Muslims from Africa reached the New World 6th Centuries before Columbus – By Laila Hasib

musa-mansaAsk any schoolboy or girl in North America and the Chances are they will say that Columbus discovered America. They will even give the date: October 11, 1492. Not only did Christopher Columbus not “discover” any place or see the American shore, but also European historians, who dominate the world scene, have conveniently hidden the truth about the first contacts between the “new and old worlds”. To tell the world that that Muslims from Africa were the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean, disembark on solid soil and live in the Caribbean Islands and in South America would disrupt the imperialists’ false sense of Glory and Superiority.

Much has become known about the explorer Columbus through the strenuous efforts of native people eager to tell their story. Five hundred years after he washed up on the shores of San Salvador, it has become clear that Columbus stumbled upon not only “Indians” but Muslims as well. Muslims began traveling to the Caribbean six centuries before European contact was made (over 1,100 years ago). Columbus and early Spanish and Portuguese explorers were able to voyage across the Atlantic (a distance of 1,500 miles) due to Muslim geographical and navigational information and maps made by Muslim traders, in particular Al-Masudi’s drawings (d. 957 CE). Vasco da Gama consulted with Ahmad Ibn Majid on the African Western coast before setting out into the Atlantic. Ibn Majid was the world’s expert on navigation in the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Sea of Southern China and the waters around the West Indies.

As early as 889 CE, a Muslim navigator, Kashkhash ibn Saeed ibn Aswad, from Cordoba Spain, crossed the Atlantic and returned with wonderful treasures. In February 999 CE, Ibn Farukh landed in Gando (Great Canary Islands), visited King Guanariga, and continued westwards where he saw and named two islands, Capraria and Pluitana, he arrived back in Spain in May.

The famous Arab Geographer Al Sharif al-Idrisi (1097-1155) wrote in The Geography of Al-Idrisi: “A group of seafarers (from North Africa) sailed into the sea of Darkness and Fog (The Atlantic Ocean) from Lisbon (Portugal) in order to discover what was in it, and to what extent were its limits…. They finally reached an island that had people and cultivation…. On the fourth day a translator came speaking the Arabic language!”

When Mansa Musa the world-renowned Mandinka monarch of the West African Islamic Empire of Mali, was enroute to Makkah on his famous Hajj in 1324, he informed the scholars of Cairo that his brother, King Abubakari II, had undertaken two expeditions into the Atlantic Ocean. When the king did not return to Timbuktoo from the second voyage of 1311, Mansa Musa became ruler of the Empire.

The Mandinkas used the closest land base to West Africa, Brazil, as the center for their exploration of the Americas. They traveled along rivers through the dense jungles of South America into North America. In a document written in 1754 a Spanish banderista (land pirate) wrote of well laid-out cities in and around Minas Geraes in the interior of Brazil with suburb stone and mortar buildings, obelisks and statues. The jungle has reclaimed many of these Mandinka cities, but the early Spanish explorers saw a large number of them. The Muslims left a legacy of writing among the natives of the area, especially on the Koaty Islands of Lake Titicaca, where the ideograms are identical to the Mandinka script.

Even as far as the Pacific Ocean coast of South America, near Ylo, Mandinka Muslim writings have been found and translated: “man – To pursue worship, to mature and become matter without life. Man pursues a cavernous place” -(i.e. the grave).

Anthropologists have proven that the Mandinkas under Mansa Musa’s instructions explored many parts of North America via the Mississippi and other river systems. At Four Corners, Arizona writings show that they even brought elephants from Africa to the area.

In Panama, Central America, the Muslims had such an effect that even today the indigenous people are classified as either Mandingas (Mandinkas) of Tul.

When Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the Spaniard, reached Panama in 1513, he came upon Africans. His recorder wrote that when Balboa entered the province of Quarequa, along the Isthmus of Darien, he found no gold, but some black prisoners of war belonging to the king. He asked him where he had obtained them and was told that blacks lived quite near and were constantly at war with them. “These blacks were entirely like the blacks of Guinea.”

Ferdinand Columbus, the son of Christopher, wrote about the Blacks seen by his father in Honduras: “ The people who live farther east (of Pointe Cavinas) as far as Cape Graciosa Dios, are almost black in color.” Some Muslims in Honduras called themselves Al Mamy’s (Al-Imamu or Imam). Other groups of blacks were reported in Honduras, perhaps by Columbus, near the Nicaraguan border at Tegucigalpa and known as Jaras and Guabas – these ancient clan and territorial designations titles are still used in Africa today.

A Caribe scholar explained in The Daily Clarion of Belize (November 5, 1946): “When Christopher Columbus discovered the West Indies about the year 1493, he found there a race…. with wooly hair whom he called Caribs.

They were seafaring hunters and tillers of the soil, peaceful and united. They hated aggression. Their religion was Mohammedanism and their language was Arabic.” Islamic practices such as the prohibition of swine eating are well known among the Caribs.  Their most prized possession was the Caracole, a crescent shaped alloy framed in wood.

A renowned American historian and linguist Leo Weiner of Harvard University, in his book, “Africa and The Discovery of America” (1920) wrote that Columbus was well aware of the Mandinka presence in the “New World”, and that the West African Muslims had spread throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America, North America and even into Canada, where they were trading and intermarrying with the Iroquois and Algonquin Indians. No wonder Weiner’s book is controversial. Columbus wrote of his third voyage: “Inhabitants of the Island of Santiago said that to the Southwest of the Island of Huego (one of the Cape Verde’s) was another island of people (Haiti), “ where he found “Black People who have the tops of their spears made of a metal which they call “Guanin” (Mandinka for gold…32 parts, 18 were of gold, six parts of silver and eight of copper. “ Muslims in West Africa had known the art of alloying gold with copper and silver for centuries.

Columbus left on his first voyage under the patronage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain at a time when the Muslim population was under tremendous pressure to convert to Catholicism or face extermination. Muslims had ruled Spain for over 700 years dominating Europe culturally, educationally and economically. But Spain fell to the Christians that year. The colonization of the Americas by the Spanish was simply an extension of the reqonquista (reconquest) of the Iberian Peninsula. The explorers were Spanish soldiers who had fought in Africa and sailed the seas to destroy Islam, therefore they easily recognized the Muslims in the “New World”.  The influence of Islam on Spain was so profound that when Hernando Cortez arrived in Yucatan, Mexico in 1519, he named the area El-Cairo and the men of Cortez and Pizarro called the native temples Mezquitas (Spanish for masjid).

Some Moriscos (Muslims who had become Christians by force) also traveled to the Americas as soldiers, explorers and laborers. There they returned to their true faith and succeeded in propagating Islam to the native people. As soon as this was discovered, a series of laws was decreed by Spain to stop the flow of free and enslaved Muslims to the Americas.

The king wrote on July16 1550: “I order you that under no circumstances, or by any means shall you consent to the passage to our Indies, Islands or Tierra Firma of any Negro Slaves who may be from the Levant or who may have been brought up there, or no other Negroes who may have been reared with Moriscos, even though they be of the race of Negroes of Guinea.

Not only were they afraid that the Muslims would upset their heinous plans of enslaving the native people, but their presence was also seen as a threatening their efforts at converting the population to their passive brand of Christianity. In another edict he wrote:  “You are informed that if such Moors are by their nationality and origin Moors, and if they should teach Muslim doctrines or wage war against you, or the Indians who may have adopted the Muslim religion, you shall; not make them slaves by any means whatsoever. On the contrary you shall try to convert them or persuade them by good and legitimate means to accept our Holy Catholic Faith.

The hypocrisy of the church and the state was clearly highlighted by the first Christians to see land in the “New World”. When he returned to Spain Rodrigo de Triana embraced Islam and said: “ Columbus did not give him credit, nor the king and recompense (reward) for his having seen before any other man, Light in The Indies.”

This article was originally printed in Mahjuba Magazine, no. 109, June 1993 -Tehran, Iran


By: Hajj Haroon

I have had the privilege of studying with several reliable Indigenous American scholars and Spiritual Teachers (Holy Men/Medicine Men) that have confirmed that they had trade and social relationships with Africans long before the coming of the Europeans to the “New World.” 

A renowned Medicine Man, Historian and Teacher, Michael Red-Thunder, of the Rosebud Sioux, relayed several important traditions to me.

It was during a class Mr. Red-Thunder was teaching on the “Pipe Ceremony” that he imparted the significance of what is called: The Sioux Medicine Wheel which is divided into four equal sections and each section represents the four basic colors of the Human race:  Red, White, Black and Yellow.

According to the teachings of the Sioux “the Great Spirit” (God) endowed each of these peoples with a particular affinity and responsibility.

1. The Red Man= The Responsibility for the maintenance of the Earth -the Sioux regard themselves as the “Caretakers of Mother earth”. 

2. The White Man = the element of Fire. Inclusive of explosives and “Fire Power”.

3. The Black Man = The Waters of the Earth, inclusive of:  the teardrop, the circulatory system in man – the rivers, streams and the Oceans.

4. The Yellow Man = The Keepers of The Ancient Wisdom.

During the class he mentioned that The Sioux had relationships and had signed treaties with Africans peoples long before the Great Flood “when the Mountain Ranges went from East to West,” – according to Sioux tradition, It was after The Great Flood that the Mountains assumed their North South orientation.

It is also interesting to note that according to Mr. Red-Thunder, one can, with a little reflection – diagnose the social conditions of each one of these peoples by how well they have honored these elemental endowments from God. Physical disease can also be diagnosed as a result of the mismanagement of these Gifts. A little reflection and meditation on this “Medicine Wheel” and its four compartments will yield deep insights.

As with the Traditional Doctors and Practitioners of “Tibb” from the Indian sub -continent, The Middle East and Persia. The Science of Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine of China. The Sangoma’s and Inyanga’s of South Africa that I met during my recent visit there – are great repositories of traditional “Medicine”, and Knowledge, that can be of great benefit to mankind.

Allah in His Noble Book The Quran has reminded us that: “A messenger (warner) was sent to All of the nations of Peoples) Surah 35, Al-Fatir, Vs. 24.  Muslims are encouraged to “Seek Knowledge from the Cradle to The Grave and to Seek Knowledge even if it takes them (us) to China.   Food for thought!