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The Travels of Ibn Battutah by Ibn Battutah

The Travels of Ibn Battutah

by Ibn Battutah

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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393742,426 (3.79)1 / 16
A gift to those who contemplate the marvels of travelling in the ancient world.Ibn Battuta was just 21 when he set out in 1325 from his native Tangier on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He did not return to Morocco for another 29 years, travelling instead through more than 40 countries on the modern map, covering 75,000 miles and getting as far north as the Volga, as far East as China and as far south as Tanzania. He wrote of his travels, and comes across as a superb ethnographer, biographer, anecdotal historian and occasional botanist and gastronome. With this edition by Mackintosh-Smith, Travels of Ibn Buttutah takes its place alongside other indestructible masterpieces of the travel-writing genre.… (more)
  1. 10
    The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo (bookwoman247)
    bookwoman247: Both men traveled extensively in Medeival times. It's interesting to compare the two; one from a Western perspective, and one from a Middle Eastern /North African perspective.

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I have been wanting to read Ibn Battutah ever since I lived in Morocco as a teenager, an experience that consolidated in me the same ‘overmastering impulse and desire long cherished’ to travel that he says first made him set off from his Moroccan home. Of course, he saw this through rather more thoroughly than I did. I spent two months InterRailing with a girlfriend, whereas he set off from Tangier in the summer of 1325 and didn't come back again for another twenty-four years.

His full name was Shams al-Din Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim Ibn Battutah al-Lawati al-Tanji, business cards in those days being an A4-sized affair. (It means Light of Religion, the father of Abdallah, Muhammad Abdallahson Muhammadson Ibrahimson Ibn Battutah (the family name) of the Lawata tribe, from Tangier.) His initial destination was Mecca, to carry out the Hajj – but after that he just kept on going, travelling around almost the entire Islamic world and beyond.

How did he support himself? was my first question (having spent much of my twenties running out of money in foreign countries). Well, mainly because he was a scholar of fiqh – Islamic jurisprudence – and was therefore in considerable demand wherever he went. Some of his stops lasted for months, or years, and he typically found a position in court or as a legal-religious advisor which allowed him to live pretty comfortably. He also seems to have made a habit of marrying endless wives and knocking up slave-girls wherever he went, who keep dying in childbirth or falling overboard or getting abandoned in remote cities – and the long timescales involved mean we get breezy comments like this:

I came eventually to the city of Damascus of Syria, from which I had been absent fully twenty years. I had left there a pregnant wife, and while I was in India I learned that she had given birth to a male child….

This particular son, unfortunately, turns out to have died more than a decade ago, perhaps pining for his absent father; but Ibn Battutah must have left a string of children halfway across Africa and the Middle East. One begins to see why he was so interested in the Viagra-like effects of coconut in the Maldives:

All these products of the coco-palm and the fish which they live on have an amazing and unparalleled effect in sexual intercourse, and the people of these islands perform wonders in this respect. I had there myself four wives, and concubines as well, and I used to visit all of them every day and pass the night with the wife whose turn it was, and this I continued to do the whole year and a half that I was there.

Yes, well, you sometimes have to consider how tempting it is for travellers to exaggerate, a phenomenon that's still in evidence today – getting your pocket picked in Magaluf can quickly escalate, by the time it's rewritten as a status update on Facebook, into something approaching a heroic standoff with ISIS rebels. In any case, the values of the world described here are not our own; indeed they are not even Ibn Battutah's own. Seeing him face up to the different social mores of each new region and community is part of the fun of the Travels, like all good travel books, and for such an experienced traveller he is surprisingly easy to shock. Simple differences like unveiled women or dietary idiosyncrasies leave him spluttering with indignation and astonishment. Still, and despite the quotes I latched on to above, he is not as anecdotal as one might wish and he gives very few personal details of the sort that would allow modern readers to sympathise with him more closely on his journey. As a consequence, readers with the most to gain are probably those who already know the places he's describing and are in a position to compare and contrast – though sometimes a throwaway reference would leave me momentarily breathless with the weight of subsequent history.

We travelled next to Kabul. This was in former times a great city, and on its site there is now a village inhabited by a tribe of Persians called al-Afghan.

This particular edition, though clocking in at nearly four hundred pages of meaty hardback, represents only a selection of the full Rihlah which in its entirety is three or four times the size (and probably of more interest as a primary source than as an exciting travelogue). It benefits from a wonderful translation, published from 1958 to 1994 by a changing team of scholars, and from the editorship of Arabist Tim Mackintosh-Smith, whose informed notes and introduction turn Ibn Battutah's narrative into what at times is almost an introductory guidebook to the geography and culture of the mediaeval Islamic world. For anyone interested in that, you will hardly go wrong with the indefatigable Ibn Battutah; and for everyone else, well, there is that story about the Uzbek princess with a vagina like a ring to look out for. ( )
1 vote Widsith | Nov 21, 2015 |
Ibn Battuta is commonly compared to Marco Polo, and I'm going to do it again. The enjoyment of the journal was slightly lessened for me because I had to read it super fast for a really bad history class and then write a super crappy paper on it (I'll be lucky to get a C), so I will forever remember Ibn Battuta as that stressful book I had to write a paper on in college.

But if you don't have to deal with all that, then it's really not a bad book. It's much shorter than Marco Polo and is pretty much just as interesting. He includes information on the environment, the customs, the food, the people, and stories of the supernatural that he encounters on the way. I have to say though that it's sometimes very hard to keep track of where he is (I didn't follow my teacher's instructions and follow along on a map -- ain't nobody got time for dat) and he tends to jump from topic to topic.

Overall it's a pretty decent historical exploration book, and very interesting if you're into the history of Asian and African cultures. ( )
1 vote BrynDahlquis | Nov 22, 2013 |
A facinating incite in to the world of the 1300's from the viewpoint of a contemporary traveler. I would not recommend this for younger readers, as some of the customs and practices of the time were quite disturbing. The narrative could be very dry in places, and required a determination to work through. My final conclusion though, is that this book is a good read for the mature history buff, and I am glad to have it in my library. ( )
  Icefirestorm | Sep 13, 2011 |
An abridged translation that has featured in a television programme: that gives you three good reasons to avoid a book. However, Tim Mackintosh-Smith's programmes on BBC Four did arouse my interest in Ibn Battutah, if not quite to the extent that I would splash out on a multi-volume scholarly edition of the Travels. Arabic not being a language I can read, Mackintosh-Smith's paperback abridgement of the Gibb translation looked like a good way to get a feel for what Ibn Battutah was all about.

Obviously, you never know in an abridgement what you've missed out on. What we get here is certainly entertaining and enjoyable, without much in the way of tedious repetition, so I suspect that Mackintosh-Smith has selected quite wisely. In the later parts of the book there is an occasional jerkiness in the narrative that leaves you wondering whether it comes from an acceleration in the pace of Battutah's description as he got nearer to the end of his travels, a tiring of the pen of his amanuensis and editor Ibn Juzayy, or an increased willingness to cut by the modern editor. Another complicating factor is clearly the translation Mackintosh-Smith is working from, done over a period of seventy years by Professor Gibb and his successors. The tone seems to shift a bit from rather baroque Edwardian in the early chapters to a more neutral academic English later in the book.

As seen through the lens of this book, Ibn Battutah is a lively and entertaining travelling companion: it isn't at all difficult to transpose yourself into his way of looking at the world, and share his surprise and pleasure at the strangeness of the many new places he visits on his epic journey. One of the things that makes him so sympathetic, as Mackintosh-Smith points out, is the modernity of his approach to travelling: he hops from place to place "with the dedicated aimlessness of a New Zealand back-packer", joining a caravan or getting on a boat simply because it's going somewhere he hasn't been before. Unlike the back-packer he isn't reliant on his parents for cash: as a qadi he can find work anywhere where Islam is practiced and Arabic spoken; as a distinguished guest he expects (and gets) lordly presents from the local rulers he visits.

Because we feel we can identify with him in his capacity as super-tourist, it is rather alarming when something happens to remind us that 14th century Islamic travellers are not "New Zealand back-packers". We are shocked by Ibn Battutah's casual references to buying slave-girls (virgins or otherwise), or to the many temporary marriages he makes and dissolves along the way: when he leaves town he simply divorces the girl and returns her to her parents together with the dowry. None of his wives is ever mentioned by name. In the Maldives he praises the climate and the local women for their sexually stimulating effect (despite four wives and an unspecified number of concubines his strength is undiminished), but practically with the same breath he fulminates against the women's refusal to dress in the modest fashion prescribed by law and sentences a couple to a beating for adultery.

But he's not some sort of monster - in his various illnesses and ailments he's endearingly human, and when he sees something really unpleasant (the dismembered corpses of prisoners outside the hall of an Indian sultan, for instance), he's as revolted as we would be.

I read this shortly after reading Barbara Tuchman's view of Europe in the 14th century in A distant mirror — it is really striking comparing her picture with Ibn Battutah's how much bigger and more mobile the Islamic world was at that time than (Western) Christendom. ( )
5 vote thorold | May 3, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (40 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ibn Battutahprimary authorall editionscalculated
Leeuwen, Richard vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
MacKintosh-Smith, TimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mackintosh-Smith, TimEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Starink, MarjoDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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... trieb mich ein festentschlossener Sinn, und ein leidenschaftliches Verlangen, diese hehren Heiligtümer zu sehen, wohnte in meiner Brust. So beschloß ich denn, mich von meinen Lieben zu trennen - Männern wie Frauen -, und verließ meine Heimat, wie der Vogel sein Nest verläßt."
Ibn Battuta, im Alter von 21 Jahren, zu seiner ersten Reise von Tanger nach Mekka und Medina im Jahr 1325 n.Chr.
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In einem historisch nahezu einzigartigen Schwung hatten die Heere des Islam, vornehmlich Araber, in der zweiten Hälfte des siebten und den ersten drei Jahrzehnten des achten Jahrhunderts den Großteil der damals bekannten Welt erobert.
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