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Guest Impressions

Smashing The Idol Of Racism

Human beings with a sense of conscience, concern and humanity are deeply disturbed about the plague of racism that is threatening the future of the human race in our troubled world. Despite the many international conventions, conferences and resolutions against Racism as a violation of basic human rights, this ugly phenomenon stubbornly refuses to disappear.

Yet once more, heads of state, international leaders and NGO's met in Durban, South Africa recently, under the auspices of the UN to voice their outrage and condemnation of Racism at the World Conference against Racism (WCAR). The need for holding a conference of this nature itself reflects a new global awareness of modern forms of racism and xenophobia which is spreading over the planet like a cancer. Whether the outcome of this and the scores of previous such conferences is likely to produce any tangible change or difference against the cancer of global Racism or not, is a matter that is yet to be seen. On the positive side, it can be stated without fear of contradiction that the levels of consciousness and acute awareness of this scourge has burgeoned at a fantastic rate all over the world. The overall mood and atmosphere that prevailed at the WCAR was a good barometer to gauge this fact.

Growing support for Palestinian Cause

Previously, the Palestinian cry for justice, though existent throughout the tragic history of the Palestinian problem, never received the kind of sympathy or publicity it is now enjoying. Palestinian people never had the degree of support and friends they now enjoy. Today, a large number of justice-loving Isrealis even are openly speaking up for the Palestinian cause. The number of such people is growing by the day. All of this is a heartening sign that certain segments of humanity are still alive to the baneful plague of Racism.

Whilst, the global anti-racism process is taking its course, there is a great need for Muslims to become actively involved in the struggle against Racism from within and without, with a view to eradicating it from their own psyches, practices and societies - and to vigourously militate against it wheresoever it maybe found in the world, more so from their own community. For the achievement of this noble aspiration, it is important to firstly understand the Islamic perspective on Racism.

The Holy Messenger's (sallallahu-alayhi-wasallam) war against racism

At a time when the world was steeped in nauseating racism, and mankind could find no way out of this dark tunnel, the sun of Islam rose and showed how all members of the human race could live alongside each other as equals. The Holy Messenger (sallallahu-alayhi-wasallam) in his farewell pilgrimage sermon – a sermon that could veritably be called the first charter of human rights – once and for all smashed the idol of racism to smithereens with one mighty blow: "O people! The Arab enjoys no superiority over the non-Arab, nor does the non-Arab enjoy any supremacy over the Arab, the white enjoys no superiority over the black, nor does the black enjoy any supremacy over the white, expect on the basis of piety. All of you are from Adam and Adam was created from soil." This was but one of several such declarations made by him in his life as Allah's Messenger. The Holy Messenger's powerful message was not only empty rhetoric and hollow slogans (as is the current trend in today's world) but even by way of his personal example, he showed how the monster of racism can be expunged from society. Look at his relationship with Bilal bin Rabah (radiallahu-anh). Bilal was a black man and a slave at that. As it is, slaves occupied a very low and degrading status in that society and a black slave was in a worse position than other slaves. It was similar to the position occupied by the Dalit-Harijans – the "untouchables" – of India. On the other hand, the Holy Messenger (sallallahu-alayhi-wasallam) was from the highest rank of the Arab tribes – he was a Quraishi and a Hashimi-Quraishi at that. In a dark world that was steeped in ignorance and arrogance - the two potent ingredients of any racialist society - it was unimaginable for the people to understand how the noblest of the noble could reach out to the lowest of the low (in their opinion) and make him a bosom friend and companion. But Muhammad (sallallahu-alayhi-wasallam) did just that. It was an act of supreme courage and a great test. His very act of shattering entrenched racism was cited by many a noblemen of the Makkans as the barrier that prevented their acceptance of the message of Islam. They expressed great resentment for his open-minded attitude towards the 'low caste' of society and threatened to reject his message on this very basis. They wanted him to compromise – they were prepared to accept his message so long as the racist order of the day was not disturbed in anyway – but he flatly refused to entertain anything of that sort. He remained steadfast and unflinching on his position against racism. This was more important to him than appeasing the 'racists' and reaching any compromise with them. For he had indeed come to declare war against racism as an integral part of his divine mission.

Qur'anic perspective on Racism

The final and last testament of Allah to humanity is no less in its powerful crusade against racism. For instance the verse, "O people! Fear your Sustainer who created you from a single soul and He created from it its partner and He spread from them large multitudes of men and women … " (4/1). The fact that all of humanity emanates from a single source – one mother and father – means that all of humanity is really one, despite the variety of shades, complexions, languages and cultures they display. This necessitates the equality of human beings before one another, a fact which the Qur'an emphatically proclaims in its majestic verses.

Does the hideous demon of racism still plague the Muslim community?

Whilst the world is rightly condemning the cancer of racism, it is an important and appropriate occasion for the Muslim community to engage in a serious exercise of introspection and self-examination on the prevalence of this scourge within itself. How honest and true have we as a Muslim community been in upholding the spirit of the Qur'an and Sunnah against racism? Have we been successful in expunging racism in its manifest and concealed forms from our own societies? Has there been any serious process of integration with Muslim brothers and sisters from other race groups within our communities and how successful has this program been? Have racist remarks, jokes and racialist epithets left our societies forever or are these still encountered? Do we condone these when they are encountered or do we protest strongly against them? Deep within our hearts, do we find true respect for other human beings – even the very poor, the down-trodden and the underprivileged - as our equals, or is there a virus of 'superiority' that bugs our inner selves? These are some of the critical and probing, albeit awkward questions that we constantly need to ask ourselves. If the answers to these questions are not favourable, then is it not time for a concerted struggle to rectify our wrongs and put our house in order? Without this exercise, the hideous demon of racism will continue to haunt the Muslim community, Allah forbid!

Mufti Zubair Bayat

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