Islam's response to contemporary world problems (27)


Rejection of racism

Of all the plagues that infect the present age, racism is the one that poses the greatest danger to world peace.

The Holy Quran reminds not only Muslims, but all humanity:

یٰۤاَیُّہَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوۡا رَبَّکُمُ الَّذِیۡ خَلَقَکُمۡ مِّنۡ نَّفۡسٍ وَّاحِدَۃٍ وَّخَلَقَ مِنۡہَا زَوۡجَہَا وَبَثَّ مِنۡہُمَا رِجَالًا کَثِیۡرًا وَّنِسَآءً ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللّٰہَ الَّذِیۡ تَسَآءَلُوۡنَ بِہٖ وَالۡاَرۡحَامَ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ کَانَ عَلَیۡکُمۡ رَقِیۡبًا

"O humans! Fear your Lord Who created you from a single being from whom He created His mate and from the two He descended many men and women; and fear Al'lah, in Whose name ye resort to one another, and fear Him particularly by respecting the bonds of kinship. Verily, Al'lah watches over you". (Q. 4: Al-Nisa: 2)

No one is superior to others. Similarly, The Holy Quran states:

یٰۤاَیُّہَا النَّاسُ اِنَّا خَلَقۡنٰکُمۡ مِّنۡ ذَکَرٍ وَّاُنۡثٰی وَجَعَلۡنٰکُمۡ شُعُوۡبًا وَّقَبَآئِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوۡا ؕ اِنَّ  اَکۡرَمَکُمۡ عِنۡدَ اللّٰہِ اَتۡقٰکُمۡ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ عَلِیۡمٌ خَبِیۡرٌ

"O humans! We have created you from a male and a female; and We have formed you into clans and tribes so that you may recognise one another. Verily, the most righteous among you, in the sight of Al'lah, is the most pious among you. Verily Al'lah is Omniscient, Knower of all things". (Q. 49: Al-Huyurat: 14)


یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا لَا یَسۡخَرۡ قَوۡمٌ مِّنۡ قَوۡمٍ عَسٰۤی اَنۡ یَّکُوۡنُوۡا خَیۡرًا مِّنۡہُمۡ وَلَا نِسَآءٌ مِّنۡ نِّسَآءٍ عَسٰۤی اَنۡ یَّکُنَّ خَیۡرًا مِّنۡہُنَّ ۚ وَلَا تَلۡمِزُوۡۤا اَنۡفُسَکُمۡ وَلَا تَنَابَزُوۡا بِالۡاَلۡقَابِ ؕ بِئۡسَ الِاسۡمُ الۡفُسُوۡقُ بَعۡدَ الۡاِیۡمَانِ ۚ وَمَنۡ لَّمۡ یَتُبۡ فَاُولٰٓئِکَ ہُمُ الظّٰلِمُوۡنَ

"O you believers! Let not one people mock another who may be better than they, nor let women mock others who may be better than they. Do not slander your own people, nor call one another by deformed names. Evil indeed is it to fall back into the evil practice of the days of ignorance after having believed; but those who do not repent are perverse".  (Q. 49: Al-Huyurat: 12)

Apparently, today's society seems to be moving away from racism and apartheid, and is becoming aware of the horrors associated with both. But if one examines the issue carefully and in depth, it is possible to realise that racism is still present everywhere.

A major difficulty is the very definition of "racism" itself, as it can look different from different perspectives. It is difficult to draw precise boundaries between racism, religious or class superiority consciousness, tribalism, fascism, imperialism and nationalism. The tragic and inhumane treatment of Jews at the hands of Christians in Western Europe for over a thousand years might be considered to be buried in the past, but the recent brutal treatment of Jews in the 1930s and 1940s at the hands of the Nazis is too fresh in our memories to be forgotten. Therefore, the moment we hear the word "racism" our minds inadvertently turn to the idea of anti-Semitism and the long history of ill-treatment suffered by the Semitic race at the hands of the gentiles.

This is, of course, a very limited understanding of racism. It is so limited that the other connotations of the same scenario are completely left out of our attention. We hardly stop to think about the extremists among the Jews who look upon the gentiles with the same horrible prejudices for which they themselves were victims.

But this is not all. There is far more racism than meets the eye. Racism, though not clearly identified as such, is hidden under various masks, nationalism being one of them. Again, religious, tribal, and regional prejudices are but a few of the examples where racism operates under different names. White prejudice against non-whites is also a form of racism, although it is not fair to blame only whites for harbouring prejudice against those who do not share their colour and complexion. There is also black racism, yellow racism, and the racism of those who cannot be clearly defined as white, black or yellow, but who fall somewhere in between.

The essence of racism is class prejudice. This is perhaps the best definition of racism. When people begin to act with prejudice against another class, under the guise of their own class interest, racism begins to uncover itself and to rear its dangerous and lethal head. No discretion is exercised in the expression of their hatred; no individual merit is taken into account, and generalisation becomes the law.

Not so many years ago, the Western hemisphere was divided mainly between Christianity and Islam. The role played by the Jews in that time of strong religious prejudice, vis-à-vis Eastern Muslims, is rather obscure. It is known, however, that the Jews were part of Christian Europe, which was suspicious of the Muslim nations of the Mediterranean and wary of Muslim expansion westward.

During that period of intense hostilities between Christians and Muslims, there was an added element of racism, based on colour difference. At the time, Muslims in Indonesia, Malaysia, China and India remained totally aloof and indifferent. The conflict was more akin to an Arab-Turkish coalition against Christian Europe as a whole.

Although this history seemed buried and forgotten, it can be seen to be rearing its head again. Human problems never seem to die for good, however buried they may appear to be. To return to the present era, while the world was polarised by the two superpowers and their allies, it was vital to the interests of the West not to stir these issues or allow them to be stirred. However, since the dawn of a new era with the East-West relationship, the dark knight of medieval times is poised to loosen his sinister shadow.

There is a real danger of a resurgence of historic Christian-Muslim rivalries in the new climate created by the major changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. This may be aggravated if we take into consideration the vested interests of both sides. We fear that in this respect, the clergy on both sides, Christianity and Islam, will most probably play a sinister role in worsening the situation and destroying the prospects for peace and harmony between Muslims and Christians. If this happens, it would be to the advantage of Israel's cause.

There are, again, political-economic dividing lines that are giving rise to a new kind of racism, namely the racism of the rich North and the poor South. East and West are reflected in the following phrase:

"East is east and west is West and never the twain shall meet".

The recent detente and rapprochement between the great powers may revive the historical politico-religious controversies and rivalries between the Christian West and the Muslim East. It would not be surprising if East and West begin to drift apart as a result of a new imperialism and racism based on multiple causes that will emerge from this recent detente between the superpowers.

According to universally accepted terminology, the definition of racism seems to be outdated and would have to be extended to other areas that apparently do not have racial implications. Our particular observation is based on the detailed and in-depth study of the human motivation that gives rise to racism. As long as the underlying motivating forces remain the same, whether one calls a certain expression of distorted human behaviour racism, or another more decent or civilised name, the evil is essentially the same.

Racism, in its broadest sense, is to be understood as a set of prejudices that are opposed to considerations of absolute justice and fairness.

As ideological divisions fade away, other already marked divisions at different levels of international relations will grow and become more clearly defined. The old traditional division between East and West was reduced to an insignificant second place during the height of capitalist-socialist rivalries. 

With the birth of neo-socialism, in which nations will replace individuals and classes of individuals, the polarisation between rich and poor will no longer take place between the rich of one nation and their interaction with the poor of another nation. For a few years this catastrophic polarisation could be kept in check but, in the end, a full-scale confrontation would be inevitable.

(To be continued in the next entry, number 28).