Ibn Batuta on IMAX

By Ayub Khan,

The legendary journeys of the 14th century Muslim traveler Ibn Batuta were monumental to say the least. In 1325 he set out on the Hajj pilgrimage from his native Tangier. After performing his Hajj he continued his journeys in West Africa, Spain, China, the Maldives, India, and elsewhere. He returned to his native land 29 years later and dictated his travelogue which continues to be a classic. No wonder a crater on the moon and a mall in Dubai is named after him as a tribute. Now a part of his journey is captured on the giant screens of IMAX theaters in ‘Journey to Mecca.’

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IMAX documentaries which have so far covered subjects as varied as Mt. Everest to the deep sea top outer space has accomplished a unique feat in making the sights and sounds of 14th century Islamic civilization to the present day in the making of Journey to Mecca. Shot in Saudi Arabia and Morocco in both English and Arabic the movie is a visual delight right from the beginning. The film begins with a dramatic cinematic capture of Ibn Batuta’s dream on a starry night seeing the entire Muslim world by traveling on the back of a huge bird is a sight to be seen.

After consulting his friends and family he sets out on his journey determined to travel alone and obtain the highest of rewards. . As he sets out towards Egypt he is attacked by robbers only to be freed by their leader who takes into consideration his status as a pilgrim. The robber offers him protection for a fee but later on turns around and becomes his friend. When he urges him to take the easy route Ibn Batuta remains adamant that he take the road less traveled. “The greater the hardship the higher the reward,” he says. Finding the sea route closed he eventually joins a pilgrim caravan through Syria.

Along the way he encounters the full sights and sounds of the 14th century Middle East. The colorful spice laden bazaars, the never ending camel trains of pilgrims, the wise old scholar, and the background Arabic and Berber sounds provide a breathtaking experience. The film ends with Ibn Batuta finally reaching Mecca and performing the Hajj. The film ends with a close-up look at contemporary Hajj showing a whirlpool of pilgrims in all their majestic simplicity. The domed screen of the IMAX theaters adds up to a unique experience.

The narration of the movie is masterfully done by Ben Kingsley, of ‘Gandhi’ fame. The role of ibn Batuta is faithfully played by the Moroccan actor Chems Al Deen Zinoun. Sadly, he died in an accident last year.

Journey to Mecca opened in Abu Dhabi last year and has since been on screen in theaters in Detroit and Toronto. It’s Toronto debut, at Ontario Science Centre, has been such a success its showing has been extended for another four months.