I'd never heard of Ibn Battuta, the famed 14th-century Moroccan lawyer who at the age of 21 wanted to perform the hajj. Instead of a ride in an air-conditioned jet to Saudi Arabia, the trip in 1325 was a hazardous overland trek of 3,000 miles from Tangier to Mecca. Ibn Battuta had to detour via Damascus, where he joined a lengthy camel procession for the final 40-day trip to Mecca.
These were sophisticated caravans — like traveling towns — with judges who oversaw disputes and contingents of soldiers and food merchants, not to mention several thousand camels. People embarked on these trips because every capable Muslim is required to perform the hajj at least once in his or her life.
A group of filmmakers — none of them Muslim — were so entranced with this epic trip that they made "Journey to Mecca," which premieres Thursday in Washington at the Imax theater of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. It runs through March 4. (More)