There has been a lot of discussion in the media and the public lately about who I am and if you listen to some of these accounts you would believe I am some kind of an evil-monster whose mere presence in American life represents a threat to the greater good.
In 1982, I migrated from Libya. Even as a young man at that time the American dream became a powerful vision in my mind as my family, and those immigrant families around me, thanked God that they had escaped a society dominated by the rule and edicts of a dictator for a society where we could enjoy our rights as humans without the interference of a dictatorial state..
I did not speak English upon my arrival to this country, but with hard work and the grace of God I was blessed to be in gifted and talented programs and advanced placement courses, graduating high school with a near perfect grade point average in only two and a half years. In high school, along with my brothers, I started the first Friday prayers in a High school in the area and was president of the International Club (which included many non-Muslims from Latin America, Africa, and Asia) as well as being an officer and member of several honor societies and appointed Cabinet member by the school principal after my first year at the school.
After graduating from JEB Stuart High School with honors, I gained admission to the College of Arts and Sciences at Georgetown University. Upon graduating with a double major in International Relations and Biology in 1989, I gained admission to the Georgetown University School of Medicine where I completed my studies.
Seeing the need for Muslims to be involved in campus life in an organized manner, I was able to help successfully start the first chapter of the Muslim Students Association at Georgetown and since that time the MSA has evolved into a leading presence on campus. The Muslim Student Association evolved as an organizational body with a goal to help both foreign born Muslims and those raised in this country fully advance into American society and at the same time overcome any challenge to surrender their religious identity.
I also helped establish and chaired the MSA Council for the Washington DC metropolitan area during my tenure at Georgetown. All of this was an inspiring indication that the great American “melting pot,” that accepted diversity was genuine and included Muslims.
The dream of America is when you work hard and play by the rules, you not only succeed, but you are accepted into the society regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion, and that is my vision of America and the one shared by millions of others? Isn’t it the shared value that defines our country, and encompasses faith in ourselves and our future?
After the emergence of the Muslim American Society (MAS) in 1993, I served as the first chairperson of its youth department and subsequently served on its executive committees and I am currently honored to be the president of MAS as a Muslim because we are working hard to bring the Muslim voice into the mainstream and am proud as an American to be doing my civic duty as an active member in the society.
Doing what I do as Chief of the Division of General Surgery at INOVA Alexandria Hospital; and the standard of my representation as a humanitarian- are truly reflections of my character, and God is the judge of good character. Yes, I am a Muslim and a civil rights activist and am proud to be in a nation that holds and proud to be president of an organization whose primary purpose is to help Muslim Americans realize their share of the American dream and fulfill their dues in responsibility and citizenship .
Being Muslim in America has not been, and is not, easy. Muslims are a religious minority that must often put up a fight for every legal liberty. Free speech means acknowledging the words of a man even if you oppose them, even if he is standing center stage and advocating for action you contest. If our leaders claim this country to be the land of the liberty, then the symbol of this country cannot be contained to only a piece of paper titled “the Bill of Rights.” The symbol also has to be one of its citizen’s utilizing his or her right to raise his or her voice against a perceived injustice. Celebrate this on every level of government, and then we can talk humanely about immigration, assimilation and all the other problems that America has not yet dealt with.
Many Muslims across the United States are familiar with me. They know me as a brother they can come to and discuss their problems with and someone who will listen and through my work I have made many friends of all faiths.
Change is often hard to accept. Some men fear it, but it will nevertheless come. As Americans we must be prepared to include and adapt, but as Muslims we must continue to struggle for change that will enhance and give dignity to our status as citizens. When any people refuse to act on their own behalf, they negligently give permission to be left behind.