The May 25, 2020 killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man while being arrested by the Minneapolis police for allegedly using a counterfeit bill, and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement has again put the nation’s race issue under the spotlight. The Holy Prophet Mohammed ﷺ taught us to stop injustice with our hand, and if we do not possess that strength then we are to attempt to stop it verbally, and if we do not possess even the courage to speak up, then we are to recognize in our heart that what is being done is not correct. So, how can we as American Muslims contribute to solving this longstanding problem facing our country?
Prophet Mohammed ﷺ, the best person who ever walked on the face of this planet, not only managed to eradicate the scourge of racism from 7th-century Arabia, but also established an enduring system of racial harmony and equality. Let us take this opportunity to re-visit how he was so successful in eradicating this major evil from society.
Pre-Islamic Arabia was beset with problems. One of these problems was that of racism and elitism based on tribes, clans, and sub-clans. For example, Quraish were the respectable business class; which were further subdivided into various tribes which were class based depending on their wealth, lineage etc. The less wealthy Khazraj tribe was looked down upon as a lower class in pre-Islamic Arabia’s pecking order.
The Holy Qur’an set the unambiguous rule that all Humans were equal by stating:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). Qur’an 49: 13.
In the famous Last Sermon delivered by the Holy Prophet ﷺ on Friday the 9th of Dhu al-Hijja, 10 AH (March 6, 632) in Mount Arafat’s Uranah valley at the occasion of the annual Hajj, he reiterated many key issues that the Muslims needed to abide by. One of this key teaching was: “All humans are descended from Adam and Eve. There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a non-Arab over an Arab, and no superiority of a white person over a black person or of a black person over a white person, except on the basis of personal piety and righteousness.”
The Quraish who used slaves from Africa, did not like these egalitarian teachings of Prophet Mohammed ﷺ and started persecuting the Muslims. The Prophet’s ﷺ message of equality was embraced by the poor and disenfranchised. One of the famous companions of the Prophet ﷺ was Bilal ibn Rabah (al-Habashi). Bilal ibn Rabah was of known African ancestry. The Holy Prophet ﷺ appointed Bilal as the first Muezzin to give the call to prayers. Bilal rose to prominence in the Islamic community of Medina, as Muhammad ﷺ appointed him minister of the Bayt ul Mal (treasury), giving Bilal the responsibility to distribute funds to widows, orphans, wayfarers, and others who could not support themselves. Later, Bilal married an Arab woman hailing from a respectable tribe – which was absolutely impossible in pre-Islamic Arabia. The famous African American Muslim leader Warith Deen Muhammad had named his organization’s newspaper the Bilalian News for six years until 1981.
Other non-Arabs were similarly attracted to Prophet Mohammed’s ﷺ teachings of complete equality, such as the Greek companion Suhayb, and the Persian companion Salman al Farsi. Both of these companions also rose to great prominence in Islam.
The results of the Holy Prophet’s ﷺ 1400-year old teachings were on full display when Malcolm X went for Hajj in 1964 and made the following observations: “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 the non-white.
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 been always 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 in the same bed (or on the same rug)-while praying to the same God with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of the blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the actions 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 are truly all the same-brothers. All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.”
Malcolm X’s observations underline the millennium and a half year old fact that Islam’s solutions to Race problems are applicable universally. It is time for Muslim Americans to reach out to their fellow countrymen by demonstrating both by words and deeds that Islam is indeed color-blind, and that Islam is truly the only answer to America’s Race problems- because it works by cleaning out racism from an individual’s heart by making each person realize and believe that even when no one is watching them, their Creator is always watching them.
Misbahuddin Mirza, M.S., P.E., is a licensed professional engineer, registered in the States of New York and New Jersey. He served as the Regional Quality Control Engineer for the New York State Department of Transportation’s New York City Region. He is the author of the iBook Illustrated Muslim Travel Guide to Jerusalem. He has written for major US and Indian publications.