What makes a person American? Is it the love of baseball come springtime, the barbecues on Fourth of July weekend, or the freshly baked apple pie in the fall? Perhaps, it is the American flag hanging on the front porch or a family trip to Washington, D.C. Maybe all of these things make a person American, or maybe, none of these things. The fact—and the beauty—of the matter is, what makes a person American varies from one individual to the next.
For me, the ability to claim multiple identities while still being as American as any other person walking down the street is what makes me quintessentially American. I call myself Muslim, Indian, New Jerseyan, Desi, and American all at the same time. Many of my friends and family have the ability to do the exact same. Fitting into all these categories at once does not lessen my American identity by any means—I feel like it shines a light on it.
I was born and raised in the United States of America. No other country can be called my home, for this land is all I have ever known. I have visited other countries and felt a beautiful connection with the people there, whether that be due to a shared faith, language, or complexion. But the reality is, there is no place like home. I am the most comfortable with the way of life in the U.S.A., simply due to its familiarity. My thinking is in line with democracy and the other ideals outlined in our government’s laws when it comes to various freedoms and rights. The ability to criticize officials and people in power publicly and take part in voting individuals into office is a privilege that does not exist in many other parts of the world. I do not take that for granted.
At the same time, I am not shy to express my Muslim identity. I wear the hijab and long dresses, covering every part of my body except my hands, face, and feet. I have prayed in public places before and made ablution in public restrooms. I have carried my prayer beads and Quran in waiting rooms and airplanes. Although none of this screams “American,” these actions in no way threaten or take away from my Americanness. Being able to do these things freely is American in itself.
I feel very blessed to have never had my two identities of American and Muslim conflict with one another internally. Although media outlets and others want to preach these two defining parts of my life cannot coexist, I and many others are living proof that they can. I have encountered many trying to other me and people like me because of the way we look or dress, claiming they are somehow the “true Americans,” but there is nothing they can say or do to succeed in that venture. There are times I felt unsafe, was pulled aside for special screenings from the TSA at the airport, received unfriendly glances, and heard under-the-breath comments about my religion. However, I can still latch on to the fact that I am doing absolutely nothing wrong and simply practicing my freedoms that this land promises to me.
Unfortunately, in recent years we have seen a threat to many freedoms that people both in the public and private sectors try to practice. There are certainly flaws in the system, but at the same time, there is a strong oppositional voice willing to side with those who are trying to uphold their rights. There are people who think Muslims should not be allowed to live in this country, or that they should not be allowed to practice their religion when it comes to dress and public prayer. However, those people always face a horrendous backlash by not only American Muslims themselves, but other allies who will stand up for what is right. To know my family, friends, community, and I can be backed by these people makes me stronger in my faith. It makes me stronger in my American Muslim identity.
I have always been American, and I have always been Muslim. For me, one does not detract from the other. The very fact that I can be a practicing Muslim in the United States is me showing my American pride. Overseas, people are surprised to hear my family and I are from America, looking the way we do. They are even more shocked to hear we live in New York. They do not realize America is home to millions of practicing Muslims who identify—very strongly and happily—as American Muslims. We are one of the many unique groups of people that make America great.