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On the 4th of July, as I sat down to write this column, I started to reminisce what this motherland means to me — the land that adopted me as her naturalized citizen with full rights. And what my training as a child — born in India to Muslim parents and brought up in a religious community of Ahmadiyya Muslims — had inculcated in me as my responsibilities toward my country and its citizens. The town where I spent my formative years, Qadian, sits near the border of Pakistan.

I remembered the stories about the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.) and how he and a small band of believers were brutally persecuted for 13 long years in his own city-state of Mecca. They were completely socially boycotted and forced to live in a barren valley without any provisions for years. As a result, many — including the Holy Prophet’s wife and his uncle — succumbed to death.

Afterwards, the Meccan chiefs gathered together in the holy precinct of the Kaaba and made a plan to assassinate the Prophet to stop his ministry once and for all. At that point, God instructed Muhammad to emigrate to the city-state of Medina, about 300 miles to the north.

In Mecca, Prophet Muhammad taught his followers patience and perseverance in the face of all that persecution. As he was leaving Mecca that fateful day, he turned back to look at his home, his city, his country for the one last time, and he became overwhelmed. Tears rolling down his cheeks, he cried out,

O Mecca! I know you are the most blessed of the lands of God. If your people had not forced me to leave, I would never have left you.

And then he prayed,

Lord, you have taken me from the most blessed city. Please, take me to another blessed city.

The land of his emigration, Medina, became his new beloved city. He chose Medina as his permanent abode and its inhabitants his dearest companions, despite the fact that Mecca later fell under his sovereignty eight years after his migration. Medina was made holy to celebrate this love, just as Mecca was made holy because of the love and dedication of Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael for their adopted land in the rugged valley of Paran.

Prophet Muhammad is quoted to have said, “Love of the country (watan, in Arabic) is part of faith.”

The word for “country” is the same as home, a place of settlement, an abode and residence — a place that offers refuge, peace and tranquility. These United States of America, particularly, fit this definition as most Europeans settlers arrived here early on looking for freedom from religious persecution and economic and social inequalities. Many later immigrants also adopted this country as theirs for similar reasons.

My parents were also immigrants in some sense, as they both moved from the southernmost state of India, Kerala, to Punjab, where the language and culture were totally alien to them. They had to start from the beginning. My father served the people of his adopted land with love and dedication. He was a compounder —similar to a pharmacist here — who prepared medicines and dispensed them to the patients who came from the town as well as from the surrounding villages, all the while praying for their recuperation. Most of the patients were local Hindus and Sikhs.

This border area had seen the worst of humanity in the Hindu-Muslim riots in 1947-1948 when British-ruled India was given its freedom and the country was divided into two — India and Pakistan. This resulted in a mass migration — voluntary and forced — of Muslims and Hindus from one country to the other.

Riots ensued on both sides, resulting in the killing of more than a million people and the displacement of people the like of which had not been witnessed in history. The majority of the inhabitants of Qadian had migrated west to Pakistan, and the new occupants of the homes and the surrounding lands left behind were Hindus and Sikhs who were uprooted from their towns now in Pakistan. Communal hatred simmered on for about a decade or so.

But the immense efforts of reform-minded people from both sides eventually created an environment of reconciliation and peace. Growing up in this town taught us forbearance and forgiveness that arose out of love and not out of fear or expediency. We are ever thankful to our elders who gave us these values as the true teachings of Islam. It would have been easy for them to have stoked the feelings of anger and revenge, but they took the high road — the difficult path of teaching love and empathy to a whole generation who were witnesses to the vicious mindlessness of hatred that turned ordinary people into murderers and pillagers.

They taught us well, I say. And now it is my turn to carry on the tradition from the lessons of living in a once-divided world that chose to come together for the greater good. The divisive environment right now in the Unites States calls for us to love more, love without hesitation, love without questioning. Practical experience has taught us that overcoming internal hatred is the truest path for the success of our nation.

Loving my country requires me to feel responsible for making it great through participating in civic duties, its economic uplift, serving fellow citizens and protecting it from enemies.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community participates in Independence Day celebrations and parades throughout the nation to show their devout commitment to their country.

Happy Independence Day!

Hameed Naseem is the president of the Tulsa chapter of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. He is also the faculty advisor of Al-Islam Students Association, a registered student organization at the University of Arkansas. Contact him at hanaseem@gmail.com

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