Islam’s Anti-racist Message from the seventh Century Still Resonates Today


One day, in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad (God bless him and grant him peace) dropped a bombshell on his followers: He instructed them that each one individuals are created equal.

“All humans are descended from Adam and Eve,” stated Muhammad in his final identified 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.”

The noblest of you in God’s sight is the one who’s most righteous.

In this sermon, generally known as the Farewell Address, Muhammad outlined the fundamental non secular and moral beliefs of Islam, the faith he started preaching within the early seventh century. Racial equality was considered one of them. Muhammad’s phrases jolted a society divided by notions of tribal and ethnic superiority.

Today, with racial stress and violence roiling up to date America, his message is seen to create a particular ethical and moral mandate for American Muslims to assist the nation’s anti-racism protest motion.

Challenging kinship

Apart from monotheism – worshipping only one God – perception within the equality of all human beings within the eyes of God set early Muslims other than a lot of their fellow Arabs in Mecca.

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

“O humankind! We have made you…into nations and tribes, so that you may get to know one another. The noblest of you in God’s sight is the one who is most righteous.”

This verse challenged most of the values of pre-Islamic Arab society, the place inequalities primarily based on tribal membership, kinship and wealth had been a truth of life. Kinship or lineal descent – “nasab” in Arabic – was the first determinant of a person’s social standing. Members of bigger, extra distinguished tribes just like the aristocratic Quraysh had been highly effective. Those from much less rich tribes just like the Khazraj had decrease standing.

The Quran stated private piety and deeds had been the premise for advantage, not tribal affiliation – an alien and doubtlessly destabilizing message in a society constructed on nasab.

Give me your drained, your poor

As is commonly the case with revolutionary actions, early Islam encountered fierce opposition from many elites.

The Quraysh, for instance, who managed commerce in Mecca – a enterprise from which they profited tremendously – had no intention of giving up the snug existence they’d constructed on the backs of others, particularly their slaves introduced over from Africa.

The Prophet’s message of egalitarianism tended to draw the “undesirables” –individuals from the margins of society. Early Muslims included younger males from much less influential tribes escaping that stigma and slaves who had been promised emancipation by embracing Islam.

Women, declared to be the equal of males by the Quran, additionally discovered Muhammad’s message interesting. However, the potential of gender equality in Islam would grow to be compromised by the rise of patriarchal societies.

By Muhammad’s loss of life, in 632, Islam had led to a elementary transformation of Arab society, although it by no means totally erased the area’s outdated reverence for kinship.

I can’t breathe

Early Islam additionally attracted non-Arabs, outsiders with little standing in conventional Arab society. These included Salman the Persian, who traveled to the Arabian peninsula looking for non secular fact, Suhayb the Greek, a dealer, and an enslaved Ethiopian named Bilal.

All three would rise to prominence in Islam throughout Muhammad’s lifetime. Bilal’s much-improved fortunes, specifically, illustrate how the egalitarianism preached by Islam modified Arab society.

An enslaved servant of a Meccan aristocrat named Umayya, Bilal was persecuted by his proprietor for embracing the brand new religion. Umayya would place a rock on Bilal’s chest, attempting to choke the air out of his physique in order that he would abandon Islam.

Moved by Bilal’s struggling, Muhammad’s pal and confidant Abu Bakr, who would go on to rule the Muslim group after the Prophet’s loss of life, set him free.

Bilal was exceptionally near Muhammad, too. In 622, the Prophet appointed him the primary particular person to offer the general public name to prayer in recognition of his highly effective, pleasing voice and private piety. Bilal would later marry an Arab girl from a good tribe – unthinkable for an enslaved African within the pre-Islamic interval.

Black lives matter

For many fashionable Muslims, Bilal is the image of Islam’s egalitarian message, which in its perfect utility acknowledges no distinction amongst people on the premise of ethnicity or race however quite is extra involved with private integrity. One of the United States’ main Black Muslim newspaper, revealed between 1975 and 1981, was referred to as The Bilalian News.

More not too long ago Yasir Qadhi, dean of the Islamic Seminary of America, in Texas, invoked Islam’s egalitarian roots. In a June 5 public tackle, he stated American Muslims, a inhabitants conversant in discrimination, “must fight racism, whether it is by education or by other means.”

Many Muslims within the U.S. are taking motion, supporting the Black Lives Matter motion and protesting police brutality and systemic racism. Their actions mirror the revolutionary – and nonetheless unrealized – egalitarian message that Prophet Muhammad set down over 1,400 years in the past as a cornerstone of the Muslim religion.

About the Author:

Asma Afsaruddin

Professor of Islamic Studies and former Chairperson, Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures, Indiana University.


It was first revealed on July 13, 2020.


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