EXACTLY 10 days after my 24th birthday, I would awake to a day that would mark the true beginning of my existence as a human. On a day when my country was attacked and in the subsequent year in which my religion was berated, I have been plagued by sleepless nights, blessed with sympathetic smiles and unnerved by threats where others vowed to "take care of people like me."
Although I was no less of an American on Sept. 10, only one day later was I commanded to "prove" my loyalty to America and to apologize for my religion.
I will never do either and this is why.
I am a Muslim. I believe in the monotheistic deity of Abraham and revere prophets such as Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all) as true messengers of God. Much of the only solace I ever acquire is when I prostrate my head in the direction of Mecca every day. As part of religious mandate, I donate money to the poor and abstain from food and drink during the daylight hours of the blessed month of Ramadan. Mosques serve as peaceful sanctuaries for Muslims, just as churches, synagogues and temples serve our sisters and brothers of other faiths.
I am an American. I was growing up in Chicago while the Huxtable children were growing up, at the same time, on my television. I have seen my beloved Boston Celtics play their final game in the original Boston Garden and have dreamed of playing wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills. I have interned for two U.S. senators, one of whom now serves as this country's attorney general. As I finish my final year of law school at one of this country's finest institutions, I wonder how any rational human being could think that I was anything but American.
As American Muslims, we pledge religious allegiance to Islam and national allegiance to America. We are contributing members of this society and thus are entitled to every inalienable right and freedom that all Americans cherish. Like all Americans, we have the freedom to speak our minds, the right to be tried by a jury of our peers, the entitlement to practice our religion freely and the privilege to dissent against the government when we deem necessary.
For millions of us, this country is the only home we have ever known. Like all Americans, we grumble whenever there is a new tax hike. We worry about leaky faucets, mortgage payments and exorbitant college tuitions. Muslims are your doctors, accountants, engineers, teachers, store owners and activists.
As part of the next generation of Muslims in America, I vow to continue to be an asset to my faith and my country. I will graduate from law school and, like all Muslims, will continue the constant struggle to better humanity. So as I continue my true existence as a human being, regardless of whether or not I am welcome in your home, you are welcome in mine. My home is America.
Arsalan Tariq Iftikhar attends Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. He serves as Midwest communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim advocacy group.