When it comes to social services, it is an expectation of citizens from any country…
One of the most extraordinary sights Muslims behold upon visiting the holy city of Mecca during the hajj pilgrimage, or indeed any of the other Islamic holy sites in the larger Middle Eastern region, is not just the holy sites themselves, but in the robust diversity of the pilgrims who visit them. It is common to hear in the news about the millions of pilgrims who perform the hajj annually or the millions more who visit the holy city of Karbala during the occasions of Ashura or Arbaeen. What the media sometimes overlooks is the faces of those pilgrims. A closer look will reveal many distinct skin colors, races, and ethnicities. These are people who come from countries all over the world, speaking different languages. However, in the sight of the believers, they are all one people and they are all the same. God states in the holy Quran,
People, We have created you all male and female and have made you nations and tribes so that you would [know] 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. (49:13)
The Letter of Malcom X
The late Malcolm X gives us one of the best examples of what we describe above in his description of his first and only hajj in 1964. In an excerpt from a letter to his friends in the United States, while in the holy city of Mecca, he writes:
I have been blessed to visit the Holy City of Mecca, I have made my seven circuits around the Ka’ba, led by a young Mutawaf named Muhammad, I drank water from the well of the Zam Zam. I ran seven times back and forth between the hills of Mt. Al-Safa and Al-Marwah. I have prayed in the ancient city of Mina, and I have prayed on Mt. Arafat.
There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white.
America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white – but the white attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.
You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.
During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug – while praying to the same God – with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana.
We were truly all the same (brothers) – because their belief in one God had removed the white from their minds, the white from their behavior, and the white from their attitude.1
Malcom’s words eloquently describe a firm realization of the true nature of racial equality in Islam. We see this particularly when he writes, “…what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions.”
Racism is an old sin
Perhaps the first sin ever committed in all of existence, according to Islam, was when God commanded the angels to bow before Adam and Satan refused. As seen in the Holy Quran,
We created and shaped you, then told the angels to prostrate themselves before Adam. All the angels obeyed except Satan, who did not. (7:11) God asked, “What made you disobey Me?” Satan replied, “I am better than Adam, for You have created me out of fire and Adam out of clay.” (7:12)
Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) is reported to have said,
The angels thought that Satan was one of them. In the knowledge of God, he was not one of them. He (Satan) let out that which was in his soul with racist feelings and anger saying, “You have created me from fire and You created him from clay.”2
Therefore, the only sin that may have preceded Satan’s disobedience to God’s command to prostrate before Adam, was the ‘racist feelings and anger’ that he expressed within his soul before his refusal to bow. It is abundantly clear that God does not tolerate racism at any level, whether in the worldly or in the celestial realms of creation.
Dealing with racism in our communities
Unfortunately, we may often see discrimination in our own communities among different ethnic and racial groups. This is even the case among varying ethnicities from within a single country. To deal with this situation, the foremost strategy at our disposal is to remind our brothers and sisters of the words of our Infallible role-models, namely the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) and his family (pbut).
The Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) is reported to have said,
On the Day of Judgment, God will [send] those who practice racism [to the] fire.3
Although this may appear to be a very strong warning, it may very well be the case that our communities are ignorant of the seriousness of the offense. Certain attitudes among various ethnicities are ideas passed along from one generation to the next. A parent may advise his or her child to ‘be wary of such and such ethnicities’ and to not marry people of other ethnic groups. This is a direct clash between cultural and religious values. These types of ideas are at odds with Islamic principles, and the consequences of acting on such incorrect ideas are quite severe as the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) warns.
Therefore, it is important for individuals to take practical steps to strive to eliminate discrimination in their local communities. But where should one start? This effort begins right at home.
Some helpful tips for the elder generations:
- Understand the inherent dangers of passing down the specific cultural ideas that put down other ethnicities and are incompatible with Islamic principles.
- Teach your children to be diligent in dealing with others generally and do not target certain ethnic groups as being worse or better than others.
- Do not forbid your children from marrying into other ethnic groups or associating with them; to do so is unlawful (haram). Marriage should be based on faith and character.
Some helpful tips for younger generations:
- Be respectful of your elders while learning to differentiate between cultural values and Islamic principles.
- Know that not all cultural values are bad, if they do not go against Islamic principles.
- Take the opportunity to learn your parent’s native language, and after you have done that, try to learn other languages too!
A helpful tip for everyone:
- We are extremely fortunate to live in a country with such diversity. Strive to learn about the cultures of others as God states in the Holy Quran, “People, We have created you all male and female and have made you nations and tribes so that you would [know] each other.” (49:13)
By taking these first steps, discriminatory practices may no longer find strong roots from which to grow and may gradually reduce with time. This can lead to additional steps and to stronger communities with a more wholesome environment for future generations to come.
1. “Malcolm X’s (Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) Letter from Mecca,” accessed February 07, 2018, https://islam.uga.edu/malcomx.html.
2. Shaykh al-Kulayni, Kitab al-kafi, vol. 2, ch. 119, p. 248.
3. Shaykh al-Kulayni, Kitab al-kafi, vol. 2, ch. 119, p. 247.