Islam and Racism

Dr. Bilal A. Bhat & Intizar Ahmad

Islam began as a way of life seeking to eliminate all forms of oppression – however and whenever it manifests. A Muslim stands firm to fight all forms of oppression, immoral behavior, and ignorance. By removing the highest pillar of oppression, that of the worship of idols, false gods and the ego, and only condoning the worship of the one true God, Islam removed all avenues for superiority based on race, gender and other superficial factors. Racial tensions based on skin color, race, and sex dissipate in Islam. The first recorded act of racism was between Shaytan and the Prophet Adam (A.S), when ’Allah said, ‘What prevented you from bowing down as I commanded you?’ and he [Shaytan] said, ‘I am better than him: You created me from fire and him from clay’ (The Noble Qur’an 7:12). Shaytan believed that due to his being made from fire, he was intrinsically better than Adam. Because of this, our scholars say that every act of racism is satanic in origin. Allah also says, ‘O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.’ (The Noble Qur’an, 49:13). The story of the Prophet Musa (A.S) is the most frequently told in the holy Qur’an. His fight for the freedom of his people against the oppressive Pharaoh is in itself a perfect illustration of the situation we find ourselves in today. What makes it more poignant is that the Prophet Musa (A.S) himself was a dark-skinned man. The Qur’an and hadith clearly indicate his complexion: ‘Then he drew out his hand and behold!- it was white for the onlookers to see’. (Surah Ash-Shura 33). In their tafsir of this ayah, Imams Tabari, Qurtubi, Baydawi and others all say that this could only be considered a miracle as Musa (A.S) was dark-skinned. This is confirmed in the following Hadith where the Prophet (Pbuh) describes what Musa (A.S) looked like when he met him on his miraculous Night Journey, ’I passed by Musa bin Imran (A.S), a dark brown man in complexion, tall, well-built as if he was one of the men of the Shanu’a [tribe]’ (Muslim). These social maladies were very common in the pre-Islamic Makkan society, as they are today in many parts of the world. Before the advent of Islam, people worshiped idols made from stone or wood. It was quite common for a person to enslave his fellow brother-in-humanity in laborious schemes to exhaust him financially and physically. The Prophet (pbuh) clarified that no one was superior to another; all were equal before God. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “O people! Indeed your God is one, your father is one, and there is no superiority to an Arab over a non-Arab or to a non-Arab over an Arab. A red skinned person is not superior to a black skinned person, nor is a black skinned person superior to a red skinned person.” (Ahmed) Racism is not allowed in Islam and Quran speaks of human equality. Islam is not a race and it has nothing at all to do with genetics, nor is it an innate characteristic. Islam is an ideology – a set of beliefs about individual behavior and the rules of society. People generally choose their beliefs; they do not choose their race. Therefore Muslims are not a race of people. In fact, there are Muslims of all races. Islam rejects certain individuals or nations being favored because of their wealth, power, or race. God created human beings as equals who are to be distinguished from each other only on the basis of their faith and piety. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: O people! Your God is one and your forefather (Adam) is one. An Arab is not better than a non-Arab and a non-Arab is not better than an Arab, and a red (i.e. white tinged with red) person is not better than a black person and a black person is not better than a red person, except in piety (Mosnad Ahmad, 22978). Islam with its universal concept of brotherhood rejects all artificial and man-made marks of distinction. When listening to the radio, reading newspapers, surfing the Net or watching television, we are confronted daily with the same sad news: Violence, crime, wars and disasters. This constant awareness of fear and tension should make us think what has triggered such violence and what can be done to end it. Any sensitive and compassionate person might question seriously the progress of our modern world. One of the main factors producing the differences between cultures and cultural attainment in the world is history rather than race. If racial superiority is only a myth why then has race in the past played and continued to play a large part in world conflict today? Why in some areas do people argue that others are biologically inferior to them? What is racism? Racism is the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another; that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics. It is the belief that different races should remain segregated and apart from one another. Such racist attitudes are abhorred and condemned in Islam. Allah says: “…We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you.” (Qur’an, 49:13) In reading this verse we understand that this message is not just for Muslims only because God is addressing all of humanity.
Allah says, ‘O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.’ (The Noble Qur’an, 49:13)
As Muslims we are taught that we are one brotherhood, which is part of a larger brotherhood of humanity. Islam with its universal concept of this brotherhood rejects all artificial and man-made marks of distinction. No one can claim any superiority over the other based on race, color, language or wealth and this is emphasized in the last sermon of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) showing high regard of humanity irrespective of color or race: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor does a black have any superiority over a white except by piety and good action.” A man once visited the Prophet’s mosque and saw a group of people including Salman (from Persia), Suhaib, a Greek, and Bilal, an African. The man said: “If the (Madinan) tribes of Aws and Khazraj support Muhammad, they are his people. But what are these people doing here?” The Prophet (peace be upon him) became angry when this was reported to him. He went to the mosque and summoned people to prayer where he addressed them saying: “O people know that the Lord and Sustainer is One. Your ancestor is one, your faith is one. The Arabism of anyone of you is not from your mother or father. It is no more than a tongue (language). Whoever speaks Arabic is an Arab.” Racism is ugly, as Muslims, it is fundamental we believe that discriminatory exclusion based on race is alien to the spirit of our faith and in turn we should raise our children with this belief. We should instill in them that there are no excuses or reasons for racism. It’s just wrong. Racism divides people into ‘us’ and ‘them,’ based one’s color and caste. And it happens when people feel that it’s acceptable to treat others badly as they go about their daily lives. God created us from a man and a woman meaning then that we are all the same. Moreover we are created through the same process, not in a manner in which some are created with a better mechanism than others. We must understand that God made human beings into different groups and people. These differences are not wrong, but rather a sign from God. God says in the Qur’an: “And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors. Verily, in that are indeed signs for those who know.” (Qur’an, 30:22) We notice that not one word equivalent to race is used in this or any other verse of the Qur’an. Islam, however, limits the purpose of these distinctions to differentiation and knowing each other. This is not meant to be a source of beating each other down with an attitude of my group is better than your group or false pride as is the case with tribalism, nationalism, colonialism, and racism. Of the many problems we face today, some are natural disasters, while others unfortunately are of our own making, created by misunderstanding, arising from the conflict of ideologies, where people fight each other for petty ends, losing sight of the basic humanity that binds us all together as a single human family.
True Religion can only serve as a source of peace. It doesn’t cause society’s problems, it cures them. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) was sent to efface the caste system that was in place in society. He was sent to free mankind from the servitude they showed to men and to make them serve God alone.
These however can be corrected. We must remember these differences are meant for human beings to achieve progress attaining happiness through the process. We must not lose sight of this fundamental goal and at no time should we place means above ends; the supremacy of humanity over matter and ideology must always be maintained. There are two things important to keep in mind: Self-examination and self-correction. We should constantly check our attitude toward others, examining ourselves carefully, and we should correct ourselves immediately when we find we are in the wrong. One individual who is higher in piousness, more conscious of his Creator and is staying away from the bad and doing the good is better, no matter what nation, country or caste he is part of. Individual piety is the only thing that makes a person better and greater than the other one. It is fortunate that the only criterion of preference mentioned is not measurable by human beings. We should leave even this criterion to God to decide instead of human beings judging each other. Racism still exists in the West. Even today, as I write this article, violence because of race is taking place. It may be in the US or in Israel. How these actions by supposedly democratic countries promote progress I have no idea. This stands against all that I had been raised on, against any of Islam’s beliefs and against anything I teach my students/children. I have learned that if something is to be funny all present should laugh at it. It’s not funny if we hurt somebody’s feelings. To achieve such goals I learned it is necessary to develop a sense of universal responsibility, a deep concern for all irrespective of creed, color, sex, or nationality. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) teaches: “Whoever has arrogance in his heart equal to an atom’s weight shall not enter Paradise. A man inquired about a person who likes to wear beautiful clothes and fine shoes, he answered: ‘God is beautiful and likes beauty’ and explained pride as rejecting truth because of self-esteem and looking down on other people.” (Muslim, 65) The developed world can send a man to the moon but cannot stop man from hating and fighting his fellow man. Ever since the days of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Islam has provided a vivid example of how racism can be ended. The annual pilgrimage (Hajj) to Makkah shows the real Islamic brotherhood of all races and nations, when about two million Muslims from all over the world come to Makkah to perform the pilgrimage. Islam is a religion of justice. God has said: Truly God commands you to give back trusts to those to whom they are due, and when you judge between people, to judge with justice…. (Quran, 4:58) And He has said: …And act justly. Truly, God loves those who are just. (Quran, 49:9) We should even be just with those who we hate, as God has said: …And let not the hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety…. (Quran, 5:8) The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: People, beware of injustice, for injustice shall be darkness on the Day of Judgment. (Mosnad Ahmad, 5798, and Saheeh Al-Bukhari, 2447). And those who have not gotten their rights (i.e. what they have a just claim to) in this life will receive them on the Day of Judgment, as the Prophet (PBUH) said: {On the Day of Judgment, rights will be given to those to whom they are due (and wrongs will be redressed)… (Saheeh Muslim, 2582) We learn that the idea of universal responsibility is the simple fact that, in general terms, all others’ desires are the same as mine. Every being wants happiness and does not want suffering. If we, as intelligent human beings, do not accept this fact, there will be more and more suffering on this planet. If we adopt the racists’ self-centered approach to life and constantly try to abuse others for our own self-interest, we may gain temporary benefits, but in the long run we will not succeed in achieving even personal happiness, and world peace will be completely out of the question. Religion and scripture have long been blamed for many of society’s ills. We heard religion causes bloodshed, war etc but it’s not religion but the misinterpretation of religion that contributes to the social evils we see today. True Religion can only serve as a source of peace. It doesn’t cause society’s problems, it cures them. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) was sent to efface the caste system that was in place in society. He was sent to free mankind from the servitude they showed to men and to make them serve God alone. Ultimately, on the Day of Judgement our skin tone and gender are insignificant as the Messenger of Allah (Pbuh) said, ‘Verily Allah does not look to your outward forms and your wealth but He looks at your hearts and your deeds’. (Muslim) May Allah guide us all towards true path…Ameen!
(The authors regularly write on “Islamic topics” exclusively for “Kashmir Horizon”. Views are their own)
bhat_bilal@rediffmail.com

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