Expanding Horizons: Critical Discussions to uplift the Muslim Ummah, A Series. Topic: Racism in the Muslim Community

Introductory post on: @masterpeaceblog

Contributions by: Yasmin A @masterpeaceblog

Andale Seaworne @andaleseaworne

Husna Ahmad Sany @walkwithme

Ama Ahmad @askamna

Syeda Atika Yahya @ayahya.blogspot.com

Other topics covered in the series: 1. Double Standards in the Muslim Community

2. Hijab and sexual assault

3. Toxicity and negativity and how it affects the youth

4. The dangers of overlapping culture with religion

5. Mental health in the Muslim Community

Racism in the Muslim community:

Racism seems to be a favorite topic among the muslim community for tea-time discussions, or meant to bash other communities. But when it comes to a real, deep introspection, we have some ready-made answers. 

Efficiently put by Amna, 30-year-old: @askamna

When it comes to racism, Muslims often refer to the story of Bilal (R.A.) or recall the verse 109:6 of the Quran which says 

‘You have your religion and I have mine’. 

Islam’s stance on racism is clear: no person is better than another based on race. Islam is actually a very egalitarean religion which some people don’t realise.

Despite this, racism runs extremely deep within Muslim communities. Many families refuse to allow their children to marry someone from a different race or culture even though they are Muslim. Colourism is a big problem in the Muslim world and people will look down on those of darker skin. I was at a gathering once and was speaking to a South Asian British Muslim woman and teling her where I was from. I will never forget what she said:

‘Mashallah, you are so lucky you are Arab.’

I was puzzled and I asked her: ‘Why do you say that?’ 

And she said: ‘You speak the language of Islam and the Prophet.’

I responded straight away: ‘That does not make me a better Muslim!’

I come across this quite often, a lot of non-Arabs hold Arabs on a pedestal and think that they have an advantage in religion, but this is not the case. I have seen a lot of racism against non-Arab cultures in Arab communities and there is no reason for anyone to think an Arab is better than them. We have all been created equal and we need to stop revering or looking down on any culture.”

While both, the example of Bilal Radhiallahiu anhu’ and the farewell sermon of Our Prophet Sallallahu alaihi wasallam;  are standpoints by which we must judge our actions, they have, for the most part, became tools to be used when confronted with racism related issues.

Yes, Islam doesn’t differentiate. Allah doesn’t differentiate. But Muslims do. 

We still see people clinging tightly to circles consisting of people from their own cultures. Refusing to even expand their thoughts and get to know muslims from other parts of the world. 

We have people refusing to marry their children to ones who look different than them. 

Why? 

Cultural differences!

We are quick to exemplify the status of Bilal Radhiallahu’anhu to our advantage, yet look down upon someone who might share the same skin, the same lineage as him?

Honestly, if the color of our skin has become a matter of ego or a centerpoint of our existence for us, we really do need to reevaluate ourselves as individuals and as a community. 

So why does this phenomenon exist?

According to Yasmin, student: Master Peace Blog

“Racism has no place in Islam, but because it is a cultural phenomenon, it often seeps its way into Muslim communities. People often like to ignore this topic or brush over it by saying that Islam condemns racism. But, while Islam may condemn it, many Muslims still discrimate against our Black brothers and sisters, so it still needs to be addressed and not brushed under the rug.”

Interestingly, the experience of every Muslim within different Muslim Communities around the world speaks different. While some of us, including myself, have been brought up in predominantly brown communities, some might not be. Brown communities deal more with colorism than racism. In all honesty, colorism is the basis of racism. Or maybe even the structure on which racism is instilled in younger generations. Regardless, none but the extremely privileged and ignorant ones can deny the existence of this unislamic mindset within the same people who seek to inhibit the way and character of the person who vocally and actively sought to abolishe it, Our Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wasallam. 

Take for example, the experience recounted by Syeda Atika Yahya, mom of three, blogger: @ayahya.blogspot.com

“As much as Islam ensures equality to every muslim but with the overlapping of cultures many such important aspects has been side lined which was basically the hard core principal of islam.

I stayed in an Arab country in my childhood and I clearly remember how Arab kids bullied us and how we went to the parks only when there were no kids around. The irony was even when their parents were around they didn’t find it necessary to stop such behaviour. When this was something that kids of the society would do one can clearly imagine the same would run even for elders at their workplace.

Even today non Arabs are looked down upon in Arab countries.Not that it’s not prevalent in South-Asian households, we have it at a totally different level. And it raises its ugly head at the time of weddings. Here, most Muslims are divided based on their profession,lineage and sect they follow further polarizing the Muslim community among themselves.

The lines that are drawn are so vague and illogical yet they persist making weddings among different groups within the community nearly impossible.”

For further clarity on the abovementioned arena, marriages, within the brown communities, are decided based on sectism. Syeds would marry Syeds. Ansari, within Ansari. In some communities, cross marriages are highly frowned upon. While such a practice might seem logical enough, the problem goes deeper than that. It segregates a community which should be trying to band together. It also promotes innovations and cultures in the name of religion which are then passed on from one generation to the other, often blindly followed by people whose only mindset is to uphold the practices of their families/predecessors/ancestors rather than the ones promoted by our Deen. It also promotes, extremely contrary to Islam, the self-made superiority of one sect over the other. While it might seem astonishing, caste systems within our communities are also quite common in certain parts of South-Asian communities. 

How do we tackle this?

Dialogues. Uncomfortable dialogues. Start with family. Move on to friends, colleagues. Call out racist behavior in a respectful manner if you see  it. Even if it is a slight comment on someone’s skin, accent or lineage. Visit talks and conferences which seek to address these issues. Encourage those around you to do the same. Search reading materials by various authors of muslim and non-muslim heritage to help yourself and others in this journey of educting ourselves. The fact remains that one community cannot understand the struggles and the plights of the other community. Sometimes, one individual of the same community fails to understand the struggle of another individual of the same community, or even family.

Factually, struggles and experiences are subjective. While relatable, they cannot be homogenized to a one-size-fit-all mentality. 

The journey to self improvement begins with an acknowledgement of related issues. That, to date, remains the hardest part. But then, what is the world but a testing ground? The lowest level? When the best of Believers have been severely tested, who are we to seek a life free of comfort, wrapped in our own bubbles which seek nothing but detrimentation of ourselves first, at an individual, then at a more communal level? Is it not our duties as fellow Muslims to seek to uplift our Ummah in the best way we can?

And sometimes, the best way is to say: ‘I don’t know…’

And then seek to know.

I’d like to conclude with what Andale Seaworne (21 year old, Pakistani, student) says: @andaleseaworne

“Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) spoke in his Final Sermon that no Arab has superiority over a non- Arab, and vice versa, and no White person has superiority over a Black person, and vice versa. Who knew then that the harsh torture Hazrat Bilal (R.A) had to go through would continue for generations till today? As Muslims, we need to make a firm stand against any person, especially a person of authority, who subjugates, degrades, mistreats and tortures a person for the sole reason of belonging to an ethnicity, race, class, colour, creed. No person is better or worse than you just because they belong in a different group than you. Allah reminds us often that we will all be judged based on our actions in this world. So such means of ‘classification’ of people holds no weight because it is quite far from the truth. A Muslim is a part of the Ummah, whether he’s your boss or your slave. Both deserve an equal amount of respect.”

Period.

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