Battutah was within striking distance of Mecca. In September of 1326, he joined a caravan headed for Hejaz, the province hosting the holiest sites of Islam, in the cities of Medina and Mecca. The pilgrims travelled past Bosra (in present-day Syria), Al-Karak and Ma’an (both in Jordan), Tabuk, Al-Ukhaydir and Al-Ula (all in northwestern Saudi Arabia). It was a most exhausting task, having to trek through miles of sun-baked, windswept, water-less desert. Ibn Battutah’s joy knew no bounds when he made it to the city of Medina. Like a true pilgrim, he revels in the experience:

“Our stay at al-Madinah the Illustrious on this journey lasted four days. We spent each night in the holy mosque, where everyone engaged in pious exercises; some having formed circles in the court and lit a quantity of candles, and with book-rests in their midst on which were placed volumes of the Holy Qur’an, were reciting from it; some were intoning hymns of praise to God; others were occupied in contemplation of the Immaculate Tomb (God increase it in sweetness); while on every side were singers chanting in eulogy of the Apostle of God (God bless and give him peace). This is the custom observed by all visitors to al-Madinah during those blessed nights, and they also bestow large sums in alms upon the ‘sojourners’ and the needy.”

From Medina it was onto Mecca. It too was described in glowing terms, for its sacred geography and worldly delights. The citizens of Mecca received high praise, for their charitable disposition and dignified bearing:

“The Meccans are elegant and clean in their dress, and as they mostly wear white their garments always appear spotless and snowy. They use perfume freely, paint their eyes with kohl, and are constantly polishing their teeth with twigs of green arak-wood. The Meccan women are of rare and surpassing beauty, pious and chaste. They too make much use of perfumes, to such a degree that a woman will spend the night hungry and buy perfume with the price of her food. They make a practice of performing a circuit of the House on the eve of each Friday, and come in their finest apparel, and the Sanctuary is saturated with the smell of their perfume. When one of these women goes away, the odour of the perfume clings as an effluvium to the place after she has gone.”

Another delightful aside from Ibn Battutah. Now that I have brought him to the place he was so keen to reach, I shall give him a break. No more of the Berber traveller for a month. He will plod on through Iraq, Persia, Arabia, East Africa, Anatolia and Central Asia before entering the subcontinent. That is where we shall join him again.

Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and shows a 17th century Ottoman tile depicting the Great Mosque of Mecca. Created in Iznik (Turkey), it has three lines of Arabic from the Qur’an exhorting Muslims to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. The tile gives a bird’s-eye view of the Great Mosque, with the Ka’ba in the centre. It was acquired by Henry Walters and has been preserved by the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland (USA).

Reference: The Travels of Ibn Battutah (edited by Tim Mackintosh-Smith)