I am a refugee.
On Oct. 23,1983, I held hope, in the form of a plane ticket, in my hand. This paper was what was going to help me flee Beirut and get to the United States.
That same morning, a yellow Mercedes truck entered the parking lot of Beirut International Airport, drove into the U.S. Marine barracks adjacent to the airport, and exploded, killing 241 military personnel.
My hopes of leaving an already war-torn country violently imploded.
I did eventually make it to America, but I can empathize with those in Afghanistan feeling trapped by borders of violence.
I know what it’s like to feel trapped in a house where all four walls are on fire. And for those who are making their way into the U.S. and neighboring countries, I know the anxiety, hope, fear and longing that comes with that, too.
Watching images on TV of people fleeing brings about those raw feelings for me, as well.
When I finally left Lebanon, I was a 17-year-old boy, alone and inexperienced in overseas travel. I was excited to start a new life in America, but I was also full of anxiety – not knowing if I would ever be able to see my friends and family again.
Would they survive whatever future violence I was leaving behind? Would my mother be able to meet my future children?
Would I be accepted in the culture? Would I fit? If I did fit in, would I lose my identity in assimilation?
Although the U.S. is seen around the world as a land of plenty and opportunity, no one wants to leave home. Not truly. And not forever.
I remember vividly my mother sending me off, saying she hoped our family name would live on elsewhere.
I still remember my heart tearing as we released each other from that goodbye embrace. She told me a mother’s heart would rather see her kids leave for a better future than stay and give her comfort.
No one wants to leave home. But when home becomes a living hell, you dream of a better life.
That is what we must remember about the Afghan refugees and others we see coming into our country. It isn’t a golden ticket, but a bad hand dealt that many are trying to make the most of.
It is wonderful to have the opportunity to start over and live a life of freedom and comfort, but what many really want is to be able to have that at home.
When I landed in Texas, the scene was very different than it is today. It was a struggle to find a mosque; there weren’t any Islamic schools or organizations to help with acculturation.
Today, there are many more ways Muslim refugees can engage with other Muslims, and we even now have members of the faith engaged in politics and leadership.
It is a different world today and much easier to practice and be openly Muslim. But the desire to return home can never be quenched.
No matter how bad the situation on the ground is in Lebanon, I still look for any excuse to visit home every chance I get. I swear, I become a child again every time I go back.
Home is home, no matter how bad it has treated you. No matter how much it oppressed you and left you wanting more.
Although we leave home, home lives within us. That is the burden every immigrant and refugee must carry.
Senior Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, and chair of Islamic Studies at Wimberly School of Religion at Oklahoma City University. He is the author of Cloud Miles: A Remarkable Journey of Mercy, Peace and Purpose, and appeared in the short documentary “Mercy” (2018) and the feature-length documentary, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims” (2010).