Race Relations and Muslims

Category: Life & Society Topics: Muslims Views: 6006

It is odd, to say the least, that after more than fourteen centuries there remain some people who claim to be Muslims but who still have not internalised the universal values of Islam. Odder still that there remain those who on the one hand can embrace Islam's universal claim of brotherhood (and sisterhood), but still cannot get around to understanding the simple idea that Islam and racism do not mix. 

Evidence of such discrepancies can be found pretty much everywhere these days: It has, sadly, become the normative cultural norm in so many Muslim societies today that those who are fair are better off and given the privileges that they feel is the natural right of all light-skinned people. It is also interesting to note that Muslims tend to rejoice whenever a white American or European converts to Islam, but seem less enthusiastic in their recognition of the fact that thousands of Africans and Asians are converting to Islam every year. 

Furthermore when it comes to governance and politics, it remains painfully clear that some Muslims still place blood and race above competency and merit til today; and that despite their profession of faith they remain embedded in the stagnant mode of racialised thinking that operates on the basis that some races are better than others. 

One such case has popped up recently in multi-culti Malaysia, where a row was sparked off by the nomination of a Chinese woman - Low Siew Moi - as the head of a state institution linked to the economic management and development of the state of Selangor, the PKNS. Despite the fact that Low Siew Moi was selected by the Chief Minister of the state, Tan Sri Khalid, on the basis of merit; some quarters chose to publicly disagree with her appointment on the grounds that the Malay-Muslims of the state would object to the appointment. But objection on what grounds? On the basis that she is a Chinese woman? 

The dilemma that Malaysia is facing now is the same dilemma faced by many other Muslim societies where the defence and promotion of Islam often goes hand-in-hand with the defence and promotion of the communitarian interests of Muslims. 

Here the already convoluted waters of Malaysia's racialised politics turns a shade murkier; for among those who objected to the appointment of Low Siew Moi were some members of the Malaysian Islamic party PAS. 

Malaysia's politics has been defined by racial concerns and the communitarian demands of the various religious and ethnic groups of the country since its independence in 1957. Over the past three decades, however, the tone and tenor of the country's conservative, right-wing ethno-nationalist politics was further coloured by the Islamisation race in the country with the Malaysian government attempting to further inculcate Islamic values into the norms of governance in Malaysia as well. 

Ironically however, Malaysia's Islamisation programme seems to be more concerned with book-banning, fatwas on social behaviour (including the recent revelation that there may be a fatwa on Yoga soon, wait for it), and moral policing instead. Where, the Islamic scholar may ask, were the universal values of Islam in the midst of all this social engineering? Did the leaders of Malaysia not realise, or forget, the simple idea that Islam is an egalitarian faith that is colour-blind; and that the concept of 'race' is an alien idea in Islam? 

The dilemma that Malaysia is facing now is the same dilemma faced by many other Muslim societies where the defence and promotion of Islam often goes hand-in-hand with the defence and promotion of the communitarian interests of Muslims. In Malaysia's case, where Muslims are overwhelmingly Malay, then this also translates as the defence of Malay interests - to the extent of propagating the ethno-nationalist idea of Malay cultural dominance as well. Now what on earth is Islamic about this? 

Here is where orthodox Muslim scholarship has to come in and make its timely intervention: For it has to be remembered that the success of Islam and the success of Muslims are two entirely different things, that may also clash and negate each other at times. The victory of Islam, so to speak, has to be understood as the victory of universal values such as egalitarianism and equality before God. The victory of Muslims, on the other hand, may at times be understood as political victories that may or may not conform to the standards of Islamic ethics. The defeat of the Kuwaitis at the hands of Saddam Hussein, for instance, was a case of one Muslim state defeating another: but was this a victory for Islam? Likewise, when Muslims openly and abrasively demand special rights and privileges for themselves at the cost of equality and meritocracy, is this really a victory for Islam? 

Those who have criticised and opposed the appointment of Low Siew Moi as the head of PKNS on the grounds that the job should have been given to a Malay-Muslim instead should therefore look closely at themselves and ask: What is it that you are fighting for? Malay-Muslim dominance or a better form of governance that is based on merit and equality? The Islamic scholar will remind you that the latter is Islamic, while the former is not. 

In any case, for Muslims to even think in racialised communitarian terms is a misnomer of sorts as such modes of communitarian, sectarian thinking has no real place in Islamic orthodoxy and ethics. To quote Tuan Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat, spiritual leader of the Malaysian Islamic Party PAS: 'tell me, what race was Adam?'.

Dr. Farish A. Noor is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; and one of the founders of The Other Malaysia.

  Category: Life & Society
  Topics: Muslims
Views: 6006

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Older Comments:
(Chap: 30 verse 22)

And of His signs is the creation of the Heavens and the earth, and the differences of your languages and colors. Lo! herein indeed are portents for men of understanding.

Allah forbids any form of false pride and showing of superiority to fellow muslim. Allah made it clear that the best in the sight of Allah , is the one with high IMAAN, (Taqwa).

Why was Iblis cursed and forsakened by Allah (SAT). Was it not all pride and lifting of the cheeks?? Iblis was asked to prostrate to Adam after Allah created Adam and he (Iblis) magnified himself in false pride and said he is better than ADAM because he Iblis is created from fire and Adam is created from clay. Is not similar to color and racism today?? Yes it is and we Muslim should lead this World as an examplary people as bestowed on us by Allah and continue enjoining right and forbidding the wrong. This is our role as a people ; not racism.
Jazha Kha Allahu Khairan.

Brother: Tamsir Gaye. Gambia/u.s

With all due respect, sir Noor is in deep darkness regarding this issue. I do think Sir Noor has attended any conversion events...so far what I have seen...everyone has been equally welcomed to Islam, regardless of skin color.

In summary, Sir Noor need help on getting his facts straight before another tragedy due to misinformation takes place and the world become "noorless".

All these chatter-box doctors like Sir Noor who know very little about Islam and tries to be pundit and full of bias like those on American FOXNEWS is a problem that needs to be eliminated from Muslim society. They take isolated incidents and tries to make it pervasive...exactly as Bush and his cohorts.

I hope he is not one of those so called "progressive" and "Modern" Muslim.



Islam is the birth right of all of humanity of every race and ethnicity. There is no historically nor logical reason that Middle Easterners should dislike Africans or African Americans. Therefore, it is quite clear that this manufactured dislike stems only from the desire to ally themselves with those who are perceived as controlling elite in the world. It is a form of deception, "When in Rome do as the Romans." if the Americans dislike something, I will also dislike it though I have no valid reason to do so. So, we have ultimately desired to absorb completely the West's world view including that which is good along with that which is despicable (i.e. Racism). Instead openly sharing Islam with the West, we must first become like the in every way so that them may possible be inclined to Islam. Is this the proper way to share Islam. To add injury to insult we then proceed to degrade a segment of the people of our host nation. Declaring some members of the society are slaves. My recollection of history is that western colonization enslaved of every non-western nation on earth. So, it seems we Middle Easterners are also "slaves". Should we then despise ourselves? Perhaps subconsciously we do, when we are reminded by of our own history by the mistreatment of others!

Good Article. Yes, there is racism among Muslims. Many Arabs feel and express by their behavior that they are superior than other Muslims, at the same time many of them feel inferior in-front of White American/Europian (very strange!). Muslims from Indian Subcontinent maintain some distance from African American, recently the trend is changing! This may be part of human complex to be part of socially upper class (As Europian and American have been super power for last centuries). Indicates generally low self-esteem of many Muslim groups. It appears from history that Muslims during earliest centuries did not discriminate each other due to person's color or ethnicity or even gender. Any dark colored man Sahabi of Prophet Muhammad easily could marry a light colored woman Sahabi of Prophet Muhammad during Prophet's time. We hope, Muslim will regain the confidence and self-esteem not to discriminate.

Assalmau aliakum, This is so true in the muslim world. As an african american muslim living in Detroit "little mecca" as some affectionetly call it. I have found that to be the normal here. I live in a neighborhood of muslim families about 98.9 % are all muslim. They do not even speak to me. Racism in Islam is alive and doing quite well in the United States. It is just sad.

Asalam Alaykum,
Finally someone had the guts to stand and write about this issue. Over the weekend, I had a long friendly argument with one of my moms friend who referred to black people in our community as "a'don"...it means slave in the al-hadal language. And I got so upset because she is often portrayed as a women who is deeply religious and fully covers but yet she had the nerve to call black ppl slaves when she herself is dark. The point is that we should not use words such as the above because it degrades that ethnic group and you sound really disgusting. Unlike other faiths, racism in Islam is not in any way allowed. Look at Christians, Jesus is portrayed as a white-blond hair blue-eyed individual...why must we follow the footsteps of these individuals. Muslims need to wake up and realize that RACISM is not tolerated at all in Islam.

Followers of Islam are no different than any one else whether they belong to some faith or not. Arab Muslims have been notorious slave owners and traders and in one case as early as last year a well known Mullah stated that slavery is permitted in Islam.

So it is best to look at the darker side of self before one boasts its loftynes.

I disagree with Farish who tried to portray the Malaysians as bigots or rather racists.Clinging to Deen does not necessarily make one racists as he tries to suggest.We are very proud of our brothers and sisters in Malaysia for clinging to their Deen which is part of the Islamic and Universal Global Culture.Like every one they have the right to protect their culture and Deen and at least the woman in question was appointed.
So where does the argument come which warrants the objection of Farish.We respect our brothers and sisters in Malaysia for the appointment at the same time comend them for the protest which is natural as human beings who protest every where. Some people do protest for mere trifling thing and no body says anything and now you make this an issue which is so unfortunate. O mankind We created you male and females and made you different Nations and tribes so that you recognise one another(not to despise) but the honourable among you in the sight of God is he who is pious.We pray this woman becomes Muslim and her appointment by the Chief Minister shows to the contrary.

Salam Alaikum,
Mashallah! Excellent article. I have been noticing the same thing. People rejoice whenever a White, or European accepts Islam. Whenever there are plenty of African-Americans and Hispanics accepting Islam everyday. Many African-Americans are fighting for thi deen every single day. All you have to do is to go to youtube and check out some of the videos and all you will see are Cacaussians in the majority of the videos.
Here in Ottawa, my husband and I get the most stares from Arabs. We are an interacial couple. Sometimes I feel as though I have stepped back in the 1950's zones. Yet we wonder why we are having so many problems.
Racism is definitely a problem with some people. I am happy that someone published an article about it. No, racism and Islam does not mix.


As salaam alaikum,
May this comment meet you in the best of health and perfect iman.The lifes of the sahabah remains a model for us,they exhibited a real and truthful brotherhood that was never surpassed in the history of humanity.
Bilal,Umar,salman al Faris,Abdullah bin salam,[RA]are all from different race and tribe ,yet the bond of faith overrides all differences.
Remember,the most honourable in the sight of ALLAL is the most pious.
Let's fear ALLAH so that we can be successful.
Your brother in faith.
Shamsudeen Abu Hidaayah.