In an article published by MEMRI, Nihad Awad of the Council of American-Islamic Relations asserted that Muslims were in North America long before Columbus. School textbooks and instructors make the same claim. Not long ago a young woman who attends a local junior college informed me that her history professor said Muslims were in America long before the Europeans.
Where does such misinformation come from? What is the source of this particular aspect of revisionist history?
A group identified as The Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), with the assistance of Arab World and Islamic Resources (AWAIR), published a manual in 1998, revised in 2002, called the Arab World Studies Notebook. The Notebook, 540 pages in length in a loose-leaf three ring binder, was ostensibly published as a resource for educators in providing instruction in Arab culture. But the Notebook goes far beyond simply discussing Arab culture; it covers many aspects of Islam as a religion. For example, there is a section on Islam 101 and the Holy Prophet, the Qur'an, Hadith, Ramadan, the Hajj pilgrimage, and so forth. The Notebook contains suggested lesson plans for each topic, classroom activities, reproducible worksheets for students, and suggested additional resources for each area of study. In short, the Notebook is an educator's dream come true; all the work has been done. How convenient for teachers, and how noble for MPEC to provide such a quality instructional aid!
After publication of the Notebook, MPEC hosted "educational seminars" on Islam and Arab Studies throughout the USA to help school instructors and educators better understand Arab culture and Islam to prepare them to teach these subjects in classrooms. Teachers were provided either free or significantly reduced price copies of the Notebook. MPEC even pitched the Notebook directly to school boards and lobbied to have it adopted into the regular curriculum of school districts throughout the nation. According to some sources, over 20,000 copies of the Workbook found their way into the hands of educators and are being used today for instruction in both history and Arab cultural studies.
Interestingly enough, the Notebook has a section which discusses the issue of Muslims in America, before the arrival of Christopher Columbus!
In a section titled, "Early Muslim Exploration Wordwide: Evidence of Muslims in the New World Before Columbus" we find wild and unsubstantiated claims such as this:
Columbus was well aware of the Manding presence and that the West African Muslims had not only spread throughout the Carribean, Central and South America, but that they had reached Canada and were trading and intermarrying with the eastern woodland Iroquios and Algonquin chiefs with names like Abdul-Rahim and Badallah Ibn Malik.
Audrey Shabbas, the author of the Notebook, has been called out by historians and other educators for her careless disregard for history. Peter DiGangi, director of the Algonquin National Secretariat, called the claims of Shabbas "outlandish" and said nothing in the tribe's oral or written tradition supports such a claim. There is no record anywhere of Algonquin tribal chiefs with names such as Abdul-Rahim or Badallah Ibn Malik. It is as if Shabbas created this bit of revisionist history completely out of thin air. It has no basis in historical fact. After learning of this gross distortion of history, DiGangi attempted for six months to contact Shabbas to have her remove this inaccurate material from the Notebook. Shabbas was unresponsive to his inquiries. When finally contacted, Shabbas said she would "give careful and thoughtful attention" to the matter. Yet as of today there has been no retraction of the inaccurate material.
Sandra Stotsky, former director of a professional development institute for teachers at Harvard, and a former associate commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education, notes that Shabbas has admitted to "deliberately favoring the Arab point of view." She describes the Notebook as "propaganda." Stotsky has written extensively about the campaign to rewrite history by groups pushing a pro-Islamic agenda. In an article written for George Mason University's History Network, Stotsky is highly critical of the Workbook and states, "After September 11, it is clearly urgent to teach K-12 students about Islamic history and culture. It is also critical for their teachers to have suitable instructional materials that do not inadvertently promote some person's or group's religious or political agends."
In another article for the History News Network, intern Rebecca Fachner discusses the origins of the idea that Muslims were here long before Columbus. Fachner notes in a report that the authors of the Notebook "simply created an Indian story to suit the purposes of the advocacy group, and published it in a school text manual as fact." She goes on to say that it appears Shabbas and others were simply trying to gain acceptance for Arabs, further integrating them into American culture by making them 'native.' While attempts to gain acceptance of Arabs into American culture is certainly an honorable endeavor, fabricating history to make such integration seem natural is both intellectually dishonest and outright deceptive.
The next time you hear a Muslim or one of their spokespersons make the outlandish claim of Muslims being here before Columbus, ask a simple question. Where is your evidence?