The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ)’s Struggle Against Racism

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Racism Definition

Racism: Discrimination in various forms such as humiliation, humiliation, exclusion, deprivation of justice and equality in treatment and relations, discrimination in social relations based on skin color, appearance, language, religion, race and civilization, and unlawful and arbitrary interventions in all kinds of treatment.
Deprivation of all kinds of rights and freedoms, even enslavement, and deprivation of the rights and opportunities to live humanely are still one of the oldest bleeding wounds of humanity.
History is full of shameful scenes and suffering brought about by racism. Racism, which is rooted in negative nationalism, ignorance, arrogance, a sense of superiority and the claim to have power, is a great disrespect for God’s judgment, art and will. It is a custom, understanding and practice that was abolished by the Quran and Sunnah before Islam.

Divine Decree and the Divine Practice: Diversity

Allah, who created humans from the same essence, from a single mother and father, is the one who divides them into nations and tribes:

“O people, indeed, we created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know each other…”1 (49/13)

This diversity in creation is both a divine practice and verses that point to the existence, unity and power of Allah: “The creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of Allah are also among His verses. Your languages and colors.

Surely there are signs in this for those who know and understand.” 2
In the common denominator of being human, people should know each other with these differences, get to know each other, accept and appreciate each other, and live brotherly by respecting each other’s differences.

The claim that one is superior to the other is justified and should not be so. Because the only criterion that makes people superior to each other in the sight of Allah is piety: “…the most valuable of you in the sight of Allah is the pious one.”3
Taqwa is a sincere and respectful protector. It means obeying the limits set by Allah, avoiding what is forbidden, and complying with what is allowed. The person who is superior in this regard is considered the most valuable and superior in the sight of Allah. If a person’s actions, attitudes, behaviors, and interactions have surpassed them, their lineage alone will not advance them.4
Relative measures and criteria made up by people. Because superiority has no value or value in the sight of Allah, and if it harms the rights, justice, personality and identity of others, it constitutes a great sin and crime.

He Has Always Been Against Racism

The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) was sent as a prophet in a problematic time and place where racism was widespread and deeply rooted.

His first audience lived in a society where people were enslaved, deprived of a humane life, and marginalized. It was a society dominated by tribalism, where even different tribes of the same nation belittled each other, sought superiority in tribal affiliation, and always considered someone from their own tribe to be in the right.

Until he was entrusted with the mission of prophethood, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) had kept his distance from this mindset. He extended his support to those around him who were looked down upon and marginalized in the ignorant society of pre-Islamic Mecca. He treated his black nanny, Umm Ayman, like a mother,5 and immediately granted freedom to Zayd, whom he encountered as a slave, treating him like his own son.

After being sent as a prophet to all people of various colors, languages, and races, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) engaged in a continuous struggle to eliminate racism and its different reflections in society. Islam, while allowing individuals to love their own race and nation, declared that practices falling under racism were wrong and false.

It conveyed that racial differences among people are entirely a matter of God’s decree, emphasizing the importance of justice in interactions and relationships. The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him), both verbally and through his actions, unequivocally opposed racism and stood firm against it.

Send Him Away!

The wall of racism that people built between themselves and those who were different was such a barrier that many used it as an excuse not to embrace Islam.

The aristocratic class in Mecca, witnessing that black, slave, poor, and weak individuals were gathering around the Prophet, and seeing them being treated with freedom, equality, and justice, became furious. They declared that they would not come to him unless he got rid of those people around him.

However, such offers, tainted with racist views and arrogance, held no value in the eyes of the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him), who saw all humans as the children of Adam, that is, brothers. This perspective was a great disrespect to the decree of God and a grave injustice towards those individuals.

Moreover, it was a situation that could destroy a person’s eternal life. In expressing this, he stated, “Whoever dies while still feeling anger or supporting racism or calling for it, their death is like the pre-Islamic ignorant death!”6 He urged the believers to stay away from all kinds of racist actions and considerations.

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Mark of Ignorance

In the Era of Ignorance (Jahiliya), racism and tribalism had become ingrained in people’s characters. Although the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) gradually transformed and shaped his Companions from head to toe through the Qur’an and the Sunnah, eradicating deeply rooted aspects of individual personalities instantly was challenging; moments of anger could bring such traits back to the surface.

One day, Abu Dhar al-Ghifari, one of the early Muslims, became angry with the respected Bilal and, unable to control his anger, uttered the phrase, “Son of a black woman!” This incident highlights the ongoing struggle to eliminate deeply ingrained prejudices, even among the early followers of Islam.

Originally from Abyssinia, both the respected Bilal and his mother had dark skin. When the respected Bilal reported the incident that saddened and angered the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him), he called the respected Abu Dhar and said, “Did you criticize him for having a black mother? You still have traces of the pre-Islamic era! You can only surpass him through piety. Otherwise, you are no better than white or black-skinned individuals!” 7

Regretting his actions, the respected Abu Dhar apologized to the respected Bilal, and to seek forgiveness, he placed his head on the ground beneath Bilal’s feet as a sign of remorse…8

The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) mentioned racism 9 among the four practices inherited from the pre-Islamic era that the Muslim community might not be able to completely abandon. He emphasized the danger of racism as a human and historical reality, urging believers to be vigilant against such deviation.

Leave Him, Let Him Go to Hell!

Racism had the potential to plunge societies into an abyss, and the use of such a dirty weapon could not be disregarded, especially within the diverse Islamic ummah, by those who sought to sow discord and mischief.

The hypocrites indeed tried to revive and use hidden and explicit racism and tribalism to disrupt the unity and solidarity of the Islamic community. A racist hypocrite, upon seeing members of different races (such as Bilal the Abyssinian, Suhayb the Byzantine, and Salman the Persian) sitting and conversing fraternally, questioned, “Aws and Hazraj are Arabs who support the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him). How is it possible that these foreigners who are not Arabs are accepted to sit and talk with Arabs on equal terms? Where did they gain this value and equality?”

At that moment, among those present, the respected Muadh ibn Jabal knew very well how sensitive the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) was to racism. Faced with such a temptation and trap that could undermine the foundation of justice, brotherhood, and societal unity, he could not remain silent. He could not, for the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) had said, “Supporting your people in injustice and wrongdoing is tribalism!” 10

He immediately stood up, firmly grabbed the man by the collar, and said, “I will take you to the presence of the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him). I will ask him about the place of your words in Islam. We will see if there is any glorification of one race and denigration of another in Islam!” He then brought the man to the Prophet and informed him of what he had said.

The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) was deeply angered by what he heard. For years, he had been actively combating racism both in words and deeds, putting great efforts to ensure that even a trace of racism did not find a place in Islamic society. He had issued moral, administrative, and legal warnings, commands, and prohibitions to prevent the influence of racism.

However, some persisted in upholding the pre-Islamic mindset, attempting to divide the emerging Islamic society through it. He immediately went to the Prophet’s Mosque and gathered people with an extraordinary call commonly used in emergencies. Then, he ascended the pulpit, praised and thanked God, and addressed the people, “O people! Your Lord is One! Your first father and mother are also one! Being Arab isn’t determined by your first father and mother’s identity; it’s simply a label you choose for yourself. There is no superiority of Arabs over non-Arabs. Superiority lies in faith in God and obedience. Those who believe in God and obey Him are superior together. You should all know this; do not introduce superiority based on race among yourselves!”

Everyone had once again heard the place of this issue in Islam from the most authoritative source. So, what would be the punishment for this hypocrite who had witnessed the Prophet’s repeated warnings but still refused to abandon racism?

The respected Muadh ibn Jabal asked, “O Messenger of God! (peace and blessings be upon him) In that case, what should I do with this person who wants to introduce the fitnah of racism among us?” The response given by the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) was as follows: “Leave him; he has a way to Hell!” This hypocrite named Qays, after the death of the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) apostatized and joined rebellions, eventually dying in the Wars of Apostasy.11

Racism Leads to Humiliation

The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) had forewarned that racism leads individuals or societies to humiliation, causing them to lose their value in the sight of God: “God has removed from you the pride of the pre-Islamic era and boasting about lineage.

People are of two types: those who are praised for their piety in the sight of God and those who are despised, wretched, and deviated from the path of God. Remember, all of you are children of Adam. Adam was created from dust. I swear by God, people will either abandon boasting about their lineages

and racism, or they will become more debased in the sight of God than a dung beetle rolling dung with its nose.”12

During the Battle of Uhud, when someone was striking a polytheist, he said, “Take this, it’s from me. I am a young Persian!” Upon hearing this, the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Take this, it’s from me. I am a young man from the Ansar, why didn’t you say that?” He did not allow any expression that hinted at racism even on the battlefield. 13

Racism had to be avoided under any circumstances, as it led to division and eventually humiliation.

It Is Difficult To Be Free from Racism

The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) was very sensitive to saving people from the fire of Hell. However, racism was not to be overlooked. He even once stated, “One who calls to racism, fights for racism, or dies for racism is not one of us.” 14

He made it clear that a true Muslim cannot engage in racism. Racism, like a contagious drug, was a difficult swamp for one to extricate oneself from. He likened the one who aids his tribe with racist considerations outside of justice and fairness to a camel that has fallen into a deep well and is being pulled out by its tail.15

He emphasized the difficulty of being saved from the swamp of racism. Moreover, racism was a destructive individual and social disease with the highest potential to lead people into all kinds of oppression. Therefore, attempting to instill a sense of superiority based on lineage to future generations should be avoided. It should be known that “The superiority of an individual lies in their piety, goodness, intelligence, and the value and pride in their morality.”16

The Administration of Muslims

The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) not only protected the fundamental rights and freedoms of those who were subjected to racism during the pre-Islamic era but also paved the way for them to hold positions within Islamic society. In this sense, it is natural for a black slave to lead Muslims, and as long as they rule with justice, believers must obey.17

Intervening in people’s positions in the state and society based on their color and lineage is a violation of human rights. As long as individuals are competent and rule justly, everyone can take on any position and work. For instance, The respected Umar, when he was chosen as the new caliph, appointed Suhayb ibn Sinan, of Roman origin and who had been a slave for a period, as his deputy until the new caliph was elected. 18

He entrusted the leadership to the people of Medina, including prominent Companions, and Arabs during his rule.

Conclusion

The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him), who stayed far away from racist feelings and thoughts throughout his life and fought against racism during the prophethood, sensed his approaching demise.

He sent a message to all Muslims, urging them to meet him at Arafat. He wanted to gather them, remind them of the most crucial issues for the future of humanity before his death, and elevate their sensitivity in these matters. Addressing over a hundred thousand people at Arafat, one of the points he emphasized was racism.

He said, “O people! Pay attention! Your Lord is One, and your father is one. Be aware that there is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, for a non-Arab over an Arab, for a white over a black, or for a black over a white, except through piety!”

Author: Yücel Men

Footnotes

1.Surah al-Hujurat 49/13.

2.Surah ar-Rum 30/22.

3.Surah al-Hujurat 49/13.

4.Sahih Muslim, Remembrance 11.

5.For detailed information, see

https://peygamberyolu.com/asil-neye-uzulmeli-ve-

aglamaliyiz/

6.Sahih Muslim, Funerals 53; Nasai, Tahrim 28; Ibn Majah, Fitan 7.

7.Sahih Bukhari, Faith 22; Bayhaqi, Shuabu’l-Iman 7/130 (4772).

8.Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat.

9.Sahih Muslim, Funerals 29.

10.Abu Dawud, Manners 121.

11.Ibn Asakir, History of Damascus 24/225; Suyuti, Hasaisu’l-Kubra 2/247; Salih, Subulu’l-Huda 10/119.

12.Abu Dawud, Manners 121.

13.Abu Dawud, Manners 122.

14.Abu Dawud, Manners 122.

15.Abu Dawud, Manners 122.

16.Ibn Hibban, Sahih 483; Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Musnad 2/365.

17.Tabarani, Awsat 2/38; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 2/141; 4/178; 8/236.

18.Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 3/173.

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