Ross E. Dunn

The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the 14th Century by Ross E. Dunn recounts the journey (Rihla) of Ibn Battuta throughout the Islamic world.

In 1325, at the age of twenty-one, Abu Abdallah Ibn Battuta set off from his birth place of Tangier, Morocco, to go on a pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca. After performing the hajj, Ibn Battuta goes on a detour to visit the far reaches of the Islamic world, a detour that was to last twenty-four years. He visits Syria, Egypt, Persia, Iraq, East Africa, Yemen, Anatolia, southern Russia, Constantinople, India, southern Spain, the Maldives, Sumatra, and, possibly, China. Upon his return and with the help of Ibn Juzayy, a secretary, Ibn Battuta records his travels in the Rihla.

Since the spread of Islam and Islamic jurisprudence required literacy in Arabic even though Arabic may not have been a country’s primary language, Ibn Battuta has no difficulty encountering an Arabic-speaking individual to serve as his translator and guide wherever he goes. He is generally greeted as a visiting dignitary and is provided with free accommodation, money, and gifts—a characteristic of Islamic hospitality. Even when he is robbed and stumbles destitute into a village, he is immediately taken in and given housing, food, and clothing. He survives shipwrecks, pirates, malaria, and the plague.

Using the Rihla as his reference point, Professor Dunn takes us on a fascinating tour of the Islamic world in the fourteenth-century. He traces Ibn Battuta’s steps as he travels by foot, by camel, by horse, and by boat to the different locations. Professor Dunn suggests Ibn Battuta’s destinations are frequently serendipitous. He happens to encounter a caravan or a boat going in one direction and decides to join it even though his initial intention may have been to go in an entirely different direction. We are the beneficiaries of the haphazard and extensive nature of his travels.

Professor Dunn situates each location in its cultural, social, historical, and political context. As a consequence, we learn a great deal about the geography, history, trade, religious practices, habits, and conduct of a wide geographical region in the Islamic world. Relying on quotations from the Rihla as well as summaries and maps, Professor Dunn charts the journey. During Ibn Battuta’s time, the Islamic world was divided in numerous kingdoms and provinces with competing factions and feuds. The glue that bound them together was their faith and their modes of conduct derived from their belief in the one God and their allegiance to the Sacred Law. This made it possible for Ibn Battuta to travel to foreign climes and feel right at home because of a shared belief system governing public and private affairs.

Professor Dunn paints an intriguing portrait of this fourteenth-century Muslim globe-trotter. Although he is not without the occasional criticism for Ibn Battuta’s oftentimes meddlesome ways and self-inflated importance, it is obvious he holds an affection for this quirky adventurer. But more importantly than his portrait of Ibn Battuta is Professor Dunn’s extensive research, bibliography, endnotes, maps, commentary, and narrative of the mosaic nature of the cultural and political climate of the Islamic world in the fourteenth century.

Highly recommended for any who wish to trek through the Islamic world in the fourteenth century under the expert guidance of a professor of History and his audacious world traveler.

AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review