Being African in a time when the continent is nothing more than a cake which is free for imperialist consumption is not really ideal as of now. On top of that, being Muslim in America is not ideal due to the misrepresentation of the faith largely due to foreign elements which have existed since the times of the Khulafa Rashideen. However, by nature, Islam is a faith of progression. In fact, Allah (swt) challenges us to strive in all of our lawful endeavours to reach excellence in them. A proof of this are reports that show an early Muslim presence in the Americas way before Columbus even thought about exploration.
As the Columbus Day holiday was only last month, I was compelled to write about this topic to show that the misinformation which is displayed about Islam really has no solid basis at all. When Islam was firmly established in North, West Africa, and southern Spain, it was a progressive time in history.
Not only did the religious sciences flourish but the secular sciences did as well. One of those sciences was exploration. This exploration was not limited to known territories, but also the unknown as well. One such explorer by the name of Don Juan gave a report to Spain’s Queen Isabella that confirmed that Indians in America were indeed trading with Muslim peoples from Africa.
When more European explorers reached Hispaniola (today’s Dominican Republic & Haiti) they were presented with spears, much like the ones found in the Muslim dominated savannah region of West Africa. It must be said with these developments that Colombus’ work of discovering of America was done for him. Colombus did indeed sail from Spain, but he took a route called the Guinea route derived from the West Coast of Africa to arrive on American soil.
In reality, we can say Colombus was more of a passenger on a different ship rather than true explorer.
The Kingdom of Al Andalus in what is today’s Spain and Portugal was prosperous largely due to the fundamental Islamic principles it was established upon. Moreover, it was connected with another Islamic kingdom in West Africa called Mali through religious, and economic grounds but also through exploration grounds. A serious of scholars of Arab Andalusian origin, by the names of Abu Zaid, Al Masudi, Al Idrisi, Istakhri, and Albufeda wrote various treaties in regards to geography. These treaties highlighted the fact there were lands beyond the European continent which they were residing in.
North African seafarers talk about the bounties of Americas didn’t go on deaf ears. Abu Bakari the Sultan of the Mali Kingdom of the time took heed to such reports. He took it upon himself to prepare a fleet of ships which would set sail as his north African counterparts have done before him. When he took sail he did not return but some of the other ships that set off with him did. They returned with reports of meeting with various people on the other side of the Atlantic.
What can be derived from these findings that are in accordance with Islamic traditions?
Muslim came to America as bringers of glad tidings. Rather than use colonial or conquistador like tactics of pillaging, robbing and stealing, they mingled, traded, and in some cases intermarried with the indigenous of the Americas. We Muslims as crazy as this may sound are more American than the descendants of Europeans whose ancestors came to this country in search of a better livelihood. Amazing how we do the same thing yet seem to have to apologize for doing such because of the actions of a few overzealous. The final point I would like to make is rather than get in shouting matches with Islamophobes, we should be reaching out to indigenous people of this land so history can possibly repeat itself. A society which we can live in without fear or weariness of practising our faith can exist how it existed before pre-Colombus times.
by Yahaya Ba Sele