Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post by Saadia Faruqi. Saadia is an interfaith activist, blogger for Tikkun Daily and The Islamic Monthly, and a speaker on American Muslim issues. She lives in Houston, Texas and is currently writing a collection of short stories set in Pakistan. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi
Today is a happy day – July 4, or Independence Day – when we celebrate our nation’s birthday. Perhaps you have plans to watch fireworks at a city park, or get together with friends and family for a barbecue. Or perhaps you are one of those who prefer to spend this holiday in the malls, stealing summer items at bargains especially on sale this weekend. I am a hybrid, doing all those things with my family during a much-awaited long weekend.
As Muslims, though, have you ever wondered what Fourth of July really is? I don’t mean just Independence Day itself, but the unique celebration of America’s birthday and our role in it as American Muslims. Whether we watch fireworks or display flags, or even if we do nothing to celebrate this day, we should have a deeper understanding of what it means to be a part of this country where we have all the freedoms and luxuries of the world. As Muslims, we don’t find those freedoms and civil liberties in our own birth countries. If you are Shia, Ahmadi, or even the wrong kind of Sunni sect; if you are a woman, a disabled person, or anything other than the mainstream understanding of the majority, you may not receive your rights and privileges in your own countries. So-called Shariah laws in many Muslim countries severely limit the religious rights and even basic human rights of much of their populations.
Yet here in the U.S. despite being less than 1% of the population, we have the right to pray, to wear Muslim dress, to take vacation during Eid or other religious celebrations, and to follow Islam the way each of us sees fit. The constitution and the laws of this country give us a rare kind of equality and freedom that we may not find even in Europe. The First Amendment is an amazing piece of document that provides us with everything we need to live freely, happily and justly. For that alone, celebrating July Fourth must have a deeper and richer meaning than for other Americans. I know it does for me.
The Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, taught that loyalty to one’s homeland is part of one’s faith. Have you ever wondered what that means? I believe that it implies a sense of responsibility towards our home, especially one which has adopted us and allowed us to live a life full of opportunity and potential. Where we can proudly say we are Muslim and American in the same breath and not have to worry about the consequences.
Yes, the United States has its problems with Muslims in some ways, like individual employers not allowing the hijab in the workplace or political backlash in some communities against Islam. But when we compare these issues with those in other countries, especially in European nations like France and Germany, we find that the environment here is much more amenable and welcoming to Muslims. If we work together we have legal recourse to fix those problems and make this nation even better and stronger than it is already. Loyalty to our homeland signifies all these things: being a part of the fabric of life, getting involved in civic and political structures, working to improve conditions for all Muslims as well as all Americans, individually and collectively. Most importantly, loyalty must be inculcated in our children, so that they can grow up to be fully patriotic and productive members of this society.
So today, I urge you to celebrate Independence Day with love and fervor. Find some flags to fix to your front porch – it will help your neighbors see American Muslims as their fellow country men and women, not just immigrants or aliens. Tell your kids the stories of the founding fathers, so that they learn to have a sense of pride in their country. Sing the national anthem, say the pledge of allegiance. Be grateful to be living in a nation that has given us plenty, and think of ways to give back. That is what Independence Day is truly all about. Happy Fourth of July!