Recently, my travelling companion has been the great Arab traveller and anecdotal historian, Ibn Battutah (IB). Not literally, he travelled in the 14th century (1325 to 1354). The Travels of Ibn Battutah edited by Tim McIntosh-Smith in the beautiful Macmillan Collector’s Library edition fitted into my pocket and its silk ribbon marked my progress through its gilt-edged pages and IB’s 29-year journey
IB was a Qadi, a judge and expert
in Islamic jurisprudence. He was a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer. IB set out
from his home in Tangier towards
IB was a learned and devout Muslim. He takes a puritanical view of licentiousness in others, though he expects it of infidels. Wherever he goes, he seeks out fellow Muslim scholars. He also seeks out wealthy rulers. For them he is not just a scholar and Qadi but a man with interesting tales to tell.
Given that we cannot necessarily rely on his stories, I grew interested in the logistics of his travels and what little he tells us about his personal relationships. At times, IB appears to travel alone and at others, he had a large retinue. He speaks occasionally of companions but never names them. Late in his travels, he does mention that one of his companions dies, which causes him some inconvenience.
I do not think he ever travelled
light, which brings me to the question of how he financed his travels. He sets
out with a supply of silver dirhams that would have been good tender throughout
the Islamic world. On arrival in a
IB’s attitude to slavery slowly shows itself. He never agonises over it. It is part of the way of his world.
IB travels through
At one point, he arranges a voyage
IB finds himself in the
There is little mention of slaves as labourers; rather, they appear to be owned by sultans as status symbols. On several occasions, IB writes that he has given or been given a white slave girl as a gift.
I enjoyed having Ibn Battutah as the travelling companion in my pocket but I would not have wanted to travel with him.