EARLIER THIS YEAR I was a presenter at the 2017 ICNA conference in Baltimore, Maryland. The title of one of my two workshops was, “Looking Inward – Strategies to Mitigate Race Issues Within the Muslim Community”. By the will of Allah, the workshop was standing room only with some people looking into the packed room, perhaps wanting to enter, but they were not able to due to space limitations. One of the goals of this workshop was to shine some light on any racism that may exist amongst Muslims. I began with the following verse from the Quran,
And hold fast all together by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you) and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favor on you… [Surat Al ‘Imran, 3:103],
I also mentioned the Prophet’s saying in his farewell speech,
O people, be aware: your God is One. No Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab, and no non-Arab any superiority over an Arab, and no white one has any superiority over a black one, and no black one any superiority over a white one, except on the basis of taqwa (piety). The most honorable among you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most pious and righteous of you…
The following is not meant to insult any individual or group, nor is it a social experiment, but a socializing encouragement.
One of the definitions of a racist is “a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.” Racism or racist behavior is not a part of the Islamic framework. In the following example the Prophet frowned upon racist behavior amongst his companions, Abu Dharr Al-Ghifari, and one who accepted Islam in its early days, narrates:
Once I was conversing with Bilal. Our conversation gave way to a dispute. Angry with him, the following insult burst from my mouth: ‘You cannot comprehend this, O son of a black woman!’
As Islam expressly forbade all kinds of racial, tribal and color discrimination, Bilal was both upset and greatly angered. A while later a man came and told me that the Messenger of God, upon him be peace and blessings, summoned me. I went to him immediately. He said to me: ‘I have been informed that you addressed Bilal as the son of a black woman.’ I was deeply ashamed and could say nothing.’ God’s Messenger continued his reprimand: ‘This means you still retain the standards and judgement of the pre-Islamic days of ignorance. Islam has eradicated all those false standards or measures judging people by blood, fame, color or wealth. It has established that the best and most honorable of men is he who is the most pious and upright in conduct. Is it right to defame a believer just because he is black?’ Abu Dharr felt profound remorse. He went straight to Bilal’s house and, putting his head on the threshold, said: ‘This head will not rise from here until the blessed feet of Bilal tread on the face of foolish, impolite Abu Dharr.’ Bilal responded: ‘That face deserves to be kissed, not trodden upon’, and forgave Abu Dharr.
One of the suggestions that I had made, to the attendees of my workshop, was that I had encouraged them, during the month of Ramadan, to visit other masajid and eat the iftar there. I decided to put into practice what I had encouraged them to do. So began my Ramadan 2017/1438 journey to come out of what may be considered “racial masjid comfort zone” and break bread and pray with my Muslim brothers and sisters in close proximity to Baltimore City. By the will and permission of Allah, I am a very busy African-American Imam, founder/executive director of Muslim Social Services Agency of Baltimore City, Imam at Johns Hopkins University, Islamic Chaplain at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore City Police Department and United States Park Police. In addition, I am a member of two boards of directors, MercyUSA and Masjid Al Ihsan. When possible, on each Saturday and Sunday, during this year’s month of Ramadan, I had visited a different masjid and enjoyed the ethnic mix with my brothers and sisters in Islam. Keeping the above Islamic teachings in mind, I set out on a journey to travel outside of Baltimore City every weekend to break my fast and eat iftar with my Muslim brothers and sisters at the following randomly selected masajid/centers: Darul Taqwa community on June 27th in Ellicott City, Dar Us Salaam community on May 28th in College Park, An Nur Foundation on June 3rd in White Marsh, ISWA community on June 10th in Silver Spring, Muslim Community Center on June 11th in Silver Spring, and ISB on June 17th in Baltimore County. Allah says, Verily this brotherhood of yours is a single brotherhood and I am your only Rabb, therefore worship Me Alone. [Surat Al-Baqarah, 21:92]
I had traveled a total of approximately 260 miles just to break my fast with my brothers and sisters at other masajid and eat iftar with them. In addition, I also did iftar in Baltimore City at Masjid Al Ihsan on June 18th. All of the masajid/centers I had visited were very welcoming and merely treated me, as expected, like their brother in Islam. There was a beautiful ethnic mix at each iftar venue and a great sense of brotherhood, smiling, talking and eating together. One brother had said jokingly to me, because he knew that I was from Baltimore City, “You are here, what happened, you made a wrong turn? I said, “No, I just wanted to eat iftar with my Muslim brothers here in this community.” An Imam at one masjid saw me and smiled and had expressed how happy he was to see me breaking the fast at his masjid. While I was eating he again came up to me and thanked me for coming to his community and eating with them. One of the servers, at another masjid, had also thanked me for coming to his community and eat iftar with them. I was willing to go at least a combined 260 miles out of my way to be with my brothers/sisters in Islam. Allah says, 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 At-Taqwa. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware [Surat Al-Hujurat, 49:13]. This journey had bought me closer to my Muslim family and hopefully broken down any walls or perceived notions about my “tribe”.
If a Muslim dislikes someone solely for the color of their skin, this is not from Islam. The Prophet said,
Allah does not see your outward appearances and your possessions, but He sees your hearts and your deeds.
Perhaps, some may think that because of their lineage it automatically makes them superior over others. This unfounded superior position may foster a racist attitude towards others. The Prophet said,
Allah will not inquire about your lineage on the Day of Resurrection. The most honorable in the sight of Allah is he who is most pious.
There is a great reward in loving each other purely for the sake of Allah. It is sufficient honor for those who love one another for the sake of Allah, men and women alike, to know that their almighty Lord will take care of them on the Day of Judgement and he will say:
Where are those who loved one another for My glory? Today I will shade them in My shade on the Day when there is no shade but Mine.
Sometimes some Muslims may not exchange salaams with each other, because of the color of the other person’s skin, they are not from their country, or not from the same region in their country. This type of behavior is contrary to what the Prophet encouraged Muslims to do.The Prophet said:
By the One in Whose hand is my soul, you will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another. Shall I not tell you of something that if you do it, you will love one another? Spread salam amongst yourselves.
We must keep in mind the beautiful words of the Prophet,
Believers are like a structure, parts of which support other parts.
Furthermore, the Prophet encouraged Muslims to be brothers to one another,
Do not envy one another, do not outbid one another (in order to inflate prices), do not hate one another, do not turn away from one another, and do not enter into a transaction when others have already entered into it. O servants of Allah, be brothers. A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim. He does not oppress him, humiliate him or look down upon him. Taqwa is here” – and so saying, he pointed to his chest three times. “It is evil enough for a man to look down upon his Muslim brother. The whole of a Muslim’s being is sacred to another Muslim – his blood, his wealth and his honor are inviolable.
If we see our brother, sister or any Muslim expressing racist words, having a racist attitude or exhibiting racist behavior, we are to follow the instruction of the Prophet who said,
The believer is the mirror of his brother. If he sees any fault in him, he corrects it.
Also, the Prophet said,
None of you will have faith till he wishes for his (Muslim) brother what he likes for himself.
That being said by the Prophet let’s start by praying for one another. The Prophet said,
The quickest prayer to be answered is a man’s supplication for his brother in his absence.
It is a great unpleasant feeling to experience the racism that exists within the American society and also to feel any racism amongst my Muslim family. When this happens, it means that some Muslims are getting a double dose of racism, from outside of the Muslim community and from inside the Muslim community, which leaves little room for escaping racism and racist behavior. To me, both are painful, but the one that is most painful is any racism that is practiced within the Muslim community. Particularly, amongst people who are the best of mankind. Allah says,
You are the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind; you enjoin Al-Ma`ruf (all that Islam has ordained) and forbid Al-Munkar (all that Islam has forbidden), and you believe in Allah… [Surat Al ‘Imran, 3:110)
I encourage all Muslims to come out of their racial masjid’s comfort zones and visit, pray and socialize with Muslim members of other communities. Perhaps, once a month, for example, an Imam from one community can be the khatib in another community and vice versa. General members of communities can, once a month or more, go to a jumu‘ah service at another masjid and maybe support some of the programs and fundraising efforts that the “other” masjid is having. Perhaps, next Ramadan and every Ramadan afterwards more Muslims will join me, particularly the leadership, in visiting other masajid in breaking their fast and eating with our Muslim family outside of our racial masjid comfort zone. We should take our families with us to the other masajid so that perhaps, insha’Allah, our children will embrace the children of other Muslim ethnic groups instead of being fearful of them or looking down upon them. This type of increased ethnic mixing may have a positive rippling affect for generations to come within the Muslim community and Allah knows best. Perhaps, town hall meetings can be set up and the Muslim community can openly and honestly talk about any racism that may exist within our community and the steps needed to ridding ourselves of it. Additionally, a panel discussion can be set up to address any racism within the Muslim community. These and similar efforts may create a healthier and more positive ethnic blend and increased brotherhood/sisterhood within the Muslim community. We have to begin breaking down any walls of racism that may exist in us or between us as Muslims by challenging ourselves to go the extra mile to be with our Muslim brothers and sisters merely for the sake of Allah.
The Prophet said,
A man went to visit a brother of his in another village. Allah sent an angel to wait for him on the road. When the man came along, the angel asked him, `Where are you headed?’ He said, `I am going to visit a brother of mine who lives in this village.’ The angel asked, `Have you done him any favor (for which you are now seeking repayment)?’ He said, `No, I just love him for the sake of Allah.’ The angel told him, `I am a messenger to you from Allah, sent to tell you that He loves you as you love your brother for His sake.