I’ve been on a search for a while now for an Islamic theology of travel. I’ve written before that it doesn’t surprise me that such a thing isn’t prominent in Islamic writings that I’ve come across. But I’m sure there are individuals and movements who are bucking that trend these days and holding the exploration of this world (for pleasure) in tension with the “other-worldly” existence of many of such theologies. And so I’ve never been happy to rest with such (incomplete) short thoughts from my own ponderings.
In Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1368) we have a Muslim traveller who is declared to have travelled around 117,000 kilometres – far above the figures of other famous travellers like Marco Polo or Zheng. Here, I got my hopes up and quickly started investigating whether this would give me my much-awaited Islamic theology of travel. But like many accounts of history, they don’t always give you what you want them to! Firstly, there are questions about some of his adventures and whether they happened. And secondly, other say his accounts seem devoid of much mention of why he was travelling, apart from the mention of pilgrimage to Mecca a few times.
Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s documentary (on BBC) and book certainly make easier reading that Ibn’s own original accounts, but also provide a rather selective Western take on his life.
And so I keep my eyes open and continue onwards in my journey towards an Islamic theology of travel. I’ll be reading Ibn Battuta myself over the next few months and may come back to him if it yields anything of interest. In the meantime, do send on any suggestions!