The Right to Be Fully American

Yasir Billoo - Pembroke Pines, Florida
As heard on NPR’s All Things Considered, December 11, 2006
Yasir Billoo

After 9/11, Yasir Billoo found it difficult to be accepted as a U.S. citizen because he was born in Pakistan and practices Islam. But the Miami attorney believes he has the right to be fully American.

Age Group: 18 - 30
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I am an American and like almost everyone here, I am also something else. I was raised to believe that America embraces all people from all faiths, but recently, that longstanding belief — along with both parts of my identity — have come under attack. And as an American Muslim of Pakistani descent, this attack is tearing me apart.

Twice, I have sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution and the laws of this nation: once when I became a citizen and once when I became an attorney. I live and work every day with the thought that this is my home. This is the place I can’t wait to get back to when I go overseas. I feel the same relief many of you do standing in the customs line and just hearing English again. It is the simple relief of coming home.

But I am also a Muslim. I was born in a foreign land, my skin is not white and I have facial hair even though it barely passes for a beard. Not only am I a Muslim when I pray my daily prayers or when I fast during the month of Ramadan, I am also a Muslim when I walk through airport security or in the mall when I accidentally leave a bag of recent purchases unattended. Every day, I have to introduce myself to new clients, judges and other attorneys and actually think of how I can say my own name so that it might sound less foreign, less threatening.

When I am in Pakistan, I find myself defending America, our way of life and our government’s policies. My Pakistani cousins are quick to point the finger at America for any world problems and I push back to ask what the rest of the world has done that is so much better.

When I am in America, my beloved home, I find myself defending Islam, my beautiful religion. I tell people to envision me when they think of Muslims and Islam, not the terrorist mug shots they see on TV. When they can do that, I feel like an American, just like them. When they cannot, I feel like a foreigner.

The Quran teaches us that God created us from a single pair, and made us into nations and tribes so that we may know each other, not so that we may despise each other.

I am an immigrant, and I still believe in the basic right to be fully American and fully Muslim. But now I pray that America will keep me within its embrace.

Yasir Billoo practices commercial litigation law in Miami. He was born in Karachi, Pakistan, raised in Los Angeles and moved to Florida about 12 years ago. Billoo speaks four languages and enjoys studying law, especially the evolution of Islamic law.

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.