When we are listening to the radio, or reading the newspaper, we are confronted daily with the same sad news: violence, crime, wars, and disasters.
This constant awareness of fear and tension should make any sensitive and compassionate person question seriously the progress of our modern world. This makes us think what has triggered such violence and what can be done to end it.
One of the main factors producing the differences between cultures and cultural attainment in the world is history rather than race.
If racial superiority is only a myth why then has race in the past played and continued to play a large part in world conflict today?
Why in some areas do people argue that others are biologically inferior to them?
Racism is the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another; that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics.
It is the belief that different races should remain segregated and apart from one another.
Such racist attitudes are abhorred and condemned in Islam.
The Quran reads:
O humanity! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may ˹get to˺ know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous among you. Allah is truly All-Knowing, All-Aware. (49:13)
In reading this verse we understand that this message is not just for Muslims only; God is addressing all of humanity. As Muslims we are taught that we are one brotherhood, which is part of a larger brotherhood of humanity.
No Racism in Islam
Islam with its universal concept of this brotherhood rejects all artificial and man-made marks of distinction. No one can claim any superiority over the other based on race, color, language or wealth. This is emphasized in the last sermon of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him); it shows a high regard of humanity irrespective of color or race:
All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor does a black have any superiority over a white except by piety and good action.
One story relays that a man once visited the Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Madinah; then he saw a group of people sitting and discussing their faith together. Among them were Salman (who came from Persia), Suhaib who grew up in the Eastern Roman empire and was regarded as a Greek, and Bilal who was an African. The man then said:
“If the (Madinan) tribes of Aws and Khazraj support Muhammad, they are his people (that is, Arabs like him). But what are these people doing here?”
The Prophet became very angry when this was reported to him. He went to the mosque and summoned people to prayer where he addressed them saying:
O people know that the Lord and Sustainer is One. Your ancestor is one, your faith is one. The Arabism of anyone of you is not from your mother or father. It is no more than a tongue (language). Whoever speaks Arabic is an Arab.
Racism is Ugly
As Muslims, it is fundamental we believe that discriminatory exclusion based on race is alien to the spirit of our faith; in turn we should raise our children with this belief. We should instill in them that there are no excuses or reasons for racism. It’s just wrong.
Racism is ugly. It divides people into us and them, based on where we come from or the color of our skin. And it happens when people feel that it’s acceptable to treat others badly as they go about their daily lives.
God created us from one man and one woman meaning then that we are all the same.
We must understand that God is the One who made human beings into different groups and people. These differences are not wrong, but rather a sign from God. God says in the Quran:
And one of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your languages and colours. Surely in this are signs for those of ˹sound˺ knowledge. (30:22)
We notice that not one word equivalent to race is used in this or any other verse of the Quran.
We Are Equal
Islam teaches that the only source of preference or greatness among human beings is not on a national or group level, but it is at the individual level.
In this regard there are two things important to keep in mind: self-examination and self-correction. We should constantly check our attitude toward others; we should examine ourselves carefully, and we should correct ourselves immediately when we find we are in the wrong.
One individual who is higher in piousness, more conscious of his Creator and is staying away from the bad and doing the good is better, no matter what nation, country or caste he is part of. Individual piety is the only thing that makes a person better and greater than the other one.
It is fortunate that the only criterion of preference mentioned is not measurable by human beings. We should leave even this criterion to God to decide instead of human beings judging each other.
Racism in the West
Racism is never okay but it still happens every day. Raised as a Muslim in a non-Muslim country of different ethnicity I must admit I was rather lucky and blended in as well as can be expected regarding the circumstances.
Racism happens in lots of different ways I witnessed it when people made jokes or negative comments about a particular ethnic group; they called others racist names and verbally abused them, hassled or intimidated them because of their race.
This stands against all that I had been raised on, against any of Islam’s beliefs and against anything I teach my children.
I’ve learnt that if something is to be funny all present should laugh at it. It’s not funny if we hurt somebody’s feelings.
I remember reading a quote by the comedian Charlie Chaplin “We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.”
A Lesson to Learn
To achieve such goals I learnt it is necessary to develop a sense of universal responsibility, a deep concern for all irrespective of creed, color, sex, or nationality.
The Prophet Muhammad teaches:
Whoever has pride in his heart equal to the weight of an atom shall not enter Paradise. A man inquired about a person who likes to wear beautiful clothes and fine shoes, and he answered: God is beautiful and likes beauty. Then he explained pride means rejecting the truth because of self-esteem and looking down on other people. (Muslim)
We learn that the idea of universal responsibility is the simple fact that all others’ desires are the same as mine. Every being wants happiness and does not want suffering.
If we, as intelligent human beings, do not accept this fact, there will be more and more suffering on this planet. If we adopt the racists’ self-centered approach to life and constantly try to abuse others for our own self-interest, we may gain temporary benefits; but in the long run we will not succeed in achieving even personal happiness, and world peace will be completely out of the question.
We must realize that to be born a human being is a rare event in itself; and it is wise to use this opportunity as effectively and skillfully as possible.
We must have the proper perspective that the happiness or glory of one person or group is not sought at the expense of others.
This in itself is the very essence of Islam and its teachings.
(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)