Throughout history mankind has always been plagued with problems and arguments based on the principles of social classification. We have always been trying to find a concrete platform on which to base social classification and merit. Many have opted for lineage and some for financial standing to classify people into different brackets. Perhaps the most hurtful and shameless has been the common tendency to classify people on the basis of colour or race with one race being regarded as superior to the other. In essence, the overriding point of the matter is that whatever means of social classification and distinction were derived by man, they lead to nothing but strife, hatred and generations of bitter conflict.
Such tendency towards discrimination was also very prevalent amongst the Arabs in the time of Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam). The blacks were generally regarded as inferior and fit only to be slaves, while social pride and standing based on which tribe or lineage an individual belonged to was something synonymous with the Arabs who very often made such fickle and petty grounds the basis for years of bloodshed and killing.
Islam being the only code of conduct and mode of lifestyle which would enable mankind to exist in perfect harmony and peace has beautifully addressed this burning issue and thus emancipated mankind from the shackles of racial discrimination.
In order to fully understand the Islamic viewpoint on this issue, let us briefly reflect on one or two incidents of the period of Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam). After the conquest of Makkah, Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam) gave Hadhrat Bilal (RA) the singular honour of climbing onto the Kaabah and calling out the Adhaan for the first time. Till Qiyaamat nobody else was ever going to be given the distinction of being allowed to stand on the roof of the Kaabah to call out the Adhaan. The choice of an individual who was black and a former slave for this position of tremendous merit and prestige was like a slap in the face for the disbelievers of Makkah, in whom the fire of racial and class discrimination burned so strongly. It was not surprising that one of them passed the comment, 'I offer thanks to Allah Taãla that my father passed away without having to witness this disgraceful day.' Harith bin Hishaam retorted, 'Could not Muhammad (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam) find anybody else besides this black crow to call out the Adhaan?' Such was the divine rejection of such ignorance that Jibraaeel (AS) was sent to the Prophet (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam) with the following revelation:
'O People! Verily We have created you from a man and woman and we made you into various tribes and creeds for the purpose of mutual recognition (not discrimination and racial pride). Verily the most prestigious and honoured amongst you is he who fears Allah Taãla most. Verily Allah Taãla is all Knowing. All Aware' (Surah 49 Vs. 13)
On that same day, having completed his Tawaaf, Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam) addressed the people saying, 'O People! Allah Taãla has abolished all forms of discrimination based on lineage or creed, etc. There are only two categories and classes of men. A pious and God-fearing individual is honoured in the sight of Allah Taãla while a disobedient and sinful individual is debased and valueless in the sight of Allah Taãla.' Thereafter he recited the abovementioned Aayat clearly illustrating the Islamic concept that the only basis of distinction and honour is the piety of an individual. (Tirmidhi; Baghawi)
So firmly was this concept entrenched practically into the Sahaaba (RA) that once Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam) overheard Abu Dharr (RA) addressing a black Sahaabi with whom he was arguing as 'O son of a black slave'. He was severely rebuked and reprimanded by Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam) who said to him, 'You are a person in whom the remnants of ignorance still remain.' The lives of Sahaaba are replete with incidents enunciating the beautiful principles and guidelines given by Islam on this matter. In essence, all men have originated from Aadam (AS) who was himself made from sand. Hence, how can these frivolous things ever form the basis of social distinction?
This concept is further supported by the Hadith of Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam), wherein it is reported, 'No Arab holds greater esteem over a non-Arab; nor a Black person over a red person; except on the grounds of the one having greater Taqwa than the other.' (Tirmidhi)
The South African Context
Sadly, due to the many years of apartheid in our country, these very same unjust and oppressive ideas have been imbued into the minds of Muslims. The majority of us have ingrained in our hearts the false concept that Blacks are inferior and incompetent - for years they have been our servants and the victims of our extortion and cheap labour. We have been so affected by the propaganda around us that instinctively we have shrunk away from the blacks regarding them as lesser beings and worthy only of being servants. Even our little children have had such ideologies built into their subconscious where even in their innocent games and conversations we can pick up phrases of racial discrimination.
When we have such personalities as our guiding light like Bilaal (RA) who was told by Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam), 'What action of yours has enabled me to hear your footsteps in front of me in Jannat?' (Mishkaat), then how can this ever be our attitude? Those of us who have Black staff or servants, we can begin by giving them decent wages and showing them some regard and due. Above all we should try our utmost to invite them towards Islam and teach them our beautiful Deen. Consider the practical implementation of the supreme equality of Islam exhibited by our beloved Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam) who showed great love and affection for Usaama bin Zayd (RA), a black Sahaabi. Being the son of the Prophet's adopted son, Zayd (RA), Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam) displayed deep affection for Usaama (RA) and due to his merits made him the Ameer (leader) of a great expedition while Usaama was still at the tender age of seventeen.
We have enshrined in Islam the great system of justice and equality and the only means of salvation for mankind. However, unless we practically demonstrate this we can never hope to draw others to Islam. Dáwah is our responsibility and lifeblood. Tragically our being influenced by apartheid policies has resulted in concealing our Islam from this sector of the population who are a majority in our society. The Ambiyaa (AS) have entrenched in their hearts love for all mankind (regardless of colour and creed) and a genuine sense of empathy and concern for their well-being. This inner feeling transmitted itself to others thus drawing them towards Deen.
We also have to make a conscious effort to rid ourselves of these inhibitions towards the black people and develop a genuine concern and love for them in our hearts, regarding them as our equals. Then, more strongly than empty words, we will find them drawn towards the magnetic and irresistible force of Islam. In essence, the only barrier between them and Islam is ourselves. We have to be prepared to go to them, mingle with them and take them to our homes. This can only be achieved when we will develop within ourselves the quality of sacrificing for Deen.