It is human nature to find companionship with those who are more similar to us and come from the same background. However, Islam is bigger than that. Islam is all about the struggle against human nature, the self, and to live for equality, justice, and love.
We can all agree wholeheartedly that Islam is a religion for all people. Unfortunately, when we look around our Islamic centers or mosques, we see that some believe the opposite. As much as we want to say that we are accepting of all cultures and have friends of all backgrounds, we cannot say that we treat and act the same with people of a different race or ethnicity.
Don’t believe me? Take a look around your Islamic center next time. See the many groups of people, all segregated by cultural background. I’m not trying to say we should not keep friends of the same ethnicity. What I am saying is that we do not treat our “friends” of different descent the same way we treat our friends who share the same culture. It is a blessing that we can share our stories with, help when in need, joke with, and sit at dinner with, our friends who are of the same ethnicity. But why can’t we truly understand our blessing and do so with our Muslim brothers and sisters of a different ethnicity who we deal with so formally and stranger-like?
It is human nature to find companionship with those who are more similar to us and come from the same background. However, Islam is bigger than that. Islam is all about the struggle against human nature, the self, and to live for equality, justice, and love. It may be harder to be best friends with someone who doesn’t speak your language, and I’m not saying you should be. But I am saying that we need to break our boundaries and touch base with every Muslim brother and sister we come across, especially those who we see regularly at our Islamic centers.
I hope we all have read the verse in our Holy Qur’an that says: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know (and not despise) each other. Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well-acquainted with all things.” (49:13)
I do not think it is necessary to cite examples, because we are all aware of it. Sometimes it is just hard to accept that there is a problem, because we fear being wrong. But let’s face it, we are wrong. We find comfort in stereotyping, because it saves us from having to be another shoulder to lean on or a car ride home.
I hate to brag, but I can honestly say that within the younger generations, I have seen less racism and more unity. I have seen a group consisting of a Hyderabadi, a Khoja, an Iranian, and an Arab enjoying themselves in the dining hall over their plates of “hot” and “non-hot” food. I can look over at the adults and see one group of Iranians, one of Pakistanis, one of the reverts, one of Indians, and one of Arabs. Like I said before, I am not saying we must drop all of our current friends, but why can’t we expand our horizons? Why don’t we take heed to the words of Qur’an and know each other?
It is common in conversation to hear blanket statements about another race or ethnicity, even in Islamic centers. Islam is beyond that. Although we know that it doesn’t mean every single person who belongs to that culture is the same, thinking in this way stops us from moving forward. We can see racism most when it comes to marriage. Sadly, rather than fearing their kids losing all Islamic values, most parents just fear their kid will want to marry someone out of their culture. The majority of youngsters are ready to marry and find a spouse based solely on their faith and how practicing they are; elders tend to think that marrying out of culture is crazy and out of the question. Every marriage has its problems; cultural differences are challenges which in fact strengthen a relationship. Thinking that it is impossible and nothing but asking for failure is a mentality which will continue until we see the beauty in Allah’s creations, until we learn to share and accept everyone we meet, especially in our own centers.
We can see our first case of racism involving Shaitan. When he was ordered to bow to Prophet Adam (peace be upon him), he would not because he said he was better than him. A feeling of “I’m better than [insert ethnic group]” can ruin us. This is what we see at Hajj, an obligatory act commanded by our Creator and a beautiful sign of our equality. We all move towards the same goal, in the same clothes, in the same way. We are different because of nothing more than our deeds.
So let us move forward. The next time there is a big program at your Islamic center, take the initiative to sit next to that Iranian, Pakistani, Arab, or American brother or sister you’ve only said Salam to and smiled at for years yet know nothing about him or her. Get to know them, be a real brother or sister. As Muslims, we are supposed to be each other’s support. If we know nothing about each other and cannot overlook differences, what makes us any different from racists who walk the streets of the world in a full attack against Muslims? We cannot complain about those hating us when we cannot even learn to accept each other.
Let us remember the saying of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him), “Whosoever possesses in his heart Asabiyyah (prejudice in any of its forms such as tribalism, racism, nationalism) even to the extent of a mustard seed, God will raise him on the Day of Resurrection with the (pagan) Bedouins of the Jahiliyyah (the pre-Islamic era).”