Society has called attention to racism now more than ever with the recent incidents of African Americans losing their lives in horrific ways. The world is desperately crying out for a role model that will counter the bigotry and diseased hearts that bring suffering to humankind.
Craig Considine, a lecturer at Rice University and author of several books, Humanity of Muhammad: A Christian View, and Muslims in America: Examining the Facts, seems to think this role model is embodied by Prophet Muhammad (sa). He points out in his writings that the role model who humanity is looking for is found in the personage of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa), who also encountered racial tensions and xenophobia during his own time, 1,400 years ago.
In the deserts of Saudi Arabia, Bilal Ibn Rabah provides a perfect example of overcoming racism at a time when a black slave had no status. Hazrat Bilal (ra), who had no voice or rights, rose from being looked down on and abused by his master, to holding a leading position within the Muslim community, with Muslims eventually calling him “Master” because of his knowledge and grace. It was Bilal whom the Prophet chose to be the first muezzin (one who calls to prayer) in Islam. It was considered an honorable role to the highest degree, highlight-ing that exclusion based on skin color did not hold any significance in Islam. Bilal’s beauty was in his voice, which shone out in its unique way. The Prophet Muhammad (sa) held Bilal dear to his heart; in fact, he defended him against one of his companions who said to Bilal:
“You son of a black woman.”
But the Prophet replied:
“Are you taunting him about his black mother? There is still some influence of ignorance in you” (1).
Here the Prophet (sa) was referring to the pre-Islamic state of Arab history known as jahiliyyah, “the state of ignorance of Divine guidance.” Barbarism and lawlessness had ruled before the arrival of Prophet Muhammad (sa), and racism had been one of the symptoms of that, remnants of which still existed even in the companions of Prophet Muhammad (sa). It was rooted in the misguided view that a person’s race reflects their moral character or social status.
The Prophet’s (sa) message stood in contrast to the racial hatred of 7th Century Arabia. He was the first person in history to declare that no person is above another by race or ethnicity. It was in his last sermon on Mount Arafat in 632 AD that he made such a proclamation.
“All mankind is descended from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, and a non-Arab has no superiority over an Arab. A white person has no superiority over a black person, nor a black person has any superiority over a white person except by piety and good action” (2).
That was the beginning of inspiration for all to strive for racial equality and justice for all, particularly for El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, otherwise known as Malcolm X, a black civil rights leader who battled racism in the 1950s and 1960s. After performing the Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj in Makkah, he wrote his famous letter from there to his friends said:
“There were tens of thousands of Pilgrims from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. Still, we were all participating in the same ritual displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white” (2).
He also added that white Americans should be like Muslims and “cease to measure, hinder, and harm others in terms of their differences in color.” Like Prophet Muhammad (sa), El-Shabazz was a role model for the anti-racist movement.
What, then, did Prophet Muhammad (sa) do?
He took a society that had no prior experience in equal rights and freedom and advanced them into a peaceful and harmonious nation. Arabs had been overly proud of their tribal and ethnic roots, and this characteristic surpassed everything else in society. But Prophet Muhammad (sa) changed that view and instead taught that one’s priority in life ought to be their piety and their spiritual elevation towards God. His influence carries great strength in conquering the hearts of the ignorant. Relations between Muslims and non-Muslims today would benefit greatly if the media outlets would highlight the anti-racial practices of Prophet Muhammad (sa).
This article appeared in our Fall 2020 print edition.
1. YouTube video: Who Is the First Anti-Racist? (Dr. Craig Considine) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTwft2KX9xE
2. Prophet Muhammadís Example of Anti-Racism https://www.hu˜post.com/entry/prophet-muhammads-example_1_b_6734934
Last modified: December 2021