Prejudice in the Muslim community

‘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 as well.

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 origin.

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.

Marriage

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 or territory.

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.

Photo Attribution: "Arab market-1" by Peter Hagyo-Kovacs - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arab_market-1.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Arab_market-1.JPG

Comments

Assalaamu alaykum,This article is very good. It is true that there are a couple of racists in the Ummah and it is becoming a big problem for us as Muslim. On one particular instance, a brother of mine who is Mexican, as myself, went to a "Pakistani" mosque, as if there is such a place please; there he got the usual question, where are you from? He said Mexican, the other brother said Mexican? As if being Mexican annulled your Islam. Unfortunately, what this brother didn’t realize was that what count is your deen not your nationality. :)

Location

California

Salaams, thank you for highlighting this ugly subject.I am Pakistani and see this ugliness called racism show itself too often.Your highlighting of the effect of living with our Indian subcontinent counterparts and the effect they have had on us through their caste system was spot on.This is especially damaging to new brothers and sisters, who will inevitably have come from different backgrounds, cultures and will probably not be the same skin colour .They come into Islam as new born babies and every muslim to them is a muslim ,not black, white,Bengali,Pakistani,Indian, African,American,Chineese....the list goes on, and when they see this racism it shocks them.It is not your cultural background that is important here but your Deen and your application of it.I will give you an example .It is known that Pakistanis look down on Bengalis, but in my local mosque , we had our first student who became hafiz of Quran, a Bengali ,He also led the teraweeh prayers , so irrespective of whether you were a lawyer, solicitor, doctor,Pakistani , Indian, Arab,You had to follow salaat behind him , when he went into sajdah , you had to follow his lead, what ever action and what time he did it , you had to follow, this is the high status ALLAH has given this person.Not because of his nationally, not because of his caste, not bacause of his skin colour ,but because of his sacrifice he has made as a muslim to become hafiz.You are a muslim or you are not , thats how simple it is.I ask for FORGIVENESS if i have offended any one in making this comment , that was not my intention,and implore all muslims not to belittle any other muslim because of his ethnical background,Wa salaam

Location

uk

A very nicely highlighted the problems among muslims.Even muslim ulema,religious scholar are not avert to these customs,n unislamic practices.

Location

Aligarh.

Salaam. Excellent coverage on a critical issue in Islam today. Unfortunately we have to take it upon ourselves to differentiate between what we have been taught through one's CULTURE VS the true essence of Islam. The racism I have witnessed throughout my life within the Muslim community has troubled me deeply. I chose to marry outside of my culture (but married a pious, PRACTICING revert to islam) and have been shunned at the hands of the pakistani community I am from. It is a sad state of affairs for born muslims to feel they are superior simply because they were born into Islam or are of Arab desent. Every time we allow people to practice UNislamic ways in the ummah, we are allowing Islam to be changed from it's natural state. Very well articulated!

Location

USA

Salam Alaikum all. While reading the article, I had a revived feeling of oneness and unity with my fellow Muslims, but that seems to have been shunned away by the reality in which we Muslims live. The point I would like to make is this: Islam has been practiced for centuries (>1400 yrs), it has expanded to almost every region of the globe, yet STILL, racism within the Islamic World, not community, is rife! And sadly, it is those countries which historically adopted the religion first that are the most prejudicial (including all Arab states, followed by Persia, South Asia). Haven't the time worn scholars within these countries been touched by the Equality that Islam preaches? Haven't the 'ancient' cultures learnt equality? How would Hazrat Bilal (the Prophet's companion) feel about his people being enslaved up until just recently in the 20th century? We might be believers, but we are believers of a God, not of his teachings! The incident that was mentioned with the Mexican brother being questioned of his origins, complimented by the other reviews and a statement by the author himself that a sister had negated quality with her fellow Muslim, are just to show how 'even' we are with out teachings. I wouldn't keep my hopes up for the future, as I am positive that 1400 years of piety couldn't change the thoughts and perspectives of followers of the same religion, how are we supposed to that in the current time of 'justifiable' differences?

Location

London UK

It made me realize how discriminating against other race muslims is wrong. I use to seperate myself from Arabs becasue of the whole terrorist thing, but now I realize that its wrong and muslims should not be seperated becasue of race, we're all God's people.

Location

chicago, usa

I was on a bus 242 in Hackney last week and the bus driver asked if I had a bomb in the box I carried onboard.My family is NigeriaN, I look Muslim and wear a Kufi and have a full beard on my face without any pretty shaving.My Mum was born Muslim, is now a christian.I am of no strict religious faith having tried it all, even 5% Nation of Islam and Farrakan's Nation of Islam when I was in America.I prefer to look and dress looking like my Mum's side of the family.Does that mean I should be shot on sight the next time London goes code red for terrorist threats?Are all Muslims to be considered bomb carriers?I even sent the following to Insted:My mother was born muslim but is now a christian.I am of no religioous faith but dress/look Islamic. I wear a Kufi and have a full unshaven beard.Due to my look and being African/Black I was asked by a bus driver on bus 242 in Hackney while getting on board with a box of turntables for record playing if I had a bomb in the box.This at the time caught me off guard but now I'm upset Muslims and myself may be targetted as suspected terrorists especially as Russia has now had its own taste of extremism.Can you please advise me on how to deal with this? I have just complained to London Transport today. It's taken me over a week to digest the incident.I also have just watched 'Shoot on sight', a movie based on the innocent man shot in Stockwell.Many thanks for your help and time.Lordy lord!London is going mad and this needs to be addressed, this is harassment being asked stupid questions like "Are you carrying a bomb" and it will do nothing for Islams self esteem in Limey land.

Location

Hackney, London

I am not Muslim and it saddens me that there are people who are prejudiced. I get e mail from a couple of people who are against Muslims and believe everything they read on the Internet as thought it's true. I get very annoyed. Yes, there are bad Muslims. But, there are also bad people of every race and nationality. I wish that people would stop to think that one bad apple doesn't spoil the whole box, so to speak.I have friends who are Muslim and I resent people who try to convince me that they are all bad. I KNOW that isn't true. I have even tried to compare these few people with the bad people of their country and asked them how they felt to be labeled because of a few. But, it was like talking to a brick wall. Certain people just don't WANT to know the truth. It's easier for them to sit there and be ignorant. However, what we all have to try to remember is that the number of these negative idiots is about as small as the number of bad Muslims, thank God. NOBODY should have to put up with people who are ignorant. I wish I knew the answer to stop people from being prejudiced. First it was the Blacks, now it's Muslims. Who's next???? It saddens me that some people have nothing better to do with their lives than live with hatred!!

Location

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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