Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta of Tangier, Morocco, started on his Eastward travel when he was 20 years old in 1325. His main reason to travel was to go on a Hajj, or a Pilgrimage to Mecca, as all good Muslims want to do. But his traveling went on for about 29 years and he covered about 120,000 kilometers visiting the equivalent of 44 modern countries which were then mostly under the governments of Muslim leaders of the World of Islam, or “Dar al-Islam”. At a time when the greatest speed humans could reach was astride a galloping horse, Ibn Batuta’s travel of 120,000 kilometers in 29 years was a remarkable feat. At a steady pace, it would have worked out to a bit under 11 kilometers a day for almost 11,000 days.
Ibn Battuta’s wanderings stretched from Fez to Beijing, and although he resolved not to travel the same path more than once, he made four Hajj pilgrimages to Makkah. He met some 60 heads of state—and served as advisor to two dozen of them. He met many dangers and had many adventures along the way. He was attacked by bandits, almost drowned in a sinking ship, was almost beheaded by a tyrant ruler, and had a few marriages and lovers and fathered several children on his travels! At the end of his travel he returned to Fez, Morocco at the court of Sultan Abu ‘Inan. The Sultan of Morocco insisted that Ibn Battuta dictates the story of his travels to a scholar Ibn Juzay and today we can read translations of that story called “Rihla – My Travels.” It names more than 2000 people whom he met or whose tombs he visited.
His descriptions of life in Turkey, Central Asia, East and West Africa, the Maldives, the Malay Peninsula and parts of India are a leading source of contemporary knowledge about those areas, and in some cases they are the only source. His word-portraits of sovereigns, ministers and other powerful men are often uniquely astute, and are all the more intimate for being colored by his personal experiences and opinions.