Black lives matter? Or do All lives matter? Find out what Islam teaches about race
There is something about this innocence that makes it beautiful. It is not something that is learned, it is not a talent, poetry, or skill acquired. It is the simplicity in a child, a purity not yet spoiled by the mundane affairs of this world. A purity that helps us build bridges and not walls.
Fitra or فطرة is the state of purity and innocence all humans are born with. Fitra is an Arabic word that is usually translated as “original disposition,” “natural constitution,” or “innate nature. And in this natural disposition of fitrah is the truth we hold to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
Isn’t it surprising that racism exists so prevalently in 2020? The best of times in the human history with its advances in science, technology, education, and freedom of free speech, a classified age of wisdom, the epoch of belief, the decade of light and hope. And despite all these advances, it still feels like the worst of times, the age of foolishness, the epoch of incredulity and disbelief.
It is disheartening to see the events unfold in the US. Racism is an undeniable evil prevalent in our society, bred on a culture steeped in it. Being white is still pride, a celebration, an honor marketed widely yet accepted silently amongst us. Racism is a valued, sheltered, and protected mental illness. A disease that needs to be treated more than the current pandemic that we are facing, an epidemic that has plagued societies for ages and killed thousands as a result.
Why are we different?
Allah (ta’ala) says:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa [i.e. one of the Muttaqun (pious — see V. 2:2). Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware. [Quran 49:13]
Allah the Exalted declares to mankind that He has created them all from a single person, `Adam, and from that person, He created his mate, Hawwa’. From their offspring, He made nations, comprised of tribes, which include subtribes of all sizes. Therefore, all people are the descendants of `Adam and Hawwa’ and share this honor equally. The only difference between them is their obedience to Allah the Exalted and their following of His Messenger.
There is zilch of an effort that we’ve made to be born in the bodies we have. Nations, colors, and tribes, help us understand one another and are a means of identification. This is not meant to be a source of superiority or inferiority, nor as a contributing component of tribalism, caste systems, nationalisms, colonialism or racism.
Then Why do we differ?
Human beings do not stop separating themselves into classes. It is this innate desire to feel different, better and above everyone else, be it in the form of a family, a society, a cult, or a nation, which drives this.
وَمَا كَانَ النَّاسُ إِلَّا أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً فَاخْتَلَفُوا ۚ وَلَوْلَا كَلِمَةٌ سَبَقَتْ مِن رَّبِّكَ لَقُضِيَ بَيْنَهُمْ فِيمَا فِيهِ يَخْتَلِفُونَ
Mankind were but one community, then they differed [Quran 10:19]
وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ مُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمُهَيْمِنًا عَلَيْهِ ۖ فَاحْكُم بَيْنَهُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ ۖ وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَهُمْ عَمَّا جَاءَكَ مِنَ الْحَقِّ ۚ لِكُلٍّ جَعَلْنَا مِنكُمْ شِرْعَةً وَمِنْهَاجًا ۚ وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ لَجَعَلَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَلَٰكِن لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُمْ ۖ فَاسْتَبِقُوا الْخَيْرَاتِ ۚ إِلَى اللَّهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ فِيهِ تَخْتَلِفُونَ — 5:48
If Allah willed, He would have made you one nation, but that (He) may test you in what He has given you; so strive as in a race in good deeds. The return of you (all) is to Allah; then He will inform you about that in which you used to differ. [Quran 5:48]
Honor is earned through Taqwa (Piety), not your skin color
Al-Bukhari narrated that Abu Hurayrah said, “Some people asked the Prophet, `Who is the most honorable among people’ He replied, “The most honorable among them with Allah is the one who has the most Taqwa.” They said, `We did not ask you about this.’ He said, “Then the most honorable person is Yusuf, Allah’s Prophet, the son of Allah’s Prophet, the son of Allah’s Prophet, the son of Allah’s Khalil.” They said, `We did not ask you about this.’ He said, “Then you want to ask me about the Arab lineage,” They said, `Yes.’ He said,
“Those among you who were best in Jahiliyyah, are the best among you in Islam, if they attain religious understanding.’’ Muslim recorded that Abu Hurayrah said that the Messenger of Allah said, “Verily, Allah does not look at your shapes or wealth, but he looks at your hearts and actions.”
The First Constitution in Madinah
Justice and fairness, upholding the rights of the poor, as well as spending charity to those in need, these principles are a part of our Islamic social structure. In Madinah, the city in which the Prophet established peace between various tribal and faith groups, he negotiated and implemented a written constitution, Sahifat al-Madīnah. The constitution formed the basis of a multi-religious Islamic state in Medina, stating the equal religious and legal rights of each of the Jewish and pagan tribes of Madinah. This constitution implemented the Quranic principle of fairness and justice, offering equal security, mutual defense, legal and civic autonomy. There was no differentiation between a black or a white, nor a rich or poor, the laws were the same irrespective of one’s caste, creed, or color.
Importance Of A Black Man Called Bilal
We all grew up reading the story of Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him). He is a hero to many, a shining light of guidance, the first Muadhin, the beloved one of our Prophet. And yes, he was black.
Bilal ibn Rabah (may Allah be pleased with him) is one of the most illustrious names in Islamic history. A black slave originally from Habasha (Ethiopia), Bilal is an evident story of Islam’s respect for human equality, anti-racism, and social equity. Born in 680CE in Makkah, to his slave parents — Rabah and Hamamah — Bilal too served as slave to a lady close to Umayyah ibn Khalaf, an arch-enemy of Islam. When Umayyah heard about Bilal converting to Islam, he tortured him and forced him to relinquish the new faith. But filled with the love of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and Islam, Bilal remained steadfast in his faith despite extreme torture and kept saying “Ahad, Ahad.” (Allah is One, Allah is One).
When the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) learned about his tribulation, he sent Abu Bakr, who bought him from the oppressor and freed him. The freedom was Islam’s first gift to Bilal. Second Caliph Omar ibn Khattab honored him by calling him Sayyedna (our leader).
Bilal became one of the most trusted and loyal companions of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. He was among the first few persons to embrace Islam. Another great honor came to Bilal after the Conquest of Makkah in 8 AH. When the city surrendered and all the nobles from the Muslims and the non-Muslims were standing in the courtyard, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) asked Bilal to climb the roof of the Holy Kaaba and give a call of Azaan from the top of it. This was the first Azaan, which was given in Makkah Mukarramah.
Such was Bilal’s devotion to Islam and piety that he rose to such heights of spiritual attainment.
#KickRacismOut: A Story Of Inclusion And Integration
Islam’s very strong stance against racism and prejudice wasn’t just demonstrated in words and principles (Quran 49:13). It was also evident in the Prophet’s establishment of the Moakha system. About six months after the Muslims of Makkah had left their homes, livelihoods, and in many cases, their families, for the sake of Allah and migrated to Madinah, the Prophet established a system that would bring together Muslims of two different cities and different tribes, races, and ethnic backgrounds.
The Muslims who had left Makkah were called Muhajirs, migrants who had left their homes for the sake of Allah. They were now homeless and more or less penniless in Madinah. They needed help.
Enter the Muslims of Madinah. They became the Ansars (helpers) of their Muhajir brothers and sisters in faith. They became brothers, in the truest sense. Not only did the Ansari Muslims provide the Muhajir Muslim with food, shelter, and clothing. He offered him consolation, support, and true Muslim fellowship. Although there were no set rules, every one of the Ansar who got a Muhajir as his brother gave an equal share in his property and belongings to his Muhajir brother.
In the bad old days of Arab tribal enmity and prejudices, the Moakha system was truly revolutionary. It gave the Muhajirs a chance to rebuild their lives in their new home while creating a deep bond of love and affection between Muslims of two very different cities.
The regional differences between people, languages, and culture, despite smaller distances as compared to today, were great.
So it was perhaps strange for people at the time to think of an Arab and a non-Arab living together as brothers. Just as it is even today in some places strange to see whites and blacks living together peacefully, but not as mere roommates-rather, as brothers.
For instance, Bilal ibn Rabah, an African Muhajir and an ex-slave were paired, as a brother, with Abu Rawahah Abdullah ibn Abdul Rahman. And they were brothers, not mere “roommates”. A black man and an Arab. Who could have imagined this state of affairs in the pre-Islamic tribal Arabia?
The Importance Of Sahaba (companions) From All Races In Islam
All of the companions are revered for their piety and sincerity, and not for how they looked. Here is a list of some of the famously revered Sahabas (Companions) from various cultural backgrounds.
- Bilal ibn Ribah, First Muezzin (Reciter of the Adhan) in history. He was born into slavery but was emancipated by the Muslims.
- Umm Ayman (Barakah), was around Prophet Muhammad ﷺ from his birth until his death and was the closest example of a mother to him (after his own mother’s death when he was a child). She was the mother of Usama ibn Zayd and Ayman ibn Ubayd.
- Lubaynah, converted to Islam while she was a slave, but refused to abandon her new faith even after being persecuted by her then pagan slave-master. She was later freed from slavery.
- Umm Ubays, converted to Islam while she was a slave, but refused to abandon her new faith even after being tortured and persecuted by her pagan slave-master. She was later freed from slavery. She was the daughter of Al-Nahdiah.
- Sumayyah bint Khabbat, one of the first to embrace Islam and later on get killed because of her faith by the polytheistic Banu Makhzum. She is described in the sources as being black-skinned. The sources assume she was of Ethiopian origin.
- Salman al-Farsi — He was born as a Zoroastrian in Persia but embarked on a long and continuous journey (away from his homeland) in search of the truth. He ultimately reached his destination in Arabia, when he met Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and converted to Islam. It was his suggestion to build a trench in the Battle of the Trench that ultimately resulted in a defeat for the forces of the enemies of the Muslims.
- Khabbab ibn al-Aratt — One of the first converts to Islam, he was a Chaldean from the Yamama region.
- Addas — He was a young Christian slave boy (originally from Nineveh) who was the first person from Taif to convert to Islam.
- Jaban al-Kurdi — He was better known as Jaban Al-Kurdi. In the year 18 after Hijra, he went back to Kurdistan to preach Islam in his homeland.
- Abdullah ibn Salam — Was a rabbi before his conversion to Islam. He was the first Muslim that was explicitly promised Jannah (paradise) by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, while he was still alive. He is credited as the man who participated in most battles during the Prophet’s time. He was an expert in reading the Hebrew Bible, his mother tongue, and he was assigned by the Prophet to document the Quran.
- Safiyya bint Huyayy — She was one of Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ wives.
- Rayhana — Also one of Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ wives.
- Abu Ayyub al-Ansari was the host of the Prophet when he immigrated to Medina. He participated in the First Siege of Constantinople at age of over 80.
The Advice of the Prophet ﷺ in the Last Sermon
Superiority over skin color, financial status, or ethnicity is one of the biggest problems in our community. Racism still exists and we cannot deny it. But when you feel seeds of superiority enter your heart, question yourself, “Am I better than this person in terms of deen?” Because a person is much closer and superior in ranks to Allah based on his piety. In the famous last sermon of our beloved Prophet, he mentioned this advice:
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 black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety (taqwa) and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.
Remember, one day you will appear before Allah and answer your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone. [Bukhari]
Story of Julayb, How our Prophet taught tolerance
One of the helpers of the Prophet who is mentioned in several texts is the companion known as Julaybib from the Anser. He was described as black, short, and ugly. He spent more time in the company of the Prophet than many of the other Ansar. The People of Al-Madinah used to ridicule Julaybib and would not befriend him.
In narrations that are deemed sound, the Prophet proceeded to find a wife for the honorable Julaybib. When he went to the home of one of the Ansar, a father opened the door in which the Prophet told him that he came to him for a marriage proposal. The father immediately said yes thinking that his daughter would get the honor of being one of the Prophet’s wives. The Prophet told him that he did not come for himself but was asking on behalf of Julaybib. The father then said that he was going to defer the decision to his wife. When the wife of the Ansari came, the Prophet told her that he had a marriage proposal. The wife also became happy and said yes. Then the Prophet told her that he came on behalf of Julaybib. The wife then replied that she would not allow her daughter to marry a man like Julaybib!
Upon hearing a noise, the daughter of the two came out and asked the reason for the Prophet coming to their home. The mother told the daughter that he came on behalf of Julaybib but that she was not acceptable for her to marry him! The daughter replied, how can we turn down a proposal coming from the Messenger of Allah? She said to send Julaybib to her, for surely he will not bring ruin to her!
In Al-Asabah by ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, it is mentioned about this event the application of Surah 33, Ayah 36, “It is not fitting for a believing man or woman that when Allah and His messenger decree a matter that they should have an opinion about it from their matter. And whoever disobeys Allah and His messenger surely is in clear error.” It is mentioned in several texts including Al-Musannaf by ibn Abi Shaybah in the Chapter of Compatibility in Marriage that the Prophet then performed the marriage between Julaybib and the lady.
In a battle after the marriage, Julaybib achieved martyrdom. When the Prophet saw the martyred Julaybib, he said twice, “This [man] is from me, and I am from him.” An-Nanawi said in his commentary of Sahih Muslim that the Prophet used exaggeration (mubalaghah) showing the importance of Julaybib as if Julaybib was a member of his klan such as when the Prophet said about Salman, who was Persian, “Salman is from us, the People of the Household (Ahl al-Bayt).” It is also narrated that the Prophet personally dug the grave of Julaybib and placed him in the grave without washing him, signifying his status as a martyr.
Looking down upon other people will stop you from entering the Jannah
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: 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).
Beauty is a perception
Why do we have these negative thoughts? Is my skin color bad? Why do I not look fair? Why do I not look as beautiful as him/her? It is truly said that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Our perception, makes things look more beautiful. A person is ten times more attractive, not by their looks but by their acts of kindness, love, respect, honesty, and loyalty. We are all beautiful, and we are all special in our way. Men are more attracted to the women of their society and vice versa. Tribes and society are just a way of identification, and not unjust classification. Beauty is a perception. And you are amazing and wonderful just the way you are.
Importance to nurture kids and educate them about diversity and tolerance
Research from Harvard University suggests that children as young as three years old, when exposed to racism and prejudice, tend to embrace and accept it, even though they might not understand the feelings. By age 5, white children are strongly biased towards whiteness. To counter this bias, experts recommend acknowledging and naming race and racism with children as early and as often as possible. Children’s books are one of the most effective and practical tools for initiating these critical conversations; and they can also be used to model what it means to resist and dismantle oppression.
Giant Steps to Change the World start with kids and Education starts first at home. It is important that we sit and talk to kids and educate them on this matter in detail. One must learn to be confident in their skin because our skin is what Allah has blessed us with. It’s Okay to Be Different. And race, gender, color must not a medium to judge anyone. We have many different colors, our hair looks different, every person is different and beautiful in their way. These differences are not wrong, but rather a sign from Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors. Verily, in that are indeed signs for those who know.” (Qur’an, 30:22)
Be the change you want to see in this world
It’s our job as believers to remove oppression when possible. And if we’re not able to? We speak out against oppression. And if we’re not able to? We hate it with our hearts, and that is the weakest of faith.
Jabir b. Abdullah reported that two young men, one from the Muhajirin (emigrants) and the other one from the Ansar (helpers) fell into dispute and the Muhajir called his fellow Muhajirin, and the Ansari (the helper) called the Ansar (for help). In the meanwhile, Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) came there and said: What is this, the proclamation of the days of jahiliya (ignorance)? They said: Allah’s Messenger, there is nothing serious. The two young men fell into dispute and the one struck at the back of the other. Thereupon he (the Holy Prophet) said: Well, a person should help his brother whether he is an oppressor or an oppressed. If he is the oppressor he should prevent him from doing it, for that is his help; and if he is the oppressed he should be helped (against oppression). [Muslim]
Let’s educate ourselves on this topic and play our part in eradicating this disease by informing others and educating our kids as they are our future leaders. We hope the next generation can get rid of this issue.
Let us be that little child. Let us be innocent. Let us be inclusive and tolerant.
I have moved writing islamic articles to a different platform, so this article was published there first. Arriqaaq is the website. I’ll use medium for tech articles and stuff.