Aisha Malik is a member of the 2018-19 MALA Young Leaders Fellowship. Fellows participate in digital seminars, dinner discussions, and other MALA events. As part of the program, Fellows reflect on their multiple layers of identities – as daughters, sons, professionals, athletes, and so much more – and share those reflections into the MALA story collection. Personal stories can be a powerful catalyst for change – challenging stereotypes, building bridges, and inspiring action. In a country as diverse and complex as the United States, the identities of Muslim Americans remain layered and contested. We all have stories to tell: stories that deserve to be collected, conserved, and celebrated. We are honored to share the stories of our Fellows here.
The concept of America being an open polity, civility and society is embedded in its Constitution. The forefathers of the United States of America and the framers of its Constitution were very well cognitive and aware of the kind of fundamental values which could shape up an egalitarian, equitable and emblem society for its masses; a society where socioeconomic, political and cultural values with such a workable and doable social landscape would provide an equal chance of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to all, regardless of color, creed, caste and language.
Belonging to a first-generation immigrant family with deeps roots from the Indo-Pak region openly practicing Islam in the United States of America who inherited the values of decency, respect, selflessness, trust, honesty, righteousness, discipline, conduct, integrity, responsibility, duty, commitment, compassion, love, empathy, patience, courage, dignity, gratitude, forgiveness, generosity, sacrifice, tolerance, equality, fairness, loyalty, unity, consciousness of human & animal rights, altruism, inter-dependability, transparency, accountability, ethics, morals, judicial, cultural, and above all, the value of peace, are the navigational points of my compass which have oriented me and given me cardinal direction on how to align with the socioeconomic and political fabric of the American society as depicted through the Constitution of the United States.
Acquiring these self-identification attributes in an openly diverse and welcoming society with its core compass providing inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all and further allowing me to exercise all innate, adopted and acquired values without fear, greed and persecution is what freedom means to me.
Raised in a humble family in the land of opportunity, my story begins young. As a child, my parents loved to explore, go sightseeing and meet new people. Keeping my total demeanor, attire, way of conduct and values intact, I was always encouraged to learn about other’s stories and told to never give up on education as it would remain my gateway for life.
This attitude enhanced my curiosity because it allowed me to visit churches, synagogues, Hindu temples, Sikh temples and the Islamic mosques. I met people from various walks of life originating from different backgrounds who loved to share stories about their great journeys which enticed me to learn more.
Though my parents were divorced by the time I reached middle school, I was privileged to observe how the authority of self-control was asserted in times of making right or wrong decisions and grateful that my parents allowed me the freedom of thought to determine what path was right for me. Fortunately, I embraced the values inculcated within me and pursued higher education and focused on my career and advanced in the work of human development.
This freedom of thought, regardless of religious, cultural, social, political or economic influences is what liberated me in this open American society because open society does not mean being ultra-progressive or ultra-liberal but a society where you are free to learn, free to think, free to have access to information, free to express yourself as a unique individual and free to practice whatever you believe in. This is why, freedom to me means human development.