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The Travels of Ibn Battutah. (Reviews: Books).

EDITED BY TIM MACKINTOSHSMITH

[pounds sterling]20 Picador

ISBN 0-330-49113-X

Ibn Battutah, the famed Moroccan who travelled for a quarter of a century through medieval Asia and Africa, was just 21 when he set out from his native Tangier on a pilgrimage to Mecca, a religious duty for any able-bodied Muslim.

Born in Tangiers in 1304, the son of a judge, Battutah was educated to also become a jurist. In 1325, within a year of Marco Polo's death, he began his travels that were to cover three times the distance of Polo's well-known journeys.

Even if his original intention was solely to travel to Mecca and return, it seems that shortly after he left Tangiers, he became obsessed with travelling the world. Ibn Battutah describes a dream that he had, in Alexandria, when he flew on the wings of a giant bird "alighting in a dark and greenish country".

This book is an abridgement of the original translation, from Arabic, of Ibn Battutah's accounts of his travels. They were dictated to one Ibn Juzayy, a young writer who was commissioned by the Sultan of Morocco to take down the traveller's memoirs, and were published in 1356.

Although by about 1800, European scholars knew various versions of these memoirs, a complete translation did not appear until 1994. This was the work of two scholars: Sir Hamilton Gibb, who died in 1971 and Professor Charles Beckham who completed the final volume of text.

Ibn Battutah was not to return to Morocco for nearly 30 years, performing the pilgrimage to Mecca no less than five times and travelling to more than 40 countries on the modern map.

He was to cover 75,000 miles, as far north as the Volga, as far east as China and as far south as Kilwa, Tanzania. His greatest asset was his knowledge of jurisprudence, and he was frequently offered hospitality and employment as a judge and ambassador by several of the rulers he visited. Many of these rulers pressed gifts of gold to further assist him.

Throughout his travels, Ibn Battutah faced perils and hardships. He had a close shave with bandits in Algeria, survived a pirate attack in the Indian Ocean, and of course was frequently at the mercy of the fickle friendship of the rulers from whom he accepted hospitality.

Nor should it be forgotten that he was travelling back to his native Morocco during the end period of the great plague epidemic that devastated Europe. Nevertheless, from his accounts, perhaps the greatest hardships were faced when he made the arduous journey across the Sahara to visit Timbuktu and the ancient kingdom of Mali.
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Publication:African Business
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:6MORO
Date:Feb 1, 2003
Words:439
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