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Ibn Battuta
In Said Hamdun and Noel King s book Ibn Battuta in Black Africa, they point out some especially important contributions still lasting to modern day studies of society. In the year 1331 c.e, the world s major civilizations were in fact growing and advancing at an astonishing rate. Historians know quite a bit about a few cultures and empires of this time. These societies such as the Romans, Greeks, and Chinese to name a few kept written records of daily life and events. Accounts of these societies, for example, are also briefly stated in records in societies of which they interacted. In Ibn Battutas travels, he not only visited the known societies but the unknown as well. Travelers such as Marco Polo did the same, but not to the extent that Ibn Battuta did. Without the journals of Battuta, we in modern times would know far less than we do now about less publicized cultures such as the ones he visited in East and West Africa. In his writings, he not only breaks light on many previously unknown cultures but he in doing so becomes one of the first of his kind to do it in a personal way. He thus sheds light to his own in retrospect to the rest of the world. In this paper I would not only like to point out some of the more important findings of his travels but the way in which his comments explains himself and what he believed to be the humble Islamic world.

In his travels within Eastern and Western Africa, Ibn Battuta comments on almost every practice of local people that he encounters. Some of the customs that he confronts pleases him and others do no more than enrage him. In this period of time it was proper among Islamic believers to be very hospitable. This sharing in the world of Islam meant that he could travel without money or without fear of being without a place to stay. One of the many things he commented upon arrival at a new destination was the way in which he was treated. For example, there was his recount of his visit to the town of Iwalatan. When there he went to the house of Ibn Badda, for whom he claimed was an excellent man. Upon his arrival, as it was customary, he and his caravan were invited to a warm reception where they would eat and be entertained. After the food was brought out, Ibn Battuta said to them Was it for this the black invited us? He then quoted that then he became sure that there was no good to be expected from them (Hamdun and Noel 36-37). He was especially critical of Sultans whether it was positively or negatively. When he was ordered to stand up and receive the Sultan of Mali s gifts thinking they would be robes and things of value, he laughed when it turned out that they were tree pieces of bread a piece of beef and sour milk. He laughed and wondered a lot at their weakness of mind and their magnifying of the insignificant (Hamdun and Noel 45). In Mali he found much in terms of customs that he disliked. He found it horrible that slave women, women servants and little daughters appeared completely naked exposing their private parts. He also despised of the way they dusted ashes on their heads in submissiveness the Sultan as well as their eating of animals not ritually slaughtered such as dogs and donkeys. There were customs that he did enjoy though aside from dinners that didn t reach his expectation. He enjoyed the glory as well as the pomp and circumstance of parades and processions. He loved wearing glamorous local clothing at special events and the excitement of the next travel and what he might see. In Mali he liked the peace. Being able to walk without fear of robbery and the local people s custom of forcing children to learn the Koran by heart. Although he was what the authors believe to be in modern terms a class act he had standards and ideals as well.

Born in North Africa, Ibn Battuta had instilled within him what many believe to be a very good example of Islamic characteristics. When he came upon other followers of Islam, he unknowingly gives us a good interpretation as to how certain customs should and shouldn t be. He was a firm believer in generosity hence he judged many upon how much they gave him and others. At one point in his journey in east Africa, he and the Sultan of Kulwa encountered a Yemeni Faqir. Ibn was very impressed that when asked for his clothes that the Sultan with humility and graciousness immediately changed from his clothes and gave them to the faqir without a question (Hamdun and Noel 24-25). Ibn approved of this act and from this it is apparent that he and other Muslims would have striven to be as humble as the Sultan of Kulwa was. As a traveler, Battuta had become somewhat accustomed in his travels to being pampered when he so thought he should be. His strong devout ties to Islam are extremely apparent wherever he traveled as well as what true Muslims in general were expected of and expected to do. Often he received money or what was then called mithquals from places he visited often going far out of his way barely stopping at blackmail in order to receive these rich donations. Nonetheless, he accepted these gifts and like wise was generous to others and sensitive to their feelings whatever the case. There were also customs that he disapproved of. The most apparent of which is the way in which he encountered women. When visiting in Iwalatan, he visited the qadi and found with him a women. She happened to be young in age and very beautiful. When Battuta saw her, his immediate reaction was to slowly retrace his steps as it was in his opinion that he had intruded upon a place which he should not have----another man s woman. In Islamic culture, women are expected to be seen and not heard, to be almost entirely covered in public and especially not to talk to other men out side of the immediate family. This was evident from the way Battuta retraced his steps and felt strangely out of place. He was astonished to find out that this qadi was from the faqih class (upper class) and of his conduct saying that she was only a companion. It was also stated in the introduction on page 4 of Hamdun and Noel s book that he was somewhat of an old prude getting upset at seeing women whose breasts were visible and formed from being nude and seeing men in a public bath without loincloths. But his human side is shown evident in that he lets slip that he never travels without a slave girl or two.

Ibn Battuta encountered many different cultures on his journeys and in particular, the ones in East and West Africa. Although he saw much that he did not approve of he always maintained his composure remaining tolerant. Likewise, the people he encountered remained the same as well. This I believe to be strongly in part to his personal beliefs in God. Whenever he was uncomfortable or disapproved of a situation he would start by saying there is no good in this place and would neither talk or write anything thereafter. I believe that in these cases where he felt there would be a threat to him or any with him, he would simply pass through quietly as not to give anyone a reason to dislike him or his caravan escaping without a bruise. This being the case, local people that were opposite of him in terms of religion did not have the chance to harm him or his companions. In cases that he mildly disliked the village as in the case of Iwalatan when confronted with the women companions issue, he simply ignored it. He the focused more on the good and less on the issues he considered unjust in terms of Muslim ideals. I believe that this points out how different Islam had become as compared to its beginnings even at this stage of it s existence.

Ibn Battuta has given the world much in terms of written history. Many of the places he visited would still be a mystery today had it not been for him and his travels of which to this day remain to be a staggering feat. But from a different vantagepoint, his writings tell a lot about the world of Islam, the variables of and give a perspective or a constant within Islam some seven hundred years ago.

Works Cited

Hamdun, Said., and Noel King. Ibn Battuta In Black Affrica N.J., Princeton: Marcus Wiener Publishers, 1994.
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