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Pre-Columbian Islamic-Americas contact theories

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Pre-Columbian Islamic-Americas contact theories are theories which argue that medieval Muslim explorers, from Al-Andalus (Islamic Iberia, comprising modern Portugal and Spain), the Maghreb (Northwest Africa), China, or West Africa, may have reached the Americas, and possibly made contact with the indigenous peoples of the Americas, at some point before Christopher Columbus' first voyage to the Americas in 1492. Proponents of these theories cite as evidence reports of expeditions and voyages conducted by navigators and adventurers who they argue reached the Americas, some time between the late 9th century and the 15th century.

Andalusian theoriesEdit

Proponents of the earliest such contact theory cite Arabic sources written during the Caliphate of Córdoba which report sailors from Al-Andalus traveling into the Atlantic Ocean between the 9th and 14th centuries. Proponents argue that some of these sailors may have traveled as far as the Americas.

Khashkhash Ibn Saeed Ibn AswadEdit

The earliest report cited by proponents is the Muruj adh-dhahab wa maadin aljawhar (The meadows of gold and quarries of jewels) of the Muslim historian and geographer Ali al-Masudi (871-957). Ali al-Masudi stated that during the rule of the Muslim Caliph of Al-Andalus, Abdullah Ibn Mohammad, a Muslim navigator Khashkhash Ibn Saeed Ibn Aswad, from Cordoba, sailed from Delba (Palos) in 889, crossed the Atlantic, reached an unknown territory (Ard Majhoola) and returned with fabulous treasures.[1][2] Ali al-Masudi, in The Book of Golden Meadows (947), wrote:

"In the ocean of fogs [the Atlantic] there are many curiosities which we have mentioned in detail in our Akhbar az-Zaman, on the basis of what we saw there, adventurers who penetrated it on the risk of their life, some returning back safely, others perishing in the attempt. Thus a certain inhabitant of Cordoba, Khashkhash by name, assembled a group of young men, his co-citizens, and went on a voyage on this ocean. After a long time he returned back with booty. Every Spaniard knows this story."[3][4]

In Ali al-Masudi's map of the world (between 896-956), there is a large area in the ocean, southwest of Africa, which he referred to as "Ard Majhoola" (Arabic for "the unknown territory"). Some have argued that "Ard Majhoola" may be a reference to the Americas.[5]

Ibn FarrukhEdit

According to historian Abu Bakr Ibn Umar Al-Gutiyya, another Muslim navigator, Ibn Farrukh, from Granada, sailed across the Atlantic in February 999, landed in Gando (Canary Islands) where he visited the guanche King Guanariga, and continued westward where he eventually saw and named two islands, Capraria and Pluitana. He arrived back in the Al-Andalus in May 999.


Muhammad Al-Idrisi's geographical text, Nuzhatul Mushtaq, is often cited by proponents of pre-Columbian Andalusian-Americas contact theories.[3][6] In this text, al-Idrisi wrote the following on the Atlantic Ocean:

"The Commander of the Muslims Ali ibn Yusuf ibn Tashfin sent his admiral Ahmad ibn Umar, better known under the name of Raqsh al-Auzz to attack a certain island in the Atlantic, but he died before doing that. [...] Beyond this ocean of fogs it is not known what exists there. Nobody has the sure knowledge of it, because it is very difficult to traverse it. Its atmosphere is foggy, its waves are very strong, its dangers are perilous, its beasts are terrible, and its winds are full of tempests. There are many islands, some of which are inhabited, others are submerged. No navigator traverses them but bypasses them remaining near their coast. [...] And it was from the town of Lisbon that the adventurers set out known under the name of Mugharrarin [seduced ones], penetrated the ocean of fogs and wanted to know what it contained and where it ended. [...] After sailing for twelve more days they perceived an island that seemed to be inhabited, and there were cultivated fields. They sailed that way to see what it contained. But soon barques encircled them and made them prisoners, and transported them to a miserable hamlet situated on the coast. There they landed. The navigators saw there people with red skin; there was not much hair on their body, the hair of their head was straight, and they were of high stature. Their women were of an extraordinary beauty."[3]

This translation by Dr Professor Muhammad Hamidullah is, however, questionable, since it tells us that, after having reached an area of "sticky and stinking waters", the Mugharrarin (also translated as "the adventurers") moved back and first reached an uninhabited island where they found "a huge quantity of sheep the meat of which was bitter and uneatable" and, then, "continued southward" and reached the above reported island where they were soon surrounded by barques and brought to "a village whose inhabitants were often fair-haired with long and flaxen hair and the women of a rare beauty". Among the villagers, one spoke Arabic and asked them where they came from. Then the king of the village ordered them to bring them back to the continent where they were surprised to be welcomed by Berbers.[7]

If this translation is correct where it says 'red skin', it raises questions as to who they were. Early descriptions of Native Americans rarely referred to them as red. For instance, "a 1702 history of New Sweden, which did not describe Indians as red but as differing "in their colour; in some places being black, and in others, brown or yellow," and "the earliest European explorers of the Southeast, the Spanish, and described Indians as "brown of skin".[8] This is both a possible explanation of 'blacks' seen by early European explorers and settlers and casts doubt about comments on 'red skin' referring to Native Americans.

Archivo de la Casa de Medina SidoniaEdit

Luisa Isabel Alvarez de Toledo, 21st Duchess of Medina Sidonia claims that documents found during the many years of her research work in the Archivo de la Casa Medina Sidonia[9] prove that some time before Columbus, Arab-Andalusian or Moroccan sailors traded with ports in Brazil, Guayana and Venezuela.[10]

Christopher ColumbusEdit

When Christopher Columbus made his first voyage to the Americas in 1492, he was accompanied by several Muslim sailors (Andalusian Moors) who travelled with him to the New World,[11] as well as Andalusian Jews who attempted to speak Arabic to the Tainos in Cuba.[12]

It has been claimed that Columbus' son, Fernando Colón, also records that his father learned in Genoa from Muslim shipmen that visited the place that it was possible to reach India by sailing west of the European continent as an alternative to sailing eastwards.[3]

Chinese theoriesEdit


Main article: Sung Document

"Mu-Lan-Pi" is a land described in two Chinese sources: Ling-wai tai-ta {1178) by Chou Ch'ii-fei and Chu-fan chihg (1225) by Chao Ju-kua. They are together referred to as the "Sung Document", based on accounts by Muslim explorers in Song Dynasty China. It states that Muslim sailors reached a region called "Mu-Lan-Pi", which has been claimed to be some part of the Americas.[13][6] Chou Ch'ii-fei states the following:[13]

"The country of Mu-lan-p'i is to the west of the Ta-shih country. There is a great sea, and to the west of this sea there are countless countries, but Mu-lan-p'i is the one country which is visited by the big ships of the Ta-shih. Putting to sea from T'o-pan-ti in the country of the Ta-shih, after sailing due west for full an hundred days, one reaches this country. A single one of these (big) ships of theirs carries several thousand men, and on board they have stores of wine and provisions, as well as weaving looms. If one speaks of big ships, there are none so big as those of Mu-lan-p'i. The products of this country are extraordinary; the grains of wheat are three inches long, the melons six feet round", enough for a meal for twenty or thirty men. The pomegranates weigh five catties, the peaches two catties, citrons over twenty catties, salads weigh over ten catties and have leaves three or four feet long. "Rice and wheat are kept in silos (oiflg ) for tens of years without spoiling. Among the native products are foreign sheep, which are several feet high and have tails as big as a fan. In the spring-time they slit open their

bellies and take out some tens of catties of fat, after which they sew them up again, and the sheep live on; if the fat were not removed, (the animal) would swell up and die". "If one travels by land (from Mu-lan-p'i) two hundred days journey, the days are only six hours long. In autumn if the west wind arises, men and beasts must at once drink to keep alive, and if they are not quick enough about it they die of thirst"

The assertion that "Mu-Lan-Pi" is a land to the west of the Muslim nations and that it takes the Muslim explorers a hundred days to reach and years to return, would have been too long for an east-west Mediterranean journey. If the document is authentic, and furthermore if the identification of "Mu-Lan-Pi" with America is correct, then it would be one of the earliest records of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic travel from the Eurasian continent to the Americas. This theory was proposed by the historian Hui-lin Li,[13][6] and while Joseph Needham is also open to the possibility, he doubts that Arabic ships at the time would have been able to withstand a return journey over such a long distance across the Atlantic Ocean.[14]

Additional evidence related to agriculture presented by historian Hui-lin Li is described by historian Jaser Abu Safieh as follows: [2]

Finally, it may be interesting to conclude by the story we find in some Chinese ancient documents dating from the 13th century. Unearthed by Hui-lin li, a professor of botany in the American University of Pennsylvania, these documents state that navigators coming from the Islamic world reached America before Christopher Columbus, where they brought various kinds of plants. That theory was the fruit of 9 years of research Dr. Li spent in tracing all over the world. The aforesaid documents confirm that Muslims brought and raised the papaya, pineapple, pumpkin and the Indian corn in a region named "Molan-pi", which may correspond to some part of the Americas.

Zheng HeEdit


Zheng He was born in 1371 of the Hui ethnic group and into the Muslim faith in the modern-day Yunnan Province of China,[15] and was a sixth-generation descendant of Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar, a famous Khwarezmian governor from Bukhara in modern-day Uzbekistan. Between 1405 and 1433, the Ming government sponsored a series of seven naval expeditions, and Zheng He was placed as the admiral in control of the fleet and armed forces that undertook these expeditions.

A Chinese sailing map claimed to be dated 1763 was further claimed to be a copy of another map purportedly made in 1418 by Zheng He. The map has detailed descriptions of both Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians. According to the map's owner, Liu Gang, after he read the book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World by Gavin Menzies, he realized the significant potential value of the map. The map has been tested to verify the age of its paper, but not the ink. Although the map has been shown to date from a period that could cover 1763, the question remains as to whether it is an accurate copy of an earlier 1418 map, a copy of a contemporary 18th-century European map, or a modern forgery drawn on ancient paper.

A number of authorities on Chinese history have questioned the authenticity of the map. Some point to the use of the Mercator-style projection, its accurate reckoning of longitude and its North-based orientation. Also mentioned is the depiction of the erroneous Island of California, a mistake commonly repeated in European maps from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Geoff Wade of the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore has strongly disputed the authenticity of the map and has suggested that it is either an 18th or 21st-century fake. Fiona Petchey, head of the testing unit at Waikato University, had carbon-dated the map, and the carbon dating indicated with an 80% probability a date for the paper of the map between either 1640-1690 or 1730-1810.[16] The 1421 hypothesis has been dismissed by Sinologists and other professional historians.

Mali EmpireEdit

See also: Abubakari II

An account drawn from contemporary reports regarding the Mali Empire haw been cited by proponents of African contact theories to suggest that expeditions from this West African empire may have crossed the Atlantic to reach the Americas.

In his book Massaalik al-absaar fi mamaalik al-amsaar (The pathway of sight in the provinces of the kingdoms), the historian Chihab ad-Dine Abu Abbas Ahmad bin Fadhl al-Umari (1300-1384) describes an expedition into the Atlantic.[17]

He relates a story obtained from the Mamluk governor of Cairo, Ibn Amir Hajib. While Mansa Musa was visiting Cairo as part of his pilgramate to Mecca, Ibn Amir Hajib asked how he had succeeded to the throne, and this is what Ibn Amir Hajib reported he was told:

The ruler who preceded me did not believe that it was impossible to reach the extremity of the ocean that encircles the earth (meaning the Atlantic): he wanted to reach that (end) and was determined to pursue his plan. So he equipped two hundred boats full of men, and many others full of gold, water and provisions sufficient for several years. He ordered the captain not to return until they had reached the other end of the ocean, or until he had exhausted the provisions and water. So they set out on their journey. They were absent for a long period, and, at last just one boat returned. When questioned the captain replied: 'O Prince, we navigated for a long period, until we saw in the midst of the ocean a great river which flowing massively. My boat was the last one; others were ahead of me, and they were drowned in the great whirlpool and never came out again. I sailed back to escape this current.' But the Sultan would not believe him. He ordered two thousand boats to be equipped for him and his men, and one thousand more for water and provisions. Then he conferred the regency on me for the term of his absence, and departed with his men, never to return nor to give a sign of life.[18]

A claim has been made that fleet landed in Brazil in around 1312, in the place now called Recife and that Pernambuco is allegedly an aberration of the Mande name for the rich gold fields of the Mali Empire.[19][20]

Nautical feasibilityEdit

See also: Thor Heyerdahl and The Ra II expedition

In 1969, Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian adventurer crossed the Atlantic ocean from the North African port of Safi, arriving in Barbados, West Indies. His craft was made by local Africans of indigenous papyrus. For his journey he relied on the southbound Canary Current off the coast of the Iberian peninsula and the western coast of Africa, and the Northeast Tradewinds that blow westward towards the Caribbean region. The voyage has been suggested to indicate that it was technically possible to cross the Atlantic in medieval western Africa.[21]

See alsoEdit


  1. Tabish Khair (2006). Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing, p. 12. Signal Books. ISBN 1904955118.
  2. Ali al-Masudi (940). Muruj Adh-Dhahab (The Book of Golden Meadows), Vol. 1, p. 138.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Professor Mohammed Hamidullah (Winter 1968). "Muslim Discovery of America before Columbus", Journal of the Muslim Students' Association of the United States and Canada 4 (2): 7-9 [1]
  4. shorter version of Professor Mohammed Hamidullah's "Muslim Discovery of America before Columbus"
  5. Agha Hakim, Al-Mirza, Riyaadh Al-Ulama (Arabic), Vol. 2 (p. 386) and Vol. 4 (p. 175).
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Joseph Needham & Colin A. Ronan (1986), The Shorter Science and Civilisation in China, 3, Cambridge University Press, pp. 119-20, ISBN 0521315603
  7. Idrisi, Nuzhatul Mushtaq - "La première géographie de l'Occident", comments by Henri Bresc and Annliese Nef, Paris, 1999
  8. How Indians Got to be Red, Nancy Shoemaker, The American Historical Review, Vol. 102, No. 3. (Jun., 1997), pp. 625–644.
  9. The archives are now part of the Fundación Casa Medina Sidonia
  10. She published her views in No fuimos nosotros (It wasn't us) and África versus América.
  11. S. A. H. Ahsani (July 1984). "Muslims in Latin America: a survey", Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 5 (2), p. 454-463.
  12. María Rosa Menocal (2000). Culture in the Time of Tolerance: Al-Andalus as a Model for Our Time, Berkeley Electronic Press.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Hui-lin Li (1960-1961), "Mu-lan-p'i: A Case for Pre-Columbian Transatlantic Travel by Arab Ships", Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (Harvard-Yenching Institute) 23: 114-126,
  14. Joseph Needham & Colin A. Ronan (1986), The Shorter Science and Civilisation in China, 3, Cambridge University Press, p. 120, ISBN 0521315603
  15. Evan Hadingham. Ancient Chinese Explorers.
  16. Michel Field. Writer trashes origins of Maori.
  17. Al-Asfahani, Ar-Raghib, Adharea Ila Makarim Ash-Shia, Vol. 16, p. 343.
  18. "Abbas Hamdani, An Islamic Background to the Voyages of Discovery. Language and Literature" in The Legacy of Muslim Spain (Studien Und Texte Zur Geistesgeschichte Des Mittelalters), 1994, by Salma Khadra Jayyusi (Editor)
  19. BBC's The Story of Africa: The Kingdoms of Mali and Songhay
  20. Africa's 'greatest explorer' - by Joan Baxter (2000)
  21. Quick, Abdullah Hakim; M'Bow, Amdou Mahtar; Kettani, Ali (2001). Islam and Muslims in the American continent: Islam in America before Columbus. Beirut: Center of historical, economical and social studies.  Pg. 34


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