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Author Topic: PRE-COLUMBIAN MUSLIMS IN OHIO?  (Read 301 times)
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« on: November 08, 2014, 11:46:30 pm »


Posted on November 2, 2014 by Brad Lepper   

chris columbus a-1Who discovered America?

Most folks, I hope, take for granted that the ancestors of today’s American Indians made the original and only true discovery of what then really was a New World for humans. And this took place sometime before 14,000 years ago.

Usually, however, when people ask me the question, they actually mean something like “Who, after the American Indians, was the first person to sail the ocean blue and discover this previously unknown (to them) world?”

Traditionally, the answer to that question has been Christopher Columbus though historians and archaeologists have determined that Leif Erikson preceded Columbus by almost 500 years. (Actually, another Norseman, Bjarni Herjólfsson preceded Leif, but since he didn’t make landfall he doesn’t usually get credit for the discovery.)

Did anyone precede the Norse?

Since the 1700s, and probably even before that, numerous people, whether true believers or charlatans, have claimed that one or another ancient culture from the Old World deserves the credit for discovering America. The main contenders, but by no means the only ones, include the Solutreans, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Hebrews, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks, Romans, and African Mandingos.

In my November column for the Columbus Dispatch, I review a paper by Richard Francaviglia of Willamette University, titled “‘Far Beyond the Western Sea of the Arabs…': Reinterpreting Claims about Pre-Columbian Muslims in the Americas,” which was published in the most recent issue of the journal Terrae Incognitae. Based on the title of Francaviglia’s paper, some people believe Muslims may have discovered America. But is there any actual evidence to support the claim?

Francaviglia acknowledges that “the premise of pre-Columbian Islam in the New World is attractive because it is so plausible. …the navigational accomplishments of Muslims were significant indeed. The record confirms that they rapidly explored (and colonized) a substantial portion of the Old World by the ninth and tenth centuries CE. Columbus himself was clearly indebted to Muslim seafaring skills, and there is little doubt that Muslims had the technological expertise to have reached the New World.”

Determining that Muslims could have discovered America, however, is not the same thing as demonstrating that they did so. As I discuss in my Dispatch column, there is no compelling evidence for pre-Columbian Muslims in Ohio or anywhere else in the Americas. This has not stopped some prominent Muslims from making such a claim, however.

Francaviglia quotes Imam Abdur-Rashid, “the ‘hip-hop imam’ who recently claimed on his website that, well before Columbus, ‘Muslim explorers came to the land of the Original [sic] Americans, met them, peacefully interacted with them, traded with them, intermarried with them, and perhaps even gave another relative handful of them dawah [invitations to the faith].’ Leaving little doubt that this subject has a political side, this imam sternly added that ‘those who study the evidence and continue to deny the obvious, reveal themselves to be rooted in the old racist European renditions of American history.’ In addition to stifling further study, this imam’s line of reasoning does at least three things. First, it renders Islam as a greater force in exploration than European expansion. Second, it depicts Islam as kinder and gentler on the natives than Christianity was known to be. And, third, it brands as bigots those who disagree. In no uncertain terms, the premise has become part of – and sustains – the culture wars between East and West.”

One of the more disturbing things in Francaviglia’s paper is his observation that these unsupported claims are turning up in school curricula. He refers, in particular, to the Arab World Studies Notebook, which he indicated is used “to train teachers to better understand (and teach) American history.” According to Francaviglia, this book accepts “many of the premises of those advocating a pre-Columbian Muslim presence, including the oft-quoted belief that Muslims had beaten Columbus to the New World.”

It’s one thing for a group of consenting adults to believe extraordinary things in spite of the lack of any meaningful evidence to support them, but to foist such claims on naïve children as part of a school curriculum is a betrayal of trust and an abrogation of the responsibility of schools to teach authentic, evidence-based history.

Francaviglia’s thorough review of the evidence and arguments that have been offered in support of a Muslim discovery of America sheds light on why anyone would accept such claims so uncritically. As with Ohio’s Newark Holy Stones, which are fraudulent stone carvings bearing Hebrew inscriptions that some people believe prove ancient Hebrews built at least some of Ohio’s mounds, the context for this discussion lies at the confluence of science, religion and politics: “…the world as described in religious scripture and texts – rather than the world revealed by critical thinking – is an appealing and enduring phenomenon. This may be either comforting or disquieting, but that is beside the point. As we watch the drama of pre-Columbian Islam unfold, it is worth recalling that history and geography are always subject to revision, and are often contested, when cultures come into contact with one another.”

Revising history when it has been shown to be wrong or incomplete is necessary and laudable. Fabricating history to promote religious or political views is inexcusable.

Brad Lepper


For further reading

Francaviglia, Richard V.
2014 “Far Beyond the Western Sea of the Arabs…”: Reinterpreting Claims about Pre-Columbian Muslims in the Americas. Terrae Incognitae 46(2):103-38.

Note: The image accompanying this blog post is a modified version of a 1959 photograph of the statue of Christopher  Columbus that lives in front of the Columbus, Ohio, City Hall. You can find the original image on the Ohio Memory website.
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    Jeff Gill
    November 2, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    The dilemma with all of these possibilities is the gloomy shadow that looms over Charles Mann’s “1491.” If there was anything to any of these pre-Columbian proposals, unless it was a relatively short-term, self-contained contact like the Erikson/Herjólfsson colony (which is precisely NOT what these theories are asking us to accept), then there would have been a contagion ripple, an infectious vector on this side of the Atlantic at that earlier date.

    And if there had been one or some extended trading and interactive contacts between Europe & Africa and North America earlier than Columbus and DeSoto, then the diseases they carried would not have had the devastating impact they did. The “Dying Times” of the initial contact period, the “Death Wave” that Mann tries to outline after DeSoto’s pigs get loose and the first spread of influenza and smallpox scythe their way across the continent — they would not have had the mortality that they did. The shock of these utterly new pathogens into unprepared genetic pools, against immune systems innocent of previous resistance to the invaders, is a very real proof of an indirect but dire sort, showing that until 1492 these Old World pathogens had not visited the New.
    November 3, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Religious bigotry by any Faith is just another means of trying to gain power.
    Brad Lepper
    November 4, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Check out Jason Colavito’s blog post comparing Abdur-Rashid’s and Scott Wolter’s arguments about pre-Columbian America:
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« Reply #1 on: November 08, 2014, 11:47:17 pm »
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« Reply #2 on: November 08, 2014, 11:47:50 pm »

Check out Jason Colavito’s blog post comparing Abdur-Rashid’s and Scott Wolter’s arguments about pre-Columbian America:
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« Reply #3 on: November 08, 2014, 11:48:47 pm »

Archeology: Evidence scant for ancient Muslims in America

 Saturday November 1, 2014 10:10 AM

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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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