The historic peaceful protests which have taken place across America over the past few weeks indicate a turning point in the struggle for racial equality in this country.
As a Muslim and person of color I am well aware of the impact racial profiling and discrimination has on the psyche of a people. I cannot imagine, however, what it would be like to grow up as a young African American man or woman in this country. To leave your home for a cup of coffee or a simple errand, not knowing whether you will return home safely. To be viewed constantly through the lens of suspicion by the individuals and institutions entrusted with the job of protecting you.
I cannot imagine what it would be like growing up as a young African American man or woman in a society where what you become in life is so often determined by your zip code and the color of your skin.
Black Americans and people of color have historically been at a disadvantage from birth, struggling for socioeconomic advancement against all odds. Today’s racial inequalities are deeply rooted in our country’s shameful history of slavery and systemic racism. It will not be easy to erase or roll back a system that has taken decades to establish, but we must all do our part.
As people of faith, we turn to God and scripture to provide answers in times of chaos and uncertainty. We know through scripture that the diversity of man was no accident, but was designed by God Almighty.
He says in the Quran (49:13) “O mankind! We have created you from a single (pair) of male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one another. Surely, the most honorable of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Verily God is All-Knowing and is Well-Aware (of all things).”
So we should embrace our diversity, knowing that it is God-given, while seeking to establish a just and equitable society.
Let’s be completely honest with the fact that racism exists today and has existed for centuries.
It was an issue addressed even by the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) 1400 years ago when he made one of his final sermons and said, “All people are from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, and a non-Arab has no superiority over an Arab. A white person has no superiority over a black person, and a black person has no superiority over a white person, except for one’s piety and good deeds.”
At a time when people all over the world were accepting his message, the Prophet realized that the Arabs of the time were beginning to think of themselves as better than non-Arabs and non-Muslims. He sought to make clear that no individual was born superior to another and that in the eyes of the Creator a person could only seek to elevate themselves through righteousness and the fear of God. In another beautiful Hadith the Prophet said, “Verily God does not look at your physical appearance or your wealth, but rather He looks at your hearts and actions.”
Having established that our physical forms are not of importance to God, how do we establish a color-blind society—one where race does not limit a person’s opportunities or determine their legal or social treatment?
Martin Luther King Jr. hoped that in America one day people would be judged by “the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.” We must learn from other nations, including South Africa, which over two decades ago established the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to address its long history of institutionalized racism.
As was the case in that country, the first step in healing the wounds of the apartheid era was the acknowledgement that a grave historical wrong had been done. A symbolic apology by our government for slavery and the subsequent oppression of African Americans should be followed by real social and institutional reform. This should include reform of our police departments and prisons.
Real change can only take place with broad public support and political will. While it does appear difficult, moving in this direction is certainly possible and necessary for us to establish a more perfect union.
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