By Daren Butler
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has proposed to Cuba the construction of a mosque on the Caribbean island during a visit to Havana, pushing ahead with a plan apparently inspired by his belief that Muslims discovered the Americas.
After talks with Cuban President Raul Castro, Erdogan said on Wednesday he had sought approval for Turkey to build the place of worship in Havana that would be based on the model of a mosque in the Ortakoy district on the European shore of the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul.
Last November, Erdogan told a conference of Muslim leaders from Latin America in Istanbul that Muslims had reached the Americas in the 12th century, before the European explorer Christopher Columbus did so in 1492.
“I presented all the information, project work and visuals regarding the Ortakoy mosque. ‘We will do this ourselves. We don’t want a partner. If you find it appropriate we want to do this’,” Erdogan’s presidential website quoted him as saying of his talks with Castro.
Erdogan also told reporters the Cuban government had agreed with Saudi Arabia on a similar project some time ago. In light of this, his planned mosque could be built elsewhere in Cuba, he said.
It was not clear what response Erdogan had received to the proposal from the authorities in secular Cuba, a Communist-ruled nation whose population of 11 million people is predominantly Catholic with only a few thousand Muslims.
The largest mosque in Latin America is the King Fahd Islamic Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Closer to Cuba, the Caribbean nations of Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname have significant Muslim populations.
Erdogan’s assertion that Muslims reached pre-Columbian Americas was based on a reference to a mosque-like formation at the top of a mountain in Columbus’ diary of his voyages. He told the conference in November “a mosque today would suit the top of that mountain.”
Most scholars believe that reference was to a natural mountain feature rather than an actual mosque.
Mostly Muslim Turkey has only slight trade ties with Cuba and Erdogan’s visit is part of a Latin American tour also taking in visits to Colombia and Mexico.