Pilgrimages gave rise to the genre of travel-writing

SafarnamaThe pilgrimage to Mecca gave rise to a rich genre of travel-writing. Pilgrims kept journals of their travels thus providing interesting details about everything from food and clothing to architecture. One of the most famous travel accounts is the Safarnama of Nasir-i Khusraw (d. ca.1072), who journeyed to the Fatimid capital, Cairo, from where he made two pilgrimages to Mecca before returning home to Central Asia as chief da’i (missionary) for the Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Mustansir billah (r. 1036-1094).

The Arabic version of the pilgrimage-travelogue, the rihla, was developed by the Andalusian Ibn Jubair (1145-1217), who wrote a famous account of the two-year journey he made to Mecca starting in February 1183. His narrative provides information about the countries and cities through which he passes, and is a valuable source of information about the political and social conditions of the times. It served as a model for many narratives, including that of the most famous of all Muslim travellers, the Moroccan Ibn Battuta (1304-c.1370) whose journeys took him from his native Tangier to China to sub-Saharan Africa. By the time the travelogue of Ibn Battuta’s journeys was written, the rihla genre had already become well established among the educated people.

Chao Jin Tu Ji. Aga Khan Museum
Chao Jin Tu Ji. Image: Aga Khan Museum

A prominent Chinese scholar of Islam, Ma Fuchu (d. 1874), well-known for his five-volume Chinese translation of the Qur’an and over thirty-five works on metaphysics and history in both Chinese and Arabic, also wrote a travelogue, the Chao Jin Tu Ji (Record of the Pilgrimage Journey).

Ma Fuchu left China with a group of Muslim merchants, travelling overland and by riverboat to Rangoon, where he boarded a steamship to take him to the Arabian Peninsula. His travelogue recounts his pilgrimage from China to Mecca and then to Cairo, where he studied at the Al-Azhar University, subsequently travelling throughout the Ottoman Empire before returning to China.

Aga Khan Museum
Hajj certificate, Aga Khan Museum

Pilgrims were often given illustrated certificates to mark the completion of the pilgrimage. This certificate depicts the Masjid al-Haram with the Ka’ba in the centre. The Persian text below indicates that the certificate belonged to Bibi Khanum who required the services of Sayyid Ali Wali to perform the hajj; Sayyid Ali guaranteed the performance of the hajj rites.

Persian was the literary language of many Indian Muslims; some drafts men may have been working ‘on site’ during the pilgrimage.1

1Spirit & Life Catalogue, Masterpieces of Islamic Art from the Aga Khan Museum Collection, Published by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture
Malise Ruthven, Azim Nanji, Historical Atlas of the Muslim World, Harvard University Press, 2004
Michael Dillion, “Islam in China” The Muslim Almanac, Edited by Azim A. Nanji, Detroit, Gale Research Inc.,1996

Compiled by Nimira Dewji

Author: ismailimail

Civil society media.   Find Ismailimail blog on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

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