Who discovered America?

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Several Islamic figures who lived long before Columbus have suggested that some Muslim sailors sailed across the Atlantic.

According to a leading historian of Islamic science, Professor Fuat Sezgin, the map used by Christopher Columbus was “probably based on the Italian version of an original Arabic map.” Yes, Piri Reis drew the northern part of the Atlantic in his famous map based on the “Columbus map,” but while he was drawing the southern part, he based it on other Portuguese sources. The source of this knowledge, and especially the longitudinal measurements, was the Islamic world because, “in those times, the only region that was able to make longitudinal measurements very close to real ones was the Arab-Islamic world.” The Muslims must have traveled across the Atlantic in order to have obtained this knowledge, Sezgin says.

In Fuat Sezgin’s book, there is no further data, unlike Columbus’ travels, such as the date, how many Muslims set sail, whether they set up Muslim colonies in America, when they returned, and what they wrote about their travels. “Unfortunately, the available sources do not permit the obtaining of any further results,” he writes.

It can be understood that before Columbus, some Muslim sailors sailed the Atlantic, reaching a few islands that were perhaps on the continent, but it is obvious that it was Columbus who conducted journeys that resulted in “exploring a continent.”

Subjects such as the exploration of America and whether Muslims reached there before Columbus are factual issues that can only be examined by historic methods. They have nothing to do with ideology or faith.

When viewed from the angle of today’s cultural issues, I do not consider it very meaningful to boast about “what wonders Muslims have done in history.” Instead of boasting, it is much more important and necessary to question and investigate how Muslims drifted away from that heritage of science and philosophy.

It is plainly obvious that Muslims today need to engage in some “self-criticism” in this respect. Such self-criticism would facilitate the absorption of modern science in our era.

Instead of a political clash, there is a real need for the passion for science.

Why did those historic eras when Islamic civilization was the global pioneer in science and philosophy die, so that the Islamic world sank into fanaticism and backwardness?

In the interpretations, Islamic law and remarks written during the Middle Ages by the “imam” – in other words, the person who was regarded as the scientific and religious authority – there are many narratives, including the ability to cause the sun to set and rise.

Hadith scholar Professor Mehmet Sait Hatiboğlu cites a number of examples: “Be they Sunni or Shiite, in the minds of the majority of imams, the question of ‘What do our mathematics and astronomy scholars say on this subject?’ never occurred. We have not come across any interpreters or scribes who have felt the need to discuss these topics with 11th-century Avicenna and al-Biruni.”

But later, let alone consult with Avicenna, there were many who declared him an “unbeliever.” Even mathematics was excluded from the curriculum of the madrasah. While Averroes was incessantly studied in the Renaissance Europe, he was long ago forgotten in the Islamic world.

For at least three centuries, such a mentality has dominated. In this age, the only way to enhance Islam’s honor and reputation is to re-embrace science.

takyol@hurriyet.com.tr

Hurriyet

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