We know that prejudice exists in every society; it’s a sickness we encounter transnationally. Unfortunately, despite explicit texts in Islam disregarding race and valuing only the state of our hearts and actions, this disease extends into some Muslim communities. We know some Muslims are even racially biased towards other Muslims. We hear about parents who refuse to allow their children to marry outside of their race/ethnicity, we hear about mosques that are sometimes ethnocentric, and we hear the random gossip which people share on their thoughts of deficiencies of various racial groups.
But those are just issues of prejudice within some segments of the Muslim community. A similar problem is the apathetic ignorance and stereotypes which some within the Muslim community hold towards others. In the suburban Muslim communities of the West Coast, I have sometimes heard incredibly uninformed stereotypes of Latino and Black communities who do not identify as Muslim. This paradigm is a disheartening reflection of our lack of implementation of Islam.
God tells us in the Qur`an, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, God is Knowing and Acquainted,” (Qur’an 49:13).
And before this verse, “O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one's] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers,” (Qur’an 49:11). Clearing our hearts of suspicion directly links to clearing our hearts of racism.
Are we not doing anything less than taking Satan the accursed as an example when we allow our hearts, our words and our actions to claim some of us, by default of race, are better than others? When God commanded Satan to bow to Adam, his response was, “I am better than him. You created me from fire and created him from clay,” (Qur’an 7:12).
Satan acknowledged that God created him from one type of substance and Adam (may God’s peace be upon him) from another. Satan was in no way involved in choosing or molding the substance of his own creation. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (exalted is He) is the One Who created him in the way He `azza wa jall chose, and then Satan, in his complete arrogance, had the audacity to refuse to obey God’s command on the basis of something which he had nothing to do with.
It is just like those of us who attach some type of greater significance to our race or culture when, in fact, we have absolutely no ownership in how we were created or what race we were created to be. How are we going to be so arrogant about something which we had nothing to do with in the first place?
Islam is very clear on the issue of race and racism. The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) has specifically told us, “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 any superiority over white – except by piety and good action,” (Ahmad). How can any of us claim superiority when we cannot see within hearts? Judgment can only be left up to God, as He is the Only One Who knows in what state we will meet Him.
It can be difficult to feel comfortable with a new group of people if we have never had personal or positive interactions with them. This difficulty dramatically increases when we also have to consider the stereotypes which communities of color must endure within our inherently racist society.
The Muslim community in the United States knows this firsthand; the plethora of misinformation about Islam in our society negatively affects the way people interact with us and the policies enacted that affect us continually. Thus, should we not be even more inclined to open our hearts, minds and souls to love our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity, regardless of race? Should this not be the prime time for us to come together and build relationships with other communities?
While it may be difficult to free our minds and hearts from the shackles of colonialism which have gripped our minds for too many centuries, Allah (swt) has given us continual guidance on how to understand and appreciate our human diversity. He tells us, “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge,” (Qur’an 30:22). Our differences should serve as reminders for us, as opportunities for us to reflect – if we want to be considered amongst “those of knowledge.” To be amongst them, we must seek liberation from falling victim to the inherent racism and prejudice that colonialism has spread throughout the globe. We must strive to train our hearts and souls, working to replace ugly feelings, words and actions, with dignity, love and impeccable justice.
A few suggested solutions and I gratefully welcome all of yours so that I can learn as well, God willing:
- BECOME a part of the communities we fear or experience distaste for in our hearts. Build relationships and coalitions with people who come from different backgrounds. Volunteer, shop and mingle in different communities.
- Finding oneself uneasy or continually checking on one’s purse/wallet when one is in an area where most shoppers are people of color is a great indication that one needs to have more interaction with these communities.
- Educate Ourselves.
- Hating or fearing a group of people—without even knowing them!—is called stereotyping. It’s kind of like how many fellow Americans who do not know Muslims, have not researched Islam, and take Fox News as a religious savior, think of us all as terrorists. Why is it that when it affects us, it bothers us? And yet when we do it to others, it’s somehow justified? Not to burst our bubble or anything but…um, that’s kind of called hypocrisy.
- Just like Muslims do not appreciate it when references are made to us as if we’re one big race or ethnicity, neither do our brethren from other communities. For example, referring to people who one *thinks* come from Spanish-speaking communities (aka Latino/as) as, “Mexicans,” is like referring to all Arabs as “Egyptians,” or all South-Asians as, “Indians.” While perhaps stated without evil intentions, it exudes ignorance. Let us take some time to learn about other people in other communities, seeking to create understanding, respect and mutual brother/sisterhood.
- Movies are often a source of the perpetuation of false stereotypes which can inform our interactions with people whom we do not feel we connect with. Instead of monetarily supporting such proliferation, watch films which will help provide greater understanding.
- Watch El Norte to understand just a few of the struggles of some within the Latino community. El Norte should help increase our appreciation for an incredibly hard-working, highly aspiring people.
- Watch Crips and Bloods, Made in America to understand how these two gangs in America were actually born out of poverty, racism, police brutality and the FBI targeting community groups which provided social and civil help for their own communities. These gangs emerged because of our country’s systemic, institutional racism and policies to keep certain segments of certain communities of color in poverty.
- Read The Shame of the Nation by Jonathen Kozol to begin to have an understanding of the institutional discrepancies students of color experience in the education system. Look up Landson-Billings’ (2006) From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt to have an understanding of the historical background of the inequities these amazing students are forced to experience and reasons why those immediately impact their future opportunities.
Our beloved nation, the United States of America, was founded on murder, pillage and manipulation (think: Native Americans/Indians). It was built on the backs of free people who were enslaved, coerced, beaten, killed and stripped of their culture, language, religion and families (think overwhelmingly free Africans). Those of us living in this country are a part of that wretched history, but we do not have to allow it to define our actions.
We can be those foremost in defining our country’s future narrative, but we need to make the decision. Will we continue to allow our own minds and hearts to be shackled with spiritual diseases which impact the ways we interact with others? Or will we take it upon ourselves to live and embody the Qur’an and the noble Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ messages of social justice, humanity and impeccable respect for all others?
The great Malcolm X (may God be pleased with him), was once openly racially biased. However, after the heart-changing experience of Hajj, he was transformed. He said, ”Because of the spiritual enlightenment which I was blessed to receive as a result of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy city of Mecca, I no longer subscribe to sweeping indictments of any one race. I am now striving to live the life of a true…Muslim. I must repeat that I am not a racist nor do I subscribe to the tenants of racism. I can state in all sincerity that I wish nothing but freedom, justice and equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people.”
Islam is revolutionary. Malcolm X allowed the teachings of our religion to liberate his heart and mind from any sweeping misgivings he once carried towards a particular group of people. It is the sweetness of the Islamic spiritual experience which allowed him to transform prejudiced tendencies into those of justice for all.
I want to follow in Malcolm X’s steps and join those who are consciously working for justice, beginning with their own personal hearts, words and actions. I’ve decided that I want Islam to revolutionize the way I think, speak and interact with others. What about you? What will you decide?
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of articles on racism within and outside of the Muslim community.