Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness: An American Muslim Perspective

An American flag close-up and folded and place on the signatures on the Declaration of Independence.
An American flag close-up and folded and place on the signatures on the Declaration of Independence.

No document is more iconic in American history than the Declaration of Independence.

Adopted by Congress during the American Revolution in July of 1776, it marked the liberation of the thirteen colonies from British Empire and paved the way to sovereignty for our fledging nation.

The opening sentence of the document's second paragraph is probably the most widely quoted text as the basis for rights and equality in our country:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

These words are indelibly etched in the annals of history. However, they also refer to ideals denied to marginalized groups whose equality and liberty is conditional, nominal or subject to interpretation.

In the context of the current sociopolitical climate imbued with islamophobia, American Muslims factor prominently among these groups.

According to a recently released report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Confronting Fear, Islamophobia has evolved into a financially lucrative industry - generating over $200 million in revenue between 2008-13.

Last year saw a record number of U.S. mosques threatened or attacked, along with the emergence of "Muslim-free" businesses and armed mosque protests.

Reflecting on the journey to our country's independence, it bears mentioning that America was founded by settlers fleeing religious persecution and seeking to worship freely as they believed.

This helps explain why in theory, religious pluralism - grounded in the idea that freedom of faith is from God rather than government - has long been a core value of our democracy. It fosters inclusion, respect, and diversity.

Regardless of what deity is called upon in prayer, faith has been understood to guide the moral conscience of our nation. But particularly for Muslims, the freedom to worship without persecution is under attack in America.

This week, as we mark two hundred and forty years since our nation's declaration of sovereignty, daily news headlines highlight grim stories of Muslim communities facing growing hostility and suspicion.

It has manifested as religious profiling, hate crimes, bias attacks, bullying, and threats against mosques.

And now - spurred in part by a global rise in terrorism, the 2016 election season, and biased media reporting - the chilling display of intolerance has reached critical levels.

In recent days, several reports indicate peaceful, law-abiding American Muslims were brutally assaulted and gunned down outside U.S. mosques.

Yes - brutally assaulted and gunned down outside U.S. mosques. Where is the moral outrage? Where are the condemnations and repudiations?

Our silence is complicity; it signifies a deficit in our collective conscience. It is unconscionable that anyone would be attacked or murdered for practicing their faith or exercising their constitutional right to worship in peace.

Now more than ever, we cannot sleep on this. Our Declaration of Independence serves as a reminder that our commitment to religious freedom and tolerance must not be conditional.

The security and protections guaranteed to every American under our Constitution must apply equally to American Muslims too.

Candidates seeking public office and those among our lawmakers who are compounding intolerance through reckless, divisive rhetoric must be called out and held accountable.

Controversial demagoguery may boost favorability ratings among segments of their constituency. But it is unconstitutional, unethical, and jeopardizes the safety and security of vulnerable populations.

The status quo is dangerous and cannot be left unchallenged. An attack on one community is an attack on all of us.

U.S. Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall once said: "May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right."

As we celebrate America's independence, we can best express our patriotism by uniting together in steadfast solidarity against bigotry and xenophobia.

That is the first step to fulfilling the promises of the Declaration of Independence, safeguarding our Constitution, and preserving the founding ideals of our nation.