Earlier this year we came across the video footage of a now-former police officer kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck as he was pinned to the floor, pleading for his life. Over 100 days have passed since, yet there is something about this incident that symbolised what has been going on for centuries.
Throughout the annals of history, many people have been enslaved, imprisoned, marginalised and discriminated against, merely due to their race or ethnicity. Be it the police brutality against black people or the consequences of colonisation which deeply scarred indigenous communities worldwide and are still prevalent today. In fact, if we were to look at the Arab culture during the pre-Islamic period, it also had strong overtones of racial, colour and language prejudices. Non-Arabs were labelled as Ajam which was a racist term to describe mute people who, in Arab views, could not express themselves well. Although Arabia was partly under the heels of the Romans and partly under the heels of the Persians, the Arabs regarded themselves as a much superior race. The negroes were regarded as chattels and slaves. Yet, history is a witness to how this entire system which was founded upon discriminatory and racist policies was eradicated in a matter of decades, and replaced with one of equality by Holy Prophet Muhammadsa.
There is beauty in the creation of Allah. While there are differences in the way we look, speak and the way we live. These are there so we can cherish them and learn from each other. Uniformity would not have propelled us to attain greater achievements. Instead, if all of us would have been alike in culture, language, appearance, this world would have been very monotonous and unspectacular. There would have been no urge to learn from one another and develop in various facets of life. It is only the diversity in life which makes this world colourful, wonderful and drives people towards higher goals and objectives.
Islam recognises this and Allah, the Almighty says in the Holy Quran:
And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the diversity of your tongues and colours. In that surely are Signs for those who possess knowledge. (30:23)
Through this verse Holy Quran, not only takes record of diversity in the universe but also accentuates the invaluable purpose of heterogeneity in races, colours, languages, cultures, wealth in the human hierarchy and describes these diversities as signs of God for those who contemplate and possess knowledge. At the same time, Islam also notes that none of these distinct traits confers any special privilege on human beings or imposes any liability or disability.
This is stated in another verse where Allah says:
O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female; and We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes for the sake of easy recognition. Verily, the most honourable among you, in the sight of God, is the most righteous among you. Surely, God is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (49:15)
This particular verse strikes at the roots of false and hypothetical ideas of racial arrogance and superiority. It asserts that the worth of a person is not to be judged by race, colour, rank, social or economic status or any such measurement but the standard is what a person can do as a moral and social human being in fulfilling his responsibilities and obligations to God and His creation including all flora and fauna. Thus implying that true badge honour is the purity and righteousness of a person’s life.
Therefore, Islam rejects racism in any shape or form. Islam bases the way of life it seeks to promote on the foundations of a firm faith in the existence of a uniquely divine singular Creator (Tauheed). This Creator revealed Islam as the amalgamating and unifying philosophy of life leading us not only to spiritual enlightenment but also to a unique set of morals and culture. It uniquely cultivates mutual love and affection, human togetherness and tolerance for others who are different from yourself. These all-inclusive and profound lessons of Islam are implied to create a universal human culture based on the unity of Almighty God and the equality of mankind.
The Holy Prophet said:
O People, your Lord is One, you are the progeny of the same father (who was created from dust). Hence it is not permissible for you to make any discrimination between high and low. Neither an Arab has superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab. A white person is not superior to a black person, nor a black is superior to a white. The most honourable among you in the sight of God is the one who is the most righteous.
At another occasion when addressing a large gathering of people, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) vehemently reiterated the same thoughts in the following words (only relevant sentences are quoted):
“You are brothers and sisters. You are all equal. No matter to which nation or tribe you belong and no matter what your status is, you are equal. Just as the fingers of both hands are alike, nobody can claim to have any distinctive right or greatness over another. The command which I give you today is not just for today but it is forever. Always remember to and keep acting upon it until you return to your true Master.”
As a practical example of how these sayings were acted upon, I would like to cite how a negro from Ethiopia by the name of Bilal was chosen by the Holy Prophet(saw) to deliver the call for prayer (Adhan) in his own mosque. This was a high honour which could not be imagined before the Prophet’s pronouncements against racism. There are many examples which demonstrate tolerance and racial equality in Islamic history. Once a Christian delegation was allowed to hold their worship and service in the Prophetsa’s mosque. Another example worth noting comes from Spain. After arriving on the soil of Spain, the Muslims published an edict assuring full liberty to all subjects of all races and backgrounds. All were placed on an equal footing. It is recorded in history that the Jews, for example, profited most from the Muslim rule and administration. Many centuries later when Spain was reconquered by Ferdinand and Isabella, innumerable Jews preferred to go to Islamic lands rather than stay in Christian Spain. Our society yearns for that kind of history to be repeated today.
I would like to end by quoting the Supreme Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad. Addressing a range of dignitaries and guests in Baltimore, the USA in 2018 he said:
“We must not be blinded by self-interest and greed, rather we must open our eyes and look to the common good. It is my sincere hope and prayer that all of us, no matter our religion or beliefs, can work together with a spirit of benevolence and mutual respect and that our shared ambition is to make the world a better place for those who follow us. Our common goal should be to foster peace, harmony and goodwill between the people of all communities and we should constantly aspire to and strive to leave behind a peaceful world for our children in which people are able to live side by side, irrespective of differences of race, religion or belief. May Allah the Almighty enable us to all work together for the betterment of mankind.”
Much like the current pandemic, racism too is present in all corners of the world. But unlike the current pandemic, it doesn’t originate from a mysterious and untreatable virus. Instead, it originates from a delusional view of a group of people thinking they are superior to others. It is in this arrogance that our society forgets that the progress and development of mankind have only occurred due to us working together and staying united. The clouds of animosity that are ominously hovering around us can only be replaced by eternal blue skies of peace and prosperity if we truly pay heed to the exemplary teachings of Islam. May Allah the Almighty enable us to foster an atmosphere of cultural diversity which promotes interracial and inter-religious harmony.
This article has been inspired from a beautifully written article titled
“Cultural Understanding and Racial Harmony” by Dr. Ijaz Ahmad Qamar which was published in
Review of Religions in February 1993