Is There Racism in Islaam?
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This annual pilgrimage, or 'Hajj' as it is called in the Arabic language, is one of the five pillars, one of the five fundamental religious duties to be performed by Muslims. Without going further into the details of the conditions to be fulfilled in order to be able to proceed on this pilgrimage, or of the rites and rituals to be observed in its course, let me describe in a few words the most striking and unforgettable sight that will be present itself to your eye upon reaching the sacred territory:
You will see a multitude of men, women and also children, close perhaps to two million, from every corner of the world, black and brown of complexion, Yellow and white, Arabs and Iranians, Turks and Malays, Chinese and Africans, black and white Americans, blond and blue-eyed Europeans- in short to quote one of our great Germanic Poets, Frederick Schiller :
"Who knows the nations? Who knows the names of all those who came here together?"
And there is still more that fills us with wonder: Whether black or brown, yellow or white, rich or poor, young or old, every male that our eye beholds is dressed alike, wearing two white seamless sheets of simple material, thus completely eliminating all marks and signs of distinction of dress between the African and American, the Asian, Australian and European, the mighty and wealthy, and the poor and lowly. Here they have come, brother unto brother, sister unto sister, bearing witness to the brotherhood of mankind, to the equality of all human beings before their creator, for it is to worship Him and to extol His glory that has brought them here. They have heard and heeded His call, and their reply uttered, nay cried out by all and sundry, echoing and re-echoing from the surrounding mountains is:
"Labbaik, Allahumma Labbaik" - "Here i am, O Allah, here i am!
There is none who is the partner, all praise and blessing belong to thee alone, for thou art the sovereign, and thou hast no partner."
The pilgrimage to Mecca, the huge assembly of believers from all five continents, the gathering together of the multitude of worshippers of all races on the plain of Arafat is perhaps the most spectacular expression, symbol and proof of unity and brotherhood of man as enunciated and upheld by the religion of Islam, and it is equally a symbol and proof of the equality of man before Allah, the Supreme Being, as taught by this religion. The concept and idea of the oneness of humanity is Islaam's unique contribution to human civilization, and it came as a natural sequel to its cardinal doctrine, the doctrine of "TAWHID" or the unity of God. The doctrine which runs through all teachings of the Qur'aan like a red thread, has found its most concise and terse expression in the 112th chapter, called "AL-IKHLAS," or purity of Faith:
"Say He is God, the One and Only; God the Eternal, Absolute; He begotten not, nor is He begotten; And there is None like unto Him." (Qur'aan : 1-4) (Please do read these verses and the verses following in conjunction with their commentary by A. Yusuf Ali.)
He, Allah, the One and Only, is the author of all existence; He is our creator, to Him we belong and to Him is our return. And He is more than mere author and creator. He is also the "RABB" of his creation and His creatures: and "RABB" according to the great Scholar, Imaam Raaghib, in Arabic signifies:
'The Cherisher, Sustainer and Fosterer of a thing in such a manner as to make it attain one condition after another until it reaches its goal of completion and perfection."
Thus Allah being the "Rabbul-'Aalamin," the "Rabb of the worlds," as He is called in the opening chapter (Surah Al-Faatihah), of the Qur'aan and of all of us, whom He alone created. He deals with all of us alike, no matter to which race, nation, tribe or parentage we may belong, as the Qur'aan further elucidates in numerous verses and words, such as: "And mankind is naught but a single nation." (Qur'aan : 213)
We are all the children of Adam, and Adam was made out of dust. Here dawned the idea after much time in human history that all men have a common origin and that because of their common origin, because we belong to Allaah, all and sundry, to whom is our ultimate return, the whole of humanity is but one family, one nation and should, ideally, form one fraternity - the universal brotherhood of man. The differences of color and languages, of build and of features are not regarded as differences of quality, or as marks or degrees of excellence, but as an expression of the diversity in nature. The Qur'aan says:
"Among his signs is this, that he created you from dust: and then, behold, ye are men scattered (far and wide)"
"And among his signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations and diversity of your tongues and of your color; verily in that are signs for those who know." (Qur'an : 22)
Yousuf Ali, commenting on this verse:
"All mankind were created of a single pair of parents; yet they had spread to different climates and developed different languages and different shades of complexions. And yet, their basic unity remains unaltered. They feel in the same way, and are equally under god's care".
Whatever a country in which a people lives, whatever the language they speak, whatever the color of their skin, they are recognized as one family, living under one roof- the canopy of heaven scattered, but of common origin. The Qur'aan says: "O Mankind! Reverence your Gurdian Lord, who created you from a single person, created of like nature, his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and woman." (Qur'aan :1)
UNITY OF MANKIND
There is one verse in the Qur'aan, however, which not only re-states the common origin of man, explains the division of humanity into nations, or race and tribes, tells us that the object and purpose of this division was also the ultimate unification of humanity, but goes a step further: it points out to us the one and only criterion, the only standard by which man is judged by Allaah, and thus by which we should also judge our fellow-man. As you will presently see, this criterion is not color, nor race, not social standing or caste, not even skill and the degree of his intelligence. It is something which to achieve lies within reach of every human being, black or brown, white or yellow, rich or poor, if only he made an effort to cultivate it within himself. You'll find in the Qur'aan:
"O Mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most rightious of you and God has full knowledge and is well aquainted (with all things)." (Qur'aan :13)
"The principle of the brotherhood of man laid down here", observed an author of an english translation of the Qur'aan, "is based on the broadest foundation. The address here is not the believers but to men in general, who are told that they are all, as it were, members of one family, and their divisions into nations, races, tribes and families should not lead to estrangement from, but to a better knowledge of each other. Superiority of one over another in this vast brotherhood does not depend on race, nationality, wealth or rank but on righteousness, on the careful observance of duty towards god and fellow-man, on moral greatness".
To the above it is important to add: the strength of one's "Imaan" (faith) in the One and Only God because it is through faith and submission unto the Will of God by which we can really attain to moral greatness.
This verse of the Qur'aan is Islaam's answer to racism, an answer which as far as the Muslim community is concerned, did not remain a pious exhortation but sounded the death knell of racial discrimination in the world of Islaam as borne out not only by the example set by the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), but also subsequent events in the history of all Muslim Nations and by the general attitude of the Muslims until the present day. I am inclined by personal experiences which were gathered during travels in almost all Muslim Countries for the past 25 years to insist that because of these teachings of Islaam, and their translation into practice by the Prophet (peace be upon him), a complete change was brought into the minds and hearts of all who embraced Islaam.
A BEAUTIFUL PATTERN OF CONDUCT
There are instances galore in the life of the Prophet Muhammed, upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah, which show us that, as is the case with regard to all injunctions of the Qur'aan, he was the perfect exemplar and the beautiful pattern of conduct. He showed the application and actualization of the principle of the brotherhood of man in his own dealings with his followers as well as in his personal relations with adherents of other faiths. But we can only appreciate fully how formidable a task it was to establish this principle among his followers if we look at the social conditions which prevailed in Arabia before the advent of the Prophet (peace be upon him). In order to illustrate this point, i'll quote an extract from a book by a non-Muslim author, namely from "The Social Structure of Islaam" by Reuben Levy:
"The population of Arabia, outside of a few settled communities embedded in it, has throughout historical times been so constituted as to form a number of groups or tribes, very loosely held together either by loyalty to a particular leader or by the assumption of descent from a common ancestor, whether real or legendary. Within each of such groups or tribes, the independence of individual units - the tents or families- has always been taken as a matter of course, and the head of each unit has been regarded as being in status the equal of every other. In the heads of the families lies the power to elect the "Shaykh" or Tribal Chief, of whom in theory, no special qualification is required. In actual practice, however, there is normally a strong prejudice in favor of choosing the "Shaykh" from amongst the number of particular families. At the time of the rise of Muhammed, such families held a position of great influence within the community, so that in any claim to authority the factor of birth was considered of a paramount importance. Noble ancestry was the supreme test of nobility, and no person whose genealogy was not entirely free of hereditary taint, for example, ancestors of servile or negro origin could be regarded as conforming to the requisite standard. Such person were relegated to the humbler ranks of society and were thus compelled to undertake careers that inevitably marked them as inferior beings ... In the same way that the old nobility resisted the assumption of equality by other Arabs, so the inhabitants of Arabia as a whole refused to consider foreigners as being their peers."
The Qur'aan states in response:
"And hold fast all together by the rope which God (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves. And remember with gratitude God's favour on you; for ye were enemies, and he joined your hearts in love, so that by his grace ye became brethren. And ye were on the brink of the pit of fire, and he saved you from it. Thus doth God make his signs clear to you that ye may be guided." (Qur'aan 3:103)
Among the measures introduced by the Prophet of Islaam to level the differences of rank, and of race, among his steadily growing community was Prayer (Salaah) in particular. Five times a day the Muslims meet together for Salaah. Among the first Muslims who partook in this great union, who were members of the noblest Arab families, as well as a good number of slaves. At Salaah they all stood shoulder to shoulder before the Almighty and when, in the further course of prayer, they prostrated before their Lord, it might well have been that the head of a noble Arab praying in a row behind a slave rested at the latter's feet. In prayer and in the company of the Prophet (peace be upon him) no differences of status was recognized between the two.
UNITY IN PRAYER
From standing side by side in the ranks of prayer, the next step was a mere corollary; they mingled freely on terms of perfect equality on all other occasions. Service to God was thus the door through which the fraternization of humanity was effected... The slaves and the noble arab were made to meet together on terms of equality in prayer and in religious gatherings. It was thus impressed on their mindsthat they were all equal before God, and life once molded on these lines led to the natural consequence that the slaves and the arab nobility enjoyed equal status in society. In the first Muslim community a slave, Bilaal, was chosen by the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself to deliver the "Adhaan", the Call to Prayer, while the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself was the "Imaam" or leader of congregation.
In his famous oration, which he delivered on the occasion of his "Farewell Pilgrimage", the last pilgrimage before he closed his eyes forever, the Prophet (peace be upon him) re-affirmed and re-stated the principle of equality and brotherhood of man in Islaam, thus bequeathing it as a sacred legacy to generation after generation of Muslims after him until the present day. Let me quote from the oration:
"Ye people! Listen to my words, for i know not whether another year will be vouch safed to me after this year to find myself amongst you at this place."
"Your lives and property are sacred and inviolable amongst one another until ye appear before the Lord... And remember, ye shall have to appear before your Lord who shall demand from you an account of all your actions... Ye people, ye have rights over your wives, and your wives have rights over you. Treat them with kindness and love... Keep always faithfull to the trust reposed in you."
"Ye people listen to my words and understand them. Know ye that all Muslims are brothers unto one another. Ye are one brotherhood."
"All men are equal in Islaam. The Arab has no superiority over the Non-Arab ,nor does the Non-Arab have superiority over the Arab, save in the fear of God."
The Prophet's bequest was heeded and the example set by him was followed by subsequent generations of Muslims throughout the ages and history. It is impossible for me, within the limits of the time allocated to me for this talk, to render a detailed, much less a comprehensive account, of all such facts and incidents which afford proof of my assertion. I can only quote some of them, and i maybe permitted to do so at random:
One of the acid tests of unrestrained inter-racial relations are inter-racial marriages. Many a ruler of the Umayyid and Abasside as well as of later dynasties, had Turkish, Greek or even other mothers of various background and color. On the other hand, social rank or high office did not bestow upon the bearer special privileges before the law and certainly did not entitle him to ill-treat a brother Muslim with impunity. The following incident which is reported to have occurred during the reign of Omar, the second Caliph after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is an example of absolute equality of all men in Islaam.
Equality Before Law
Jabbala, king of the Ghassanides, having embraced Islaam, set out on a pilgrimage to Mecca. While performing the circumambulation of the Ka'bah, a humble pilgrim engaged in the same sacred duties, accidentally dropped a piece of his pilgrim's dress over the royal shoulders. Jabbala turned round furiously and struck him a blow. The poor man went to the Caliph and asked for justice. Omar sent for Jabbala and asked him why he had treated a Muslim brother so badly. He answered that the man had insulted him, and had it not been for the sanctity of the place, he would have killed him on the spot. Omar replied that his words added to the gravity of his offense, and that, unless he sought the pardon of the injured man Jabbala would have to submit to the penalty of the law. When Jabbala refused to do as he was bidden out of pride that he, himself, was a king and the other only a common man, Omar replied:
"King or no king, both of you are Muslims and both of you are equal in the eye of law."
Perhaps one of the most instructive examples of the policy of Islaam towards different races was furnished in Spain. Permit me to quote from Syed Amir Ali's fundamental work "The Spirit of Islaam":
"Immediately by their arrival on the soil of spain, the Muslims or Saracens publish an edict assuring to the subject races, without any difference, the most ample liberty. Suevl, Goth, Vandal, Roman and Jew, were all placed on an equal footing. Their woman were invited to intermarry with the conquerors...the fidelity of the arabs in maintaining their promises, the equal-headed justice which they administered to all races and classes - without distinction of any kind - secured them the confidence of the people... The Jews profited most by the change of government."
Many centuries later when Spain was re-conquered by Ferdinand and Isabelle, innumerable Jews left the country for Muslim lands, preferring a life in their home-country under the new rulers of whose racial and religious tolerance they were not convinced.
Religion of Tolerance
And this is another aspect of the principle of the brotherhood of mankind as envisaged and enunciated by Islaam: namely Religious Tolerance. The essence of the attitude of Islaam towards adherents of other faiths is to be found in the character which was granted to the Jews by the Prophet (peace be upon him) after his arrival in Madinah, and in the message which he sent to the Christians of Najran, a town in Southern Arabia, then largely inhabited by Christians after Islaam had fully established itself in the Arab Peninsula.
"In the Name of the Most Merciful and Compassionate God," says this first charter of freedom of conscience, "given by Muhammed, the Prophet to the believers, whether of the Quraysh or of Yathrib (as Madina was then called) - and to all individuals of whatever origin who have made common cause with them: all these shall constitute one nation... The Jews who attach themselves to our common wealth shall be protected from all insults and vexations: they shall have an equal right with our people to our assistance and good offices. The Jews of the various branches-(and here follows the names of the various Jewish tribes of Medinah and the surrounding territories)- and all other domiciled in Yathrib, shall form with the Muslims one composite nation. They shall practice their religion as freely as the Muslims. The clients- meaning the protected, and the allies of the Jews shall enjoy the same security and freedom."
This was a paraphrase of the charter granted by the Prophet (peace be upon him) to the Jews after he had arrived in Yathrib, a town which because of him became known as Medinatun-Nabi (The City of the Prophet), or in short Medinah.
The message sent to the Christians of Najran, almost at the end of the Prophet's mission, runs as follows:
"To the Christians of Najran and the neighbouring territories,the security of God and the pledge of his Prophet are extended for their lives, their religion and their property- to the present as well as the absent, and others besides. There shall be no interference with the practice of their faith or their observances, nor any change in their rights or priviledges. No bishop shall be removed from his bishopric nor any monk from his monastery, nor any priest from his priesthood. And they shall continue to enjoy everything great and small as heretofore. No image or cross shall be destroyed; they shall not oppress or be oppressed; they shall not practice the rights of blood vengeance as in the days of ignorance- (the era before the advent of Islaam). No title shall be levied from them nor shall they be required to furnish provisions for the troops."
"This document," observes Sayed Amir Ali in his book quoted above, "has furnished the guiding principle to all Muslim rulers in their mode of dealing with their Non-Muslim subjects, and if they have departed from it in any instance the cause is to be found in the character of the particular king. If we separate the political necessity which has often spoken and acted in the name of religion, no faith is more tolerant than Islaam to the followers of other creeds. "Reasons of State" may have led a sovereign here and there to display a certain degree of intolerance, or to insist upon a certain uniformity of faith - but the system itself has ever maintained the most complete tolerance. Christians and Jews, as a rule, have never been molested in the exercise of their religion, or forced to change their faith. If they are required to pay a special tax, it is in lieu of military service, and it is but right that those who enjoy the protection of the state should also contribute in some shape to the public burdens. Towards the idolaters there was greater strictness in theory, but in practice the law was equally liberal. If at any time they were treated with harshness, the cause is to be found in the passions of the ruler of the population. The religious element was used only as pretext."
If there have been instances of religious intolerance in the history of the Muslim nations, these instances- and this should be very clearly understood- did not happen because of Islaam but in spite of Islaam. They only show a lack of knowledge of the teachings of Islaam, and a lack of understanding of the spirit and principles of laid down in Islaam. You might like to interpose here that the idea of racial equality and of the brotherhood of mankind is not the exclusive property of Islaam, nay that these ideas have been proclaimed by different individuals and ideologies in different places around our globe and at different times. You might like to quote to me- as i did to you- from various sacred and profane works of the most dissimilar authors, and you will certainly insist that in the West- in Europe and America- this idea has been accepted and adopted as a principle or policy, of organized society, since the 18th century at the latest, when the age of enlightenment had dawned and the French Revolution had sounded the clarion call of: "Liberate, egalite, fraternite!"
Equality in Action
I certainly can not and shall not claim that the idea of racial equality and of human brotherhood is the invention of Islaam and has only been proclaimed by this religion and by none else. But i claim, and insist, that only by Islaam has this idea ever been realized in action over centuries and among the most different and dissimilar nations and races.
In spite of the lofty ideals of enlightenment and of the French Revolution the West did not and has still not solved the racial problem, nor has the West been able until today to establish racial equality properly in its hemisphere. It is barely thirty years ago that racism raised to the position of state philosophy- the most brutal and barbaric racism that can be imagined- the one i referred to at the very beginning of my talk. Racism in the form of "Apartheid" is still allowed to raise its ugly head in South Africa, and racism is certainly not eradicated in the United States, in spite of the abolition of slavery that took place some time ago, and in spite of legislation introduced after the Second World War, aiming at the leveling of differences between the various racial groups and at the doing away with Racial Discrimination. In the Socialist world, Marxism, Leninism or Communism has introduced its own brand and type of racism - namely, what i maybe permitted to call "Ideological Racism" - which is as hateful and abhorrent as Biological Racism.
So, wherever we look we find that neither the ideals of Age of Enlightenment and of the French Revolution, nor the UN Charter of Human Rights, the latest exercise in bringing about racial equality and in abolishing racial discrimination have been able to achieve their goal, while Islaam has most certainly done so. I will now narrate some of my own personal experiences as a Muslim; in the course of the last 25 years or so i have visited almost every Muslim country and i have been posted for longer or shorter periods in about half a dozen of them. Wherever i went i was immediately accepted by the local Muslims as one of theirs, and my religious affiliation proved to have an incomparably stronger and deeper effect on them than my nationality or the color of my skin. As a matter of fact the latter were of absolutely no consequence at all in their attitude towards me. When i married to a young Muslim lady from Pakistan, more than 22 years ago, it did not create the slightest embarrassment to the family of my wife nor to us, the young couple. The marriage was accepted with the same naturalness as any marriage of two Pakistanis, and no one of my muslim relative or friends ever considered or treated our children as half-caste in the ugly meaning of that word, nor were my children ever made to feel any different from full-blooded pakistani, or full-blooded German children. They, who grew up among Muslims never knew of racial differences between men until, yes, in the wake of one of our numerous transfers from one post to another we perforce had to make a brief sojourn in South Africa. There they saw for the first time in their life ugly signs "For Whites Only" and it was there that they were made to realize that in a country where racism reigns, Ahmed can not play football in the street with John, and Leila cannot just drop in at Linda's to admire her new doll. What a shock they got when they saw that their father and their mother, in order to do such a simple transaction as to buy postage stamps, had to enter the Post Office through different doors. Then they stood in front of a beautiful church, and their perturbed minds were set at rest when,- for it was Christmas time - they read the invitation written in bold letters above the door: "All are Welcome," but with much smaller letters, once again, the ugly sign "For Whites Only!" So even here, during christmas, the festival of joy and love, there was no bridge to cross the deep, deep gap between fellow human-beings who have everything else in common- except the color of their skin.
The Success of Islaam
Why, then, has Islaam succeeded where other systems and ideologies seem to have failed? What is the secret of its success, and in what way can the religion of Islaam contribute to the solution of the racial problem under which millions and millions of our fellow human-beings are still reeling? In my humble opinion Islaam has succeeded where other systems and ideologies have failed because of two decisive factors: namely the universality of its teachings and the Divine sanction on which the Islamic concept of the brotherhood of mankind is based. A Muslim believes that Islaam is not only the last of the world's great religions but also an all-inclusive religion which contains within itself all religions which came before it. It is one of its most striking characteristics that is requires its followers to believe that all great religions of the world that preceded it have been revealed by God, and it is a fundamental principle of Islaam that a Muslim must also believe in all Prophets who were raised up before the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). Prophets according to the express teachings of the Qur'aan were sent by Allah to all nations:
"And there is not a nation but a warner has gone among them." (Qur'aan :7)
Although all previous Prophets were sent with a specific missions to their own people specifically, Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) was sent to all nations, as the Qur'aan teaches us:
"O mankind! I am the Apostle that hath come to you in truth from God." (Qur'aan :170)
"We sent thee not but as a mercy for all nations." (Qur'an :107)
"There is no question now," say Yusuf Ali in his commentary to this chosen verse, "of Race or Nation, of a "Chosen People" or "The Seed of Abraham' or 'the Seed of David' or of Hindu Arya-Varta, of Jew or Gentile, Arab or 'Ajam, Turk or Tajik, European or Asiatic, White or Colored; Aryan, Semitic, Mongolian, or African; or American, Australian or Polynesian."
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent to them all- and that distinguishes him from all other Prophets, and that also distinguishes Islaam from all other religions. The message that was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) from on high was a message addressed to all nations on earth, and the principles set forth in that message applied universally to the whole mankind. He was the Last of the Prophets, and Islaam, based on the revelation which the Prophet (peace be upon him) received is the final and perfect expression of the Divine Will. The Qur'aan mentions:
"This day have i perfected your religion for you, completed my favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islaam as your religion" (Qur'aan, :4)
It is a message from the Self-Same God, the Supreme Being, the Ultimate Cause, the One and Only, our Lord and Creator who has also spoken to us through the mouth of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him).
In Islaam and to every single one of its followers the equality of man and the brotherhood of mankind are not the figment of the human brain and mind. They are guiding principles decreed by Allaah. Equality and fraternity, as well as liberty, according to the teachings of Islaam, are religious categories, and only where they are conceived as such can these lofty ideals become reality. There is no road to the unification of humanity, no road to a brotherhood of man which knows no boundaries of color, race, country, language and rank except through Allaah, the Creator and "Rabb" of all that is in the heavens and on and in earth. Without absolute and unreserved faith in Him, and in the truth and universality of his revelation, without the will to serve Him, which is the purpose of our creation, and to follow his commandments and guidance this goal can never be achieved, as history itself proves.
"Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of God, O Men, is he who is the most rightious, the most God-Fearing, of you." (Qur'aan, :13)
This is the yard stick by which in Islaam man is measured, and not by race, caste, or rank. Peace and mutual trust among individuals and nations alike can only be brought about if we base our inter-human relations on the recognition of, and strict adherence to absolute values. Materialism, humanity's ideal in modern times, lacks all prerequisites because its value concepts change from time to time, and from place to place. Islaam is the only force which provides man with the spiritual and oral foundation on which lasting peace and mutual trust and respect among the nations of the world can be built. Islaam is, first and foremost, an international religion, and it is before the grand international ideal of Islaam, the ideal of equality of all races and of the unity of the human kind, an ideal founded on the belief in the oneness of God, that the curse of racism and narrow minded nationalism, which have been and still are responsible for many of the troubles of the ancient and the modern world, can be swept away. The Muslim community, past and present, has not only established true and lasting brotherhood among its members, a brotherhood that encompasses everyone who belongs to it, irrespective of racial or social differences, it has also shown us by its example the road to this goal. The starting point is faith, unquestioning faith in God, the "Rabb" of the world. From there it leads us to submission unto His Will-the stage at which we willingly and cheerfully obey his commandments and actualize the principles laid down by Him for our actions and conduct- until we reach the stage of supererogatory service to God and men. The road leads us, to use Arabic terms, from Imaan (Faith) to Islaam, Submission and ultimatly to Ihsaan. This the road we have to tread if we want to bring about mutual respect and trust among men, the road to the abolition of all racial and social discriminations, the road to the unification of mankind, to the universal brotherhood to which the assembly of Muslims, of all races and from every nook and corner of the world, at Mecca during the day of Hajj (Pilgrimage) bears witness. But this assembly also shows us that our unity lies in God, and God only. May we be inspired by their faith and example; may we follow their road, Aameen!
Source: This was a paper read at the International Islamic Conference in London on Apri l4th by Brother Muhammad Amen Hobohm, who is now a Diplomat in the West German Embassy in Sri Lanka.
- Category: Is There Racism in Islaam?
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From the Quran
"O Mankind, 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" (Quran 49:13).
Explanation: There are several principles, which this verse presents:
- This message is not just for Muslims only because God is addressing all of humanity. While Muslims are one brotherhood, this is part of a larger brotherhood of humanity.
- God is telling us that He has created us. Therefore He knows the best about us.
- He says that He created us from one man and one woman meaning then that we are all the same.
- It also means that all human beings are created through the same process, not in a manner in which some are created with a better mechanism than others.
- God is the One who made human beings into different groups and people.
These differences are not wrong, rather a sign from God "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" [Quran 30:22]).
Note that no word equivalent to race is used in this ayah or any other verse of the Quran.
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.
The only source of preference or greatness among human beings is not on a national or group level, but it is at the individual level.
One individual who is (higher in Taqwa), 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.
However, the only criterion of preference, Taqwa, is not measurable by human beings. Indeed God is the One Who knows and is aware of everything so we should leave even this criterion to God to decide instead of human beings judging each other.
These are the deeply embedded ideals of Islam which still bring people to this way of life even though Muslims are not on the best level of Iman today. This is what changed the heart of a racist Malcolm X when he performed Hajj in Makkah. This is the power that brought Muhammad Ali to Islam. This is what still attracts the Untouchables of India towards Islam. This is the theory which convinced noted historian Professor A.J. Toynbee in 1948 to say that:
"The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue."
Let's ask ourselves if the Muslim Ummah today, in its individual and collective behavior is striving to adopt and promote these Islamic ideals?
From the Sunnah
1. Prophet's response to racist comments:
A man once visited the Prophet's mosque in Madinah. There he saw a group of people sitting and discussing their faith together. Among them were Salman (who came from Persia), Suhayb who grew up in the Eastern Roman empire and was regarded as a Greek, and Bilal who was an African. The man then said:
"If the (Madinan) tribes of Aws and Khazraj support Muhammad, they are his people (that is, Arabs like him). But what are these people doing here?"
The Prophet became very angry when this was reported to him. Straightaway, he went to the mosque and summoned people to a Salat. He then 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." (As quoted in Islam The Natural Way by Abdul Wahid Hamid p. 125)
2. Statement of the universal brotherhood in the last Sermon:
"O people, Remember that your Lord is One. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a black has no superiority over white, nor a white has any superiority over black, except by piety and good action (Taqwa). Indeed the best among you is the one with the best character (Taqwa). Listen to me. Did I convey this to you properly?" People responded, "Yes. O messenger of God." The Prophet then said, "Then each one of you who is there must convey this to everyone not present." (Excerpt from the Prophet's Last Sermon as in Baihiqi)
3. Don't take pride in ancestry:
The Prophet said: "Let people stop boasting about their ancestors. One is only a pious believer or a miserable sinner. All men are sons of Adam, and Adam came from dust." (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi)
4. Looking down upon other people will stop you from entering the Jannah:
The Prophet said: "Whoever has pride in his heart equal to the weight of an atom shall not enter Paradise." A man inquired about a person who likes to wear beautiful clothes and fine shoes, and he answered: "God is beautiful and likes beauty." Then he explained pride means rejecting the truth because of self-esteem and looking down on other people (Muslim).
5. The Prophet condemnation of Arab racial pride:
There are many hadith, which repeatedly strike on the Arab pride of jahiliyyah. Arabs before Islam used to look down upon others specially blacks. The Prophet repeatedly contrasted the believing Africans versus non-believing Arab nobles.
The Prophet said: "You should listen to and obey your ruler even if he was an Ethiopian slave whose head looked like a raisin." (Bukhari)
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Many Muslims who have been blessed to make Hajj often speak of how the journey is a life-changing experience. This is more the case for some than others.
Malcolm X is one Muslim who saw the light of true Islam through his Hajj in April 1964. As a former member and speaker for the Nation of Islam, a black spiritual and nationalist movement, he believed that the white man was the devil and the black man superior.
After leaving the Nation of Islam in March 1964, he made Hajj, which helped change his perspective on whites and racism completely.
Here is an excerpt of a letter El Hajj Malik El Shabazz wrote about his Hajj experience. In it, he explains what it was during this blessed journey that made him so profoundly shift his perspective on race and racism:
"There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white.
You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.
During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug)-while praying to the same God with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of the blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the actions and in the deeds of the ‘white' Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana.
We are truly all the same-brothers.
All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds."