Why colour and not race? Because race just limits the inequality we see in the Muslim community to our ethnic differences. Therefore, the Black Muslim is not necessarily African or in this context limited to the Blacks. You will find that there is some kind of negativity attached to any form of darkness – that is if you are darker than those in your culture, community or ethnicity.
Those who are darker, whether Black or otherwise often hear snide comments, they are down in the list when it comes to marriage considerations and they are more likely to be gossiped about when it comes to ‘things they did wrong’ and unfortunately this is embedded in our cultures.
“O humankind! We have made you…into nations and tribes, so that you may get to know one another. The noblest of you in God’s sight is the one who is most righteous.” – Al-Hujurat – The Apartments – 49:13 (Sura: 49, Verse: 13)
At the time of revelation – during the time of the Prophet in Arabia, tribal membership, kinship and wealth determined an individual’s social status. But it is noted throughout historical civilisations that light skinned women are the sought after, they are prettier, more delicate and feminine. The Quran destabilises both of these known cultural discrimination (which exists today) by stating that your piety and deeds are the basis for merit.
When it comes to racial equality, it was in the last known public speech of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w), known as the Farewell Sermon, as one of the basic religious and ethical ideals of Islam. The Prophet (s.a.w) said:
“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. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly.”
For many Muslims, Bilal (r.a) represents the application of Islam’s egalitarian approach. In order to highlight racial equality in Islam to the best of my knowledge, I will be using ahadith about Jundub ibn Junadah, better known as Abu Dharr al-Ghifari (r.a).
Abu Dharr came from a tribe of highway robbers – the Ghifar tribe. But Abu Dharr shunned the way of his people, he was detached, righteous and kept to himself. Abu Dharr was also a Black Arab and he was one of the early reverts to Islam.
There was an incident that occurred between Abu Dharr and another Black Muslim (some narrations say this was Bilal), where he says ‘O you son of a Black woman’’. As they are both Black, in this context, it means someone that isn’t ‘one of us’ as the person he was talking to was most likely from Hebasha (Abysinnia/Ethiopia). When Abu Dharr went to the Prophet (s.a.w) about this, he (s.a.w) said to Abu Dharr (r.a) that ‘’you are the man that still has the traits of the jahiliyya’’. Abu Dharr felt so bad after this admonition that he immediately repented. Abu Dharr (r.a) recounts the above incident through the below:
‘I saw Abu Dhar Al-Ghifari wearing a cloak, and his slave, too, was wearing a cloak. We asked him about that (i.e. how both were wearing similar cloaks). He replied, “Once I abused a man and he complained of me to the Prophet (SAW). The Prophet (SAW) asked me, ‘Did you abuse him by slighting his mother?’ He added, ‘Your slaves are your brethren upon whom Allah has given you authority. So, if one has one’s brethren under one’s control, one should feed them with the like of what one eats and cloth them with the like of what one wears. You should not overburden them with what they cannot bear, and if you do so, help them (in their hard job).’’’ Hadith No: 731
Narrated/Authority of Al-Marur bin Suwaid, Listed in: Manumission of Slaves.
I will like to highlight that the above hadith is sound but the story leading to the hadith comes from a weak chain of narrations. The lesson still applies and the story has been used by well known scholars to emphasise equality within the Ummah in line with the Shariah.
Lastly, from the Prophet (s.a.w) is that among the sayings he relates from his Lord (may He be glorified) is that He said: “‘O My servants, I have forbidden oppression for Myself and have made it forbidden amongst you, so do not oppress one another. O My servants, all of you are astray except for those I have guided, so seek guidance of Me and I shall guide you. O My servants, all of you are hungry except for those I have fed, so seek food of Me and I shall feed you. O My servants, all of you are naked except for those I have clothed, so seek clothing of Me and I shall clothe you. O My servants, you sin by night and by day, and I forgive all sins, so seek forgiveness of Me and I shall forgive you. O My servants, you will not attain harming Me so as to harm Me, and you will not attain benefiting Me so as to benefit Me. O My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to be as pious as the most pious heart of any one man of you, that would not increase My kingdom in anything. O My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to be as wicked as the most wicked heart of any one man of you, that would not decrease My kingdom in anything. O My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to rise up in one place and make a request of Me, and were I to give everyone what he requested, that would not decrease what I have, any more than a needle decreases the sea if put into it. O My servants, it is but your deeds that I reckon up for you and then recompense you for, so let him who finds good praise Allah and let him who finds other than that blame no one but himself.'” It was related by Muslim (also by at-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah). Hadith No: 17, Narrated/Authority of Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, Listed in: 40 Hadith Qudsi.