Every community faces the challenges of social ills and diseases which need reform for it to grow and progress. The Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) reformed the Arabian community by making strides to bring forth social justice and equality as he brought the religion of Islam to its people. Among the most important social reforms the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) introduced was the eradication of racism and discrimination during his lifetime in a community that was so oppressive and suppressive to anyone who was not their own. The pagan Arabs of the pre-Islamic period were ruthless about segregating themselves, and their economy was heavily based on slave ownership. Thus, the Prophet worked diligently to establish an equitable system by curbing the racist tendencies of the community. In a famous tradition he states, “There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, nor of non-Arab over an Arab, and superiority of a white man over a black man nor a black man over a white man except by virtue of piety.”1 Racial equality in Islam can be seen in the life of the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) himself, and some of his closest companions came from different parts of the world. Below we will discuss two prominent companions during the time of the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp).

Bilal the Muezzin (Muadhin)

Bilal was an enslaved Ethiopian man who lived in the Arabian Peninsula. After the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) proclaimed his Prophethood, he was one of the first people to embrace the religion of Islam despite the severe torture he experienced from his owners because of his faith. It was his sincerity in proclaiming his obedience to God and submission to the Prophet that allowed him to ascend to be among the most prominent companions of the Messenger (pbuh&hp). Bilal is well known as the first muezzin or muadhin (the one who recites the adhan or call to prayer) in Islamic history, a status that shows the importance of diversity in the religion. In an era where Arab pride and elitism dominated Hijaz, the Prophet created an environment for formerly enslaved person of African descent to such an important representative of the religion of Islam.

Salman al-Muhammadi

Salman was a Persian man who was always seeking answers in terms of divine knowledge. Long before Salman had met the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) and embraced the religion of Islam, he was searching for a religion that practiced mercy, generosity, and humility. After years of hardship, he made his way to the city of Medina where he met the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) and became a Muslim. He became one of the closest and most loyal companions to the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) such that the Prophet (pbuh&hp) announced on several occasions that “Salman is from us, the Ahl al-Bayt.”3 Salman reached one of the highest ranks in the eyes of God; he became close in rank to the Holy Household (pbut).

Character over Ethnicity

Many of the companions of the Imams heard about the merits of Salman. They used to ask the Imams to tell them about Salman “the Persian.” On several occasions, the Imams demonstrated the need to speak about qualities and virtues as opposed to labels and titles. For example, Imam al-Baqir (p) stated, “Do not say Salman the Persian but say Salman al-Muhammadi; that man is from us, Ahl al-bayt.”4 Among the lessons that the Imam was trying to instill in his community was the superiority of an individual due to their virtue and character—not their ethnicity or family lineage. Thus, there is no need to reference Salman as “the Persian” but rather speak to his proximity to the family of the Prophet. As God mentions in the Quran, “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 God is the most pious of you. God is All-knowing and All-aware.”5 The most honored in the eyes of God are those who are conscious of God and reflect that in their actions, regardless of their nation or tribe.

Bits of Advice

  1. Be humble: We should not act like we are better than others because we come from a certain place or speak a specific language. God states, “Do not scornfully turn your face away from people. Do not walk around puffed-up with pride; God does not love arrogant and boastful people.”6 We were all created from clay and we will all return to God the same way, and it is vital that we do not look down at others due to our family lineage, the color of our skin, or our socio-economic status.
  2. Show kindness to others: It is the etiquette of our Prophet and his immaculate family (pbut) to demonstrate kindness and emanate mercy and compassion to all. The Prophet’s etiquette was a major factor that brought others to the religion, even his staunchest enemies. God says in the Quran, “Only through the Divine Mercy have you (Muhammad) been able to deal with your followers so gently. If you had been stern and hard-hearted, they would all have deserted you a long time ago.”7 Thus, through following the prophetic example, we should remove any trace of pride and arrogance from our hearts.
  3. Enjoin others to good and forbid them from evil: As followers of the household of purity and infallibility, it is important that we create a community whereby we are correcting others when they segregate and discriminate based on culture, language, or color of skin. Numerous verses of the Holy Quran speak to the importance of enjoining others to good and forbidding others from evil. For instance, God quotes Luqman’s advice to his son when he says, “[Call on] others [to] do good. Prevent them from doing evil.”8 Combatting racism and discrimination is among the most important of our social responsibilities in creating a community that embraces the teaching of our beloved prophet and his family.


1. Al-Ghadir, vol. 6, p. 188.
2. Bihar al-anwar, vol. 37, p. 331.
3. Bihar al-anwar, vol. 22, p. 349.
4. The Holy Quran 49:13. Quranic quotations in this blog are from the Muhammad Sarwar translation.
5. The Holy Quran 31:18.
6. The Holy Quran 3:159.
7. The Holy Quran 31:17.

1- روي عن النبي (ص) “لا فضل لعربي على عجمي، ولا لعجمي على عربي، ولا لأبيض على أسود، ولا لأسود على أبيض إلا بالتقوى”.
2- روي عن النبي (ص) “سلمان منّا أهل البيت”.
3- روي عن الإمام الباقر (ع) ” لا تقولوا سلمان الفارسي، ولكن قولوا: سلمان المحمدي ذاك رجل منا أهل البيت”.
4- ( يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّـهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ).
5- (وَلَا تُصَعِّرْ خَدَّكَ لِلنَّاسِ وَلَا تَمْشِ فِي الْأَرْضِ مَرَحًا ۖ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ لَا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ مُخْتَالٍ فَخُورٍ).
6- (فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللَّـهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ ۖ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لَانفَضُّوا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ).
7- (يَا بُنَيَّ أَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ وَأْمُرْ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَانْهَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَاصْبِرْ عَلَىٰ مَا أَصَابَكَ).

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