This Fourth of July, why I love America, like most Muslim Americans
Americans may not be able to name all the articles of the Constitution, but they’ve been taught its ethic for most of their lives. Equality and tolerance are instilled in them. After religious persecution drove me from my native Pakistan, that is why I gratefully call America "home."
"That's my home." My heart whispered this thought 15 years ago while looking down at the streets of Pakistan. The plane had just left for New York from Lahore and I was glued to the window, teary eyed. If leaving my country was distressing, not knowing if I would ever return was agonizing. And all the agony was due to one single fact: I was an Ahmadi Muslim and Pakistan’s constitution had shunned me as a second-class citizen.Skip to next paragraph
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Just two weeks later, I dragged my bones to watch the Fourth of July (1996) fireworks at the New Jersey Shore. Back then it was not “my celebration” so all I remember from that evening is loud music, a huge crowd, and a stranger who thanked me for making room so he could watch the fireworks.
On July 4, 2011 though, as an equal citizen of the United States, I am celebrating something I failed to appreciate 15 years ago: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The language and substance of our constitutions and declarations has a deep impact on our psyche.
To that end, much of Pakistan’s tendency toward extremism is traceable to 1974, when an odious constitutional amendment declared millions of Ahmadis (a sect of Islam) as non-Muslims. A decade later, the state passed Ordinance XX to make it punishable by law for an Ahmadi Muslim to discuss his faith in public, identify his place of worship as a mosque, or even convey the Islamic greeting of peace. This constitutional amendment has also inflicted significant injury on Pakistan’s Christian and Hindu minorities.
Pakistan’s constitutional inequality not only classified millions as second grade citizens but it also poisoned the masses. Today, a ten-minute inflammatory sermon can make many feel obligated to kill a neighbor belonging to a minority group.
The US Constitution steers Americans toward tolerance
So it’s natural for me to note how our US Constitution sweetens the American psyche towards the principles of equality, life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness championed in the Declaration of Independence. Even though more than 80 percent of Americans attest to an incomplete understanding of our Constitution (according to a 2011 Time Magazine poll), this document and the principles it establishes instill tolerance for “the different” in our minds.