25 Things You Can Blame Muslims For

In this latest addition to It’s Your Fault, The Cubit’s series on blame in contemporary society, RD senior correspondent Haroon Moghul offers some good things to blame all Muslims for. 

The illustrations for this article come from the Illustration Class for high schoolers taught by Julie Zhu at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, a nationally recognized fine arts camp in Sitka, Alaska. The opportunity allowed students a peek inside professional illustration, how to approach and research an idea taken from a rough draft, and then how to edit and prepare the illustration for publication while incorporating feedback from the editors of the Cubit.

For more on blame, read the introductory post or explore the full series.

Dear World,

On behalf of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims, I’d like to say “You’re welcome.” Because if all Muslims are blamed for what some of us do, shouldn’t we all be commended for what any single one of us accomplishes?

I present below twenty-five very important things you probably can’t do without, for which thank you’s are in order. On behalf of the ummah—which I’ve just now appointed myself to, with no legitimacy except that far worse people have already done so—I will accept Amazon gift cards, rent-controlled apartments, gold-pressed latinum, or chai.

Sincerely,
Haroon Moghul
Grand Vizier of the Internets
With Authority To Speak On Behalf of the World’s 1.7 Billion Muslims
By His Majesty the Caliph Barack Obama


1. Nothing

That’s right. The first thing you can thank us for is nothing.

Hindu mathematicians may have come up with the zero, but Muslims built the vast trade networks through which concepts like the zero (and 1-9, too), spread to Europe.

This is why, in the Arab world, Arabic numbers are called ‘Indian numbers,’ and why, in the West, ‘Indian numbers’ are called ‘Arabic numbers.’ In India they’re just known as numbers.

No matter what they’re called, I think we can all agree they make life a lot easier.

2. Coffee

Muslims invented coffee, and coffee is a good thing, and no good thing ever dies. At best it goes cold.

In fact, one of the reasons coffee took off is because religious Muslims preferred the beverage for its ability to keep them awake, and therefore able to do more worshiping, studying, reading and writing.

Did you know that ‘Mocha’ is a city in Yemen, and ‘coffee’ is originally an Arabic word? (While we’re at it, so is ‘orange’: Muslims introduced oranges and other citrus fruits to Europe by way of Spain and Sicily.)

3. Pleasant Lightheadedness

Absent lemons and limes, what do you think your anti-bacterialized kitchen surfaces would smell like? Really. I’m curious. You know, for independent unpaid research.

4. Tim Hortons, Etc. 

Sure, Muslims didn’t invent buildings, but we’ve historically put very important things in them, like coffee drinkers. The first cafes in the West trace their origin to the Muslim world, which, being the origin point for coffee, was also the origin point for the world’s first cafes.

Considering how many great ideas came out of coffeehouses, you’re welcome, but in light of how many grad students have wasted their potential on fruitless arguments in coffeehouses, we’re sorry. You’re going to want that free refill. Decaf, preferably, so you’re not up all night worrying about the disappearance of tenure and the surfeit of bad life choices you’ve made.

"Algebra" by Emily Coble

“Algebra” by Emily Coble

5. Algebra

For every time you’ve had to solve for x, a Muslim has duped you.

Algebra was refined by an 8th century Persian Muslim mathematician, al-Khwarizmi. The title of his principal book included the word ‘al-jabr,’ meaning restoring or reuniting; his Latinized name entered English as “algorithm.”

The equally accomplished American, Southern Baptist polymath Lindsey Graham, once joked that everything that starts with ‘al’ is bad news. Perhaps he had a bad experience with algebra. I mean, really, how many of us have not?

While Muslims benefited from and transmitted Hindu numeracy (as well as advances in mathematics generally), algebra is interesting for its use of abstract symbols in place of defined numbers, inverting a previous contribution.

There is no known relation between algebra and Algiers.

6. America

Yeah. Really.

Desperate to get past the Muslim-Chinese stranglehold on maritime world trade and the Muslim dominance of the Silk Road, Spain financed every cockamamie plan it could to get straight to the Indies, including the one proposed by Christopher Columbus. Most Europeans were pretty disappointed by America, despite its size. They had all wanted a passage to China and to India, not some new, allegedly empty continent.

But there’s more to it than that. Where did Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella get the funding for the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria? By defeating the Emirate of Granada, the last Muslim-ruled kingdom in Spain or Portugal. Which made for one other neat convergence: Though Columbus claimed he sighted land first, that honor in fact belonged Rodrigo de Triana, a descendant of the many Spanish Muslims who were allowed to stay in Spain on condition of converting to Catholicism.

Last but not least, the first country to recognize the U.S.A. was the Muslim Kingdom of Morocco, to which de Triana might’ve moved having failed to secure the bonus that was promised to the first to sight land.

7. New York City

Some Muslims and Jews were expelled from Catholic Spain as early as the 11th century—the last descendants of Muslims were driven out between 1609 and 1614—and some of these made common cause with a Spanish dependency, the Netherlands, which converted to Protestantism and likewise resented religious hegemony. (How the tables have turned.)

Protestant Dutch and North African Muslim pirates collaborated to harry Spanish and Portuguese ships, and eventually began to claim territory for themselves.

Without this collaboration, it’s possible the Dutch would’ve been unable to begin seizing Portuguese and Spanish colonies, and even establishing their own, though in the race for global power the Dutch were eventually surpassed by the French and the British. One of the most famous, if not the most famous, Dutch settlement is New York City, whose flag pays homage to Gotham’s Dutch origins.

“Joe Biden’s Career” by Ella Rohweder

8. Joe Biden’s Career

Though we didn’t invent tooth whitener, we did popularize toothbrushes. ‘Chew sticks,’ called miswak, were favored by the Prophet Muhammad, who encouraged his followers to clean their teeth and rinse their mouths as often as five times a day, and especially after eating. Was Islam’s Prophet a dentist?

Somehow I don’t think that would help our image.

9. LaGuardia

Did you know that on landing at LGA, Joe Biden wondered if he were “in some third world country?” This was a huge mistake; the third world has much better airports than we do. Did you also know that, centuries before the Wright brothers or even Da Vinci, Abbas ibn Firnas invented a flying machine?

He was a Muslim from Spain, too.

10. Your Crushing Student Debt

The first degree-granting universities come from Muslim North Africa, and the oldest continuously operating university in the world today, al-Azhar (sorry, Sen. Graham), is in Cairo, Egypt. This history may be the reason on graduation day you look like an enemy combatant.

Much of the modern university, including the stages by which one attains to a doctorate, descend from Islamic antecedents and maintain Islamic influences.

"The Star Wars Prequels" by Garrett Schwalber

“The Star Wars Prequels” by Garrett Schwalber

11. The Star Wars Prequels

Tattooine’s a real city, in Tunisia, which is a real country, in Africa, which is a real continent trying to become the country it is regularly confused for. Now you know why Jedis and Sith look that way—their robes are a reflection of North African culture.

The lightsaber, unfortunately, was not our idea.

"Hospitals" by Emory Banker

“Hospitals” by Emory Banker

12. Hospitals

The first hospital was founded in Cairo, and Muslim hospitals once even included wards for patients with mental illness, and used innovative techniques like music therapy to improve moods and aid in recuperation.

13. Half of American Socialism

President Obama’s dad was a Muslim. So we get like 50% credit right? 

"Irony" by Caelen Walker

“Irony” by Caelen Walker

14. Irony

The word for alcohol comes from Arabic, which is awesome since Muslims aren’t supposed to drink or sell alcohol. Or, rather, al-cohol, I should say. One possible reason an Arabic word is used to describe a beverage the majority of Arabs are not supposed to imbibe is that Muslim scientists made huge advances in chemistry and passed their terminology on to Europe.

15. The Most Expensive Housing in America

Anthony Janszoon (1607–1676) had a lot of money, so the Dutch wanted him to stay in New Amsterdam (see #7), but his half-Dutch, half-Spanish, full Muslimness meant he wasn’t interested in adhering to the churchy expectations of his new home. A compromise was reached: Janszoon set up shop a safe distance away, in the neighborhood now known as Gravesend, Brooklyn, and proceeded to make even more money, with his descendants numbering among some of America’s most prestigious families, including the Vanderbilts. Today Brooklyn has the most expensive house prices in America.

Anthony wasn’t the first Muslim in the Americas, but he was one of the first. And his dad was a pirate. What’s not to like?

16. Freedom

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims fought for the British and French against the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II. While Islamophobes love to bring up the embarrassing Palestinian Mufti al-Husseini as evidence of some kind of Muslim-Nazi alliance, they conveniently neglect the far, far, far greater number of Muslims who fought with the Allies despite being second-class citizens in their own countries.

Of course, the cost of defeating Nazi Germany broke the old European powers, and pretty much ended the Imperial Age, so #sorrynotsorry.

17. Employment

Islamophobia pays handsomely, as my colleague and co-conspirator Dean Obeidallah has discovered.

18. Paella

The Spanish staple finds its name from the Arabic ‘bawa’i,’ or remainders. Back from when most Spaniards spoke Arabic.

19. FOX News

"FOX News" by Summer Putman

“FOX News” by Summer Putman

Because what else would they talk about?

20. Band practice

The Ottomans invented military parades, and attached military bands (with drums over horns) to battle formations, to boost troop morale and freak out whoever was being attacked. They attacked often, which was not cool.

But pretty soon everyone who was anyone was doing it, and then it got lame, and people left Williamsburg and Crown Heights was the new thing, but even then the rents didn’t go down in Williamsburg.

21. The Battle of Helm’s Deep

Gimli blew the Horn of Helm Hammerhand to rally the Rohirrim, because drums were a more Muslim invention, and Tolkien intended for his legendarium to reflect a more authentically European Europe. Which, I suppose, just really means the only legitimate Europeans are the ones whose descendants would turn or be turned Christian, which suggests the fantasy novel is perhaps more science fiction than Tolkien realized. (See also #22 and #23.)

22. Old Glory

Don’t hate the player, hate the game. The East India Company was England’s answer to Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch seizure of predominantly Muslim trade through public-private partnership, but the East India Company did it that much better.

The East India Company’s flags, in turn, seem a likely influence on Old Glory.

23. History Itself

The founding father of modern sociology, and arguably of modern history, was Tunisian Renaissance man Ibn Khaldun. In addition to analyzing the rise and fall of civilizations, Ibn Khaldun was a scholar of religion and mysticism.

24. Religion

A Persian polymath attached to the marauding armies of Mahmud of Ghazni, al-Biruni was a deep, patient and brilliant student of Indian religion, society, geography and even geology. Nearly one thousand years ago he correctly argued, using fossil evidence, that parts of the Indian subcontinent were once under water. He still provides present-day Indianists with one of the most exhaustive and thorough surveys of pre-modern Hinduism. This book may also have been the first serious study of religion as a category, in the sense that we moderns would recognize.

"Italian Food" by Skyle Van Valin

“Italian Food” by Skyle Van Valin

25. Italian Food

Muslims ruled Sicily, parts of southern Italy, and even Genoa, during the 7th, 8th and 9th century. In addition to eggplants, oranges, lemons, limes, and cotton, Muslims also introduced… pasta. Yeah, pasta. Bet you didn’t see that one coming.

Given the connection between pasta, pizza and sex, that’s a major You’re Welcome. I mean, can you imagine Italian food without pasta? Can you imagine America without Italian food?

Yes, Lindsey Graham, unfortunately it’s true. Even Al Capone was our fault. Or Al-Capone, at least, who may or may not have been the same person. We lost track of him after we sent him over.

25 Comments

  • dkeane123@comcast.net' DKeane123 says:

    I’m having a bit of difficulty figuring out what this post is about. Are we trying to note that is obvious that Muslims have a rich history and have influenced many world events, or is it the equally obvious statement that you can’t hold all Muslims responsible for the actions of some minority percentage – both? Some percentage of of the FOX News watching public may hold this opinion, but it seems like a bit of a straw man.

    Can you hold Islamic texts responsible? Partly?

    Some have noted that it may have been Islamic prohibitions that shut down much of the historical development noted above. I’m not a historian, but would love to see a post on the validity of such statements.

    From my perspective as an atheist (and obviously I don’t speak for all atheists), it seems as if we are skirting the issue a bit – by not dealing at all with dusty old books from long ago that claim God has no problem with violence, the mistreatment of homosexuals, or the oppression of women (not just a problem with the Quran) – and that some people are more than happy to use those direct quotes to justify horrible actions. This can also result in a bit of having our cake and eating it too. Good actions are guided an influenced by their religion. The second someone does something horrible in the name of religion – we put the brakes on and claim it has nothing to do with Islam, Christianity, etc….

  • emilyk04@gmail.com' Fired, Aren't I says:

    maybe good and bad BOTH come from religion. Kind of like how both good and bad come from ALL things – sciences and secularism included.

    Some have noted that it may have been Islamic prohibitions that shut down much of the historical development noted above.

    Haroon could correct me, but I believe Wahhabism (the ruling sect in Saudi Arabia) is what caused this shift. Even in Iran, there is apparently a rich culture of mathematics and scientific study. They have real universities – impressive for a nation so oppressive. Most of the Muslim world is not Wahhabist.

  • dkeane123@comcast.net' DKeane123 says:

    I agree,religion by definition is a human institution and therefore subject to our bases instincts. But what I object to is the automatic assumption by many that religion uplifts the good, but cannot be criticized for the bad.

    On the decline of science. There appears to be a very thorough article called “Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science” in the New Atlantis, which has this quote about the 12th and 13th century.

    “arose the anti-rationalist Ash’ari school whose increasing dominance is linked to the decline of Arabic science. With the rise of the Ash’arites, the ethos in the Islamic world was increasingly opposed to original scholarship and any scientific inquiry that did not directly aid in religious regulation of private and public life.” – again, I’m not a scholar and would love to see a post on this.

  • cstarr1215@comcast.net' Chris Starr says:

    Don’t forget the remarkable translations of Greek philosophy of the ruling caliphs of Iberia in cooperation and friendship with Jewish and Christian linguists. (10th century?). The real beginning of the age of reason.

  • emilyk04@gmail.com' Fired, Aren't I says:

    I replied to this but it’s stuck in moderation because the moderators haven’t approved or rejected it to my knowledge.

  • robert.m.jeffers@lonestar.edu' Rmj says:

    I don’t think William Lane Craig “gets away” with comments as you quoted, so much as he gets to make them and others get to criticize them.

    Including confessing Christians like me.

    “Ultimate authority” is a more slippery concept than you think. Obviously you accept some ultimate authority (probably “science,” though what your concept of it is, is unclear). If you have no ultimate authority, you are incapable of saying anything about anything (the battle between Hume and Kant, essentially). Which one you choose, and why, is the question.

    Science, you say? Do you understand quantum physics as thoroughly as Heisenberg or Schrodinger? Biology as fully as Wilson? Genetics as completely as any professor of the subject? Physics, mechanics, optics? No. If you claim you do, I don’t believe you. You accept, for whatever reasons, the validity of claims made in the name of science (and chance your acceptance if those claims are replaced by new ones, what Kuhn called a “paradigm shift”). You take them on trust; which is to say, on faith.

    And no doubt you think only religious believers do that. But unless you take on faith (trust) some of the larger components of modern existence, you find yourself in either a hopeless muddle, or completely ignorant.

  • dkeane123@comcast.net' DKeane123 says:

    That whole “faith in science” has been discredited so many times. Without the ability to make useful models and predictions, science is worthless. Its ability to sort out fact from wishful thinking has proved itself over and over. I do not have “faith” in any of the scientific subjects you mentioned, The method has allowed me to have the confidence that science will, in the long term, sort out what is and is not real via repeatable documented experimentation.

    This is nothing at all like the belief in Jesus as the way to heaven. To support this statement, believers only have scripture, authority, and revelation. There is no method for sorting out if this i actually true.

  • emilyk04@gmail.com' Fired, Aren't I says:

    I mention this in the comment still in moderation, but there is good science and bad science, and people have used bad science to justify their bigotry for centuries. In the 1900s a paper was published with “evidence that Negro brains are inferior to Caucasian brains.” Psychiatry once called homosexuals mentally ill.

    I would argue not only are secularists able to defer to a Higher Power, but they can claim it is NOT faith but actually FACT, since they’re not using unproven scriptures and an invisible being to back them up. They have facts. Data. SCIENCE. It might be bad science, but until better science replaces it, the influence remains.

    It’s not so much “faith in science” as it is “conviction in bad science.”

  • oaim50@yahoo.com' Don says:

    Credit where credit is due: Pre-Muslim India invented zero and flying machines, that’s for sure. The Middle East was just a mediary.

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    Arabia was more than an intermediary. It had sufficient perspicacity to understand and appy the utility of the zero.

  • conjurehealing@gmail.com' conjurehealing says:

    The image seems kind of random and arbitrary in my opinion, placed there for “coolness.” I learned something about coffee in this article, and other things, but one could do better as far as illustration. Pretty good for high school artists though.

  • alblazo@sbcglobal.net' RevElMundodeGuevara says:

    The key to “figuring out” what this “post is about” is to read it while matiaining a mental picture of Jon Oliver presenting it.

  • lou0727@yahoo.com' Louise Margarite says:

    He forgot one of the most beautiful gifts of the Islamic world … romantic poetry! in fact, the concept of ‘romantic’ love as something wonderful instead of a curse, like Greeks did

  • lou0727@yahoo.com' Louise Margarite says:

    oh, and a Muslim owns most of Fox News

  • gr_sutton@hotmail.com' Graeme Sutton says:

    Better hope there’s no Iranians reading this they’re likely to be indignant with you claiming the word “Orange” for the arabic language when it actually comes from Persian.

  • carole645@rocketmail.com' seashell says:

    When there is a link in any comment, it immediately zooms to the Black Hole of Pending Doom, where it stays in the ethernets, sometimes forever. To be fair, it has cut down on the spammy work-from-home and make a jillion dollars posts that were interrupting the flow for awhile.

  • carole645@rocketmail.com' seashell says:

    “It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.” Dave Barry

    THANK YOU for the coffee. More coffee, less algebra, please.

  • emilyk04@gmail.com' Fired, Aren't I says:

    I know; I knew I was taking that risk. But I figured it would be worth it.

  • phillinj@slu.edu' NancyP says:

    Names of stars – Arabic is the #1 language for “named” stars in prominent constellations easily visible to the naked eye. Betelguese? Vega? Most of the stars in the Great Bear / Big Dipper / Plough, eg Alkaid, Mizar, Alioth on the “handle”, Megrez, Phecda, Merak, Dubhe for the “bowl” ( I am American, so think of it as the Big Dipper (ladle).

  • phillinj@slu.edu' NancyP says:

    The image is characteristic of 1950s – 1960s commercial art – adverts for percolator coffee (the only American kind until recently).

  • davidpalmer@clear.net.nz' davidpalmer says:

    A problem here is that this article suggests Islam is on the downslide. A lot of great contributions 1,000 years ago; a few from 500 years ago; the odd one from 200 years ago; precious little from the twentieth century. Moslems better get cracking and make some positive contributions to the world to counter the negative and degenerate view of Islam produced by some of their number.

  • dkeane123@comcast.net' DKeane123 says:

    Sorry about just getting back to you on this – summer is in full swing. Absolutely there has been bad science. We currently have an issue with paid publication with no peer review that needs to be fixed. Although I would state that peer review is central to science,so these journal articles really aren’t doing “science”. And I would agree with you that attempts at science has often been used to reinforce a societal confirmation bias, this was especially true in the medical field in the 1800’s and early 1900’s where it was considered medically dangerous for women to ride a horse any other way than side-saddle (and all sorts of other nonsense). We see some of this today with creation science – which distorts findings to meet a pre-conceived conclusion.

    The big thing in this comment for me is that with respect to the current and historical “sins” of science, it wasn’t religion or some other philosophy that made the correction, it was science itself. Self correction is a pretty powerful tool.

  • dkeane123@comcast.net' DKeane123 says:

    See my comment below. But one clarification. Let’s talk about one of the links. So someone states the Negro brain is inferior and publishes all about it – the conversation does not stop there. People can counter the claim by citing research that runs counter to that conclusion and conduct additional studies where there is no information. So in the short term, I might “get away” with making a clearly false statement based on bad science – but not in the long term. This is it’s greatest strenght

    I would claim that the biggest weakness with religion is that their holy books are static. Conclusions in the bible cannot be countermanded by Bible 2.0. The idea in Leviticus that “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” – that will stay as the revealed word of God for all of time.

  • So… we suppose to thank you for 6 and 7 despite the fact that the removal and killing of Indigenous peoples is the most understated genocide in history? Gee! Thanks! You also forgot the slave trade… (From a very angry Indigenous-Muslim).

  • william.taylor3@comcast.net' Bill says:

    Strange article.
    After a promising start, the Muslim world’s failure to thrive is obvious to all. The west thrived because religion was beaten down and replaced by more secular systems. Not so in the Muslim world, where to this day, the tenets of Islam still stifle free thought and cultural development and bring oppression to 50% of the population.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *