ANKARA (Hurriyet Daily)—Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has instructed Turkey’s educational institutions to adopt a policy of highlighting the contribution of Islam to global science and arts, including Erdogan’s own claim that the American continent was first discovered by Muslims.
Erdogan, speaking at a conference with South American Muslim leaders in Turkey over the weekend, claimed that America was discovered by Muslim sailors 300 years before Columbus. His claim caused astonished reactions around the world.
“I have to be clear that there is an important responsibility falling on the shoulders of our Education Ministry and YÖK [the Higher Education Board]. An objective writing of history will show the contribution of the East, the Middle East and Islam to the science and arts. As the president of my country, I cannot accept that our civilization is inferior to other civilizations,” Erdogan said in his address to students at the opening of a religious school in Ankara on Tuesday.
He also slammed criticisms from columnists and cartoonists mocking his claims that Muslim sailors discovered the Americas and constructed a mosque in Cuba centuries before Columbus.
“Why [do they not believe it]? Because they have never believed that a Muslim can do such a thing. They have never believed that their ancestors could manage to launch ships in the Golden Horn after transporting them across land,” Erdogan said, referring to Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II’s conquest of Istanbul in 1453.
“They have never believed that their ancestors ended the Dark Age and opened the New Age. That’s a lack of self-confidence,” he added.
Erdogan defended his claims about the discovery of the Americas and underlined that the suggested had not originally been made by him. “This claim is not new. It is mentioned in Prof. Fuat Sezgin’s books. A number of academics in Turkey and in the world have made this claim,” he said, without referring to his suggestion that the Muslims who discovered Cuba built a mosque on a hill there.
Fuat Sezgin is a Turkish professor emeritus on Arabic-Islamic science, who has been living in Germany since the aftermath of the 1960 coup in Turkey.
A day after Erdogan voiced his claim about the discovery of the Americas for the first time, Sezgin participated in a press conference to introduce the Turkish edition of his book on the history of Arab-Islamic literature.
“I wrote years ago that the American continent was discovered by Muslim sailors. Everything written in the book is correct, but nobody in my country speaks about it,” daily Milliyet quoted Sezgin as saying on Nov. 16. Bilal Erdogan, the son of the Turkish president, was sitting next to Sezgin during the press conference.
“Western sources shouldn’t be believed as if they are sacred texts,” Erdogan added on Tuesday, promising to maintain his “encouraging” role in this regard.
In his speech, he also cited the mega projects being carried out in Turkey, including the intercontinental Marmaray undersea tunnel, the third bridge over the Bosphorus and the Kanal Istanbul project, as reasons for the Turkish youth to have “self-confidence.”