The Adventures of Ibn Battuta:
A Muslim Traveler of the 14th Century

Ross E. Dunn

University of California Press 2005 [1986]
A book review by Danny Yee © 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.

The Adventures of Ibn Battuta follows Ibn Battuta's travels chronologically, but doesn't stay narrowly focused on the details of his career. It offers extensive background information and is an approachable introduction to the world of classical Islam as well as a lively and entertaining travel narrative.

Dunn uses direct quotations from and simple summaries of the Rihla, but he also works in information from other sources to produce an account that is comprehensible and satisfying to a modern reader. (References and discussions of details are relegated to chapter endnotes.) And he engages in speculation about events and thoughts not covered by the Rihla, but without any fictionalisation or dramatisation.

"He spent two weeks with Qutb al-Din in Isfahan, enjoying the preserved watermelon and other fruits of the Isfahan plain laid out at the zawiya's table. At this point in history the city was not the noble capital it had been under the Seljuk Turks and would be again under the Shi'i Safavids. Because of a sad inclination among the inhabitants to engage in violent factional rows, coupled with the turmoil of the early Mongol years, the city was only beginning to recover some of its earlier vigor. Perhaps dissatisfied with what the town had to show him of Persian culture, Ibn Battuta decided to travel another 300 miles south to Shiraz, chief city of the province of Fars."

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.

March 2005

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%T The Adventures of Ibn Battuta
%S A Muslim Traveler of the 14th Century
%A Dunn, Ross E.
%I University of California Press
%D 2005 [1986]
%O paperback, 2nd edition, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0520243854
%P 359pp