Dreams of my Muslim son

Published: June 22, 2016

Obama waves farewell to students after his remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque. PHOTO: REUTERS

Long before I came to the United States, I was fascinated by the American electoral process. I grew up in Pakistan in the 80s, during the brutally repressive military dictatorship of President Mohammad Ziaul Haq, when fear crushed hope.

Finding old copies of Time magazine in my school library, I learned about primaries and presidential debates — something almost unimaginable in Pakistan at the time. I had a favourite board game where the players’ mission was to become the American president. I watched snippets of news, of the Bush-Dukakis race in 1988 and the Clinton-Bush-Perot debates four years later that we got on our only TV channel. I missed a lot of the nuances, but I developed a deep admiration for the idea that a campaign had to present a vision that people cared about. You had to talk about a better future, and there was a strong undercurrent of hope.

I like to think that my 12-year-old son, the first member of our family to be born in the United States, has inherited some of his love of American politics from me. We are practicing Muslims, and about four years ago my son wrote to Michael Dukakis, the former governor and Democratic presidential nominee, asking if a Muslim boy could become president.

Mr Dukakis invited my son to his office at Northeastern University, and among my son’s most prized possessions now are a picture of himself with Mr Dukakis and his audio recording of their conversation about elections.

Encouraged by Mr Dukakis, my son ran for class representative in sixth grade two years ago and won — by a landslide, according to his own exit polls. Last year, he ran for student council at his Boston-area middle school. He advised other candidates and wore a suit to school on election days. His schoolmates elected him student council secretary. He is on the email list of politicians and presidential campaigns from both parties. He wants to run for federal office one day and dreams of becoming president. He wants the voting age to be lowered to 12 so he can vote in this cycle.

Until last summer, there was an inherent dignity and grace associated with running for the highest office in the country. At least that is what we told our son and our 9-year-old daughter. We taught them that hatred had no place in our hearts, or on any campaign trail. We told them that hard work, fair policy and fundamental decency were what voters really cared about. But over the last few months of this campaign, as they heard Republican candidates, especially the presumptive Republican nominee, and their supporters attack immigrants, and Muslims in particular, it has gotten hard to convince our children that these values matter.

My daughter asked,

“Why do the candidates hate all Muslims?”

We told her that most people do not judge people based on religion, but that is not what we heard from the campaign.

My son, too, has endless questions, of a different sort: Where are the boundaries in political campaigns? Why is it wrong to defame a religious group if it will get you more votes? Doesn’t the end — winning — justify the means? Lately, I worry that this election may be pushing him toward pragmatism over the idealism that America represents to me. I don’t want a 12-year-old to give up one for the other so early in life.

I would like my children to always believe that they can change the world for the better and to believe that they do not have to compromise their values or ideals because that is what sells. At the same time, we are teaching them to not raise issues of Islamophobia and the presidential election in school for fear they might be bullied. The contradiction is not lost on us.

In early December, we were celebrating our daughter’s birthday at her favourite restaurant, near our home. A woman approached our table and told my wife that she was offended by her and by her head scarf. The kids got scared, and we were too surprised to speak. In our 20 years in this country, my wife and I have received only kindness and support from colleagues, neighbours and even strangers.

After the woman left, we told the waitress what had happened, and she was apologetic and kind. She insisted that the birthday cake for my daughter was on the house. Then, as we were walking out, another customer came over, hugged our daughter and slipped $10 into her hand, as a birthday gift. It was reassuring for our children to see that what we had been telling them about America was true, in spite of what they see on television.

I am still encouraging my son’s ambition to become president. My dream for both my children is that they will grow up in a country that judges them only on the strength of their character, the grandness of their ideas, the decency of their values and, ultimately, their actions. I refuse to give this up. That is what America has taught me to do.

This post originally appeared here.

Muhammad H Zaman

Muhammad H Zaman

The author is a professor of biomedical engineering and international health at Boston University.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Rohan

    The usual Pakistani nonsense ,talking about their addiction to religion and playing the victim and thinking of themselves as the sole defenders of Islam.Seeiously if you guys let go of religion a little bit, maybe you’ll be better peopleRecommend

  • Rohan

    Can non Muslims be president or pm in your country?Recommend

  • Anon

    Teach your daughter about two nation-theory as well….and then they will come to know what Mr. Trump is talking about…Recommend

  • ab1990

    Not at all possible. It is written in pakistan’s constitution that a non muslim can nevere become a president or pm.

    Every islamic country in the world has the same laws. Hypocrisy rules in islamic states.Recommend

  • maz3tt

    There is a big answer in it why it can’t be but i will not tell you here because you have your shades on .Recommend

  • maz3tt

    As usual, you people don’t know a bit about what you are talking . So accept Islam or maybe study about it and you will see what I mean. Please don’t say that I have already studied it. If you really study it without your shades on then you will have no choice other then accepting it. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world (there is lot of data available on the internet). So you can’t deny my claim.

    No , holding on the religion will make us good people. The reason we are not better because we have let Islam go. The day we hold on to it we will become the best people in the world. Islam is not just a religion ,it is the part of life. It teaches us how to lead life. so how can we let it go.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Did you circumcise you son? Did you teach Jihad? Do your family members wear Burqa/Niqab to demand abuse of non-Muslim women? Is celebrating Birthday Islamic? Do you celebrate Bakra Eid? Which Madrases your kids go to? What teaching TNT and breaking temples/churches in USA?Recommend

  • Concard_007

    It looks like Muslims only fight for equal rights, equal treatment in other countries. In their own countries one can hardly see anyone seriously fighting for the rights of Non Muslims, Gays, Atheists and others. As someone who has seen comments in tribune, Pakistanis give a justification they are a Islamic republic so Non Muslims shouldn’t expect any rights but Non Muslims nations are very secular so they should be treated equally. They cry about Islamophobia abroad but still it doesn’t knock on their senses how does it feel to be a Non Muslim in Muslim country. Now a days people are attracted to Trump and other right wing parties because liberal left doesn’t openly talk about the problems within the Muslim community. And Muslims don’t want to talk and confront their own problems instead bury their heads in sand and pay a lip service that Islam is all milk and honey. And they wonder like this author when his own daughter asks why some people hate Muslims.Recommend

  • Critical

    Hahahah…You come as an immigrant to another Non-Islamic country …You enjoy equal rights,citizenship,social security benefits better than your own country…..You can openly oppose that country’s actions against a Muslim country and openly discriminate Jews and israel ….You can marry a white or black christian girl and even convert to Islam if she’s willing to do.. but then complain of random acts of discrimination and ask why they are not allowing you to become the President of the country

    But when you go to a Gulf country,you are constantly afraid of pissing off the Arab masters…You listen to constant racial insults and just keep your head low…You can work there for decades but never get a full citizenship…Your pay is lesser than an Arab counterpart even though you work better than him…but be happier that its better than a Bangladeshi worker…You cannot make passes at an Arab woman and marrying her will only bring you punishment… You sing of praises of them to your fellow Pakistanis just because they are Arabs and Muslims even though they treat you little better than a vermin…..Recommend

  • Arsha

    You have children from families that have lived in Pakistan for generations and they can not even dream of becoming President of their country because the law of the nation discriminates against them. Is that not the worst ? Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    Anybody can become the president of USA. He should be natural born. Stop this nonsense.Recommend

  • ShockandHorror

    Well Islam is the fastest growing religion because firstly Most Muslims just keep breeding. Secondly Muslims are threatened with death if they convert to another religion. Period.Recommend

  • W R

    There is no country in the World like the USA! Learn to love it and assimilate with and adapt to the American way. Freedom awaits you!Recommend

  • Usama Habib

    Did anyone invite IndianRecommend

  • Usama Habib

    Why are Indians interfering?Recommend

  • Usama Habib

    Endian burnsRecommend

  • Usama Habib

    U indians know nothing about honor.Recommend

  • ab1990

    u lost all ur honor when osama bin laden was nicely eating haleem in pakistanRecommend

  • abhi

    What a joke, so your wife and daughter wear hijab and you are talking about american values. I think Trump is right, this nonsense should stop.Recommend

  • wb

    “Why do the candidates hate all Muslims?”

    Why didn’t you tell him the truth that historically Muslims have been violent and have successfully wiped out many tolerant and vibrant cultures and religions such as Zorostrianism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism from countries such as Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, Afghanistan.

    While at it, please also tell him that Muslims are responsible for most wars in the history of universe.

    Please also explain to him how in your motherland non-Muslims and liberal Muslims are killed on a daily basis

    Thank you.Recommend

  • wb

    You are not telling because you don’t have a single rational answer.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Its called victimhood syndrome.

    How could an 8 year old had such a strong realization of his identity( read Muslim) and on top of that how did he wonder if him being a Muslim had any chance of becoming a President of USA unless he is exposed to a lot of brainwashing.

    ““Why do the candidates hate all Muslims?”

    Take them to any Muslim land and show them how Muslims treat non Muslims, Pakistan would be a good place to start.

    “I refuse to give this up. That is what America has taught me to do.”

    You must not give up, what you need to give up on is hypocrisy. You are living in heaven compared to non Muslims who are trying to eke out a life in Muslim lands despite a very long list of very popular Muslim individuals leaving no stone unturned to brutalize them. One Donald Trump should not really make you any less American if you were ever an American in the first place because let us be honest, you simply do not have a choice.

    It is important we do not at this age train our children to become revolutionaries and preachers before they have become good students.

    Finally, how about teaching your children about the list of non Muslims who ended up becoming presidents and prime ministers of Islamic Republics.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    You are just like Zakir Naik, you have no answer but pretend to have an answer for every question. Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Hi- were you missing me.Recommend

  • maz3tt

    So why Hindus keep converting to Islam in numbers in his every program?Recommend

  • maz3tt

    rationality is inborn in your breed and country. I can see it very well on ET. We can debate on each answer given by you people on this blog.Recommend

  • maz3tt

    another rational answer. LOL.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Hindus or for that matter non Muslims have been converting for ages, either out of their own choice or through force. Non Muslims do not get butchered for leaving their faith.Recommend

  • wb

    You need to learn to use proper words. Nationality and nationalism are two entirely different things.Recommend

  • Laskero

    A practicing Muslim is not compatible with American values. Freedom of speech, separation of church and state, equal rights ingrained in US constitution are in conflict with Islam. If your son gets in to politics, chances are he will have to run as a Democrat – the party which embraces gay rights, reproductive rights, equal rights for women. How is he going to reconcile his religion with the values of the party??Recommend

  • LS

    There are countless examples where Muslims were killed other muslims or tried to kill other muslims for leaving islam. The most famous one is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, another is Talisma Nasreen who had to leave Bangladesh due to threats on her life and lives in India.

    You don’t have any answers…Recommend

  • LS

    “A woman approached our table and told my wife that she was offended by her and by her head scarf. The kids got scared, and we were too surprised to speak”

    The day muslims learn to respect the minorities in their own countries you would have higher moral ground to speak like this.


    Same has happened in EVERY ISLAMIC country like Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Brunei, SA… You name it.. Currently happening in Lebanon (Was the only christian majority country in Arabian peninsula and Muslims destroyed it), Malaysia… (Muslims have started to destroy Malaysia too)

    They want democracy when in Minority but remove democracy as soon as they are in power, Example Malaysia (the Muslim majority government as soon as it came to power started destroying temples and churches and started imposing sharia law.. Same is happening in India, UK, France, BelgiumRecommend

  • LS

    Yes, we don’t want to know about your honor.. it kills innocent girls.. that fake honor has gotten you into this mess… get out of it..,

    What do YOU know about honor when your leaders, army personnel constantly lie on national TV? When kids are killed in the name of Honor, When terrorists are found consistently in the country? When non msulim girls are consistently kidnapped, raped, converted, married and left in brothels.. What honor are you talking about?Recommend

  • LS

    TNT Failed:
    1) The day country was divided and 86% of muslim in India refused to join pakistan
    2) The day Bangladesh was created
    3) The day Baloch started asking for freedom
    4) The day part of Kashmir was forcibly occupied by pakistan by attacking them.
    5) The day rebels in AJK started asking for freedom and pakistan asked them to renounce their claim to freedom in lieu of facilities, education
    6) The day Jinnah died under the tree lamenting the creation of Pakistan…Recommend

  • rationalist

    Another apologist sermon with the usual victimhood cry.Recommend

  • Lalit

    By asking a simple innocent question you have turned the whole narrative of this article on its head.I wonder why don’t Muslims kids ask questions like this to their parents ? Or for that matter like ,why Ahmadis have been declared non Muslims,that too by state ? Why are they called wazib ul qatl ? Why should a Muslim who chooses to convert to other religion, necessarily part with his life’?There is an infinite list of questions seeking answers from the followers of ‘religion of peace’…..charity begins at home.Recommend

  • Lalit

    Most of the converts are in the category of Jihadi John of ISIS ‘fame’…….and they seem to have got to their true calling.Recommend

  • Gp65

    Muslims count non-Muslims who convert to Islam. But a Muslim who lives in a Muslim country but wants to convert will be afraid to do so due to apostasy laws.
    The higher birthrate among Muslims is another reason for Islam being the fastest growing religion.Recommend

  • Seriously?

    India honours the Indus Waters Treaty which it was forced to sign under duress and which gives 80% water to Pakistan even during wars with Pakistan. Pakistan dishonoured stand still treaty between Pakistan and Kashmir and tried to annex it. Jinnah fought court case for independent Balochistan and got paid his weight in gold by Khan of Kalat and then went and annexed it. It has signed Simla agreement but refuses to honour it. It repeatedly sends its soldiers dressed as tribals to Kashmir (1948, 1965, 1999).
    Pakistan took billions of dollars from US to fight Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda. We know where OBL and Mullah Omar and Mullah Mansoor were given safe haven.
    And you have the nerve to talk about Indians not understanding honour?Recommend