On this day in 1046, Isma’ili writer Nasir Khusraw embarked on a seven-year exploration of the Middle East. Born in Bactria (now Tajikistan), Khusraw worked as a tax collector there until he experienced a crisis of faith. Struggling to find religious motivation, Khusraw dreamed of a mysterious man who pointed in the direction of the qibla (Mecca, where a Muslim must face when praying), silently inciting him to action. So, Khusraw quit his job, left all his worldly possessions, and set off on a 19,000 km (12,000 mile) journey across the Arab lands to Mecca and Medina.
Khusraw recounted his travels in the extremely detailed travelogue Safarnāma, a lengthy and easy-to-read account of his movement through the region. In it, Khusraw remarked on the cities, markets, peoples, and customs he encountered, as well as his experiences completing his hajj (religious pilgrimage) at Mecca and Medina. Although his Isma’ili faith made him a target of Sunni fanatics later on in life, Khusraw managed to escape to the mountains of Khorasan and continue writing. A prolific writer of poems, the Safarnāma still stands as (arguably) his best work: one of the most significant pieces of literature from that period, and an invaluable account of life in the Islamic Middle East.