I read Marco Polo's travels a while back, and I'll be presenting my thoughts on it in 3 blog articles. In the first one, I talk about Marco Polo and Islamic World.
Marco Polo visited many countries, from Russia to China to Yemen. His narration of the Muslim cities he passed through was especially interesting, because he gives the Christian European Medieval perspective on Islamic Society. It’s not how “Muslims saw themselves”, but how “Christian Minorities and Europeans saw Muslims”: a look of mostly fear, misunderstanding, and hate. (look for old accurate translations – the new ones are often made ‘politically correct’).
Since Macro stayed with the "Christian minority" of Muslim cities, he had very interesting stories to tell. A summary of one of the funniest (chapter VIII):
In Baghdad, while the Christian minority was repairing a church, they used a big black round stone to hold the main pole. Later on they found out that the stone actually belongs to a Mosque, and Muslims were very mad and wanted the stone back. The Christians couldn’t take it out, since it would demolish the church, and refused to give it up. They all went to the Abbasyd Khalif to solve the quarrel.
The Khalif ruled that the stone must be returned. Muslims cheered up, and chrsitians didn’t know what to do. This is when this poor mystic Christian sage showed up, and said he would do it. In front of the Khalif, this sage, using the power of prayer, was able to lift the church, replace the stone, and then put it back again. Upon witnessing this "miracle”, the Khalif embraced Christianity, but kept it a secret. And to the last day of his life, the Khalif wore a Cross underneath his garment.
This story reminds me of Muslims claiming that King Edward of England in the 14th century was a Muslim in hiding, or that the Native Indians of America were originally Muslims. Even if all these stories are true, they had no impact on the progress of History!
Another very funny passage by Marco was about Eastern Muslims. As is known, Islam spread very quickly in the area between Iraq and India. Marco provides his own "explanation" of this phenomenon:
In (chapter IX), he says that those people, who have always been outlaws (thieves), became Muslim because Islam allowed them to raid Caravans as long as the latter were not Muslim.
In other areas in the book Marco continues to present Islam as a false, bad, and at times evil religion. He never mentions anything positive about Islam or Muslims, which makes me think ... how can somebody who lived amongst a people for so long still have such stereotypical and suspecious image of them? ... maybe the book has been edited by the Catholic church at the time (or was written with the church's censorship in mind) to make it sound so Islamophobic. I don't know, but it's an interesting question.