Growing up as a Muslim in Pakistan, Ali Master lived a seemingly luxurious life as his family had a maid, chauffeur, gardener and a cook.
But when his parents sent him to pursue higher education in Texas in 1986, he left that life of luxury behind. And within a month, he found himself sweeping floors at McDonald’s.
While that might seem like a demotion in the eyes of many, for Master, it was the first time in his life that he was living in a society where he could think for himself, try new things, consider different worldviews and experience freedoms he couldn’t find back home.
“I have four kids ranging from 16 to 24. Even though they've grown up in our home and they've known my story, even they forget and they take things for granted,” Master told The Christian Post in an interview.
In his recently released memoir, Beyond the Golden Door: Seeing the American Dream Through an Immigrant’s Eyes, he aims to show readers how special American freedoms are at a time when many are fixated on the political division that exists in the country.
“I feel there's so much divisiveness that's just evolved over the last few years. It just feels like it's accelerating,” he said. “So I felt like I have a very positive message in the book about how this nation still has much to offer to those that want to pursue the American dream and contribute to the nation and its values.”
Although Master lived what he perceived to be a lavish lifestyle in Pakistan, he said that much of the luxuries his family had were paid for by the company that his father worked for: an affiliate of General Electric.
What he didn’t realize at the time was that his father traded his pension to pay one year’s worth of tuition for Master to attend a university in the United States.
Because of that, his father told him before he left that the family had little money and he would be on his own as he set off to attend the University of Texas at Arlington.
'Freedom to fail'
Although the U.S. is known for being the “land of the free,” Master drives the point home in the book that being free also comes with the “freedom to fail.”
Quickly into his time in the U.S., he admits that he ran into the “wrong crowd.”
“At that point, I would consider myself a nominal to medium-strong [Shia] Muslim,” he said. “But I fell into the wrong crowd and things just started to spiral out of control pretty fast for me in America.”
“I thought everybody in America was a Christian when I came here. My roommate would go to church sometimes and then he would do drugs,” he added. “I kind of got exposed to some of the drinking and partying lifestyle. And I ran into some relationships that didn't really value going to school. And all they wanted to do was work and then party and spend all the money at bars and stuff.”
But as an international student, Master felt pressure from his parents to do well in school and said he was experiencing a “pull” from both sides. But ultimately, he said, the “darker side” won and it was hard for him to live up to his parents' expectations.
Master said he hit “rock bottom” within the first year-and-a-half of living in the U.S. as he experienced “relationship failure, academic failure and economic failure.”
Rock bottom, Master detailed, was ending up in a hospital with a slashed wrist because he couldn’t handle the hardships in his life. At this point, his life started to “turn.”
After “unshackling” himself from his first American girlfriend, Master found another job at another McDonald’s where he met his future wife, Judy.
“She was an evangelical Christian following her faith,” he said. “And I started to notice how different this individual was in trying to really live out our faith. That was my first exposure to starting to meet someone who’s walk and talk were actually matching. And so I got to know her and her family and she is the one that started to truly share with me who Jesus was.”
He found himself going with Judy to nondenominational Bible churches in Texas as they began dating.