Sunday, January 28, 2007

Racism in the Ummah?

Note: Caste System is still prevalent in India today (Though the Indian Government has otlawed the Caste system. )

It was lunch break. Shalini (of person belonging to the highest caste in hindu caste system) took out the vegetables from her lunch basket she usually carried to work. Anu a new employee and a colleague, asked Shalini for a cup with which to drink some water. Shalini held out a cup to Anu ( considered to be the lowest caste or "untouchables"), with her facial expression changing at once. When Anu left the room to get her basket, Shalini mumbled, "If I were not in a work environment, I would prefer not to let anyone use my utensils." Hearing this, my head joggled in disappointment. The thought of racism disgusted and saddened me. For me, it was definitely not acceptable to see this attitude from someone who works side by side with me.

When I arrived home, the mumbled comment echoed in my mind. I was thinking about the beautiful religion Islam and our Muslim brothers and sisters. My heart said, al-hamdu lillah, I am Muslim and there is no such thing as a caste system, but my mind jolted.

---From the dawn of time, even before man was created, Allah (swt) created the Angels, and Jinn. Angels were made out of light and Jinn were made out of smokeless fire. Adam, the first human, was created from clay. When Allah ordered both Angels and Iblis to prostrate to Adam, the Iblis refused, out of arrogance thinking himself (made from fire) to be better than Adam (made from clay).

"And (remember) when We said to the Angels: 'Prostrate yourselves to Adam', and they all prostrated except Iblis. He refused and was proud and was one of the disbelievers" (Qur'an 2:34)

"(Allah) said: 'What prevented you (Iblis) that you did not prostrate?' Iblis said; 'I am better then him, you created me from fire and you created him from clay'" (Qur'an 7:12)

Man has undeniably fallen prey to Shaytan by adopting the attribute of pride and arrogance leading to racism.

Many Muslims of today believe that racism does not exist in our communities. We often hear how “there is no racism in Islam” and “Islam is a religion of tolerance and equality,” yet racism can be found in our Ummah unfortunately. Some forms of racism can be overt and others subtle all leading to un-Islamic behaviour. Racism in action causes individuals to develop into hostilities and superiority complexes against others based on many factors: skin colour, ethnicity, and nationality. Not only does it cause hurt and pain to individuals, it causes fitnah which divide and weakens our communities.

Racism and Islam is an oxymoron. The two just do not fit together. There are numerous stories of racism during the Prophets (pbuh) time. During jahiliyah period (Pre-Islamic), racism dominated many parts of the Arab world in different forms such as tribalism, cultralism, etc. After Islam entered into people’s lives, life started changing for many who were considered inferior.

Bilal, was an esteemed sahabah. He was the first Muazzin to perform the first call to prayer. This was great honor, when considering his humble background. He was a slave before coming a Muslim, tall, dark brown with thick coarse hair and thin cheeks. Imagine the uproar in today’s time if an immigrant worker appointed to be the Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington. It would seem shocking an odd. There were also shock waves in Bilal’s time. His position brought out the inner prejudices in people.

He lived during the time when tribalism and racism was at its peak. There were many wars and inter fighting among different tribes. Arabs considered themselves to be superior to Africans. The society was based on a tribal system. Anyone outside of the protection of their own tribe faced the harshness of a volatile world. Just as other societies were rules by the caste system, a person was identified by the tribe or caste they were born into. A person born into slavery, lived the life as a slave.

Islam gave individuals their equality. Because in Islam all people were considered equal. Regardless of race, skin colour and nationality.

"O' mankind, We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Indeed the most honourable of you in the sight of Allah is the one with the most piety"
(Qur'an 49:13)

Many other sahaba kife changed because of Islam. Julaybib (r.a.) was one of them. Julaybib means small grown, the name indicated his stature being small and short. He was also described as being “damin”which means ugly, deformed, and of repulsive appearance. In addition, he was considered more inferior because his lineage was not known. This was a great disability in the Arab society in which he lived. Arabs usually placed a great deal of importance on family and tribal connections. He was always ridiculed and shunned by the society because of his disability. Some of them would not let him enter into their homes. A man called Abu Barzah of Aslam tribe once told his wife, “Do not let Julaybib enter among you, if you do, I shall certainly do something terrible against him.” He could not expect any compassion support or help from the society. At this time one might have wondered if there was any hope for Julaybib being treated with respect and consideration as an individual and a man. The noble Prophet gave him help confidence and encouragement. He was able to perform acts and make supreme sacrifice and deserve the commendation of the Prophet (saw) Prophet said “he is of me and I am of him.” ( extracted from Companions of the Prophet by Abdul Wahid Hamid)

In spite of all the anti racist elements in Islam, Muslims have marred by individual behaviour, which is contrary to the ideals of Islam. Different forms of racism exist in today’s time: tribalism, culturalism and .xenophobia. Some Muslims are uptight and prejudiced about other Muslims who are from different culture or nationality.

Rabiah* , an Indian living in the UK who is having problems finding the right man for marriage, feels that if her family were not so strong about their culture, she would be married right now. She says that her parents are finding it difficult to find a good brother [groom] as "most of them want a dower from the bride's family." Rabia says, "There is a good brother-in-Islam from the UK who approached me for marriage and he said he would pay a mahr (dower), but my father was insistent about me getting married to an Indian and told me that he would rather borrow money from people to pay the dower to someone from my culture than to get married to a European."

It is very unfortunate that Muslims, to whom Allah has given and shown the perfect way of life, should ignorantly mimic the behaviors of those who choose not to follow Allah's guidance.

This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed My favor on you and chosen for you Islam as a religion; but whoever is compelled by hunger, not inclining willfully to sin, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Al-Ma'idah 5:3)

Prophet Muhammad in his last sermon, which was the final admonition, warned the people:

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 a black nor a black has any superiority over a white - except by piety 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 meet Allah and answer your deeds. So beware: do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.

Muslims should be the first to openly discuss and expose issues of racism. It is counter productive to treat racism as if it does not exist. The Prophet has cautioned Muslims in his last sermon, that racism is against Islam yet still today we hear stories such as the incident above. Racism is like a cancer in our society. It eats us at the core. Much fitnah in our community is attributed to cultralism and racism which often times goes hand in hand. This disease has impaired progress in many communities. We must come up with solutions that meets this problem head on.

We can try various methods to fight racism. First and foremost we should gain knowledge about Racism and accept and admit that Racism does exist in our society. As Muslims we should learn about other cultures, people, and nationalities. We should first start within our own communities learning about contributions various ethnic groups have made. We should encourage multi ethnic gatherings in the Masajid and no one group should dominate over the other. It is important to start by exposing our youth to diversity. We should ensure fairness and equality when selecting speakers, board members, imams, leaders within our community and put an end to board of directors of the Masjids totally controlled by one group. The leaders should try to concentrate on the welfare of the Ummah and avoid political fitnah. We should constantly be reminded about what the Quran and Sunnah says about racism and justice in khutbahs and halaqahs.

"O ye who believe! stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well- acquainted with all that ye do." (Qur'an, 4:135)

Let there arise out of you
A band of people
Inviting to all that is good,
Enjoining what is right,
And forbidding what is wrong:
They are the ones
To attain felicity.'
(Qur'an 3 : 104)

* Names changed to protect privacy

© Amatullah Abdullah


Anonymous said...

This is excellent! Been reading your blog for a while now and I think it's very interesting!

I came across another blog of a Muslim Working Woman that you might be interested in

Keep up the good work!

Mariam said...

Assalam walikum,

Personally I have been blessd to grow up in a multicultural family and neighbourhood. This gift has given me the chance to see first hand, that under the traditions and costoms and skin our forfathers have taught us is who we are, is our true being. The spirit, our soul, our human essence and in this we are all the same we all seek love, peace, joy, happiness, comfort... Often times I see racisim stems from ignorance witch builds fear and the fear is masked by haughtiness/pride. We are so worried about being counted as lesser than another that the pale skined people seek to be darker and the darker people see to be lighter the curly headed one straightens his hair the straight haird one gets the perm. For me the question comes to this... Do we realy care what colour, shape, style, condition, size the container is when inside is something more precious than all the riches this earth contains.
If the world was colour blind would it be a better place? The human condition is to seek to be better, more beautiful, stronger, more powerful, supirior... and yet we neglect that it is a spiritual journy we are on and that vanity gets us nowhere the greater jihad in in your heart not in the world. Love is blind! Love sees a need and fills it. Love sees a wound and tends to it. Why today when we see suffering it is ok, unless it is in the race, creed, culture, we ourselves belong to? Beauty stems from within. What make us great is what is under the veil of this world. It is beyond culture, beyond tradition, beyond earthly status, it is even beyond skin and bone... your worth is from within.

Before judging me, walk a mile in my shoes!
fi haviz ALLAH,

nuh ibn zbigniew gondek said...

As salaam alaikum.

Great piece -- very well written.

Wa salaama,

nuh ibn

Pamela K Taylor said...

Great article! Thanks for addressing this very important topic.

Fahad said...

Salam u Alaikum, Masha Allah very nice blog..jazak Allah Khair


Fahad said...

Salam u Alaikum, Masha Allah very nice blog..jazak Allah Khair


Haq Islam said...

Masha'Allah a very nice blog.

Amatullah Abdullah said...

Wa alaikumusalaam, I agree sister Mariam . Thank you for your insight.

Amatullah Abdullah said...

Thank you so much for your comments sisters Sara, Pamela, and Brothers Fahad and Haq Islam and Nuh

Anonymous said...

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Keep up the superb work!

Anonymous said...

Great post, I am almost 100% in agreement with you