The Baneful Plague of Racism
By Ml Yusuf Patel, Council of Muslim Theologians, South Africa
All praise is due to Allah, Who has created man from a single soul and made them into nations and tribes with different shades and complexions speaking different languages. May His choicest blessings be upon our Master, and Guide Mohammed, who emancipated man from racial prejudices and discrimination.

The history of man throughout the corridors of time is littered with the rubble of tyranny, oppression, and racial discrimination. Racism is a baneful plague that fosters hatred, arrogance, and vengeance Entire nations were enslaved, vanquished, or oppressed simply because of their poverty, lineage, colour, religion, or nationality. Racism thrives on brute force and sows the seeds of contempt and sedition. Palestine is a classic example of how a chosen nation appropriates human integrity in the name of its god given superiority. Likewise, India divides its own people into four classes and places people of other faiths as the lowest of the low. Africa is plagued by tribal feuds; Germans hunt down Turkish Muslims like wild game, while Mexicans are treated like feral animals by the Yanks. South Africas own history of apartheid with its legacy of oppression and segregation is but an excellent example of how blacks were regarded as sub- humans.

The Rise of Islam:

The Holy Quraan alludes to the very first instant of bigoted rebellion, when the Devil was instructed to prostrate before Adam (as). He refused saying: I am better than him, You created me from fire and created him from clay. The Devil not only refused to prostrate before Adam (as), he also vowed to beguile humanity through the ruse of self-adulation and pride. Ever since, man has been has been engrossed in the pursuit of his egotistical prejudices, in an attempt to sustain his smug sense of superiority.

The rise of Islam took place against an environment of acute racism and xenophobia, wherein sexism, bigotry, and elitism pervaded every segment of society. Islam succeeded in transforming a once brutal, savage, and dogmatic society into a cohesive, strong, and compassionate brotherhood. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) was Allah's final Messenger to humanity; his message was universal with the capacity to unite not only his own people, but also all the peoples of the world.

Common Parenthood:

The Holy Quraan states: O You who believe! Indeed We have created you from a single male and female and We have made you into nations and tribes so that you know each other, Verily the noblest among you in the sight of Allah is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold Allah is all knowing, all aware (49:13).

Man has evolved from a common parenthood as members of one human family, without any inherent superiority of one over the other. Mans evolution into nations and tribes is meant to amplify the peculiarity of individuals though diversity, it is meant to foster individuality and facilitate mutual co-existence. It is not an appendage to determine nobility or superiority of individuals or nations. The only criterion for nobility is one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Hence, race and language are convenient labels of recognition; these distinctions should not become differences that give rise to the superiority or inferiority of man.

Brotherhood of the believers:

The brotherhood of believers constitutes a distinct characteristic within the mosaic of the universal human family. The Holy Quraan states: All believers are but brethren, so make peace between your (contending) brothers; and fear Allah that you may be graced with His mercy(49:10)

Everyone within the Muslim community, regardless of the colour of his skin, the language he speaks, or the place of his birth becomes a brother in faith. He becomes part of a brotherhood that acknowledges mans true relationship with his Creator, a brotherhood that submits to Divine Law, a Law that permits all that is good and beneficial and prohibits all that is immoral, and harmful to man. The Muslim community is welded together by faith in the Sovereignty of the Almighty and their position as His vicegerents on earth. Believers are brothers irrespective of their racial, tribal, or ethnic origins. This sense of brotherhood is most apparent in the annual pilgrimage wherein Muslims from every part of the globe converge, dressed in the same garb and performing the same rituals as brothers in faith. There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colours, from blue-eyed blondes to black skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experience in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non white" (Malcolm X)

The Prophet (saw) has said: O people, Remember that your Lord is One. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; also, a black has no superiority over a white, nor does a white have any superiority over a black, except by virtue of piety (Taqwa). Indeed the best among you is the one with the best character (Taqwa) (Baihaqi) He further said: You are in no way better than (an individual with) a red or black complexion, except if you are able to surpass him in piety. (Miskhat)

Xenophobia:

A man once visited the Prophets mosque in Madina. There he saw a group of people sitting and discussing their faith together. Among them were Salman (who came from Persia), Suhayb 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, (it is understood because they are Arabs like him) they are his people. But what are these (foreign) people doing here?" (Implying an obvious dislike for foreigners) The Prophet became very angry when this was reported to him. He went to the mosque and summoned people to prayer. He then 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 (by virtue of the nobility of) your mother or father. It is no more than a tongue (language) The Prophet further said: Let people stop boasting about their ancestors. One is only a pious believer or a miserable sinner. All men are sons of Adam, and Adam came from dust (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi). Humanity is one unit, the family of Allah. . Its individuals are members of one society bound together by their common origin, which is so comprehensive that it includes all differences within its oneness. The Holy Prophet (saw) has said: Humanity is the family of Allah, the best human is one who is kind to His (Allahs) family. (Mishkat) Extending a helping hand to a foreigner is extending your hand to your own family member.

Blind allegiance to race and nationality:

As humans, we often tend to pledge indiscriminate allegiance to people of our own kind. We do so at the cost of justice and impartiality. The Holy Prophet (saw) was once asked whether loving your own kind is tantamount to bigotry. He replied: No, except if a man helps his own people in doing wrong. (Ahmad) To love your own kind is but natural, but when that love drives you to support your own kind to subvert the truth and act unjustly it is tantamount to bigotry. The Prophet (saw) referred to this kind of blind patriotism in the following words: He is not of us who advocates the cause of tribal partisanship, (uncritical support for a person or group), he is not of us who fights in the cause of tribal partisanship, and he is not of us who dies in the cause of tribal partisanship. (Abu Dawud) Muslims are particularly commanded to advocate the truth even if it were at the cost of their own kith and kin. The Holy Quraan states: "O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it is against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a better Protector to both (than you) are. So follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you may avoid justice, and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily, Allah is Ever Well-Acquainted with what you do" (Quran 4:135).

Contempt:

The Prophet said: 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: Allah is beautiful and likes beauty. He then said: pride means rejecting the truth because of self-esteem and looking down on other people (Muslim). Pride is linked to self-esteem that drives an individual to oppose the truth and to hold people in contempt because of his own vainglorious self.

Authority:

In the farewell sermon the Prophet (saw) had said: O People! Be conscious of Allah, even if a mangled Abyssinian slave becomes your leader hearken to him and obey him as long as he establishes and institutes the Book of Allah. The criterion for leadership in Islam is subservience to the word of Allah and not based on any kind of ethnic postulations.

The path to rectitude:

The barriers of apartheid may have been broken but racism is still very rife in our day to day dealings. The I am better than him mentality is the trait of the devil which can only lead to debasement, conflict and discord. As Muslims, we need to pioneer change beginning with our own conduct and attitudes. In doing so we need to thread the path of moral rectitude which among other things include:

Acknowledgement: We need to first acknowledge that we may have racial tendencies that are inconsistent with our faith and beliefs. There has to be a personal acknowledgement of wrongdoing and a commitment to change. The Prophets Adam (as) response to an error was: O Lord we have wronged ourselves while the Devils response was: because You (O Allah) lead me astray. Hence to acknowledge your wrong is a Prophetic attribute whilst to shift blame is a devilish trait. The door to rectitude can only be opened with the key of confession.

Forgiveness: If we have hurt or oppressed someone through our tongue or attitude, we need to seek Allah's forgiveness and seek pardon from our victim. A false sense of superiority often blinds us to our own injustice and prevents us from repenting or offering an apology. The Prophet (saw) has said: Wealth does not decrease on account of charity, and Allah does not increase a person in status except through him (seeking) pardon, and none humbles himself before Allah except that Allah elevates him (Muslim)

Watch your tongue: We need to guard against making sweeping statements that smack of arrogance, pride and racism statements that reflect our subliminal racist attitudes. Neither are ethnic jokes an innocent form of humor. They carry the virus of bigotry that eventually sows seeds of animosity. If you observe something wrong in some persons' behavior, do not generalise, nor relate it to their ethnic origins. Attribute it to the person not his race or nationality.

Challenge racism:

If someone is guilty of racist conduct in your presence, do not become a passive spectator. You are bound to invite people to good and prohibit them from all that is evil. By challenging racist attitudes, we discharge three Divine obligations:


The Prophet said: If a man's Muslim brother is slandered in his presence, and he is capable of defending him, and does so, Allah will defend him in this world and in the next. But if he fails to defend him, Allah will destroy him in this world and in the next.

Learn the language of the masses:

Although apartheid has been scrapped and racism abolished, most of us are still bound to the fetters of a racist mentality ingrained over long period of time. One of the greatest impediments to racial harmony is class distinction perpetuated by language barriers. It is therefore imperative for Muslims to follow the divine sunnah, by learning the language of the people. The Holy Quraan states: No messenger had we sent except that (he spoke) the language of his people. If we hope to emulate the sunnah of Ambiyaa, if we hope to meaningfully interact with seventy percent of the community, we need to learn the local language of the people.

Similarly, we need to guard against speaking in a language that the third person in our company does not understand as this may generate suspicion and distrust. The Prophet said: When three people are together, two should not talk secretly, leaving the third alone since this may grieve him. (Bukhari & Muslim)

Share in the sorrow of other people:

Have you visited a sick colleague, or a neighbor of another ethnic group? Good relations are built not only in the good times, but during difficult and tragic moments as well. Visit the sick, console the bereaved, feed the poor, empower the destitute without reserving your compassion and generosity to those of the same skin colour as yourself. The Prophet (saw) has said: Allah will not show mercy to one who is not merciful to (fellow) men. (Bukhari & Muslim)

Smiling is an act of charity

How often do you smile? Who do you smile at? Do you limit your grins to your own ethnic and cultural group? Smiling is charity not just to your own people. Expand your smile to all as it opens close hearts. It is not just words, but facial expressions that also indicate racial degradation and intolerance. It is not enough for us to just avoid verbal jabs. Language is not just about words; it is about body language too.

Employees:

Your employees are your human brothers who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Pay them enough so that they are able to maintain themselves with dignity. Do not impose on them so much work, or so long working hours that may be overbearing. Allah Taala has apportioned the livelihood of people, some He made rich others He made poor. This difference is part of a divinely ordained scheme that makes people dependent on each other. The financial inequality between various members of society is to facilitate mutual coexistence. It promotes interdependence within the human race and weaves the diverse segments of society into an organized community. The poor are dependent on the rich for their bread, whilst the rich are dependent on the poor for their labour. The wealth of the rich is not to exploit the poverty of the poor, but rather to harness their skills. This interdependence facilitates the smooth flow of life

Conduct of Believers:

The following verse of the Holy Quraan portrays the social ethics required of believers:

O You "O you who believe! Let not a group scoff at another group, it may be that the latter are better than the former; nor let (some) women scoff at other women, it may be that the latter are better than the former, nor defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames. How bad is it, to insult ones brother after having Faith. And whosoever does not repent, then such are indeed wrong doers" (Quran 49:11).

O You who believe! Avoid most suspicion; for suspicion in some cases is a sin; and spy not on each other, nor speak ill of each other behind their backs (49:12)

O mankind! We have created you from a single male and female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honoured amongst you in the sight of Allah is he who is most righteous of you (49:13)

May Allah help us all in our personal Jihad against racism and allow us to personify the noble teachings of Islam. Amen!

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