During February, the USA observes Black History Month which serves to not only celebrate the achievements of black people, but to also recognize a more accurate understanding of a past and present that continuously favor oppressive systems.
One of the most prominent legacies of these systems are racial injustices against black people. With Muslims currently making up just over 1.9 billion of the worldwide population, racism inflitrated societies around the world and became intertwined in many Muslim communities. The effects of racism is destructive and continues to divide the Muslim Ummah.
During pre-Islamic times, slavery was rife. When the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) spread the message of Islam, Bilal ibn Rabah (RA) became on of his closest companions. The story is well known amongst Muslims due to how the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) elevated Bilal ibn Rabah (RA) to become his Muazzin as well as his Minister of Treasury, regardless of protests from those who looked down on him. He was of Abyssinian origin which gives us one of the earliest indications of anti-black racism from those who discrimnated against him, despite the revelation of the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) condemning such acts.
It is important to note that there is a clear distinction between Muslim people and Islam. i.e. Muslim people are flawed, while Islam is a perfect religion.
What is Islam’s viewpoint on racism?
Islam, through the Qur’an and the Sunnah strongly condemns all forms of racism. It is worth reflecting on Surah Al-Hujurat which addresses racism and the seriousness of a Muslim who is guilty thereof. The following verse of that Surah is often quoted when it comes to the commands of Allah (SWT) when interacting with people who appear different to you:
O mankind ! We created You from a single (pair) Of a male and a female, And made you into Nations and tribes, that Ye may know each other (Not that ye may despise Each other). Verily The most honoured of you In the sight of God Is (he who is) the most Righteous of you. And God has full knowledge And is well acquainted (With all things).
It is clear that Allah (SWT) created us all different to one another with diverse backgrounds and that we should learn from one another through our connection as human beings.
To further drive the point, in his final sermon, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) delivered the following message:
There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, nor of a non-Arab over an Arab, nor of a white over a black, nor of a black over a white, only in God-consciousness (taqwa).
How Anti-Black racism infiltrated Muslim communities?
Globally, societies have been subjected to colonialism, caste systems, apartheid, etc. which at its core, embedded a belief in white supremacy. The closer you are to whiteness, the more elevated you become in a society. The further you are from whiteness, the harder it is for you to survive as these systems have been created to favor white supremacy at the expense of black people. While the fight for human rights have prevailed in terms of overthrowing many laws associated with these systems, the most destructive legacy is the mindsets of people who believe in these concepts and have passed it down for centuries. One of the ways in which this was done was to infuse racist concepts with tradition in such a way that it became a normal way of life. An example of this is having a sense of entitlement based on your appearance or social status and exclusively associating with people who fits a mould of what you view as a higher social standing.
We live in a world where there is an overlapping between culture, tradition and religion. One of the ways in which people tend to get led astray is when culture and tradition in society becomes more of a priority than Islam. At times, the distinction becomes blurred and society standards is upheld by traditions that go against Islamic principles. An example of this is when traditions expect you to only befriend, or even find a suitable partner with a person of the same ethnicity, has similar features to you, comes from a similar background or someone that is deemed worthy based on material factors. The problem with this is that material factors form the basis of your relationship and supersedes having taqwa, good character and getting to know someone because they share your core values.
As Muslims, our goal in life is to attain the pleasure of Allah (SWT). The best way to do this is to reach a level where Islam becomes your way of life and you do everything for the sake of Allah (SWT). The best way to achieve this is to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). However, one the greatest tests in order to achieve success in the afterlife is to navigate a temporary world with Shaytan trying to lead us astray.
How the legacies of anti-black racism destroys Muslim communities?
With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, it reminded the world that atrocities against black people were still happening. For Muslim people, it confronted the fact that Muslims are not a homogenous group, that anyone from any background can be Muslim and that Islam teaches us that injustices against people have no place in society regardless of whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim.
When the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and all the victims of hate crimes occurred - as Muslims - it should stir up the same response of fighting for their justice as much as it would when people from Arab Islamic nations are attacked due to hate crimes. The Muslim Ummah needs to bind together to become stronger when facing crimes against humanity.
The fact that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) addressed this in his last sermon gives us a strong indication as to why he would specifically address matters of prejudices.
What are the consequences of racism in the Ummah?
Racism causes evil to breed in the Ummah as it leads to:
Division – the mentality of “us versus them” causes the Ummah to weaken and to only help one another that share ties of kinship or lineal decent.
Suspicion – A Muslim who has racism in their hearts will view another person with suspicion based on their appearance. This is strongly reviled as the Qur’an states:
O ye who believe ! Avoid suspicion as much (As possible) : for suspicion In some cases is a sin : And spy not on each other, Nor speak ill of each other Behind their backs. Would any Of you like to eat The flesh of his dead Brother ? Nay, ye would Abhor it … But fear God : For God is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.
Arrogance and hatred – A Muslim who looks down on another person embodies arrogance which leads to hatred of those he/she looks down on. The Qur’an states:
Serve God and join not any partners with Him: and do good to parents kinsfolk orphans those in need neighbors who are near neighbors who are strangers the companion by your side the way-farer (ye meet) and what your right hands possess: for God loveth not the arrogant the vainglorious;
How do we move forward?
The first step is to acknowledge the problems that exist, instead of turning a blind eye to it. With acknowledgement, it will be easier to start with the intention in the heart to do better when it comes to witnessing racist acts that occur in everyday life. Start with a prayer to Allah (SWT) to give you strength and guidance to stand up against injustices.
Through acknowledging that racism is very much a part of our every day lives, education becomes important as that would inform your decisions. During Black History Month, there are many educational sessions. Start participating to learn more in terms of the significance of this month.
As Muslims, the best way to challenge racism is to practice Islam according to the Qur’an and follow the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Islam promotes justice. The start of the process to assist victims of hate crimes achieve justice is by reporting it. Even if nothing comes from it immediately, your statement might help save someone’s life at a later stage. Start engaging with Muslims and non-Muslims who are of a different background to you, get to know them better and listen to the challenges they endure. Start reflecting on verses that deals with social issues and start making it part of your daily life. Aim to improve your level of Taqwa, pray for guidance and make sure that your decisions and actions align in a way that Allah (SWT) will be pleased with.
May Allah (SWT) guide us all on the path that leads to success in this life and in the hereafter.
What do you think are some of the effects racism has had on the Muslim Ummah? What can Muslims do better to deal with racism?
By: Zaghra Savahl
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As humans in this dunya we are inundated by many distractions, misguidance, and falsehoods therefore making life much more confusing and difficult. What are we thinking, saying, observing, and experiencing in our lives? Are we truly living by Islamic ideals? This is where we can choose to actively “Strive For Clarity.”