Originally Published in The Asbury Park Press
While recently visiting Pakistan, I offered Friday prayers at one of the two mosques in Lahore where, in May 2010, the Taliban brutally murdered 86 of our community members. On noticing the extent of security at the mosque, I could not stop thinking of the religious freedom I enjoy in my new homeland, and could not thank God enough for now being an American.
I immigrated to America from Pakistan in 1998 and became a naturalized citizen in 2009. I left Pakistan primarily to escape the state-sanctioned religious persecution the Ahmadiyya Muslim community has faced for decades — even sanctioning death as a legal measure.
There are many others like me who have left the country of their birth and made America their home. What makes America a safe haven for all those persecuted for their religious or political beliefs? It is our Constitution, rooted in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, which grants human rights irrespective of religion, race, ethnicity and country of origin.
As a practicing physician, I have daily interactions with people of different faiths, races, countries of origin and socioeconomic status. My next-door neighbors are Catholic, and my neighbors across the street are a gay couple. All of us live in peace. This peaceful coexistence, despite differences in religious beliefs and lifestyles, is what makes America unique. Our Constitution and its Bill of Rights guarantee certain rights to all citizens, making it easier to look beyond our differences and establish relationships.
This Independence Day, while I will thank God for being an American, I will also thank our forefathers who partook in creating the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. For more than two centuries, Americans have gradually held fast to Jefferson’s immortal words, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Last year, I wrote a letter in the Asbury Park Press in celebration of my first Independence Day as an American. One of my co-workers replied that reading my letter on July 4th made him realize how fortunate he was to be born in America. I hope this piece also makes my fellow Americans feel the same this year.
It is human weakness to take liberties for granted. This July 4, I urge my fellow Americans who were fortunate enough to be born in this great country to reach out to any of your friends, neighbors or co-workers who have immigrated to America and listen to their stories. Only then will you truly realize what liberties this country provides you, and how blessed you are to be an American.
Also, remember to thank our forefathers who laid the strong foundation of these liberties in our Constitution. Now, it is our responsibility to carry the torch forward. We must make sure that any attempts to undo the liberties we enjoy as Americans are met with failure. And when it comes to championing basic human rights, America continues to be a beacon for others. Have a happy Independence Day, and God bless America.