Erdoğan says America was discovered by Muslims, not Columbus

Erdoğan says America was discovered by Muslims, not Columbus

Mustafa Küçük - ISTANBUL
Erdoğan says America was discovered by Muslims, not Columbus

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan shakes hands with Muslim leaders in Istanbul. Earlier, the president injected some levity into proceedings by informing his audience that Muslims discovered the Americas before Columbus.

America was discovered by Muslims, not by Christopher Columbus, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has claimed, vowing to build a mosque "on that hill" in Cuba if the authorities of the Caribbean nation grant the permit. 

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the first Latin American Muslim leaders summit in Istanbul on Nov. 15, Erdoğan slammed colonialism before referring to a controversial claim about the discovery of the Americas.

"Muslim sailors had arrived in the shores of America in 1178. In his diaries, Christopher Columbus referred to the presence of a mosque on top of a mountain in Cuba," Erdoğan said, claiming the diary is a proof that "the religion of Islam was widespread" when the first European explorer discovered the New World in 1492.

Dr. Youssef Mroueh of the As-Sunnah Foundation of America had publicized the claim about a pre-Columbian mosque in Cuba. In 1996, he wrote that "Columbus admitted in his papers that on Monday, October 21, 1492 CE while his ship was sailing near Gibara on the north-east coast of Cuba, he saw a mosque on top of a beautiful mountain."

Some Muslim scholars aside, the same diary entry is widely understood as a metaphoric reference to a protuberance on the summit of a mountain that resembles a mosque's dome or minaret. Moreover, although the first "widespread" habitation of the Americas is dated around 16,500–13,000 years ago, a pre-Columbian ruin of an Islamic structure has yet to be discovered.

Reaction from Spanish media

Erdoğan’s remarks received reaction from Spanish media. Daily El Pais recalled Erdoğan’s remarks about the discovery of America and called on the Turkish president to prove his claims.

Regardless of the debate around Columbus' diary, Erdoğan signaled Nov. 15 that Ankara is keen to build a mosque in Cuba. "Now I will speak to my Cuban brother [representing his country in the summit]. A mosque would be appropriate on top of that mountain today, too. Their permission is enough [for Turkey to build a mosque in Cuba]," he added, while addressing Latin American Islamic leaders.

In April, Turkey’s Directorate General for Religious Affairs (Diyanet) sent a delegation to Cuba for a project involving the construction of an Istanbul mosque, adapted for Havana’s historic center. Cuban authorities did not release any public statement regarding the project.

"Converting people by force, by the sword, has never been a part of Islam. Our religion has never been a tool of exploitation," Erdoğan continued, arguing that "those who colonialized America for its gold and Africa for its diamonds, now do it in the Middle East for its oil with the same dirty plot."

Turkey's president also criticized certain Muslims. In an apparent reference to U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish government's ally-turned-nemesis, Erdoğan said "Islam is being abused by those who use the Quran for their own interests, by those who open schools abroad." 

"Latin American Muslims should not hesitate to keep in touch with the Diyanet for their complaints," he added. Latin America is one of the continents with a network of pro-Gülen schools.

"And do rich Muslims in the Islamic world pay their zakat for their oil revenues?" Erdoğan asked rhetorically, before saying that "nobody can answer this question positively."

Zakat is the religiously-sanctioned benefits paid to poor Muslims by the wealthy.

"Muslims should first criticize and correct themselves. Then, we should be subjects to nobody but Allah," he said.