Common Khutbah – Anti Racism Week (14 – 21 March 2018)
Endorsed by Jamiatul Ulama South Africa
Despite an end to apartheid in 1994, reports indicate that there is a resurgence of racist incidents and a hardening of racist attitudes in South Africa. It also coincides with the re-emergence of neo-fascist ideology globally, that is anti-Black, anti-Muslim, anti-Immigration and anti-Jew.
We can see how brazenly this ideology plays itself out in various settings. Syrian refugees, for example, have been made to feel particularly unwelcome in some European countries; we’ve noted the US President’s views on African states; we’ve seen how right-wing political parties are gaining support in various countries; and how workers who are ‘darker skinned’ from the Indian sub-continent or Africa are treated by some in the Arabian Peninsula. As it’s also Israeli Apartheid Week, we must highlight the racism and apartheid policies meted out to Palestinians, as well as the manner in which African migrants are being treated and kicked out of Israel.
Why is AntiRacism Week being held?
- To create broader public awareness of racism and how it affects individuals and the broader South African society.
- To identify, promote and expand on good practice initiatives to prevent and eradicate racism.
- To empower communities and individuals to take action to challenge racism and seek redress where it occurs.
- To ensure that addressing racism remains a key aspect of the national agenda.
While Anti-Racism Week is initiated by Anti-Racism Network South Africa (ARNSA), it aims to get communities, housing complexes, schools, universities, workplaces, government departments, labour unions, religious and sporting institutes, organisations and individuals to plan and host their own anti-racism activities during the week that can possibly lay the basis for sustainable work in tackling racism throughout the year.
Key Message for Anti-Racism Week
The week encourages people to learn and talk about racism, to speak out against it, to report it and to act against it. This year’s theme is #RootOutRacism. We want South Africans to understand the root causes of racism and how over centuries, it has shaped the DNA of our society. From slavery and colonialism to apartheid, racism’s roots run deep.
South Africa has, in the last few years, seen an upsurge of overt racial incidents. If the example of Penny Sparrow seems a bit unrelated to your day to day life, just think about the last time you heard someone make a racist comment at a family gathering, at your workplace, outside the Masjid, or at your dinner table.
We should be questioning what lies behind racist mentality, what fuels it and what can be done to change it. We believe that we should not just be tackling racism’s manifestations, but the mindsets, systems, policies, inequalities, cultures and conditions that sustain racism in post-apartheid South Africa. These issues require long-term work and dedicated focus by all sectors of society, which can be initiated during the Anti-Racism Week and sustained on an ongoing basis.
Combatting racism is not the job of one organisation, a few people or government alone. It is incumbent upon all individuals and institutions. It is not only about securing one’s own rights, but about entrenching the collective dignity of all people.
Racism from an Islamic perspective
At the heart of racism is the assertion that – may Allah forbid –Allah has made a creative mistake by creating some people different from others. This is against the fundamental beliefs of Islam.
In Surah Al-Hujaraat, Allah says:
يا أَيُّهَا النّاسُ إِنّا خَلَقناكُم مِن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثىٰ وَجَعَلناكُم شُعوبًا وَقَبائِلَ لِتَعارَفوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكرَمَكُم عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتقاكُم ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَليمٌ خَبيرٌ
“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)
Allah did not create dark or light skin as a tool of discrimination, but as a sign to realise His might and to appreciate the beauty in diversity of His creation. We have been created differently to ‘know’ one another.
It is well documented that racism was abhorred by the Prophet Muhammad . Islam came as a unifying force in Arabia, at a time when race, wealth, lineage, gender and power determined one’s status in Arabian society. Yet, the Prophet ’s community constituted Sahabah (companions) from different races – Arab, Roman, Persian, African – slaves, the wealthy, the poor, women and men, young and old, weak and powerful, the disabled – in essence, people from all backgrounds.
And we know that at the Conquest of Makkah, in a society where race, wealth and status meant everything, the Prophet Muhammad sent a former black slave, Bilal to climb atop the Ka’bah and call out the Adhaan. If one goes for Hajj, one can get a sense of the totality of cultures and ethnicities that constitutes the Ummah today.
Yet, how often do we hear people from within our communities making use of racial terminology? How often do we judge people’s personalities – their honesty, their integrity, their intelligence, based on race? How differently do we treat people based on the colour of their skin? Take a simple example of the people we employ as domestic workers in our homes, or how we may treat our Muadhins who often come from fellow African countries?
Once, Abu Dharr reproached Bilal about his mother, saying, “O son of a black woman!” Bilal went to the Messenger of Allah and he told him what he said. The Prophet Muhammad became angry and when Abu Dharr came, although he was unaware of what Bilal told him, the Prophet Muhammad turned away from him and Abu Dharr asked, “O Messenger of Allah, have you turned away because of something you have been told?” The Prophet Muhammad said, “Have you reproached Bilal about his mother? By the one who revealed the Book to Muhammad, none is more virtuous over another except by righteous deeds. You have none but an insignificant amount.” This rebuke had a profound effect on Abu Dharr , who then put his head on the ground swearing that he would not raise it until Bilal had put his foot over it.
If we have any doubts about why racism is wrong, and why it must be tackled, one can refer to the final sermon of the Prophet Muhammad , when he said: “All mankind is from Adam and Hawwa, 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 a black has any superiority over white except by piety, and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.”
What can Muslims do during AntiRacism Week?
So, if Islam, in its earliest years was at the forefront of fighting prevailing racist attitudes in Arabia; what can Muslims do today to tackle racism?
Today, we should be asking ourselves some of the deeper questions, like – Why can we so easily condemn racism, and rightfully so, when it comes to apartheid Israel, but when a family member expresses similar racism, or refuses to allow an African domestic worker to eat from the same cutlery as everyone else in the home, we are silent?
These are the deeper and frank conversations that we need to be having in our community so as to change the attitudes that persist. This year’s Anti-Racism Week calls on us to learn and talk about racism, speak out against racism, report racism and act against racism.
One can refer to a Hadith: On the authority of Abu Sa’eed al-Khudree who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah say, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then (let him change it) with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]
Racism is wrong, and as Muslims, we have been instructed in the hadith above to tackle wrongdoing.
So, how can we do this?
- Learn about racism: Educate yourself and those around you about racism and its roots. We have discussed why racism is wrong from an Islamic perspective. We want this message to go into every Muslim home. We must learn what constitutes racism and its different forms. This would include learning about South Africa’s racially divided past, and how it affects us today.
- Talk about it: We must be open and frank that racism exists in the Muslim community. The more we talk openly about race, the easier it will be to deal with it. Those of us in the media, can use the platforms available to us to address the matter. We can actively engage others around their views on race. We can share ideas on how to combat racism. We can host and attend discussions and lectures about racism and encourage others, other Masaajid, to do so as well.
- Speak out against it: As Muslims, we must condemn racism whenever and wherever we find it, be it at the dinner table or in public. Whether it is a respected aunt or uncle who makes a racist comment, a brother at the Masjid, a friend or colleague – as Muslims, we are duty bound to challenge this, as seen from the example of the Prophet . Racism must be tackled head on, and racist views should be continually challenged through all platforms. Young people especially, those savvy on Facebook and Twitter, can use these platforms to promote anti-racism work.
- Report racism: We must encourage people to report racism and not ‘just leave it’. Racism cannot be normalised.
Islam has always been at the forefront of non-racialism. We encourage you to commit to becoming an activist for this key principle in Islam.
To conclude, Allah says:
وَما أَرسَلناكَ إِلّا رَحمَةً لِلعالَمينَ
“We did not send you but as a mercy to all the nations.” [21:107]
Muhammad Sallallahu alayhi wasallam has come as a mercy to mankind – not as a divider, not as an oppressor, not as someone with a false sense of superiority based on race. Racism is something that brutalises. It is based on a system that dehumanizes and that is void of mercy and kind-heartedness. If indeed we are to embody the way of Muhammad Sallallahu alayhi wasallam, then racism certainly cannot be part of our character.