Posts Tagged ‘ Independence Day ’

In This Country, Religious Freedom Is Real

By Imran Hayee for The StarTribune

My childhood memories of celebrating Independence Day are no different than those of my fellow citizens — except that it was on Aug. 14th instead of July 4th.

I grew up in Pakistan, which obtained its independence from British rule on Aug. 14, 1947.

As a child, I marked Independence Day year after year without having a clue about what independence really meant. As I grew older, I read from a speech of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, which he had delivered immediately after the nation’s independence was announced.

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples,” he said. “You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or cast or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

This was Jinnah’s dream, the founding principle behind the independence of Pakistan as he himself stated in the same landmark speech: “We are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. We should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in due course, Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

Growing up in Pakistan, as a Muslim, I never saw Jinnah’s dream materializing. The constitution of Pakistan defines who is a Muslim — any “impersonator” is subject to imprisonment or death. Temples, churches and mosques not ascribing to a single distorted version of Islam are routinely attacked.

What caused the secular ideology of Jinnah to take this U-turn?

Soon after the nation’s creation in 1947, and Jinnah’s demise a year later, Pakistan’s rulers succumbed to the demands of religious extremists who wanted to convert Pakistan into a puritanical fundamentalist state.

Gradually, the monster of religious fundamentalism grew large enough to devour Jinnah’s philosophy of spreading freedom and equality.

I never experienced independence until I came to America 18 years ago. For the first time — when Independence Day was being celebrated on July 4th instead of Aug. 14th — I wanted to rejoice once again.

I was unaware of the history behind America’s Independence Day, but still, I saw freedom and equality prevail all around me. I could freely go to my mosque without having to fear the state’s interference.

As I learned more about the history behind July 4th, it reminded me of the same philosophy of freedom and equality that Jinnah dreamed for Pakistan. What made the difference in America was that its rulers never succumbed to extremists’ demands.

Rather, its forefathers risked their wealth and lives to uphold the principles of freedom and equality. Their sacrifices paved the way for a Muslim like me to emigrate from a Muslim country and practice Islam the way I wanted to but could not do in the country of my birth.

More recently, while some European countries have banned building minarets on mosques and the wearing of veils by Muslim women, U.S. courts have struck down any such attempted restrictions as unconstitutional.

Addressing the Muslim world in Cairo, President Obama proudly announced, “Freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.”

As a Muslim-American, I feel proud and honored to be in America and find many reasons to celebrate Independence Day on July 4th. Among others, let me add that the founding principles of America’s Constitution are in perfect harmony with the Qur’an.

The Qur’an (2:257) proclaims, “There is no compulsion in religion. Surely, the right way has become distinct from error.” It further declares fundamental human equality: “O mankind, We have created you from male and female; and We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes that you may recognize one another” (Qur’an 49:14).

These golden principles of freedom and equality have been implemented — in America. In fact, I find the American Constitution to be more Islamic than the constitution of Pakistan or of any other Muslim country in the world today.

Imran Hayee is a professor of engineering at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

A Pakistani American Celebrates July 4

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Thousands of Pakistani Americans celebrate the July 4 Independence Day holiday with their friends and families across the United States today. As different as Pakistan and the United States may be as countries and societies, one thing they both have in common is that both countries were founded on religious reasons. Unfortunately, that is where their similiarites end as the religious freedom experience in these present day countries varies greatly.

The earliest settlers of these United States were in fact Europeans who felt persecuted in the old countries of Europe for their religious beliefs. Many of these Puritans came to America in search of religious freedom.  Their hope was to escape the religious persecution they were facing in their countries and so the United States was founded on religious grounds.

Pakistan too is a country that sees the basis of its founding for a religious purpose. The nationalist movement for an independent India from British rule also caused communal conflicts between the Hindus and Muslims as there were calls by many Muslim leaders for a separate country for the Muslims of India since many felt being a minority in a Hindu dominated country would come at the expense of their rights. So a separate country for the Muslims of India and for their right to practice their religion gained momentum and indeed on August 14, 1947, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan became independent, a country founded on religious freedom for the Muslims of India.

This is not to deny the fact that Muslims still exist in India and are free to practice their religion under a Hindu dominated country. In fact, there are more Muslims in India than there are in present day Pakistan. However, many Muslims at the time of partition felt that they would be freer to practice Islam in a Muslim country rather than a Hindu one. It is an open debate whether people in Pakistan today have more freedom to practice their religion. If you are a member of either a minority Muslim group as Shiite or if you happen to be a Christian, Hindu, Sikh or Jew In Pakistan today, you have far less freedom of religion than a comparable religious group in present day India. There is absolutely a very low level of tolerance in Pakistan today for other religions or ways of life different than the majority group.

The promise of religious freedom that saw the founding of both Pakistan and the United States has seen the two countries go separate ways in realizing the dream of each countries forefathers. While the American Founding Fathers dream of a nation that respects freedom of religion and honors a separation between church and state held true, Pakistan unfortunately  has become a country that has become intolerant of other religions. Many religious minorities such as Christians, Hindus, and even Muslim Ahmadis are routinely persecuted or attacked by Muslims who see these groups as infidels and heathens and not merely as human beings with different religious beliefs. The influx of Taliban and religious extremists inside Pakistan has further made life difficult for anyone who is not a devout Sunni Muslim. On many occasions, the police does not investigate or prosecute attacks on religious minorities by various extremist groups leading to a constant fear of their lives and properties.

As Pakistani as well as Muslim Americans across the United States today celebrate the the July 4 holiday, they are keenly aware  that their brethren back in their original countries are not as free to practice their religion, speak their minds, and or protest peacefully as they are able to do in the United States. For this nation indeed guarantees freedom and liberty for all and not just a certain religious or ethnic group.

That is why Pakistani Americans such as myself and Muslim Americans across the US are appreciative of the fact that in this, our adopted country, our religious and civic freedoms are safe guarded in that greatest of living documents, the US Constitution. I have long felt that after the three great religious books of the Torah, the Bible, and the Koran, the US Constitution is the next best thing that man ever wrote down on paper. The Founding Fathers of America were indeed some of the greatest minds in history for crafting a document that continues to make the United States the freest country in the world and one that stayed true to its founding of liberty and freedom for all. Happy Birthday America, May you have many more!

–Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American plans to celebrate the July 4 Independence Day with family and friends at a picnic with fireworks and by watching a parade.

%d bloggers like this: