Stand for Change: 5 Things we can do to Counter RacismZubair Akram
Another black person, George Floyd, has lost his life at the hands of those whose responsibility it is to protect. The stomach-churning images, videos and headlines of black people suffering in police custody ring all too familiar for us. According to Al Jazeera, Black Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by the police than white Americans, despite only making up 13% of the US population. The statistics are staggering, and this isn’t a new phenomenon. For many of us, the recent horrific events have been the final straw and we’re rumbling with rage.
It is unfortunate that we often only rise to serious action once devastating atrocities take place. The reality is that racism functions both covertly and overtly across all major social institutions every single day. The racial disparities which are reflected in employment opportunities, academia and justice systems make clear that this has been a long-standing issue. Naturally, our initial reaction to such crimes and realities is our want for justice. As Muslims, we firmly believe that before we can bring about large-scale global justice and change, we must first look to ourselves. In the Quran Allah (swt) says, ‘Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.’ (13:11). We hope that this article will help you to reflect practically on your scope for individual activism. We all have the power to make change, but the most powerful form of change is that which occurs inwardly.
- Who do we interact with?
As Muslims, we pride ourselves for being an Ummah. The idea of an Ummah signifies a global collective community which transcends geography, race and culture. Islam unites our hearts, and in faith we are all brothers and sisters. We are well-acquainted with the hadeeth which likens the Ummah to one united body: Al-Nu’man ibn Bashir reported: The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” (Bukhari and Muslim). The imagery of being one united body is extremely powerful, yet in reality, are we as united in mercy and compassion as we ought to be? As a quick exercise, let’s take a quick look at our immediate social circles. Do we only mingle with those who resemble us? Do we encourage our children to make friends with certain types of people? Do we caution them to stay away from children of certain races due to deeply rooted stereotypes we have planted within us? Before we urge global nations to exercise justice, we must free ourselves of the murky beliefs we may unknowingly harbour.
- Are we social activists at home?
Many of us have grown up with parents and elders who value caste systems. Though the essence of these ideas have now mostly been lost, they still shape the thinking of many of the people we have grown up around. As a result, it is not uncommon for us to hear words of disdain spoken towards people of other races, especially black people. The prophet (saw) was swift to reprimand the great companion Abu Dharr (ra) when he called a fellow companion the son of a black woman. He (saw) didn’t let this kind of language slip by, and neither should we. He (saw) challenged racism directly and responded, ‘You are the man who still has the traits of ignorance in him.’ Hearing this, Abu Dharr (ra) repented and apologised. When we hear our friends and family speak condescendingly of people based on the colour of their skin, how quick are we to counter these comments? With respect, wisdom and firmness, we must educate those who are most dear to us before we endeavour to reach out to the masses.
- Do we brush off racist jokes?
Many of us will often hear racist comments made in jest by those around us. Do we laugh along and implicate ourselves in this racism? What do we do to counter racist mind-sets that exits in those closest to us?
- Would you prevent your child from marrying someone based on the colour of their skin?
This is the question which often most clearly reveals our racist tendencies. Day and night we advocate for justice and equality, but if our child were to express their desire to marry someone of a different race, let alone a black brother or sister we find ourselves in a frenzy. Needless to say, this is contrary to the true Islamic way from which we many of us have sadly deviated in this regard. Allah (swt) says, ‘O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.’ (49:13). If we are serious about wanting to tackle racism, let’s consider allowing our children to marry Muslims whose skin colours are different to ours.
- Do we take time out to educate ourselves on Islam?
Before subscribing to any of the multifarious identities and ideologies that exist in today’s world, we must not take for granted that we are first and foremost Muslims. Our religion provides us with the moral guidance and grounding we need to attain justice and equality in all spheres of life. When we stray from the perfect teachings of Islam, we witness disarray, destruction and injustice. Through studying the true teachings of the Quran and Sunnah we cleanse ourselves of the ills that become manifest through our speech and actions. If we actively strive to educate ourselves on our religion, we will soon find that every maxim and principle is predicated on justice, ease and equality and that nothing has been left out of this beautiful way of life. Allah (swt) says, ‘This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favour upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion.’ (5:3).
Islam came to honour us as remove us from the tightened shackles of ignorance. It is only through education that we free ourselves from the darkness of oppressive mind-sets. We pray that Allah (swt) makes things easy for our black brothers and sisters around the world, with whom we stand and support unequivocally. We also sincerely hope that we can use this tragic moment to reflect upon our own short-falls as a Muslim community. May Allah (swt) forgive us and guide us to the best of speech of actions.