As I sat in the gallery of the House Chamber at the United States Capitol, I soaked in what was about to commence; the State of the Union address by President Barack Obama. Elevating the eminence of the epic experience was the fact that this would be his last. I reflected on how unlikely it was that I, just a common resident of Eastern Connecticut, was sitting in this auspicious historic hall that looked strikingly different from what appears on television.
It was ironic that I, an Ahmadi Muslim immigrant from England, sat right under the relief portrait of a British General Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester. In the same hall to my right was a relief portrait of Suleiman, The Magnificent, a great Muslim General from the Ottoman Empire.
From my vantage point, to my left was situated the Speaker of the House, and I could see all our lawmakers entering, one by one. The Speaker, the Vice-President leading the members of the Senate, the Supreme Court Justices, members of the Cabinet, and then President Obama himself. I reflected on the statement etched in marble and prominently displayed before me that outlines their responsibilities and in turn OUR responsibility as we, the people:
“Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, promote all its great interests, and see whether we also, in our day and generation, may not perform something worthy to be remembered.”
As I sat there waiting for the program to start, I thought of the unlikely circumstances that had led to my invitation by the Honorable Congressman [Joe] Courtney. In the last two months, I had been the face of the roughly 250 members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community from Baitul Aman Mosque who had the message of peace, love, forgiveness and prayer. All of us believe in God Almighty, His holy Prophets including Jesus and Muhammad, the books of God including the Bible and the Quran, and in the holy Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, and the uniting holy figure of his fifth successor or Khalifa, Mirza Masroor Ahmed.
This belief leads to the true message of Islam which rejects all kinds of terrorism, extremism and radicalism, promotes equality of women, loyalty to one’s country, freedom of speech and human rights; hence our motto “Love for All, Hatred for None.” I sincerely felt that each member of my congregation deserved to be there more than I did.
I was not just representing my congregation from our mosque, but was also representing all the tireless workers of United Community and Family Services, who work around the clock to make life easier, and remove the pain and suffering of the vulnerable residents of Eastern Connecticut.
I was also representing the countless nurses, doctors and workers of William Backus Hospital who work day and night with the same zeal and vigor to help the residents in need of the Greater Norwich area. It’s my belief that each individual goes the extra mile with compassion and care, acutely aware of the motto “Patient comes first.”
Again, I felt that each one of them deserved to be sitting there instead of me.
My expectation from the President’s speech was that he would speak on behalf of all Americans for ALL Americans without divisions based on race, religion and political affiliation, and that he would lead the United States forward in dealing with other nations in a just manner.
The President did not disappoint at all.
Our country’s response to the menace of Ebola was a prime example where the United States led with both justice and technology. In my work for the charitable organization called Humanity First, I have seen how with the help of the United States, the epidemic had been contained in Liberia and other surrounding countries. I also applaud the armed services of the United States for their work in containing this epidemic in west Africa.
President Obama spoke for all Americans when he stated:
…We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith. His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.” When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country…
“We, the people…,” our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some — words that insist we rise and fall together.
Finally, I have to thank Congressman Courtney for his magnanimity and courage in selecting me as his guest when he could have chosen thousands of others. The gratitude and hospitality that he and his staffers demonstrated to my family and I cannot be described in words.
He was an embodiment of the following statement made by our President during his speech:
So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. To stay active in our public life so it reflects the goodness and decency and optimism that I see in the American people every single day.
Congressman Courtney stood up for us when he did not have to, and I wholeheartedly applaud him for this. Thank You Congressman Courtney!
Mohammed Qureshi, M.D., is President of the Connecticut Chapter, Baitul Aman “House of Peace” Mosque in Meriden.