Mo Ansar and Fantasy Islamic History
When Channel 4 broadcast the documentary Islam: The Untold Story
in August 2012, there was some sound and fury from a section of the audience who took issue with author Tom Holland's exploration of the historical roots of Islam. Despite this, the program was well received by most viewers, journalists, and academics.
Across social media, there was a passionate response by some people. Twitter user Mohammed Ansar (@MoAnsar) claimed that Tom Holland had departed from being a respected historian and entered the realm of prejudicial Orientalism. In effect, Mo Ansar accused Holland of being a pseudo-academic and called his credibility into question, simply because Ansar objects to the documentary's examination of Islam's origins in late-antiquity.
Speaking on the Islam Channel on the subject of Holland's documentary, Ansar said
, "Academic scholars can tell if one has been authentic in the use of material and use of evidence."
In the light of these words it is puzzling to consider how Ansar himself engages in historical claims that belong in the realm of absurdity and fantasy. Claims that in actual fact sit alongside speculations about UFOs and the lost city of Atlantis.
In a speech he gave in Luton in June, 2012, Ansar said
, "The fact is that Muslims were navigating, trading, intermarrying, mingling, and integrating peacefully with the Native Americans five centuries, five centuries, before Columbus set foot in the Americas. Who knew? I went to a British school, I wasn't told this."
Ansar uses this to demonstrate the tolerance of an Islamic civilisation that, he believes, flourished in the New World, and contrasts this with, as he sees it, the intolerance of contemporary British society with regard to Muslims. This narrative also has the effect of feeding into a sense of victimhood and disinheritance. Ansar seems to think that Islam has been denied its destiny of global importance and dominance, and that there is a conspiracy by non-Muslim societies to cover up the true history of Islam.
Is this really true? Did Muslims sail to the New World? Could mainstream archaeology be either so ignorant of this or, as Ansar suggests, collectively engaged in a conspiracy to cover it up?
Let's look at the sources.
A popular source of the internet claims that Muslims discovered the Americas is an essay titled Pre-Columbian Muslims in the Americas
, by Dr. Youssef Mroueh, for the "Preparatory Committee for International Festivals to celebrate the millennium of the Muslims arrival to the Americas in 1996 CE."
As of yet, we cannot find any actual record of Dr. Youssef Mroueh, or any record of the Preparatory Committee for International Festivals in any other context but this essay.
The main thrust of this essay is that Muslims sailed to America, as stated by Abul-Hassan Ali Ibn Al-Hussain Al-Masudi when he described Khashkhash Ibn Saeed Ibn Aswad's journey in Muruj Adh-dhahab wa Maadin al-Jawhar
, and by Muslim historian Abu Bakr Ibn Umar Al-Gutiyya when he recounted Ibn Farrukh's adventures.
Another chronicler not mentioned by Dr. Mroueh, but used by others as evidence of Muslims settling in the New World, is the cartographer and geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi.
None of these stories can provide evidence to back up any claims that these explorers reached America.
The mysterious Dr. Mroueh's claims seem to be an offshoot of Trans-cultural Diffusion Theory
. While this is recognised as being correct for some instances of historical diffusion, it has been extrapolated without basis by some people.
The problem with this is twofold for Ansar.
First, there is no substantial evidence upon which to base any pre-Colombian Islamic contact theory.
The more credible diffusionist proponents, Leo Weiner and Ivan Van Sertima, raise questions to suggest some possibilities, but nothing to confirm contact, much less create a narrative of a flourishing hybrid Islamic / First Nations civilisation.
Second, those who do propound a pre-Colombian contact with the Old World do so in spades. The Romans, Celts, Phoenicians, Nubians, Christians, Chinese, and Polynesians are all hypothetical contacts to the Old World. A quick search on Amazon on this subject brings up a book called "India Once Ruled the Americas!" by Gene Matlock, proposing that the Americas were once part of a Sanskrit-Hindu civilisation.
The archaeological record does not show that Muslims made pre-Colombian contact with any part of the Americas, and so, of course, there is absolutely no evidence of cohabitation and intermarriage. Mainstream academic archaeology recognizes the L’Anse aux Meadows site in Canada, where the Vikings landed, as the only known pre-Columbian trans-Atlantic contact between the New World and the Old.
There was a purely unsubstantiated assertion made by the Arab World Studies Notebook
, which was quickly rejected
by the Algonquin Nation Secretariat
. No evidence of the claim was ever presented, and it was later retracted.
Mr. Peter DiGiangi, at the time director of the secretariat, said "There was no [scholarly] peer review. It was so outlandish. It never should have gone to press.” The Algonquin Nation Secretariat asked the Arab World Studies Notebook to provide evidence of their claim. Mr. DiGangi says he was never contacted after lodging his complaint.
In summary, Mo Ansar's claim about the Muslims settling peacefully with the Native Americans appears to be little more than his own private fantasy.
Tom Holland's integrity and honesty was attacked in an ad hominem manner, by critics who sought to portray his inquiry into the origins of Islam as part of an Orientalist scheme. Ansar went further, and criticised him for not using "mainstream Islam scholars". However, as we have shown, Ansar himself seems determined to use what could most politely be called eccentric fringe theories to support his bizarre, fantasy-driven belief that Muslims settled in the Americas and integrated peacefully with the Native people.
The theories Ansar relies on are regarded as loopy and absurd by all serious academics of Meso-America and South America. Why does he indulge in such fantasy? Why would anyone who hopes to be taken seriously, as a commentator on serious issues, put his name to such preposterous theories with no historical or evidential basis?
We can only speculate. Perhaps it is the desperation to claim glory for Islam in the face of what some Muslims perceive to be its present diminished condition. Perhaps the cognitive dissonance caused by modernity and pluralism leads to an intellect susceptible to utopian historical fantasies of Islamic civilisation. Perhaps it is a religious fervour that blinds one to historical truth. Perhaps a disdain for and prejudice against non-Islamic societies leads a person to dream of a world in which Islam is the source of all tolerance and goodness.
One of the troubling aspects of Mo Ansar's posturing is that in making a kind of victimhood pleading that claims to represent a hidden history, he actually engages in marginalising the historical experience of Native Americans. His fantasising relegates the history of the First Nations people to being little more than a subsidiary to a narrative of Islamic dispossession and victimhood. This can be seen as a form of chauvinism in its own right.
If apologists for Islam, and Islamic civilisation, want to be taken seriously they should not engage in making such breathtakingly ludicrous claims based on nothing but fantasies of retrospective religious exceptionalism.
If individuals who engage in argumentation like this assert that they speak on behalf of Islam, their lack of credibility, historical judgement and integrity becomes associated with Islam because of their representative claim.
Since Mo Ansar claims to be relying on the integrity of mainstream academia when it suits him, it is inconsistent for him to so easily abandon mainstream, evidence-based, archaeological research when it comes to Islamic history.
The question anyone who values integrity may want to ask of Mo Ansar is this:
Is mainstream academic research only valid when it glorifies Islam? In other words, is the exceptionalism and superiority Mo Ansar and others seek to attribute to Islam the measure by which he and his cohorts view all scientific and academic data?