It is the year 2020, and despite all the progress made by humanity, one ugly viewpoint is still very much alive in societies around the world. That of racism. The idea that one man can be better than another based on the color of his skin. This ugly idea has led to immeasurable violence and misery in the annals of history. As Muslims, we need to understand that there is no place for racism in Islam.
Allah says in a well-known verse (Surah al-Hujurat, 13) of the Quran that He created mankind from a male and female into different communities and nations so that people may know one another. Our Lord also states that the best of humankind are those who are the most righteous. Hence, the color of one’s skin, wealth, lineage, etc. are all meaningless.
We can see the issue of racism and its effects all over the world. Whether it’s through the lens of police brutality in the United States, the demonization of ‘outsiders’ in Europe, or what we see in many Muslim countries where the darker skin is looked down upon, racism is a global problem.
What Is Racism?
Racism is the belief many people hold that a specific race is superior to the other. This is accompanied by the idea that the ‘superior’ race has better morals. Hence, they look ‘other’ in a negative light. They often think of the other as ‘savages’ or ‘uncivilized’ by those who have racist viewpoints.
Racism manifests itself in many different ways. We can see the simplest form of this when a group of persons has a hatred for the ‘other.’ This leads to prejudice. For example, refusing to associate with people of another skin color. Or, indeed, being antagonistic towards the other race. Prejudice and discrimination are prevalent in racist societies.
The Effects of Racism on the World Today
When one thinks about racism nowadays, the first thing that comes to mind is the state of the wealthiest and most powerful country today. The United States. The USA has a long history concerning racism. It dates back to the origins of the country itself.
The Native Americans were the original inhabitants of the land that is now the USA. Yet, the settlers who arrived from Europe marginalized and discriminated against them. They massacred and killed the natives in large numbers and enslaved them as well. They now exist in small numbers in America.
The most contentious topic in America regarding racism is the Atlantic slave trade and African Americans. Mainly due to economic motives, the early settlers of the USA imported ‘slaves’ from Africa in large numbers. They faced immensely harsh treatment and discrimination until the 20th century. Revolutionaries such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. They aimed to end racial discrimination and inequality.
Racism is also unfortunately prevalent in Muslim countries today. That may be in the Gulf countries, where workers from South Asia work in poor living conditions. Or in the subcontinent, where people go to great lengths to attain fair skin. Adverts regarding fairness skin creams are typical despite the ugly message they convey.
We can see xenophobia and racism in many European countries, such as the UK. This is primarily aimed at immigrants or refugees. It is not uncommon to witness racist tirades captured on video nowadays from many parts of the world.
Racism in Islam and its History
Allah documents in the Quran what happened when He created Adam (A.S). Our Lord asked Satan to prostrate to Adam, but the evildoer declined to do so. He thought himself superior to Adam. Satan felt that way because Allah created Adam from clay, whereas He created Satan from fire. Hence, he felt his own origin was superior.
With that, the ugly aspect of racism reared its head. Satan misguided man throughout history, leading to countless events and tragedies. We see a prominent example of this during the time of Prophet Musa (A.S.). Then, the Egyptians and the Pharaoh subjugated the people of Israel. They thought themselves superior. The Bani Israel were their servants and slaves and had a low standing in society.
Bilal ibn Rabah
Bilal (r.a.) was one of the early followers of the Prophet (PBUH). He was a black African and was enslaved. He embraced Islam. As a result, he experienced immense torture at the hands of his master. His owner dragged him in the hot desert. He placed massive rocks upon him. He was beaten up. Yet, he remained faithful to Islam. He proclaimed Ahadun Ahad, meaning Allah is one.
Abu Bakr (r.a.), a man who freed many slaves, also freed Bilal. He paid his ransom, and Bilal joined the small group of Muslims from different economic and social backgrounds. Yet, there was no racism, and they were all the same—followers of Allah and His Prophet (PBUH).
Bilal is notable for having the great honor of being the first muezzin in Islam. His immense voice helped proclaim the call to prayer far and wide. The Prophet (PBUH) reportedly said to his people to obey their ruler, even if the ruler was an Abyssinian slave. (Musnad Ahmad)
Salman (r.a.) was another companion of the Prophet (PBUH). He was the first Persian to accept Islam. Originally, he was a Zoroastrian as his countrymen early on. He traveled in search of knowledge. A monk gave him the tiding of a prophet who would be upon the Abrahamic faith.
Subsequently, Salman went to Arabia, and upon meeting the Prophet (PBUH), he accepted Islam. He was a very knowledgeable man. He was the first person to translate the Quran into another language, i.e., Persian.
Salman is widely renowned for his role in the Battle of Khandaq (Trench). The Arab and Jewish tribes attacked the Muslim state of Madinah with a massive army. It was upon Salman’s suggestion that the Muslims dug trenches at the entry points to the city. As a result, the Muslims averted a great disaster. The disbelievers laid siege to the city for a month but were unable to penetrate its defenses. The Muslims repelled the attack, scoring a tactical victory.
The Prophet’s Statements and the Farewell Sermon
Muhammad (PBUH) made a compelling statement during his last sermon before his death. This quotation attributed to him is at the forefront of any discussion about racism in Islam because of its significance.
In no uncertain terms, the Prophet (PBUH) denounced racism. He said that no Arab is superior to any non-Arab. Similarly, no white man is superior to a black man. The only measure of superiority in Islam is piety. Being close to Allah is the only way someone can be ‘better’ than someone else.
Sunan Abi Dawud and Sunan at-Tirmidhi document a saying of the Prophet (PBUH), where he asked people to stop taking pride in their ancestors. He said that all men are the sons of Adam, and Allah created Adam from clay.
The Prophet (PBUH) also denounced pride in a Hadith collected by Imam Muslim. He said that whoever has pride in his heart, even it’s of a tiny amount. This is because pride means that one rejects the truth because of his ego. As a result, a man thinks he is superior to another and looks down on people.
Muslims Must Implement Islam’s Teachings
It is with a heavy heart that Muslims must accept that racism still exists in many Muslim communities. For example, it is not uncommon for some long-time Muslims to mock and put down new Muslim converts, especially in the West, because of their lack of knowledge of Islam. This is a phenomenon often witnessed on social media. All Muslims must understand the true spirit of Islam and aspire to follow the Prophet (PBUH) and be more like him. That means to denounce all forms of racism, bigotry, and discrimination.
Racism is a very evil aspect of humanity. If we eradicated racism from the world, humanity would be in a far better place. A person’s skin color and origin should never be a point of contention. It does not stand to reason and common sense. It only serves to showcase the ugly side of man.
Muslims can start to implement this in their daily lives by calling out racism whenever they see it. Wrong is wrong and must be denounced, no matter who is engaging in it. Additionally, we should keep the Islamic viewpoint and quotations regarding racism close at hand. Hence, we can educate ignorant people about the topic. This may convince a person to refrain from exhibiting bigotry.
Allah says in Surah an-Nisa, verse 135, that believers should stand firm for justice. They should be witnesses to the truth, even if they have to go against parents or relatives. Being rich or poor does not matter. Justice must always be served.
And indeed, racism is of the things that go entirely against the fundamentals of justice and equality.