Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the President of Turkey, has apparently made a speech in which he claims that Muslims discovered the American continent three centuries before Christopher Columbus mistakenly landed in the Caribbean in 1492.
I suspect this was merely a tertiary claim in a speech trying to trumpet Turkish-Latin American relations while opportunistically criticising western imperialism. He was focusing more on the exploitative interest taken by the USA on the middle east, and it’s chief natural resource. But his churlish boast that Muslim’s beat the Europeans to the New World shows a staggering lack of critical thought. His claim is based on a line in Columbus’ diary that he saw a mosque atop a mountain in Cuba. Most historians have interpreted this as a reference to the mountains shape, and not a man-made structure — of which no evidence has been found. Like all theological minded speculators, Erdoğan’s only requirement of proof is what someone scribbled in a book many centuries ago.
For sake of argument I will grant the claim to pass. If Muslim’s did indeed go to the New World in 1178, they did not ‘discover’ the territory, any more than Columbus did in 1492. Estimations put the number of indigenous people living in the Americas at around fifty million. Therefore, it could not have been ‘discovered’ by Columbus or Muslims. Secondly, allowing Erdoğan’s claim to proceed gives rise to another issue of contention. He was criticising European imperialism, but in saying the Muslim’s got their first he is in effect admitting the failure of Muslim imperialism.
The only continent that can be said to have been ‘discovered’ in the sense that a navigator sailed there and was the first human to make contact with it, is Antarctica. That is the only continent to not have seen human inhabitation until the turn of last century.