I Get That Ibn Battuta Loved Travel…
But Why?

In three months and one day, I’ll be on the road again. Well, more precisely, I will be in the air again flying to Lahore, Pakistan and then off to Taunggyi, Myanmar to see my family. I love traveling for a host of reasons. That being said, I have two classes to teach, write some essays for while I’m gone, flesh out my itinerary, get plane tickets, etc.

However, I have written about Ibn Battuta’s love for travel. He said, “Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” This is a map of his three lengthy journeys, which covered nearly thirty years.

Battuta’s travels

Battuta traveled 75,000 miles during three decades through much of Dar al-Islam. Today, the Islamic world would total over forty present-day countries. Surely, in those years, he was often left speechless and became a storyteller due to being on the road for half his life. Was traveling to become a storyteller the only reason for his journeys? Well, one reason was that he wanted to go on his hajj to Mecca. However, that wouldn’t have taken three decades and 75,000 miles.

Ibn Battuta is speechless

In his travel journal, A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Traveling حفة النظار في غرائب الأمصار وعجائب الأسفار)) or merely The Travels, he wrote:

I set out alone, having neither fellow-traveler in whose companionship I might find cheer, nor caravan whose party I might join, but swayed by an overmastering impulse within me and a desire long-cherished in my bosom to visit these illustrious sanctuaries. So, I braced my resolution to quit all my dear ones, female and male, and forsook my home as birds forsake their nests. My parents being yet in the bonds of life, it weighed sorely upon me to part from them, and both they and I were afflicted with sorrow at this separation.

That introductory paragraph of his journey was for him more than merely getting material as a storyteller. During his various journeys, he learned about life and death. It was in Syria, during the plague in 1348, that he saw the other side of living…death. Imagine seeing death stalk thousands of people.

However, traveling for all those years, Battuta must have had a long list of reasons for his journeys; I have loads of reasons. He began his trek across the Muslim world by simply getting on the back of his donkey and heading off. When he finally got to Mecca, he had a dream about a very large bird. The bird swooped down and carried him. Today, we have airplanes. Back then, the giant bird “made a long flight towards the east…and left me there.” That dream caused him to see the world. It is interesting that Battuta’s dream parallels the story of Guru Rinpoche who lived in Tibet and was flown on the back of a tigress in the 8th century to the Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan.

Tiger’s Nest

Interestingly, the more that Battuta traveled, the more traveling he wanted to do. Battuta had dreamed for years to visit China. By 1345, he realized his dream and got to the port city of Quanzhou. Finally, after spending some time in China, he returned to Tangier, Morocco in 1354. Having seen most of the Muslim world and also much of the known world of that time, the sultan of Morocco wanted Battuta to write about his travels. During his journeys, he didn’t have any sort of a travelogue already written. Therefore, he sat with Ibn Juzayy who wrote what Battuta dictated to him during an entire year. The result of that year was A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Traveling.

Having completed the task of composing his book, which is often just called, Travels, little is known of Battuta. Some scholars contend that he lived out the remainder of his life as a judge and died somewhere around 1368. While he predated Bobby Kennedy by a half a dozen centuries, Battuta understood the value of dreaming. Bobby said, “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”