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Ibn Battuta 14th Century Muslim Traveler
The Muslim Culture and the land of Islam have a great significance to the development and realities of the history of Western Civilization. It is through much of the regions of Islam that westerners have gained some major impacting foundations. One simple example of such occurrence would be the famed Nicean fathers who boast an origin well within the borders of Islam but who are foundational members of the Christian faith, setting the standard for cannon in some cases. The borders of Israel as we know them today fall within the boundaries of a region once at the heart of Islamic culture, and still arguably so.
Yet, because of dangerous and old prejudices words and histories have been lost that would cause a shadow to engulf some western scholars of the same traditions. Ibn Battuta the 14th century Muslim traveler has been compared to the European famed Marco Polo. European scholars would rate Battuta a second to Marco Polo, often calling him the Islamic Marco Polo, as if the confinement of his studies within the world of Islam somehow fail to make them significantly vast and as if the variety of information he gathered did not far surpass that of Marco Polo.
Many hurdles must be jumped in any historical endeavor, yet prejudice and ethnocentricity should have no place with in those boundaries. History that was recorded before the 17th century, often seems like an impossible field of study. Because so little seems to are often only official documents of legal or sociological interest. Yet one genre of historical study that can be used as a rich source of information is travel writing. A historian must overcome the dangerous ideas that the world before the renaissance was some how dark and not well traveled aas this was simply not the case. The Global economy and information trades existed long before the computer chip and the jetliner. The misconception of countless unimportant live confined to a 50-mile radius is ridiculously well accepted myth about Europe before the 17th century. many western scholars think of as closed or even dark age, rapt with closed borders and people who rarely traveled beyond their place of birth. History as seen through the eyes of ancient travelers is a rich vision. Another special consideration is of coarse the ability for these travelers to have ventured beyond the borders of the western world.
Through writers like Ibn Battuta can be seen a world completely unlike our own. Rich in culture, language and regional identity, his work is similar to a more western idol Marco Polo. Though it can be argued that Polo and Battuta were different in that Polo sought the understanding of terra incognita,(6) or unknown lands while Battuta remained within the confines of the Muslim world, Dar al Islam or the Abode of Islam, (6) but they bridged challenges of language, culture and regional differences with much the same vigor.
Within the text and the accompanying literature there are at least two known situations where language was a major barrier for Battuta. "The Rihla gives no evidence that he could speak the Berber language of northern Morocco at all." (20) Much later in the text, while Battuta was traveling in Delhi, India he is asked by the Sultanate to take an appointed regional legal position and he admits that he has a very poor knowledge of the Persian language. (199-200) Each region also spoke different vernacular dialect and lived in a region with differing ethnic composition and on occasion differing majority rulers.
Ibn Battuta may not have gone out to seek leaving the confines of what he and the Muslim culture accepted as within its legal reach the obstacles of language, culture and regionalism could and in some places probably were close to insurmountable. The historian Dunn speaks as if the transitions between one regional culture and the next were for, Battuta mostly easly transversed sailing. There is also evidence within his Dunn's interpretations to give proof of at least hints that Battuta required a much greater level of patience and perseverance than Dunn immediately reports.
Though Marco Polo did not seek only out lands that were dominated and settled by Christians it is clear that he and Battuta transversed many of the same obstacles to develop even a remote observational demonstration of the developments of different civilizations. Simply because Battuta sought out the confines of his faith does not negate his considerable contribution to the understanding of the diversity of Islam. Within the work there are examples of nearly every type of climate that exists in the region, a fact that is reflected in culture and economy both important social issues concerning transitions.
Though Dunn does not feel these obstacles to be equal to those of Marco Polo, who is said to have been accepted within China only begrudgingly, (7) the reality of the ability of any one man to transversed so much distance and culture in one lifetime is commendable on both parts. When Dunn speaks of the distance within the confines of Battuta's travels he describes a vast territory, "In that sense Islamic civilization extended from the Atlantic coast of West Africa to Southeast Asia. Moreover, important minority communities of Muslims inhabited cities and towns in regions such as China, Spain, and tropical West Africa that were beyond the frontiers of Dar al-Islam." (7)
Though he may have lived in the company of Muslims he traveled to some of the same places as Polo and with the distinct advantage of sharing one very important tool of understanding, faith and also in this case law, as Islam was at the time the rule of law as well as the foundation of faith. "Ibn Battuta traveled to, and reports on, a great many more places than Marco did, and his narrative offers details, sometimes in incidental bits, sometimes in long disquisitions, on almost every conceivable aspect of human life in that age, from the royal ceremonial of the Sultan of Delhi to the sexual customs of women in the Maldive Islands to the harvesting of coconuts in South Arabia" (5) With a very personal note Battuta offers a great deal of real world knowledge both personal and private. "Moreover his story is far more personal and humanely engaging than Marco's" (5)
It seems that even Dunn would account for Battuta's somewhat discredited reputation as politically or ethnically motivated exclusion. "Some western writers, especially in an earlier time when the conviction of Europe's superiority over Islamic civilization was a presumption of historical scholarship, have criticized Ibn Battuta for being excessively eager to tell about the lives and pious accomplishments of religious savants and Sufi mystics when he might have written more about practical politics and prices." (5-6) The context of his audience and the purpose of his work dictated its content. Just as the prices and practical politics were of interest to Westerners the diversity of faith and even possible diversion from it was of interest to the men Battuta was writing for. "The Rihala, however, was directed to Muslim men of learning of the fourteenth century for whom such reportage, so recondite to the modern western reader was pertinent and interesting." (6)
With a clearer understanding of Islamic law, the case can be made that Ibn Battuta transgressed ideas that were as regional and specialized as were the laws of many other regional countries, cities or towns Ibn Battuta traveled through and wrote about at least eight different legal regions, or major legal schools, Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki in Damascus, Egypt, India In the Maldive islands and in North Africa, each requiring a different point of thought and also the Shafi'i legal school in India.. Each legal school focuses upon different passages of legal text within the Koran that is of particular import to them. When discussing with a regional leader the prospect of achieving an appointment to act as a legal advisor (jurisconsult) Battuta admits his differences with the ruling law school of the Delhi region. "He also admitted that as a Maghribi, he was trained in the Maliki madhhab, whereas almost all shari'a decisions in India were founded on the Hanafi school." (200)
This divergence of legal studies, alone can challenge a thinker to dismiss the idea that Marco Polo somehow offered a better cultural outlook of the regions he visited, well simply because he looked at what Europeans were interested in. The material was so foreign to Marco's audience that culture was probably not easily translated even on the very surface, nor would it have been easily understood even by Marco Polo? Yet, there is even more evidence that the challenges faced by Battuta far surpassed those of Marco because he traveled to countless countries and regions, some at least in the majority hostile to Muslims. It was in 1482 that the very rich and vast minority culture of Muslims upon the Iberian peninsula were driven from there homes, killed or converted to Catholicism by…[continue]
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