Islam Condemns Racism

by Abdul Aziz Trust

Al-Quran, chapter 17, verse 70, states:

وَ لَقَدۡ کَرَّمۡنَا بَنِیۡۤ اٰدَمَ وَ حَمَلۡنٰہُمۡ فِی الۡبَرِّ وَ الۡبَحۡرِ وَ رَزَقۡنٰہُمۡ مِّنَ الطَّیِّبٰتِ وَ فَضَّلۡنٰہُمۡ عَلٰی کَثِیۡرٍ مِّمَّنۡ خَلَقۡنَا تَفۡضِیۡلًا ﴿٪۷۰﴾

“We have honoured the sons of Adam, provided them with transport on land and sea, given them for sustenance things good and pure, and conferred on them special favours, above a great part of our creation.” (The Holy Quran, 17:70)

The distinction and honour conferred by Almighty God on men are recounted in order to enforce the corresponding duties and responsibilities of man, who is raised to a position of honour above the brute creation. Man has been granted talents by which he can transport himself from one place to another by land, sea and air. All the means for sustenance and growth of every part of his nature are provided by Almighty God, and man’s spiritual faculties (the greatest gift of God) raise him above the greater part of God’s creation. Should man not then realize his noble destiny and prepare for his real life in the Hereafter, which is predicated on the life in this world?

Islam condemns racism in all its manifestations. This disposition was borne out of the Abrahamic lore of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. These fundamental human values were undermined by an unholy alliance of state and clergy in Western Europe from the fifteenth​n to the eighteenth ​century. As a result, First Nations and Sub-Saharan Peoples (including Muslims) were relegated as heathen and subhuman. This allowed for the enslavement and inventories of these human beings as chattel in the development of Western Capital.  Dr Eric Williams, the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, wrote extensively on this in his book Capitalism and Slavery, 1944.

When the Papal Bull, Sublimis Deus [the Sublime God] of 1537, forbidding enslavement, was declared, there was no European crown cooperation, which made the bull impotent and largely ignored. The decimation of Indigenous People of the Americas was well on its way and the African slave trade began to boom.  To this day there has not been any proper apology, appreciation or reparation made to Indigenous and African Peoples in the name of the victims of this pervasive, systematic racism and bondage.  This callousness to a very large extent continues to the present time and the entrenchment of this evil disposition in administrations, governments and societies contaminates human endeavour and pollutes the education of our children.

There is absolutely no place for racism in society. The Abdul Aziz Trust encourages the larger community to adopt this policy, be it personal or institutional, regardless of social class, religion, ethnicity, complexion, language, education, wealth or privilege. Systemic racism must be identified, exclaimed, expunged and excised forever.  Systematic racism must be confronted frontally and exposed, since the practice of systematic racism is usually violent and exercised in a top-down manner determined to achieve sordid and immoral goals.

In Al-Quran, chapter 49, verse 13, it states:

یٰۤاَیُّہَا النَّاسُ اِنَّا خَلَقۡنٰکُمۡ مِّنۡ ذَکَرٍ وَّ اُنۡثٰی وَ جَعَلۡنٰکُمۡ شُعُوۡبًا وَّ قَبَآئِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوۡا ؕ اِنَّ اَکۡرَمَکُمۡ عِنۡدَ اللّٰہِ اَتۡقٰکُمۡ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ عَلِیۡمٌ خَبِیۡرٌ ﴿۱۳﴾

“O mankind!  Indeed, We created you from a male and female, and made you into tribes and nations so that you may recognize and not despise each other.  Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous among you. And Allah is all-Knowing, all-Aware.” (The Holy Quran, 49:13)

This Quranic injunction is a clear admonition to all of mankind. This recognition of each other that the Quran requests is a clear celebration of diversity, mutual respect, engagement instead of prejudice, and the sharing of cultural histories and human endeavours. Indeed, in the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), among his loyal and devoted companions were Africans, Persians and Greeks.  Two of his African companions, who rose to prominence in Islam during his lifetime, married and established families with Arab women of social status.  Bilal ibn Rabah, an Ethiopian, may Allah be pleased with him, was the first person to deliver the public call to prayer (adhan).  He was a hero of resistance in the earliest history of Islam and was appointed muezzin (one who delivers the call to prayer) of the mosque. Brutal violence was inflicted on Bilal, yet he never flinched. Indeed, for infractions and misdemeanours of early Muslims, the freeing of slaves was a form of recompense in a society that practiced bondage. The Prophet owned no slaves and discouraged the practice of slavery.

A question arises, why in the affairs of human beings are there violent and despicable social behaviours based in racism?  We contend that racism is not an inherent human characteristic but is a learnt behavioural trait rooted in the history of human greed and oppression, slavery and bondage, colonial miseducation, nationalism and ethnic supremacy.  Although a full treatment of these racial causalities is not possible here, the proof of our contention in small part is the mass rescue of drowning African slaves by the Carib people of St Vincent in the straits of Bequia before the British-Carib war of 1795. It is pragmatic that their benevolence and cooperation with the Africans produced the Garifuna people of the Southern Caribbean, Belize and Honduras. The Caribs were portrayed in the European history books as cannibals, yet their history was that of a forthright and noble people. To date our local textbooks in primary schools do not reflect this nobility but continuously repeat the demonization of the Carib people ‘rumoured to be cannibals.’  This is an example of entrenched systemic racism still perpetrated unwittingly by those who produce and publish children’s books.

Muslims are taught that they should grow and develop with the understanding that the Islamic brotherhood is part of a larger brotherhood of mankind; indeed, a planetary brotherhood.  In the last sermon of the Holy Prophet Muhammad in Arafat 632 AD, at the end of the Hajj or Pilgrimage, he declared to his followers a solemn regard for all human life regardless of colour or ethnicity. He embraced and extended love and kindness to all those who were in attendance, dressed in the same common robe, regardless of their station in life. He implored them to take his message to those who were not present and to those who might understand it better in the future. We commend the reading of the final sermon of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to all mankind.

In this last sermon, he proclaimed:

“All​ mankind is derived from Adam and Eve, and an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab. A white person has no superiority over a black person nor does a black person have any superiority over a white person, except and only through piety and good deeds.”

This seventh century anti-racist message heralded by our Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) must resonate widely around the world today, given the numerous examples of race-based crimes perpetrated openly in the international community.  The Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a perfect exemplar in championing equality among human beings and reminded us that God’s creation is diverse in language, colours and beauty.

In Al-Quran, chapter 30, verse 22, it states:

وَ مِنۡ اٰیٰتِہٖ خَلۡقُ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الۡاَرۡضِ وَ اخۡتِلَافُ اَلۡسِنَتِکُمۡ وَ اَلۡوَانِکُمۡ ؕ اِنَّ فِیۡ ذٰلِکَ لَاٰیٰتٍ لِّلۡعٰلِمِیۡنَ ﴿۲۲﴾

“And​ one of His signs in the creation of the heavens and the earth is the diversity of our languages and colours. Surely in this are manifestations for those of sound knowledge and understanding, and for those who reflect.” (The Holy Quran, 30:22)

It is by no means going to be easy to eradicate systemic racism — personal and institutional — in the affairs of human beings. In the West, systematic racism continued to be perpetrated after the 13th Amendment of 1865.  The blatant examples of the insidious and protracted persecution of a people have today resulted in mass demonstrations, incarcerations, and violence directed to persons, properties and monuments. The Black Lives Matter Movement in the United States is a testament of this statement on racism.  Those who are quick to exclaim that All Lives Matter on hearing this slogan must remember that it is indeed black people who are being killed. The Most Reverend Dr Martin Luther King, 1964 Nobel Peace Laureate, was assassinated in 1968 for fearlessly confronting systematic and systemic racism and for proposing a New Politics. 

There are indeed sharp contrasts of the social conditions of freed Africans in the United States (1865) and in the Caribbean (1834).  Except for Haiti and other islands that are still colonies, the English-speaking Caribbean transited from Crown Colony governance in the wave of independence during the 1960s. Some have retained the Crown as head of state, acting through governors, while others exist as democratic republic states. Except for Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, governance was naturally the colonial bequeath of independence to the Afro-Caribbean peoples.

A pertinent question arises: how is racism practiced in these societies under one’s own watch and authority?  Yet in islands whose geo-demographics appear less diverse, tribalism raises an ugly head during the electoral process.  Outside of election and the voting process, cultural and social amity seem to be the order of the day. Modern racism and tribalism in the Caribbean are strongly correlated to electioneering, which may sometimes turn violent. Examples of this antisocial behaviour are constantly seen in the voting season in Haiti, and in Jamaica to a lesser extent; in Guyana, a seething volcano awaits to erupt. Systemic racism in Jamaica becomes apparent on the hustings with associated appeals and dog whistles that are meant to be heard either by a popular, black working class or by a quasi-business class of coloureds.

Haiti’s tribal antagonisms are historically rooted in the systematic manoeuvres and systemic limitations imposed by superpowers. Its old European master has spared no effort and contrivances against Haitian development.  Some say the bitterness of the Haitian Revolution is still on the master’s tongue and Monroe’s perpetual intoxications have taken the hindmost. To make matters worse for the smallest people in the Western Hemisphere (by size comparison), massive disenfranchisement from the Dominican Republic was aggressively pursued after a process of true naturalization had already taken place for more than a hundred years. This is a recent example of systematic racism perpetrated against the Haitian people by the other half of the island; indeed, a form of vicious apartheid, while the Anglophone archipelago slept like a full anaconda with occasional hisses.

The politics of Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana have long been divided along racial lines.  This to a large extent has been the result of the geographic distribution of the two major ethnic groups — East Indians and Africans.  The proportion of Africans to Indians is approximately the same in both countries, where electoral victories are usually marginal. However, during the electoral process, appeals on the hustings that bring racial sentiments to candidates’ philosophies or party affiliations weigh heavily in the process.  Culturally and socially there have been much sharing between these groups, and it is clear from an analysis of the politics of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago that the democratic form of governance, bequeathed from the British Westminster system, has produced perpetually nondemocratic results.

When a system of governance causes two major racial groups to politic against each other, wholesome country endeavours are stymied or put aside for partisan interests and the development process crawls. The democratic processes we utilize are adversarial, ‘winner takes all’ and ‘first past-the-post.’ There is no equanimity; only partisanship. These are the non-democratic results of a so-called democratic system that has been reduced to a sporting game with sponsors bearing calculated benefits. It piths one group against the other and benefits accrued to one group are naturally at the expense of the other.  In practice, this is tantamount to racial discrimination which is then fertilized wittingly (systematic) and unwittingly (systemic).  This tacit entrenchment of racism in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana then encourages a cyclical bias in the delivery of social goods and services.

We support the call made by Dr Martin Luther King fifty years ago for a New Politics that does not bear such low-hanging fruits. How can we continue to perpetuate a system that bears poisoned apples and ostracized outcomes? The future of the Caribbean, especially that of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, must be cognizant that divide et impera [divide and rule], an old dictum of empire,has produced noxious goods in both orchards and has caused a cyclical grab for resources when one group gains at the expense of the other. When a critical mass of young people is reached, who understand the consequences of our poor politics, they will wish for reform, and perhaps the New Politics of the goodly Reverend will be a dream come true.  A discussion which was deferred for over fifty years must now begin.

In these bleak pandemic times, massive human economic migrations, and the international failure in dealing with existential threats such as global warming and nuclear weapons, we must remember the significant gains of perseverance, faith in the benevolence and mercy of God, and hope that arises from good deeds and actions.  It is imperative that we must continue to struggle in this cause to eradicate systematic and systemic racism globally. We recommend that the necessary actions be reflective of the revolutionary, unrealized and egalitarian message, which the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) enunciated over 1400 years ago as a cornerstone in Islam:

“All mankind are equal in the sight of Allah.”

All believers should promulgate this message of the Prophet of Islam in ensuring that this monster (Shaitan) residing in our global society does not find a permanent home among us. Allah has created us equally and endowed us with the capacity to reason and understand, to go to the moon in person, and to send our probes beyond the Oort Cloud into interstellar space, by His permission.

May Allah bless all efforts to eradicate racism, a blight in the social fabric and evolution of mankind. 

Khuda Hafiz.