July 4, 2014. My dear adopted country, I am so happy to be a part of yet another celebration of independence, another anniversary of your birth! For the last fifteen years I have celebrated with you, and with each passing year I have realized how special you are to me. Many people, especially the talking heads on certain cable news networks, think that the scarf on my head diminishes in me the ability to feel loyalty and pride, but they are wrong. I can wear whatever I want, pray however I wish, and still wave the American flag high on the fourth of July. Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that I am American Muslim I have a deep appreciation of what those two things mean in that combination.
You have given me much, and I will be eternally grateful. As an immigrant, I cherish the values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that you embody to the millions like myself who leave family and home behind to start a new life with you. If you hadn’t opened your arms and let me in, I wouldn’t be the author, writer, speaker and activist that I am now. I wouldn’t have been able to get the best education and a fulfilling career if you hadn’t been the land of opportunity I had hoped to find. I wouldn’t have had a safe, happy and healthy life if your people hadn’t been so kind and loving to me every day. So thank you for exceeding my expectations in every way as I emigrated to your shores.
My professional life isn’t the only part of me that’s richer and fuller as a result of everything you have to offer. As a Muslim, celebrating your birthday today is a no-brainer to me and other Muslims. My prophet Muhammad taught that loyalty to my homeland is part of my faith, and I take that instruction very seriously. I am confused and hurt when my own politicians accuse me of lying or hiding the truth, that I am somehow secretly loyal to some other ideal or country because I am Muslim. That is absolutely false. I and countless others like me have fallen in love with the beauty, freedom and justice inherent within you. I see Muslim countries with harsh, inhumane laws but you are a true beacon of hope and freedom. Your people respect my faith in a way that has been a learning experience for me, has defined how I myself treat others, and how I practice my faith. That is something I will never forget.
My religion demands that I repay that respect and liberty with my loyalty, and even with my life if you demand it. You will see my fellow American Muslims fighting in the army, working in hospitals and universities, helping to keep the American way of life alive each and every day. As for myself, I am raising my children here with the same attitude: that there is no contraction in being an American + Muslim, that we can recite with real intensity the pledge of allegiance and then go to pray, that we can fast this holy month of Ramadan and then break our fast at sundown with barbecue and apple pie in the back yard. That we can be proud and happy to be Muslim, and equally so to be American.
So my dear nation, a very happy birthday to you! I know you will only get better with age. I pray this Ramadan that the freedom you hold so dear will be an example for others and a motivation for us to free others throughout the world who are oppressed and persecution. I pray that just as you found independence more than two hundred years ago, so will other nations find freedom and fulfillment. Happy Fourth of July!
Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston and trainer of American Muslim issues. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi.