RANDOM THOUGHTS: Ibn Battutah and Shaikh Murshidi (Part I) - BY: Dr. A.Q. Khan

Ibn Battutah and Shaikh Murshidi
Part I
Dr. A.Q. Khan


Today the story of a legendary Arab traveler – Ibn Battutah – a globe trotter, holy man and Wahiullah. The Arabs have a good tradition of keeping correct and reliable records of historical episodes. Ibn Battutah’s travelogue is an instance of this. Ibn Marzug of Tlemcen (died 1379), Grand Mufti of Cairo, wrote about Ibn Battutah: “I know of no person who has journeyed through so many lands as Ibn Battutah did; and he was withal generous and well-doing.”

The following text is a free rendering from The Travels of Ibn Battutah, edited by Tim Mackinstosh-Smith (Picador, London). Ibn Battuah was born in 1304, a native of North Africa (Tangier) but not ethnically an Arab, though culturally he was a perfect Arab Muslim. He was a Sunni Muslim and a Qazi (judge) by profession. His full name was Shams al-Din Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Battutah al-Lawati al-Tanji. Shams al-Din (sun of religion) is a typical name given to scholars, mainly of the Islamic East. His travels extended from Africa to Asia, via the Volga to beyond Zanzibar. His travelogue is packed with people and events, short on landscapes and adverbs; but enormous in content and seen with the close, clear gaze of a miniaturist; diverse, yet God-fearing. Here follows one of the stories.

One day in the spring of 1350, a gathering took place in a garden near Granada. The owner of the garden, a scholar of Islamic Law, had invited several notables from the capital to meet two guests. One was a poetical peasant who composed verses in the crispest classical Arabic. The other was a Moroccan from Tangier (Ibn Battutah), recently returned from the East. “I was with them in that garden” recalled a young writer a few years later. “Shaikh Abu Abdallah Ibn Battutah delighted us with the stories of his travels. I took down from him the names of famous people he had met and we profited greatly from him.” Granada was the last Moorish stronghold in Spain at the time. Most of Spain had already been retaken by the Christians. Ibn Battutah told us about a world far flung but close-knit. In China he had heard a verse of Sa’di, the poet of Shiraz at the other end of Asia, sung on the river at Hangzhou. Not far away in Fuzhou he had bumped into a man from Ceuta, a day’s journey from his own home town of Tangier; after leaving Spain, he would stay with the man’s brother south of the Atlas Mountains. Even in embattled Granada he met natives of Anatolia, Central Asia and India. He dictated his travels to others to write down. A few years after that meeting in the garden, the Sultan of Morocco commissioned Ibn Juzayy – the young writer who had enjoyed hearing Ibn Battutah’s tales – to take down the traveller’s memoirs. The result was Tehfat al-nuzzar fi ghara’ib al’amsar wa aja’ib al’asfar (Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling – the Rihlah or Travels for short). It covered travels over an area of approx. 75,000 miles.

Ibn Battutah started his journey on 2nd Rajab, 725 AH (1324 AD). On the 5th April, 1326 he reached Alexandria, During his stay there he heard tales of a Wahiullah, Shaikh Abu Abdullah al-Murshidi who was living in retreat in the village of Munyat Bani Murshidi. There he was visited by amirs, sultans, notables, ministers, etc. every day and he would serve them all food, each to his choice and desire, even out-of-season fruits. Ibn Battutah set out from Alexandria to seek out this sheikh and travelled to Fawwa, a town of great many orchards and a remarkable supply of valuable products. In it is the grave of saintly Shaikh Abu’l-Najah, a seer of that country. The retreat of Shaikh Abu Adallah al-Murshidi lies close to the town but separated from it by a canal. Ibn Battutah arrived at the cell of the Shaikh before the hour of afternoon prayer. When he entered the Shaikh’s cell, the latter rose to meet him, embraced him and called for food. He was dressed in a black woolen tunic. When the hour of the afternoon prayer arrived, he set Ibn Battutah in front as prayer leader and did so on every occasion while Ibn Battuah stayed with him. While preparing for sleep, he said: “Go up to the roof of the cell and sleep there,” for this was during the summer heat. On the roof was a straw mattress and a leather mat, vessels for ritual ablutions, a jar of water and a drinking cup. That night while sleeping, Ibn Battutah dreamt he was on the wing of a huge bird which flew in the direction of the qiblah, then made towards the Yaman, then eastwards, then went towards the south and finally made a long flight towards the east, alighting in some dark and greenish country, where he was left. He was astonished at the dream and thought to himself, “If the Shaikh shows me he knows of my dream, then he is all they say that he is.” After the afternoon prayers, the Shaikh revealed that he had knowledge of the dream. He said: “You shall make the Pilgrimage to Mecca and visit the tomb of the Prophet at al-Madinah, then you shall travel through the lands of al-Yaman and al-Iraq, the land of the Turks and the land of India. You will stay there for a long time and you will meet there my brother, Dilshad of India, who will rescue you from a danger into which you will fallen.” He then gave Ibn Battutah travelling provisions of some small cakes and silver coins and bade him farewell.

In Part II we will skip Ibn Battutah’s many travels through various countries on his way to India and tell about his meeting there with the brother of Shaikh Abu Abdallah al-Murshidi (his saviour).

Posted on May 01, 18 | 5:54 pm