Knowledge, Culture, and Positionality: Analysis of Three Medieval Muslim Travel Accounts

Article excerpt


This study provides an analysis of al-rihla account of three Medieval Muslim travelers: Nasir Khasraw (1004-1077), Ibn Jubayr (1145-1217), and Ibn Battuta (1304-1378). The three travelers were selected from different eras, provinces, cultural backgrounds, and schools of Islamic thought and philosophy in Medieval Muslim society. This study intended to answer two questions: 1) what do the three travelers report about their al-rihla experiences? And 2) what factors influenced the three travelers' experiences of al-rihla as Muslim travelers in search for knowledge? The Holistic Content analysis method in Narrative Analysis was selected to analyze the data. The data analysis resulted in six themes: 1) hajj, the Pilgrimage to Mecca was conducted as, a religious obligation, repentance for sins, and a physical and spiritual path in seeking God's/Allah's forgiveness; 2) the theme of seeking knowledge in Islam is strongly associated with hajj; 3) place is a significant theme; 4) emphasis on Islamic principles applied into practice; 5) pride in religious identity as a Muslim; 6) the peaceful co-existence of Muslims, Christians, and Jews was recounted in the three travel accounts. The study concludes that al-rihla accounts of the three Medieval travelers were strongly influenced by three major factors: beliefs about knowledge/seeking knowledge in Islam, culture and cultural identity, and issues of power and positionality.

Key Words: Al-rihla; Medieval Muslim Travelers (MMT); Hajj; Place and space; Positionality


The period between 750 and 1258 C.E. in Medieval Islamic history is characterized as the Golden Age of Muslim civilization during which four Islamic dynasties were established: the Umayyads (756-1031), who designated Damascus as their capital, the Abbasids (750-1258), who selected Baghdad as their capital, the separate Umayyad dynasty in Spain/Al-Andulus, who used Cordoba as their capital, and, finally, the Fatimid dynasty in Egypt and northwest Africa (909-1171) (Turner, 1995). The Caliphs in Baghdad and Damascus sponsored the translation of Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit manuscripts in philosophy, medicine, and other scientific works into Arabic (Turner, 1 995). Within two centuries, Turner asserted that the "major works of Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, Hippocrates, Galen, Ptolemy, and many other" (p. 29) and were made available to Muslim scholars. As a result, great libraries were established and learning centers flourished including religious centers of scholarly learning in Baghdad, Cairo, Nishapur, Hijaz (Medina), and Fez. A science academy was established at both Cordoba in al-Andalus and at Toledo, and in the Nizamyya and Dar-al-Hikma universities in Baghdad. Advances in knowledge occurred in a myriad of fields, including philosophy, social sciences, physics, mathematics, medicine, alchemy, geometrical sciences, astronomy, religious science, optics, and metaphysics.

New educational theories and philosophies were developed at the instructional level by Medieval Muslim thinkers including theologians, philosophers, jurists, litterateurs, hadith scholars, and scientists (Günther, 2006). And as a result of the advancement in educational theories, philosophies, and applications of the concepts of talab al- 'Um and talib al- 'Um, the Medieval Muslim civilization became a global center of knowledge not only for Muslim scholars but also for scholars from all over the world. Thus, travel in search for knowledge became a phenomenon and a "normative feature of Medieval Muslim education" (Gellens, 1990, p. 55).

This study intends to analyze three selected Medieval Muslim travelers' accounts to answer two questions: 1) what do the three travelers report about their alrihla experiences? 2) what factors influenced the three travelers' experiences of al-rihla as Muslim travelers in search for knowledge?


Knowledge in Islam is of two kinds: fard ain and fard kifaya. …


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