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Excerpt from Ibn Battuta's Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354

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This source comes from the travel book of Ibn Battuta (1304-1369), a Moroccan Berber scholar and explorer. He began his travels with the pilgrimage to Mecca expected of observant Muslims, and then continued on to Persia, down the east coast of Africa to Kilwa on the Swahili Coast, back north through Syria to the Central Asian steppes, then south again to India, where he became an official of the sultan ruling there. The Delhi sultan sent him as a diplomat to China, and although he was shipwrecked he did make it to the Yuan emperor’s court in Beijing, with stops in Bengal, southern China, and various Southeast Asian ports on the way. He returned home to Morocco by way of Mecca, stopped for a bit, and then set out by camel caravan across the Sahara desert to Mali. When he returned from that trip the sultan of Morocco gave him a scribe, and the two together composed a travel book in Arabic, whose formal title reads A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling. The book relied on memory rather than written notes and mixed in stories of foreign lands from the works of earlier travelers, so there has been some skepticism about it, but most historians think that he was actually in most of the places he said he was. This particular excerpt concerns his travels in southwest Asia and eastern Africa to Damascus, Basra, Mogadishu, Mombasa, and Kilwa.

This source is a part of the Trade and Religion in the Indian Ocean Network, 1100-1500 teaching module.

Ibn Battuta, Travels in Asia and Africa, 1325-1354

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When I came to Damascus a firm friendship sprang up between the Malikite professor Nur ad-Din Sakhawi and me, and he besought me to breakfast at his house during the nights of Ramadan. After I had visited him for four nights I had a stroke of fever and absented myself. He sent in search of me, and although I pleaded my illness in excuse he refused to accept it. I went back to his house and spent the night there, and when I desired to take my leave the next morning he would not hear of it, but said to me "Consider my house as your own or as your father's or brother's." He then had a doctor sent for, and gave orders that all the medicines and dishes that the doctor prescribed were to be made for me in his house. I stayed thus with him until the Fast-breaking when I went to the festival prayers and God healed me of what had befallen me. Meanwhile, all the money I had for my expenses was exhausted. Nur ad-Din, learning this, hired camels for me and gave me travelling and other provisions, and money in addition, saying "It will come in for any serious matter that may land you in difficulties"--may God reward him ! …
The inhabitants of Basra possess many excellent qualities; they are affable to strangers and give them their due, so that no stranger ever feels lonely amongst them. They hold the Friday service in the mosque of 'Ali mentioned above, but for the rest of the week it is closed. I was present once at the Friday service in this mosque and when the preacher rose to deliver his discourse he committed many gross errors of grammar. In astonishment at this I spoke of it to the qadi and this is what he said to me: "In this town there is not a man left who knows anything of the science of grammar." Here is a lesson for those who will reflect on it--Magnified be He who changes all things! This Basra, in whose people the mastery of grammar reached its height, from whose soil sprang its trunk and its branches, amongst whose inhabitants is numbered the leader whose primacy is undisputed--the preacher in this town cannot deliver a discourse without breaking its rules! …
On leaving Zayla we sailed for fifteen days and came to Maqdasha [Mogadishu], which is an enormous town. Its inhabitants are merchants and have many camels, of which they slaughter hundreds every day [for food]. When a vessel reaches the port, it is met by sumbuqs, which are small boats, in each of which are a number of young men, each carrying a covered dish containing food. He presents this to one of the merchants on the ship saying "This is my guest," and all the others do the same. Each merchant on disembarking goes only to the house of the young man who is his host, except those who have made frequent journeys to the town and know its people well; these live where they please. The host then sells his goods for him and buys for him, and if anyone buys anything from him at too low a price, or sells to him in the absence of his host, the sale is regarded by them as invalid. This practice is of great advantage to them.
We stayed there [in Mogadishu] three days, food being brought to us three times a day, and on the fourth, a Friday, the qadi and one of the wazirs brought me a set of garments. We then went to the mosque and prayed behind the [sultan's] screen. When the Shaykh came out I greeted him and he bade me welcome. He put on his sandals, ordering the qadi and myself to do the same, and set out for his palace on foot. All the other people walked barefooted. Over his head were carried four canopies of coloured silk, each surmounted by a golden bird. After the palace ceremonies were over, all those present saluted and retired …
We stayed one night in this island [Mombasa], and then pursued our journey to Kulwa, which is a large town on the coast. The majority of its inhabitants are Zanj, jet-black in colour, and with tattoo marks on their faces. I was told by a merchant that the town of Sufala lies a fortnight's journey [south] from Kulwa and that gold dust is brought to Sufala from Yufi in the country of the Limis, which is a month's journey distant from it. Kulwa is a very fine and substantially built town, and all its buildings are of wood. Its inhabitants are constantly engaged in military expeditions, for their country is contiguous to the heathen Zanj.
The sultan at the time of my visit was Abu'l-Muzaffar Hasan, who was noted for his gifts and generosity. He used to devote the fifth part of the booty made on his expeditions to pious and charitable purposes, as is prescribed in the Koran, and I have seen him give the clothes off his back to a mendicant who asked him for them. When this liberal and virtuous sultan died, he was succeeded by his brother Dawud, who was at the opposite pole from him in this respect. Whenever a petitioner came to him, he would say, "He who gave is dead, and left nothing behind him to be given." Visitors would stay at his court for months on end, and finally he would make them some small gift, so that at last people gave up going to his gate. …

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Excerpt from Ibn Battuta's Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354 in World History Commons,