Tayyib Mubarak Rashid moved with his family to the United States from Pakistan due to persecution. In an exclusive and poignant interview, Mr. Rashid discusses how he ultimately enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in order to defend the Constitution of the United States. He served five years of active duty. There has never been a conflict between his faith and his American identity. He hopes to educate society on bigotry, biases, inequality, and stereotypes that currently exist in society.
How important is identity to you?
Knowing who you are in my opinion is one of the most critical steps to achieving one’s life objective. I believe that without an identity a person has little sense of direction in life and therefore will fall for anything. So for me having an identity of an American Ahmadi Muslim is vital to a successful, purposeful and meaningful life. I would not trade my identity for anything.
How, if at all, has the current political climate affected you personally? Can you talk about any barriers your parents or you have faced?
From a personal standpoint, the current political climate has been disappointing and inspiring at the same time. It’s been disappointing from the sense that it’s sad to see otherwise educated public figures engage in such high level of bigotry, racism, and lack of human decency which is really a new low in modern day American politics. But at the same time, the level of support that I have personally received from countless individuals across not only the country but the globe for my message of peace, loyalty, and service has been an extremely rewarding and inspirational experience. I am proud to call myself an American Muslim who proudly served this country as a US Marine in the United States Marine Corps. And the love and gratitude of the American people towards me and my family gives me great hope for the future of this great nation. Certainly, we have faced challenges. But my father taught me from a young age that you create your own reality and if you do good and serve others out of genuine care for them that you will be amply rewarded. I try to live by that advice every day and have been the recipient of tremendous love and support from my fellow Americans.
Do you have any stories about how things have changed for the better? Or any stories that show how things have not changed?
It’s hard to argue that things have not changed. Certainly as we advance in technology the rate of change continues to accelerate. While many would argue that things have gotten worse in general, I think for many people who choose not to remain ignorant, things have gotten better. For example, the current climate has given me ample opportunity to engage with my fellow Americans about what I truly believe being an American Muslim Veteran. People reach out to me all the time to get my perspective. Several of my acquaintances have volunteered that before they met me or understood my views as an American Muslim, they had a very negative view of Islam based on what they heard in the media and politics. But since following my posts on social media, they have become much more aware of the anti-Muslim, anti-religion, and anti-people-of-color bias that exists in our society. And they express their gratitude for my efforts to educate the masses.
To my pleasant surprise it went viral and today has more than 39,000 retweets and over 53,000 likes. I have been interviewed by MSNBC, ABC, NBC, been featured in the NY Times and many other outlets for standing up to Donald Trump. But the story isn’t about me. It’s about the concept of America and what it stands for. This story goes to show that there are a large number of Americans who value diversity, integrity, and are willing to stand in solidarity with Muslims against hate and bigotry.
So while in many ways things have changed for the worse, in many other ways things are changing for the better. We as American Muslims have to set the example and surround ourselves with the tools and advocates to help educate the masses in order to overcome hate and help establish peace in our society.
Do you know where your family came from? If yes, what do you know about that history?
My family came from Pakistan originally. In fact, my siblings and I were born in Pakistan and immigrated to the United States when we were all small children. I came to learn about my family history from an unlikely source – my younger brother Qasim Rashid. He beautifully captured our family history in what I think is his debut literary masterpiece called The Wrong Kind of Muslim. I couldn’t possibly do justice to how he captures our family history so I’ll just recommend anyone who appreciates a good entertaining and insightful book to pick up a copy.
What was it like living in your country of origin before you came to the United States?
My life in Pakistan as compared to the United States was very different. I was born and raised in the city of Peshawar in northern Pakistan. I remember being in the heart of the city and there was a mix of people and traffic everywhere. There were shops of every kind of food or consumer products that lined up the alleys everywhere. I was not allowed to go to the market by myself and always had to have my uncle with me. We lived in a tall building with my mother and about 23 members of our extended family. My father being a missionary was always traveling. In fact it was because of his work that the entire family was able to immigrate to the United States. What I remember most about my time in Pakistan is my friends at school and flying kites after school. I was an avid kite flyer and so was my uncle. At one point we had more than 30 kites around the house.
What were the circumstances that prompted your decision to immigrate to the United States?
I also remember as a kid there were often violent protests or other events of political and social unrest that elevated everyone’s anxiety in my family. Being Ahmadi Muslims we were often an easy target for extremists who would engage in state-sponsored persecution or even killing of Ahmadi Muslims. Ever since the Pakistan government led by extremist mullahs, declared Ahmadi Muslims as non-muslim and passed the draconian blasphemy laws, life for Ahmadi Muslims became very difficult. Hundreds of Ahmadi Muslims have been murdered in cold blood due to these laws and thousands have been wrongfully imprisoned for simply living out their faith. This was one of the main reasons why we moved to the United States and ultimately what led to my decision to enlist in the United States Marine Corps and defend the US Constitution which protects freedom of Religion and Speech for all.
What aspects of life in the United States have made the greatest impression on you?
Freedom of conscience is what I value most about life in the United States. The idea that you can believe whatever you want to believe and that you can live your life and are free to choose your path, is the greatest gift this nation has given to me. I often reflect on my fellow citizens who take this gift for granted and wish they could experience what I experienced in Pakistan so that they would be more engaged and grateful for what they have.
What efforts have you made to maintain your cultural traditions in this country? Have you let go of some you did not feel represented you anymore?
From a religious standpoint, I have grown closer to my faith. I try to practice it in the best manner that I can and everyone who interacts with me knows that I’m an Ahmadi Muslim. So things like Friday prayer, Eid, Ramadhan, etc. are very much part of my life. I have however let go of traditions that are specifically Pakistani in nature, for example, Independence day celebration on August 14th.
Do you plan to stay in this country forever? Do you plan to become a U.S. citizen?
Yes, I am a US Citizen.
Do you ever travel to your country of origin?
I have traveled back to Pakistan three times since I left. I do not think that I will go back many more times. My life is here now and I plan to raise all my children as Americans of Pakistani descent.
What has been the greatest challenge that you have faced living in this country?
I was very fortunate to have great mentors and elders who cared about me enough to help me discover my identity. Growing up in America, I didn’t really fit in. English is my second language and it was very obvious when I was in school because I had a very pronounced South Asian accent when I was young. Because was different, I was the often odd kid who was the recipient of the school bully’s wrath. So growing up I didn’t really have a strong sense of identity as to who I was and therefore lacked the vision of where I belonged in society. Thankfully, I had some excellent role models to look up to who suggested that I enlist in the military. When I skeptically floated the idea past my father, who I was almost certain would object,I was pleasantly surprised by his response. He told me that he supported me 100%. Confused, I asked him why he supported me. He said, “Because loyalty to your country (of residence) is part of your faith”. As a Muslim it was my obligation to serve my country. If I desired to serve my country by enlisting in the Marine Corps then he was certain that it was the right decision. Upon obtaining his approval, I was mentally sold on the decision to enlist. At that point, there was only one option – Marine Corps or bust. The next day I walked into the Marine Corps recruiter’s office and left for boot camp several weeks later.
What has been your greatest achievement in this country?
My greatest achievement is that I was able to discharge both my religious and my patriotic duty by serving my country. When I was younger, I served by serving in the Marine Corps, but today I serve by helping educate the masses as to the true teachings of Islam and building bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims. I’m active on social media, I hand out Muslims for Peace and Muslims for Loyalty flyers. I invite them to join me as thousands of other Americans already have to fight extremism by endorsing the #TrueIslam campaign at www.trueislam.com. I volunteer my time to different community service efforts to help the poor and the needy. I thank God for the opportunity to serve and am grateful for all that I have been blessed with as a result. While the five years of active duty service remain among the most cherished moments in my life, the desire to continue to serve drives the person I am today. I am a servant of humanity. I am an American. I am the MuslimMarine.