Some historians and political observers were surprised over the weekend when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, chief of America’s NATO ally, said Muslims discovered the Americas more than 300 years before Christopher Columbus.
But the Islamic leader was doing nothing more than stating publicly what Islamic historians have said, including some who believe Native Americans who spoke Arabic greeted Muslim adventurers hundreds of years before the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria sailed.
Among those reporting Erdogan’s statement was the BBC, which noted his AK Party “is rooted in political Islam.”
Erdogan said, “Muslim sailors arrived in America in 1178,” but BBC said he “gave no further evidence to back up this theory.”
Most historians credit Columbus with making known the Americas to the European and Middle East worlds after his 1492 voyage in the three ships.
Erdogan cited a reference to Columbus saying, “A mosque would go perfectly on the hill today,” referring to a location in Cuba. The citation is based on a 1996 article by historian Youssef Mroueh, who said Columbus referred to a mosque on his arrival in the New World.
The BBC, however, said scholars believe the statement was metaphorical, and the report noted no Islamic structures have been found in America that pre-date Columbus.
But Lost Islamic History, a blog run by Firas Alkhateeb, a teacher of Islamic history in Bridgeview, Illinois, states: “Knowing that the earth was round, and knowing its size to a very good degree of accuracy (without the modern technology we have today), some intrepid Muslims must have attempted to go around the world, hundreds of years before Columbus.”
The site says the “great Muslim historian and geographer, Abu al-Hasan al-Masudi wrote in 956 of a voyage in 889 from al-Andalus (Muslim Spain).”
“The voyage sailed for months westward. They eventually found a large landmass across the ocean where they traded with the natives, and then returned to Europe. Al-Masudi records this land across the ocean in his famous map and refers to it as ‘the unknown land.'”
The blogger says another Muslim voyage to the New World was made in 999 and a third in the 1100s.
Explorer al-Idrisi “wrote of a group of Muslims who sailed west from Lisbon for 31 days and landed on an island in the Caribbean.”
“They were taken prisoner by the native Americans on that island for a few days. Eventually, they were freed when a translator who lived among the natives that spoke Arabic arranged for their release.”
The site also claims Muslims from West Africa made the trip to the New World before Columbus.
“During his reign, Abu Bakr sent a fleet of 400 ships to explore the Atlantic Ocean. Only 1 ship returned, but reported that they found a land across the ocean. Mansa Abu Bakr then outfitted a fleet of 2,000 ships, which he sailed with personally, that sailed west into the ocean. They were never heard from again.”
Further, the site claims there are inscriptions in Arizona describing how sick the Muslims’ elephants were, and others near the Mississippi recording Muslims’ exploration of America.
“Once he got to the Americas, Columbus records numerous examples of Muslims already present. He commented on the gold that the natives had, which was made the same way, in the same alloy, as the Muslims of West Africa,” the report says.
“Clearly, the theory that Columbus discovered America is nothing but an old tale that has not stood the test of time,” one reference says.
The World Bulletin, an online source from Istanbul edited by Akif Emre, Cigdem Akti, Artan Karpazli and others, says: “According to [History Today], Abu Raihan al-Biruni, who was born in the year 973 in what is today known as Uzbekistan, was the first person to officially suggest that an undiscovered landmass in the ocean between the Europe and Asia actually existed.
“Al-Biruni was of the few people in that time that actually accurately estimated that the earth was round. His teacher al-Farghani had also estimated that the earth was indeed round, and did surprisingly well to provide a near-accurate measurement of the earth’s circumference, which Columbus himself also used as a basis for his own explorations. However, Columbus failed to note that al-Farghani had given the measurement in Arab miles rather than Roman miles, leading him to grossly underestimate the distance of his journey. Furthermore, Columbus had no intention of discovering the Americas when he set sail, as he assumed that his travels would take him directly from Europe to Asia,” the sponsored site says.
“Al-Biruni was the first person from the known world to officially claim the so called ‘new world’ existed,” the report says.
Most historians, however, say Scandinavians likely were the first from the Old World to arrive in what later became North and South America – some 500 years before Columbus.