Muslim World

What Does the Quran Say About Racism?

What Does the Quran Say About Racism?

Although our society’s appearance has markedly changed over the past couple of decades, it remains virtually impossible to go a week without hearing about some sort of racially motivated murder or attack, or a famous figure being exposed of their prejudicial opinions. Unfortunately, racism has continued to be an issue worldwide in the present time as well as the past. During the time of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, segregation was extremely common. In Mecca, where people generally identified themselves with a particular tribe, racism was a fact of life. Those who were fringe or client members of tribes were vulnerable to mistreatment, being taken advantage of, and violated. Fighting and violence between tribes was common and only increased as Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ following grew. Muslims experienced monumental discrimination in the early days of Islam, with some being driven out of their homes for their religious beliefs. Most importantly, the belief and practice of racism is inherently against tawheed (the belief in the Oneness of God). Racism raises one group of human beings over others in a godlike way–not in the way they treat the demoted group, but in justifying their supremacy over them. Only Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى wills who is chosen above others, and His will is always just and merciful. It should come as no surprise, then, that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had strong teachings against racism. Throughout his prophethood, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ encouraged his followers to be kind and courteous towards members of other tribes, ethnicities, and religions. His teachings on the importance of inclusivity can today be found in the hadith, complementing similar teachings in the Quran. In this article, we’re going to be looking at what the Quran and sunnah have to say about racism.

*Please note the use of the word ethnicity over the word race as Muslims believe (and science proves) the category of race was a constructed term to justify the actions of colonial powers over their colonial subjects. As the dictionary states: “Genetic evidence has undermined the idea of racial divisions of the human species and rendered race obsolete as a biological system of classification. Race therefore should no longer be considered as an objective category, as the term formerly was. Though race has lost its biological basis, the sociological consequences of historical racial categories persist. For example, it may be appropriate to invoke race to discuss social or historical events shaped by racial categorizations, [such] as slavery, segregation, integration, discrimination.”

We Are All Creations of God

For thousands of years, most religions promoted a sort of “them versus us” mentality. Bar a select few, the vast majority of religions considered their adherents to be “chosen” and anybody who did not share their faith to be inferior. The same can be said when it comes to ethnicities and nationalities. It was not until the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad that a religion began seriously spreading the belief that every soul is equal to the other, even if they do not adhere to a particular set of religious beliefs. The reasoning for this can be found in the excerpt below from the Quran: “And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your tongues and your colors. Indeed, in this, there are sure signs for a people of knowledge!” Quran 30, 22

This passage was something of a wonder for its time. It directly contrasted with other religious texts, which generally taught a specific group or groups of people were the “people of God.” Instead, it tells us that all of mankind was created by God, with languages and races coming into existence by design. This is something to keep in mind today as gentrification and Westernization sweeps the world, almost eradicating the other tongues and cultures created by God.

The Prophetreaffirmed this teaching – with noticeable feeling – in his farewell address. After praising and thanking Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى he began with:

O People! Lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether after this year I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore, listen carefully to what I am saying and take these words to those who could not be present here today….He continued with: “O People, your Lord is one and your father Adam is one. There is no favor of an Arab over a foreigner, nor a foreigner over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin, nor black skin over white skin, except by righteousness. Have I not delivered the message?”

Musnad Aḥmad 22978

Could it be made any clearer than that? Reading this hadith in the present day, we can pick up a distinct feeling of urgency. In this speech, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was trying fervently to drive the message of inclusivity home to his followers, many of who were newcomers to the religion and had deep-seeded beliefs that they were better than non-Muslims and non-Arabs. This was their way of life. Of course, the passage above contains valuable advice for all people, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.

We Should Embrace Cultural Differences

In the Western world, we tend to look at other cultures with a degree of suspicion. This often poses a challenge for Muslim converts, who must travel to Mecca–a city with a culture very different to that in which they were raised–to complete the Islamic pillar of Hajj. In a way, this fear of unknown cultures is understandable. After all, it is only natural for us to be wary of something – anything – with which we are unfamiliar. Plus, Middle Eastern and other no-Western countries look upon the West with equal, if not greater, suspicion. These feelings are ill-advised on both ends. Furthermore, they are in direct contradiction to the message of the Quran. Take the following passage, for example:

“O Men! Behold! We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold! Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware” (Quran 49:13)

In this extract, Allah again declares, in no uncertain terms, that diversity among mankind is no accident. It was created, as all things are, by design and with purpose. The passage then builds on this point, discussing the importance of mingling among the tribes and races. Allah does not want us to keep our distance from those who are not like us, but rather to “come to know one another.” When we explore and embrace cultural differences in this manner, we are introduced to new ideas and learn lessons upon which our own culture can build a firmer foundation.

We Are Not Defined by the Deeds of Our Ancestors 

How often do we hear a person from Britain or America declare something along the lines of “We saved the world during World War II?” Similarly, how often do we hear a young German person being mocked or bullied because of their country’s wrongdoings during the 1930s and 40s? The answer to both of these questions is far too often. While we certainly don’t want to forget the terrible events of this turbulent period in human history, it is irresponsible of us to believe that somebody deserves praise or disdain based upon the deeds of their ancestors. This should be an issue of common sense. However, those who wish to make it one of religious belief will find guidance in the hadith outlined below:
“Whoever is slow to good deeds will not be hastened by his lineage.”- Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2699

The above passage is important to keep in mind before you criticize others for the deeds of their forefathers. However, it is perhaps more important to keep in mind before declaring yourself superior based on the deeds of your own ancestors. According to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, it does not matter how many good deeds a person’s parents or grandparents may have done during their lifetime. He or she should not be content to rest on their laurels. The only way an individual can secure entrance to paradise is by committing good deeds themselves. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ reaffirmed this in another hadith, declaring: “Verily, Allah has removed from you the pride of the time of ignorance with its boasting of ancestors. Verily, one is only a righteous believer or a miserable sinner. All of the people are the children of Adam, and Adam was created from dust.”Sunan al-Tirmidhī 3955

Men And Women Are Equal 

We understand that gender does not equate to race, nor does racism equate to sexism. However, so much has been written by anti-Islam authors accusing the Quran of sexism that we feel it would be remiss of us not to respond to such claims in this article. We will, of course, discuss the subject of gender and Islam in much greater detail in a later article. For now, however, let’s take a look at this passage from the Quran:

“For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise – for them, Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.”Quran 33:35

From this extract, we can gather that Allah does not favor men over women in this life, regardless of what the critics may say. Nor will he favor men over women on the Day of Judgement. Likewise, Allah does not favor women over men now and will not favor women over men when granting admission into Paradise. In Islam, one’s gender does not determine their standing in the eyes of God. Rather, they will be judged on their truthfulness, their patience, their humility, and their self-control, along with a number of additional virtues discussed in the above passage. Indeed, even the most ardent critic of Islam must admit that this extract makes it abundantly clear that the Quran – and, by extension, the hadith – abhors sexism just as much as racism.