Allah the Almighty says in the Holy Qur’an,
اِنَّمَا الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ اِخۡوَۃٌ فَاَصۡلِحُوۡا بَیۡنَ اَخَوَیۡکُمۡ وَ اتَّقُوا اللّٰہَ لَعَلَّکُمۡ تُرۡحَمُوۡنَ
“Surely all believers are brothers. So make peace between brothers, and fear Allah that mercy may be shown to you.” (Al Quran 49:11)
The Holy Qur’an has laid a beautiful doctrine of equality for its followers, effectively shunning any form of prejudice against, ethnicity, culture, color, status, or race. And it is this synthesis of universal brotherhood and equality provided by Islam that I’d like to discuss with you all today.
I grew up in Chicago and I’ve been witness to the segregation and violence that are byproducts of racial inequality in my city. We have to ask ourselves, why do people feel the need to fill this vacuum in their lives with crime? Why is not only Chicago, but the world in such distress? Beyond the borders of Chicago a quarter of the world’s slaves are children. There is forced female mutilation in Africa. There are 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking. There is legal torture and abuse without justification in Chile.
These travesties, these crimes, would not be occurring if true equality existed.
For any nation to have true equality, a strong foundation is required. The preamble for the United States Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The Declaration of Independence boasts promises of equality but our forefather, Thomas Jefferson, who played a heavy hand in penning the Declaration of Independence, owned 600 slaves. He justified this by saying that African Americans and Native Americans were not included in those statements of equality written in the preamble.
So when the Declaration of Independence states that it is, “self-evident, all men are created equal,” it apparently wasn’t evident enough that African Americans and Native Americans are human and are deserving of the promising words of equality written in the preamble. I ask you, how can our country have a solid foundation for equality when the doctrine we refer to, to understand our rights and our American identity is denying people of color of their status as human beings?
Our beloved Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), at the age of 25, released all the slaves in his ownership given to him by Hazrat Khadija. This was over 11 centuries before the Declaration of Independence was penned. Moreover, it took America until 1865 to pass the 13th amendment to actually abolish slavery. The Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) understood and acted upon the importance of abolishing slavery in 595 A.D., whereas it took over a thousand years for America to come to do the same. This simple juxtaposition shows how the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had echoed centuries before anyone else that equality should encompass all of Allah’s creatures, with no exclusion.
In one of his last addresses to the Muslim community, the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) left with these parting words showing how strongly he felt on the issue of equality. He said, “All Muslims are as brethren to one another. All of you are equal. All men, whatever nation or tribe they may belong to, and whatever station in life they may hold are equal. Even as the fingers of the two hands are equal, so are human beings equal to one another. No one has any right, any superiority to claim over another. You are as brothers. O men, your God is One and your ancestor is one. An Arab possesses no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab over an Arab. A white man is in no way superior to a black nor for that matter, is a black man better than a white.”
After hearing these words, you might say the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) coined the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by being the first to declare that all men no matter their race or skin is of equal value. Coincidentally, it is a well-known fact that President Thomas Jefferson owned two copies of the Holy Qur’an and texts, which detailed historical accounts of Islam. Careful examination of the Charter of Medina, dictated by Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), shows astonishing similarities between the Charter of Medina and the Declaration of Independence on the subject of equality.
Even though there isn’t solid evidence out there that Thomas Jefferson actually used the Charter of Medina to his political influence, there is a strong suggestion that even President Jefferson might have studied the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and adopted some of his beliefs on equality and may have embedded them into the Declaration of Independence, testifying to the breadth of the influence of the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
The Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) spoke of his vision for equality, taking the regional and cultural aspects out of Islam. He knew the influences of the negative effects of culture would hinder the progress of Islam, yet he did not discourage people having different cultures but rather discouraged superimposing negative cultural practices and passing them off as Islamic teachings. The reasoning behind this, eloquently put by President Jimmy Carter is, that when people become too immersed in their culture and ethnicity they begin to think, “…I am superior and my beliefs should prevail, and anyone who disagrees with me is inherently wrong,’ and the next step is ‘inherently inferior.’ The ultimate step is ‘subhuman,’ and then their lives are not significant.” Islam, rather, looks to love and to cherish every human being no matter their cultural or ethnic associations.
Islam’s outlook and application of Holy Prophet Muhammad’s (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) practical approach on equality could prevent the strife currently plaguing our world. The Holy Qur’an made equality simple to achieve and further manifested it’s achievement in the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) by the practice of his teachings. Alas! If we would only listen and put his teachings into practice. He once said, “You will not enter paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another. Shall I not guide you to something which if you carry out you will love one another? Spread salaam amongst yourselves.”
Spreading salaam. That is such a simple action we can all engage in to promote and achieve equality. So much so after the life of the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) it is narrated that there were two companions who called upon each other. One called upon the other and asks his friend to go to the market with him. The other friend is quieter and more reclusive and it takes much cajoling to convince him to go to the market. Once at the market the reclusive friend notices his companion is not buying anything but is rather putting all his attention towards saying salaam and greeting people and he was saying salaam to literally anyone and everyone. The more reclusive friend finds himself with the opportunity then to do the same. After they both go home a couple days go by and the reclusive of the two companions calls his friend and he asks, “when can we go to the market next?” His friend is absolutely perplexed. He says, “when I first called you a couple days ago it took much persuasion and you did not want to go to the market. Suddenly today you are calling me!” He’s taken aback by his friend’s change of heart. His friend responds saying that he was amazed at how much peace he could give and receive just by saying salaam. He was looking forward to feeling that peace again and incurring the blessings of Allah.
This was the ibadaat [worship] the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) wanted to see from his followers. A true Muslim does not just call themselves Muslim but further calls themselves a believer and thus perpetuates the message of the Qur’an and the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). We saw in this narration the value that the companions associated with promoting equality and peace simply through saying salaam. They didn’t look at rank, they didn’t look at status, they didn’t look at wealth, and they certainly didn’t look at race. This is what Islam does for us. It strips the ego.
Allah the Almighty says in the Holy Qur’an,
وَ اعۡبُدُوا اللّٰہَ وَ لَا تُشۡرِکُوۡا بِہٖ شَیۡئًا وَّ بِالۡوَالِدَیۡنِ اِحۡسَانًا وَّ بِذِی الۡقُرۡبٰی وَ الۡیَتٰمٰی وَ الۡمَسٰکِیۡنِ وَ الۡجَارِ ذِی الۡقُرۡبٰی وَ الۡجَارِ الۡجُنُبِ وَ الصَّاحِبِ بِالۡجَنۡۢبِ وَ ابۡنِ السَّبِیۡلِ ۙ وَ مَا مَلَکَتۡ اَیۡمَانُکُمۡ
And worship Allah and associate naught with Him, and show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbour that is a kinsman and the neighbour that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom your right hands possess. (Al Quran 4:37)
In this verse we see that Allah has ordained for every human being no matter their social status, wealth, descent, affiliations, color, or background to be treated with kindness and only be judged by their morality and service to God and humanity. The Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) said: ‘I do not like the words of those who limit their compassion to their own ethnicity. I advise you again and again to never ever restrict your sphere of compassion.’ He also said: ‘You should extend compassion to all of God’s creations as if you are their blood relative, just like mothers are with their children. One who does good with natural passion like that of a mother can never be ostentatious.’
The Qur’an further delivers the five pillars of Islam, which provides a very simple path for the transcendence of culture and ethnicity. First, we say the Shahadah and promise dedication to Allah and the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Secondly, during prayers we see the practical application of our worship in that kings and servants pray in the same row. Whites stand shoulder to shoulder with blacks just as the rich stand shoulder to shoulder with the poor. Thirdly, during Ramadan we strip down to bare emotions and seek to find empathy for all those less fortunate and pray for their well-being. Fourth, we offer Zakat, the charity towards man, as a form of purification for ourselves and to relieve the needs of our brothers and sisters in society. We sacrifice a portion of our income to relieve poverty, distress, debt, and to propagate Islam. And lastly, Hajj; the most beautiful event the world enjoys annually. It is the one and only global event, which breaks down cultural barriers and strips millions of people to bare essentials. From the aerial view of Hajj one would observe only a sea of white clothing worn by each participant. Everyone would be indistinguishable. Through this event, Islam reminds us that there is only one race, the human race. I want to emphasize again, that I am not romanticizing Islam. However, here in America today, if we understand the true value of Islam and recognize it’s true teachings and act upon those true teachings, we could create a place transcendent of culture, transcendent of inequality, transcendent of bigotry, transcendent of hate, transcendent of violence, transcendent of discrimination.
Allah, the all knowing, has created humanity in a very special way, which even baffles science at times. Scientist, Dr. Spencer Wells, dedicated much of his life to finding the first origin of man on earth. His findings have jolted the world. He successfully proved that the first markings of humanity began with the “Saan” a tribe in Africa and from them sub-tribes came and the world was populated. Though science has only just proven this, Allah told us centuries before in the Holy Qur’an that man would come from a tribe from which sub-tribes would come. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:
یٰۤاَیُّہَا النَّاسُ اِنَّا خَلَقۡنٰکُمۡ مِّنۡ ذَکَرٍ وَّ اُنۡثٰی وَ جَعَلۡنٰکُمۡ شُعُوۡبًا وَّ قَبَآئِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوۡا ؕ اِنَّ اَکۡرَمَکُمۡ عِنۡدَ اللّٰہِ اَتۡقٰکُمۡ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ عَلِیۡمٌ خَبِیۡرٌ
O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female; and We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes that you may recognize one another. Verily, the most honourable among you, in the sight of Allah, is he who is the most righteous among you. Surely, Allah is All-knowing, All-Aware. (Al Quran 49:14)
This verse from the Qur’an teaches us that Allah has made us all equal in His eyes but provided us with varying nations and races to allow us to know each other, to allow us to benefit from our differing characteristics, and thus through recognition of one another, progress as a human race.
Further, Dr. Wells also spoke of human genetics. Scientifically speaking, most species are created with high genetic diversity. Humans, however, have DNA that is more than 99.9% similar between all individuals. Take a moment; look at the person to your left and to your right and then at all the occupants in this hall. You are almost identical to all these people by this 99.9%. Other species have a genetic diversity at least 50 times greater than our own. It is astonishing just how alike Allah has made all of us. The strife the world is undergoing is largely over this tiny 0.01%. That’s it 0.01%. This difference is so infinitesimal, we could round off and one could say Allah has made us as ONE. And He has made us as one. The Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) said, “Allah desires to make all of mankind as if they were one person. This could also be called a democratic singularity. Under this concept the diversity of mankind could be considered as one individual. The purpose of religion is also that the human race be united in the form the beads of a Tasbeeh (rosary) through one thread.”
Blessed are we as Muslims to have Islam, and the blessings have been furthered by us having accepted the Messiah of the age who has founded this pristine community on the basis of equality. How unfortunate it would be if we were not to drink from this fountainhead of spiritual enlightenment, which fosters human tolerance and appreciation to produce a worldwide brotherhood under the Unity of God. Blessed are we that Islam is replete with the words of the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He desired a singular global village, and came with an unprecedented concept in the history of man, that of the concept of an Ummah. No prophet previous to the prophet of Islam had spoken of such a concept; one that is unaffected by culture and ethnicity. Blessed are we to have the Holy Qur’an revealed to us outlining how to abolish racial prejudices among its followers. There is a crying need for the propagation of Islam in the world today. If the world would actively apply the spirit of Islam and the conduct of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), it is inconceivable that we would not rid the world of the disparity and tragedy ailing us today. Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) states, “The Muslims are like one man, if his eyes complain then the whole of him complains, and if his head complains, then the whole of him complains.”
The Holy Prophet Muhammed (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) informs us that the simile of a single body conveys the closeness of the Muslim community. If a group of Muslims is taunted or suppressed, then consider those actions and feelings flowing through you, and if you cannot feel the pain, then you can be considered to be an incomplete Muslim.
Please join me, as I pray that Allah grant us each the ability to be tolerant to our dear brothers and sisters, that we feel one another’s pain, that we feel motivated to alleviate that suffering, that we promote the health and happiness for all of humankind, and that we carry out the vision of equality that the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had for us. Ameen.
- (https://www.hrw.org) (http://www.endslaverynow.org/learn/slavery-today/sex-trafficking)
- United States Declaration of Independence
- “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power”. By: Jon Meacham
- Farewell Address: https://www.alislam.org/holyprophet/the_holy_prophet_muhammad.pdf
- “Islam at the Birth of America.” By: Denise Spellberg
- Our endangered values: America‘s moral crisis. (Alislam.org)
- Hadith: (Muslim)
- Hadith: (Muatta Imam Malik)
- Friday Sermon: May 9th, 2014
- Malfoozat. Vol.4, Page 100.
- Hadith: (Muslim)