Istanbul (AFP) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that the Americas were discovered by Muslims in the 12th century, nearly three centuries before Christopher Columbus set foot there.
"Contacts between Latin America and Islam date back to the 12th century. Muslims discovered America in 1178, not Christopher Columbus," the conservative president said in a televised speech during an Istanbul summit of Muslim leaders from Latin America.
"Muslim sailors arrived in America from 1178. Columbus mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast," Erdogan said.
Erdogan said that Ankara was even prepared to build a mosque at the site mentioned by the Genoese explorer.
"I would like to talk about it to my Cuban brothers. A mosque would go perfectly on the hill today," the Turkish leader said.
History books say that Columbus set foot on the American continent in 1492 as he was seeking a new maritime route to India.
A tiny minority of Muslim scholars have recently suggested a prior Muslim presence in the Americas, although no pre-Columbian ruin of an Islamic structure has ever been found.
In a controversial article published in 1996, historian Youssef Mroueh refers to a diary entry from Columbus that mentions a mosque in Cuba. But the passage is widely understood to be a metaphorical reference to the shape of the landscape.