What have Muslims ever done for America? If your sole source of information were Donald Trump, you’d think that the answer was not much – apart from murdering its citizens and trying to destroy its values. The Republican presidential hopeful has called for a halt to Muslims entering the US until American authorities “can figure out” Muslim attitudes to the US in the wake of last week’s killings in San Bernardino. If only, you might well think, Scotland had had the same thought about Trump before he was allowed in to blight Aberdeenshire with another of his golf resorts.
What Trump doesn’t seem to grasp is his own country’s history, and how many American achievements worth celebrating are the work of the kind of people – Muslims – he wants to keep out.
Here, then, is a guide to some of the things Muslims have done for the US. It’s not an exhaustive list – but it’s still more impressive than what Trump has done for his homeland.
Muslims were part of the US from its very beginnings. Among those who served under the command of chief of the continental army, General George Washington, in the war against British colonialism were Bampett Muhammad, who fought for the Virginia Line between the years 1775 and 1783, and Yusuf Ben Ali, who was a North African Arab. Some have claimed that Peter Buckminster, who fired the gun that killed British Major General John Pitcairn at the battle of Bunker Hill, and later went on to serve in the Battle of Saratoga and the battle of Stony Point, was a Muslim American. This may be so, but the chief ground for the claim is that Buckminster later changed his surname to Salem or Salaam, the Arabic word for peace. But clearly, Washington, later America’s first president, didn’t have a problem with Muslims serving in his army. By giving these Muslims the honour of serving America, Washington made it clear that a person did not have to be of a certain religion or have a particular ethnic background to be an American patriot. Trump seems to want to overturn that venerable American principle.
The largely Muslim kingdom of Morocco, incidentally, was the first country to recognise the US. In 1786, the two countries signed a treaty of peace and friendship that is still in effect today, the longest unbroken treaty of its kind in history.
Building its cities
The US wouldn’t look the way it does if it weren’t for a Muslim, Fazlur Rahman Khan. The Dhaka-born Bangladeshi-American was known as the “Einstein of structural engineering”. He pioneered a new structural system of frame tubes that revolutionised the building of skyscrapers. That system consisted of, as he once described it, “three, four, or possibly more frames, braced frames, or shear walls, joined at or near their edges to form a vertical tube-like structural system capable of resisting lateral forces in any direction by cantilevering from the foundation”.
The result was a new generation of skyscrapers that reduced the amount of steel necessary in construction and changed the look of American cityscapes. Islamist terrorists may have blown up the World Trade Center, but without Khan’s innovation of the framed tube structure, the twin towers probably wouldn’t have been constructed in the first place. Nor would the John Hancock tower, with its distinctive exterior X-bracing (devised by Khan) or the Sears tower (also made possible by Khan’s variant on the tube structure concept, the system was the so-called “bundled tube”) both in Chicago. The Sears Tower was for nearly 25 years from 1973, at 108 stories and 1,451ft (442m), the tallest building in the world. Khan died in 1982, but his innovations have proved key for future skyscrapers – including the 2009 Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago.
Among other buildings on which Khan served as structural engineer is US Bank Centre in Milwaukee and the Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. He also worked on the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado, where officers are trained. If it weren’t for this Muslim, arguably, the US air force wouldn’t be quite so good at its work that, as we know, sometimes involves bombing other countries, some of them populated chiefly by Muslims.
Living the American dream
Shahid Khan is the personification of the American dream. The Pakistan-born billionaire arrived in the US aged 16 on a one-way trip to the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. “Within 24 hours, I had already experienced the American dream,” Khan said, by which he meant he found a job for $1.20 an hour washing dishes — more than the vast majority of the people back in Pakistan earned at the time. He started a car-parts business after university. Now, the 65-year-old – best known in the UK for owning Fulham FC – is the head of the $4.9bn (in sales terms) auto-parts company Flex-N-Gate, the 360th richest person on the planet and three years ago Forbes magazine put him on its cover as the face of the American dream.