“The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘antiracist.’”
Ibram X. Kendi, professor, writer, and activist
Most of us are familiar with the egalitarian words that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, spoke in his farewell sermon:
"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. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.”
We’ve read these words, but tragically, many of us have not taken them to heart. Racism and colorism persist not just in the wider society, but within the Muslim community. Far too many people cling to cultural notions of light skin being superior to dark skin. Few recognize that they have some deep-seated racist ideas, and fewer still take active measures to work for justice.
As Muslims, it is not enough to claim to believe in the equality of races. Rather, it is our duty to be actively antiracist. Ibram X. Kendi writes in his book How to be an Antiracist,
“An antiracist is someone who is supporting an antiracist policy by their actions or expressing an antiracist idea. Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.” 1
Where there is injustice, Islam requires compassion and action. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
"The believers, in their mutual love, compassion, and sympathy are like a single body; if one of its organs suffers, the whole body will respond to it with sleeplessness and fever."
(Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Our brothers and sisters in faith are among those who endure injustice simply because of the color of their skin. For those of us who do not face racial discrimination: where are our sleeplessness and fever? Are we really treating our brothers and sisters with compassion and sympathy? If we were, we would take decisive action. Joining an antiracist group has helped me, as a white woman, fulfill my Islamic duty of working for racial equity.
Joining an Antiracist Group
What is an antiracist group? It is a voluntary meeting of individuals who are committed to breaking systemic racism by focusing on actions against discrimination and oppression. The particular antiracist group I belong to is made up entirely of people who identify as white. We have different religious beliefs and backgrounds, but we share a common goal of striving to be antiracists.
Here are some components of our group:
1. All participants of this group are white . . . on purpose.
White people have not suffered racial discrimination and are the ones most likely to benefit from white supremacist policies. It is our duty, therefore, to recognize this privilege and use it to dismantle systemic racism. White people must learn about racism, the history of racist policies, and antiracist techniques by ourselves, without putting an additional burden on Black, Indigenous, or People of Color to educate us.
2. The group is a “brave space.”
Discussing racism and admitting to our own ignorance, biases, and privilege can be difficult for many white people, especially at first. It takes courage to admit when you have been wrong and to identify your own biases. Meeting with other white people who are committed to antiracism creates an environment that encourages authenticity, vulnerability, courage, and mutual support.
3. Meeting with others fosters accountability.
Sometimes people intend to do something that they know is right and good, but they allow laziness or busyness to sidetrack them. Joining an antiracism group that meets regularly allows you to refresh your intention to fight racism consistently. Members set concrete goals and check in with each other to see if they are actually pursuing or reaching their goals.
4. Gathering en masse makes a statement.
It might inspire others to join a similar endeavor, or at least to take the first steps toward becoming an antiracist. It also shows Black, Indigenous, and People of Color that some white people are working for racial equity.
My particular group meets bimonthly. We have leaders who set the agenda and choose the material for each meeting. Before we gather, we read carefully-selected articles, listen to podcasts, or watch short documentaries. During the meetings, we have time for discussion, role-playing, goal-setting, and connecting with accountability partners. For me, belonging to an antiracist group has felt like a meaningful way to fulfill an Islamic obligation.
Are antiracist groups only for white people? No. If you have ever found yourself thinking that another human being is inferior in any way because of the color of their skin, then you have allowed racist ideas to permeate your mind, and you would benefit from antiracist education. Even if you face discrimination in other areas of your life (due to your religion, nationality, physical disability, financial status, etc.) you might still have racist ideas. While you undoubtedly face some challenges of your own, you still have the privilege of benefitting from a system that favors lighter skin. Being antiracist is not saying that our own life is perfect and we have no obstacles; it simply recognizes that our skin color is not one of our obstacles and making a commitment to use whatever privilege we have to combat racism.
If you cannot find an antiracist group in your area, consider forming one! Do it for the sake of Allah with the intention of taking the Prophet’s words about equity and brotherhood to heart. God willing, your good intentions will be full of blessings and success.
Further Recommended Reading and Listening:
How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo, PhD
Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm by Robin DiAngelo, PhD
The Facilitator’s Guide for White Affinity Groups by Robin DiAngelo, PhD
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
1 Kendi, Ibram X. How to be an Antiracist. Random House, 2019.
Laura El Alam is a freelance writer and editor and a first-generation American Muslim. She is the author of over 100 published articles and has written a children’s book, Made From the Same Dough, due to be released in 2023, inshaAllah. A wife and mother of five, Laura lives with her family in Massachusetts. You can visit her online at www.seaglasswritingandediting.com.