Across North Africa to Cairo: 1325

"My departure from Tangier, my birthplace, took place ... with the object of making the Pilgrimage to the Holy House [at Mecca] and of visiting the tomb of the Prophet [in Medina], God's richest blessing and peace be on him..." [Gibb, p. 8]

Western North Africa (The Mahgrib)

Ibn Battuta was born in Tangier, Morocco into a family of Muslim legal scholars in 1304. He studied Muslim law as a young man. Then in 1325, he left Tangier to make a pilgrimage to Mecca (in Islam this pilgrimage is called the "hajj.") He was 21 years old and eager for more learning and more adventure. Travel was dangerous by land and by sea. Ibn Battuta traveled overland along the coast of North Africa (the Maghrib) towards Egypt, at first alone riding a donkey.

After riding through the mountainous interior of Morocco, Ibn Battuta arrived at the busy trading city of Tlemcen. From there he set off onto a pilgrimage trail through an area where few people lived. He could have traveled through the green-brown valleys for several days at a time without encountering any towns, only Berber camps and groups of camel herders. Finally he caught up with a caravan of other travelers including pilgrims like himself. Some of them walked, others rode horses, mules, donkeys, or camels.

The pilgrims in this caravan were an enthusiastic group and were excited about their hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). The trip was a grand study tour of the Dar al-Islam (World of Islam). For Ibn Battuta it was an opportunity to acquire knowledge of religion and law, and meet with other Muslim scholars. Ibn Battuta must have thought about getting a fine job a qadi (an Islamic judge) in some part of Dar al-Islam after gaining certificates of learning from great scholars of his time.

The travelers arrived at the port of Algiers where they camped outside the city walls waiting for other pilgrims to join the caravan. Then they continued on through forests of oak and cedar, mountains and valleys before reaching the city of Bijaya. Here Ibn Battuta became ill, but he pushed on anxious to get on with his trip. He was advised to stay and rest, but he insisted on continuing:

"If God decrees my death, then my death shall be on the road, with my face set towards ...[Mecca]." [Gibb, p. 11]

"My departure from Tangier, my birthplace, took place ... with the object of making the Pilgrimage to the Holy House [at Mecca] and of visiting the tomb of the Prophet [in Medina], God's richest blessing and peace be on him. I set out alone having neither fellow-traveler in whose companionship I might find cheer, nor caravan whose party I might join, but swayed by an overmastering impulse within me and a desire long-cherished in my bosom to visit these illustrious sanctuaries. So I braced my resolution to quit all my dear ones, female and male, and forsook my home as birds forsake their nests. My parents being yet in the bonds of life, it weighed sorely upon me to part from them, and both they and I were afflicted with sorrow at this separation." [Gibb, p. 8]

Gifts in Constantine

The next city they reached was Constantine where Ibn Battuta met the city's governor who gave him a gift of money and a fine woolen cloak (to replace his own which was in shreds). This would be the first of many offerings which were from pious Muslims who were performing their religious duty of charity to the poor, orphans, prisoners, fighters in holy wars, and travelers. These gifts were often considerable, and would make Ibn Battuta a fairly wealthy individual at times, even though he would eventually lose everything.

Ibn Battuta's little party "traveled light with the utmost speed, pushing on night and day without stopping" for fear of attack by Arab rebels. Ibn Battuta was once more ill, so ill that he had to be tied to his saddle to keep from falling off.


Next the group of travelers entered Tunis, a city of about 100,000 - a major city of art and learning. It was also a shipping port of north African products: wool, leather, hides, cloth, wax, olive oil, and grain. Tunis also was a market for goods from sub-Saharan Africa: gold, ivory, slaves, and ostrich feathers. It contained splendid mosques and palaces, public gardens, and colleges. At this point in his trip, Ibn Battuta tells us he was rather homesick:

"I felt so sad at heart on account of my loneliness that I could not restrain the tears that started to my eye, and wept bitterly. But one of the pilgrims, realizing the cause of my distress, came up to me with a greeting and friendly welcome, and continued to comfort me with friendly talk until I entered the city..." [Gibb, p. 13]

Ibn Battuta spent about two months in Tunis. Here he stayed in a madrasa (college or school) dormitory and met with the scholars and judges in high positions.

Finally he left Tunis in a larger caravan of pilgrims and Ibn Battuta was even appointed qadi (Islamic judge and settler of disputes) for the hajj caravan - quite an accomplishment for the young traveler! They were accompanied by government troops of horsemen and archers to protect them from the Arab rebels.

A Marriage Contract Begun, Ended - and a New Marriage

Along the way across Libya, Ibn Battuta entered into a marriage contract with the daughter of a Tunisian official in the pilgrim caravan. When he reached Tripoli, the woman was presented to him. However, Ibn Battuta had a dispute with his father-in-law, and returned the girl. Not discouraged, he then wed the daughter of another pilgrim, a scholar from Fez. He put on a marriage feast that lasted the whole day! Nothing else is said about his wives, which often enter and then vanish from his story. As historian Ross Dunn writes, "In the Islamic society of that age, a man's intimate family relations were regarded as no one's business but his own, and married Muslim women, at least in the Arabic-speaking lands, lived out their lives largely in seclusion." [Dunn, p. 39]

Ibn Battuta's caravan continued across the coastal Libyan countryside. Near Tripoli a band of camel robbers attacked the caravan waving their swords, but "the Divine Will diverted them and prevented them from doing us harm..."

The Five Pillars of Islam are the five obligations that every Muslim must satisfy in order to live a good and responsible life according to Islam.

  1. Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith
  2. Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day
  3. Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy
  4. Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan
  5. Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca