The Concept of Race

The Concept of Race


The Concept of Race

Salaam alykum,

I have several questions about what I think about race, and how “race” factors into Islam and The Qur’an.

I can quote you verses from The Qur’an that describe our diversity as The Will of God; I can show you how God underlines how man and man alone makes divisions that only matter in his mind; I can describe how The Prophet’s adopted grandson was black; or how one of the last commands from The Prophet to his followers was that no race was superior to another, but that their deeds defined them, long before Dr. King challenged us to look at the content of someone’s character.

But these things we know, we post them, we like them, we reblog them, and perhaps, occasionally, bring them up in class.

As Muslims, however, we are in a unique position in the world. We can offer a new way, a new path towards enforcing the undisputed fact that humanity is, at the end of the day, from the same source. We are all children of Adam.

My argument that Islam can help heal those rifts, specifically in America, is not new or unique to myself. A man who has had tremendous impact on me, argued this very point, once he witnessed Islam in action.

Race is a cultural construct, it literally is something that we have made up, in our heads. This is something often said, but seldom understood, so, hopefully through my personal story you will see why I think this way:

My father came to this country for his education, as the premier recruit for the premier institution in the world for his field; they called him a negro. My mother came a little later, where, even though she looks “white,” was still called a “sand nigger” while she became the first female to win State Scholarships. Despite the fact that I “look white,” I do not enjoy these benefits or privilege, and have experienced trying times due to my religion, ethnicity, and my name.

I raise these issues, not for sympathy, nor to attain some sort of “authenticity.” Rather, I point out how it is not about our clothing, the way we talk, or where we “come from” that matters, it is how we understand and perceive of difference. If those things mattered, I should be able to fly under the radar, but I can’t.

It is perception, then, that is at issue, and thus if we are to truly overcome a racial consciousness, which ispossible and is necessary, we must change our perceptions.

How can we do this?

This is where Islam comes in.

Think about the Hajj. Think about the impact that it had upon Malcolm X. You see, we speak about having a common humanity, but we do not mention the glue that binds that humanity together. Many people would like to think that our shared humanity, absent consciousness of God, should be reason enough to create linkages and bonds. I ask them, where is the atheist Gandhi? Where is the atheist Mother Teresa? Where is the atheist Malcolm X? What else can push us to overcome our own selfishness, our own preconceptions, our own prejudices, but God?

My answer, as Malcolm’s, as The Prophet’s, is that Islam is that which binds us, it is our shared dedication to The Almighty, that is our commonality, because it is the power of God that exceeds our humanity and thus places our humanity in its proper place: on Earth.

Thus, when we divide ourselves, attempt to sort or define who is on which level, who is better than the other, we have already failed. God, and God alone, is who judges. I say this not to rationalize what actions I do that others find distasteful, but to remind everyone (including, most importantly, myself) that once we have created these divisions, we have violated the explicit teachings of God and all of His Prophets.

The Qur’an does not describe the Prophets before Muhammad as Muslim by accident, nor does The Qur’an warn the believer that He has made us aware of some Prophets while keeping us ignorant of others for nothing: we must have humility in how we treat others, because our treatment is a result of our perceptions.

We must re-evaluate our perceptions, at our very core and recognize and identify what is prejudicial, what has no basis in reality, and we must strive with the utmost sincerity to eradicate them.

Islam provides us that chance, and our test as human beings is whether we choose to overcome those prejudices that we learn from our cultures, not that exist from some essential source. The only essence is our souls, and that essence comes from Almighty God.

Think about what you find beautiful, what people you are inclined to be friends with, who you would help on the street and who you wouldn’t. What if they were Muslim?

Would you think I’m Muslim? I doubt it. I doubt I would, either. That is what I’ve learned through the stories of my parents, and through my life: we act upon superficial information, upon assumption, and we need to stop it.

It all starts at our perception. If you can change your perception, you can change your world, you just have to decide: what do you want to see?

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