Riḥla (Arabic: رحلة) refers to both a journey and the written account of that journey, or travelogue. Associated with the medieval Islamic notion of "travel in search of (religious) knowledge" (الرحلة في طلب العلم), the riḥla as a genre of medieval and early-modern Arabic literature usually describes a journey taken with the intent of performing the Hajj, but can include an itinerary that vastly exceeds that original route. The classical riḥla in medieval Arabic travel literature, like those written by Ibn Battuta and Ibn Jubayr, includes a description of the "personalities, places, governments, customs, and curiosities" experienced by traveler, and usually within the boundaries of the Muslim world. However, the term rihla can be applied to other Arabic travel narratives describing journeys taken for reasons other than pilgrimage; for instance the 19th century riḥlas of Muhammad as-Saffar and Rifa'a al-Tahtawi both follow conventions of the riḥla genre by recording not only the journey to France from Morocco and Egypt, respectively, but also their experiences and observations.
The Rihla travel practice originated in Middle Ages Morocco and served to connect Muslims of Morocco to the collective consciousness of the ummah across the Islamic world, thereby generating a larger sense of community. Rihla consists of three types:
- Rihla - journey within Morocco, typically to meet with other pilgrims before traveling beyond the local area.
- Rihla hijaziyya - journey to the Hejaz which would be transmitted via an oral or written report.
- Rihla sifariyya - journey to foreign lands including to embassies and missions in territories in Dar al-Harb. Events on these journeys would be the basis of the extant travel literature.
The performance of Rihla was considered in Moorish al-Andalus as a qualifier for teachers and political leaders. These journey also coincided with the end of the Mongol invasions and a new opportunity for Islamic expansion.
The travel narratives of Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Battuta are perceived as "archetypical exponents of the flowering of [the riḥla] genre," but should not be perceived as its founders. Concerning Ibn Jubayr's voyage to Mecca in 1183, one writer claimed that "...his two-year journey made a considerable impact on literary history. His account of his travels and tribulations in the East served as the foundational work of a new genre of writing, the rihla, or the creative travelogue: a mix of personal narrative, description, opinion and anecdote. In following centuries, countless people emulated and even plagiarized him." It is important to note that travel narratives were written prior to Ibn Jubayr's; for example, the 12th century riḥla of Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi, and accounts of foreign lands visited by merchants and diplomats (such as the 9th century accounts of India and China by Abu Zayd al-Sirafi, and the 10th century riḥla by Ibn Fadlan with the Abbasid mission to the Volga) long predate Ibn Jubayr's travelogue.
The best known Rihla manuscript is "A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling" (تحفة النظار في غرائب الأمصار وعجائب الأسفار, or Tuḥfat an-Nuẓẓār fī Gharāʾib al-Amṣār wa ʿAjāʾib al-Asfār), often referred to as "The Travels of Ibn Battuta" (رحلة ابن بطوطة, or Riḥlat Ibn Baṭūṭah). The Travels is a medieval book which recounts the journey of the 14th-century Moroccan scholar and traveler Ibn Battuta. The book was dictated to Ibn Juzayy on orders from the Marinid Sultan Abu Inan Faris who was impressed by the story and travels of Ibn Battuta. Although Ibn Battuta was an accomplished and well-documented explorer, his travels had been unknown outside the Islamic world for many years.
- Netton, I.R., “Riḥla”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 12 July 2018 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_6298>
- Dunn, Ross E. (2005). The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the 14th Century. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 4.
- as-Saffar, Muhammad (1992). Miller, Susan Gilson, ed. Disorienting Encounters: Travels of a Moroccan Scholar in France in 1845-1846. The Voyage of Muhammad As-Saffar. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- al-Tahtawi, Rifa'a Rafi' (2012). An Imam in Paris: Account of a Stay in France by an Egyptian Cleric (1826-1831). Translated by Newman, Daniel L. Saqi Books.
- Eickelman, Dale F.; Piscatori, James P. (1990). Muslim Travellers: Pilgrimage, Migration and the Religious Imagination. University of California Press. pp. 69–71.
- Michael Karl Lenker, “The Importance of the Rihla for the Islamization of Spain,” Dissertations Available from ProQuest (January 1, 1982): 1–388
- Tolmacheva, Marina (1995). "Ibn Battuta in Black Africa". The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 28 (3): 696–697. doi:10.2307/221221.
- Grammatico, Daniel and Werner, Louis. 2015. The Travel Writer Ibn Jubayr. Aramco World. Volume 66, No. 1, January–February 2015. Page 40.
- Abu Zayd al-Sirafi, Two Arabic Travel Books: Accounts of China and India, and Ahmad ibn Fadhlan, Mission to the Volga. Translated by Mackintosh-Smith, Tim; Montgomery, James. New York, London: New York University Press. 2014.
- Dunn, Ross E. (2004). The adventures of Ibn Battuta, a Muslim traveler of the fourteenth century. University of California Press. p. 310. ISBN 0-520-24385-4.
- Tolmacheva, Marina (1988). "The Adventures of Ibn Battuta, A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century". The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 21 (1): 149–150. doi:10.2307/219908.
- Euben, Roxanne L. Journeys to the Other Shore: Muslim and Western Travelers in Search of Knowledge. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691138404.