Ibn Battuta's route in Arabia "Our stay at al-Madina ... lasted four days. We spent each night in the holy mosque, where everyone [engaged in pious exercises]; some, having formed circles in the court and lit a quantity of candles, and with book-rests in their midst [on which were placed volumes] of the Holy Koran were reciting from it; some were intoning hymns of praise to God; others were occupied in contemplation of the Immaculate Tomb (God increase it in sweetness); while on every side were singers chanting in eulogy of the Apostle of God. This is the custom by all during those blessed nights, and they also bestow large sums in alms upon the 'sojourners' [pilgrims] and the needy." [Gibb, p. 182.]


The Hajj

The Hajj caravan was probably several thousand people. Each person was responsible for his own animal to ride, supplies, and money for expenses. Because Ibn Battuta was still a poor and unemployed pilgrim, he welcomed support and whatever charity came his way. A law professor "hired camels for me and gave me traveling provisions, etc., and money in addition, saying to me, 'It will come in useful for anything of importance that you may be in need of' - may God reward." And so he finally began his hajj.

The distance from Damascus to Medina was about 820 miles, and the caravan normally covered it in 45 to 60 days. Even though the caravan was protected by the power of the Mamluk army, still there were real dangers.

According to Dunn: "Some pilgrims invariably perished along the way... from exposure, thirst, flash flood, epidemic, or even attack by local nomads, who seldom hesitated to disrupt the Sacred Journey for what it might bring them in plunder. In 1361, 100 Syrian pilgrims died of extreme winter cold; in 1430, 3000 Egyptians perished of heat and thirst." [Dunn, p. 67 referring to 'Ankawi.]

scene from life of sufi scholar

This image depicts a scene from an account of the life of the 8th century scholar and Sufi leader,Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, who lived in Medina. 

Without any serious incidents, the caravan arrived at Medina, City of the Apostle of God - a little island of fertility in the desert. In 622 A.D. Muhammad and a small group of followers retreated from a hostile Mecca. His flight to Medina - the Hijira - would mark the beginning of the Muslim calendar. When the Prophet died in 632, his grave in Medina became a site of pilgrimage second only to the Kaaba itself.

The Mosque of the Prophet housed the sacred tomb of Muhammad as well as two of his successors, caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar, and that of his daughter Fatimah. Muslims were not required to visit Medina, but because of its closeness to Mecca there was a steady stream of pilgrims to Medina.

The caravan camped outside the city walls.

Ibn Battuta says: "Our stay at al-Madina ... lasted four days. We spent each night in the holy mosque, where everyone [engaged in pious exercises]; some, having formed circles in the court and lit a quantity of candles, and with book-rests in their midst [on which were placed volumes] of the Holy Koran were reciting from it; some were intoning hymns of praise to God; others were occupied in contemplation of the Immaculate Tomb (God increase it in sweetness); while on every side were singers chanting in eulogy of the Apostle of God. This is the custom by all during those blessed nights, and they also bestow large sums in alms upon the 'sojourners' [pilgrims] and the needy." [Gibb, p. 182.]

Then traveling for several more days and visiting more holy sites, they came close to Mecca.

"We set out again at night from this blessed valley [called Marr], with hearts full of gladness at reaching the goal of their hopes, rejoicing in their present condition and future state, and arrived in the morning at the City of Surety, Mecca (God Most High ennoble her)." [Gibb, p. 187.]

This is a picture of the interior of the burial place of the Prophet, in Medina.

Inside Mecca - National Geographic

This video presents the history of Mecca and the Kaaba, and explains Muslim religious practices. It is set to begin at 13:32, with the description of the Hajj.