The Disease of Racism — Curable
By Tamim Saidi, Engage Minnesota
Even a quick and cursory review of Islamic teachings and a quick visit to local mosques prove that Islam condemns racism and tribalism and promotes equality and brotherhood of humankind. This equality of humankind in front of God has attracted many people to Islam, including Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and countless others.
God Almighty says in the Qur’an, the last revelation of God, in Chapter 4, verse 1:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُواْ رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالاً كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاء وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءلُونَ بِهِ وَالأَرْحَامَ إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا
“O mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women; Be conscientious of God, through whom you demand your mutual rights, and (reverence) the wombs (that bore you): for Allah ever watches over you.”
In Chapter 49, verse 13 of the Qur’an, God Almighty says:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
“O human beings! We have indeed created you of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another [not to despise each other]. Surely the most honorable of you with God is the one among you who is the most deeply God-conscious (most righteous). Surely, God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.”
In the above two passages, it is made very clear that human beings are part of a universal brotherhood originating from Adam and Eve, and the best and the most honorable in the Sight of God are those who are more righteous and more God-conscientious. So superiority comes not from race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, property, wealth, etc, but through piety.
Of importance is that these verses are addressed to the whole of humanity; so not just the Muslims but everyone can benefit from these verses. Interestingly enough, the Qur’an never mentions “races,” but talks about one human race, from the one original human, from the One God, the Creator of the Universe.
It is by the Mercy and Wisdom of God Almighty that we look differently. Can you imagine how boring the world would have been if everyone looked like each other?
In his last sermon, when he knew that he will not be with the Muslims the following year, the last prophet of God (peace be upon him) shared a few brief words with the thousands who had gathered to listen to him. In this sermon, which in its totality is about 500 words, he (P) reminded the Muslims of the most essential issues of being a Muslim, including:
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve; an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab … any superiority over an Arab; also a white, has no superiority over black nor a black … any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”
Thus racism, tribalism, nationalism, ethnic discrimination, or considering oneself superior over others in any other way, is haram (forbidden) in Islam. They are unacceptable, and NOT permissible.
Superiority comes through God-consciousness. God-consciousness is in one’s heart, and those who are God-conscientious do not consider themselves superior over others.
‘Part of my family’
Even in the desolate deserts of Arabia in the 6th Century, the close companions of Prophet (P) were from diverse backgrounds. They were whites, blacks, Persians, Arabs, Christians, and Jews who had become Muslims. Among them were Bilal al-Habashee (Bilal from Ethiopia), Suhaib Ar-Romee (Suhaib from Rome), and Salaman al-Farisi (Salman from Persia). This, by itself, is proof of the universality and diversity of the religion of Islam.
The Prophet (P) had said to Bilal, a former slave, that he heard Bilal’s foot steps in Paradise, an honor that could make many of the Arab companions envious. The companions treated Bilal, Suhaib, Salman and others of different background like their own brothers. The Prophet (P) was reported to have said, “Bilal is part of my family.”
The Prophet (P) taught that God does not look at your colors and your physical appearance, but that God looks at what is in your hearts and what you do. So it is not our race, but it is our actions and intentions that are important. He (P) also forbade pride in one’s ancestry and looking down upon others. He (P) said, if any person has an atom’s weight of pride and arrogance in his or her heart, that person will not enter paradise (unless it is cleansed by repentance).
Not just racism, but in the Qur’an, God Almighty even condemns derision of others. The Qur’an forbids one group from ridiculing another, because the group being ridiculed may be better than the ridiculer.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا يَسْخَرْ قَومٌ مِّن قَوْمٍ عَسَى أَن يَكُونُوا خَيْرًا مِّنْهُمْ وَلَا نِسَاء مِّن نِّسَاء عَسَى أَن يَكُنَّ خَيْرًا مِّنْهُنَّ وَلَا تَلْمِزُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَلَا تَنَابَزُوا بِالْأَلْقَابِ بِئْسَ الاِسْمُ الْفُسُوقُ بَعْدَ الْإِيمَانِ وَمَن لَّمْ يَتُبْ فَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ
(49:11) “O ye who believe! Let not some men (group) among you laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor let some women laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed: And those who do not desist are (indeed) wrong-doers.”
Racism is a disease
If we were to imagine the humanity as one body, as the Prophet (P) had mentioned, racism is like a disease in this body. In this analogy, each person can be analogous to a cell, each tribe analogous to a tissue, and a race analogous to an organ. Thus racism can be seen as an “autoimmune” disease. The term refers to a disorder that for generally unknown reasons, and perhaps a virus, one part of the party – the immune system – considers another organ or tissue (joints, or spleen, etc.) as an “outsider” and attacks it and tries to destroy it. As medicine has advanced, some common diseases including diabetes and arthritis are thought to be of autoimmune origin. Racism, like autoimmune diseases, can make the larger lifeform ineffective or even can cause fatal problems. Racism is a disease of “selfishness” in which the superiority goes beyond race, ethnicity, and nationality.
So where did humanity acquire this disease?
The Qur’an records the first incidence of racism in human history as the time when the Satan rejected God’s order to bow to Adam. Satan declared that because he was made of superior substance to Adam, therefore, “I am superior over him.”
Arrogant racism can be seen as a satanic disease. Unfortunately, just like undetected diabetes or early-stage arthritis, many people do not realize that they have acquired the disease.
I believe racism is a curable disease. It can be cured by what following what the prophets of God, including Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them) taught us about the love for the humanity and brotherhood.
It can be cured when we see our friends, neighbors, colleagues and fellow humans as our brothers and sisters in humanity. It can be cured when we see past the color of their skin or the accent in their vowels. It can be cured when people of faith begin to ask themselves, “Could it be that this person of different race or ethnicity might be closer to God than I am?” The Prophet (P) taught that, “You are not a believer until you want for your brother what you want for yourself.” Who in their right mind would want for their brother, even if of a different race, to be discriminated against?
As for the Muslims, every pillar of our faith teaches brotherhood among races, ethnicities and groups.
Shahada (Declaration of faith in the One God and in Prophet Muhammad) makes all Muslims brothers. During Salat (the five daily prayers), Muslims of all races and ethnicities stand shoulder to shoulder to pray with each other, and the Imam (the leader of the prayer) may be of a different race or ethnicity. In Ramadan, the month of fasting, Muslims of all races and ethnicities fast together and break their fasts together. They eat together, stand in prayer together and celebrate together. During Hajj (pilgrimage), Muslims of all races and ethnicities from all corners of the world come together on level ground to answer the call of their Creator.
One of the most important lessons of Hajj for me was that it is neither my race or ethnicity nor my property or wealth that would make me superior in the sight of God Almighty; it is only my faith and my good deeds that benefit me. It was not until his trip to Hajj that Malcolm X fully understood the brotherhood of all races in Islam. That is a lesson that many still need to understand.
Tamim Saidi is an American Muslim and an active member of the Muslim community in Minnesota.