Originally Published in Beliefnet on July 1st, 2017
As an Ahmadi Muslim I can say, “Happy Independence Day America” and really mean it. My patriotic realization wasn’t something that happened suddenly, but was gradual with deliberate reservations.
We grew up celebrating the 4th of July like everyone else in the neighborhood. It was the barbecue, homemade ice cream, fireworks, family get together and a day off work. If we were lucky, we would go to the amusement park. I vaguely remember the 4th of July as a holiday relating to America’s independence. At the most, perhaps on a test in school, we had to recall “July 4, 1776” as an important date concerning the adoption of a “Declaration of Independence” document. The long and short of the 4th of July was this: fireworks yes, but singing the Star-Spangled Banner “no way”, a common sentiment in the African-American community.
During my service in the military, the 4th of July wasn’t much different. Saluting the flag was a daily routine, but not associated with celebrating Independence Day…even on the 4th of July. The “4th” was a day off work and an all day round robin of Bid Whist.
After accepting Islam, as my religion and way of life, celebrating the “4th of July” became questionable: Is it Islamic? As a Muslim I’m also an American? Is America my country? However, the most compelling question was: Can I be a Muslim and be patriotic to the United States of America?
National events brought me face to face with my own patriotism as a Muslim in 1970. I worked with an all white staff during the period when Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali and refused induction into the military because of his religious convictions. Muhammad Ali angered these white conservative, patriotic veterans and he had a “big mouth”, too. My name was Dhul-Waqar Yaqub and I was “one of them” as far as they were concerned. I was their scapegoat.
Being “one of them” meant being a “black Muslim racist” regardless of how many times I conveyed to them that I belong to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and I don’t hate white folks. One day a co-worker, Woody by name, started talking to me about his military service during World War II. He took this opportunity to inform me that he could think differently about me if I had served in the military.
I was shocked and stunned by his remark. Realizing I never shared the fact that military service was a part of my past, I responded, “You’ve got me all wrong, Woody. I served in the military and was honorably discharged, my father served during World War II and my grandfather served during World War I. Both my father and grandfather received honorable discharges.”
Woody, by the look on his face, was equally stunned. He remarked, “I didn’t know that.” As he tried to compose himself he blurted out, “Well, why are you in that religion?” At that time the buzzer sounded signaling clean-up time so I asked him, “Woody, can we talk about this tomorrow?” He agreed.
Subsequently, I started going through the Holy Qur’an and the writings of the Promised Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (upon him be peace), and writings of the Ahmadiyya Caliphs/Khulafa looking for answers about where my patriotism should be as an Ahmadi Muslim. I stumbled upon a booklet titled, “The Question of Divided Loyalty: Some Parallels From History” by Mirza Bashir Ahmad. In that booklet, the author pointed to the relevant Qur’anic verse, which says, “O ye who believe obey God and obey the Prophet and obey those in authority from among you” (4:60).
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Community, writing about the above-quoted verse specified very clearly what Islam commands:
“The Holy Qur’an commands, ‘Obey Allah and obey His Prophet and obey those in authority among you.’ Believers are to obey those in authority, besides God and His Prophets. To say that ‘those in authority’ does not include a non-Muslim Government would be a manifest error. For, a government or authority whose ordinances are in accordance with the Shariah (that is, they are not in conflict with it) is ‘authority from among you.’ Those who are not against us are among us. The Qur’an, therefore, is unequivocal on the point. Obedience to government authority is one of its imperatives” (Works and Speeches, Vol. 1, p. 261).
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (May peace be upon him) is reported to have said:
“He who obeys me obeys God; he who disobeys me disobeys God. He who obeys his authority obeys me; he who disobeys his authority disobeys me” (Muslim, Kitab al Imarah).
In this Hadith the whole subject of loyalty and patriotism to one’s country became illuminating. Loyalty and patriotism belong by right only to God, Creator, Master, Lord of Men and Nations. Others have authority derived from Him. This would include the United States of America, which reflect the Authority of God.
In accordance with all this the remarks of the second Head of the Ahmadiyya Movement, Hadrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, impress upon my mind loyalty and patriotism to one’s Nation by clearly stating:
“Our belief is that Islam requires everyone to be loyal to the state under which he lives…Loyalty to a Government or State, according to us, is ordained by the Holy Qur’an and the Qur’an is the Book of God…The Ahmadiyya Head or Khalifa has no right to alter an ordinance contained in the Holy Book. The Khalifa is a deputy, not a dictator. A deputy is bound to authority in the same way as are all others” (Al-Fazl, April 5, 1949).
After several months of study, I felt ready for the Woodys of the world. However, more importantly, I was beginning to comprehend the concepts of patriotism from an Islamic perspective. For the first time in my life, I had a desire to learn about the principles my country stood upon. I started studying the United States Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, it amendments including the Bill of Rights, and of special importance, the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes slavery and authorizes Congress to enforce abolition. I didn’t find any of these documents to be in conflict with the Holy Qur’an.
My follow up dialogue concerning my new-found concepts of patriotism with Woody and others brought about an inconclusive reserve on their part. I tried to make it clear to them that I am an Ahmadi Muslim, I came from a family line with three generations of military service that invested my future generations and I with the free exercise of religion.
During the seven years of employment there and as a result of our many discussions, Woody secretly admitted that he listen to “negro” spirituals (gospel music) on Sunday morning radio. He claims that it was the only aspect of religion which gave him the “feeling”. Another co-worker shared with me that in his village, an “Underground Railroad” station operated there years ago. That seemed to be a source of pride for him. Anyway, people just don’t make this stuff up.
To all Americans, we wish you a Happy 4th of July!