I am 26 and I will be voting for the first time in my life this November.

I was born and raised in Pakistan. My family belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, whom the constitution of Pakistan declares as Non-Muslims and criminalizes any sort of religious practices of the Ahmadi Muslims. According to this law, any Ahmadi Muslim can go to jail for three years just for saying Asalam O Alikum, which is a basic Islamic greeting of peace.

Moreover, I couldn’t sign any government document unless I declared myself a Non-Muslim. My Pakistani passport pointed me out as Ahmadi and as a result of this I couldn’t even go to Mecca to perform Hajj, which is a mandatory pilgrimage for any Muslim who can afford it. I could not practice my right to vote because if I did then I would have to sign a document which declared all my religious beliefs to be false and it was morally impossible for me to sign such a document. I couldn’t even get a basic ID card without signing this unusual document. Society treated me with hate, and persecuting Ahmadis was an acceptable norm. Hundreds of Ahmadi Muslims were killed just because of their faith. Not only private companies but some government organizations also discriminate based on religion and deny employment to any Ahmadi Muslim.

As a result of such hideous laws, Pakistan did not provide me with any freedom of religion, freedom of speech or even expression. As an Ahmadi Muslim we were sitting ducks for all “Muslims” living in Pakistan. Thus, I never voted and never experienced and practiced a right which every citizen of this world deserves.

Last year marked a great day in my life when I had an amazing and blessed opportunity to take the Pledge of Allegiance to the US Flag and became a citizen of this country, like many other Ahmadi Muslims who have been living in USA for nearly a century. The first Muslim missionary of US was also an Ahmadi Muslim who arrived in 1920 and six universities of the United States gave him honorary doctorate degrees. The Ahmadis are like many millions of immigrants who came to this land seeking religious freedom and an opportunity for growth.

This story is very similar to the story of Prophet Muhammad. This is exactly what happened with him. The people of his birthplace, the city of Mecca, persecuted him. They even wrote an edict that forbade Muslims to practice their religion. The people of Pakistan repeated this and amended the constitution forbidding Ahmadi Muslims from practicing their religion. To seek religious freedom Prophet Muhammad and his fellow Muslims migrated to the city of Medina which, similar to United States, granted him freedom from religious persecution.

Prophet Muhammad initiated a pact of loyalty with the diverse inhabitants of that city, and when an army of Mecca attacked Medina, he even bore arms for the new city and served in the military. In the same manner I left Pakistan, gave up my national loyalties and became the loyal citizen of the United States of America. In the same way, I am ready to bear arms for the United States of America, just as Prophet Muhammad did to serve his country. A few years later when the city of Mecca surrendered to Prophet Muhammad, he still chose to live in the Medina which later became the final resting place of Prophet Muhammad. He stayed loyal to that city even after his death.

On coming election day, I will head to a local election office to cast my vote for the first time ever in my life. That day I will be proud because I am now a citizen of a country that not only gave me all my freedoms, but also an opportunity to grow. As a #NewUSCitizen this is how I will celebrate my citizenship, this is how I will celebrate America.