07 March 2005

Danny Reviews Ibn Battuta

Danny Yee reviews The Adventures of Ibn Battuta, by Ross Dunn (U. California Press, 2005):
Ibn Battuta set off from Tangier in 1325, visiting Egypt, Mecca, Syria, Iraq, Anatolia, the Central Asian steppe, India, the Maldives and possibly China before returning home nearly twenty five years later. After additional trips to Spain and West Africa he settled down and his story was turned into a Rihla (travel narrative) by Ibn Juzayy....

Dunn provides information about the people Ibn Battuta met and the places he visited and background on the broader history, society and culture. So the opening chapter "Tangier" looks at the geography of the city and the Straits of Gibraltar and the history of the Almohad dynasty, for example, while the chapter on Persia and Iraq begins by describing the impacts of the Mongols and Turks on Mesopotamia. More general material includes explanations of the different schools of Islamic law, Sufism, the role of Arabic, and other aspects of the common culture of the Islamic world.

The result makes The Adventures of Ibn Battuta almost a guide to the Islamic world in the second quarter of the 14th century. With the travel and biographical material providing an extra attraction -- Ibn Battuta's adventures get more exciting than the consumption of watermelon! -- it would make an excellent entry work for those with no background knowledge of Islam or Islamic history.

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