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1178 CE -- Muslims Explore America?

BoatMuslims have exerted a great and largely unrecognized impact on American society, beginning with their exploration of America more than 300 years prior to the "discovery" of the "New World" by Christopher Columbus.

The Muslim explorers accessed the interior of the continent by using the Mississippi River. The traces of their early presence may be found in the architecture and calligraphy of towns such as St. Augustine, Florida (America's oldest town), in the names of islands such as Islamadora, and in the customs of the American Indians.

Some little known but very intriguing statistics follow:

In 1178, a Chinese document known as the Sung Document records the voyage of Muslim sailors to a land known as Mu-Lan-Pi (America). This document is mentioned in The Khotan Amirs, published in 1933.

Abu Bakari, a Muslim king from the Malian Empire, leads a series of nautical voyages to the New World in 1310.

In 1312, African Muslims from Mandinga arrive in the Gulf of Mexico and explore the American interior via the Mississippi River.

1513, Piri Reis completes his first world map, including the Americas, after researching maps from all over the world. The map is unsurpassed in its practicality and artistry.

1530, African slaves arrive in America. More than 10 million were uprooted from their homes and brought to America, and more than 30 percent of these were Muslim. These slaves formed the backbone of American economy.

In 1539, Estevanico of Azamor, a Muslim from Morocco, lands in Florida and becomes the first Muslim to cross the American continent At least two states owe their beginnings to this Muslim, Arizona and New Mexico.

More Evidence

New Zealand archaeologist and linguist Barry Fell in his work Saga America points to evidence of a Muslim's presence in various parts of the Americas. In addition to drawing several cultural parallels between West African peoples and certain "Indian" peoples of the southwest, Fell points out that the southwest's Pima people possessed a vocabulary which contained words of Arabic origin. The presence of such words among the Pima is compounded by the existence of Islamic petrogyphs in places like California. Fell informs us that in Inyo county, California, there exists an early American petrogyph (rock carving) which states in Arabic: "Yasus ben Maria" ("Jesus, Son of Mary"), a phrase commonly found within the surahs of the Holy Qur'an. Fell is convinced that this glyph is many centuries older than the U.S. Fell also identifies the Algonquian language as having words with Arabic roots, especially words which pertained to navigation, astronomy, meteorology, medicine, and anatomy. The presence of such words again illustrates significant cultural contact between the American "Indians" and the Arabic-speaking peoples of the Islamic world. Such Islamic peoples evidently came primarily from the African continent as additional evidence suggests.

Ivan Van Sertima in They Came Before Columbus outlines evidence of ancient and early African contacts in the American continent. Among the items of evidence which Van Sertima unveils is the presence of African Muslim surnames among American "Indian" peoples. Van Sertima points out that Ges, Zamoras, Marabitine, and Marabios are a few of the names with clear transcontinental links. Of particular interest however, are the names "Marabitine" and "Marabios" which relate to "Marabout" (Murabit); the "Holy Men and Women" of the Moorish Empire. The Marabouts were the protectors of African Muslim frontiers. They are often remembered for having acted as buffers against Catholic/European encroachment.

In Panama and Colombia there were rulers ("princes") whom the invading Catholic Spaniards recognized as having "completely Moorish or Biblical" names: such as "Do-Bayda" and "Aben-Amechy." Even in the Caribbean, the evidence of a significant Muslim presence can be found. P.V. Ramos points out in African Presence in Early America, that Christopher Columbus' own impression of the "Carib" peoples was that they were "Mohammedans". Ramos says that the dietary restrictions of the Carib were similar to those of Islamic peoples and this provided one reason for such an impression.

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 the top of a beautiful mountain. The ruins of mosques and minarets with inscriptions of Qur'anic verses have been discovered in Cuba, Mexico, Texas, and Nevada. During his second voyage, Columbus was told by the Indians of Espanola (Haiti) that Black people had been to the island before his arrival. For proof, they presented Columbus with the spears of these African Muslims. These weapons were tipped with a yellow metal that the Indians called Guanine, a word of West African derivation meaning gold alloy. Oddly enough, it is related to the Arabic world 'Ghinaa' which means 'Wealth'.

In 1498 CE, on his third voyage to the New World, Columbus landed in Trinidad. Later, he sighted the South American continent, where some of his crew went ashore and found natives using colorful handkerchiefs of symmetrically woven cotton which resembled the head dresses and loincloths of Guinea in their colors, style, and function. He referred to them as Almayzars. Almayzar is an Arabic word for 'wrapper', 'cover,' 'apron', and or 'skirting', which was the cloth the Moors (Spanish or North African Muslims) imported from West Africa (Guinea) into Morocco, Spain, and Portugal. During this voyage, Columbus was surprised that the married women wore cotton panties (bragas) and he wondered where these natives learned their modesty. Hernando Cortez, Spanish conqueror, described the dress of the Indian women as long veils and the dress of Indian men as 'breechcloth painted in the style of Moorish draperies'. Ferdinand Columbus called the native cotton garments 'breechcloths of the same design and cloth as the shawls worn by the Moorish women of Granada'. Even the similarity of the children's hammocks to those found in North Africa was uncanny.

Dr. Barry Fell (Harvard University) introduced in his book Saga America solid scientific evidence supporting the arrival, centuries before Columbus, of Muslims from North and West Africa. Dr. Fell discovered the existence of Muslim schools at Valley of Fire, Allan Springs, Logomarsino, Keyhole Canyon, Washoe and Hickison Summit Pass (Nevada), Mesa Verde (Colorado), Mimbres Valley (New Mexico), and Tipper Canoe (Indiana) dating back to 700-800 CE. Engraved on rocks in the old western US, he found texts, diagrams and charts representing the last surviving fragments of what was once a system of schools - both elementary and higher levels. The language of instruction was North African Arabic written with old Kufic Arabic script. The subjects of instruction included writing, reading, arithmetic, religion, history, geography, mathematics, astronomy, and sea navigation.

The descendants of the Muslim visitors of North America are members of the present Iroquois, Algonquin, Anasazi, Hohokam, and Olmec native people.

In 1654, the English explorers reported a colony of bearded people wearing European clothing, living in cabins, smelting silver, and dropping to their knees to pray many times daily, wherever they might be. The early 17th Century Powhatan Indian's description of Heaven is nearly, word for word, the description found in the Holy Qur'an. Tennessee Governor John Sevier records a 1784 encounter in what is now Western North Carolina with a dark-skinned, reddish-brown complexioned people supposed to be of Moorish descent who claim to be Portuguese. In east Tennessee in late 1700's, Jonathan Swift, an Englishman, employed dark-skinned men who were known as "Mecca Indians".

Many "Indian" words seem to have their origin in Arabic indicating a definite link and heritage. This is but a very small sampling of many Indian words with connections to Islam and Arabic/Turkish origins.

Indian Word Turkish/Ottoman Meaning
Allegheny (mountains) Allah genis God vastness
chitlin citla a crackling sound
Seminole Sami nal Semites who ran away
Niagara Falls Ne Yaygara Huge noise (lit. 'what a noise')
Micanopy Mekka-nabi Prophet of Mecca (Seminole chief who united the various factions of the Seminoles into a major fighting force)
Hadjo Hodja (Hoca) wise leader who has been on "haj" to Mecca
Shawnee sah ne great shah, or great king
Shenandoah sen doga happy/pleasant natural setting
Cherry Winche cari-ince shallow flowing stream (Name of a small stream in Louisiana)
Tuckahoe Tur-kih-ot Round dirty plant (Algonquin/Powhatan word for tubular, potato-like plant)
Shindig sen lik ('shen-lick') happy or joyous party (old Appalachian word for community party)
Werowance veri-han ('werra-hahn') Turkish term meaning religious, God- fearing leader

There is much more which can be said about the legacy of Muslims in the early Americas. In spite of what the proverbial mainstream community may think, the presence of Muslims in the Americas is much older and much more profound than many of them know or care to admit. When the Prophet (pbuh) told his followers to "go as far as China" to spread the word of Islam, it is becoming apparent that they did just that and more!


The Islamic Bulletin
P.O. Box 410186, San Francisco, CA 94141-0186

January 1999
Ramadan 1419
Note from the Editor
Letters to the Editor
Islam in China
Ramadan is Here
1178 C.E. - Muslims Explore America?
Women in Islam - Then & Now
Supplications for Muslims
Wisdom of the Prophet
10 Principles of Success
How I Embraced Islam
Qur'an & Science
Stories of the Sahabah
Cook's Corner
Funny, Isn't It?
Dawa with Taste
Silver Linings From
a Muhajjibah
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