Christopher Columbus who found Americana accidentally wrote in his diary that on October 21, 1492 while his ship was sailing near Gibara on the north-east coast of Cuba, he saw a mosque on top of a beautiful mountain.
On Saturday, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara is willing to rebuild the 800-year-old mosque on Havana hill. He was addressing the first-ever Latin-American Islamic conference in Istanbul. The 4-day event is hosted by country’s Department of Religious Affairs. It’s attended by 76 Islamic scholars from Cuba and several other South American countries including Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela, Peru, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, and Columbia to discuss Muslim minorities facing in the Catholic-majority Latin nations. The title of the conference is ‘Building our Tradition and Future’.
Erdogan’s talked about Muslim and non-Muslim interfaith dialogue and urged the rulers of those Latin countries to allow local Muslim minorities to practice their faith freely as Turkey and many other Muslim countries protect the religious freedom of their non-Muslim minorities. Turkey, with a 99% Muslim nation, is home to 130,000 Jews and nearly one million people of Christianity and other faiths.
All went well until Erdogan made an anti-Semitic slur. Hew claimed that Muslims discovered Americana centuries before Columbus, a Crypto-Jew arrived there.
“Latin America’s contact with Islam dates back to 12th century. Muslims discovered America in 1178, not Christopher Columbus. Muslim sailors arrived in America 1178. Christopher Columbus mentions the existence of a mosque on hill along the Cuba coast. I would talk to my brothers in Cuba and a mosque would suit well on the top of that hill today as well. It is enough they [Cuban rulers] say okay. Islam had expanded in the American continent even before Columbus arrived,” said Erdogan.
Incidentally, a Turkish delegation travelled to Havana earlier this year to seek permission for a mosque in the capital. Turkish media reported last month that Cuban authorities rejected the request submitted by Turkey’s Religious Affairs Foundation (TDV).
Muslims make only 0.1% of the total Cuban population. But the communist regime has refused to allow Muslims to build even a single mosque. Cuba is not worse than Greece which was ruled by Turkey for over three centuries. There used to be over 70 mosques in Athens City, which were destroyed one by one after it came under Christian rule in 1821. The city is home to over 700,000 Muslims. Contrary to that, Greece is home to less than 3,000 Jews, and they still have one Beth Shalom synagogue built in 1860.
Muslim representatives said that in contrast to the West, there is very little Islamophobia and that the Muslim minorities did not have as many problems as the Muslims in other Christian countries and that the geography reflected a peaceful Islam. The United Cuban Islamic association leader Yahya Pedro Lazo Torres, said that they were free to practice their religion in the communist run country.
Although thousands of enslaved Muslims from Africa were carried to South and Central America from 1450 to the 1830s, few South American Muslims today are the descendants of the formerly enslaved. Except in a few places, the practice of Islam disappeared as a major religious belief among the enslaved Africans of South America (as was the case for the enslaved Africans of North America, who were Muslim). Today, most South American Muslims are immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants, who came from India, present-day Pakistan, Java, and other parts of South and South East Asia. Beginning in 1838, Asian and South East Asian Muslims arrived in South America to work as indentured laborers, merchants, and farm workers. New waves of Muslim immigrants continued to sweep into Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Argentina, Peru, and Trinidad throughout the 19th century, including people from Lebanon and Palestine.
Latin America is home to over five million Muslims. Muslims in Suriname make 25% of country’s total population followed by Guyana (18%), Trinidad & Tobago (14%), Argentina (2.5%) and Brazil (1.8%).