History in Review
The Travels of Ibn Battuta in the Near East, Asia and Africa 1325-1354
Translated and Edited by Rev. Samuel Lee. (Dover Publications, Mineola, New York: 2004. Pg. xix, 243.) ISBN: 0-486-43765-5.
Reviewed by Sheldon Ztvordokov - March 3, 2005
The Travels of Ibn Battuta in the Near East, Asia and Africa 1325-1354 takes the reader on an unforgettable journey of epic proportion throughout most of East Africa, the Middle East and Asia. In 1326, Sheikh Ibn Battuta left his home in Tangier, Morocco, to go on the Hajj. The Hajj (Haj) is a religious pilgrimage taken by Muslims to the Holy city of Mecca. What began as a required religious rite soon turned into 75,000 mile journey of discovery that last nearly thirty years!
During Ibn Battuta journeys, he visited many lands, including Ceylon, India, China, Russia, Persia (Iraq), Byzantium, Egypt, Arabia, Sudan, and Java just to name a few. Ibn Battuta's accounts of his journeys are filled with cultural and historical details that provide unparalleled insights into the lands he visited and the peoples he met. His accounts also serves to provide a glimpse into the world view of the aristocratic and educated Medieval Muslims, as well as the advanced social and technological levels maintained throughout the Medieval Arab world which far exceeded in many regards, those maintained by Western Europeans during the same period.
Originally written in Arabic, Ibn Battuta's account of his journey was translated in English by the Reverend Samuel Lee, and the first English edition of this book was published in 1829. It has long served as essential reading for anyone with an interest in Islamic and Medieval Arab history. It serves as both a geography and history text, and as a sourcebook to the period. Throughout, excerpts from the original text, in Arabic, are included.
>From accounts of Hindu women committing Suttee (a form of ritual 'suicide' in which a widow is burned alive with the body of her dead husband) and accounts of the number of dead from the Black Death in Cairo to the honor paid to the Kings in various lands and the various forms of clothing or lack thereof of the people he met, all serve to make this a very hard book to put down. Part anthropological study, part travelogue, this book is the ultimate in real life adventure stories and one which provides an accurate, both geographically and socially, look at the people Ibn Battuta met and the lands he traveled in.
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