The rihla of Ibn Battuta is one of the earliest accounts of many journeys that were made in the period of the fourteenth century. It narrates the tale of a great journey that was made by the famous traveler Ibn Battuta across the world in search of answers that were evasive at the time.
The rihla of Ibn Battuta bears high value as a primary source since it gives people the ability to gain insight into history which is considered as a dynamic unit. This is mainly because Ibn Battuta offers eyewitness accounts from the past eras that many scholars as well as historians struggle to recreate from less credible sources. Ibn Battuta provides the world of history with a wide-ranging outlook of the situation of the world in the fourteenth century.
Ibn Battuta’s rihla covers a wide array of topics ranging from the recovery of the Iranians as the literary principals of the Middle East region to the goings-on of the Venetian merchants, right up to the disintegration of the Byzantium. The manuscript also passes on a lot more information to readers regarding politics of the region as well as business affairs and religious matters.
Ibn Battuta exposes a world that was slowly coming out of the Mongol calamity whereby the tribes of Mongol had come together and conquered the region with an empire that had far reaching powers. These powers were felt all the way from China right up to Europe.
Ibn Battuta also teaches us about favoritism in trade by revealing the fact that Europeans had “long since eliminated Muslim shipping from the eastern Mediterranean” (139). Ibn Battuta can also teach the present day people that the 14th century was full of the divide and rule mentality. This is well elaborated when he stated that:
To the forested uplands in the northwest he (the Khan of Kipchak) sent his cavalry to collect annual tribute from the Christian princes of Russia and orchestrated their dynamic affairs to keep them weak and divided. He further states that in the Slavic southwest he intervened when it suited him in the affairs of the kingdom of Bulgaria. (161)
Most rulers went on killing sprees in a quest to conquer the world. This basically implies that there were blueprints or patterns of trade and commerce as well as regimes that were so much alike the world over, that it made no difference whether the topic revolved around Africa, Europe or China.
But most importantly, Ibn Battuta makes people understand clearly the commercial, cultural as well as political interactions that occurred at the time. Ibn Battuta rihla is useful as a primary source since it is a word of mouth account that exemplifies the issues that affected the world as a whole in the fourteenth century.
Some of the limitations that Ibn Battuta encountered as a primary source are the fact that for most of the period prior to the nineteenth century, translation proved to be a serious challenge that Ibn Battuta faced in the course of his travels. He was quite renowned among the Islamic scholars and in medieval history in general although no scholar had attempted to recount his tales to the world at large. The story would be a captivating one for a non-specialist who may have some curiosity in medieval Islam.
This would be very different from the modern day reader who is bound to get confused and find the scriptures unintelligible. If Ibn Battuta had been able to get his writings translated in the era that he travelled, almost everything that has been inevitably left out due to natural circumstances such as forgetting or overlooking an occurrence may have been documented and passed on to the world for everyone to read and understand.
Some other limitations are shown by the fact that Ibn Battuta returned from his journeys and recounted his tale from memory which made his word of mouth the sole source of information since he did not make entries of any sort into a book in the course of his journeys. Several instances were identified where he allegedly used hearsay from others to try and relay his journeys.
Apparently, Ibn Battuta had read passages from previous scriptures that he had come across on regions such as Mecca and Medina. Claims abound that the scriptures that he used were jotted by other travelers who had been to the regions and noted down their experiences which he just used. All of these allegations cast a shadow on doubt about the authenticity of his narrations.
A historian can attempt to bring the adventures of Ibn Battuta to the general reading community and construe it within the affluent, trans-hemispheric literary background of times gone by in the Islam dominated regions.
Historians can also minimize the flaws in Ibn Battuta’s rihla by ensuring that Ibn Battuta gets as famous as the other European travelers such as Marco Polo and enlightening the readers with a clearer and much more panoramic vista of the things that influenced the world, especially Africa and Eurasia in the period of the fourteenth century.
Dunn, Ross E. The Adventures of Ibn Battuta, a Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth
Century. California: University of California Press, 1986. Print.