We find racism everywhere, in all peoples and even among the adherents of every faith. Much like an invisible virus, it invades our minds and hearts. It’s an ugly whisper within us that we are better than another. No child is born infected. Rather it is taught and transmitted by parents, family and society.
Even religion has been manipulated to give credence to racism as a divine plan for the management of humankind, twisting and turning scripture to suit the status quo.
Justice and equality were among the earliest revelations and continue to be the cornerstone of the Qur’an. Although it is presumed that the rapid rise of Islam could have occurred only by use of the sword, in reality it was the message that all were created equal: that the best of peoples were those who possessed ‘spiritual excellence,’ i.e. worshiping God as if you see Him, and though you cannot, to know that He sees you and act accordingly.
And of the wonders 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. The Romans 30:22
From the earliest revelations, the differences among mankind were meant to be celebrated: as a source of wonder, awe, curiosity, not of fear and loathing. The Qur’an further states that God’s very purpose in creation was for us to know one another.
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 Allah are those who possess spiritual excellence. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. The Crowds 49:13
Early Arab society separated according to tribalism, lineage, and wealth. Not surprisingly, the pervasive message of equality in Islam was bitterly fought by the elite and privileged. Those adherents of lesser stature, with no tribal or financial support, were persecuted and tortured. Not only were blacks enslaved but impoverished whites and those who were prisoners of war, regardless of ethnicity or lineage. The earliest Muslims ranked among the underprivileged and underserved with whom the message of equality resonated most strongly. Like today there were also among them those of the elite classes that recognized the deplorable injustice and inhumanity within their society. The message of equality and justice proclaimed by Muhammad, whom all Meccans regarded as one of their best and most honorable citizens, gathered people from all walks of life.
One renowned story is that of Bilal bin Rabah, an Abyssinian slave. Tortured by his owner for his unwavering conviction to the creed of Islam, he was bought then freed by Muhammad and his followers. He became not only one of the closest companions and supporters of Islam but was physically raised in stature high atop the mosque, appointed as the caller to the prayer.
Racism was not eradicated through Islam. Enslavement and injustice still existed. Wiping out the traces of this virus is an ongoing battle still today. However, verses were revealed to commend equal treatment and to abolish the very idea that any soul could rightfully be the property of another. Wrongs could be righted and sins atoned for by freeing a slave. Unlike the slave-owners of our American past, a man or woman could free a slave through marriage and any children born of their union were considered free. The gradual commandments of spiritual excellence and use of positive reinforcement for the lessening of slavery gave slaves and slave owners alike time to adjust to a different social construct.
Prophet Muhammad’s final sermon is legendary for its time: ‘No Arab is better than a non-Arab, no white man is better than a black’. Racism will always be with us. Contrary to the admonitions in the Qur’an, Muslims have their fair share of racism within their communities. As long as people seek to build self-esteem and ego on the backs of others, this virus will never be eradicated. However, if we rise to the challenge of the Qur’an:
Let there arise a nation who invites to goodness and enjoins what is right and forbids what is wrong. The Family of Imran 3:110
We can live up to the challenge to be the best of mankind ever created.