Opportunities to question, learn and think about things that could expand our horizons and widen our view of the world have a habit of dropping into our lap from time to time. Unfortunately, we tend to not appreciate these opportunities, because we always prefer to discuss things instead of thinking about them. And sadly, most issues can suddenly assume the overtones of a heated debate, whether it be about football or politics. Recently, the question of whether Christopher Columbus or the Muslims discovered the Americas is being discussed in just the same way. What's the main point here? Who discovered the Americas? Muslims or Columbus.
The other night, I listened to a speaker on a Turkish TV channel asking, "Wouldn't we go sour if a Western leader said of a hill overlooking the Bosporus, 'A church would look nice here?' For God's sake! President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made that speech at a summit of Latin American Muslim leaders, not at a diplomatic reception. Where else would he say it, if not there? The truth of the matter is that no one discovered the Americas. Neither Muslims, nor Columbus. Let's recall, America was not an uninhabited and lost continent. Therefore, we cannot claim that it was "discovered" at a specific moment in history.
That well-known expression "Age of Discoveries" is a byproduct of the colonialist West's efforts to classify history by putting itself at the center. What's termed as the "discovery of the Americas" boils down to massacre, looting and invasion. For this very reason, "Columbus Day" - a national holiday in the U.S. - is not recognized and observed in several states. As for Muslims, they have gone to the Americas. This signifies an important and valuable difference. We missed the opportunity to contemplate before we got carried away by debate. So, how should we bring forward the fact that Muslims had gone to the Americas long before Columbus did, today and in the future?
As a Twitter user, Berat Demirci said in a message the other day: "You may say, 'We Muslims had gone to the Americas before you, but had not done what you did there...' " Columbus is now glorified and has been symbolized after the fact, despite his being a terrible man and, moreover, he thought he had reached India - not a new continent. In some countries in North and South America, Columbus is portrayed to children as a "brave and pious person and a handsome leader." As we all know, the period called "Geographical Discoveries" was the beginning of Europe's enrichment through colonialism and mercantilism. The ensuing scientific and technological developments were consequences of this.
Our textbooks still depict geographical discoveries as products of "European" desire and passion for exploring the world. We really need to start a genuine debate on the idealization of the past.