Brotherhood and equality
Amongst the many things which the Prophet r promised to the world through Islam was a solution to the problem of racism via Islam. Although it is true that the foul ‘stench’ of racism or tribalism even existed during the time of the Prophet it was it was drastically reduced due to the interference of the message of the Prophet r which he lived by and called others to.
Indeed, it was through Islam that the status of Bilal t, who previously, in pre-Islamic times had been no more than a slave. Some time after embracing Islam, he was chosen by the Prophet r with a noble position; the caller to prayer for the Muslims. Such a position was one which awarded him great status among the Muslims, one which may have been inconceivable for those polytheistic masters who ordered and oppressed him during his time as a slave.
This genuine human tendency in Islam is an important basis for the principle of brotherhood of man which Islam advocates. It is also an important foundation for the principles of equality and freedom for which Islam calls and these three humanistic principles, lays the practical framework for their application, and associates them strongly to its creed, rituals and ethics so that they may be a mere hope or an ideal imagined by some, or even theoretical words written by others. It is sufficient in this context to tackle the principle of equality, as it is inseparable from that of brotherhood and can also be regarded as one of its results.
The nationalism that has appeared in this time in many Muslim countries wherein people form factions based on race, colour or homeland is akin to the tribalism that existed in the ignorance of pre-Islamic times. The principle of human equality which Islam confirms is based on the idea that Islam respects and honours man only for his being human regardless of any race or colour consideration. Islam never approves of any racial, national, tribal or colour discrimination. Allah, the almighty, has said:
“O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has piety. Verily, Allah is all-knowing, all-aware” [49:13]
As the Prophet r taught; all people come from the same source thus no colour or race is superior to another. Rather, all of them are equal before Allah, it is the one who is the most pious that is the most honourable before Allah. The splitting of people into various nations, countries and races should only be regarded like the splitting of a single family, brothers from one father and one mother.
People may differ in race and ethnicity, they may differ in ancestry and descent, some belonging to noble, aristocratic families others to unknown humble ones. People may also differ in wealth, there being the rich, the poor and the well-to-do. Such differences and variations do not guarantee to anyone more than the others due to his race, colour, ancestry, wealth, job, class or any other consideration. The human value is the same one shared by everyone, the Arab, the non-Arab, the white, the black, the ruler, the subject, the rich, the poor, the employer, the employee, the man, the woman, the free and the slave.
There had been many tribal wars between during the ignorance of the pre-Islamic period. There existed a great deal of enmity, hatred and intense hostility until those who had fought each other so severely became Muslim and shared a brotherhood within the Islam.
It is said After Islam had set their affairs straight and they had become united, a non-Muslim man passed by a gathering of Muslims with malicious intentions in his heart, he disliked that the Muslims had found friendship and unity with each other through Islam. Thus, he sent a man who was with him to sit amongst them and remind them of the wars that used to be waged between them. He kept doing that until he was able to fully provoke them so that they became angry with one another, they started shouting their slogans and calling for their weapons. News of this reached the Prophet r who went to them to try and calm them down, he said, “are you issuing the calls of the jaahiliyyah when I am still among you?” He recited to them the following verse so that they would take heed:
“And hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah (i.e. this Qur’an), and be not divided among yourselves, and remember Allah’s Favour on you, for you were enemies one to another but He joined your hearts together, so that, by His Grace, you became brethren (in Islamic Faith), and you were on the brink of a pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus Allah makes His Ayaat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.,) clear to you, that you may be guided” [3:103]
When the Prophet r recited this verse to them, they understood their error and reconciled. Having said this, it would also be noteworthy to mention that Islam considers any act of aggression against the human soul as an act of aggression towards the whole of humanity, and the saving of one human soul as the saving of the whole. This is clearly stated in the Qur’an:
“Whoever kills a soul, unless it be retaliation or because of spreading corruption on earth, it would be as if he killed all mankind and whoever saves a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind…” (5:32)
Al-Qardawy, Yusuf, Introduction to Islam, Islamic Inc. Publishing & Distribution, Cairo, Egypt, 1995. (pg 27, 49-51