In stark contrast to the historic culture of Arab voyages across the world, Arabs in contemporary times prefer luxury and hassle-free travel.
In fact, long and arduous travel for religious pilgrimages or in pursuit of knowledge is central to the Muslim religion.
Here are some of the Arab travelers whose pursuit of knowledge had no limits:
1. Ahmad Ibn Fadlan
Thanks to the Iraqi traveler Ahmed Ibn Fadlan, Arabic literature includes detailed descriptions of the Vikings that date back to 921CE. His writings, which refer to traders from the North called Rus or Rusiyyah, resulted from his journey as the secretary of an ambassador from the Abbasid Caliph Al Muqtadir.
Traveling from Baghdad to the Volga Bulgars via the Black and the Caspian seas, the main purpose of the mission was never fulfilled, but it culminated in this remarkable account of the Vikings in a book called Mission to the Volga.
2. Abu Hassan Ibn Jubair
Heading in the opposite direction towards the East around 1183, Abu Hassan Ibn Jubair was another traveler whose two-year journey made a considerable impact on Arabic literary history.
His book Rehlah Ibn Jubair - or The Travels of Ibn Jubayr - marked the beginning of a new Arabic literature genre called Rihla, roughly translating to journey, and consisted of creative travelogues that include descriptions and anecdotes as well as personal narratives.
Coming from Al Andalus - present-day Spain - performing pilgrimage to the Holy city of Mekka was the main driver behind Ibn Jubair’s travels.
3. Muhammad al-Muqaddasi
The Palestinian Muhammad al-Muqaddasi is considered to be one of the most notable geographers across the region. The work that he produced in the second half of the 10th century continues to attract contemporary scholars today.
He is the author of the book Ahsan at-taqasim fi marifat al-aqalim - or The Best Divisions for Knowledge of the Regions. He also performed pilgrimage at Mekka twice and visited other cities in the region like Aleppo, Shiraz, and Khurasan.
4. Ahmad Ibn Majid
In the West, Ahmed Ibn Majid is best known as the guide that led Vasco da Gama to find his way from the east coast of Africa to India around the Cape of Good Hope.
The most notable of his work, the book Kitab Al-Fawaid fi Usul Ilm Al-Bahr wa El-Qawaid - or the Book of Useful Information on the Principles and Rules of Navigation - was written in 1490.
6. Abu al-Hasan al-Masudi
Abu al-Hasan al-Masudi, born in Baghdad in 871, is best known for making a systematic study of history with a perspective of geography, sociology, anthropology, and ecology. He also discovered the causes of earthquakes in 955 as well as the secrets of the Red Sea waters.
Over time, the historian and traveler became known as the Herodotus of the Arabs. While he produced over twenty works, only two survived; Muruj al-Dhahab wa Maadinal-Jawahis, or Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems, and Akhbar al-Saman, The History of Time.
7. Ibn Battuta
The judge, botanist, and geographer Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta was born in Tangiers in 1304. You probably heard this name numerous times before. In Dubai, the Ibn Battuta Mall revolves around his work and travels. He too began traveling with the purpose of performing pilgrimage at the city of Mekka in 1325.
The next three decades saw him travel as far away as India and China, the Volga River valley, southern Tanzania, and Sri Lanka. The distance he traveled makes the achievements of predecessors such as Marco Polo seem meager at best. He later compiled his great works in a book called Rihlah, or journey.
8. Faris Shidyaq
Faris Shidyaq was born in Keserwan, Lebanon in 1805 to a Christian Maronite family. He’s probably one of the most controversial writers on this list, denouncing the Maronite Patriarchs of Lebanon, converting to Protestantism and, in later years, adopting the religion of Islam.
The fact that this occurred against the backdrop of Lebanon’s sectarian conflict didn’t help his reputation. Shidyaq lived the majority of his life as an expatriate in other parts of the Arab World as well as in Europe. His travels are all documented in a book called Al-Saq Ala l Sad fima Huwa Al-Fariyaq.
Interestingly, Ibn-Hawqal was into reading books about voyages, explorations, travelogues, and the life of distant tribes and cultures from his childhood. No wonder he started his travel as soon as he got the chance.
In 943, the Baghdadi traveler embarked on a journey that took him to various countries in North Africa, Europe, West and Central Asia. Eventually, he recorded all the details of his trip in a book called A Book of Routes.