Be Inspired By These Iconic Islamic Travellers from The Past

Be Inspired By These Iconic Islamic Travellers from The Past

In the distant past, Muslim travellers have proven their adventurous nature and curious minds. Here are three that should always be remembered.

The stories of travellers like Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo who sailed the seas in search of new lands are well known. Their accomplishments are sung far and wide and tales of their achievements go down in history and yet, not as many people can tell you about the other interesting travellers and explorers that once made their way to distant lands.

It may come as a surprise to learn that leading up to and at the height of the influence of the Islamic civilization, a breathtakingly vast scope of scientific, philosophical and geographic contributions spread across the globe, tracing their origins to Muslim lands.

Islamic scholars and astronomy charted much of what we now know about outer space. Islamic scientists unravelled the mysteries of the world around with innovations and discoveries that are now common knowledge, and iconic Islamic travellers opened up previously undiscovered parts of the world.

Travelling and exploration were integral parts of the spirit of Islamic civilization. Historical records recount the expeditions of Muslim explorers as they fanned across distant lands, bringing their findings home.

In addition, many of these early Muslim travellers upheld strong moral/ethical values and made an impact on the inhabitants of the places they visited. They displayed respect, humility and curiosity as seekers of knowledge and truth. They gained the trust of the diverse civilizations and peoples that they interacted with, ultimately establishing a reputation for being talented and learned individuals. Unfortunately, however, their accomplishments have today largely remained hidden from common knowledge, drowned out by time and left out of history books and the mainstream media.

Here is a list of three of the most unforgettable Islamic travellers and their contributions to the world.

Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1368/69)

An illustration of Ibn Battuta in Jules Verne’s book, “Découverte de la Terre”

Easily considered one of the greatest travellers of premodern times, Ibn Battuta has earned his place among the best of the best.

Born in Tangier in 1304, Ibn Battuta was a Moroccan traveller, geographer, botanist and man of the law (also known as a Qadi or judge) who left his homeland at the age of 21 to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca. What followed was a series of extraordinary journeys spanning nearly three decades which brought him as far as India and China as well as to the Volga River valley and south to Tanzania.

Covering some 73,000 miles (117,000 km), these journeys spanned almost the entirety of the known Islamic world, extending from present-day North and West Africa to Pakistan, India, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia and more. Quite frankly, Ibn Battuta made Marco Polo look like a guy that needed to get out more.

The narratives of his travels are made up of unique accounts on Islamic and medieval history, diverse cultures during his time, significant events and adventures including being mugged, attacked by pirates and even being held hostage at one point. Ultimately, his body of work offers rich insight into the 14th-century.

Ibn Battuta was very brave and resilient and welcomed challenges as he set forth on his path. Through him, travellers can be reminded that the life of an explorer is one of risk and adventure that is best experienced when you throw yourself wholeheartedly out of your comfort zone.

Ibn Jubair (1145 – 1217)

A painting of Ibn Jubair by Guillermo Muñoz Vera

Ibn Jubair was born in Valencia and travelled widely throughout his life. After being forced by a ruler to drink seven cups of wine, Ibn Jubair was filled with remorse and decided to seek redemption by performing the Islamic duty of Hajj to Mecca.

He soon left the city which he resided in, Granada, with an associate and began an epic journey that led him to the eastern and western parts of the world. One of the strongest impressions of the explorer was made by the city of Alexandria in Egypt, which is where he saw the famed giant lighthouse. Ibn Jubair contributed to the records that described the sheer beauty and wonder of history’s civilizations and the landmarks created by them at the time.

Ibn Jubair teaches us to appreciate the experience. The world is a huge and ever-changing masterpiece. It would be wise to revel in the journey while you can.

Evliya Çelebi (1611 – 1682)

A statue of Evliya Celebi close to the Castle of Eger | Image credit: Globetrotter19

As one of the most celebrated Ottoman travellers, Evliya Çelebi was born in March 1611 in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). He journeyed for over 40 years throughout the territories of the Ottoman Empire and adjacent lands. He was the son of the chief court jeweller and was educated in a madrasah (Islamic college). He excelled as a Qur’an reciter and gained the favour of the reigning sultan, Murad IV. He also excelled in academia, eventually entering the Ottoman palace school and developing skills in Arabic, calligraphy and music.

Due to this, Evliya was soon granted patronage to begin travelling. Sometimes as an official government representative and sometimes on his own, he was able to embark on journeys that took him from Belgrade to Baghdad and from the Crimea to Cairo.

As a result, Evliya soon became known as a veteran explorer and compiled a series of works, the most popular being the Seyahatname (1898–1939; “Book of Travels”). This is also referred to as the Tarihi seyyah (“Chronicle of a Traveler”).

From the life of Evliya Çelebi, it isn’t difficult to see that knowledge is in fact power. The world is a school and travel is one of your greatest teachers. Don’t pass on opportunities to learn about different cultures, historical events or anything that comes your way as a traveller.

Continue the explorations

Even in the era that we live in today, travellers may be able to learn a thing or two about these interesting and inspirational characters.

About Author


Trying to get Rauf’s attention? Just say one word…roadtrip! Coming from an international background, he’s always felt at home in the midst of different people and cultures. Whether discovering historical gems or indulging in awesome food, he feels out of place if he’s not ‘out of place’ at least once a month. With a broad array of interest, Rauf likes to bask in knowledge, read, write, box, cook, look at art and have deep deep discussions on mind-altering topics.


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