Racism. It is a charged word being used to describe events in Israel, unannounced FBI visits and the unjust surveillance of large swaths of the Muslim American population. While racism or discrimination against Muslims is a fairly new thing, it is not new to the African American community. It is almost institutionalized.
With the increased awareness around racism in America thanks to what is going on Ferguson, MO after the tragic shooting of Michael Brown, as an Ummah, we need to start looking inwardly at our own racial biases against others.
As much as Muslims would like to claim the diversity of our Ummah is an indicator of our tolerance, I know actually know there is an ugly underbelly of racism in Muslim communities. How many of us have heard our elders in the community speak derisively against other races? How many of us have seen supposedly religious members of our community shoot down a perfectly good proposal for their daughters simply because the man in question is an African American? How many times have we seen those same daughters married to men of the same ethnic background but with questionable morals? How many times have we seen aunties in the community laud a marriage between a daughter in the community and a white man? In fact, I recall one time attending a wedding where one aunty had the gall to tell me that the sister was lucky to have married a white man because it would ensure her kids would be fair skinned!
I kid you not. These situations have occurred. Even in our younger generation, racism still is a seed of destruction that germinates. It even happens to me when I am driving and I rail that a fellow driver’s poor skills is due to his/her ethnicity.
It is wrong. It needs to stop with us.
During the Prophet (saws) time, there was racism in pre Islamic Arabia. Blacks were sold and traded like property. There was misogyny. Women were also treated like property versus as individuals. It is wrong for us to assume that after Islam was introduced to this society, that racism was completely eradicated. It was not. There were instances of where racial discomfort could be felt. It was an active process to remove racism in the community.
For example, Barakah (Umm Ayman ra) was an Abyssinian slave that was considered a devout Muslim in high esteem of the Prophet (saws). When the Prophet (saws) said to his companions: “Should one of you desire to marry a woman from the people of Paradise, let him marry Umm Ayman.” None of the companions stirred except Zayd ibn Haritha (ra). They were all hesitant to marry an older black woman. It was not easy, but the Prophet (saws) tried to devote his life to fulfilling the beauty of Islam which included eradicating social constructs of class and race.
Even till the very end the Prophet (saws) was telling his followers to leave the ugliness of racism behind. “O people! Remember that your Lord is One. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab have superiority over an Arab; also a black has no superiority over white, nor a white has any superiority over a black, except by piety and good action. Indeed the best of you is the one with the best character.”
How can Muslims rail against Islamophobia when we can’t even support our fellow brothers and sisters in need? We need to help others if we want them to help us.