West Africans, Moors and Amerindians

Jose V. Pimienta-Bey

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The works of men such as Ivan Van Sertima, Barry Fell and Alexander Von Wuthenau represent 20th century scholarship which has stated directly or indirectly - that there has been a significant Muslim presence in the early Americas. While it is true that there have been a number of Muslim writers such as Clyde-Ahmad Winters who have sought to enlighten folks to that fact, it is perhaps more significant that "non-Muslims" have conceded such evidence of pre and post-Colombian Muslims on this continent.

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Barry Fell

New Zealand archaeologist and linguist Barry Fell [Howard Barraclough ("Barry") Fell] in his work Saga America (1980) pointed to existing evidence of a Muslim presence in various parts of the Americas. In addition to drawing several cultural parallels between West African peoples and certain "Indian" peoples of the southwest, Fell points out that the southwest's Pima people possessed a vocabulary which contained words of Arabic origin. The presence of such words among the Pima is compounded by the existence of Islamic petrogyphs in places like California. Fell informs us that in Inyo county, California, there exists an early American petrogyph (rock carving) which stated in Arabic: "Yasus ben Maria" ("Jesus, Son of Mary"), a phrase commonly found within the surahs of the Holy Qur'an. Fell is convinced that this glyph is many centuries older than the U.S.

Fell also identified the algonquian language as having words with arabic roots, especially words which pertained to navigation, astronomy, meteorology, medicine and anatomy. The presence of such words again illustrates significant cultural contact between the American "Indians" and the Arabic-speaking peoples of the Islamic world. Such Islamic peoples evidently came primarily from the African continent as additional evidence suggests.

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Alexander Von Wuthenau

Although German art historian and collector Alexander Von Wuthenau argues that the ancient and early Americas were filled with an international melange of peoples from Africa, Asia and Europe, his artifactual evidence reveals that Islamic peoples were clearly a prominent group within it. In his classic work, Unexpected Faces in Ancient America (1975), Von Wuthenau specifically identifies a group of carved heads as "Moorish-looking." Found within Mexico, such heads are dated between 300 - 900 C.E. and another between 900 -1500 C.E. (common era). One such artifact of the "classic" (300 - 900 C.E.) is described by Von Wuthenau as "an old man with hat." Such artifacts are worth a thousand words and the photograph of the "old man" artifact clearly resembles that of an old man wearing a Fez.

The presence of the naja among the dineh (a.k.a. "Navjo") is intriguing given the other evidence of Islamic contacts with the early American west. The naja is a crescent moon symbol found among the dineh that is used in such things as decoration and jewelry. While it is indeed possible that the symbol was indigenous to the dineh, a number of Smithsonian scholars apparently think that the symbol: "spread from Moslem North Africa to Spain, then to Mexico, then to the Navajo" (The Native Americans (1991) edited by Colin Taylor). Although the inference of the Smithsonian published text seems to be that the Spaniards brought the naja, it seems very odd to me that the crucifix-centered Catholic Spaniards would introduce such a symbol. After all, the customarily dogmatic Catholic Spaniards would have been introducing a religious symbol which represented the spiritual motif of their nemesis. If it was brought from Spain, I would argue that it probably came via expelled Moorish Muslims or subjugated "Moriscos." "Morisco" was the term used by Catholic officials to designate Moors (Moros) who were allowed to re main in Catholic dominions. It is essentially pejorative.

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Ivan Van Sertima

Ivan Van Sertima is of course renowned for his first revitalizing original work: They Came Before Columbus (1976) which outlined evidence of ancient and early African contacts with the American continent. Although it was not the first work to discuss the topic, it certainly consolidated the African evidence in a more interdisciplinary fashion which cried out for renewed attention particularly from the African American community. Van Sertima's other edited works like African Presence In Early America offered additional information about the African legacy in the Americas. Both of the above works point out proofs of African Muslim settlements/contacts within the pre-Columbian Americas. Van Sertima identifies l2th and l3th century Chinese documents which spoke of "Arab" Muslim trade extending beyond the Atlantic coast of west Africa.

Among the items of evidence which Van Sertima unveils is the presence of African Muslim surnames among American "Indian" peoples. Quoting a French linguist, Van Sertima points out that Ges, Zamoras, Marabitine, and Marabios are a few of the names with clear transcontinental links. Of particular interest to me, however, are the names "Marabitine" and "Marabios" which I noted relate to "Marabout" (Murabit): the "Holy Men and Women" of the Moorish Empire. The Marabouts were the protectors of African Muslim frontiers, they are often remembered for having acted as buffers against Catholic/European encroachment. The famed Ibn Battuta spoke of the Marabouts in his renowned "Travels." The antiquity of such a "Moorish" (African) presence in the Americas is hereby seen to be quite early when one considers the significance of all the evidence presented here-to-for.

Allah: Allah is the Arabic word for The One and Only God, The Creator and Sustainer of the universe. It is used by the Arab Christians and Jews for the God (Eloh-im in Hebrew; Allaha in Aramaic, the mother tongue of Jesus, pbuh). The word Allah does not have a plural or gender. Allah does not have any associate or partner, and He does not beget nor was He begotten. SWT is an abreviation of Arabic words that mean 'Glory Be To Him.'

Copyright © 1996 The Message, an ICNA Publication.
Copyright © 1997 The original article was edited and additional notes were inserted by Dr. A. Zahoor.
This article may be reprinted provided no changes are made and all acknowledgments are included.


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