Ibn Battuta

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Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta (Arabic: أبو عبد الله محمد ابن بطوطة‎) (born 24 February 1304 - year of death uncertain, 1368 or 1369) was a Moroccan Berber scholar and jurisprudent from the Maliki Madhhab (a school of Fiqh, or Sunni Islamic law), and at times a Qadi or judge. However, he is best known as a traveler and explorer, whose account documents his travels and excursions over a period of almost thirty years, covering some 73,000 miles (117,000 km). These journeys covered almost the entirety of the known Islamic world and beyond, extending from North Africa, West Africa, Southern Europe and Eastern Europe in the west, to the Middle East, Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China in the east, a distance readily surpassing that of his predecessors and his near-contemporary Marco Polo.



Travels in Asia and Africa (Rehalã of Ibn Battûta)


Itinerary, 1325–1332

First pilgrimage
  • I arrived at length at Cairo, mother of cities and seat of Pharaoh the tyrant, mistress of broad regions and fruitful lands, boundless in multitude of buildings, peerless in beauty and splendour, the meeting-place of comer and goer, the halting-place of feeble and mighty, whose throngs surge as the waves of the sea, and can scarce be contained in her for all her size and capacity."
  • On the bank of the Nile opposite Old Cairo is the place known as The Garden, which is a pleasure park and promenade, containing many beautiful gardens, for the people of Cairo are given to pleasure and amusements. I witnessed a fete once in Cairo for the sultan's recovery from a fractured hand; all the merchants decorated their bazaars and had rich stuffs, ornaments and silken fabrics hanging in their shops for several days."
  • The mosque of 'Amr is highly venerated and widely celebrated. The Friday service is held in it and the road runs through it from east to west. The madrasas [college mosques] of Cairo cannot be counted for multitude. As for the Maristan [hospital], which lies "between the two castles" near the mausoleum of Sultan Qala'un, no description is adequate to its beauties. It contains an innumerable quantity of appliances and medicaments, and its daily revenue is put as high as a thousand dinars.
  • There are a large number of religious establishments ["convents "] which they call khanqahs, and the nobles vie with one another in building them. Each of these is set apart for a separate school of darwishes, mostly Persians, who are men of good education and adepts in the mystical doctrines. Each has a superior and a doorkeeper and their affairs are admirably organized. They have many special customs one of which has to do with their food. The steward of the house comes in the morning to the darwishes, each of whom indicates what food he desires, and when they assemble for meals, each person is given his bread and soup in a separate dish, none sharing with another. They eat twice a day. They are each given winter clothes and summer clothes, and a monthly allowance of from twenty to thirty dirhams. Every Thursday night they receive sugar cakes, soap to wash their clothes, the price of a bath, and oil for their lamps. These men are celibate; the married men have separate convents.
Iraq and Iran
Swahili coast

Itinerary 1332–1347

Central Asia
Indian subcontinent
  • One day I rode in company with ‘Alã-ul-mulk and arrived at a plain called Tarna at a distance of seven miles from the city. There I saw innumerable stone images and animals, many of which had undergone a change, the original shape being obliterated. Some were reduced to a head, others to a foot and so on. Some of the stones were shaped like grain, wheat, peas, beans and lentils. And there were traces of a house which contained a chamber built of hewn stone, the whole of which looked like one solid mass. Upon it was a statue in the form of a man, the only difference being that its head was long, its mouth was towards a side of its face and its hands at its back like a captive’s. There were pools of water from which an extremely bad smell came. Some of the walls bore Hindî inscriptions. ‘Alã-ul-mulk told me that the historians assume that on this site there was a big city, most of the inhabitants of which were notorious. They were changed into stone. The petrified human form on the platform in the house mentioned above was that of their king. The house still goes by the name of ‘the king’s house’. It is presumed that the Hindî inscriptions, which some of the walls bear, give the history of the destruction of the inhabitants of this city. The destruction took place about a thousand years ago…
    • Lahari Bandar (Sindh) . The Rehalã of Ibn Battûta translated into English by Mahdi Hussain, Baroda, 1967, p. 10.
  • Near the eastern gate of the mosque lie two very big idols of copper connected together by stones. Every one who comes in and goes out of the mosque treads over them. On the site of this mosque was a bud khãnã that is an idol-house. After the conquest of Delhi it was turned into a mosque…
    • At Delhi, near the eastern gateway of the famous Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. The Rehalã of Ibn Battûta translated into English by Mahdi Hussain, Baroda, 1967, p. 27
  • [Ibn Battuta’s description of the preparation of samosa would make one’s mouth water even today:] “Minced meat cooked with almond, walnut, pistachios, onion and spices placed inside a thin bread and fried in ghee.”
    • Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 1
  • “Once there arrived in Delhi some female infidel captives, ten of whom the Vazir sent to me. I gave one of them to the man who had brought them… My companion took three young girls, and I do not know what happened to the rest.”
  • The country we had to traverse was an impenetrable jungle of trees and reeds. The Sultan ordered that every one in the army, great and small alike, should carry a hatchet to cut down these obstacles. When the camp was struck, he set out on horseback towards the forest together with his soldiers who felled the trees from morning to noon ... they resumed cutting trees till the evening. All the infidels found in the jungle were taken prisoners; they had stakes sharpened at both ends and made the prisoners carry them on their shoulders. Each was accompanied by his wife and children, and they were thus led to the camp. It is the practice here to surround the camp with a palisade, called a katkar and having four gates. They make a second katkar around the king's habitation. Outside the principal enclosure, they raise the platforms about three feet high, and light fires on them at night. Slaves and sentinels spend the night here, each holding in his hand a bundle of very thin reeds. When the infidels approach for a night attack on the camp, all the sentries light their faggots, and thanks to the flames, the night becomes as bright as day, and the cavalry sets out in pursuit of the idolaters. In the morning, the Hindus who had been made prisoners the day before, were divided into four groups, and each of these was led to one of the four gates of the main enclosure. There they were impaled on the posts they had themselves carried. Afterwards their wives were butchered and tied to the stakes by their hair. The children were massacred on the bosoms of their mothers, and their corpses left there. Then they struck camp and started cutting down trees in another forest, and all the Hindus who were made captive were treated in the same manner.
    • Brutality of Sultan of Ma'bar (Ghayasuddin). Ibn Battuta quoted in K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, ed., Foreign Notices of South India (Madras: University of Madras, 2001), pp. 278-79., As quoted in Bostom, A. G. M. D., & Bostom, A. G. (2010). The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims. Amherst: Prometheus. appendix
  • [Sultan al-Malik az-Zahir was a] most illustrious and opened-handed ruler... He was constantly engaged in warring for the Faith (Jihad against the infidels) and in raiding expeditions... His subjects also take a pleasure in warring for the Faith and voluntarily accompany him on his expeditions. They have the upper hand over all the infidels in their vicinity, who pay them poll-tax to secure peace.
  • “The sultan sent for me once when I was at Delhi, and on entering I found him in a private apartment with some of his intimates and two of these jugis. One of them squatted on the ground, then rose into the air above our heads, still sitting. I was so astonished and frightened that I fell to the floor in a faint. A potion was administered to me, and I revived and sat up. Meantime this man remained in his sitting posture. His companion then took a sandal from a bag he had with him, and beat it on the ground like one infuriated. The sandal rose in the air until it came above the neck of the sitting man and then began hitting him on the neck while he descended little by little until he set down alongside us. Then the sultan said “If I did not fear for your reason I would have ordered them to do still stranger things than this you have seen.” I took my leave but was affected with palpitation and fell ill, until he ordered me to be given a draught which removed it all.” (p. 226, H.A.R. Gibb’s translation)
  • In India the infidels occupy one continuous piece of land and inhabit regions which are adjacent to those of the Muslims. The Muslims dominate the infidels; but the latter fortify themselves in mountains, in rocky, uneven and rugged places as well as in bamboo groves. In India the bamboo is not hollow ; it is big. Its several parts are so intertwined that even fire cannot a£Fec£ them, and they are on the whole very strong. The infidels live in those forests which serve them as ramparts, inside which are their cattle and their crops. There is also water for them within, that is rain water which collects there. Hence they cannot be subdued except by means of powerful armies, who, entering those forests, cut down the bamboos with specially prepared instruments.
    • I.Battuta, 124. quoted in K.S. Lal, Twilight of the Sultanate (1963) p. 287 and in also in Lal, K. S. (1995). Growth of scheduled tribes and castes in medieval India.49 [1]
  • At (one) time there arrived in Delhi some female infidel captives, ten of whom the Wazir sent to me. I gave one of them to the man who had brought them to me, but he was not satisfied. My companion took three young girls, and I do not know what happened to the rest.
    In India female captives are low-priced because they are dirty and know nothing of the town manners. Even those who are educated can be had at a cheap price ; no one, therefore, stands in need of buying the captive girls.
    • Ibn Battuta quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7 [2]
  • [The presents sent by Muhammad bin Tughluq to the Emperor of China included] ‘one hundred male slaves and one hundred slave song- stresses and dancers from among the Indian infidels” (p. 151).
    • quoted in The History and Culture of the Indian People, Delhi Sultanate, vol.6. page 627.
  • “The inhabitants of Habanq are infidels under protection (zimma) from whom half of the crops which they produce is taken; besides they have to perform certain duties” (p. 241).
    • quoted in The History and Culture of the Indian People, Delhi Sultanate, vol.6. page 627ff
  • Most interesting and instructive are the details connected with Alapur, a small city, most of whose inhabitants were infidels under protection (zimmi). The commandant of this place “was one of those heroes, whose bravery was proverbial. Ceaselessly and quite alone he would fall upon the infidels and would kill them or take them prisoner, so much so that his reputation spread widely and he made a name for himself and the infidels feared him”. One day he fell upon a Hindu village and was killed in course of the fray. But his slaves seized the village. “They put its male population to the sword and made the womenfolk prisoner and seized everything in it”. Later, the Hindus avenged the insult by killing his son (p. 162-63). Immediately after narrating this, Ibn Batiitah mentions an incident which shows the precarious tenure of a Hindu life. When he visited Gwalior he went to see the commandant who ‘‘was going to cut an infidel into two halves’. At Ibn Batitah’s request the life of the infidel was saved (p.163)...
    One day while Ibn Batitah was taking his meals with the Sultan a Hindu (infidel) “was brought in along with his wife and their son who was seven years of age. The Sultan beckoned the executioners ordering them to cut off the Hindu’s (infidel’s) head”’, and then uttered some words meaning “and his wife and son”. Ibn Batitah turned away his eyes while this was being done. Another day the Sultan ordered the hands and feet of a Hindu to be cut off. Ibn Batiitah left the place on pretence of saying prayers, and when he returned he found the unfortunate Hindu weltering in blood (p. 228)...
    In the capital city of a Hindu State in Malabar coast, “there are about four thousand Muslims, who inhabit a suburb of their own inside the jurisdiction of the city. There is fighting between them and the inhabitants of the city often” (p. 185)...
    The Brahmans, says Ibn Batitah, “are revered by the infidels and inspire hatred in the Muslims” (p. 188).
    • quoted from The History and Culture of the Indian People, Delhi Sultanate, vol.6. page 627-8
  • I purchased at this price a very beautiful slave girl whose name was Ashura. A friend of mine also bought a young slave named Lulu for two gold coins.
    • Ibn Battutah while in Bengal saying that a pretty kaniz (slave girl) could be had there for one gold dinar (or 10 silver tankahs). Ibn Battuta Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1999). Theory and practice of Muslim state in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 4 [3]
    • Also translated as: At this rate I purchased a slave girl named 'Ashiirii who was extremely beautiful. And one of my companions bought a good-looking boy of tender age named Lulu for a couple of gold dinars.
  • First of all, daughters of Kafir (Hindu) Rajas captured during the course of the year, come and sing and dance. Thereafter they are bestowed upon Amirs and important foreigners. After this daughters of other Kafirs dance and sing… the Sultan gives them to his brothers, relatives, sons of Maliks etc. On the second day the durbar is held in a similar fashion after Asr. Female singers are brought out… the Sultan distributes them among the Mameluke Amirs. On the third day relatives of the Sultan are married and they are given rewards.
    • [Ibn Battuta’s eyewitness account of the Sultan’s arranging the enslaved girls’ marriages with Muslims on a large scale on the occasion of the two Ids] Ibn Battuta Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1990). Indian muslims: Who are they. [4]
    • Different translation: Then enter the musicians, the first batch being the daughters of the infidel rajas — Hindus — captured in war that year. They sing and dance, and the sultan gives them away to the amirs and a'izza. Then come the other daughters of the infidels who sing and dance; and the Sultan gives them away to his brothers, his relations, his brothers-in-law and the maliks' sons. This court is usually held in the afternoon ; and on the following day also it is held at the same time and in the same order when female singers are brought in. They sing and dance and the sultan gives them away to the chief slaves. And on the third day the sultan gets his relatives married, and gifts are made to them. And on the fourth day the male slaves are manumitted ; on the fifth day the female slaves are manumitted and on the sixth day he makes the male slaves marry the female slaves. On the seventh day he gives away alms on a very large scale.
  • After this I proceeded to the city of Barwan, in the road to which is a high mountain, covered with snow and exceedingly cold; they call it the Hindu Kush, that is Hindu-slayer, because most of the slaves brought thither from India die on account of the intenseness of the cold.
    • Ibn Battuta, Chapter XIII, Rihla – Khorasan: Ibn Battuta; Samuel Lee (Translator) (2010). The Travels of Ibn Battuta: In the Near East, Asia and Africa. Cosimo (Reprint). pp. 97–98. ISBN 978-1-61640-262-4.; Columbia University
  • After five days’ travelling we reached ‘Ala al-Mulk’s province, Lahari, a fine town on the coast where the river of Sind discharges itself into the ocean. It possesses a large harbour, visited by men from Yemen, Fars, and elsewhere. For this reason its contributions to the Treasury and its revenues are considerable; the governor told me that the revenue from this town amounted to sixty lakhs per annum. The governor receives a twentieth part of this, that being the footing on which the sultan commits the provinces to his governors. I rode out one day with ‘Ala al-Mulk, and we came to a plain called Tarna, seven miles from Lahari, where I saw an innumerable quantity of stones in the shape of men and animals. Many of them were disfigured and their forms effaced, but there remained a head or a foot or something of the sort. Some of the stones also had the shape of grains of wheat, chickpeas, beans and lentils, and there were remains of a city wall and house walls. We too saw the ruins of a house with a chamber of hewn stones, in the midst of which there was a platform of hewn stones resembling a single block, surmounted by a human figure, except that its head was elongated and its mouth on the side of its face and its hands behind its back like a pinioned captive. The place had pools of stinking water and an inscription on one of its walls in Indian characters. ‘Ala al-Mulk told me that the historians relate that in this place there was a great city whose inhabitants were so depraved that they were turned to stone, and that it is their king who is on the terrace in the house, which is still called ‘the king’s palace.’ They add that the inscription gives the date of the destruction of the people of that city, which occurred about a thousand years ago.
    • Lahari, south-east of Karachi [ruins of Debal?], Ibn Battuta, pp., 187-188.quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume II Chapter 4
  • “The king of China had sent valuable gifts to the sultan, including a hundred slaves of both sexes, five hundred pieces of velvet and silk cloth, musk, jewelled garments and weapons, with a request that the sultan would permit him to rebuild the idol-temple which is near the mountains called Qarajil [Himalaya]. It is in a place known as Samhal, to which the Chinese go on pilgrimage; the Muslim army in India had captured it, laid it in ruins and sacked it. The sultan, on receiving this gift, wrote to the king saying that the request could not be granted by Islamic law, as permission to build a temple in the territories of the Muslims was granted only to those who paid a poll-tax; to which he added, “If thou wilt pay the jizya we shall empower thee to build it. And peace be on those who follow the True Guidance.” He requited his present with an even richer one-a hundred thoroughbred horses, a hundred white slaves, a hundred Hindu dancing-and singing-girls, twelve hundred pieces of various kinds of cloth, gold and silver candelabra and basins, brocade robes, caps, quivers, swords, gloves embroidered with pearls, and fifteen eunuchs. As my fellow-ambassadors the sultan appointed the amir Zahir ad-Din of Zanjãn, one of the most eminent men of learning, and the eunuch Kafur, the cup-bearer, into whose keeping the present was entrusted. He sent the amir Muhammad of Herat with a thousand horsemen to escort us to the port of embarkation, and we were accompanied by the Chinese ambassadors, fifteen in number, along with their servants, about a hundred men in all.”
    • quoted in Kishore, Kunal (2016). Ayodhyā revisited. ch. 13
  • Reliable men among the inhabitants of the islands, like the jurist (faqîh) and teacher (mu'allim) 'Alî, the judge 'Abdullãh - and others besides them - told me that the inhabitants of these islands were infidels. Subsequently a westerner named Abul Barakãt the Berbar who knew the great Qur'ãn came to them. He stayed amongst them and God opened the heart of the king to Islãm and he accepted it before the end of the month; and his wives, children and courtiers followed suit. They broke to pieces the idols and razed the idol-house to the ground. On this the islanders embraced Islãm and sent missionaries to the rest of the islands, the inhabitants of which also became Muslims. The westerner stood in high regard with them, and they accepted his cult which was that of Imãm Mãlik. May God be pleased with him! And on account of him they honour the westerners up to this time. He built a mosque which is known after his name.
    • About the Maldive Islands , The Rehalã of Ibn Battûta translated into English by Mahdi Hussain, Baroda, 1967.
Southeast Asia
  • The sultan of Jawa, al-Malik az-Zahir, is a most illustrious and open-handed ruler, and a lover of theologians. He was constantly engaged in warring for the Faith (Jihad against the infidels) and in raiding expeditions… His subjects also take a pleasure in warring for the Faith and voluntarily accompany him on his expeditions. They have the upper hand over all the infidels in their vicinity, who pay them poll-tax to secure peace.
    • Gibb HAR (2004) Ibn Battutah: Travels in Asia and Africa, D K Publishers, New Delhi, p 274 also quoted in M.A. Khan, Islamic Jihad.

Itinerary 1349–1354

Spain and North Africa
Mali and Timbuktu

About Ibn Battuta

  • So history has to be studied, it is very painful history. But it is not more painful than most countries have had. ...It isn't India alone that has had a rough time, that has to be understood. But the rough time has to be faced and it cannot be glossed over. There are tools for us to understand the rough time. We can read a man like Ibn Battuta who will tell you what it was like to be there in the midst of the fourteenth century, terrible times. An apologist of the invaders would like to gloss that over. But it would be wrong to gloss that over, that has to be understood. ...But I would like to see this past recovered and not dodged. And I wouldn't like the version of history that tells you: “Ibn Batuta came to India at this time and made interesting observations”.
  • As a traveler Ibn Battuta depended on the bounty of the various despots whose lands he visited. He knew the form; he knew how to give gifts to get bigger ones in return...
    In India he talks constantly about slaves and slave girls; he says at one place that he can’t travel without them. Slaves are part of the view. (In Aden he had seen slaves being used as draught animals; he records it only as a novelty.) But it is in almost casual sentences that we get an idea of the nature of the countryside, and the serfdom on which the glory of the Sultan in Delhi and his local officials depends. For a few months, and as a courtesy to him as a visitor, Ibn Battuta was granted the revenues of a village in this Bahawalpur area by a local official. He made five thousand dinars. The dinars didn’t fall out of the sky; they would have come from the fields and the serfs who worked them. They are the people never mentioned by Ibn Battuta, but always present. (“We then prepared for the journey to the capital, which is forty days’ march from Multan through a continuous stretch of inhabited country.”) Later, in Delhi, at the murderous court, he was to be granted the revenues of five villages. In his book there is a constant reckoning in crops; the endowment of a mausoleum, for instance, is reckoned in crops.
    • Naipaul, V.S. - Beyond Belief (Vintage, 1999)
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