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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
Islamophobia pays handsomely, as my colleague and co-conspirator Dean Obeidallah has discovered.
The Spanish staple finds its name from the Arabic ‘bawa’i,’ or remainders. Back from when most Spaniards spoke Arabic.
19. FOX News
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.
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.
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.