The World He Wished to See – Islam vs. Racism

Within one hundred years of the advent of Islam, the Muslim empire reached as far as Africa, Persia, India, China and Spain…

The civilization of Islam could not have come into being let alone prosper, with tribal and cultural prejudices in place. It was the power of the call the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that allowed for a peaceful coexistence in so many parts of the world under the banner of Islam.

The historian H.A.R. Gibb wrote:

“No other society has such a record of success uniting in an equality of status, of opportunity, and of endeavors so many and so various races of mankind. Islam has still the power to reconcile apparently irreconcilable elements of race and tradition.”

That change however didn’t come overnight… rather it was the culmination of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) lifelong effort to abolish tribalism, racism, and classism at every level.

Not only did he free slaves, but he honored them and took them to the most noble families of his society proposing marriage on their behalf. And in less than two decades, he succeeded in honoring men and women with authority that had spent their whole lives being disgraced by those who held it before them.

This was fourteen hundred years ago in the desert of Arabia. A far different world than the one we live in today, but in many ways more progressive than ours.

And let’s face it. We have a lot to learn from them. Because even though we’ve made much progress over the years, racism still rears its ugly head in today’s world far too often. And it’s our job to ensure that when it does, we stand firmly against it.

Abraham Lincoln said:

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”

The Civil War was fought in this country only a hundred fifty years ago, as slaves scurrying for freedom were even then pushed to the front lines of battle to die. Though behind the political agendas, few people actually cared for them. Brave men and women still managed to stand up and challenge the oppression of man. But breaking the mantle shackles wasn’t easy.

Harriet Tubman said:

“I freed a thousand slaves, but I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

Nelson Mandela said:

“There is no easy walk to freedom.”

Anywhere it requires one not only to be driven to better his own conditions, but to be courageous enough to demand that every man and woman be treated with an equal amount of respect and dignity. And that’s for all humanity as Mandela said:

“Our freedom is not complete until the Palestinians realize theirs.”

Demanding that freedom doesn’t need to come through violence. For “in a gentle way you can shake the world,” Gandhi said. And this past century has no shortage of anti-racist and anti-colonial movements that did just that.

Martin Luther King Junior said that:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

He had a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners would be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. That his four little children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Malcolm X for much of his life thought that universal brotherhood was impossible saying:

“I believe in the Brotherhood of all men, but I don’t believe in wasting Brotherhood on anyone who doesn’t want to practice it with me. Brotherhood is a two-way street.”

But when he went on his pilgrimage to Makkah, he came to the realization that through the universal call of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) all people could be united as one.

America needs to understand Islam because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked, even ate with people who in America would have been considered white… But the white attitude had been removed from their minds by the religion of Islam.”

What Malcolm X experienced was the power of humility. And that doesn’t mean that you think any less of yourself as Malcolm said:

“You can’t hate the roots of the tree without hitting the tree itself.”

So loving your homeland and origin is necessary, but the root of the problem with racism is that one thinks he’s inherently superior to another because of the way he’s created.

As the first test of a truly great leader is his humility. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the greatest leader to ever lived.

For despite his being of the most noble lineage, his rising to become head of state. And the devotion he gained from his followers that no king or ruler had ever experienced, he still chose to live in the humble home, sleep on a straw mat, wear the same clothes, and sit at the same level as his followers to the extent that a foreign emissary wouldn’t be able to tell him apart from his companions.

It didn’t matter if he was amongst former slaves or leaders, his dream was to see a world where none of that mattered.

End Racism

To realize the dream of Prophet Muhammad, we have to question our own prejudices and take concrete steps to end discrimination at every level. It’s easy to read, lecture and speak about racial equality, but it’s far harder to implement it in our daily lives.

Yesterday I was sitting with a longtime friend of mine at the park. As we were watching his kids playing, and somehow it was revealed that his oldest son was actually an orphan from a neighboring country that he had adopted. I told him I had no idea and that I admired how he’d always treated him just as well as his other son.

He responded by saying he was inspired by the Prophet (peace be upon him) who freed Zayd from slavery and treated him so well that when Zayd’s father found him after many years he still wanted to stay with the Prophet (peace be upon him).

“…The lies (Western slander) which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man (Muhammad) are disgraceful to ourselves only… How one man single-handedly, could weld warring tribes and wandering Bedouins into a most powerful and civilized nation in less than two decades… A silent great soul, one of that who cannot but be earnest. He was to kindle the world; the world’s Maker had ordered so.” (Thomas Caryle)

About Omar Suleiman
Imam Omar Suleiman is the President of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and a professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Methodist University. He’s also the resident scholar of the Valley Ranch Islamic Center and Co-Chair of Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square, a multi-faith alliance for peace and justice.