MAC President Dr. Muhammad Babar was recently published in the Courier Journal, addressing the dangers we face today through religious zealotry masked as intellectualism.
Dearest Mother America:
Our bond is unique as I never imagined falling in love with a land thousands of miles away from my place of birth. My original plan so long ago was to complete my medical training here and serve the folks in my small ancestral town in Punjab, Pakistan as a physician.
My affection for you grew from your gift of individual liberty and freedom for the Americans to achieve their lifelong goals irrespective of race, gender or how they worship the creator or whom they choose to love. It was a stark contrast to the reality in my land of birth, Mother Pakistan, which was ravaged and exploited by immoral religious zealots, rogue military generals and characterless politicians. They enforced and imposed their version of religion in daily aspects of human life. Unfortunately, the display of faith in public spaces, including educational institutions and places of business, was encouraged to support this “Holy Alliance” of religious fundamentalists, opportunistic politicians and shortsighted judiciary.
Mother Pakistan helplessly watched as individual liberties were gradually chipped away from the Pakistanis, especially minorities and women, in a systemic and institutionalized manner. Personal freedoms and rights guaranteed by my faith tradition, Islam, in the seventh century were ironically taken away in the twentieth century.
I was awestruck by the wisdom of America’s founding fathers, who believed that the only way to ensure individual freedom was to separate the church from the state. Upon my arrival to your shores, Mother America, I was genuinely impressed by how the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government safeguarded the separation of state and religion to ensure a pluralistic society so that all of your children could cherish your unequivocal love.
Today, however, I find myself confounded by some of the decisions our government officials, both elected and appointed, are making under the guise of – or at the very least through a gross misinterpretation of – how our country’s founders envisioned a free and just society.
Religions are a source of solace for humanity, but fundamentalists from almost every faith tradition have twisted religious thought to enforce their agendas on societies over the course of history. As a result, religious zealots could halt a nation’s progress by choking it intellectually and socially, as occurred in my land of birth, Pakistan and is now happening in neighboring India.
Mother America, you have always led the world by upholding the freedom of thought and speech for every human soul. But your moral stances on the world stage are weakened by the ever-increasing division among American citizens and its leaders.
Unfortunately, politicians are using religion to twist and strengthen their self-interests while weakening the foundation on which the republic was founded. They are manipulating the founding fathers’ vision to rally support for their political influence while holding back the premise of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for every citizen.
I know your heart bleeds at the pain of hundreds of parents whose innocent children have been mowed down by the use of assault weapons. At the same time, current gun laws remain ineffective due to the apathy of legislators and the judiciary.
Your daughters, who have been struggling for equal rights for centuries, are still unable to decide their own reproductive health. Most recently, they were deprived of control over their bodies by a strict interpretation of religion by a group of justices who enforced their own values unequivocally on the Americans while ignoring their belief systems.
The same group of judges is rolling back the governmental policies to tackle the global warming that threatens the existence of Mother Earth. They are also slowly injecting religious practices into public institutions that will further weaken the nation and strengthen the religious fanatics.
Due to current affairs, I am having flashbacks of my childhood when the sanctity of individual rights was violated by the deification of the so-called laws of the land. Freedom to express one’s religion is not synonymous with the freedom to impose one’s religion, specifically where laws are established and must be followed by a society of many races, creeds, cultures and other personal circumstances.
Mother America, over the years, your unconditional love has brightened my heart and soul day and night and has guided me to share your bounties with my fellow citizens in whatever way possible. The sacredness of freedom is rooted in your fertile soil where many – not one or a few – find opportunities to grow. I pray that Lady Liberty keeps the torch of enlightenment and the tablet of freedom held up high for your children of many beliefs to see and celebrate till the end of times.
Dr. Muhammad Babar is president of Muslim Americans for Compassion and Doctors for Healthy Communities. He is also president of the Board of Trustees of Compassionate Louisville.