On June 14, 1325, Almost two centuries before Columbus, a 21-year-old Ibn Battuta rode out of Tangier on a donkey, the start of his journey to Mecca. He took many detours and returned home over three decades later as one of history’s great travelers. Here are seven travel tips from Ibn Battuta’s travels.
- Pack light and brace your resolution to forsake your home.
“My departure from Tangier, my birthplace, took place … with the object of making the Pilgrimage to the Holy House [at Mecca] and of visiting the tomb of the Prophet [in Medina], God’s richest blessing and peace be on him…I set out alone, having neither fellow-traveler in whose companionship I might find cheer, nor caravan whose party I might join, but swayed by an overmastering impulse within me and a desire long-cherished in my bosom to visit these illustrious sanctuaries. So I braced my resolution to quit all my dear ones, female and male and forsook my home as birds forsake their nests. My parents being yet in the bonds of life, it weighed sorely upon me to part from them, and both they and I were afflicted with sorrow at this separation.”— from The Travels of Ibn Battuta.
- Sufi ascetics and saints make for great travel agents.
Ibn Battuta spent three days as a guest of Imam Burhan al-Din, a Sufi ascetic and one of the greatest saints In Alexandria. Burhan al-Din was known as a man who had the power of working miracles.
“I perceive that you are fond of travelling into very distant parts… you must visit my brother Farid Oddin, in India, and my Brother Rokn Oddin Ibn Zakaraya in Sindia, and also my brother Borbhan Oddin in China, and when you see them, present my compliments to them.”
“I was amazed at his prediction, and the idea of going to these countries having been cast into my mind, my wanderings never ceased until I had met these three that he named and conveyed his greeting to them.”
- Best to have a useful transferable skill, you know like being a qadi
During the life of Ibn Battuta, Islamic civilization stretched from the Atlantic coast of West Africa across northern Africa, into the Middle East, India and regions in Southeast Asia. In addition, there were important communities of Muslims in cities and towns beyond the frontiers of this Dar al-Islam (Abode of Islam). People in the whole Umma shared doctrinal beliefs, religious rituals, moral values, and everyday manners. In the early 1300s, this community was expanding dramatically.
The motivation behind Ibn Battuta’s journey was to fulfill his religious duty and to broaden his education. He continues his studies under famous scholars in Egypt, Syria, and the Hejaz (western Arabia). Those studies qualified him for judicial office, whereas the claim of being a former pupil of the then-outstanding authorities in traditional Islamic sciences greatly enhanced his chances and made him thereafter a respected guest at many courts. As a Muslim Judge, Battuta’s Skills were in high demand and he was able to find work, and use his skills to make some money, and gain notoriety in his travels.
“If God decrees my death, then my death shall be on the road, with my face set towards … from The Travels of Ibn Battuta.”
- You always have something to trade
Now under the employ of the Sultan of Deli, ibn Battuta led a diplomatic mission to mission to the Mongol Emperor of China. They had as gifts 200 slaves, singers and dancers, 15 15 pages, 100 horses, and great amounts of cloth, dishes, and swords and were protected by 1000 soldiers under Battuta’s command. A few days outside of Delhi the group was attacked by about 4,000 rebels.
Although vastly outnumbered, Ibn Battuta claimed that they defeated the rebels easily. Later, there was another attack and Ibn Battuta was separated from his companions.
Ten horsemen chased him across the fields. He was able to outride three of them and then hid from the rest in a deep ditch. After escaping, he was again confronted, this time by forty bandits who robbed him of everything except his shirt, pants, and cloak.
The robbers kept him as a prisoner in a cave overnight and planned his death in the morning.
Fortunately, Ibn Battuta (who now had almost nothing more to rob), was able to convince his captors to let him go in exchange for his clothes!
- Always ask to upgrade your accommodations.
Ibn Battuta and his companions travelled into the Sahel and the Niger river. There they were guests of Mansa Sulayman for eight months. He is reported to complaining to the Mansa
“I have journeyed to the countries of the world and met their kings. I have been four months in your country without you giving me a reception gift or anything else. What shall I say of you in the presence of other sultans?”
“Then the sultan ordered a house for me in which I stayed and he fixed an allowance for me… He was gracious to me at my departure, to the extent of giving me one hundred mithqals of gold.”
- Always pay attention to local laws and customs.
Ibn Battuta enjoyed the company of women. Usually, he married one at a time and divorced her when he left on further travels. He often had concubines, too, and fathered several children on his travels. In the Maldives he married four women on one island. He wrote in his Travels:
“It is easy to marry in these islands (Maldives) because of the smallness of the dowries and the pleasures of society which the women offer… When the ships put in, the crew marry; when they intend to leave they divorce their wives. This is a kind of temporary marriage. The women of these islands never leave their country.”
- People may forget how you died, but they should never forget how you lived!
Eventually, Ibn Battuta returned home to Morocco in 1353 and at the sultan’s request, dictated his reminiscences to a writer, Ibn Juzayy. Ibn Juzayy embellished the simple prose of Ibn Battuta with an ornate style and fragments of poetry. After the Rihla (trip) was completed, nothing was left of the tales of Ibn Battuta. He is reported to have held the office of qadi in a town in Morocco before his death. But there are no details of when or how he died.
Ibn Battuta was an educated, cosmopolitan, gregarious, upper-class man who travelled within a familiar and diverse Umma that stretched continents. Wherever he went, Ibn Battuta lived by his wits and took joy in discovering new experiences, he exercised amazing perseverance and fortitude to complete extensive travels and return home.
Long live Ibn Battuta, the prince of travelers.