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It would probably send their pacemakers into full afterburner, or at least frazzle their tin foil hats if local Islamophobes like Steven Amundson, Deborah Pauly, and Congressmen Ed Royce and Gary Miller were to find out that Muslims were in America before the British; some as explorers, some as slaves, many as successful business owners.

early muslims

Or to learn that Muslims explored North America 300 years before Christopher Columbus, using the Mississippi river as their access route to and from the continent's interior.

Or to find out that Ben Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson admired Islam and its followers. Franklin set up a non-sectarian meeting house in Philadelphia, declaring in his autobiography that "even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service."

Or to find out that Jefferson purchased a Quran to learn about the Islamic legal code. The same Quran, by the way, used by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) to take his oath of office to the U.S. Congress in 2007.

Or to find out that John Adams published "Thoughts on Government" in 1776, which praised the prophet Muhammad as a "sober inquirer after truth.”

In New York, for example, (New Netherlands, at the time) Anthony “The Turk” Janszoon van Salee emigrated from Morocco and became one of the earliest and richest settlers of Manhattan island. He was a devout Muslim, and the ancestor of Cornelius Vanderbilt and the New York Whitney family (whose members contributed the cotton gin, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the New York Mets to the world, among other beneficences).

One of van Salee’s first properties was a farm in lower Manhattan, acquired in 1638 and located near to what would become the site of the recently-proposed Park Place Islamic Center; the one that so inflamed professional Islamophobe Pamela Geller that she called it “a foreign presence on sacred American soil.

Van Salee became the first settler of Brooklyn. Coney Island, which abutted his property, was known as "Turk's Island” until the 19th century.

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In the south, some planters sought slaves from Senegambia for their knowledge of rice cultivation. Some slave owners considered Muslims superior to non-Muslims as workers. Others thought their education and literacy was dangerous, even though it was mostly in Arabic.

So to label Muslims as somehow “un-American” is to ignore the considerable influence Muslims have had on American history, even before it was America.

And to think of Orange County as a bastion against Islamic influences ignores the fact that “Orange” is an Arabic word.

The real foreign presence is not Islam. It’s Islamophobia.

For more information, see Lynn Parramore’s

John MacMurray

Posted: Tuesday, 16 October 2012