Confronting Racism: What is a Muslim’s Obligation?

24 June, 2020
Q Salaam alaykum wa rahmatullah. It seems that people in America and across the world are realizing that we can no longer ignore the issue of racism. I thought this was great as Allah has forbidden racism and I wanted to get involved in my area with some protests, but my brother said I shouldn’t. He says that because Allah has said racism is haraam then as long as we aren’t racist, our obligation is filled. He also said that “Black Lives Matter” means that we care more about black people than other races and that this is wrong. Why aren’t people supporting Muslim causes like Palestine, Syria, etc? What he says doesn’t feel right, but I can’t articulate why. Can you help?

Answer

Short Answer:

  • It is clear that as Muslims we are not supposed to be racist, but see our differences as a blessing from Allah. However, this is not always reflected in reality.
  • As Muslims, we need to start out by acknowledging the very real issue of racism in our own communities, worldwide.
  • Many Muslims want to focus on the fact that we are often discriminated against due to Islamophobia. This is true, of course, but it doesn’t excuse us from our own racist attitudes.

………….

Alaykum salaam, sister. You pose a very good and important question. It is always important for Muslims to be confronting injustice, whether or not the issue is hot in the news or public consciousness. I agree with you that your brother’s thinking is wrong. Insha’Allah I can help explain why.

No Racism in Islam

It is all well and good to proclaim that there is no racism in Islam. No Arab has superiority over a non-Arab and vice-versa; no white person has superiority over a Black person and vice-versa. These oft-repeated phrases come from the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) last sermon. Additionally, in the Quran in verse 22 of Surah Al-Rum, Allah mentions:

Among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your languages and your colors.

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It is clear that as Muslims we are not supposed to be racist, but see our differences as a blessing from Allah. However, this is not always reflected in reality. I, myself, am a white convert. When I became Muslim I was enthusiastically welcomed into the community. There were two other white converts in my area and a very fair-skinned Indigenous woman who converted as well. We were all welcomed.

However, I have heard from Black converts that unless they convert in a largely Black Muslim community, they receive chilly welcomes when they convert, if their conversion is acknowledged at all.

Furthermore, a lot of Muslims assume that Black Muslims are all converts. In fact, many enslaved people in the US were Muslim. There is a rich history of Islam in the Black American community that goes back far before there were significant numbers of Muslim immigrants and converts.

As Muslims, we need to start out by acknowledging the very real issue of racism in our own communities, worldwide. Many Muslims want to focus on the fact that we are often discriminated against due to Islamophobia. This is true, of course, but it doesn’t excuse us from our own racist attitudes.

Enjoin Good and Forbid Evil

Getting more to the point of your question: How many times have we heard this line during a Friday khutbah or a scholar’s lecture, or a class? Enjoin good and forbid evil! This comes from Surah Alee Imran, verse 104 – a command from Allah in the Quran.

So let us follow this line of logic: we know from Allah and from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that racism is evil. We are also commanded by Allah to forbid evil. Therefore, Muslims should not tolerate the evil of racism in any form. But your brother said: being not racist yourself means that we have fulfilled our obligation. I want to break this down into two points.

#1: We are all racist

This is an uncomfortable truth. As a person who was raised to appreciate diversity, this was a tough pill to swallow. However, the oppression of Black people in this country has a 400 year history. For 400 years it has been taught in our culture that Black people are deficient in intelligence, that they are aggressive and dangerous, that they are criminals.

It may be the case that these things are no longer overtly taught, but look at representations of Black people in popular culture.  Black people are portrayed as thugs, drug dealers, gang members. They are characterized as being aggressive. Black people who are considered “respectable” often don’t “talk black,” meaning they don’t use African American Vernacular. They are portrayed as “acting white.”

It is impossible to live in our society and not absorb these things. Even if we are not overtly racist, these stereotypes of black people are embedded into the consciousness of this country and many countries around the world.

#2: Whoever amongst you sees an evil…

It is reported that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:

“Whoever amongst you sees an evil, he must change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then change it with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then with his heart, and that is the weakest form of faith.”

We have already established that racism is evil. Therefore, we must act. It is fine to strive against racism privately, but as mentioned above, this is the weakest form of faith. So yes, sister. Attend protests, donate, provide supplies to protesters, post on social media, confront racism in your family. In doing so, insha’Allah you are enjoining what is good (equity and love between all people) and forbidding what is evil (racism).

Is saying “Black Lives Matter” racist?

No.

There are countless analogies out there explaining why it is not wrong to say “Black lives matter.” I won’t go through them here. They are easily searchable by looking for something like “black lives matter analogy.” In short: no one is saying that all lives don’t matter. What people mean is not “ONLY Black lives matter,” but that “Black lives matter TOO.”

In terms of supporting “Muslim” causes, there are a few points here. First and foremost, saying that BLM is not a Muslim cause is, again, erasing the very rich history of Black Muslims in this country and around the world.

Additionally, in 2016 the organization that is known as Black Lives Matter put out a statement in solidarity with Palestinians, condemning Israeli treatment of them. During the protests in Ferguson several years back, Palestinian resisters shared tips for withstanding tear gas with BLM protesters.

Even within the US, BLM is supportive of all victims of police brutality. In 2017, Daniel Shaver, a white man, was murdered by police. The Black Lives Matter organization spoke out for him, as well.

Insha’Allah, sister, I hope you are able to see more clearly why your brother was incorrect. I hope you decide to attend protests or show your support however possible. Perhaps, insha’Allah,  you will also convince your brother to come along.

And Allah knows best.

I hope this helps.

Salam and please keep in touch.

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About Leah Mallery
Leah is a Muslim convert of almost a decade. She has two kids, an intercultural marriage, and half of a French degree in her back pocket, looking to switch gears to science and medicine. She has lived abroad for over a decade, having just recently become reacquainted with her roots in America. She currently lives in Michigan near her family and – masha’Allah – a sizeable Muslim community.