The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was born in Arabia at a time of intense tribalism and classism. Groups were very much divided and showed loyalty to their own clans and class, even if that meant overlooking great faults in their comrades. With the revelation of Islam, however, this notion was challenged as God revealed moral obligations that went against the norms of the time. Women, children, and the needy were given rights they never had before.
Throughout his life, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) worked toward ridding society of this tribal behaviors. He raised up people of all colors. Most notably, his famous African companion Bilal Ibn Rabah became the go-to person to make the call to prayer for all the Muslims in the land. He was a very beloved and close friend of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Additionally, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would help to free slaves and settle them with spouses of noble status to ensure their well-being.
In his oft-quoted final sermon, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) advises his companions and all the Muslims who were to come until the end of time. In a very famous excerpt, he addresses the issue of racism, saying:
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white – except by piety and good action.”
In Islam, the value of a person lies in their character and action. If a person is pious and performs good works sincerely, they are the ones at the top of the totem pole. Their rank has nothing to do with the color of their skin or the language that they speak or the country they come from. This is what the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) advised to his nation soon before he passed.
This message of equality and emphasis on righteous action is echoed in the Quran. Allah states:
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted” (Q. 49:13).
In this verse, we see an acknowledgement of different types of people hailing from different lands and tribes. However, despite our differences, we all came from Adam and Eve. The physical characteristics that make us unique, the borders of our countries that split us up, the backgrounds of our ancestors that define our identity are all interesting elements of who we are—and instead of letting the differences divide us, the Quran says we ought to celebrate them. At the end of the verse, again, the concept of righteousness is highly emphasized. While our physical characteristics and backgrounds do not make us better or worse than others, our actions do indeed weigh heavily in the sight of God.
A lot of times, this Islamic view of diversity in people is easy to quote. While Islam is perfect, Muslims are not. Racism does unfortunately exist within the Muslim community, and we must do what we can to banish it from our gatherings. When the racist mindsets are given the boot, we see a beauty and change of heart in people that is just what the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) set out to achieve.
Take the example of Malcolm X. When he first became Muslim, he still harbored many anti-White ideas in his mind. When he made the pilgrimage to Makkah, however, he realized there was a much better way to tackle the race relations issues in America. He wrote in a letter back in the 1960s about his pilgrimage.
“During the past seven days of this holy pilgrimage, while undergoing the rituals of the hajj [pilgrimage], I have eaten from the same plate, drank from the same glass, slept on the same bed or rug, while praying to the same God—not only with some of this earth’s most powerful kings, cabinet members, potentates and other forms of political and religious rulers—but also with fellow‐Muslims whose skin was the whitest of white, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, and whose hair was the blondest of blond—yet it was the first time in my life that I didn’t see them as ‘white’ men.”
This kind of intermingling was unheard of for Malcolm X in the United States. He was surprised at how he could sit next to these people of varying skin tones and they next to him without any feelings of superiority take hold due to race. He continues,
“Their sincere submission to the Oneness of God, and their true acceptance of all nonwhites as equals makes the so‐called ‘whites’ also acceptable as equals into the brotherhood of Islam with the ‘nonwhites.’ Color ceases to be a determining factor of a man’s worth or value once he becomes a Muslim. I hope I am making this part very clear, because it is now very clear to me.”
The conclusion Malcolm X came to after his hajj is the same one the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) conveyed to Muslims years ago. It is the same message that lives in the pages of the Quran. It is the same dream Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had for America’s future—that people are not to be judged by the color of their skin, but rather the content of their character. It is clear today America is still working on fulfilling this dream, but it is our hope one day soon we will be able to see it come true.