The pilgrimage to Mecca gave rise to a rich genre of travel writing

The first two weeks of the Muslim calendar month of Dhu’l-Hijjah are devoted to the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj. Pilgrims kept journals of their travels thus providing interesting details about everything from food and clothing to architecture. Hence, the pilgrimage to Mecca gave rise to a rich genre of travel writing.

(Image: Amazon)
(Image: Amazon)

One of the most interesting accounts is the Safarnama (Travelogue) of the Persian philosopher-poet Nasir Khusraw (1004–c. 1072), who journeyed to Fatimid capital  Cairo, through Nishapur, Rayy, Aleppo, and Jerusalem. From Cairo he made two pilgrimages to Mecca before returning to Central Asia as the chief Ismaili da’i (missionary) for the Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Mustansir (r. 1036–94).

The Arabic version of the pilgrimage-travelogue, the rihla, was developed by the Andalusian Ibn Jubair (1145-1217), who wrote a famous account of his two-year journey to Mecca that began in February 1183.

The Travels (Rihla) of Ibn Jubayr (Image: The British Museum)
The Travels (Rihla) of Ibn Jubayr (Image: The British Museum)

His narrative provides information “about the countries and cities through which he passes, and is an invaluable source of information about the political and social conditions of the times. It served as a model for many narratives, most importantly the rihla of the greatest of all Muslim travellers, the Moroccan Ibn Battuta (1304-c. 1370) whose journeys took him from his native Tangier to China to sub-Saharan Africa.”*

By the time the travelogue of Ibn Battuta’s journeys was written, the rihla genre had already become well established among the educated people.

*Malise Ruthven, Azim Nanji, Historical Atlas of the Muslim World, Harvard University Press, 2004

Compiled by Nimira Dewji

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