By Amer Aziz
For immigrant Muslims like myself, I get quite excited about the Fourth of July. It has special meaning for us. The early Americans came to this land escaping persecution and oppression. They came to gain their freedom of religion and the right to self-determination.
The American dream, however, is not just about gaining freedom, but dignity, respect and giving back to society. This dream was not easy for everyone. Many groups of people who came to America suffered a kind of oppression here, too, before their social uplift.
Muslims today find themselves in a similar situation. Many come here escaping oppression and corruption in their home countries to build a better life. We find ourselves being stereotyped, our religion being attacked. We know it’s an uphill battle before us, but we take inspiration from the American story and the struggles of those before us.
However, this Fourth of July is a time for us to reflect upon how many Americans have upheld freedoms for Muslims and fought back against the stereotypes. Such commitment to freedom and human dignity commands loyalty to our great nation.
I also draw on this sense of loyalty from the example of the founder of my faith, Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad endured persecution in Mecca, ultimately causing an escape to Medina. There he was selected to lead as arbitrator to a diverse society of Muslims, Jews and polytheists. He then drafted a constitution guaranteeing the freedom of religion (Quran 2:257).
In time, he would have to take up armed conflict to defend freedom. The verses of the Quran (22:40-41) that permit armed confrontation require that churches, synagogues and other places of worship be protected and their sanctity upheld.
Muhammad also exemplified loyalty to the land where one seeks refuge or gains citizenry. After Muhammad’s bloodless conquest of Mecca, a group of Medinites known as the Ansar (helpers), who had supported him in Medina, approached him. Since Muhammad had returned in conquest to his homeland, they questioned whether he still held the same reverence for Medina. In an act of loyalty, Muhammad returned to honor the land that took him in when he sought to escape Mecca, and that is where his grave is enshrined today.
Hardly a day goes by that I don’t feel a sense of appreciation, gratitude and loyalty for the freedoms I have in the United States of America, including the freedom to practice my religion. Please join me in celebration of this Fourth of July in honor of our nation and the indispensable freedom of conscience it upholds.
Amer Aziz, of Amherst, is a writer and editor for the Muslim Writers Guild of America and vice president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Buffalo. The views expressed here are his own.