In the International arena today, America continues to project itself as the lone unrivaled global power. Despite its ailments and suffering economy, and the setbacks in its decade long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it continues to lay claim as a superpower. In the past few years, America has opened new war fronts. From the escalations in Somalia, Drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, and assault on Libya, America has either ventured alone, or with its NATO allies. The Muslim world is engulfed in this imperialist storm. In spite of the enormous resources, the Muslim world has witnessed turmoil in her lands, as a result of her rulers sheepishly giving into the demands of the US. This is the grim reality of the Muslim lands with respect to the US at present.
It’s a well established fact, that historically Muslims had been a major world power for centuries, under the Caliphate. Much has been written and known about the glorious era of Muslims under the Caliphate. The centers of learning established in Baghdad, Cairo, Morocco and elsewhere are well known in history. The scientific development that Muslims achieved had been remarkable for its age and time. However little has been brought to limelight with regards to the relationship of the superpower of the past, i.e. the Caliphate with the imperial power of today, i.e. America.
America’s historical roots and connections with the outside world are normally reference to the time of Christopher Columbus, who is credited of leading the discovery of America. However, various research studies have pointed out that approximately seven centuries before Columbus visit, the Muslims travellers from the land of Caliphate had landed in America, and established roots in it.
Various archaeological excavations, including coins, tools and utensils have shown the existence of Muslims in America. Also, linguistic and philological analyses of languages and settlement names in America show similarity with those used by Muslims in Abbasids Caliphate.
Professor Barry Fell (from Harvard University, member of the Society of Scientific & Archaeological Discoveries) research findings highlights that Muslims reached the continent at the time of Uthman, the third Caliph. Professor Fells presents a number of facts to fortify this historic footprint. These include archaeological diggings in Colorado, New Mexico and Indian along with writings, drawings on rocks in Kufic calligraphy (of North African Arabic), which indicates that not only did the Muslims coming from Caliphate settled in the region, but also established teaching institutes that taught subjects such as maths, geography, navigation, history etc. It is well known, that the Caliphate, had encouraged establishment of learning centers throughout its lands.
The famous map of Piri Reis is also taken as proof of Muslim presence in America, as it included a small map of America, along with accurate measurements of the distance between Africa and America. Also according to Salvatore Michael Trento (former director of the Center for Archeological Research in Middletown, New York) Columbus before his first voyage to America had read the book of Roger Bacon of Oxford University, which included compilation from a various Arabic resources, about geographical regions on the opposite side of the Atlantic.
In Archaeological studies undertaken by Professors Heizer and Baumhoff of California University on the excavations in Nevada, the existence of writings in Naskhi Arabic and Cufic style were found. Calligraphic similarities exist between various writing styles of the Prophet’s name (Muhammad) found over diverse periods, particularly those relating to Africa and America. (E.g Fig A was found in al-Ain Lahag, Morocco and Fig B in East Walker River; both are currently at the University of California, also Fig C was discovered in Nevada and Fig C and D were located in Churchill County and are also currently preserved at the University of California); All these inscriptions belong to the eighth and ninth centuries, and they illustrate the resemblance in style between North Africa and North America, and hence show that a sizable number of Muslims had travelled from Africa to America.
From Islamic sources, such details are scarce, and most of the conclusions stated above have been based on archaeological evidences. Some researchers are of the opinion, that in the twelfth century the Athapcan Tribe, which comprised of native Navajos and Apaches, had raided the areas dwelled by the Arabs. The Muslim settlers than had to flee, or were exiled towards the south.
Another surprising discovery of Muslim presence in America, was in 1787, when Reverend Thaddeus Mason Harris acquired some coins discovered by workers during road construction in Massachusetts. The coins were sent to library of Harvard College. Upon examination it was observed that the coins were in fact Samarqand dirhams from the eighth and ninth centuries and the inscriptions on the coin stated ‘La ilaha ill-Allah Muhammadun Rasulullah’ (There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is His Messenger) and Bismillah (in the name of God). This showed that the Caliphate had an established monetary system that was being used even in the most furthest of areas to which they Muslims travelled.
Columbus and other Spanish and Portuguese explorers, had benefitted from the geographical and navigational knowledge based prepared by Muslims. For instance Al-Masudi’s (871-957 CE) work Muruj’uz-Zahab, was based on compilations of Muslim traders from across Asia and Africa.
Moreover, two of Columbus’ captains on the first voyage, in actual fact, were Muslims: Martin Alonso Pinzon was in charge of the Pinta, while his brother Vicente Yanez Pinzon was the designated captain of Nina; both were from the Moroccan Marinid dynasty, descendants of Sultan Abu Zayan Muhammad III (r. 1362-1366). Accounts also exist, by sixteenth century missionaries in America that reveal that the local copper mines in Virginian, Tennessee and Wisconsin were operated by people from Middle-east, whom the natives respected.
Also research shows that a sum of 565 names, 484 in America and 81 in Canada, of cities, towns, villages, mountains, rivers and lakes etc. are etymologically Arabic, designated by locals long before the arrival of Columbus. Many of these names are in fact the same as names of Islamic places e.g Mecca in Indiana, Medina in Idaho, Medina in New York etc.
House and building structures found in Archaeological excavations conducted in North Africa and North America reveal a degree of similarity between ninth century buildings. For example the structure of a Berber house of the Atlas Mountains, Morocco is exactly the same as that of a house in New Mexico. The same similarity is seen between the Castle of Montezuma discovered in Arizona and the remnants found in Mesa Verde in Colorado and the general structure of Berber buildings.
Professor Cyrus Thomas (Smithsonian Institute) shows in one of his researches a resembles that exists between a small cabin built from piles of rock found in Ellenville, New York with a cabin, again of rock, found around Aqabah, Southern Arabia, dated around eighth century.
In many Islamic sources, though the reference to America is hardly documented, it is to be noted that during the Andalusia period of Caliphate, Muslims in Spain and North Africa had made many overseas voyages. It is very likely that many of these were in fact towards America.
The last Muslim stronghold in Spain, Granada, fell just before the Spanish Inquisition was established in 1492. The inquisition, forced many non-Christians to either convert to Catholicism or face exile as the only means to save themselves from the tyranny. During this period, in 1539 an instruction from the Spanish King Charles V, was put into practice, which forbade the immigration of Muslims to settlements in the West, this order was later expanded to expel all Muslims from overseas Spanish Colonies in 1543. All this, coupled with other evidences speaks of presence of Muslims in Spanish America before 1550.
Although the Muslims suffered territorial losses in Spain, and their presence in region such as America, apparently did not fortified further, However at the heart of the Muslim civilization, the Caliphate continued to be the beacon of an enriched and cherished civilization. The political authority of the Caliphate dominated the power corridors of the then regions that mattered in the international arena.
Over two centuries later, the political might of the Caliphate, still stood strong. In 1783 the US deployed its first navy boats, to begin sailing in international waters. Within two years, these boats were captured by the Ottoman Caliphate’s navy, near Algeria. It is worthwhile to note, that this Caliphate’s Navy was from the region that included North African governorates of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, under the rule of the Ottoman Caliphate. In stark comparison, this region today, is the latest in the war fronts opened by the America and NATO eyeing on its strategic location and oil reserves, though camouflaged under the disguise of supporting legitimate uprising against the dictator Gaddafi.
The capturing of US boats, brought the US in a direct conflict, and hence state level contact with the Caliphate became necessary.
In 1786 Thomas Jefferson, then US ambassador to France, and John Adams, then US Ambassador to Britain, met in London with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the Caliphate’s ambassador to Britain, in order to negotiate a peace treaty, which would be based on Congress Vote of funding. This was perhaps the first high level official contact between America and the Caliphate.
After the meeting, these two future Presidents, reported to the US Congress, and informed of the reasons for the Muslims’ hostility towards America in these words: “…that it (Caliphate) was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found…and that every Musselman (Muslim) who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.”. This first impression of the Muslims, unified under Caliphate, to the American ambassadors stands in stunning contrast to the reality of today, where the rulers of Muslim lands, compete to be valued by the American ambassadors. And as Wikileaks has revealed that these rulers shamefully seek and beg for all kind of help, and then thank their ambassadors for assistance in their coming to power. Moreover, they report their domestic rivalries to them, and seek assistance to overcome them against each other.
The status quo, of the Muslims under the Caliphate was poles apart from the reality of today. In 1793, the US again ventured into waters dominated by the Caliphate, and this time 12 Navy boats of US were captured. The US Congress, in response to this, authorized President Washington, in March 1794 to spend up to 700,000 gold coins for the purpose of building strong steel boats. However, this fleet again lost in its confrontation with the Caliphate’s Navy.
The US, had by now realized, the standing of the then superpower i.e Caliphate. A year later the US signed the Barbary Treaty with the Caliphate. The termed Barbary referred to North African governorates of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, under the rule of the Ottoman Caliphate.
The terms of Barbery Treaty, obliged the US to pay huge sums to the Caliphate in return for the permission to sail in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea and return of captured ships; starting with a one off payment of $992,463. In return, the US Government had to pay further $642 000 in equivalent gold. Moreover, the US agreed to pay an annual tax (tribute) of $12 000 in gold. It is interesting to note, that the Caliphate, further asserted its diplomatic supremacy, by obliging the US to pay annual tribute, according to the Islamic calendar and not the Christian calendar. Further, as a ransom of the captured American soldiers, $585,000 was paid. Apart from these huge tributes, America agreed to construct and deliver on its own expense a state of art steel ship to the Caliphate. For this steel ship the costs of masts, Yards, and heavy planks, were huge and the material was difficult to procure, and coupled with large expense of transport, that once delivered the US had actually paid thirty times their estimated price in the stipulations.
This treaty in conformity with the then power status quo, was written in the state language of the Caliphate, i.e. Turkish and was signed by President Washington. The treaty stands as the only American legal document to ever have been concluded in a foreign language, and interestingly it is the only treaty the Americans have ever signed that agrees to pay annual tax to another nation. This treaty remained valid, until the Caliphate was abolished.
In 1862, another key treaty was signed. Abraham Lincoln signed the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation with the Ottoman Caliphate. The treaty dealt with issues of commerce, trade and navigation. Interesting thing about this treaty are the clauses in it which shows how America went at length to articulate that it was not hostile in any way to the Caliphate. Article 11 of the treaty states: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries”
In the tenure of Sultan Abdul-Hamid II (1876-1909), although the Caliphate had weakened significantly with respect to its past stature, it yet maintained its leverage on international politics, and was known as a leading power, in culture, politics and military alike. The infamous Caliph Abdul Hamid II is known for his refusal to sell land of Palestine to the Zionists and is respected not only amongst Muslims but also non-Muslims alike.
While new in office, in 1876, the Sultan observed the centennial of American independence, by sending a large collection of Ottoman books for an exhibition in Philadelphia, the books were later donated to New York University.
In 1893, on the occasion to mark four-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America, the Caliph Abdul Hamid, was the first foreign head of state to receive an invitation to the Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago. The Caliph did not attend, however approximately one thousand people from Jerusalem visited the exposition.
In Chicago, around the same time, at an inaugural function of World Parliament of Religions, the Caliphate’s delegates exhibited a large collection of Ottoman wares and also build a small mosque.
Abdul Hamid, in his tenure once asked the American ambassador in Istanbul, Samuel Sullivan Cox and the organizer of a modern US Census, to introduce the developments in the study of statistics to the Muslims.
Interestingly, at the time when one of America’s diplomats A. M. Keiley was declared persona non grata by the Austro-Hungarian authorities simply for “Jewish parenthood”, the American ambassador Oscar S. Straus (a Jewish diplomat) was welcomed by the Caliphate.
The Caliphate also had an outreach and influence over Muslims residing outside its territory, in far flung areas. In spring 1899 America sought help from the Caliphate, in its expedition against the Spanish controlled area of Philippines. America’s Secretary of State John Hay wrote to Oscar S. Straus, and inquired if “the Sultan under the circumstances might be prevailed upon to instruct the Mohammedans of the Philippines, who had always resisted Spain, to come willingly under our control.” Straus then officially visited the Caliph and referred to an earlier treaty. Article 21 of treaty between Tripoli and the United States which read: “As the government of the United States of America . . . has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity of Musselmans; and as the said states never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the partners that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony between the two countries.”
In light of the treaty, Abdul Hamid made his position clear on the issue of Philippines, by saying that the “Mohammedans in question recognized him as Caliph of the Moslems and he felt sure they would follow his advice.”. After this instruction, the Ambassador Staus observed: “Sulu Mohammedans . . . refused to join the insurrectionists and had placed themselves under the control of our army, thereby recognizing American sovereignty.”
Lt. Col. John P. Finley (who served as American governor of Zamboanga Province in the Philippines for ten years) wrote an article published in the April 1915 issue of the Journal of Race Development highlighting this event. Finley wrote:
“At the beginning of the war with Spain the United States Government was not aware of the existence of any Mohammedans in the Philippines. When this fact was discovered and communicated to our ambassador in Turkey, Oscar S. Straus, of New York, he at once saw the possibilities which lay before us of a holy war. . . . [H]e sought and gained an audience with the Sultan, Abdul Hamid, and requested him as Caliph of the Moslem religion to act in behalf of the followers of Islam in the Philippines. . . . The Sultan as Caliph caused a message to be sent to the Mohammedans of the Philippine Islands forbidding them to enter into any hostilities against the Americans, inasmuch as no interference with their religion would be allowed under American rule.”
After the conflict was over, President McKinley dispatched a personal letter of thanks to Ambassador Straus for his excellent work, declaring that it had saved the United States “at least twenty-thousand troops in the field.” All this had been possible, by the political positioning of the Caliph, Abdul-Hamid II.
The Caliphate’s history of interactions with America, speaks volumes of the global status the Muslims cherished. Today, the International situation stands at odds, with the glorious past of the Muslims.
However, on the occasion of abolishment of Caliphate in 1924, America was quick to welcome the move, and allied itself with Mustafa Kemal, in his efforts to create a secular Turkish nation.
In 1938, US ambassador Joseph Clark stood with Mustafa Kemal and declared “The name of Mustafa Kamal will forever be associated with the development, founding of the Turkish, the new modern Turkish state, and forever be inscribed indelibly upon the roads of history”.
Mustafa Kamal added: “the Turkish nation is democratic by nature, I have no doubt that the American nation which has gone so far in this ideal, is turkey friend in her aims.” The Secular Kamal, concluded on this new alliance: “it can lead to a world of love with all old prejudice erased with all nations existing in peace and prosperity”
The chain of events that followed, were diametrically opposite to what Kamal had cunningly stated. The Muslim world saw the plunder of its resources, the division of its lands, and decades of oppression at the hands of dictators from then onwards. Moreover, many of the nation states carved out of the caliphate, eventually over the years faced direct military intervention by the US. Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are amongst the nation states which have suffered heavily due to the imperialist intervention.
With the abolishment of the Caliphate, for almost a century ago, this interaction between America and the Caliphate, had been buried, and the Muslim world, overwhelmed with its plethora of problems.
Today the present status quo, is on the brink of a new formidable challenge. Sensing this challenge, the imperialist, championed by the US, have already begun to disrupt and dismantle the development of this challenge. In the past few years, the west has attempted to discredit the idea of Caliphate. The repeated maligning of this idea of a unified Muslim super state can be observed from the statements of key Politicians and opinion makers in the west.
In the words of ex-president Bush “This Caliphate would be a totalitarian Islamic empire encompassing all current and former Muslim lands, stretching from Europe to North Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.”.
In a November 2004 Henry Kissinger in an interview expressed his views by stating: “…what we call terrorism in the United States, but which is really the uprising of radical Islam against the secular world, and against the democratic world, on behalf of re-establishing a sort of Caliphate”. Interestingly in the same year (Dec. 2004) a 123-page report titled “Mapping the Global Future” was issued by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) of the CIA. The report included amongst other scenarios, a possible establishment of a “New Caliphate” by 2020. The report, was aimed “to prepare the next Bush administration for future challenges, and was presented to US President, members of Congress, cabinet members and key officials involved in policymaking”
Apart from the politicians and key opinion makers, the Caliphate threat has also been highlighted in Sept. 2005 by US Army Gen. John Abizaid, (Chief of US Central Command) and also by Gen. Richard Myers (The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).
In 2007, US Governor Mitt Romney reflected: “For radical Islam, there is an over-arching conflict and goal – replacing all modern Islamic states with a caliphate, destroying America, and conquering the world.”
This year, in 2011, with the advent of uprisings in the middle-east, the western media, has been jubilant and active in portraying that the Arab masses looked forward towards democracy. However, a Professor at Harvard, Niall Ferguson in an interview with The Telegraph, warned that by 2021 there was only “Tiny possibility we get western-style democracies in the Middle East”. He added that it was “More alarming to think about a “restored caliphate”.
Professor Niall’s prediction, seems plausible, and the notion of the emergence of a Caliphate, is fortified by the many polls (e.g. by World Public Opinion, Pew Global etc.) conducted in the Muslim world, which shows the aspirations of the Muslims to live under the Islamic Law, and a unified state.
Amongst the many statements by prominent personnel in the US, is that of Donald Rumsfeld who stated in Feb 2011: “We are up against a vicious enemy, the radical Islamists are there, they intend to try to create a caliphate in this world and fundamentally alter the nature of nation states”. Rumsfeld admits that “we’re reluctant to engage in the competition of ideas”
Today, while those in power corridors in the west are attempting to malign the idea of Caliphate, and generate negative narratives about it, it is imperative to realize, that the history is testimonial to the stature and calibre of the Caliphate that refutes there demonizing narratives. Whereas it is true that the Caliphate, once established will seek to unify Muslim lands, it is wrong to belittle it as a regressive or anti-modern state. The Caliphate once established, will merge the Muslim world, and quickly utilize the resources for development of infrastructure, industry, and agriculture. The emergence of this state of art, Islamic state will also seek to strategically retire the imperialist US, from the international theatre in general and Muslim regions in particular. However this does not means that the Caliphate will engage in a demonization of the citizens of any other country based on race, culture, or history. History speaks volumes of the generosity of the Caliphate, towards other nations who sought its help. Also, a re-evaluation of America’s own history sheds light into the progressive and rich culture that the travellers from Caliphate brought to her land.
Today, it’s ironic how some in the west try to tarnish the image of Caliphate as a violent entity, while at the same time glorifying export of democracy through blatant invasions.
This year, on one hand are the western capitalist states who are internally jolted by economic upheavals and strapped in overseas wars, and on the other hand are Muslims who brave the oppression of tyrants, leading to fall of one despot after another. In such a scenario the realization of the Caliphate, increasingly draws near.
Sharique Naeem is an automation engineer, and a writer and political commentator. His writings have been published in national newspapers of Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Yemen & Iran. He can be reached [email protected]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect New Civilisation’s editorial policy.