Science, medicine, architecture, arts and crafts are much publicised, along with their respective Islamic links. Yet the average person will probably fail to realise just how far historical contacts with the Muslim world have impacted on their daily life. It was not only the impressive array of spices that this trade brought to the UK (cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, turmeric, ginger, aniseed, saffron and more) but a number of other basic commodities that most people today take for granted. Who could imagine what British life would be like without sugar, tea or coffee? What would the traditional British Christmas cake taste like without the thick layer of marzipan underneath that frosted icing? Indeed, where would the marzipan be without the almonds? And what about marmalade on toast? In fact, in terms of food, and a number of other things too, Britain would still be in the Dark Ages had it not started its trade with the Muslims.
Another item that we take for granted and that we now so happily hand over is the cheque. This too would not exist had the Muslims not invented it. Other things that may not be so normal, but that are familiar enough, can also be linked back to this crossing of cultures: candy, cotton, taffeta, silk, satin, sherbet, ketchup, dungarees, caravans, gymkhanas, bungalows, bazaars, oranges and tambourines. Do Arsenal’s football hooligans, who would normally pick a fight with the first foreigner they find, ever stop to wonder where the name of the club they love so much actually originates? Or when they yell, “Oi bint!” at a passing woman, do they realise where the word “bint” comes from?
The naming of the night-sky began with the Muslims, at least as far as putting them onto maps goes. All navigation stars have Arabic names (e.g. Aldebaran and Beetle Juice), with a very few exceptions.
In fact, one of the areas penetrated most by this colourful history is that of the English language. Although the following list is not by any means exhaustive, it still demonstrates how the language and culture of this country owes much to the influence of Islam and its followers.
Arabic words loaned to English:
Alchemy, alcohol, alcove, algebra, algorithm, alkali, almanac, amber, aniline, arsenal, azimuth, bandouq, bint, breeze (possibly), camel, candy, carat, caraway, cat, chamois, cheque, cipher, coffee, cotton, cut, cuff, elixir, gazelle, ghoul, giraffe, guild, jar, logarithm, loofah, lute, macabre, magazine, marzipan, mattress, mohair, mufti, nadir, racket, saffron, satin, sherbet, shufti, silk, sofa, sugar (originally Sanskrit), syrup, tabby, talisman, tamarind, tambourine, tangerine, tare, tariff, tarragon, turmeric, typhoon, vizier, zenith, zero.Persian words loaned to English:
Hindustani words loaned to English:
Bungalow, dekko, shampoo, dungaree, gym khana, orange (originally Sanskrit or Persian), pyjama.
Malay words loaned to English:
Bamboo, batik, compound, caddy (tea), ketchup, and the phrase “to run amuck”.
An interesting anomaly that might well be evidence of loan words going in the other direction is the Arabic word for a knife, “sikkin”, which is obviously connected phonetically to the Gaelic word for a knife, “sgian”. Who influenced whom is another matter.