Islam In America

Islam In America

Back to the Beginning

No: Islam did not arrive for the first time in North America in the mid-20th Century.

It’s likely that the first Muslims to set foot in the Western Hemisphere arrived in 1492 on one of the three ships captained by Christopher Columbus.

Why? The reasons lie in the history of the Iberian Peninsula. For more than seven centuries beginning in 711 all or part of what is now Spain and Portugal were territories ruled by Moors — Muslims of mixed Berber, African and Arab descent.

The Alhambra


Granada, the last of the great Moorish kingdoms in what is now Spain. was quashed by the Christian Reconquista after a six-month siege in 1491. His people starved into submission, the last Muslim ruler, Boabdil, surrendered his domain to King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile on January 2, 1492. They moved into the palace known as the Alhambra.

Later that same year,  most likely in the Alhambra’s magnificent Hall of the Ambassadors, these “most Roman Catholic” of European monarchs listened to Christopher Columbus outline his vision for sailing west to reach the Spice Islands. With his expected success, he said, Spain would gain untold riches, imperial power and countless souls to Christianize.


Hall of the Ambassadors

Conversion was high on Ferdinand and Isabella’s agenda now that Spain was under their control.  It was also here in Granada that  los Reyes Católicos issued the Alhambra Decree on March 31, 1492, ordering the expulsion of all non-Catholics from Spain and its territories and possessions by July 31, 1492 – coincidentally the day that Columbus set sail for what was to become America.


Moriscos — Spanish Muslim Moors outwardly professing to be Catholics — are known to be among Columbus’ crew, including a Muslim navigator by the name of Rodrigo de Lope and an interpreter known as Louis de Torre. No doubt thousands Moriscos more were among the Spanish and Portuguese troops sent to the New World in the 1500s.

(Photos © by Susan McKee)

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