Muslim sailors – and not Christopher Columbus – were the first foreigners to reach the Americas, Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan claimed on Saturday.
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Addressing a conference of Latin American Muslim Religious Leaders, held in Istanbul, Erdogan said that Muslim sailors landed in Cuba in 1178, some 300 years before Columbus.
“Latin America's contact with Islam dates back to the 12th century," Erdogan said, according to Sunday's Zaman website. "Christopher Columbus mentions the existence of a mosque on a hill along the Cuban coast Islam had expanded in the American continent before Columbus arrived."
Erdogan added that he would "talk to my brothers in Cuba" about rebuilding the mosque on the same hill. Turkish media reported last month that the Cuban government had rejected such a proposal.
According to the Independent newspaper, Erdogan's remarks reflect the writings of historian Youssef Mroueh that Middle Eastern and North African explorers, sailing from the Muslim part of Spain, had reached the Americas before Columbus' expedition.
However, other scholars have argued that the description was metaphorical – i.e. that Columbus wrote that the mountain looked like a mosque, rather than was one.
No archaeological evidence is known to exist of Muslims in the Americas before Columbus made his expedition in 1492 on behalf of the Spanish crown.