Short Answer: As far as the color of the Prophet’s skin, Ali ibn Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) described him as being “whiteish with a red tinge.” (source) At the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), people with a skin color that we now call white was described as being “yellow” in Arabic. The manner in which Ali ibn Abi Talib described the Prophet’s skin indicates a light brown color. It is true that in the eyes of Allah, our skin color does not indicate our worth. The Prophet (peace be upon him) famously said that an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, and vice-versa; that Allah only cared for a person’s piety.
Salaam alaykum wa rahmatullah, Peace and Blessings of God be with you
Thank you for your thoughtful question.
There are several descriptions of the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) appearance from narration of his companions.
Al Baraa ibn Azib (may Allah be pleased with him) described him as being of medium stature with broad shoulders.
Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) said that his hands were softer than silk, that his hair was neither curly nor straight.
Umm Ma’bad’s Description
Perhaps the most well-known description was given by Umm Ma’bad, a woman who would care for travelers in the desert who passed by her tent.
Umm Ma’bad described him to her husband after having met him while he traveled from Makkah with Abu Bakr as-Sideeq (may Allah be pleased with him) and Abdullah ibn Urayqit.:
“I saw a man who is clearly handsome and with a beautiful face. He is well-built. He is neither blemished by a big belly nor disfigured by an unusually small head. The pupils of his eyes are very dark, the edges of his eyelids are long and the area around the pupils of his eyes is so white. His eyebrows are perfectly close. He has a very dark hair, a rather long neck and a thick beard.
When he kept silent he is always contemplative and when he speaks eminence and splendor show in his words. His words are like sliding stringed pearls. He is a gifted orator whose words are neither too few nor too much. He has the clearest wand and the most audible voice when he speaks. When you look at him from afar, he is the most handsome of all people, and when you move closer to him he is the most pleasant of them.
You will never be tired of looking at him. He is like a branch between two branches.
He is the most handsome of the three and the most important of them. He has Companions who honor him. When he speaks they listen to his words and when he commands they hasten to carry out his order. They serve him and rally around him. He does not frown or nag.” (Hadith in At-Tabarani & Al-Hakim)
Therefore, at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), people with a skin color that we now call white was described as being “yellow” in Arabic.
Hence, the manner in which Ali ibn Abi Talib described the Prophet’s skin indicates a light brown color.
It is interesting and, indeed, somewhat strange that people would claim that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was white, unless they were meaning it in a classical Arabic sense (in which case, do they describe white people as being “yellow”?).
It begs the question: why make such a claim? What is the purpose?
No Superiority By Color
Certainly, it is true that in the eyes of Allah, our skin color does not indicate our worth.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) famously said that an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, and vice-versa; that Allah only cared for a person’s piety.
He, peace be upon him, said in his farewell sermon in Hajj shortly before he passed away:
“Verily there is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab or of a non-Arab over an Arab, or of a red man over a black man, or of a black man over a red man, except in terms of taqwa.” (Hadith in Musnad Ahmad)
Sadly, the Muslim community seems to have largely forgotten this. And it seems to be perpetuating a bizarre form of racism to make the claim that the Prophet (peace be upon him) had white skin, when there is really no evidence of such.
If his skin color had been something out of the ordinary, surely there would have been some account of it.
Is it such a ludicrous idea that a brown-skinned man could be the best of humanity?
I am not aware of anywhere in the Quran that says that the Prophet (peace be upon him) is white.
The burden of such proof, is on those making that claim.
And whoever these individuals may be, I urge them to question their own motives and intentions before diving into our holy book, looking for evidence of our Prophet’s whiteness.
And Allah knows best.
I hope this helps.
Salam and please keep in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archives)
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