After nine years of traveling, Ibn Battutah claims, through his narrative, that he had reached South India. His first few weeks in South India mainly involved making short journeys via ship from island to island, traveling along shorelines, and visiting several coastal cities. Although Battutah did not note any of these islands or their communities as being particularly important or noteworthy, he did describe in great detail the land of Mulaibar. The Mulaibar territory, also referred to as pepper county, is known for its coastal road that connects the cities Sandabur and Kawlam. Battutah notes that it usually takes travelers two months to complete the journey, but that the road is notoriously safe and hospitable for Muslims and “infidels” alike. He does, however, describe the subtle ways in which the “infidels” persecute against Muslim travelers through their enforcement of body politics. In describing the land of Mulaibar, specifically focusing on the infidels who live in it and their treatment of Muslim travelers,  Battutah shows the more nuanced ways in which religious power dynamics were enforced. 

When describing the road through the land of Mulaibar, Battutah supports his claim that it is a safe and hospitable journey by noting that, after every half mile, there is a wooden shed, a bench, and a water well. An infidel cares for these amenities so that they can help the travelers rest and replenish. While this initially appears to be an amicable act on part of the infidels, Battutah goes on to explain that the infidels refuse to let Muslim travelers into their homes or use vessiles when eating and drinking. Instead, the infidels serve the travelers water in their hands and food on banana leaves. If a Muslim does eat off of the infidel’s plates, bowls, or cups, then the infidel “breaks the vessels or gives them to the Muslim” (220). Here, the infidels fear a Muslim touching, and consequently contaminate, their belongings. This shows the negative connotations that the infidels associate withMuslims and their Islamic faith, since the infidels see them as a contaminant. 

Because it is the Muslims’ touch that the infidels fear, the Muslim body becomes engaged in religious-based body politics. Body politics, which refers to the ways in which social or institutional power regulates the human body, puts marginalized bodies in a position that lacks autonomy and promotes oppression. Although modern body politics are often associated with race, medieval body politics were associated with religion; this is because, as explained by Geraldine Hang, religion in the Middle Ages functioned similarly to race in the Modern Ages.  In the instance Battutah describes, then, the infidels use body politics to oppress and dehumanize Muslim travelers because of their religion. Although the infidels still provide assistance to Muslim travelers, and although this oppression is not as extreme or noticeable as other forms of oppression, it still enforces an unequal power dynamic between two groups of people.

By acknowledging the body politics and microaggressions faced by Muslim travelers, Battutah shows that religious oppression can take many different forms. This section of the narrative provides greater insight into the typically overlooked struggles faced by travelers, and ultimately contributes to a more detailed, more realistic representation of Battutah’s travels.

Ibn-Baṭṭūṭa Muḥammad Ibn-ʿAbdallāh, and Tim Mackintosh-Smith. The Travels of Ibn Battutah. Translated by Gibb Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen, Picador, 2002.