USA: The people next door | Ahmadi Muslim immigrant family celebrates adopted country - Ahmadiyya Media Library

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Wednesday, 27 January 2016

USA: The people next door | Ahmadi Muslim immigrant family celebrates adopted country

When politicians rail about keeping out Muslim immigrants, they’re talking about people like the Bhattis.

Family members, who immigrated from Pakistan in 1999, have made a good life for themselves in Stark County. It would not be a stretch to say they embody the American dream.

The Bhattis hail from the Punjab province and a village of about 600 residents.

“My father had a convenience store for 15 years,” said middle son Luqman, a graduate of Timken High School in Canton. “My dad, for economic reasons and job opportunity, moved to the U.S. when I was baby, and later sent for us.”

Ali Bhatti found a job in construction and later acquired citizenship. Luqman Bhatti said the rest of the family arrived in the U.S. when he was 14. They landed in Brooklyn, New York, where they lived in an apartment for about a year.

It was culture shock.

“It isn’t a good place for a family,” he said. “The cost and the crime.”

THE JOB CREATORS

He noted that his only previous exposure to America came through television.

“Hollywood really does make you believe in something that’s not there,” Luqman Bhatti said, laughing. “I thought every city was swallowed in skyscrapers, and every city street was so clean, you could eat off the streets.

“I’m looking out the window, and I’m thinking, ‘This is not what I expected.’ It was a shocker. When you’re here and you don’t know the culture and expectations of a new society, it’s pretty hard.”

The family discovered there were other options.

“My dad’s cousin was here in Canton,” he said. “We came to visit, and decided to check it out.”

They relocated to Canton in 2000. His father and uncle ran a gas station in northeast Canton.

According to findings published by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in the Wall Street Journal, immigrants and Latinos accounted for 28.5 percent of all business start-ups in the U.S. in 2014, up from 25.9 percent in 2013.

Immigrants, who now make up 13 percent of the population, become self-employed at twice the rate of native-born Americans, the report found.

Slightly less than 2 percent percent of Stark Countians are immigrants, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census. Statewide, the figure stands at 4 percent.

A new study from the Center for Immigration Studies has determined that the number of undocumented immigrants has declined by 200,000 people every year since 2008. In 2014, it fell to 10.9 million, the lowest figure in 10 years. The U.S. spends $18 billion a year on immigration enforcement.

Bhatti, who became an American citizen in 2001, said he didn’t speak English when he was enrolled in school here, but picked it up from TV and his classmates. Though he was placed in the eighth grade, he was found to be two years ahead of his peers. He graduated from Timken as a member of the National Honor Society.

In 2007, Bhatti’s older brother, Tahir, found a job with a company that safeguards and maintains repossessed properties. Bhatti enrolled in the University of Akron as a pre-med student with dreams of becoming a cardiologist, but he dropped out to help the family launch their own property-management business.

His brother has since moved to Canada.

A NATION OF WHINERS?

“I believe you’re meant to be who you are,” he said. “I had a 3.88 GPA in college, but that’s not where life took me.”

Bhatti said immigrants are quick to see the advantages that life in America has to offer, and it’s why immigrant parents, “push their kids harder and expect more.”

“When people come here from other countries, they’ve seen a harsher side of life,” he said. “They push their kids to achieve more than they had in their lifetimes. If I brought home a report card with anything less than an ‘A’, that wasn’t good enough. This is not to say anything against anybody, but as a society, we have slacked off.

“We’ve become a nation of whiners.”

Bhatti joked that his mom, Amtul, wanted him to wear a suit for his interview, but the reasoning is attached to a serious concern over how Muslims are portrayed.

Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group in the world. An estimated 5 million to 8 million Muslims live in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center. Currently, there are 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. Experts predict that if current demographic trends continue, they will outnumber Christians by the end of the century.

“This whole hysteria seems like a cruel joke,” Luqman Bhatti said. “The world perceives us (Americans) as a highly civilized society, but we’re buying into the notion that it’s OK to blame a whole group of people for what a few have done.

“They’re talking about ‘Sharia’ law. Seriously? Seriously?

“The Constitution doesn’t allow for any other law. The law of the land supersedes Sharia law. Besides, we are not living in an Islamic state.”

Sitting in the driveway of the home they built themselves in 2007, the Bhattis’ SUV bears a graphic that reads: “Love for all, hatred for none.”

They are Ahmadiyya Muslims, a small, lesser-known branch of Islam that originated in 1899. They are distinguished by their belief that the promised messiah, or “the Madhi” prophesied by the Prophet Muhammad, came in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who died in 1908.

With adherents in 200 countries, Ahmadiyya Muslims reject the use of terrorism in any form.

Bhatti, whose family often hosts weekly prayer for local Ahmadiyya Muslims, said fear is preventing people from gaining a true understanding of Islam.

“Most of what they hear is negative,” he said. “Most Muslim people just want to have an average life. I’m an American before I am anything else. I’ve lived more than half my life here.”

Last week, the U.S. Senate rejected a bill calling for a temporary ban on refugees.

Noting that his mother speaks very little English, Bhatti said it’s frustrating when people stare.

“I think we all are a little bit prejudiced in our own way,” he said. “Does that make me a bad person? Not necessarily. But I have had just a couple instances where people give you ‘that look.’ It’s hurtful. It’s painful, particularly when you have your family with you.”

Part of that family is sister Ansa. The youngest of the three Bhatti siblings, she’s a premed student the University of Akron.

The teasing between the two is nonstop.

“I make the money, and she spends it,” Bhatti said with a laugh.

But like her brother, Ansa Bhatti said she, too, gets frustrated.

“As soon as I wear a scarf on my head, I’m an outcast; the whole perspective of me changes,” she said. “I’m just trying to get an education. Me wearing a scarf on my head is one aspect of my religion. There are other aspects of me, as well. I like to go to the movies and have fun. My brother has his business, and I go to school. At the end of the day, we just want to have a meal and be with our family.”

Ansa Bhatti said Muslims are as horrified by violent acts of Islamic extremism as everyone else, particularly since the vast majority of terror victims are Muslim.

“Would our blood be any different?” she asked. “When you see the bloodshed, it hurts. We’re human.”

She likens America to a tossed salad, noting that “everyone is from somewhere else.”

“It’s our generation that’s going to carry this country forward,” she said.

Of Islamic extremism, Luqman Bhatti said, “These yahoos have corrupted the entire religion. They’re using the religion for their own propaganda.”

An avid student of the Quran and the Bible, Bhatti said his religion has more to do with how a person conducts his or her life, rather than obligatory laws. He frequently wears a T-shirt, inviting people to task questions about Islam.

“Muslims who are willing to talk,” he said, “should not be seen as apologists for extremists ... for anybody to consider that a religion can permit its followers to kill or cause harm to anybody else, is preposterous. The Prophet said that if you shed one drop of innocent blood, you kill all of humanity.”

Last year, Bhatti returned to Pakistan to get married. His wife will join him this summer.

“We grew up together as children, and we kept in touch,” he said with a grin. “We were always friends, but it grew into something more.”

Bhatti said he loves America because of its limitless promise.

“You can literally do anything you aspire to,” he said. “That’s something you’re not going to find anywhere else in the world. We have our problems, but as President Reagan put it, we’re still are ‘a shining city upon a hill.’ ”

He added that Muslims and immigrants are proud to become a part of America’s melting pot.

“We need to do better in terms of outreach,” he said. “To give both sides room to tell their story. The only way to get rid of (mistrust) is to talk it out, and look at what unites us.”

Reach Charita at 330-580-8313, or charita.goshay@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @cgoshayREP
When politicians rail about keeping out Muslim immigrants, they’re talking about people like the Bhattis.

Family members, who immigrated from Pakistan in 1999, have made a good life for themselves in Stark County. It would not be a stretch to say they embody the American dream.

The Bhattis hail from the Punjab province and a village of about 600 residents.

“My father had a convenience store for 15 years,” said middle son Luqman, a graduate of Timken High School in Canton. “My dad, for economic reasons and job opportunity, moved to the U.S. when I was baby, and later sent for us.”

Ali Bhatti found a job in construction and later acquired citizenship. Luqman Bhatti said the rest of the family arrived in the U.S. when he was 14. They landed in Brooklyn, New York, where they lived in an apartment for about a year.

It was culture shock.

“It isn’t a good place for a family,” he said. “The cost and the crime.”

THE JOB CREATORS

He noted that his only previous exposure to America came through television.

“Hollywood really does make you believe in something that’s not there,” Luqman Bhatti said, laughing. “I thought every city was swallowed in skyscrapers, and every city street was so clean, you could eat off the streets.

“I’m looking out the window, and I’m thinking, ‘This is not what I expected.’ It was a shocker. When you’re here and you don’t know the culture and expectations of a new society, it’s pretty hard.”

The family discovered there were other options.

“My dad’s cousin was here in Canton,” he said. “We came to visit, and decided to check it out.”

They relocated to Canton in 2000. His father and uncle ran a gas station in northeast Canton.

According to findings published by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in the Wall Street Journal, immigrants and Latinos accounted for 28.5 percent of all business start-ups in the U.S. in 2014, up from 25.9 percent in 2013.

Immigrants, who now make up 13 percent of the population, become self-employed at twice the rate of native-born Americans, the report found.

Slightly less than 2 percent percent of Stark Countians are immigrants, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census. Statewide, the figure stands at 4 percent.

A new study from the Center for Immigration Studies has determined that the number of undocumented immigrants has declined by 200,000 people every year since 2008. In 2014, it fell to 10.9 million, the lowest figure in 10 years. The U.S. spends $18 billion a year on immigration enforcement.

Bhatti, who became an American citizen in 2001, said he didn’t speak English when he was enrolled in school here, but picked it up from TV and his classmates. Though he was placed in the eighth grade, he was found to be two years ahead of his peers. He graduated from Timken as a member of the National Honor Society.

In 2007, Bhatti’s older brother, Tahir, found a job with a company that safeguards and maintains repossessed properties. Bhatti enrolled in the University of Akron as a pre-med student with dreams of becoming a cardiologist, but he dropped out to help the family launch their own property-management business.

His brother has since moved to Canada.

A NATION OF WHINERS?

“I believe you’re meant to be who you are,” he said. “I had a 3.88 GPA in college, but that’s not where life took me.”

Bhatti said immigrants are quick to see the advantages that life in America has to offer, and it’s why immigrant parents, “push their kids harder and expect more.”

“When people come here from other countries, they’ve seen a harsher side of life,” he said. “They push their kids to achieve more than they had in their lifetimes. If I brought home a report card with anything less than an ‘A’, that wasn’t good enough. This is not to say anything against anybody, but as a society, we have slacked off.

“We’ve become a nation of whiners.”

Bhatti joked that his mom, Amtul, wanted him to wear a suit for his interview, but the reasoning is attached to a serious concern over how Muslims are portrayed.

Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group in the world. An estimated 5 million to 8 million Muslims live in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center. Currently, there are 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. Experts predict that if current demographic trends continue, they will outnumber Christians by the end of the century.

“This whole hysteria seems like a cruel joke,” Luqman Bhatti said. “The world perceives us (Americans) as a highly civilized society, but we’re buying into the notion that it’s OK to blame a whole group of people for what a few have done.

“They’re talking about ‘Sharia’ law. Seriously? Seriously?

“The Constitution doesn’t allow for any other law. The law of the land supersedes Sharia law. Besides, we are not living in an Islamic state.”

Sitting in the driveway of the home they built themselves in 2007, the Bhattis’ SUV bears a graphic that reads: “Love for all, hatred for none.”

They are Ahmadiyya Muslims, a small, lesser-known branch of Islam that originated in 1899. They are distinguished by their belief that the promised messiah, or “the Madhi” prophesied by the Prophet Muhammad, came in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who died in 1908.

With adherents in 200 countries, Ahmadiyya Muslims reject the use of terrorism in any form.

Bhatti, whose family often hosts weekly prayer for local Ahmadiyya Muslims, said fear is preventing people from gaining a true understanding of Islam.

“Most of what they hear is negative,” he said. “Most Muslim people just want to have an average life. I’m an American before I am anything else. I’ve lived more than half my life here.”

Last week, the U.S. Senate rejected a bill calling for a temporary ban on refugees.

Noting that his mother speaks very little English, Bhatti said it’s frustrating when people stare.

“I think we all are a little bit prejudiced in our own way,” he said. “Does that make me a bad person? Not necessarily. But I have had just a couple instances where people give you ‘that look.’ It’s hurtful. It’s painful, particularly when you have your family with you.”

Part of that family is sister Ansa. The youngest of the three Bhatti siblings, she’s a premed student the University of Akron.

The teasing between the two is nonstop.

“I make the money, and she spends it,” Bhatti said with a laugh.

But like her brother, Ansa Bhatti said she, too, gets frustrated.

“As soon as I wear a scarf on my head, I’m an outcast; the whole perspective of me changes,” she said. “I’m just trying to get an education. Me wearing a scarf on my head is one aspect of my religion. There are other aspects of me, as well. I like to go to the movies and have fun. My brother has his business, and I go to school. At the end of the day, we just want to have a meal and be with our family.”

Ansa Bhatti said Muslims are as horrified by violent acts of Islamic extremism as everyone else, particularly since the vast majority of terror victims are Muslim.

“Would our blood be any different?” she asked. “When you see the bloodshed, it hurts. We’re human.”

She likens America to a tossed salad, noting that “everyone is from somewhere else.”

“It’s our generation that’s going to carry this country forward,” she said.

Of Islamic extremism, Luqman Bhatti said, “These yahoos have corrupted the entire religion. They’re using the religion for their own propaganda.”

An avid student of the Quran and the Bible, Bhatti said his religion has more to do with how a person conducts his or her life, rather than obligatory laws. He frequently wears a T-shirt, inviting people to task questions about Islam.

“Muslims who are willing to talk,” he said, “should not be seen as apologists for extremists ... for anybody to consider that a religion can permit its followers to kill or cause harm to anybody else, is preposterous. The Prophet said that if you shed one drop of innocent blood, you kill all of humanity.”

Last year, Bhatti returned to Pakistan to get married. His wife will join him this summer.

“We grew up together as children, and we kept in touch,” he said with a grin. “We were always friends, but it grew into something more.”

Bhatti said he loves America because of its limitless promise.

“You can literally do anything you aspire to,” he said. “That’s something you’re not going to find anywhere else in the world. We have our problems, but as President Reagan put it, we’re still are ‘a shining city upon a hill.’ ”

He added that Muslims and immigrants are proud to become a part of America’s melting pot.

“We need to do better in terms of outreach,” he said. “To give both sides room to tell their story. The only way to get rid of (mistrust) is to talk it out, and look at what unites us.”

Reach Charita at 330-580-8313, or charita.goshay@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @cgoshayREP

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