Islamic Center of North VirginiaMuslim men worship at a masjid in northern Virginia. (Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

My journey from Pakistan to a new home began in late July when, after much anticipation, I arrived in the United States. This was a tough decision for someone who had lived for 40 years in one place and was now choosing to live in a new culture. Leaving behind everything I knew was difficult.

However, my wife, who is American, had had a similar experience when she left the United States seven years ago to live with me in Pakistan. So, I thought, why can’t I?

While standing in the queue with my Pakistani passport waiting for my turn to be interviewed at the immigration counter, I felt both worried and excited. Would immigration authorities interrogate me because I was coming from Pakistan? I wondered, thinking of some of the stories I’d heard from friends who had faced hard questions and lengthy security procedures.

Yet when it was my turn the officer at the immigration counter greeted me politely and the entry process was completed smoothly. My journey was off to a good start.

Still I was worried; how was I going to be received by Americans as a Muslim Pakistani?

Overall, the experience has been much more positive than I had expected. And I quickly learned that stereotypes go both ways.

In the United States, I am often mistaken for an Indian immigrant. When I correct someone by telling that I am not from India but from Pakistan, the response is often one of dismay: “Oh, the lack of law and order there is terrible!” It makes me sad that this is how Americans see Pakistan.

Yet the day-to-day situation in Pakistan is not as disheartening as it appears from the outside. Perhaps media has played a role in creating this image. But in general, Pakistanis are concerned with improving their political system. Citizens are engaged and the country has a vibrant civil society, human rights groups and people who believe in interfaith dialogue.

In another instance, I once told my English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher about Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. She asked, surprised, “How can a woman be prime minister of an Islamic country?” Through our conversation, she learned about a side of Pakistan she had been unfamiliar with.

During the first part of my visit, some of my own preconceptions about the United States changed as well. I arrived during the first week of the month of Ramadan when Muslims fast wondering what it would be like to be in an environment where others around me would not be fasting.

In fact observing Ramadan in the United States was quite different than observing it in Pakistan. While I missed the communal aspect of fasting together and supporting each other, it was a positive experience to draw strength from my faith as I fasted with my family.

And, marking Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan when practicing Muslims offer a special prayer at their local mosque in my local mosque in Springfield, Virginia, I watched as men, women and children prayed together under one roof. Worshippers came from many different cultural backgrounds, and the Fairfax County Police Department directed traffic near the mosque to help the local Muslim community as they observed their holiday.

This surprised me because some Pakistanis assume that the United States is anti-Muslim. Exposure to American culture, however, has changed my perspective on this, as I have had many experiences of co-existence and pluralism.

For instance, in my ESL class I study with people from all over the world, not only learning English but simultaneously experiencing the beauty of other cultures. I have made new friends who are Hindus, Sikhs and Christians; and in the area where I live there temples, mosques and churches.

No country is perfect. But overall, I have been pleasantly surprised to see real examples of people living out tolerance, harmony and acceptance in my new home — and I hope that both Americans and Pakistanis can grow to better understand each other’s cultures.

Tarik ZiaTarik Zia is a former Pakistani journalist who worked in national newspapers, television, and magazines. He now lives in Virginia.

This article was published by the Common Ground News Service on October 30, 2012. Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Share Your Reflection



Thanks, Tarik, for sharing your story. Welcome.

We are all human beings with the universal flaws and capacity for unexpected kindnesses
that we all share.

Please, can Mr. Tarik Zia please tell me how we can get our dear friend, a lovely young educated woman, who lives in Lahore, Pakistan to be able to LIVE here in the US? What do we do? How can we help her and her mom relocate to the USA? Where do we start?


Thank you all for coments! I did not know a few minutes ago that my article was republished on this web.
Hi Cathy Lee, you can reach me by email:

Trent Gilliss's picture

Tarik, thank you so much for making this article available via Common Ground News Service. It's a great pleasure to post your piece and introduce our readers to other perspectives and other modes of thinking.

Thanks Trent, I would like to write for OnBeing. Let me know how I can send my writtings.

Dear Trent. I would like you to read my another article on Asian parenting:

I do believe in diversity and understanding of other cultures, it is nice to see there are more and more exceptions where they have somehow evolved to a better image as long they are not destroyed by radical extremist. I have been a victim of violence in the flat owned by a Pakistani with old roots where any race women have no right to complain or seek help from the police. He is supporting the Spanish attacker and encouraged him to hurt me. For the landlord, this Spanish man has all the right to bit me up a 63 years old women and living her with brain damage! That is their culture any women are nothing. Who in the right mind would do that? We are in UK not in Pakistan, I'm Italian not Pakistan, I don't have to shut up and take the abuse, I have the right to stand up for my right and defend myself, to seek help, just like anyone other women from any countries including their own. How can he lies to the police and destroy evidence of CTV ? This landlord put the blame on me for been trouble to him involving the police, trying to force me to never call them again if he hit me again. Of course, I refuse to accept to be a victim and I continuously get harassed by the landlord calling me by horrible name, sexual advances remarks really discussing man! He tried to make people believe I'm crazy old women to not listen to. This landlord won't give me a tenancy agreement or receipt for rent paid, I can't find another place without these papers I need to prove I'm a good tenant paying her rent, the landlord gets over £ 15,000 .oo per months cash in hand each 1th of the month in rent for a few stores and flats he rent in a row in busy Manchester, and it's non declared! Pure profit ! He Doesn't pay taxes. Now you can see why I'm trouble to him, I found out also he collect Benefits and I can't get any, I don't qualify, how does he qualify? The city don't want to hear about it, obviously, he is one of their own race! Sorry about that but corruption is everywhere not a racist remark! Why? Should I live on £ 345 per month and have to go to food bank because my SSP running out. I'm on ongoing medical each week in the hospital, I lost 18 months of full-time incomes, I tried to go back few hours against the advice of my doctor, I went too soon to work, my brain couldn't handle the workload I used to be able to do once... I wish no one a post-concussion syndrome, spine injury, neck injury, brain injury, muscle spasm...... Landlord having so many business cash on hand, flats cash on hands, houses cash on hand and a few houses back home with a castle back in Pakistan with our tax money! Because of people like him racism rage keep growing! You pay taxes, I pay taxes why don't they?