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Author Topic: PRE-COLUMBIAN MUSLIMS IN OHIO?  (Read 301 times)
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« on: November 08, 2014, 11:48:47 pm »

Archeology: Evidence scant for ancient Muslims in America

 Saturday November 1, 2014 10:10 AM

    Comments: 0

At the entrance to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City is an inscription that includes the following declaration: “Valor and confidence to face the future is found by people in the grandeur of their past.”

Many popular misconceptions of the past are based on fabrications of ancient grandeur that became popular because they appeared to fulfill this role for various nations, religions or classes of people.

Richard Francaviglia, an adjunct professor of religious studies at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., argues that claims about pre-Columbian Muslims in the Americas, which have become increasingly popular since 9/11, provide a sense of ethnic pride for some contemporary Muslims. In an article in the current issue of the journal Terrae Incognitae, he writes, “The once seemingly esoteric subject of pre-Columbian Muslim exploration of the New World is now front and center in the so-called ‘Culture Wars’ of the early 21st century.”

The evidence for the presence of Muslims in America before 1492 is underwhelming. On Christopher Columbus's first voyage to America, he reported seeing a “mountain like a pretty mosque” along the coast of Cuba. Some Muslim readers think Columbus actually saw a mosque rather than a mountain that only resembled a mosque.

The late Barry Fell, a Harvard biologist, argued that petroglyphs from California to Oklahoma were carved by pre-Columbian explorers from Libya. Petroglyphs, however, tend to be highly stylized. Francaviglia observes that they “can serve as Rorschach tests in that they mean different things to different people, depending on the mind-set of the observer.”

Many North American place names have Arabic roots, such as Medina in northeastern Ohio. Believers in ancient Muslim Buckeyes think this reflects the cultural identity of the city’s founders. Francaviglia explains that these names actually were “given to places in the 19th century by Anglo-Americans who were fascinated by the Muslim/Arab world.”

Francaviglia does not dispute that Muslims could have beaten Columbus to the New World. They certainly possessed the technological expertise to have done so; but, so far, there is no reliable evidence that they did. There are, however, very good reasons for thinking that they didn't.

Arab maps were the best in the world, but none of the existing early maps demonstrates any knowledge of the Americas. Arabs also were prolific writers. Francaviglia thinks it’s virtually impossible that Arab explorers discovered the Americas and made no mention of the fact.

Why then is the supposed pre-Columbian Muslim discovery of America being promoted in many recent books and on websites? Francaviglia argues that the authors “are employing a geographically expansionist and historically revisionist premise to ‘prove’ that Islam is a truly global, rather than simply a regional, religion.” Francaviglia suggests that such an agenda could even be used to support Islamic State’s goal of establishing or, if these claims of Muslims in ancient America are true, re-establishing a worldwide caliphate.

It would not be the first time that history was fabricated in the service of a political or religious agenda. Valor and confidence to face the future can be found in the grandeur of the past — even an imagined past.

Bradley T. Lepper is curator of archaeology at the Ohio History Connection.
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