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A Few Scenes, Drawn from Life, of the Latest in Muslim Outreach (Part II)
by Hugh Fitzgerald
Continued from Part I.
3. “The Story of Islam In America Is As Old As America Itself”
It has been important to Muslims to enroll themselves as early as possible “as part of America’s story,” and to backdate, too, what appears to be the sympathetic recognition of their existence in American life. One such example is the claim that Jefferson held an “Iftar Dinner” for the Muslim envoy sent by the Bey of Tunis to Washington. It’s a tall tale that refuses to die. Jefferson, however, did no such thing.
The real story of that “Iftar dinner” is this:
The envoy from Tunis came to Washington in 1805 just as Ramadan was already underway. And as it happens, during that time, President Jefferson invited that envoy, one Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, for dinner at the White House. This was not meant to be an “Iftar dinner,” but just a dinner like any other. It was originally set for three thirty in the afternoon (our Founding Fathers dined early in the pre-Edison days of their existence). Mellimelli responded that he could not come at that appointed hour of three thirty p.m. but only after sundown.
Jefferson, a courteous man, simply moved the dinner forward by a few hours. He didn’t change the menu, he didn’t change anything else, he did not see himself as offering an “Iftar Dinner” (the phrase never came up) and there are no records that suggest that he ever thought of it as such. He only knew that Mellimelli was observing a fast until after sundown. Barack Obama, 200 years later, tried to rewrite American history, referring to Jefferson as being the first President to give an “Iftar dinner,” in order to flatter or please his (Obama’s) Muslim guests. But in so doing, he misrepresented American history to Americans, including schoolchildren who are now being subjected to all kinds of Islamic propaganda in newly-mandated textbooks that both favorably depict Islam, and present it as an integral, and longstanding, part of American life. You can find out more about that “Iftar-Dinner-That-Wasn’t” here.
Another tale that has been circulated by Muslims, that involves a similar rewriting of American history, is the claim that “30% of the African slaves who came to America were Muslims.” Historians have offered guesses as to the percentages — 5%, 10%, 15% — of the African slaves who may, it has been tentatively suggested, been Muslims. Someone plucked out of the air the highest figure, 30%, anyone (i.e., Prof. Sylviane Diouf) had dared propose, and decided to take that as historical truth without offering any convincing evidentiary basis for so doing. Furthermore, it is known that for those slaves who brought Islam with them, that faith was not retained, and usually did not last for more than a generation. Without Qur’ans, mosques, madrasas, in an overwhelmingly Christian and proselytizing environment, Islam could not last more than a generation or two. But the insistence that “30% of African slaves in America were Muslims” – instead of that “5% of African slaves came as Muslims and by the second generation almost all had lost that faith” — is repeated by Muslim apologists, who in turn are quoted by non-Muslims, and no one asks for the evidence that supports that “30%” figure instead of, say, “5%,” or that supports the idea that Muslim slaves continued to remain Muslims through successive generations. Thus does the exaggeration of Islam’s significance in our early history take on a life of its own, based not on fact, but on a tendentious guess. Surely, if 30% of the black African slaves who arrived in America were Muslims, someone – among all those slave-traders and slave-owners – would have noticed and recorded such a sizable number of Muslims. No one did. In fact, almost no one recorded the presence of any Muslim slaves, which leads one to suspect their numbers were far smaller than is now being claimed. Once this story got started, it became accepted by the credulous, and helped make “Islam even more a part of the American story.”
The most egregious fable told about American history by Muslims is when they attempt to convince us that Islam is no late arrival to our shores, but that – this is a constant theme — “the story of Islam in America is as old as America itself.” Perhaps your host will claim at this mosque outreach that “you probably did not know that there were Muslims travelling with Columbus– one even served as his navigator.” Many will not question this claim, but be pleased to be made aware of what they now believe is Islam’s real place in our history, one that had for so long had been kept hidden from us. Take that, Islamophobes!
Let’s consider the claims made that Christopher Columbus included Muslims in his crew. Not only is there not a shred of evidence to support this, but what evidence there is goes the other way. Columbus undertook his voyages because he wanted to discover an alternate route for Europeans to Asia, i.e., India, with its spices, precisely because Muslims had, with the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, managed to seal off the old routes to the East from Christian Europe. Columbus would never have taken on members of the enemy camp (of Islam) for his crew, but especially would not have entrusted the critical job of navigator to a Muslim. But so effective has this Muslim rewriting of history been that, in 2004, a State Department employee put out a claim about Columbus’s Muslim crew members: in a press release entitled “Islamic Influence Runs Deep in American Culture,” Phyllis McIntosh of the State Department’s Washington File claimed: “Islamic influences may date back to the very beginning of American history. It is likely that Christopher Columbus, who discovered America in 1492, charted his way across the Atlantic Ocean with the help of an Arab navigator.”
Why did McIntosh make this absurd claim, even though “may date back” and “it is likely that” are weasel words providing an escape-hatch of deniability? How did she make the leap from no evidence to “may date back” and “likely”? And even if, which did not happen, one crew member had turned out to be an “Arab” and thus a Muslim, how does that translate into “Islamic influences run deep”? What kind of “Islamic influence” would a single crew member have had on the whole epic of Columbus’s voyages, and the subsequent discovery and settlement of the New World? McIntosh was pulling rabbits out of an ahistorical hat. She, and the State Department, either felt there was no harm in trying to curry favor with Muslims (history is silly putty to some; they shape it as they will), or were under pressure to rewrite history, possibly from Obama’s office (he was constantly prating about how “Islam has always been a part of the American story”) as part of a feelgood-outreach campaign to American Muslims. But where did this particular story, about Columbus’s “Arab navigator,” come from?
It came from Muslims themselves. And it is based on a case of mistaken identity. For it was Muslims who, when they learned of an “Arabic-speaking Spaniard” on Columbus’s first voyage, decided that this must refer to a Muslim Arab. In fact, the reference was to one Luis de Torres, a converso (a Jew who accepted Catholicism). Luis de Torres knew Hebrew, Spanish, and some Arabic, and was taken on not as a navigator but as an interpreter by Columbus, who thought his knowledge of Hebrew would be useful if they ran into any Jewish traders (who were known to travel far and wide) or members of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. But Muslims, in their eagerness to put themselves into the picture with Columbus, committed two grievous historical errors: first, they confused the interpreter, the “Arabic-speaking Spaniard” Luis de Torres, with the navigator (who was, incidentally, also a converso) and then they assumed that if someone on Columbus’s crew spoke Arabic, as Torres did, he must be an Arab and a Muslim. Wrong on both counts. But even more bizarre is that the only support for McIntosh’s remark about the “Arab navigator” supposedly accompanying Columbus comes from Muslims themselves, who made up the story on the sole basis of that “Arabic-speaking Spaniard.” If the State Department employs historians, as it surely must, those historians were not in evidence to put a stop to those wild stories about the “Muslim navigator” were being bruited about. One wonders how many people have been led to believe this tall tale, not realizing that there is nothing to justify it.
4. To Conclude: Come Prepared To Meet-Your-Muslim-Neighbors
You can be sure that those “Meet-Your-Muslim-Neighbors” affairs will include, at the very least, one or some or all of the following:
1) A carefully censored guide to the Five Pillars, especially in regards to Salat (the five daily prayers) with, as noted in part I, the kuffar-cursing repeated, in those canonical prayers, seventeen times a day, and going unremarked. It will be up to you to supply the two verses in the Fatihah that contain the cursing of the kuffar. That is why it is so valuable for those who are aware of what is being left out to attend these mosque-outreach evenings, so you can recite them both to shame your Muslim hosts (for leaving out all mention of this) and to set your fellow Infidels thinking about what else they are not being told. The second bit of information you will want to supply will be during the discussion of Zakat, where you should explain publicly what your Muslim hosts will not. To wit, that “Zakat” is intended only for fellow Muslims, or to further the cause of Islam, and should not be deceptively presented – as it certainly will be — as akin to the omnidirectional charity practiced by Christians. That is why it is so helpful for you to attend as many of these mosque-outreach affairs as you can stomach,, in order to embarrass your smiling hosts, and to correct the record.
2) A rewriting of American history in order to insist (as explained above):
First, that “Islam has always been a part of America’s story,” with extravagant claims that Muslims, or at least an Arab navigator, took part in Columbus’s first voyage. This claim is suspect on its face, given that that first voyage had the support of the very Christian (“los reyes catolicos”) Ferdinand and Isabella, was financed by two conversos, Luis de Santangel and Gabriel Sanchez, was undertaken by the very Christian explorer Christopher Columbus, and finally, the “Arabic-speaking Spaniard” who accompanied Columbus, not as navigator but as interpreter, was a converso named Luis de Torres. There is no evidence of any Muslim taking part in any of Columbus’s four voyages.
Second, that “30% of the Africans brought to America were Muslims” – when until recent decades, almost nothing was said about more than a handful of the slaves brought to America being Muslim, and when it began to be discussed, the figure of 5% was routinely accepted. The upwardly-revised figure of “30%” is simply the highest number anyone has dared to suggest to date. The formulation also implies that Islam was passed down from the first to later generations, but historians have concluded that very few of the slaves born after the first generation of Muslims continued to practice Islam. A truer formulation would be this: in the first generation of slaves 5%-10% may have been Muslim, but by the second generation almost all had abandoned Islam for Christianity.
Third, that President Jefferson held “the first Iftar dinner.” Again – see above – Jefferson delayed the dinner that had already been planned, by a few hours. But there was no mention, and perhaps no awareness, by him that anyone would think this had become an “Iftar dinner.” It took 200 years, and Barack Obama, to make that suggestion.
You should come prepared to cast doubt on each of these three assertions, about the “Arab navigator” with Columbus, the “30% of slaves who were Muslim,” and Jefferson’s “Iftar diner.”
3) A deliberate avoiding by your Muslim hosts of any detailed discussion of what is in the Qur’an, and especially, there will be nothing about those 109 “Jihad verses.” You can expect, however, to be quoted those two verses from the Qur’an that are always trotted out to show Islam in a misleadingly favorable light. The first is Qur’an 2:256 (“There is no compulsion in religion”); the second is 5:32 (“if any one killed a person, it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind…”) without its modifying 5:33. If you are a guest at one of these mosque-outreach affairs, it is you who will have to ask about those “Jihad verses” and what they might mean. But even before that, you could spoil the game by announcing pre-emptively that “before we are given by our hosts, as I suspect we inevitably will be, both Qur’an 2:256 and 5:32, to put the best face on Islam, I want to explain a few things. First, though 2:256 reads “there is no compulsion in religion,” isn’t the punishment of death for apostasy from Islam the severest kind of “compulsion in religion”? What freedom does a Muslim have to change his religion? What are we to make of Sahih Bukhari: “The Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him”? And doesn’t the imposition of the onerous Jizyah on non-Muslims constitute “compulsion in religion”? After all, it is a way of encouraging – to say the least – non-Muslims to convert to Islam, so as to avoid the Jizyah tax. And as for 5:32, which seems to be against killing (“if any one killed a person, it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind…”), it means the very opposite of that, when read in conjunction, as it must be, with the very next verse, 5:33 (“The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter”).
4) Discussion of the ethnic and racial diversity of Muslims, as if that distinguished Islam – it does not – from Christianity, the other world faith with claims to universality. Furthermore, there is unlikely to be any mention by your hosts of how Islam has always been a vehicle for Arab supremacism, or of how Islam has been over the centuries, and is today, wracked by both ethnic (Arab vs. non-Arab) and sectarian (Sunni v. Shi’a) strife. The Hajj will be described at these mosque outreach affairs as a place “where people of every race and color come together in complete harmony, taking part in the largest religious pilgrimage in the world. I’ve been on it. It’s an unforgettable experience.” Your job is to remind your fellow non-Muslims at this mosque-outreach night of both the ethnic and the sectarian strife, including especially Shi’a Iran’s banning last year of its pilgrims going on the Hajj. Remind your fellow Infidels that the Qur’an ideally must be read and recited in Arabic, that Muslims turn in prayer toward the Hejaz five times a day, that many non-Arab Muslims adopt Arab names or boast of fake Arab lineages (all those “Sayeeds” in Pakistan, marking so many as descendants of Muhammad’s tribe), and imitate the dress and customs of 7th century Arabs.,
5) There will undoubtedly be a Q-and-A at some point during the Meet-Your-Muslim-Neighbors affair. If allowed only one question by your Muslim hosts, read out Qur’an 98:6, that describes Unbelievers as the “vilest of creatures,” and disingenuously ask “I’m just not sure what to make of that. Can you help me?” The fixed smile on your host’s face will stay on, just, but it will be clear he did not expect that question, and his expression reveals he’s more than a little surprised, and also somewhat hurt, that you’ve injected a note of doubt. But he’s ready with the only conceivable response: “Well” he might reply, “if you haven’t read it in the original Arabic of the 7th century, then I’d be cautious about coming to conclusions, sometimes the literal is very far from what is actually meant. And tell me this, do you really think that I think you are all so ‘vile’? If I thought that, would I have invited you all here this evening, to come inside our mosque, where I wanted to share with you something about our people and our faith, if I thought you were all so ‘vile,’ as you claim it says in the Qur’an, would I care what you think? And would Muslims not just here but all over America be inviting non-Muslims to their mosques? As you can see, none of the Muslims here tonight in person, sitting among you, or shown on the screen, has horns. We’re people – Americans – just like you. We get up in the morning, we get our kids ready for school, we go to work, we take our kids to Cub Scouts or Little League or dance classes, we join the P.T.A., we march in protests, we vote, we go shopping, we watch television. How are we so different from each other? If we thought that non-Muslims were so ‘vile,’ why would we be so delighted to live in this wonderful welcoming neighborhood, that happens to be full of non-Muslims? Why would we send our kids to school with your kids? And answer me this: why would so many Muslims in Muslim countries dream of calling America their home, if they thought it was full of ‘vile’ people? Or why have tens of millions of Muslims been so glad when they managed to make it to Western Europe, which is also full of those so-called ‘vile’ people? And by the way, how could I ever consider ‘vile’ all those ministers, priests, and rabbis who have reached out to us here at the mosque, and told us, in a joint letter to our entire congregation, that we received just a few days ago – and I quote – ‘we intend to stand foursquare with our Muslim brothers at this time of troubles for them.’ I can’t tell you how much that means to us.”
And he might conclude thus:
“All I can say is, I am very pleased you came out this evening, and I hope some of this has been helpful. If any of you has any other questions about Islam, which you might be interested to know is the fastest growing faith both in this country and in Europe, and in the world, so we must be doing something right, please pick up one of my cards on your way out. And feel free to get in touch with me by email or phone, so we can continue this conversation about Islam. And we’ll be having more of these gatherings, to meet more of our neighbors and friends. Now I think it’s time for all of us to break bread together. Please join us in a meal. Not an Iftar dinner, just a meal. Mrs. Bazzaz – are you ready for us?” (He smiles and points to a lady in the back of the hall.) Applause and shout-outs of support to the speaker, and then everyone surges toward the table loaded with curries, kebabs, basmati rice, pita bread, baklava, basbousa, and kunafeh, which will definitely seal the good mood that everyone is in, and will continue to be, when they finally leave the mosque, well satisfied in every respect but, I’m afraid, having learned almost nothing of significance unless they’ve learned it….from you.
First published in Jihad Watch.