Muslims discovered America as early as the 12th century, according to Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan. If true, then Muslims sat foot on North American soil three centuries before Christopher Columbus’ 1492 voyage.

In a televised speech held during the Istanbul Summit of Muslim Leaders, Erdogan claims that Muslim sailors first arrived in 1178 and that Columbus even mentioned in his diary the sighting of a mosque resting on the hills of present day Cuba.

Muslim scholars have long believed that a Muslim presence existed in the Americas, although no traces of an Islamic structure or pre-Columbian ruin has ever been found. The scholars point to a diary entry written by Columbus that mentions of a mosque found near the Cuban coastline. However, historians have dismissed this as a metaphorical description in reference to the shape of the landscape.

The theory of Muslims being America’s original discoverer dates back to 1996 after the claim was made by controversial academic professor Youssef Mroueh. In his publications, Mroueh suggests that West African Muslim explorers made the trek from a fort in the Canary Islands. Other supporters of the theory point to the works of a prominent Muslim geographer in Spain who created a map of what appears to be an outline of South America during the 10th century.

There are also additional unverifiable accounts of other civilizations successfully making their trek to America long before Columbus. This includes Chinese treasure fleets during the Ming Dynasty, Polynesian catamaran explorers of Easter Island, and Norse settlers from Scandinavia.

Whether Muslims or another civilization discovered America before Columbus is a moot point. Historians believe that the real first discoverers of the land made their trek from the Bering Strait about 10,000 years before the start of recorded written history. Regardless, Erdogan is fervent on the idea of a mosque resting on a Cuban hilltop and is currently in talks with Cuba over plans to have one built.

[photo credit: sandeepachetan]