Islam is a complete system aimed at establishing social justice. Of the many vices prevalent that Islam came to eradicate, racism was certainly one of them. Racism means discrimination based on factors including skin color, nationality and language.
The Quraan has set a meritocratic principle based on piety:
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 from a male and a female, and made you into races and tribes, so that you may identify one another. Surely the noblest of you, in Allah‘s sight, is the one who is most pious of you. Surely Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” (Al-Hujuraat 49:13)
In another Aayah (Verse), Allah highlights our differences should manifest the Greatness of Creation and actually be a source of deepening our faith:
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 tongues and colors. Surely in this there are signs for the persons having knowledge.” (Ar-Room 30:22)
In light of this Islamic spirit, Hadhrat Bilal, a black slave freed by the Prophet Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam) and saved from continuous torture became a close Sahaabi (Companion) in the Prophet (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam)’s mission and he was appointed to announce the Azaan.
From Persia, Hadhrat Salmaan Al-Faarsi was the Sahaabi whose inspirational idea of digging the trench was welcomed when an army of 10,000 with 4,000 camels and 300 horses marched towards Madinah; by the Grace of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) this saved the very face of Islam by preventing the enemy entering the city.
Hadhrat ‘Abdullah ibne Salaam is yet another example, a rabbi from a Jewish tribe whose acceptance of Islam and authority on disproving claims Jews made against the Prophet (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam) was a great asset.
Yet, these are only a few illustrations from a galaxy of personalities in Islamic history that came from various racial backgrounds and contributed as theologians, linguists, medics, scientists, mathematicians and from every other faculty.
What a shame though, despite this great legacy today racism is found in some Muslims with weak Imaan, in various forms. We sometimes hear complaints by young people at the time of marriage but even Muslim organizations often blatantly prejudice against those who are of a different nationality or language, even dialect is a problem. Speaking of marriage, at times not even death does racism apart when we find somewhere Muslim graveyards exclusively for a particular ethnic group! Whether done purposefully or not, racism creates a power inequity. For instance, when knowledge is only accessible in a certain language then we will find only a particular race hold a dominant standing in the community. Thus, racism divides people, breads hatred and even leads to physical violence.
There is no dearth of research highlighting the impact of racism on its victims; mental and physical health problems, lack of education, poor housing, poverty and crime being only a number from a whole list of effects on the individual and society. However, these problems are totally opposite to the essence of Islam, which has been revealed as a mercy to mankind, focused on uniting people upon the Oneness of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). This is why the Prophet (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam) has condemned racism, stating in one narration:
لَيْسَ مِنَّا مَنْ دَعَا إِلَى عَصَبِيَّةٍ وَلَيْسَ مِنَّا مَنْ قَاتَلَ عَلَى عَصَبِيَّةٍ وَلَيْسَ مِنَّا مَنْ مَاتَ عَلَى عَصَبِيَّةٍ
“He is not one of us who calls on ‘Asbiyyah’. He is not one of us who fights for the sake of ‘Asbiyyah’. He is not one of us who dies following the way of ‘Asbiyyah.” (Abu Daawood)
When there is racial justice however, not only do problems which racism causes fade but we also see the true exquisiteness of Islam, something which makes even non-Muslims want to readily embrace it. Amongst the most fervent in recent history’s anti-racist civil rights movement was Malcolm X who acknowledged this very fact in his letter during Hajj, wherein he highlights the sheer beauty of various races praying together and the effect it had on him to quit Nation of Islam and accept orthodox Islam. So, let it be that we stand upright for justice as Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) states:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَى أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَى وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ [المائدة: 8]
“O you who believe! Be steadfast for (obeying the commands of) Allah, (and) witnesses for justice. Malice against a people should not prompt you to avoid doing justice. Do justice. That is nearer to Taqwaa. Fear Allah. Surely, Allah is All-Aware of what you do.” (Al-Maaidah 5:8)
Ensure this not only through our own actions and speech but also by educating our family and friends and being resolute in the community at asserting what is correct. To conclude, let’s share the words which still stand as a token of humanity and wisdom, the speech that echoed the mountains as the Prophet addressed the faithful during his farewell sermon:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَلَا إِنَّ رَبَّكُمْ وَاحِدٌ وَإِنَّ أَبَاكُمْ وَاحِدٌ أَلَا لَا فَضْلَ لِعَرَبِيٍّ عَلَى أَعْجَمِيٍّ وَلَا لِعَجَمِيٍّ عَلَى عَرَبِيٍّ وَلَا لِأَحْمَرَ عَلَى أَسْوَدَ وَلَا أَسْوَدَ عَلَى أَحْمَرَ إِلَّا بِالتَّقْوَى
“O people! Your Lord is one and your father Adam is one. There is no favor of an Arab over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin, nor black skin over white skin, except by righteousness.” (Bukhari)