By Sajid Tarar
Founder of American Muslims for Trump
Two days ago, I stood before the Republican National Convention and offered a prayer for America, quoting a famous saying of the Prophet Muhammad. Most of those at the convention bowed their heads with me in prayer. Afterward, I received much praise and support; walking backstage, many fellow Republicans lined up to thank me for going up there and speaking. But some people — during the talk and online afterward — sent a great deal of vitriol. And yet, I can offer pause and reflection that if anything, the public’s reactions, both good and bad, reiterate the very reason why I became involved in American politics in the first place, and offer some insight worthy of reflection about the America of today.
I immigrated to the United States many years ago to pursue a degree in constitutional law. I come from a line of family members who were politically active in Pakistan and I wanted to be engaged politically in America as well. I first arrived here during the era of President Ronald Reagan and I found myself in agreement with much of Reaganism and Republican, conservative values.
It was the events of Sept.11 that moved and motivated me to take a more aggressive stance in politics, particularly when rocks were continuously thrown at my gas station and racial slurs hurled at me. I knew immediately that it was important to get engaged, not just to help educate individuals about who Muslims are, but to really push hard against extremists and preserve America and the values of American life that I love. I also actively contributed to the Red Cross, leading to some articles being written about me describing me as an American Muslim standing with America, but that did not deter others from spewing hate toward me. So I also became involved locally with one main objective: to be a positive role model to other Americans. I wanted to say, hey, we are here and part of mainstream America and we love America and are a part of it too. I wanted everyone to know that I reject radical Islam and I wanted to create a positive image of Muslims.
Although I fully believed in Republican and conservative values, I started to become disappointed with the state of democracy in this country, knowing that more and more people were also becoming disillusioned by Congress, and how tired many were of traditional politicians not doing their job in the face of more chaos in the world. Radical jihadi elements have been on the rise and young generations have become disappointed and desperate for change. This is part of why I stepped up to take an active role this election cycle to support Donald Trump, a candidate who can bring great change to this country and is far different from traditional politicians of recent times.
So it was a great honor when, 10 days before the convention and after attending a meeting of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, I was asked to give the closing benediction at the RNC on Day Two. I immediately understood the importance and significance of being on stage as a Muslim and I knew that I wanted my speech to represent the wisdom from within our tradition and how it could relate to the importance for change in America today. So with great pride, I related a prophetic saying that if one piece of flesh is good (i.e. the president of the U.S.), then the body (America) will be good; if the president is right and performing right and fulfills his duties, then America will be great. I wanted to impress that I stand with all who wish for America to be great again, and all those who want to crack down on religious extremists and bring back the entrepreneurial spirit that makes America flourish.
I know my speech had an impact. Firefighters and police officers, congressmen and conference attendees came up to me saying that I was a brave individual for getting up on stage and that we all must stand together. It also was representative of how over the past 15 years, the Republican Party has been changing, becoming more diverse and welcoming of different backgrounds (there are two Indian background Republican governors, for example).
But, it also brought in much vitriol too. I received hundreds of messages afterward conveying that many American Muslims thought I was a disgrace and a traitor, some writers even claiming that I was being paid millions by Trump and was bought by him. But I feel the significance has been lost among Muslims, many didn’t realize the importance of having a Muslim coming on stage at the RNC and sharing words of the Prophet Muhammad.
On the other side, I received criticism that I am not an American, some even booed me while I was on stage and shouted “No Islam!” during my speech.
But to all of them, I say that my presence at the RNC actually fulfilled my main objective: to get on stage and show everyone that Muslims are not bad people. By saying “God bless America,” I wished to show that American Muslims have a stake in making this nation great again; we are here to stay and we love America. My mission was and continues to be to challenge the perception that continues to come out of national and global tragedies. My intention is to stand up and save our kids from racism and prejudice.
I love this country more than my life because this country has given me so much. I want to give back. My message to Muslims is that we are also victims of radical Islam and of jihadi elements who have killed more Muslims than anyone else. America is a great country, and I believe that the Quran states we need to be loyal to the country where we are living. We have complete freedom of religion in this country and we need to be loyal to this great nation. For me, that means to support conservative values and the Republican candidate. My conviction that this is what is best for the country encourages me to reach out to other Muslims too.
Yes, I believe in Trump and believe in being a Republican. Yes, I believe he is the best candidate, even for issues that move most American Muslims. But we can live in a society where we may have differences in political opinion or come from different backgrounds; my involvement at the RNC and my support of Trump do not make me any less American or any less Muslim. You are welcome to disagree with me politically, but don’t forget that this is the part of America we should appreciate, a place where we can hold on to our opinions and our choices in who we want to run this country, and a place where diverse backgrounds must be on the main stage of American political life.
As told to TIM Editors and edited for clarity and style.