Letter to an American-Muslim Child

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Originally published in Patheos
My dear son,

Assalaamo Alaikum

With all that’s going on, it’s time for a father-son talk.  A lot of people are saying Muslims are bad.  I want you to know you’ve done nothing wrong and have no reason to be ashamed.  You see, sometimes we adults forget what it’s like to be a child.

Mark Twain once wrote “Nothing that troubles us can be called little.  A child’s loss of a toy and a king’s loss of a crown are events of the same size.”  We don’t have kings with crowns in America, but we do have Presidents, and they forget things too.

Recently our President banned Muslims from several countries from entering the United States.  He says Muslim refugees could be dangerous and we need to put America first to make it “great again.”

What he forgets is if we want to make America great “again,” we have to ask: what made America great in the first place?  Our long history of immigration earned us the proud title, “nation of immigrants.”  Our growing reputation for helping the helpless and unshackling the shackled, inspired the French to honor us with a monument which has become our nation’s most recognizable icon: the Statue of Liberty. Often overlooked is a broken chain that lies at her feet. Immigration is the American story, our proud heritage, and arguably our most defining legacy.  It’s one that made America great to begin with.

Perhaps what he, or others, also forget are the gifts left to us by talented refugees and the children of hardworking immigrants.  The very device I’m typing you this letter on was once a dream in the mind of Steve Jobs, the son of a Syrian immigrant.  The greatest scientific mind of the 20th century was none other than Albert Einstein, a refugee to these shores fleeing Nazi Germany.  We forget that while we help refugees and immigrants, it’s often they who give us much more than we gave them.

We quickly forget that Muslims didn’t arrive here only recently.  Apart from records of early Muslim traders and voyagers, 10-30% of the trans-Atlantic slaves who came to colonial America from Africa arrived as Muslims.  Muslims have been toiling and giving to these lands before America became “America.”

We often forget that integration does not mean that a people should shed their religious beliefs and practices.  The U.S. Constitution does not call for that.  True integration means to embrace law-abiding and patriotic immigrants as citizens despite their religion, not because of it.  For Muslims to serve America with loyalty and with their full potential and capability is their full integration.

Perhaps President Trump forgets that the time and eventual trust extended to the once-despised Irish and Japanese, or Catholic and Jew, should equally be extended to Muslims.  Skepticism yesterday can lead to a ban today, and may lead to a registry tomorrow.  We’ve asked for the registration of certain ethnic groups in our nation’s past which were followed by internment camps.  You’ll read about it when you get to college, but let me summarize it this way: it’s not a success story.

We quickly forget this is not the first time a foreign religion from the Middle East has reached this soil.  All people were immigrants, including the whites, and all religions were imported, including Christianity and Judaism. The only true natives of this land were themselves persecuted with nowhere to flee.

Perhaps President Trump forgets that executive orders that are drastic and imprecise can fan more flames then put them out.  We can’t defeat terrorism by marginalizing our strongest ally in this war which is Muslims themselves.

Perhaps he forgets that some of these refugees come from countries that we ourselves attacked and whose sovereignty we destabilized.  We entered claiming to liberate them from bondage, yet we now leave them in greater danger only to deny them as refugees.
We quickly forget that Muslims themselves are the greatest victims of so-called Islamic terrorism, more than any other category of people on Earth.  To stereotype Muslims as terrorists when it is they who are its biggest victims is not just ignorant, it’s irresponsible.

Perhaps President Trump forgets that his own ancestors fled from famine in their homeland.  In fact, all of President Trump’s grandparents were foreign-born immigrants. Your grandparents fled to America from Pakistan.  President Trump’s grandparents fled to America from Germany.  So just maybe, one day you’ll be President too.

We quickly forget, son.  The loss of a toy and the loss of a crown are events of the same size.  So if you feel you’ve lost something with this ban, I hope it’s found and returned to you.  And if one day you become a king and lose your crown, I hope you find that too.  Because only a king who finds his crown can keep his kingdom.

With love,

Your Baba

Dr. Bilal Rana is a doctor, and father of five children. He serves as National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association USA. He can be reached at [email protected] or @MuslimPresident

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