Thanksgiving is seen as a very controversial holiday in light of the later massacre of the Native Americans, with whom the pilgrims had originally shared this feast with. Nonetheless, as Muslim Americans we can look back at our own history and be content with the peaceful pre-Columbian relationship we shared with the Native Americans.
Muslims in the “New World”:
Dr. Barry Fell’s work, “Saga America”, provides evidence of Muslim presence in the Americas as they traded and exchanged knowledge and ideas with the natives. An example is the language of the Pima people in the South West and the Algonquian language that share many words with Arabic. Furthermore, one of the Islamic petroglyphs discovered in the Inyo County of California states “Yasus bin Maria”, literally “Jesus son of Mary”, which is not a Christian phrase but is found a number of times in the Qur’an.
Furthermore, in the Western states, Dr. Fell has found texts, diagrams, and charts that were used for schoolings. These texts date back to 700-800 CE and cover subjects such as mathematics, astronomy, and sea navigation with the instruction written in North African Kufic Arabic.
Ivan Van Sertima’s book, They Came Before Columbus, cites great detail as to why he believes Arab Muslim trade was active in America and the marvelous culture the Native Americans shared with the Islamic World. Sertima also narrates a description of the Moorish Muslim expeditions across the Atlantic to an “unknown land”. A Muslim historian and geographer Abul-Hassan Ali Ibn Al-Hussain Al-Masudi (871 – 957 CE) wrote in his book ‘MurujAdh-dhahabwaMaadin al-Jawhar’ (The Meadows of Gold and Quarries of Jewels) that during the rule of the Muslim Caliph of Spain Abdullah Ibn Muhammad, a Muslim navigator Khashkhash Ibn Saeed Ibn Aswad of Cordoba, Spain sailed from Delba (Palos) in 889 CE, crossed the Atlantic, reached an unknown territory and returned with fabulous treasures. In Al-Masudi’s map of the world there is a large area in the ocean of darkness and fog (the Atlantic ocean), which he referred to as the unknown territory. This indicates a historical presence of Muslims in the Americas before Christopher Columbus.
But in the end, why should we care who first discovered America? Were the Native Americans not here before any of us “discovered” them? Were they not enjoying their lives in peace and harmony with nature? Did they not have a vibrant and lively tradition, each tribe with its own language and culture?
What happened in the past is surely horrid: The complete genocide of a people whose native tongues and cultures had spread through these lands for millennia. Our Muslim ancestors did come to these lands, long before the European’s arrival, and left without making such a detrimental impact. Muslims were here trading and learning from one another and exchanging cultures. We did not come here on a quest of conquership, but rather on a quest of scholarship to explore God’s Earth and His people.
Whether history books will ever reflect this part of history is slim. But one thing is important: Muslim Americans have a long history in the United States from the 9th century trade with Native Americans to the enslavement of African Muslims for American plantations. Muslims have been a part of the fabric of this nation for centuries and this should be our inspiration to flourish in this great nation.
Sertima, Ivan Van. They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America.
Ali al-Masudi (940). MurujAdh-Dhahab (The Book of Golden Meadows)