By Dr Muzammil H. Siddiqi

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Breaking the Ethnic Barriers: The Islamic Way

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يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ وَأُنْثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ (الحجرات 13)

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 ). (Al-Hujurat 49:13)

Ethnic and racial harmony is highly emphasized in Islam. Islam forbids racism, ethnocentrism, linguistic or color prejudices. These prejudices are harmful for human beings and for their societies. They create prejudice, discrimination, unfair relationship, injustice and oppression.

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  • Islam teaches us that all human beings come from one and the same family:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ مِنْ نَفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءَلُونَ بِهِ وَالْأَرْحَامَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا (النساء 1)

O people, be conscious of your Lord, who created you out of one soul and from it created its mate and out of the two spread abroad many men and women…(Al-Nisa’ 4:1)

Allah tells us here that the human progeny proceeded from one single soul. This clearly means that all humans are linked to each other and they are members of one and the same family. Being members of the same family they are also equal:

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  • Allah has honored all human beings regardless of their colors, races, languages or gender:

وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَحَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَاهُمْ مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَى كَثِيرٍ مِمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلًا

(الإسراء 70)

"Indeed, We have honored the children of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favors, above a great part of Our Creation." (Al-Isra' 17:70)

  • Differences of colors, languages and ethnicities are a sign of Allah’s creative power and greatness. This diversity gives beauty and variety to the world:

وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ خَلْقُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافُ أَلْسِنَتِكُمْ وَأَلْوَانِكُمْ إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِلْعَالِمِينَ (الروم 22)

And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors; verily in that are signs for those that know. (Al-Qur’an, al-Rum 30:22)

 

  • These differences are only for the purpose of knowing each other, not to despise or discriminate against each, as mentioned in Surah al-Hujurat 49:13 quoted above.

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According to the Qur’an, it is not the difference of color, which is bad, because that is the creation of Allah; but it is the color prejudice, which is wrong. The evil does not lie in the differences of races or tribes or ethnic groups; the evil is in racism and tribalism and ethnic prejudice. Prophet Muhammad -peace be upon him- said in his famous speech during his last pilgrimage:

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People have descended from Adam and Adam was made out of dust. There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a white over a black person … (al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, Bab al-Tafsir, hadith no. 49; Ibn Hanbal, Musnad,5:41)

The Qur’an reminds us that taqwa (righteousness or God-consciousness) is the sole criteria of human dignity and honor. Nobility according to the Qur’an does not lie in the color of one’s skin, in the bones of one’s ancestors or in the material possessions or achievements which one may acquire.

Taqwa comes from a constant working of faith in one’s life. It is a generic quality, which activates one’s life under a true consciousness of divine presence, under which a person moves works and deals with other human beings. This consciousness may vary from time to time and hence those of taqwa (or the muttaqin) are neither a class in society, nor a sect, nor a religious order, but these are individuals who through their true abiding by Islamic virtues acquire the pleasure of Allah which in turn confers upon them a place of dignity, honor, love and respect among the human beings.

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These teachings are emphasized in our actions and dealings with each other. This equality and brotherhood manifests itself daily on the local level during Islamic prayers, where without any difference of race, color, or material status all Muslims stand together in the Masjid five times a day. Masjid is the best place to break the ethnic barriers. On the global level it is also manifest when Muslims from all over the world go for the pilgrimage (Hajj).

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History bears testimony to the fact that Islam has uniquely and without any parallel in world religions and civilizations overcome the problems of color and racial prejudices. A historian like Arnold Toynbee faithfully admitted that Islamic civilization was unique in establishing social and racial harmony among peoples. He said:

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Two conspicuous sources of danger - one psychological and the other material- in the present relations of this cosmopolitan proletariat with the dominant element in our modern Western society are race consciousness and alcohol; and in the struggle with each of these evils the Islamic spirit has a service to render which might prove, if it were accepted, to be of high moral and social value. The extinction of race consciousness between Muslims is one of the outstanding moral achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue. (Civilization on Trial, New York, Oxford University Press 1948, p. 205)

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Muslims must take this challenge again and should work to establish social justice and racial harmony among themselves and among all people. We can do so by working with like-minded people and by taking some concrete steps in this direction.

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In our homes, in our educational institutions, in our communities we must promote this virtue. We should not only guard ourselves against any racial, linguistic or ethnic prejudice, but we should also remind each other to treat every person with respect and honor regardless of his/her color, race, national origin or linguistic background.

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  • We must promote the Qur’anic idea that all human beings are one family and that we belong to each other. (al-Nisa’ 4:1)
  • All people are equal in the sight of God and they must be equal in society.
  • Justice to all is the pre-requisite for human culture and civilization.
  • Bigotry, stereotypes and prejudice should have no place among Muslims. .
  • We are allowed to compete with each other by doing good deeds, not by putting down other because of their color, looks, racial or ethnic background.
  • We must treat each other with respect, fairness and justice. We must not discriminate against any one because of color, race or national origin.
  • We should try to increase our inter-action with people of other races and ethnic background and make deliberate efforts to involve them in our communities and programs.
  • We must watch our comments. We should not stereotype or generalize about any race, nationality or group of people. We must not say that all Arabs are that way, all Pakistanis are this way, all blacks are that way or all white do this.
  • When we dislike something, we must be careful how to say it. Suppose I do not like spicy food, I should not say, “I do not like Pakistani food.” Rather I should say, “I do not like spicy food.” Because not all spicy food is Pakistani and not all Pakistani food is spicy.
  • Also we should not be too self-conscious about our race or color. If someone makes a comment or criticizes us, we should not immediately take it as an attack on our race or color.

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Let us behave towards others and treat them with dignity and honor. Let us also enjoy the variety and diversity as a source of beauty and strength for our community, not as a problem.

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