Short Answer: Your intention determines whether it is right for you to stand for the anthem. Patriotism is great, and it’s not the same thing as nationalism, which is detested in Islam. Understand that the people who kneel before the flag during the national anthem are protesting the injustices that continue in the USA. It is up to you if you want to join in this protest for these injustices and with no intention to disrespect veterans or the country in which you enjoy rights and freedoms.
Thank you for your concern about what is proper concerning the national anthem.
I see that your question refers to the USA’s national anthem, so I am answering in that regard, but the answer may be applied to other countries’ anthems as well.
Know that my answer comes from a place of respect, as I am a Muslim American and a US Air Force veteran myself.
Honoring One’s Country Is Noble, But So Is Obeying One’s Conscience
Muslims must honor the laws of the country where they live as long as such laws do not contradict the teachings of Islam.
Some people, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and some others, do not stand for religious reasons (viewing it as a form of idol worship), and some do not stand for political reasons.
In the opinion of Sheikh Faysal Mawlawi, deputy chairman of the European Council for Fatwa and Research:
“Muslims living in non-Muslim countries are to respect the symbols of those countries; such as, the national anthem, national flag, etc. This is part of what citizenship dictates as per modern customs; thus, standing up for the national anthem is not a form of prohibited loyalty… At the same time, he should not obey any rules that involve disobedience to Allah.
When Muslims living in non-Muslim countries stand up to respect their national anthems, their intention is not to approve the un-Islamic rulings prevalent in those countries. They are simply performing a national duty, that is, loving their nation. And this expression of patriotism has nothing to do with worship, as there is neither prayer nor remembrance of God involved in it; thus, it cannot be called a prohibited act.”
It’s All About Intention
Your intention determines whether it is right for you to stand for the anthem.
If you stand and place your hand over your heart (or salute if you are in military uniform), your intention should be that of patriotism, which is love of one’s country and loyalty to its people.
But, if in one’s heart is arrogant pride–that his or her country is better or more favored by God than any other country—that is a form of nationalism, which is wrong.
Also, if someone places love of country above love of God, that is a form of idolatry.
Prophet Muhammad said,
People should give up their pride in nations because this is a coal from the coals of Hell fire. (Sunan Abu Dawud)
Regarding the American National Anthem, In Particular
Part of the controversy over the USA national anthem is that it is a battle song (instead of a song about peace and unity).
“The Star-Spangled Banner” was chosen as the national anthem in 1932 in a close competition with “America the Beautiful”, which, in my opinion, would have been a much better choice.
Insh’Allah, someday we will have a national anthem that respects and unites the American people in a spirit of peace and goodwill.
Allegiance to the flag is troublesome to some people because, in all honesty, the flag represents a country built on oppression, terrorism, genocide, slavery, and racism.
The people who kneel before the flag during the national anthem are protesting the injustices that continue in the USA.
A Muslim American Veteran’s Opinion
It is up to you if you want to join in this protest for these injustices and with no intention of disrespecting veterans or the country.
If you choose to stand, it should be because of what the flag is supposed to represent –liberty and justice for all (as in the pledge).
Then make a commitment to do whatever you can to insure inalienable rights for all citizens, regardless of race, religion, gender, country of origin, or any other aspect of pluralism.
As a Muslim American veteran myself, I stand with my hand over my heart so that kneeling or sitting cannot be used by the haters to criticize Islam, and then, after the anthem, I kneel in a moment of prayer for our nation and for its citizens and in solidarity with those who are protesting injustices.
May Allah guide you in making the decision that is best for you.