Feeling nervous on the eve of a 14-hour flight to Delhi, with mobile phone and insurance, it is difficult to imagine the state of mind of a man leaving his home in Morocco for for 29 years of wandering. It is these that this abridged version of the "Rihla" provides. The world he roams was not entirely Islamic, but his fith, though perhaps the prism through which he saw and judged, was also his "meal ticket", and a not very profound grasp of Islamic jurisprudence seemed to gain him positions of power and influence wherever he went. Where he went was along the North African Coast to Egypt, thence to Asia Minor, the Mecca for the hadj, then along the Persion/Arab gulf, spending a lot of time in India, particularly at the court of Delhi, with forays into ceylon/Sri Lank, the Maldives, North India/Assam China, whence he returned to his native Morocco, before making a final trip into "black" (Sub-Saharan) Africa.
Among other things, this is a book about the generosity of Princes, for at each juncture, he was offered clothes and accommodation that enabled him to maintain his position and status.
There were at the time, two competing world visions, that of Europe and the Islamic world. However vast Europe may feel now, the late mediaeval Islamic world offered a more coherent space, and despite the limitations religion placed on cultural relativism, possibly a more open one.
The difference in Islam and the Middle East today and during the travellers time are apparent after reading this book, Battutah describes the philanthropy of all Middle Eastern governors and those in elite positions and their care and concern for those less fortunate. You gain a deep insight of a people and their culture, dress, food, and so on. Ibn Battutah also relates several interesting anecdotes of main figures in the book, these parts were the ones I found most interesting and made the book worthwile. As one other critic described, the book is a tad repetitive and does begin to bore you towards the end, nontheless, it is still worth a read, especially if you are a Muslim and would like to understand the differences in the Middle East today and then. Lost in translation? Most definitely not, Tim Mackintosh-Smith makes an exceptional effort in translating Battutah's original work and although I have not read the original Arabic works myself I confidently commend the Authors efforts.
This abridgment of a superb translation of one of the pearls of travel literature is wisely and wittily editted by a brilliant contemporary Arabist. Don't skip his footnotes. It is fascinating to observe the niceties of Arabic expression shining through the translation. It is amusing to observe that the cover picture was pinched from another jewel of medieval Arabic writing: 'The Maqamah' of Al-Hariri.