Islamic Studies Ibn Baṭṭūṭa
by
Yousef Meri
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0037

Introduction

Ibn Baṭṭūṭa was a Maghribi Amazighi (Berber) traveler, Mālikī scholar, judge, and ṣūfī from Tangier (in present-day Morocco). He went on a journey that lasted twenty-four years to undertake the ḥajj, which he did on at least four occasions, and to obtain knowledge from various scholars and theologians from such major centers of learning as Cairo, Damascus, and Baghdad. His Travels (Tuḥfat al-nuẓẓār fī gharā ib al-amṣār wa ajā ib al-asfār (A precious gift to those who contemplate the wonders of cities and the marvels of traveling; often abbreviated as riḥla [literally, “journey”]), which the Marīnid ruler Abū Inān (r. 1348–1359) commissioned him to compose upon his return to the Maghrib in 1354, is regarded as one of the most important works of the riḥla (travel literature) genre. Ibn Baṭṭūṭa traveled more than 75,000 miles throughout North Africa and Andalusia, the central Islamic lands, Central Asia and Anatolia, South and Southeast Asia, China, and West and East Africa. Despite the work’s sometimes confused itineraries, incorrect chronologies, misidentification of place-names, and inconsistencies, it has been shown that the Travels is a detailed and largely accurate record of the places Ibn Baṭṭūṭa visited and the people he encountered, based on the author’s notes and recollections. The modern-day Moroccan scholar and editor of Tuḥfat al-nuẓẓār, Abd al-Hādī al-Tāzī, convincingly argues, based on an analysis of all known manuscripts of the Travels, that the account is authentic in the main. Moreover, the Travels incorporates details from the works of previous writers, including the Andalusian traveler Ibn Jubayr (d. 1217), particularly in its descriptions of parts of Palestine and the Ḥijāz.

General Overviews

There are various approaches to the study of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa and the Travels, ranging from timely introductions to Ibn Baṭṭūṭa and his times to more specialized academic writings that treat issues of authorship and authenticity of the Travels. Gibb 1958 (the first of five equally well-translated volumes) is the best English translation of the Travels. Netton 1984 explores the theme of miracles and blessings (baraka) in the Travels. Dunn 1995 contextualizes Ibn Baṭṭūṭa’s Travels as part of a broader historical framework of viewing the Islamic world in a trans-hemispheric context, while Bullis 2000 provides an accessible introduction to Ibn Baṭṭūṭa and his work. Dunn 2004 and Harvey 2008 are authoritative introductions to Ibn Baṭṭūṭa and the Travels. Mackintosh-Smith 2002 and Mackintosh-Smith 2005 are modern-day travel logs following in Ibn Baṭṭūṭa’s steps. Mackintosh-Smith 2009 offers an excellent introduction, and Waines 2010 draws on historical, legal, and literary sources to present a comparative study of the Travels.

  • Bullis, Douglas. “The Longest Hajj: The Journeys of Ibn Battuta.” Saudi Aramco World 51.4 (2000): 2–5.

    E-mail Citation »

    Excellent illustrated overview broadly following the three major geographical divisions of the Travels: Mecca and the Central Islamic lands; Turkey and Central Asia; and India, China, North Africa, and Andalusia.

  • Dunn, Ross. “International Migrations of Literate Muslims in the Later Middle Period: The Case of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa.” In Golden Roads: Migration, Pilgrimage and Travel in Mediaeval and Modern Islam. Edited by Ian R. Netton, 75–85. Abingdon, UK: RoutledgeCurzon, 1995.

    E-mail Citation »

    Explores the role of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa as “literate frontiersman” in his journeys to East Africa, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, demonstrating that the example of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa illustrates the need to study the history of the premodern Islamic world in a “trans-hemispheric” rather than merely in restricted localized or narrow contexts.

  • Dunn, Ross. The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

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    Revised edition of Dunn’s pathbreaking 1986 study. Essential reading for undergraduate courses on the medieval Islamic world and world history courses. New introduction and updated bibliographical references.

  • Gibb, H. A. R. “Introduction.” In The Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa, A.D. 1325–1354. Vol. 1. Edited and translated by H. A. R. Gibb, ix–xvi. Hakluyt Society, 2nd series 110. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1958.

    E-mail Citation »

    Excellent introduction to Ibn Baṭṭūṭa and his itinerary. Problematic aspects of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa’s itineraries are discussed.

  • Harvey, L. P. Ibn Battuta. Makers of Islamic Civilization. London: I. B. Tauris in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2008.

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    A highly readable study by an Iberian studies specialist. Explores such themes as race and gender, geography, and the religious milieu of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa’s times. Suitable for undergraduates and nonspecialists.

  • Mackintosh-Smith, Tim. Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah. London: Picador, 2002.

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    Highly readable reflections on Ibn Baṭṭūṭā’s travels in North Africa and the central Islamic lands. Attempts to retrace the footsteps of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa. Recommended for undergraduate courses.

  • Mackintosh-Smith, Tim. Hall of a Thousand Columns: Hindustan to Malibar with Ibn Battutah. London: John Murray, 2005.

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    Highly readable sequel to Travels with a Tangerine. Following in the footsteps of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa, Mackintosh-Smith offers readers a fascinating glimpse into the eight years Ibn Baṭṭūṭa spent in India from 1333 and reflects on the people he met and the places he visited as well as on local customs and religious practices.

  • Mackintosh-Smith, Tim. “Ibn Baṭṭūṭah, Abū Abd Allāh Muḥammad.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Vol. 2. Edited by John L. Esposito. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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    Excellent introduction to Ibn Baṭṭūṭa and his Travels. Available online to subscribers.

  • Netton, Ian R. “Myth, Miracle, and Magic in the Riḥla of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa.” Journal of Semitic Studies 29 (1984): 131–140.

    DOI: 10.1093/jss/XXIX.1.131E-mail Citation »

    Study of such supernatural elements as miracles and baraka in the context of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa’s Travels.

  • Waines, David. The Odyssey of Ibn Battuta: Uncommon Tales of a Medieval Adventurer. London: I. B. Tauris, 2010.

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    Waines’s well-written introduction is suitable for students and general readers and demonstrates that Ibn Baṭṭūṭa’s method of borrowing from earlier sources was part of a process of acknowledging his predecessors and supplementing earlier sources. Drawing on historical, literary, and legal sources, Waines deftly discusses the themes of food, the veneration of holy places and holy persons, and perceptions of the Other. Includes valuable comparisons with European travel literature.

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