I was born in Bangladesh, a country in Southeast Asia with a population of more than 160 million. Around 90% of the population in Bangladesh is Muslim, rest are Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians. As a Muslim in a secular Muslim majority country, I came to know a lot about my religion, as well as learned how to live peacefully with other religions in Bangladesh. I was fortunate enough to receive education from institutions of Bangladesh which taught me Islamic heritage as well as tolerance towards other faiths and beliefs. Even though around 90% of the entire population of Bangladesh are Muslims, they live in harmony with other religion. I remember being invited by our neighbors of other religions to their religious holidays e.g. Christmas dinner and Puja dinner. We also used to invite them to Eid celebrations.
After completing my undergraduate education in Medical Science in Bangladesh, I came to USA for higher education. I always preferred USA for higher education and for prosperity for the diversity and inclusiveness of this country’s societies. USA is one of the very few places in the world which is open for immigrants with new opportunities. This country is also enriched with people from different cultures and religions. Although my birthplace Bangladesh has a diversity of religions, it does not have a diversity of cultures. In USA, I can have both. This country offers opportunity as well as the freedom to perform my religion. My wife who is an American and a reverted Muslim. She chose to adopt Islam after learning about it from her immigrant Muslim friends. We both believe that the diversity and openness of US societies made this county unique in the world. The family members of my wife accepted me as one of them and I found a new family in this country.
Beginning life in a new country is not easy. Especially if the new country is more than 12000 miles far from your birthplace and the people around you are not from your culture. This happened to me when I first came to USA. I felt lonely and isolated when I first began my life in USA. Soon within several months, I started feeling the warmth and inclusiveness of US people around me who made me feel welcomed in this new country. I met people from so many different cultures and ethnicities in USA that I never met in my life back in Bangladesh. I met people with ancestors coming from different continents eg. Europe, Asia, Africa. I was invited to attend Christmas dinner as well as Thanksgiving dinner by my friends several times. I noticed another unique characteristic of religious tolerance in USA; inviting people of different religions for interfaith discussions. For example, I observed Muslim leaders invited leaders of other faiths eg. Christianity and Judaism to the mosques and vice versa. Such knowledge sharing and friendship among people is another example of the unique religious freedom and tolerance of US culture.
Freedom of speech is one of the major topics that was mentioned by the founding fathers of USA. Many people come to USA to have freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is not well maintained in some parts of the world. Sometimes the governments try to limit this right of the citizens to stay in power. I am always a vocal person about social and political justice. I appreciate how easily I can share my ideas and stances on many political and social issues here in USA without any fear of persecution. My career is in Public Health. In Public Health, we talk about the health rights of the people, we justify and promote policies to the government. Sometimes these ideas and policies proposed are not welcome by the policymakers due to political reasons. However, in a country like USA where freedom of speech is practiced, such policy promotion is welcomed and is a part of democracy. I never had such freedom when I used to work outside USA. I faced criticism in Bangladesh by ruling political party supporters due to my support of citizens’ rights and democracy.
Currently, I am doing my doctoral research on diabetes and hypertension self-management among people in West Virginia. Since I work with community members who have diabetes and hypertension, I have an opportunity to get closer to the local community members and know them. By working with these population, I am learning more about the rural USA and becoming one of them. Surely, I am not entirely like them, but I am becoming one of them. It is not easy to have proper acculturation in a new country. However, if the society is inclusive, tolerant as well as full of opportunity like USA, a Muslim immigrant should feel blessed to have those blessings. I am thankful to the Almighty Allah to let me come to USA and access the facilities and opportunities to prosper in life.