(11th and 12th Grade Category)
2nd prize: Alisha Noor Chaudhry of Princeton, NJ
Topic: What does Islam teach us about racial discrimination?
Title: Unbiased Brotherhood: The Islamic Approach to Racial Discrimination
For centuries, racial discrimination has been an issue plaguing societies that institute “equality”. Islam tackled this issue centuries ago by eliminating the hierarchy of races, acknowledging the diversity of mankind, valuing character over race, and encouraging brotherhood between all.
Put simply, Islam condemns racism. In prophet Muhammad (S)’s Final Sermon, he left his people with indispensable advice regarding this matter. He said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over a white, except by piety and good action”. In this sermon, the Prophet (S) made it clear that there should be no hierarchy of races. He reminded the people of their common origin—the creation of Adam and Eve—to inspire a sense of equality and unity. The essence of this message, delivered by the Prophet (S) more than 1,400 years ago, is the same as that of abolitionists, Civil Rights activists, and those who fight for racial justice today. Dr. Craig Considine, a renowned scholar and author, notes that Muhammad (S) was arguably the first anti-racist in history.
Islam teaches people to respect other cultures and distinguish themselves through righteousness. The Qur’an says, “O humanity! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may (get to) know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous among you.” [Surat al Hujurat, 49:13]. Two main lessons can be extracted from this verse. Firstly, the purpose of God creating different groups of people is for humans to “get to know one another”. Islam is completely opposed to any kind of discrimination; on the contrary, it prompts people to acknowledge and understand other cultures. Secondly, as established previously in the sermon, “piety and good action” is what distinguishes a person over others. In other words, people should be judged by their character.
Muslims are united by bonds of brotherhood that keep their communities racism-free. For example, Malcolm X, an anti-racist of the mid-1900s, came to realize that Islamic values foster a unified, judgment-free society. A 1964 edition of the New York Times quotes Malcolm’s description of his pilgrimage to Mecca: “Their sincere submission to the Oneness of God, and their true acceptance of all nonwhites as equals makes the so‐called ‘whites’ also acceptable as equals into the brotherhood of Islam with the ‘nonwhites’. Color ceases to be a determining factor of a man’s worth or value once he becomes a Muslim”. Muslims from all over the world travel to Mecca to complete the religious obligation of the Hajj, or pilgrimage. As Malcolm observed, this practice brings together people of all kinds and unites them in worship. This sense of brotherhood also exists in Muslims’ everyday lives; they refer to one another as brothers and sisters, show generosity to each other, and welcome diverse communities at mosques. No racial division or hierarchy between Muslims exists, which Malcolm also noted.
The teachings of the Qur’an and prophet Muhammad (S) plainly forbid racism. Muhammad’s Final Sermon abolishes the idea of racial supremacy. Islam encourages people to understand and appreciate other cultures. People are judged not by race, but by virtue. A sense of brotherhood and unity is established among all kinds of people, as Malcolm X observed during his pilgrimage. Overall, Islamic values are foundational to creating a society without racial discrimination.