Ferguson and Muslim reactions to racism and prejudice

By Dina Malki

Diversity in creation is divinely willed and planned. It was not coincidental that humans turned out having different colors. Muslim tradition includes a narrative (Hadith) by Prophet Muhammad that explains how God created Adam from different colored clays and, as a result, gave humans different colors. God also willed that humans speak different languages, have different cultures, and form different communities. The Qur’an is very clear about the reason of this diversity:

“And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.” [30:22]

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise one another). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the one who is the most righteous. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (will all things).” [49:13]

Just as Americans, including myself, in the aftermath of the Ferguson events, have been questioning whether they have progressed at all during the last five decades in matters of civil rights, many Muslims, including myself, also have been evaluating whether the 1.5 billion Muslims who live around the globe still live up to their Islamic teachings. Muslims too have sinned with prejudice by “othering” people that belonged to a different race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion. I say “sinned” because they acted against their religious traditions. But are all Muslims sinners? Of course not. And it is the role of interfaith to find like-minded people of faith that belong to different religions and join their voices to create a symphony of peace and compassion.

To focus on the events in Ferguson, take for example the Muslim reaction to the crisis. Muslims for Ferguson is a social media group that was formed to raise awareness among Muslim Americans about the prejudice of the police against protestors who objected the killings of two black men, Mike Brown and Eric Garner.  Muslims for Ferguson saw that the killings represented a “disturbing trend of officers using excessive force against black and brown people,” and urged Muslims “to join a movement declaring that all lives, including black and brown lives, matter.” Moreover, imams (Muslim religious and mosque leaders) all over the country have been preaching against racism and prejudice, describing it as a great injustice to God’s creation.

Among the many ethical values that Islam teaches is unity. Diversity does not essentially create division. Diversity is a valuable asset that creates creativity and growth. Diversity in any nation enriches its national thread with different talents and resources. Diversity within a religious tradition leads to freedom from stagnation. Diversity within an interfaith community builds bridges of communication and cooperation. Prejudice, on the other hand, is a spiritual and social ill that cuts through unity and ignites friction and enmity. A divided nation or community becomes an easy prey in front of its enemies.

So, what is the Islamic solution to division and conflict? Like all other faith traditions, Islam adopts a theology of reconciliation that can take place after justice has been served. Justice is not a tool that the masses or individuals can freely use; it is rather a legal tool by the authorities, whether secular or religious, to give back human rights to those who have been oppressed. As a matter of fact, reconciliation is a duty in the Muslim tradition that narrates how God does not look at people who are having conflict. If God does not look at a people He will not send mercy their way.

Grayson wrote in his post that white Christians needed to listen to black Christians. I say that white Muslims, too, need to listen to black Muslims. A recent initiative has started in the United States to raise awareness among Muslims of the dangers of racism within their own community. The Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative is an effort to remind Muslims that racism is against the teachings of their religion. One of the main things that Islam emphasizes is action. As much as it is important for humans to have a pure heart and a good intention, action is actually required as a proof of faith. This is why it is not enough for Muslims to silently reject racism and injustice; they need to condemn it by action or, at least, by words. Listen to this narrative (Hadith) from Prophet Muhammad:

“Whoever 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.”

Prejudice comes in all forms: racism, religious intolerance, stereotyping, othering, etc… Muslims, too, need to question their practices with all people including peoples from other faiths, and see if they are living up to their religious ideals and morals. If they are not, then it is time for them to dust off some of that rust on their hearts.

About Dina Malki

I am a Muslim American who has lived in the same zip code for almost 23 years. That being said, I travel nationally and internationally very frequently as I am pursuing my interest in interfaith relations. I am currently pursuing a Masters degree from Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. My specialty is in Islamic Studies and Christian Muslim Relations. My thesis is about the theological narrative and the image of Ishmael in Judaism and Christianity. I teach through continuing education programs classes on Islam at TCU in Texas. I speak and present Islam in different places and events, like at churches and synaguogues, seminars, conferences and interfaith retreats. I am also a writer who focuses on Islam in America. I have covered Islam in Dallas at the examiner.com for three years. I am a contributing scholar at the Stateofformation.org. My passion is religion which I believe is a source and tool of compassion. I respect religious tradition in Islam, but I also value academic scholarship in the field. My interpretation of Islam is one that supports peace, tolerance, and co-existence among people. I have a special interest in the legacy of women in Islam. Yes! You read right, women in Islam have a legacy. I hope you will be pleasantly surprised when you read my thoughts on paper. Grayson and I met at the Hartford Seminary during a workshop on religious diversity. We found that we shared in common our interests in the field of Christian-Muslim relations. Hence, we decided to build a bridge of communication that connects Christendom and Islamdom in America. Our hope is that our conversations will educate and inspire our readers.

2 thoughts on “Ferguson and Muslim reactions to racism and prejudice

  1. I find it very interesting that the Muslim or Islam faith is so similar. I never knew that. I feel that diversity is so important and a part of today’s society no matter what part of the world you are from. I also feel that it is so heartbreaking that all that all religion teaches love and faith and yet no one seems to get along because of it.living in a state where diversity is so great in numbers creates such cultural knowledge.the different dress,music,language,religion and food. How boring would life be if we didnt have the privledge to experience and learn about different cultures.i have faith that all this will change on earth one day.i learned that from the christian faith.ti me god is one and without a faith,what do we have?it is the super power.the spiritual super power

    1. Christel,

      People are not getting along not because they are not following the true teachings of religion! Too little religion is worse than no religion at all. Anyways, when it seems that people are fighting because of religion, it is probably because politics and power struggles got in the middle of it.

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