September 12th, 2001

by Andy Griffin

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Written by Andy on September 12th, 2001

When I stepped out of my house Wednesday morning around 6:30 am and looked up into the sky I was startled to see the planet Jupiter shining like a star not more than two degrees away from the crescent moon. What a sad morning for such a rare and beautiful sight. The juxtaposition of the two planets high overhead looked for all the world like the crescent and star of Islam that defined the battle flags of the Ottomon Empire and is still featured on a number of flags from Muslim nations. With all the speculation that the horrible attack upon us the day before had been perpetrated by Islamic Extremists, this unusual celestial display seemed poignant and ironic.

Some ignorant people don't distinguish between Arab and Muslim, or between Islam and the fanatical fundamentalism that blows up ancient Buddhist temples and, maybe, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I worry that some of us will direct our rage and hurt on other innocent people who merely happen to be Arabic, or Muslim, or look like it. We would be the losers if we impulsively reacted to the violence against us by being as intolerant of differences as our attackers. Its worth remembering that we in the west have inherited a wealth of culture an knowledge from the Arabs, some of which is so fundamental we take it for granted.

If you enjoy looking at stars you soon learn that most of them have arabic names. The Muslims kept astronomy alive during our dark ages. The three most prominent stars in the southern sky that form the asterism known as the Summer Triangle are all named in Arabic. Vega, or alpha Lyrae, means eagle in Arabic. Deneb, alpha Cygni, means tail, and Altair, alpha Aquilae, means wings of an eagle. But our debt to Arabs comes down to earth as well. Basil, eggplant, sesame, oranges and coffee are just a few crops whose culture was introduced to the west by the Moors.

We speak Spanish on the farm and the historical relationship between modern agriculture and the Arabs is more obvious due to the large number of Arabic words that have been retained. The "al" prefix to many Spanish words is an arabism meaning "the" and we see it in words like alcachofa for artichoke, albahaca for basil, and almendra for almond.

The Arabs didn't necessarily develop the crops that they introduced to Europe but they were progressive agriculturalists and they figured out how to grow crops in Europe that had before only been available in Persia, India, or Africa.

The southern origin of many of the crops introduced by the Moors helps explain why they are seasoned here in the north and available only during our summer. Alfalfa means "best animal feed," and cotton, or algodón, are huge summertime commodity crops you consume every time you get dressed or eat a cheese sandwich (alfalfa being the basic building block of a modern dairy cows diet). Capers were first known to us as alcaparra, apricots as albaricoques, and pistachios as alfoncigos. A few words that have come to us from the Arabic and retained their original flavor include Alcatraz and albacore.

I looked up the meaning of the crescent moon and star when I got back into the house; it means knowledge, light and progress. We're going to need a lot of it in the days to come. This whole affair feels so bad. It really brings into focus how much the police, the firefighters and the military sacrifice.

copyright 2001 Andy Griffin


This is an artichoke growing in our field. Our farm is named Mariquita Farm, after the helpful ladybug, who eats lots of evil aphids. (Mariquita means ladybug in Spanish.)