Based on the principle of human brotherhood mentioned in the previous chapter, Islam defined the relationship between man and his brethren according to the principles of equality, and justice and according to Islam. Piety and righteousness are the only real criteria for nobility. But this does not give the person who possesses these qualities any special privileges; it only makes him more respected by other members of society. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “People are all equal like teeth of a comb” (Al-Bukhari)
Throughout the ages people have institutionalized racism arguing that some races are superior to others. Jews have from ancient times considered themselves better than non-Jews or Goyem, as they call them. In more recent times European deemed themselves superior to non-European as a justification for their colonization and destruction of Non-European civilizations. Only forty years ago, German under Hitler believed themselves to be nobler than other Europeans. To this day the legal system of South Africa enforces the superiority of whites over blacks however, Islam takes people back to their common origin. It is explicitly stated in the Qur’an:
“O Mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord, who created you from a single soul.”
(Surah An-Nisa 4:1) Racial fanaticism has become wide spread in the form of nationalism. Islam gives no advantage to any race over any other race because it was revealed to the whole world and not to the Arabs alone. God address his Prophet in the Qur’an saying:
Say (O Muhammad): ‘O Mankind! Lo! I am the messenger of God to you all.” (Surah al-A’raf 7:158)
The fact that the Qur’an was revealed in Arabic initially, applied in the Arabian Peninsula, and eventually propagated to the rest of the world by Arab Muslims does not give Arabs any advantage over others. In the Prophet’s farewell address during his last pilgrimage he removed any basis for feelings of Arab superiority by clearly stating: “No Arab is superior to a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab superior to a Arab, except by having a greater degree of God consciousness”. The Prophet (pbuh) made the following statement about a Persian companion of his called Salman Al-Farisi, “Salman is one of my family”[By Ahmed Ibn Hanbal]. The Prophet (pbuh) also chose Ethiopian, Bilal Al-Habashi, to be the main responsible for calling Muslims to prayer. The Prophet (pbuh) used to get angry with people who insinuated racial superiority, who despised non-Arab Muslim or showed inhospitality towards immigrants.
Qais ibn Motatia once came to a circle of people and saw Salman Al-Farisi, Suhaib Ar-Rumi and Bilal Al-Habashi among them. He said, “One can understand why the Aws and Khazraj (tribes) have supported the Prophet, but what about these?” (Meaning the three companions of the Prophet who were not Arabs). Outraged by this blatant insinuation Mu’adh Ibn Jabal caught Qais by the collar of his cloak, brought him to the Prophet (pbuh) and told the Prophet (pbuh) what Qais had said. The Prophet (pbuh) immediately went to the mosque and announced to his followers: “O people! All of us belong to one God, one father and one religion. Arabic is only language, and he who speaks Arabic is an Arab”.
The Prophet (pbuh) included all Muslims within the Islamic brotherhood and made it possible for any race or nationality to be included within the domain of Islam. He did this to make people understand that the greatness of Arabic lies in it being the language of the Qur’an. Allah makes the following statement in the Qur’an:
“Lo! We have revealed it, as a discourse in Arabic that you may understand.” (Surah Yousuf 12:2) This means that the honour of the Arab in their having undertaken the initial responsibility of spreading Islam to all peoples. God said:
“And Lo! It is in truth a reminder for you and for your people, and you will be questioned.”
(Surah Al-Zukhruf 43:44)
In Islam, the relationship between Arabs and non-Arabs is based upon piety and religious devotion. It has been reported that when the Muslim Arab noblemen, Abu Sufyan Ibn Hard and Bilal Al-Habashi, a former slave, once went to meet ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second Caliph, ‘Umar insisted that Bilal enter the room first due to his early contribution to the Islamic cause.
Islam does not make distinctions between people based upon difference in colour, but considers the difference in people’s colours similar to the difference in the colours of flowers. These differences of colour and language are signs of God’s creativity as Allah tell us in the Qur’an:
“And of His signs are the creation of the heavens and the earth and the difference of your language and colours. (Surah Al-Rum 30:22) In pre-Islamic times, Arabs oppressed the blacks and attempted to deprive them of their rights, even if they happened to be distinguished and intelligent as in the case of ‘Antar ibn Shaddad Al-Absi (a black poet). However, the Prophet (pbuh), due to his perfect understanding of the nature beings, disliked this type of attitude and encouraged equality among men. One day a heated discussion arose between Abu Dharr Al-Ghifari2 and a former black slave. Abu Dharr said to the slave, O son of a black woman. The Prophet (pbuh) was highly irritated by his remark and said to Abu Dharr, “how dare you revile him because of his mother’s colour?” You still have traces of pre-Islamic attitudes”. Then the Prophet (pbuh) said, “You have gone too far". A white woman’s son has no superiority over black woman’s son except due to greater piety and righteousness”. Upon hearing this, Abu Dharr put his face on the ground and said to the slave, “Come and step over face.”[Collected by Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Dawud].
With such wise and clear-cut instructions, the Prophet (pbuh) succeeded in eliminating all traces of discrimination among his companions. It is reported that ‘Amar ibn al-‘As once sent a delegation to Mocucus (King of Egypt) headed by ‘Ubadah ibn Samit, who was exceptionally black in colour3. Mococus was enraged at having to negotiate with a black man and demanded that the delegation name another leader, but the members of the delegation refused, saying. “Ubadah is our leader and the best of us in knowledge and judgment.” As a result Mococus was obliged to address ‘Ubadah ibn Samit but begged him to speak gently to him.
Similarly, in terms of social treatment, Islam does not condone discrimination because of religious differences. All people are respected and treated with dignity regardless of their beliefs. The following example clearly demonstrate the Prophet’s attitude towards people of a different religion. A funeral procession once passed by the Prophet (pbuh) and he stood up as a sign of respect. The people around said to him. “It is the funeral of a Jew.” He said. “Doesn’t a Jew have a soul?”(Sahih Al Bukhari)
Within the religion of Islam. A Muslim and a Jew, sue each other before a Muslim judge is required to exercise complete impartiality towards both. His religion should not prejudice him for or against either of them. A cogent example of this fact occurred during the caliphate of ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab. A Jew raised a case against ‘Ali ibn Abu Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet (pbuh). When they came to court, ‘Umar addressed ‘Ali by his pet name, Abu Al-Hasan4, and addressed the Jew only by his first name. ‘Ali showed signs of displeasure and dissatisfaction which ‘Umar thought betrayed ‘Ali’s dislike of standing on an equal footing in a court of justice with a Jew. When Caliph ‘Umar, asked him the reason for his anger, ‘Ali, one of the noted companions (and later the fourth caliph), got angry because of ‘Umar’s unintended discrimination against the Jews.
Islam also established for the first time courts where two people of different social positions: powerful or powerless, rich or poor, noble or commoner, governor or subject, believer or non-believer could sue each other. The principle of equality forms the cornerstones of justice in Islam.
Once a woman called Fatimah bint Al-Aswad Makhzumiah was accused of theft and was presented before the Propjet (pbuh) to be punished. When Usamah ibn Zaid5 attempted to intercede on her behalf, the Prophet (pbuh) stopped him from doing so by saying, “Do you try to mediate in the ordinance of God?” Then the Prophet (pbuh) delivered a statement in which he said, “some of your predecessor were destroyed because they freed the noblemen among them who stole, and punished the powerless commoners. By God if Fatimah bint Muhammad (his own daughter) stole, I would have cut her hand off” (Sahih Al Bukhari and Muslim). The same type of sentiment was also expressed by the Righteous Caliphs. ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab once said to the people, “O people, By God, no body among you is more powerful than the least powerful person until I give him rights which he deserves to have over others, and nobody is less powerful than the most powerful person till I take from him rights which other people deserve.
When Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari was appointed governor, Caliph ‘Umar wrote a letter to him in which he said, ‘Treat the people equally in every statement or gesture that you may make so that a noble man may not be tempted by your injustice nor an oppressed man despair of yours Justice”. ‘Umar also instructed the caliph who was to succeed him in the following manner: “Let all people be treated equally. Do not be afraid of applying the law against any person in order that God’s will may be carried out. Beware of showing preference and partiality in what God has appointed for you”.
Even though different political trends may exist in an Islamic state, the head of the state should apply the laws of God justly to both his supporters and his opponents.
Allah states in the Qur’an:
“Let not hatred of any people seduce you that you deal not justly. Deal justly that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to God. Lo! Allah is informed of what you do” (Surah al-Ma’idah 5:8)
The origin of the concept of citizenship, whereby each person in particular country is entitled to certain rights is found in the religion of Islam. In Islam, all people are considered equal irrespective of faith, language, race, belief and so on. Thus, to establish equality among all of humanity, Islam does not allow differences in religion, social, origin, language, race or belief to infringe on man’s basic human rights, nor does Islam give to the original inhabitants of a city any special privileges over new comers. Makkah, for instance, was the original home of God’s Messenger (pbuh) and the Muhajirin (Makkan Muslim emigrants who accompanied the prophet (pbuh) to Madinah), but the Makkan pagans persecuted the Prophet (pbuh) and the Muhajirin, and forced them to leave their homes. However, when the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions went to Madinah, they found (thanks to the spirit of Islam) a new home, loving Muslim people who welcomed them and many new supporters. Thus, Islam considers a man’s home as the place where he is able to freely practice his religion under Islamic rule, and that place is not always the place where he was born.
One after a campaign against the Mustalaq tribe, an ambitious enemy of Islam called ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy sought to cause confusion in Madinah by using the fact that the Prophet (pbuh) and his Makkans companions were strangers to the city and the people of Madinah were supporting and sheltering them. He said that if the people of Madinah had not supported the Prophet (pbuh) and the Muhajirin, then would have been forced to ho elsewhere. The implication behind this argument being that the native Madinian was greater and nobler than the emigrants to Madinah even though they shared the same religion and language. But, Allah, who has the final word spoke concerning those who discourage people from spending in Allah’s cause in the following manner: “they (i.e. the hypocrites) say, ‘Spend not on behalf of those (who dwell) with God’s messenger that they may disperse *and leave Madinah)’, When to God belong the treasures of the heaven and the earth but the hypocrites comprehend not.” (Surah Al-Munafiqun 63:7) Nor should matters of wealth and poverty influence the course of justice in Islam. The Qur’an says:
“Whether (the case of be of) a rich man or a poor man, God is nearer unto both (than you are). So follow not emotion lest you lapse from (the truth)” (Surah an-Nisa 4:135)
In Islam, people are not measured by their outward appearances for things, are not always as they seem to be. This fact is clearly illustrated in the following Hadith. One day when a prosperous man passed by the Prophet (pbuh), the Prophet (pbuh) said to one of his companions, “what do you think of this man?’ The companion said, “he is a noble man. If he is suitor. He is worthy of marriage: If he mediates, he is worthy of mediating and if he speaks, he deserves to be listened to”. Then another man (God fearing one) passed by and the Prophet (pbuh) said to his companion, “this one (i.e. the poor one) has more people like the other one.” (Al Bukhari)
This has been but a glimpse of a few of the conditions which contribute to ma’s peaceful co-existence; conditions which are necessary to ensure that important social concepts such as justice and equality are actualized in society.