By: Corey Saylor
Islam made me a better citizen and patriot. The Prophet Muhammad's teachings strengthened my belief in freedom and democracy. Independence Day once meant nothing more to me than an excuse to party. Prior to my acceptance of Islam, my personal behavior demonstrated all too well why July 4th ranks as the holiday most associated with alcohol-related deaths. When I first read the Quran, Islam's revealed text, and the traditions (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad I expected to find something totally alien to American ideals. Instead, I found many of the same democratic principles that emerged from the Continental Congress in that summer of 1776. Democracy - The Quran promises rewards for those "who (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultation." (Quran, 42:38) Political Activism - The Prophet Muhammad said, "The best jihad in the path of God is (to speak) a word of justice to an oppressive ruler." (Sunan of Abu-Dawood) Justice - "O believers! Stand firm for justice and bear true witness for the sake of God, even though it be against yourselves, your parents or your relatives. It does not matter whether the party is rich or poor - God is well wisher of both. So let not your selfish desires swerve you from justice. If you distort your testimony or decline to give it, then you should remember that God is fully aware of your actions." (Quran, 4:135) The Burden of Political Authority - The Prophet Muhammad said, "He who has been ruler over (even) ten people will be brought shackled on the Day of Resurrection until justice loosens his chains or tyranny brings him to destruction." (Sahih Muslim) Islam's lifestyle of self-restraint, abstinence from drugs and alcohol, respect for the institution of marriage, concern for neighbors regardless of their faith, duty to parents, and respect for the rule of law resulted in my becoming a better person and a better American. Thomas Jefferson once said, "Dissent is the greatest form of patriotism." On July 4th, we celebrate one of history's great acts of dissent: the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The men who put their signature on that document literally put their lives and property on the line to voice their disagreement with British government policies that they believed to be tyrannical. This July 4th offers an opportunity to renew our commitment to the patriotic nature of political dissent. I and many other Americans are deeply disturbed by events in Iraq, by reports of torture and desecration of the Quran in Guantanamo Bay, by Patriot Act abuses, by the rising tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric in our society, and by domestic and international policies that seem to create more problems than they solve. But my love for America is not diminished because it is sometimes flawed. I love my nation because, despite its flaws, the majority of its people remain committed to tolerance and respect for one another, whatever their faith or viewpoint. After the 9/11 attacks, my neighbors could have turned their anger on me as a Muslim. They did not. They came to me and offered both support and their horror that someone would twist my faith in such an evil manner. But of greatest inspiration to me are the words written in 1998 by a Muslim 10th grader living in California. Following the attack on the USS Cole, he wrote a letter to Osama bin Laden. In that letter he wrote: "If you are keen to murder Americans, kill us before you kill non-Muslim Americans. Bomb our mosques and Islamic Centers. We are Americans as much as others." This July 4th, let us all remember that we love this nation and will heed Jefferson's advice by offering a word of justice to any of our representatives who stray from the ideals set forth in that revolutionary document signed 231 years ago in Philadelphia.
Corey Saylor is government affairs director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).