On Consciousness and Equality

On Consciousness and Equality

ALL PEOPLE ALIVE on every continent, isthmus, and archipelago of earth today are one family, born of one father and one mother. So, there can be no argument that the divisions between us are “natural,” that they come about because of the “separate” origins of our creation, or the disparate beginnings of our lives, or some biological difference that makes our sociological inequalities not only logical but necessary.

So says the Quran, the Final Revelation from God to humankind, declaring our original human unity and explaining why our singular Creator addressed His definitive Heavenly guidance and commands to all people for all time. For, together, we human beings—the yellow, black, red, brown, and white of us—have individually and collectively inherited the same human-race-defining psychological and spiritual characteristics. This is what makes every one of us worthy of the goodness and dignity that God has honored us with, and it is what qualifies us to bear the weighty responsibility of freedom and vicegerency that He has bestowed and burdened us with.

Allah says:

O humankind! Have a conscious fear of your Lord, the One who has created you from a single sole, and created from it its mate, and from them both spread abroad a multitude of men and women. [Surat Al-Nisa’, 4:1]

And also:

O Children of Adam! Whenever there come to you messengers from among yourselves, conveying to you My messages, then as to all who [adhere to them, and who] have conscious fear of Me, and who work righteousness—there shall be no fear upon them, nor shall they grieve. [Surat Al-A‘raf, 7:35]

There are, in fact, numerous verses in the Noble Quran which state unequivocally and categorically that humanity stands equally blessed and burdened by its Lord, from our first father Adam to the very last man who shall be.

It is true that people are of diverse colors, tongues, riches and other acquired and congenital traits. This is no curse. Rather, it is a grace to be utterly humbled and thankful for, the adornment of the breathtaking beauty of the human race. We are a flower garden of dazzling color and enticing fragrance. The Quran is entirely positive about the glory of this diversity and submits it as “exhibit A” evidence that God is Great. God is Merciful. God is Wise. To deny this truth is a testimony to one’s inner hideousness and ignorance:

And of His (wondrous) signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the variety of your tongues and your colors. Indeed, in this there are sure signs for a people of knowledge. [Surat Al-Rum, 30:22]

Our human diversity is a cause for coming together, not chauvinism.

O People! Behold! We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is the most righteous. Behold! Allah is all-knowing, all-aware. [Surat Al-Hujurat, 49:13]

Prophet Muhammad emphasized these very things in his Farewell Address:

All of you are from Adam, and Adam is from dust! There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab. Nor is there superiority of a non-Arab over an Arab. There is no superiority of white over black, or black over white—save by taqwa [the conscious fear of God]. (Ahmad)

The only valid criterion for differentiating among people should be their response to God’s divine message, brought to them through the ages by His prophets. All manmade criteria are but the reflections of the tyranny and injustice of some men over others, and signs of the most serious violation of God’s criterion—taqwa.

When the Prophet’s Companion ‘Amr ibn Al-‘Aas (d. 43 H) had surrounded the Mukawkis, the king of Copts in Egypt, the latter sued for peace. ‘Amr deputized 10 of his officers to treat with him, headed by a powerful Companion, ‘Ubadah ibn Al-Samit (d. 34 H), a dark-skinned Arab. The Mukawkis deemed the color of ‘Ubadah a personal affront and refused to talk to him. The envoys explained that ‘Ubadah was one of their most esteemed and capable leaders, and that ‘Amr had commissioned him personally to settle with the Copts. The Mukawkis was astonished to hear this and further astounded when they added that Muslims held the dark and fair in equal respect, that they judge a person by his character not his color.

This is the attitude of basic fairness and equality that prevailed in the Muslims’ lands, privately and publicly, for an extended stretch of time. But history shows that our communities have suffered deep and long lapses in which the practice of this Islamic principle was seriously mired by ignorance and deviation from Allah’s guidance.

As for our Muslim communities’ attitude toward diversity in the West today—that is a judgment I shall leave to you. But I shall say this: The fact of former President Barak Hussein Obama’s election as the first African-American to assume high office—against so protracted and unspeakably violent history of slavery and racism—is, in this sense, a cause for celebration.

But as to whether it is a real milestone in this land and the world, that will depend upon a higher criterion: The God-consciousness that animates the content of US presidents and this nation’s actions. Our own experience today as Muslims in the West exposes us to a culture-wide rejoicing in the assimilation of an equality and fairness that we have been presently segregated from wholeheartedly participating in.

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