April 30, 2013
Over the past week, the Boston Marathon tragedy has consumed my life. The old story has repeated itself: Dissatisfied with some element of society, religious extremists have attacked America. And, as a response, many have blamed the religion of Islam.
The comments on social media have been vile and hurtful. Many have told all Muslims to return home. Others have ostracized the prophet. The most extreme have called for total war on all Muslim people.
I was born in Bangladesh — a nation of farmers and fisherman — which became Muslim in the 12th century. Like many other Muslim areas in Asia, Islam came to Bangladesh via Arab traders and merchants.
Following the footsteps of millions of other economic migrants, my parents migrated to the United States in search of better education and employment. And, just like migrants from all over the world, my parents brought their cultural and religious traditions with them.
I was two and a half years old.
My religious development continued into my teens as I fasted during Ramadan and visited the Dallas Convention Center downturn for Eid Prayer with thousands of other Muslims.
In the past few days, the most surprising thing is the questions I have received from my peers: How could someone who grew up in America attack my country? Is it because they were Muslim?
For the first time in the war on terrorism, Muslim American immigrants who grew up here have attacked the United States.
The story of my American experience does not end at my local mosque. It does not end with my religious teaching or my experience with religious organizations.
At the same time that my parents taught me about their religion — like millions of other Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu parents — they introduced me to American society.
They signed me up to play soccer with the Garland Soccer Association. They made me volunteer at Habitat for Humanity. They let me have non-Muslim friends. They even let me learn and read about other religions. Next to the copy of my Qur’an sits the Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and the Upanishads.
My interactions allowed me to understand, appreciate and embrace American culture.
Too often, new immigrant groups remain insular — either because of a perceived conflict of cultures or because of a failure of the larger community.
I offer my American experience — something that allows me to call America my country — as an example for what we should do as a society.
As scholars have argued, the failure of a nation to integrate its immigrants points to a failure of its civil society. Not only does it create socioeconomic disparities in society but it also creates an isolated population — an unhealthy outcome for any democracy.
What America needs now, more than ever, is understanding between its diverse groups. Christians and Muslims, Hispanics and Africans and Democrats and Republicans can all meet at the table of understanding.
Too often, we have allowed our religious, social and cultural differences to separate us. But, in this new century, we must turn a new fold.
Francis Fukuyuma, a Harvard-trained political scientist, differentiates between European and American society in his 2006 Identity, Immigration and Liberal Democracy article. America has done a better job of creating a universal national identity among all of its citizens. In America, first generation immigrants can proudly call themselves “American.” In France, Moroccans remain Moroccan, and in Italy, Somalis remain Somali.
My identity is composed of many strata: I am a male, a Muslim and a Bangladeshi. But, more than anything, I am an American.
Let us live up to the American ideal so others can also make the statement “I am American first.” Islam and America are not — and have never been — mutually exclusive.