Ibn Battuta - he chronicled the medieval era ’ s great globalizing force: Islam.
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Ibn Battuta - he chronicled the medieval era’s great globalizing force: Islam
In 1325 a 21 year old legal scholar named Muhammad Ibn Battuta set off from his home in Tangier, Morocco, on a pilgrimageto the sacred city of Mecca. That journeywould last nearly 30 years , cover more that 100,000 km and become a celebrated account, the Rihla. By the time Ibn Battuta returned to Tangier, he had traversed – by foot, by donkey, by camel and by boat –nearly the entire length of the Muslim world and beyond on a quest for knowledgeand experience. And while that quest would ultimately take him as far as China, he mostly kept within the confines of what was known as Dar al-Islam, - that region of the world where Muslims ruled and Islamic law prevailed (North Africa, the Middle East and the Arabian peninsula ), with Mecca pulsing at its heart. However for him and his contemporaries, Dar al-Islam was more than a geographical destination, it was an ideal, an aspiration, a shared sense of consciousness held by a global collection of like-minded individuals who composed a single, unified and divine community: the ummah.
However it was the enormous diversity of the ummah scattered across these lands that so struck Ibn Battuta. They shared allegiance to the One God but had very different culture, customs, and worldview. This is still true of the Muslim world today. The ummah have over the centuries become a veritable cornucopia of contrasting beliefs, practices, and traditions among the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. At the same time, mass migration and the steady flow of people across national borders have dramatically extended the reach of the ummah far beyond anything that could be defined as Dar al-Islam today.
Nowadays we call this phenomenon globalization, but the world that Ibn Battuta experienced in his travels nearly 700 years ago was as glolbalized as the world we live in today. This was in large part due to the PaxIslamicathat existed under the rule of the Mongols, who had conquered nearly the whole of Central Asia, Russia and China. They encouraged the flow of goods and people across their vast territoryand allowed free movement along the Silk Road, and with this also cultural and religious interaction. As well as the expansion of trade routes medieval Islam enjoyed supremacy in the fields of science, trade, mathematics and architecture.
Later this golden age of Islam fell into decline. Colonialism, Western imperialism, corruption, civil wars, extremism and terrorism have led to its fragmentation. In the last century Muslims began to regard themselves less as members of a worldwide community than as citizens of individual nation-states. But now, as greater education and widespread access to new ideas and sources of information allow individuals the freedom and confidence to interpret Islam for themselves, there is a mass of disparate voices strugglingwith one another to define the future of what will soon be the largest religion in the world. As with any shouting match, the loudest voices.- the extremists and radicals – get heard. This results in the image in the Western media of Islam as a religion of violence and terrorism.
Yet something remarkable has been taking place in what is left of Dar al-Islam in the 21st century. A new kind of global identity is forming across North Africa and the Middle East as young people are beginning to rise up and demand a voicein their political and economic destinies. Though it has been more successful in transforming certain societies, (Tunisia and Egypt) than others (Libya and Syria), what is taking place across the lands that Ibn Battuta travelled centuries ago is not merely a nationalist phenomenon. This generation, which is intimately interconnected by new communication technologies like satellite television, social media and Internet, has formed a new kind of trans-national identity, one that cannot be contained by any ethnic, national or sectarian borders. It is an identity founded on young people’s shared ambition to free themselves from their corrupt and inefficient political, relgious and economic institutions and thus to return their culture and society to the days of glory it achieved in Ibn Battuta’s time.
Dar al-Islam once again signifies more than a geographic area. It has again become an ideal. The ummah, which has always been a virtual idea, is now quite literally virtual, with Muslim communities forming on the Internet, unconstrained by the boundaries of space and time.