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Africanism and Islam: Part 1

Jan 21, 2021

Held every year on 24 January, World Day for African and Afro descendant Culture celebrates the many vibrant cultures of the African continent and African Diasporas around the world, and promotes them as an effective lever for sustainable development, dialogue and peace. As a rich source of the world’s shared heritage, promoting African and Afro descendant culture is crucial for the development of the continent, and for humanity as a whole. Celebration of this day also aims to promote the widest possible ratification and implementation of this Charter by African States, thereby strengthening the role of culture in promoting peace on the continent.

Islam against racism

One day, in the Holy City of Makkah, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ dropped a bombshell on his followers, when he ﷺ reminded them that all people are created equal.

“All humans are descended from Adam and Eve,” said Muhammad ﷺ in his last known public speech. “There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a non-Arab over an Arab, and no superiority of a white person over a black person or of a black person over a white person, except on the basis of personal piety and righteousness.”

In this sermon, known as the Farewell Address, Nabi Muhammad ﷺ outlined the basic religious and ethical ideals of Islam, the religion he began preaching in the early seventh century. Racial equality was one of them. Muhammad’s ﷺ words jolted a society divided by notions of tribal and ethnic superiority.

Apart from monotheism – worshiping just One Allah – belief in the equality of all human beings in the eyes of Allah set early Muslims apart from many of their fellow Arabs in Mecca.

Chapter 49, verse 13 of Islam’s sacred scripture, the Quraan, declares:

يأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَٰكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَٰكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَآئِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوٓا۟ ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَتْقَىٰكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

“O humankind! We have created you all out of a male and a female and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you may get to know one another. The noblest of you in Allah’s sight is the one who is most righteous.”

This verse challenged many of the values of per-Islamic Arab society, where inequalities based on tribal membership, kinship and wealth were a fact of life. Kinship or lineal descent – “Nasab” in Arabic – was the primary determinant of an individual’s social status.

Members of larger, more prominent tribes like the aristocratic Quraysh were powerful. Those from less wealthy tribes like the Khazraj had lower standing.

The Noble Quraan said personal piety and deeds were the basis for merit, not tribal affiliation – an alien and potentially destabilizing message in a society built on Nasab.

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