Muslim First, American Second? Or Vice Versa?

Last Friday, The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by M. Zuhdi Jasser titled, “Questions For Imam Rauf From an American Muslim.”  For those of you who don’t know, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf is the key man behind the Islamic center which is to be built two blocks from “Ground Zero,” also known as Park51.

I’m not going into the pros and cons about the proposed Islamic center here (I’ve already weighed in on the issue in my post, “My Views on the (Misnamed) ‘Ground Zero Mosque.’“) What I want to write about today is a comment that Jasser made in his article about how he is an American first and a Muslim second:

In relation to Ground Zero, I am an American first, a Muslim second, just as I would be at Concord, Gettysburg, Normandy Beach, Pearl Harbor or any other battlefield where my fellow countrymen lost their lives.*

That statement worries me, because putting one’s country first is exactly what leads to political unrest between countries. Nationalism is a subverted form of patriotism. The latter is exemplified by a love for and devotion to one’s country. The former is a belief that one’s nation is superior and must be upheld at all costs.

I love my country, but I recognize that all other people feel the same about theirs. Political unrest and wars result from the belief that one’s “group” has the right to impose its ways on another. The United States is unpopular around the world for the way it dabbles in other countries’ affairs, from taking sides in their wars to supporting regimes that will allow it access to those countries’ resources.

Muslims like Osama bin Laden who want to create a Muslim world order, Jews who insist that Israel is primarily for Jews and Americans who insist that the U.S. was founded by and for Christians are all falling prey to the same mindset: that their nation is their religion. They defer to men when they should be deferring to God.  Even more dangerous is the idea that some have that God is telling them to put their country first. Why would God do that?  God does not respect national boundaries; His concern is for all people and His will is that we all treat each other the way we ourselves want to be treated.

When I was a Christian I never had any trouble identifying as a Christian and an American because of the perception that Christian and American go together. Now, as  a Muslim, I sometimes feel like I can’t be both a Muslim and an American because Islam has been so heavily identified as a “foreign” religion. So one of the things I struggle with is how to fit my two identities together.

But I know that if I put my Muslim identity first, I will serve the world’s people better than if I put my national identity first. Men will lead me astray; their opinions blow every which way; God is the only constant, and the only one who has the best interests of all people at heart.

I’m proud to be an American, but I’m humbled to be a Muslim. And I think being of service matters more than patting yourself on the back.

*I’m not sure if Jasser is saying that he is only an American first when it comes to acts of war, or if his American identity always trumps his Muslim identity.