Muslims in the Mirror: Prejudice in the Muslim community
by YesPakistan.com staff writer
‘I never considered a non-Arab equal to me,' a sister once remarked.
‘I know it's wrong, but in the place I grew up in, that was how we grew
up thinking.' She had grown up in a country considered "Islamic".
Islam is the most anti-racist and anti-prejudicial way of life. Islamic history
testifies to the openness Muslims have shown towards people of different cultures
and religions. Within their own ranks, sincere and practicing Muslims have always
kept their hearts and minds open to their brethren, no matter what their background.
Yet, there is a problem in the Ummah today. Prejudices are not the problems
of others. They have become the very sad reality amongst a number of Muslims
This is not just on the level of small minority Muslim communities in non-Muslim
lands. It is also a problem in "Islamic" countries as well. Years
of nationalism in theory and practice have diminished the powerful universality
Muslims cherished in their societies.
First the bad news
Laws and customs
There are a number of countries in the Muslim world, in which racism and prejudice
are in full swing and justified by laws or social customs. These seek to exclude
and shun on the basis of ethnicity and in some cases, race.
For instance, in certain countries, it is not permissible for children to study
at a post-secondary level, even if their parents have been living or working
in the country for a number of years. This is usually because of their national
In other countries, discrimination is used to exclude those who are not the
original inhabitants of the land from citizenship.
Discrimination extends to the field of employment as well. In some "Islamic"
countries, workers of one national origin are paid less than others although
they may excel in their skills, education, and experience. It has been noted
that a white or black person carrying an American passport gets better pay than
a person of Asian origin carrying the same passport.
Written and unwritten laws in some Arab countries prohibit Arab women from
marrying a non-Arab.
Attitudes and words
The discrimination is not reserved to laws though. It's not difficult to hear
an uncommon racial epithet used among some Muslims, ignorant or negligent of
the Quran and Sunnah's condemnation of backbiting, slander and mockery.
We know the Prophet married women across ethnic lines, and therefore, in Islam,
there is no ethnic bar to marriage. He also made it very clear, in his last
Khutba, that superiority in Islam is not based on blackness, whiteness, Arabness
or the lack of it.
Contrast this with, for instance, the Hindu caste system, under which inter-caste
marriage is prohibited.
Sadly, such Hindu notions still influence a number of ignorant Muslims in South
Asia who will not, for instance, marry outside if they are Syed (claim lineage
to the Prophet), Shaikh (a business community) or across tribal lines if they
come from the "Khans," "Moghuls" or "Jats".
While some Muslims may justify this as simply a measure to ensure compatibility
between husband and wife, it is Islamically incorrect to discriminate upright
Muslims on this basis.
The Masjid or Islamic center
There have been some isolated cases in which Muslims who have felt so excluded
at specific mosques called anti-discrimination hotlines to complain.
Alhamdu lillah, all Masjids are open to all people and no Masjid has racial
policies. However, racially divided neighborhoods result in an ethnically dominant
Masjid type. Usually, negative attitudes of some and language specific Masjid
programs cause miscommunication. This is because some people want to make sure
their mother tongue survives in America.
...and the good news
The prayer: a lesson in Muslim unity
Five times a day, every day, Muslims of every cultural and ethnic background
stand shoulder to shoulder. There is no issue of who stands where based on their
color or ethnicity.
On a larger level, to remember that millions of Muslims, everywhere of all
shapes, colors, sizes, countries, etc. all face the same place to pray, five
times a day, is incredible. Yet this lesson not just in Muslim unity, but in
ethno-national harmony, is usually overlooked.
The mosque: open to all despite problems
Alhamdu lillah, one problem Muslims do not have is membership-exclusive mosques.
Any Muslim can pray in any mosque. While those individual Muslims with racism
and prejudice in their hearts and minds may not treat them well, they will not
exclude them physically from attending or praying in any mosque, anywhere.
A brother from the United Kingdom who converted to Islam once mentioned how
on a trip to apartheid-era South Africa, while he found black and white churches,
he did not encounter black and non-black mosques. That made him start thinking
about this curious phenomenon, and he eventually accepted Islam.
Muslims united in pain
With the latest headlines focused on Chechnya, Muslims in America and abroad
have generously donated to help their oppressed brothers and sisters there.
There is a keen understanding amongst many Muslims that when it comes to oppression,
it doesn't matter if you're a black Muslim, a white Muslim, a Kosovar Muslim,
a Chechen Muslim, a Kashmiri Muslim or a Somali Muslim, you are suffering.
Imams often make Dua for oppressed Muslims they have never met, no matter what
their skin color. Muslims pray along in sympathy and support.
Here is another clear example of Muslim unity. All we need to do is now pray
and help all human beings who are suffering whether Muslim or not.
Muslim American leaders are diverse
Can you name the top four speakers and leaders amongst Muslims in America today?
If you can, you'll realize that all four are of different racial and linguistic
backgrounds. They are invited to Muslim gatherings regularly, no matter what
the ethnic background of the audience.
These four leaders are: Imam Siraj Wahhaj, an African American Muslim; Dr.
Jamal Badawi, an Egyptian Muslim; Dr. Abdalla Idris Ali, a Sudanese Muslim,
and Imam Hamza Yusuf, a Caucasian American Muslim.
This shows that a Muslim leader is respected for his knowledge and commitment
to the Deen by most Muslims, not his background.
Marriage: the litmus test
All that said though, the real test of openness to other cultures is marriage.
Islam and a growing number of Muslims pass there with flying colors.
As mentioned above, we know the Prophet married women across ethnic lines.
Muslims, whether in the Muslim world or in North America, are following his
example more often today.
So you'll find an African or Caucasian-American convert married to an Arab,
Indo-Pakistani or Malaysian; you'll find an Indian married to a Palestinian;
you'll find a Kashmiri married to an Arab-American, and on and on.
There is a keen and growing understanding amongst a number of Muslims, in line
with Islam, that what unites hearts and people is Islam, not skin color, ethnicity
Sincerity, knowledge, forgiveness are the cure
Curing the disease of racism takes time. It also takes humility, sincerity
and requires seeking out the right guidance. It means admitting we were or are
wrong, sincerely repenting and making a concrete effort to change.
While the planet's approximately 1.2 billion Muslims do have their share of
problems with each other, Alhamdu lillah, we still have the tools to eradicate
the cancer of racism and prejudice in our midst. Let's begin the process with
ourselves, and then help them Ummah do the same.
Date Added: 02/06/06
Date/Time Last Modified: 2/7/2006 10:56:02 AM
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