I’m big in Turkey this week! One of the questions I get a lot is why I bother writing rebuttals to ridiculous ideas that no right-thinking person could possibly believe. This week I got my answer. Over the weekend no less a world figure that the president of Turkey spouted fringe history nonsense, telling a conference of Latin American Muslim leaders that Islamic sailors discovered the Americas in 1178, and that a mosque they left behind later surprised Christopher Columbus when he sailed around Cuba.
“Contacts between Latin America and Islam date back to the 12th century. Muslims discovered America in 1178, not Christopher Columbus,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, in a translation published by the AFP. “Muslim sailors arrived in America from 1178. Columbus mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast.”
The Independent gave the translation differently:
It is alleged that the American continent was discovered by Columbus in 1492. In fact, Muslim sailors reached the American continent 314 years before Columbus, in 1178. […] Columbus mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast... I would like to talk about it to my Cuban brothers. A mosque would go perfectly on the hill today.
I wrote about this issue back in 2013 (and again earlier this month), during my week of coverage of claims that Muslim sailors had discovered America in the Middle Ages. Oddly, the original claim what that they had sailed to America before 947 CE, following claims by Al-Mas‘udi in Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems 12. Instead, Erdogan is making a slightly confused reference to the so-called “Sung Document,” more formally the Ling-wai tai-ta of Chou Ch’a-fei which refers to a Muslim land called Mu-lan-p’i, which some writers argue does not refer as it would seem to Moorish Spain and Morocco but rather to America. In Chinese the name Mu-lan-p’i can refer to either large ships or to lands “far beyond the Western Sea of the Arabs.” The claim that this land was America was proposed in 1961 by Hui-Lin Li. Its description is as fanciful as that other Chinese text supposedly about America, the one detailing the wonders of Fusang. They are both likely wild fantasies.
Erdogan, in his comments, refers obliquely to a passage in Columbus’s Journal of the First Voyage from October 29, 1492, which is repeated in slightly different form in Bartolomé de las Casas’s Historia de las Indias at 1.44. What is published today as Columbus’s journal is not the original writings by Columbus but a collection of excerpts and summaries made by Las Casas, for the original texts are lost. Las Casas used them for his Historia, and his notes were published by Martin Fernandez de Navarette in Colección de los viajes y descubrimientos in 1825. If that seems confusing, the text itself makes plain that no mosque is involved:
Remarking on the position of the river and port, to which he [Columbus] gave the name of San Salvador, he describes its mountains as lofty and beautiful, like the Peña de las Enamoradas, and one of them has another little hill on its summit, like a graceful mosque. The other river and port, in which he now was, has two round mountains to the S.W., and a fine low cape running out to the W.S.W.
As I reported last year (and news outlets like Al-Jazeera and the Washington Post also noted), the claim that this figurative language referred to a real mosque was popularized in 1996 by Youssef Mroueh of the As-Sunnah Foundation of America. The Post also cited Mroueh’s claim that Muslims sailed from the Canaries to America, which I reported last year is based on a hoax text published by a Spanish writer in the 1800s. I published the first English translation (that I know about) of that hoax text.
For those interested in the spread of claims for Muslim discovery of America, I direct you again to Richard V. Francaviglia of Willamette University, who wrote about the topic at great length (36 pages) in an article called “Beyond the Western Sea of the Arabs” in the September 2014 edition of Terrae Incognitae (46, no. 2).
At any rate, as a result of Erdogan’s comments, visits to my website from Turkey have exploded, and my articles on Islamic voyages to America have gone viral on Turkish discussion boards and social media. So, when someone asks why I evaluate extreme claims about history, this is a perfect example. Extreme claims find their way into public discourse for the most unusual of reasons.
Refreshing My Graphics
Last night I began rolling out some updated graphics and a modified color scheme to help my website look fresher and more modern. This is only the second major change I’ve made to the website since it launched in 2010. My first graphics package lasted from 2010 to 2012, and the second version from 2012 to 2014. After two years, the old graphics were looking a little dated. The most noticeable of the changes is the title card that welcomes visitors to my website.
The new graphics better capture the evolving flavor of my website and finally retire the Douris Cup logo I added to my page in 2010 when I was marketing Jason and the Argonauts through the Ages to publishers. I deemphasized the Douris Cup in 2012, and now it is gone from the main page. The new graphics feature a range of symbols related to various facets of fringe history, including aliens, Atlantis, the Eye of Horus, the Illuminati, the Nephilim, and more, and I’ve linked them with a web of glowing green lines symbolizing the connections between aspects of fringe history.
This web of connections overlays a picture of the ruins of Babylon and an image of a globe rotated to show North America. The black-and-white design of the background is an evolution away from the heavy use of green in my previous logo, and the combination of stone and a gray earth also recalls the imagery of Universal Horror, a nod to the connection between fringe history and speculative fiction. I’ve also toned down the header to a richer shade of green.
I’ll continue tweaking the graphics over the next few weeks, and I’ll gradually be replacing many of the supporting graphics with updated versions. I hope to use the image of a little green box with a fringe history symbol as a unifying theme to link graphics. We’ll see how well it goes, but the new blog logo is my (rough) draft of how that might work.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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