This book is a very important primary source for historians because it contains the only primary source concerning the Vikings before they converted to Islam, and many other accounts of important information including Viking raids. The book shows how the Eastern Vikings lived and how the Muslim world interacted with them. It also gives insight into the state of Islam in the tenth through twelfth century. Almost all of the information is this book is relevant to historians and the eye witness accounts are very useful concerning the people and places in this time period.
Ibn Fadlan wrote because he was keeping a journal. The book is simply accounts of his journey in a first person narrative style. Ibn Fadlan started just writing about his journey, but was later on motivated to write more about things he found startling or unusual(Inroduction,xxv). It is also possible that his journey's documentation was also going to be part of a report he had to turn in to the Caliph. This is likely because of the place the accounts were found and also how Ibn Fadlan writes. The accounts were probably found in a private library in either Merv or Jurjaniya(Note on the Texts,xxxiv). He goes out of his way many times to make himself look smart and pious which would imply he wanted to look good if someone else was going to read his accounts. He claims to be the only one in his party that realized there would be a problem with Almish, the king of the Bulghars, wanting to claim his money that a letter promised him(Ibn Fadlan,10). He is also always trying to make himself look like a good muslim by enforce Muslim practices and documenting himself saying prayers(Ibn Fadlan,11,13,38).
Abu Hamid was more focused on wonders than Ibn Fadlan(Introduction,xxvii). He often writes about the unusual and interesting animals he encounters. He writes about fish that weight as much as a person and deep canals that are filled with fish(Abu Hamid,64,65). He also writes about beavers, giant birds, a brightly colored lizard, and wild cows as big as elephants(Abu Hamid,69,74,78,84). He claims to have seen a man over the feet tall with incredible strength(Abu Hamid,86). Another thing that caught his attention is a magic mosque covered in golden tiles, which has a pool of water inside it that causes anything that touches it to disappear(Abu Hamid,90). Although his accounts are considered very important, he never considered himself a writer. He claims that the only reason he wrote his book is because noble imams begged him to gather information for them(Abu Hamid,91).
Ibn Fadlan's intended audience was most likely the person he was reporting to, the Caliph. The information he accounts tell of his journey, but he also focuses on document his mission. He left because the king of the Bulghars sent an envoy asking for instruction in the Islamic faith, help to build a mosque, and help constructing a fortress for protection against his enemies(Introduction,xviii). He writes to show the Caliph...