One of our core beliefs is the belief in Allah’s divine justice. We learn about it and teach it to our children. But it is not just a belief: social justice is a practical application, not merely a concept.
“And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colours. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge” (Quran, 30:22).
The news of protests and demonstrations all over the world following the shocking murder of George Floyd at the hands of US police have led some of us to feel a real sense of disgust. Disgust that this man was killed at the very hands of those entrusted to protect him and fellow US citizens. Disgust that the murderers displayed such confidence in their impunity and appeared to behave as though they were utterly untouchable even as others looked on. And disgust that, on the very same day George Floyd was killed, Amy Cooper clearly displayed to the world the same ugly confidence and narcissism.
Centuries of brazen oppressive practise against the black community have resulted in some white Americans not only becoming accustomed to this, but even using it to their advantage.
But in the midst of this pain, there is also, curiously, a collective sense of hope: that change is coming, and that it feels tangible. After all, Imam Hasan Alaskari has said: “There is no calamity that does not, I swear by Allah, have blessing surrounding it”.
In addition to the disgust and hope, we may have felt that there was also a real sense of shame that we, as a society, not only have allowed this to happen but that we needed an agonising 8-minute video to wake us up from our negligence and heedlessness. It has taken this to awaken our inner humanity, which has lain dormant beneath layers of desensitisation, indifference, and denial of the suffering of others.
As Muslims, we have a duty to uphold justice. In Surat Al-Hadeed (57:25) Allah (SWT) says: “We have already sent Our messengers with clear evidences and sent down with them the Scripture and the balance that the people may maintain [their affairs] in justice”.
One of our core beliefs is the belief in Allah’s divine justice. We learn about it and teach it to our children. But it is not just a belief: social justice is a practical application, not merely a concept. We are either actively struggling against injustice, or a party to it through our apathy.
I don’t doubt this movement is about the value of Black lives. This movement has given a voice and platform for black men and women everywhere to vocalise, to a newly attentive audience, their daily experiences and struggles. I don’t doubt that we all need to stand together to endorse the message that #BlackLivesMatter. But this starts with individuals, before families and communities.
Do we treat all those who are different from us with the same respect and courtesy? Do we welcome all colours and languages in our centres equally? Do we truly value the diversity in our religion as our beloved Prophet (sawa) has taught us?
In Surat Al-Rum (30:22), Allah (swt) describes the diversity among the human race in terms of tongues (languages and dialects) as well as colours as Ayat (signs of Allah).
Allah likens the diversity among us to the creation of the heavens and the earth. Both are described as Ayat, signs and proofs of God’s existence, and are there for pondering and reflection, for lighting the way towards our Creator.
Ayat also serves a purpose. Through our appreciation of the value of these creations, Ayat helps us attain closeness to Allah. There is awe and wonder in pondering over the creation of the heavens and the earth, a truly striking phenomenon. But do we see the value in our differences and diversity in the same way? Does this awaken us to the glory and magnificence of Allah in the huge pool of differences amongst the human race?
We are not talking of just tolerance, but in the view of inspirational US educator, Jane Elliott, celebration and admiration.
Islam doesn’t want us to be blind to colour and see all as the same. On the contrary, Islam shows us that harnessing these differences and finding beauty in them is where we grow and find strength. Equality comes in the treatment and application of justice.
We need to reach a state of conviction about where the truth lies and side with that regardless of whose side that happens to be. We need to examine situations before us and identify the oppressor and the oppressed, find the side of the truth and be there, wholeheartedly.
Prophet Muhammed (sawa) stressed to us the importance of standing with the oppressed: “Whoever walks with the oppressed to seek his right for him, Allah will strengthen his stance on the sirat on the day that feet will slip”.
We should aspire to be individuals with integrity, who seek out the truth and side with it. Islam encourages us to be on the side of maroof (good) against munkar (evil). But there are levels to this too.
The Prophet (sawa) has said: “Whoever sees a detestable act should seek to change it with his own hands, if he cannot then with his tongue (words) and if he cannot then with his heart and that is the weakest of faith”.
So what practical steps can we take to ensure we are on the side of maroof (goodness) when it comes to racist and prejudicial acts?
1. Awaken yourself to the struggle and oppression of others
We must never let our ignorance or apathy be the reason we don’t take action. It is never pleasant to watch news reports, read articles, or study autobiographies and historical accounts about the plight and suffering of individuals or groups; we can feel overcome with sadness and guilt. It is much easier to deny this reality or live in ignorance.
However, our Islamic duty disallows this: No matter how small our contribution, it cannot be nothing.
2. Spend quiet time alone in introspection
There is great power in reflecting upon our inherent prejudices and misconceptions. Spending time pondering on the roots of these will help quash them to allow our attitudes, words, and behaviours to reflect our beliefs and principles.
There are often unhealthy and unfair attitudes we have grown up with which are unhelpful at best and extremely divisive and damaging at worst. Let’s discover, not deny, our held beliefs.
3. Hold yourself to account
Spending time at the beginning or end of the day can be a great aid in discovering patterns in our behaviour. This is greatly encouraged in Islam.
Once we know our strengths and weaknesses, we are better equipped to harness our skills to make positive changes to address these issues.
4. Change starts at home
Challenge prejudicial ‘jokes’ and stereotypes in your own family and amongst friends. Have healthy discussions with your spouse and children about embracing diversity and the teachings of Islam.
We are more likely to achieve great and lasting change in attitudes and behaviours if we start small with those whom we can influence at home.