BY ANNISA ESSACK
Daily we witness relations between different religious and ethnic groups, around the world, deteriorate rapidly. Muslims pitted against non-Muslims, black and brown against white. More than ever, a role model is sought, whose teachings counteract bigotry, xenophobia and tribalism, whose acts serve as a model for co-existence.
That role model, in my humble opinion, is Prophet Mohamed ﷺ. More than 1400 years ago, long before the Civil Rights Movement in the US or the anti-Apartheid Campaign in South Africa, Prophet Mohamed ﷺ provided the balm for the issues of xenophobia and prejudice in Saudi Arabia.
Bilal ibn Rabah (RA) was a black slave who rose to a leading position within the Muslim community of 7th century Arabia and his friendship with Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is an example of his anti-racist views. A story that exemplifies this is how Prophet Muhammad defended Bilal after Abu Dharr Al-Ghifari (RA), one of the Prophet’s companions, called Bilal “the son of a black woman.” Annoyed with this emphasis on identifying people by skin colour, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ criticised Abu Dharr (RA) by stating “you are the man who still has the traits of ignorance in him.” The Prophet’s ﷺ anti-racist mentality helped lead Arabs out of this darkness and into the light by guiding them onto the path of justice and equality.
Muslims referred to Bilal as “master” because of his knowledge and grace. He became the muezzin or caller to the prayer of the Prophet ﷺ which meant that he was responsible for calling the Muslims to prayer, five times daily. In choosing Bilal for this role, Prophet Muhammad demonstrated that social exclusion and subordination based upon skin colour was impermissible in an Islamic society.
Before this message being revealed, Arabs were proud of their tribal and ethnic identities, that it became a social standard of society. The Prophet’s teachings changed this instead emphasising the importance of piety. By challenging Abu Dharr, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ showed that he would rebuke his closest companions if that person chose to denigrate someone because of his or her ethnicity. The Prophet ﷺ believed that this form of al-asabiyyah or “tribalism” was a cancer that drove people to ethnic loyalties even if it meant they supported injustice and oppression.
In his last Sermon on Mount Arafat in 632 AD, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, his most noteworthy expression of anti-racism stated that “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab … a white person has no superiority over a Black, nor does a Black have any superiority over White except by piety and good action.” He ﷺ challenged a disunited population, constantly engaged in warfare by calling on people to unite under a banner of humanity. The Prophet ﷺ distanced himself from a tendency based upon ethnicity. In his speech, the Prophet ﷺ preceded the words of Luther King Jr., who in his speech called for African Americans to be judged not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Because he promoted peace and equality, I consider Prophet Muhammad ﷺ to be the exemplary anti-racist. It is without a doubt that he advanced human rights in a part of the world that had no prior experience with the practice.
Often, non-Muslims who view the Prophet as a racist have not taken into consideration the many examples in the Seerah. Rather than being divisive, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is an inspiration to all of those working to rid the world of the evil of racism.
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