Hujuraat 49: 13. O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has the most At-Taqwa. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.
Allahﷻ told us that he created diversity of color and race so that we may recognize His Khudrat and appreciate the care and love with which He created us. He created diversity of color and race so that we can praise Him by honoring each other. It is the perversity of our cultures that we invented discrimination which comes out of arrogance (Kibr) by which we look down on others which is the surest way to reach Jahannam. Allahﷻ told us that the most honored is the one who is the most pious – has the most Taqwa – is most concerned about the pleasure of Allahﷻ. The one who lives by the single criterion for all decision making – ‘Does it please Allahﷻ?’
Rasoolullahﷺ declared in a Khutba he delivered during the days of Hajj:
“O People! Certainly, your Rabb is one, your father is one. An Arab has no superiority over a Non-Arab, nor does a Non-Arab have superiority over an Arab, a red skinned person (white) is not superior to a dark skinned person nor is a dark skinned person superior to a red skinned person except through Taqwa.” (Musnad Ahmad, vol. 5 pg. 411)
In 1978, I read a book by Alex Haley, called ‘Roots’. It was made into a TV miniseries which won practically every award in the book.
The story is set in 1750 about the saga of Kunta Kinte from the Gambia, West Africa. Kunta Kinte was born to Omoro Kinte, a Mandinka warrior, and his wife, Binta. He was Muslim. It is a story of pain and suffering, of being treated worse than an animal (because slave owners in America treated their dogs and horses far better), of being assaulted not only physically, but mentally and emotionally and spared death only because it is financially unwise to destroy your own property. But above all, it is a story of dignity, of faith and of courage that has remained with me and illuminated my life in its darkest moments of loss and grief with the message of hope and faith. Yes, this is a novel. But it is based on real lives of those who didn’t stand in lines before the gates of US Embassies in their countries to get visas, but who were torn out of their world, lives ripped apart, hearts shattered and hope murdered, to be transported in conditions that beggar the imagination, to be brought to these shores, to work in the farms and homes of those who considered themselves to be their ‘owners’. To raise their children, to build their cities and monuments, their sweat, tears, and blood, poured into the foundations, to be buried and forgotten. Forgotten that is, by everyone except the One who created them and remembered by anyone with the intelligence to reflect that the more magnificent the superstructure, the deeper and stronger its foundation. The America that we see today is not defined by names on billboards but by names of those who stood down in its foundations so that others could stand on their shoulders.
I saw a short video clip yesterday. A mother made it about her tiny perhaps two-year-old girl who had clandestinely eaten some cakes and is being questioned by her mother. https://youtu.be/3WZhW1FTH8w
Listen to her last sentence. ‘It was a black man,’ she says without any prompting. Ask, where did she get that from? That is how early and where, racism starts. That attitude is what killed George Floyd. That is what prompts every action of brutality against people different from ourselves. That is the real cancer, the real virus; far more lethal than Covid. That is what we must combat and eradicate. It kills. It has killed for centuries. And it will continue to kill as long as we allow it to survive. Remember that in this warped, twisted and perverted situation, it is only those who die, that we even hear about. We never hear about those who walk away, their souls scarred forever, their confidence shattered, and their hearts filled with rage at what they must endure because their skins have more color. Children listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say, until they see what you do. Good parenting is the first line of defence against racism. Racism is not restricted to the false idea of White Supremacy or to America. Hausa/Fulani conflict in Nigeria is racism. White/Black/Indian conflict in South Africa is racism. Uighur oppression in China is racism. Rohinga oppression in Myanmar is racism. All religious oppression and discrimination anywhere is racism. Indian/Pakistani mothers looking for ‘fair’ brides for their sons, is racism. The huge revenue that cosmetics companies make from ‘Fairness Creams’, in the Indian subcontinent and in Africa is racism. That ‘fairness’ has nothing to do with a sense of justice. It has everything to do with self-hatred and ingratitude to Allahﷻ by trying to become something that you can never, ever become.
In my nursery school in India, we learned a nursery rhyme which was:
“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, Catch a ‘tiger’ by the toe, If he hollers let him go, Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.”
However, the word ‘tiger’ in the second line, was not what we were taught. We were taught another word, the genesis of which I did not understand until decades later when I had lived in Guyana and here in America among African American people. The rhyme was not taught to us by White Supremacists, but by our own South Indian teachers; not to teach us to be racist but because we were being taught English. I love English. I use English. I write and speak in English with total fluency and enjoy it very much. And so, I recognize English.
If you Google this nursery rhyme, it says, ‘The second line definitely comes from America.’ That is when I understood the reason for the word in the rhyme that we were taught and why it was replaced by the word ‘tiger’. Little did those who replaced the word realize how true to the nature of the African American is the word ‘tiger’. The fact that you are the survivors of a history that has no parallel in brutality, is evidence that you are the descendants of tigers and tigresses, whose bodies slave owners could abuse but whose hearts and souls were and remain their own. Sustained and supported and strengthened by the One who created you and gave you a spirit that has no parallel.
English is a racist language. Not surprising because it is the language of the greatest Empire of bandits the world has ever seen, the British Empire. Where one corporate organization, the East India Company, waged war, annexed countries (India was a collection of countries ruled by their own kings), created famines, enslaved and so thoroughly looted my nation that India, which accounted for 25% of Global GDP when the British graced our shores, went down to 2% when they decided to stop gracing them.
All this was done with the full permission and sanction of the British government of the day. British Clubs in India had signs at the gate which read, “Dogs and Indians not allowed”. That did not apply to the Indians who cooked and cleaned and served them in the Clubs. Only to Indians who may have dared to aspire to equality with their white masters.
White supremacy is therefore intrinsic in the English language. That is why in the time of my parents and grandparents, even though they were fluent in English, they never spoke it at home. And if we spoke to them in English, we were considered disrespectful and were reprimanded either directly or by the fact that they never replied to us in English. English, to them, was the language of the British colonial rulers, which we learned because we had to, but which was never accepted as ours. I do not agree with that philosophy as all languages are the signs of Allahﷻ and are a means of communication. They are tools which are value neutral, to be used to convey meaning. They are neither good nor bad. It is their use, which makes them one or the other.
Let me give you some examples of how English is loaded with discriminatory meanings. Jesus is white, as are all the disciples in the Last Supper; though we know that they were all Palestinian. Black is bad in English by default unless you qualify that by saying: Some of my best friends are black…which is a racist statement if ever there was one. The member of the family who brings disrepute to it is the ‘Black sheep’. A dream that makes you wake up screaming with fear, bathed in sweat is a ‘nightmare’. Someone who is mysterious in a negative, distrustful sort of way is a ‘dark horse’. A lie, which is not really bad is a ‘White lie’. Evil magic that is designed to make you suffer and die is ‘Black magic’. And finally, income that will land you in jail is ‘black money’ (in this we are not racists. We love black money.) Dark Africa…as if the sun never shines there. Yet a vast chunk of tourism revenue comes from people who spend hours upon hours, lying in the sun on its beaches, trying to become dark. The term “American dream” therefore, does not mean the same to all Americans. That is what this struggle is all about – to make the “American dream” equally attractive for all who live in this land.
I can give you more examples, but this is sufficient for now. I am mentioning this to show how insidious and hidden, yet more powerful for that reason, racism is. You literally imbibe it with your mother’s milk. And that is why we must recognize it and detox ourselves from its lethal poison which otherwise will destroy our souls. Racism is not about others. It is about us. About me and you. Like all poisons, it kills the one who eats it.
It is not my intention merely to narrate for you a litany of grief to weep over, but to present to you a solution that is as applicable today in the 21st century World, as it was in 7th century Arabia. A solution not only preached but practiced in a society which was as racist as any in today’s world, yet which was transformed into an example of racial harmony and mutual respect that is an example for all time.
He was Muhammadﷺ. Raised as an orphan. His father died before he was born, his mother, when he was five. His nurse, Barakah bint Tha’alaba, raised him and he called her, Ummi – my mother. She was the only person who knew him and was with him from the day he was born to the day he died. Baraka bint Tha’alaba (RA) was black. He preached a religion that grew so powerfully that today one out of four human beings follow it; Al-Islam. But when he started preaching it, his followers were rejected, maligned, boycotted, tortured, and murdered, for believing in One God – Allahﷻ. Its first martyr was Sumaiyya bint Khayyat (RA), another black woman. Speared to death because she said, ‘La ilaha illAllah’. Then there was a black man, Bilal bin Rabah (RA), who became the first person to call the people to prayer and he called the Adhaan from the top of the Ka’aba. His elevation to that position was because he had paid his ‘dues’ and was the beloved of Allahﷻ and His Messengerﷺ. What were the dues he paid? It was to lie on the burning sand of the Arabian desert, his arms and legs spread-eagled, tied to stakes with a huge rock on his chest, tortured by his slave-owner, Umaiyya bin Khalf, for saying that God is One and He is Allahﷻ. Decades later, someone asked Sayyidina Bilal to tell him about the best memory of his life. He said, ‘It was when I used to be tortured by being forced to lie on the burning sand with a rock on my chest and my slave-owner used to say, ‘Give up this religion and I will free you.’ And I would say, ‘Ahadun Ahad’, because that made him insane with rage.’ Umaiyya bin Khalf could try to subjugate and dominate the body of Bilal bin Rabah (RA) but his heart and soul belonged to Allahﷻ and were filled with love for Him. And so, when the time came after Fatah Makkah, who did Rasoolullahﷺ choose, when he had everyone including himself, to raise the first call to prayer? He chose Bilal bin Rabah (RA). That he was African and an ex-slave in a highly racist culture also served to emphasize the fundamental principle in Islam – that all of us are equally human, equally valuable, and equally precious in the sight of Allahﷻ. That our race, color, shape or form do not make us superior to anyone else. That the most honorable in the sight of Allahﷻ is the one who is most concerned about pleasing Him.
Today as we protest against racism in America, let us remember that we are against all racism. Let us remember that our stance is noble. Our stand is life giving and life confirming. In America today, all people of all races are standing together to give the message loud and clear that enough is enough. We reject arrogance. We reject racism. We reject discrimination irrespective of its basis, because we believe in the equality of all humankind. We believe in the right to dignity and respect that every human being is entitled to.
As I watched the visuals of police chiefs with their fellow officers, kneeling to seek forgiveness for what some of their numbers had done; as I watched visuals of ordinary white folks, kneeling to seek forgiveness for violence done to people of color in America, I said to myself, “This can only be in America. This is what makes America great.” It is not your money or military power or technological superiority. It is your people. Black people, White people, Hispanic people, Native Americans, Indian Subcontinentals, Asians, all standing together against racism. Standing together to support and enforce justice. Standing together to protect the weak, the minorities. It is your laws which allow protest. Which allow you to stand for justice, even if that is against the government of the day. It is your society that recognizes that patriotism is love for the nation, not for the political party in power. For justice can never be done until those who are not affected by injustice, are prepared to stand up against it. That is what I am seeing here and in that there is hope. Enormous hope that you will succeed and that we, all oppressed people everywhere, will succeed. Your fight against racism, discrimination and injustice is a fight for its victims, everywhere in the world. I take solace from this and I see hope for all oppressed people everywhere.
It is also for the very same reason that I am very dismayed, alarmed, taken aback and heartbroken when I see the visuals of looting and vandalism from city after city. I plead with you all, please do not destroy your own cause. Please do not destroy the cause of all of us who stand with you. Please do not allow a few vandals whose greed overcomes their discretion to loot and burn. Looting and vandalizing strengthens the hands of those who oppose us, and justify the brutality and injustice meted out to us claiming that we are dangerous and must be kept enslaved for the safety of others. Do not act in ways that they will use as ‘evidence’ that they were right. Remember that if the looting continues, then the smoke from the fires will obliterate the justice of our cause. We must protest against the looting because that too is injustice. We cannot allow injustice in the name of fighting against injustice. All injustice must stop, and justice must prevail.
In the life of Rasoolullahﷺ we have the best role model to follow. Let us stand together for justice and show the world, the real reason why America is great.