On his travels, Ibn Battutah visits the city of Jerusalem which he refers to as Bait al-Muqaddas. Ibn Battutah spends limited time actually describing the city as a whole, comparing it with the cities of Medina and Mecca and then saying it “is large and imposing, and built of squared stones” (26). Ibn Battutah then moves on to the focus of his description which are the various religious landmarks that are located in Jerusalem. First, Ibn Battutah talks about what he calls the “Sacred Mosque” which refers to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Temple Mount area in the old city of Jerusalem. Ibn Battutah admires the mosque greatly, commenting on its beauty and brilliant architecture. Ibn Battutah is incredibly detailed in his description, going so far as to describe the dimensions of the mosque. After talking about the Sacred Mosque, Ibn Battutah speaks about the Dome of the Rock, which is located within the Sacred Mosque complex. Again, Ibn Battutah uses extensive details to talk about the architecture and physical makeup of the structure. He uses rich adjectives to describe the physicality of the building and the actual rock, which some Quranic commentators believe is where Muhammad began the Night Journey. Ibn Battutah finishes off his description of religious sites by talking about what refers to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus ascended into Heaven. After speaking on this and similar Christian sites, Ibn Battutah moves on in his journey from Jerusalem.
I was very surprised by how little time Ibn Battutah spent describing Jerusalem. This may be because I am coming from a Christian background but even in Islam, Jerusalem is still home to the third holiest site. It is significant that all of Ibn Battutah’s attention seems to be on the religious sites in Jerusalem, since he never talks about any of the people or geographical landmarks that he sees except in reference to those religious sites. Clearly religion is important to Ibn Battutah and his own identity. He speaks about the sites in a reverential way, highlighting their sanctity. Interestingly, Ibn Battutah does not only speak about Muslim religious sites; he also mentions Christian ones. His descriptions of Christian religious sites and Christian pilgrims provides an interesting lens into Muslim-Christian relationships in this time period. While describing his journey to Jerusalem, Ibn Battutah states that he briefly stopped at Bait Lahm or Bethlehem, which he calls the birthplace of Jesus. Ibn Battutah comments that the Christian also regard the location highly and “hospitably entertain all who alight it” (26). This implies some level of cooperation between people of different religions which is not always presented as common in the medieval period. On the other hand, Ibn Battutah also brings up interactions that seem to imply higher tensions between the two religions. Ibn Battutah mentions the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Christians believe that Christ was buried before the Resurrection. In this section, Ibn Battutah says that Christians have to pay a tax to the Muslims and “various humiliations, which they suffer very unwillingly” (28). This description sounds more stereotypical of other medieval narratives I have read where there is a lot of animosity between the two groups. It also emphasizes how Muslims have control of the Levant, which angered a lot of European leaders and religious officials.