Racism is evil. It divides us. Through it, hatred, conflict and tyranny ensue and from that emerges
untold suffering. Yet the racist cannot see it. This is because for them others are not truly human in the
same way that they are. This is because racism is the belief that one is superior and better purely by
virtue of their race or the color of one’s skin, or ethnic origin. It is the idea that only my race and only my
group of people are truly human. Everyone else is inferior. Everyone else is other. Furthermore, it is
the idea that the qualities of goodness and being right reside with one’s people and no one else is truly
capable of it!
Racism is almost universal human condition. It is almost impossible to root out completely. Even if it is
defeated in one form it almost as quickly manifests itself in another.
An example in front of our eyes is how anti-Semitism, which used to be rampant throughout Europe for
centuries, has now transformed itself into Islamophobia. The horrors of the Holocaust quite rightly
ensured Europeans would never look at anti-Semitism in the same way again but that same bigotry has
only transformed itself into another manifestation. What was formerly hatred, fear and loathing of Jews
has now become hatred, fear and loathing of Muslims. It is the same mutated virus, the same disease,
in a different form.
Europeans, it seems, need to have someone to hate and despise. In England, the Jews, Italians,
Germans, Irish, Afro-Caribbeans and Pakistanis, and now the Polish have all had their turn at being the
kicking end of xenophobia and racism.
Racism is in fact a form of tribalism. Historically, almost every single tribe, race or major group of
people have had mythologies that put them at the center of the world as the true and direct
descendants of the gods. So the idea that goodness and virtue is a by-product of one’s heritage
rather than a result of one’s actions and deeds alone is an old and almost universal one.
Through such a belief, attacking, enslaving and occupying other people’s land and taking their property
becomes not only acceptable but in fact a moral imperative!
European imperialism was in no small means an extension of this.
There have of course been attempts throughout history to overcome this debilitating human condition.
The successful, extensive, and multi-cultural empire that was the Persian Achaemenid Empire (550–
330 BC) absorbed Mesopotamia, Egypt, parts of Greece, Thrace, the Middle East, and much of
Central Asia and Pakistan, until it was overthrown and replaced by the short-lived empire of Alexander
The ancient Greeks had a broadly racist idea of their own innate superiority. In fact the term “barbarian”
was used by them to refer to everyone who was not Greek. Alexander the Great (albeit himself
Macedonian and thus not a true Greek) according to some tried to break down such concepts
throughout his extensive empire.
The Roman Empire was certainly one of the most multicultural in ancient history. But it was Christianity
that was perhaps the first successful attempt at a truly universal religion, despite Jesus apparently
stating that he was sent only to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), meaning that
his message was only for the Jewish Israelites. It was Paul who, it could be argued, was the real
founder of Christianity not Jesus who universalized both its message and reach. Somehow though,
Christianity historically failed to become significantly free of racist overtones. Indeed it has been used
to justify the most horrific racist crimes and many churches are still divided along ethnic and racial
Islam seems to have a much better track record when it comes to racism.
“The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of
Islam and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this
Islamic virtue…” (A.J. Toynbee, Civilization on Trial, New York, p. 205)
Racism and tribalism are intimately connected, and nationalism is merely another form of tribalism.
Pre-Islamic Arabian society was highly tribalistic and the Prophet Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho
Alaihe WaSallam) was outspoken against it from the very outset of his preaching.
One of the earliest Wahi (Revelation) sent down by Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) was:
وَأَنْذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الْأَقْرَبِينَ [الشعراء: 214]
“And warn the nearest people of your clan.” (Ash Shu’araa 26:214)
Hadhrat Ibne ‘Abbas reports that when this Wahi was received by Hadhart Muhammad (SallAllaho
Alaihe WaSallam), he went to the top of mount Safaa and declared loudly: “Wa-Sabaahah!” (Behaqui)
This was a cry the Arabs used to herald when an imminent danger is about to encompass their people
or tribe and Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) believed people are in danger because
of their Kufr and Shirk.
Hadhrat Abu Hurairah narrates that when all gathered there, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s
Messenger (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) started speaking:
“O Bani Ka’b bin LuAi! Protect your self from the fire of Jahannam.”
“O Bani Murrah bin Ka’ab! Protect your self from the fire of Jahannam.”
“O Bani ‘Abd Shams! Protect your self from the fire of Jahannam.”
“O Bani ‘Abd Munaaf! Protect your self from the fire of Jahannam.”
“O Bani Haashim! Protect your self from the fire of Jahannam.”
In another narration, Hadhrat Abu Hurairah further quotes the Prophet Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho
Alaihe WaSallam) as saying: “O people of Quraish! Buy yourselves from the fire, I cannot save you at
all against Allah’s punishment (if you remain on Kufr and Shirk).” (Muslim)
From the very outset the message of the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) was striking at the very
heart of the concept of tribal loyalty whose code dictated that one support one’s tribe right or wrong,
but Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s Messenger (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) was making it clear that
now they would be judged only on the basis of their deeds and levels of piety. Birthright, wealth,
lineage, ancestry, all meant nothing in the sight of Allah!
It was a Message the Prophet Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) emphasized again
and again and again throughout his life even up until his farewell sermon: “All mankind is from Adam
and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an
Arab; also a white (person) has no superiority over a black (person) nor does a black (person) have
any superiority over a white (person) except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a
brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.” It was befitting that these
words were delivered during the Hajj (Islamic Pilgrimage) that was to become an abiding manifestation
of the brotherhood of man, where all are dressed in two unsewn pieces of cloth, depriving all of
emblems of culture, tribe, nationalism, wealth and status. All that remains is humanity united in the
same rituals, humbled before its Creator and the Lord, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa).
The same concept exists in the five daily Salaah (Prayers) where the place of merit in the front row is
reserved for none. It belongs to those who hasten to it. Shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot the Muslims
stand irrespective of color or status.
The Quraan declares the brotherhood of man as all descended from one man and one woman:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ وَأُنْثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ [الحجرات: 13]
“O mankind! We have created you all male and female and have made you nations and tribes so that
you would recognize each other. The most honorable among you in the sight of Allah is the most pious
of you. Allah is All-knowing and All-aware” (Al-Hujuraat 49:13)
And the variation in us is in fact a sign that leads the thinking person to comprehend the munificence of
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ خَلْقُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافُ أَلْسِنَتِكُمْ وَأَلْوَانِكُمْ إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِلْعَالِمِينَ [الروم: 22]
”And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the difference of your
languages and colors. Surely in this there are signs for the persons having knowledge.” (Ar-Room
No wonder then that: “No other society has such a record of success in uniting in an equality of status,
of opportunity, and of endeavor so many and so varied races of mankind. The great Muslim
communities of Africa, India and Indonesia, perhaps also the small community in Japan, show that
Islam has still the power to reconcile apparently irreconcilable elements of race and tradition. If ever
the opposition of the great societies of the East and West is to be replaced by cooperation, the
mediation of Islam is an indispensable condition. In its hands lies very largely the solution of the
problem with which Europe is faced in its relation with East. If they unite, the hope of a peaceful issue
is immeasurably enhanced. But if Europe, by rejecting the cooperation of Islam, throws it into the arms
of its rivals, the issue can only be disastrous for both.” (H.A.R. Gibb, Whither Islam, p. 379)