How to Deal With Racism: Lessons From West African Scholars’ Tafsīr of Sūrah al-Ḥujurāt
Published: June 23, 2023 • Updated: February 15, 2024
Author: Imam Dawud Walid
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
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Surah al-Hujurat, Ayah 11: Do not make fun of others
O you who believe, let not a qawm ridicule [another] qawm; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another nor call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wicked is the name [i.e., mention] of disobedience after [one's] faith. And whoever does not repent, then it is those who are the wrongdoers.
It was revealed pertaining to three occasions. The first occasion of those of His speech “better than them” according to Ibn ʿAbbās [may Allah be pleased with him] stated, “It was revealed about Thābit b. Qays b. Shammās that he was told to make room in a gathering for someone in which he referred to him as the son of his mother, then made light of his status in the Era of [pre-Islam] Ignorance which predated them coming to Islam.The second is narrated from al-Ḍaḥḥāk that Tamīm mocked some of the poor companions, including ʿAmmār, who was a Black Arab, Ḍaḥḥāk, Ibn Fuhayra, who was African, Bilāl the Abyssinian, Ṣuhayb the Roman, Salmān the Persian, and Salīm Mawlā Abī Ḥudhayfa, who was also Persian.Shaykh Dem mentioned the same.The third is that some of the Muslims referred to ʿIkrima b. Abī Jahl upon him entering Medina as the Son of the Pharaoh of this Nation (ibn firʿawn hādhihi al-umma), about which he then complained to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ).
What the Quran says about mockery
Surah al-Hujurat, Ayah 13: Do not be proud
O humankind, surely We created you from a single male and female, and We made you into different nations and tribes in order that you may know one another. Surely the most honorable of you with Allah are those of you who are most pious. Surely Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.
From Adam and Eve, We created all of you from a single father and mother; thus all are equal in that, so there should be no seeking pride in lineage.
Honor is but in piety, meaning praiseworthy pride in being above the people of disbelief by leaving polytheism (shirk) and sticking to Islam and its symbols.
Of its meanings is that the most noble with Allah the Most High is the one who is most pious, even if a Black Abyssinian slave like Bilāl was. So, if you seek honor, then find honor in piety and through the grace of Allah and His loving compassion. And by Allah the Most High, surely you look to the speech of him [the Prophet] ﷺ “I am the master of the Children of Adam but I have no pride,” means that there was not pride for him in being from nobles nor from him being given the Divine message. Of course not, it was through his servitude and worship. And that was his honor, meaning it was enough of an honor for him that being a slave took precedence over being the Messenger as conveyed in his speech, “And I witness that Muhammad is His slave and His messenger.”
Surely your Lord is One, and your father is one. There is no virtue of the Arab over the non-Arab, nor the non-Arab over the Arab. And there is no merit of the White over the Black, nor the Black over the White except in piety.
Surely Allah does not look to your forms nor your outward actions, but He looks to your hearts and your intentions.