1046: Nasir Khusraw begins his journey. He was born in Qabodiyon (today part of Tajikistan) in 1004. He was broadly educated and well traveled. He was multilingual and is considered today to be one of Persia’s great poets and writers. He was working as a financial secretary and revenue collector for the Seljuk sultan when he had a heavenly dream telling him to leave his luxurious life and take a trip to Mecca. Every good Muslim is to make the Hajj, or holy trip to Mecca during Ramadan, at least once during his lifetime. But Khusraw did not simply make a trip to the Holy City. Instead, he went on an extensive road trip and wrote down minute details of his trip which he later published in his most famous work, Safamama.
During his seven year, 12,000 mile trip, he made four distinct pilgrimages to Mecca and performed all the rites and prayers demanded of a devout Muslim. He was much more interested in Cairo, Egypt and the political and social ramifications of the Fatimid caliph-imam and leader of the Shi’a Muslims who was, at the time, in a battle with the caliph of Baghdad, defender of the Sunni creed. He learned much about and became enchanted with the Shi’a Isma’ili doctrines and wished fervently to introduce these teachings into his homeland. He returned in 1052, but the locals were not as thrilled with the teachings as he had been and adhered to their Sunnite beliefs. He fled for his safety in 1060.
Khusraw wrote his book many years after his return but his copious notes allowed him to give great detail to the experience of his journey. His writing was straightforward and resembled a travelogue. The book began with his life prior to his trip and his monumental decision to leave everything behind. He recounted the miraculous dream in great detail, giving the reader a chance to understand his motivations and his spiritual impetus for making his first Hajj.
The rest of the book described his journey. He focused most heavily on the great cities on his grand tour: Mecca, Jerusalem, and Cairo which at the time was the Fatimid Caliphate capital. This was the Ismaili Shia Caliphate which covered a large portion of North Africa from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. Khusraw gave very accurate and detailed accounts of the civic buildings and markets and the people (from commoners to kings) living there which gives later readers a great insight into the daily lives of those living a thousand years ago. This was not the only book Khusraw wrote nor was it his only topic. He wrote a text on philosophy and another on mathematics as well as his poetry. He spent his last years writing as a hermit and died in what is today Afghanistan in 1088.
Wherever you go, go with all your heart. – Confucius
The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. – Saint Augustine
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – T. S. Eliot
A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving. – Lao Tzu