Six links between America and the Muslim world

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SHAFAQNA – This January, U.S. President Donald Trump completed his first year in the White House, one of the toughest for American Muslims. As Islamophobia continues to rise in America, we think that it’s time to remind ourselves of the age-old links between Islam and the Americas.

1. THE AMERICAN TOWNS MECCA, MEDINA AND MUHAMMAD

You will find a Mecca and a Medina in the state of Ohio, a Mecca in California and Indiana, and Medinas in Washington, New York State, Michigan and Texas, the last of which is close to the Medina River. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s 1905 survey, except for the river and county in Texas, which were named after an early Latin settler named Pedro Medina, these towns and cities are indeed named after Islam’s two holiest cities. Texas is also home to a place called Mahomet, as is Illinois. Both, the survey says, were named after the Prophet.

2. AN AFRICAN MUSLIM KING MAY HAVE DISCOVERED THE AMERICAS

According to a fascinating theory about the fate of Abubakari II, Mansa of the Mali Empire, this African Muslim King may have reached the Americas long before Christopher Columbus. The king, the richest man in the world at the time, set off in 1312 with a fleet of 2,000 vessels to cross the Atlantic, inspired by the works of Muslim scholars claiming the world was round.

Abubakari never returned, but a research team in Mali believes he landed in Pernambuco, now Recife, Brazil. They say that Pernambuco is a deviation of the ancient Mande words “Boure Bambouk”, “rich gold fields”, the source of Abubakari’s wealth. They also cite reports that Columbus came across Muslims and “black” traders, and found gold with the exact alloy mixture as Malian gold.

3. THE PRESIDENT’S KORAN

Halfway up the eighth shelf in the Library of Congress’ Jefferson Library is a two-volume translation of the Quran by George Sale, published in England in 1764. A Founding Father and the third U.S. President, Thomas Jefferson shelved his “Koran” under law and legal matters, suggesting that the man who drafted several of the country’s laws may have been influenced by the Quran’s legal positions.

4. THE FIRST TO RECOGNISE AN INDEPENDENT U.S.A. WERE MUSLIMS

In 1777, the Muslim Kingdom of Morocco became the first country in the world to recognise the United States of America. This was formalised in 1786, when American diplomats John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (later the second and third U.S. Presidents) and Morocco’s Sultan Muhammad III signed the Moroccan–American Treaty of Friendship.

Moroccan-America Treaty of Friendship
Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship. / By http://www.usembassy.ma/usmorrelations/historicalbgrnd2.htm, via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

5. THE SPANISH–MUSLIM INFLUENCE ON LATIN AMERICA

When the Conquistadors arrived in the Americas, Muslim art and architecture was still highly regarded in their native Spain. As a result, many of the skilled workers they brought with them were familiar with the Mudéjar style, a mix of Muslim and Christian styles. North American Muslim scholar and Quran translator Thomas B. Irving noted:

In the 16th and 17th centuries, many of them [skilled Muslim workmen] were contracted to go to the Spanish colonies in the Indies, like Mexico, Upper Peru [Bolivia], New Granada [Colombia], Guatemala and Cuba… (Taken from the Foreword of Dr Thomas Ballantine Irving’s ‘Mudejar Crafts in the Americas’)

Mudejar Tower_Church of San Francisco_Cali Colombia
Mudejar Tower, Church of San Francisco, Cali Colombia. / Diego Carrejo Murillo – Trabajo propio, via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Mudéjar buildings in Latin America include the Mudéjar Tower in Cali, Colombia; the La Merced Cloister in Lima, Peru; and the Cloister of the University of San Carlos, Antigua. Other examples include Moorish geometric patterns still found on early 17th-century ceilings in towns like Mexico’s Tzintzuntzan and Colombia’s Tunja.

6. ISLAM’S ROLE IN THE WEST

On the dome of the Library of Congress in Washington DC is a mural of twelve figures in the Italian Renaissance style. It was painted by the artist Edwin Blashfield in 1897 to represent the “countries and epochs” that “contributed the most to western civilisation”. Egypt, Spain and England sit alongside Judea, the Middle Ages, and Islam, amongst others. Islam is represented as a seated, turbaned man, his head turned right and his foot resting on a scientific instrument, next to which is the word ‘physics’, illustrating what the builders of modern America admired most about the Islamic world.

This article is written by Tharik Hussain. Tharik is a freelance British Muslim travel writer, journalist, broadcaster and photographer specialising in the Muslim stories of Europe. Hussain’s first ever radio documentary, America’s Mosques; A Story of Integration, has been declared one of the world’s best radio documentaries for 2016. All his work can be viewed at www.tharikhussain.co.uk

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