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Intro to the Wayfarer’s Compass + Review of Ibn Battuta’s Rihla

Intro to the Wayfarer’s Compass + Review of Ibn Battuta’s Rihla

By on Mar 28, 2015 in Blog, Review |

Sana Gillani

Salam Alaykum and Welcome to the Wayfarer’s Compass. My intention is for this blog is to become a hub of all things Islamic travel. I want you to be inspired by other people’s journeys and to be assisted in planning your own. Whether it be Hajj, studying Islam abroad, or going on a family holiday, there needs to be more spaces for us Muslims to explore the Islamic art of travel.

I would like to think of myself as a seasoned traveller, but I’m not quite there yet and so I need your help, advice and stories too. I will share with you the information and tips I have gathered from my travels, and I invite you to submit to Wayfarer’s Compass as well. As you may see on the homepage, I’m building a directory from all this collected information.

I would first like to begin this blog by looking back at the man who has been a major influence in the development of this website, as well as my views on what it is to be a Muslim traveller.

For me, being a Muslim traveller is not only about eating halal food and praying the traveller’s prayer, it is also a journey of consciousness and opening. It is to seek your Lord through discovery, connecting with people and cultures and marvelling at creation. It is about being taken out of your comfort zone and forced to challenge your perceptions of the world and being afflicted with the trials common to a traveller. It’s about understanding your place in the world, appreciating familiarities between your own community and the ones you travel to, and feeling a sense of humanity with everybody regardless of colour, creed and language. Being a Muslim traveller is about treading gently upon the earth, giving and helping those in need, visiting monuments of those before you to understand your present. It is all of these things and so much more.

I went through the Rihla (Journey) by Ibn Battuta recently, and it is seriously one of the best books I have read (I read the translated edition by H.A.R Gibb). It is an amazing record of the medieval Islamic world. His accounts are detailed, and his encounters and stories will truly fascinate you.




Islam in the medieval era was a colourful period we associate with many of our saints, legends, conquests and expansion. This period in our history evokes a sense of glory, nostalgia and romanticism in the modern Muslim conscious.

Ibn Battuta grew up in Tangiers, Morocco in the 14th century. At the age of 22, he began his adventures to travel to various regions of the African continent, through Arabia, Persia, Central Asia, India, South East Asia, The Maldives and China – a most impressive feat for a traveller at the time. Ibn Battuta travelled to more countries than Marco Polo, and ended up returning to his beloved homeland of Morocco where he eventually died.

As I was reading his account, I found myself connecting to him in many ways. I often thought to myself, ‘I wonder if Ibn Battuta knew he would inspire so many people over the ages, including young Muslim women in lands he did not even know existed when he was alive’. I related to his account of leaving his hometown at the young and formative age of 22, as I had done the same. The quest to find oneself, explore and learn is quite popular for people of that age even now.

Ibn Battuta’s travels are full of miraculous happenings. In the early stages of his travels, he went to the township of Fua in Egypt to meet a well-known pious shaykh called Shaykh Al-Murshidi. Al Murshidi was known for bestowing gifts miraculously to those he met. Whilst being accommodated by the Great Al-Murshidi, Ibn Battuta was told to sleep in the roof of the cell (of the mosque). He slept and dreamt that he was on the wing of a great bird which flew with him to Mecca, Yemen and finally landing in a ‘dark and green’ country. The shaykh interpreted his dream, saying that it was a sign from Allah, indicating the many places he was destined to travel to. He also warned him that one day he would fall into grave danger.

Ibn Battuta based much of his travel on visiting ‘principal men of religion’. It was because he was a scholar and his interest in other theologians that he decided to travel and his excitement at meeting these great people comes across quite strongly whilst reading. His thirst for knowledge and respect for the learned, opened my eyes more deeply to the tradition of seeking out awliya on our travels.

His descriptions of Syria, with so much detail and affection, was bittersweet for me, and I would feel a sense of loss over what certain parts of the Middle East are being afflicted with currently. There’s no doubt that war and destruction are a part of the story of the world as we know it, and we can never expect the world to remain the same for centuries, but it is still difficult to read about times of glory without reflecting on modern conditions of the same blessed places. The passage of time that Ibn Battuta travelled within was noted for being particularly advantageous for those traveling between Muslim lands, due to the politics and commerce between nations. The facilitation of travel and structures in place at the time were favourable and based on generosity of sultans and amirs, especially for travellers with the rank that Ibn Battuta had, as a Qadi.

One feels a sense of relief and satisfaction when Ibn Battuta relates, in the earlier parts of his travels, his arrival in the Holy Lands of Mecca and Medina. His dedication and striving to complete his fardh made me re-assess my own priorities and hold a greater appreciation for the level of ease in which I can undertake Hajj.

Some of Ibn Battuta’s anecdotes and descriptions of people made me want to giggle.

“The Meccan women are extraordinarily beautiful and very pious and modest. They too make great use of perfumes that they will spend the night hungry in order to buy perfumes with the price of their food”.

Living in the context that I do currently, I also found confronting the passages referencing common use of slaves, temporary marriage and concubines. I did have a few “What on earth is going on?” moments while reading, to be honest, so be prepared for that, lol.

Nevertheless, you learn while reading just how Ibn Battuta was a man most morally upright and astute in his adherence to the deen. He was influential given his social class, his education, and position as a Qadi. He comments frequently on what he sees to be unjust, out of line with Islamic practice and amiss with his conscience. This was most apparent with his interactions with the Sultan of India and the way in which he would refrain from eating haram even in situations where there were limited food options.

I discovered the value of reliance upon Allah by reading of his trusting his Lord during journey on land and sea. Ibn Battuta is constantly praising Allah, supplicating and expressing his gratitude, most eloquently throughout his recorded account. It shows a reverence of our Lord and the praiseworthy practice of keeping the dhikr of Allah regular not only in private or personal speech, but also conversational.

A very fascinating element of his records, which I’d like to research into in more depth at some point, is his description of the Akhiya, or Young Brotherhood. This was an amazing institution that operated to assist wayfarers.

“Now in all the lands inhabited by Turkmens in Anatolia, in every district, town, and village, there are to be found members of the organisation known as the Akhiya, or Young Brotherhood. Nowhere in the world will you find men so eager to welcome strangers, so prompt to serve food and to satisfy the wants of others, and so ready to supress injustice and to kill [tyrannical] agents of police and the miscreants who join with them.”

I was delighted to read when Ibn Battuta travelled to my parents’ homeland of Multan. Although he didn’t really delve into the infrastructure, life or culture of the people there, it was cool to learn about the political significance of my family’s city during the early 14th century. In fact, Ibn Battuta was so mesmerised by India (and what is currently known as Pakistan), it is the most riveting section of the Rihla, in my opinion. He was so keen to make India his home at one stage that he pledged to serve the Sultan of Delhi, Muhammad Ibn Tughlaq. This pledge meant he would not be free to leave the kingdom unless he had the permission of the Sultan of Delhi, a man renowned for being the wealthiest in the Muslim World at the time, and also for being very erratic. The full nature of his character and antics, I shall leave for you to read.

I really did draw a lot from Ibn Battuta’s Rihla, and I recommend all other wayfarers to read it before travelling, or even better, during. There are many more lessons and points of reflection to come out of it than I have shared here. Now I am reading through the account of an equally interesting Muslim traveller from Medieval Spain, Ibn Jubayr, so I’ll review him too when I finish.






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