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Eye of Riyadh
Eye of Riyadh
Culture & Education | Tuesday 8 January, 2019 2:05 pm |

India through the Eyes of Ibn Battuta and other Arab Travel Writers

The Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) has taken the occasion of their participation at the 27th New Delhi World Book Fair (NDWBF 2019) – where Sharjah is guest of honour – to highlight the enduring bridge between India and the Arab world as presented in the myriad of travel writings by several Arab explorers and merchants, including master chronicler and traveller, Ibn Battuta.


At a session held yesterday (January 7) titled ‘India in Arab Travel Literature’, leading Emirati authors, Nasser Al Dhaheri, Sultan Al Amimi, and Dr. Mohammad bin Jarsh, emphasised how Arab travellers frequented India starting pre-Islamic times, chronicling everyday life in the nation up until the medieval period when Ibn Battuta entered the subcontinent through Afghanistan, and in the years that followed.


“What have the Arab travellers said about India and its culture?” session moderator, Shaikha Al Mutairi, questioned the panellists.


In his response, Al Dhaheri shed light on how important a role these historical travel writings have played in comparing India’s relations to the UAE and larger Arab world since the pre-Islamic era to what they are today.


He noted: “When Indo-Arab relations are compared to the relations between other countries we see consistency through the ages. How Arabs see Indians hasn’t changed. Our friendship pre-dates the propagation of Islam and our ties are based on several pillars, including trade, culture and knowledge exchange.”


The author also mentioned Kalila wa-Dimna (Kalila and Dimna), the widely circulated collection of Oriental fables of Indian origin, composed in Sanskrit possibly as early as the 3rd century BC, and translated into Arabic in the eighth century by the Persian Ibn al-Muqaffa, a highly educated writer.


Dhaheri went on to focus on some examples of the mention of the Indian subcontinent by Ibn Battuta, saying: “His travel writings extend focus into territories like Bangladesh, Maldives, and others, and offer us a great glimpse of traditional Indian practices, wedding customs, celebrations, down to the detail of India’s famous pan-eating tradition.”


Al Amimi said: “Since times immemorial, these two civilisations have been in constant contact with the exchange of goods, ideas, cultures and peoples. Arab merchant Suleiman and his colleague, Bin Wahab, who travelled to India, Ceylon and further into China by sea in the lookout for trade. Arab author, Abu Yazeed Al Sirafi, chronicled the travels of these two merchants in his book written in the 9th century and is titled Al Sirafi’s Journey.”


He pointed to the plethora of Arabic literature hosted in libraries in the UAE and the Gulf that describe in great detail India’s navigation history, customs, traditions and lifestyles practiced across several cities in the country.


Dr. Mohammad bin Jarsh read excerpts from about three to four works of Arab travel writers chronicling their own personal journeys and the experiences of merchants, pilgrims and others in India and the larger subcontinent. “Saudi Arabian author, Mohammed bin Nasser Al Aboudi, wrote Al Rehalat Al Hindiya Fi Wassat Al Hind (Indian Journeys in Central India, which beautifully describes journeys taken by our people of the past and stories passed on from one person to another,” he said. 

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