Ibn Battuta, who would come to be known as one of the most prolific world travelers and Muslim scholars, was born on February 24th, AD 1304, in Tangier, Morocco. His family was descended from Moroccan Berbers, a group that had a long, proud tradition of producing Islamic legal scholars. From his early years, Ibn Battuta was educated in the art of jurisprudence at an Islamic school. Upon finishing school at the age of 21, Ibn Battuta set out on a pilgrimage to Mecca. This hajj would take him about 16 months to fulfill. After his pilgrimage, he would travel further to a number of different Muslim countries, and would only return home to his birthplace after 24 years. He also set a record, by visiting all of the known countries then governed by Muslim rulers.
Ibn Battuta was, like his father, a judge by profession. But he was restless, and wanted to travel to further his education in practical terms. He visited many lands in the Middle East then traveled farther to Africa. He was curious about the cultures and traditions of each country that he visited. There were even some countries whose practices came as a shock to Battuta, with his traditional Muslim upbringing. In some of the countries he visited, he became a member of a yearly pilgrim caravan that went from country to country. Battuta was often sick with minor ailments due to the elements he encountered along the way. However, through his devotion, he always managed to recover himself to join the group's prayers. He often experienced debilitating weather that would delay his courses of travel as well.
Battuta narrated his travels to a writer named Ibn Juzay upon his return to Morocco. This travelogue journal was finished in 1355, and became known as the Rihla. This was an account of his entire travels, which lasted for almost 24 years. While on his explorations, Battuta journeyed around the Middle East and then ventured into Africa. Among other places he went were the Indian subcontinent, where he was appointed as judge of Delhi by the sultan there. Battuta also traveled to various locales throughout Southeast Asia, Central Asia, China, Eastern Europe, and Southern Europe. In some newly converted Muslim societies, Battuta discovered many unorthodox practices, and in many was surprised by the many liberties that the women therein were allowed to partake in and enjoy. He was especially surprised by how revealing women's clothing was in some places, and the decision-making roles they sometimes assumed in their marriages. Both of these practices were unheard of in his native North Africa and in Saudi Arabia.
After his travelogue was made into a journal, Battuta was ridiculed because many people refused to believe his stories and descriptions, and the geography of the many places that he traveled to in such a short span of time. They criticized his journal as a hoax, and claimed that it was based on other travelers' accounts. This criticism, however, was nothing compared to the actual hardships and dangers that he encountered in the pursuits of his explorations. In his voyages and land crossings, Battuta went through rebellions, wars, and shipwrecks, and lived to tell the tales of his adventures. He often had culture shock upon learning of how other Muslim people behaved in comparison to the society that he grew up in Morocco, and was frequently beset with physical illness along the way.
Death and Legacy
Upon his return to Morocco, Battuta finally settled down in Fez. There, he was appointed as judge by the sultan. He lived his last good years narrating his travels to the writer Ibn Juzay, which became his aforementioned travelogue accounting of all of the places that he had visited during his earlier years. When all of his journeys are counted together, Battuta had ultimately logged about 75,000 miles of travel, including moving by ship, camel, horse, and on foot alike. This total was even more than all of Marco Polo's travel miles. His style of travel narration would also set a stylistic standard for later travel writers. In his journal, he brought to life the many cultures and traditions that he saw and experienced amongst the rest of the Muslin world. He died in 1368 in his homeland, and has been remembered as one of the greatest adventurers and geographers of all time ever since.