June 4, 2011 12:39 am

Landfalls

Landfalls, by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, John Murray, RRP£9.99, 368 pages

 

Ibn Battutah was an early Renaissance Moroccan who travelled further than Marco Polo. Seven centuries later, Tim Mackintosh-Smith pursues “IB” from the slave ports of Tanzania to China and back to Africa and Spain, where IB “went to Granada and missed the Alhambra”. Mackintosh-Smith has a better eye for detail, and his zesty travelogue is packed with eccentric characters and anecdote.

Resident in Yemen for 25 years, Mackintosh-Smith shares IB’s sense of being “at home in a transplanted Muslim setting”. His jaunty prose, which easily shoulders a considerable weight of research, is companionable when hiking up Sri Lankan mountains or unpacking the ethnological baggage of “devil ships” in the Maldives.

From refined Sufi influences to witch doctoring, his scholarly but entertaining exploration reveals a porous border between Islam and tribal faiths, suggesting that Islam is more complex and less dogmatic than many in the west would believe.

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