In analyzing the legacy of the 14th century Islamic traveler Ibn Battuta, it is impossible to ignore the impact that his voyages in the 1350-60s had on the social and cultural devlopment of the Mali Empire and its neigbors, but even more so the significance to the upper classes living in his natice Morocco and in the Arabic birthplace of Islam, who would grow to have great power and prestige across Africa and the East.
Several decades after earlier voyages to East Africa, Ibn Battuta made one of his last major voyages – a journey south to the Niger River, then west to the southwest border of modern-day Mali, then back up the Niger through Timbuktu, before finally returning home through the Tuat desert, as shown in Appendix I. (Hamdun and King 6). The reason for his visit is unkown, but some historians have theorized that he was on a diplomatic appointment from the Moroccan sultan (Dunn 295). Though he was a native of nearby Morocco, he had traveled mostly in Arabia and had not ventured southwards until now. In fact, Ibn Battuta was rather shocked at some cultural practices found in Mali, which were directly contrary to his culture’s interpretation of Sharia law. In his Rihla,1 he writes that their women are, “not modest in the presence of men, they do not veil themselves in spite of their perseverance in the prayers.” However, he was pleased overall with the region and remained there for approxmately eight months.
Part of the reason for such a deviance from strict Sharia law may have been that Mali had a tighter unification of mosque and state. Levtzion and Pouwels claim in their History of Islam in Africa that, “under non-Muslim rulers, Muslims were not obliged to pe...
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...the simple fact that Ibn Battuta had to recall details from only a few years back regarding Mali as he dictated the Rihla to his secretary and scribe.
In conclusion, Ibn Battuta’s compelling, yet arguably biased, account of his jounrey through West Africa in his Rihla painted an incredibly influential portrait of the region and the Mali Empire to those regions that would grow to dominate much of Africa as the postclassical period continued. His narrative piqued the interest of his readers and led to the forging of deeper economic and political ties with the Muslim kingdoms and empires there. They established a manner of characterization and categorization of Africans by the Muslim world that can still be seen today. Most importantly, they permanently opened a vital link – intellectual, cultural, and economic – between West Africa, Northeast Africa, and the Arab world.
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