Do Muslims and Jews have a “shared future” in the U.S. based on a shared past? For the past four years, two Wayne State University academics, Howard Lupovitch and Saeed Khan, have held an annual lecture series entitled “A Shared Future.” Lupovitch, who is Jewish, is associate professor of history and director of the Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic studies; Khan, a Muslim, is a lecturer in several departments, including Near Eastern and Asian studies. The first of the three lectures in the series was recently held at the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
Of the hundred or so people in the audience, the vast majority were Jewish. Lupovitch and Khan, being good friends, sparked a jovial atmosphere, kibitzing throughout their introductions. Although a stated aim of the lectures was to “connect members of both demographics through exploring hot-button topics,” Khan made outlandish claims for a Muslim history in the New World based more on Islamic supremacism than facts. He was aided by Lupovitch, who not only failed to challenge Khan’s patently false tales, but asserted that “parallels and similarities” exist between Jewish and Muslim immigration to the U.S.
The audience proved equally pliable. Charmed by Khan’s humor and commentary on pop culture, no one challenged such whoppers as “Muslims have encountered America… since the tenth century… and had rather amicable relations with the indigenous people here. But it also shows at the time that migration was not a priority [but] was simply too far for them to try… to then govern it and control it.… What it did, though, is create new commercial routes.” Turkey’s Islamist president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has advanced the same propaganda as part of his anti-Western, supremacist worldview.
Next, Khan declared that although Columbus captained the Santa Maria on his first voyage to the New World, the Nina and Pinta were captained by two Muslim brothers, Vincente Yanez Pinzon and Martin Alonso Pinzon. Yet there is no proof that the brothers were Muslim, only assertions. Building on his earlier fiction of a 10th-century Muslim discovery of America, Khan added “there was a litany of Muslim cartographers, navigators, as well as maps, so it really then changes this narrative that Columbus found something new. It seems as though there was already a prescribed route.”
The same uncritical acceptance of Muslim legend underlay Khan’s claims about the 16th-century Spanish Muslim slave Estevanico (aka Estaban the Moor), one of only four survivors of a large Spanish exploration party who, after the deaths of their comrades, trekked from Florida to Mexico. Although historians believe Estavanico was baptized into Catholicism before reaching Hispaniola, Khan grouped him with the Pinzon brothers as men involved in the “Muslim exploration” of North America.
Not content with asserting a Muslim foundation for Old World exploration in the Western hemisphere, Khan claimed for Islam that most American of musical forms: the blues. “I remember listening on NPR, talking about blues music… and how it was inspired and influenced so heavily by the Muslim call to prayer, the Azaan, with the chord progression of it. I don’t think anyone can then go ahead and listen to a nice E-A-B chord progression without them thinking of the Azaanagain as it links to the blues.”
Such fantasy further exposes Khan’s lack of seriousness as a scholar, much less as a specialist on blues. The E-A-B chord progression, which is a standard I-IV-V progression, has been very popular in Western music because it’s harmonically pleasing to the ear.
His next yarn was based on even less evidence: “John Coltrane… is very famous for his iconic ‘A Love Supreme.’ Many musicologists and scholars are now in agreement that what he really was saying was not ‘a love supreme’ but ‘Allah supreme.’” Khan’s “many musicologists and scholars” is nothing more than an Al-Jazeera article (hardly an unbiased, expert opinion). In fact, Coltrane’s handwritten outline proves he wrote “a love supreme.”
Equally fallacious were his claims for the actress and producer Salma Hayek, whom he brought up in a discussion of Muslims who enter the U.S. via our southern border. Yet the Mexican-born Hayek, whose father is of Christian Lebanese descent, was raised Catholic. Did Khan mention Hayek to mislead his audience, or is he ignorant of her roots?
Khan perpetrated another fraud regarding the Nation of Islam (NOI). “One of the oldest mosques in America is right here in Detroit, the Nation of Islam’s Mohammed Mosque Number One.” But NOI’s history, stated beliefs, and their own website make clear their origins are not in Islam and had nothing to do with Muslim migration patterns. They are, rather, a black supremacist religion created in Detroit in the 1930s by Elijah Muhammad (formerly Elijah Poole) and based on the confused teachings of one Wallace D. Fard.
There was a short Q & A. in which softball questions were read from 3×5 cards. Audience members, who were all smiles as the event ended, seemed blissfully unaware of Khan’s dissembling in the service of Islamic supremacism.
Khan’s pleasing lies promoting a fictional Islamic-American history in which Islam played a crucial role are part of a broader, deliberate attempt by Islamists to convince Americans to accept Islamism as a harmless continuation of this proud legacy. In this, they resemble the fake histories peddled by well-attended traveling exhibits and the book describing them, National Geographic’s 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization, which helped popularize the myth that, as one critic put it, “the Muslims invented everything.” This propaganda mars many current revised history textbooks that exaggerate the accomplishments of Islamic civilization while blaming its shortcomings on Western imperialism and bigotry.
As Orwell wrote in 1984, “Who controls the past controls the future.” Saeed Khan is representative of Middle East studies academics rewriting American history to legitimize Islamism, the better to inoculate Islamists from criticism. After all, if Muslims discovered the New World, explored North America with Columbus, and invented the blues, who could object to the prejudices of Ilhan Omar (D-MN) or a little Sharia sprinkled about the land? They’re as American as apple pie.