people, he would get back on a junk headed back for his hometown in Morocco, where he lived with many stories of his numerous adventures across the Dar al-Islam.