Thursday, 08.22.2013, 07:48pm
The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., should be a time of reflection for all with regard to the status of race relations in America. Our country has progressed in the area of overt racism; not just pertaining to African-Americans, but all people of color; yet we, as a society, have quite a ways to go.
The Islamic faith has very clear teachings on the intrinsic equality of the human family. Human rights leader Malcolm X, upon his return from Hajj, stated that the spiritual teachings of Islam could serve as a cure for the disease of white supremacy that dominated much of America during his lifetime. Muslims have a beautiful faith tradition that can assist in bringing more racial healing to our nation. The first oneness is upon Muslims to live the principles of empathizing with others outside of their particular ethnic groups and actively eschew racial intolerance. Like all faith groups, Muslims do not always act in accordance with their faith teachings, and this is one issue that needs improvement within the community in America.
Due to my interactions over the years with various ethnic groups, ranging from Africans, Arabs, Balkan people and South Asians, I see and hear the reality of tribalism and racism that exists among Muslims. Its manifestations range from ethnic-based Islamic centers, sometimes centers based upon which village the congregants are from, to parents barring marriage for their children, if potential spouses are from different countries or villages or have different skin colors. Moreover, I’ve heard such biases even expressed by people from differing areas being referred to as “dirty” or “you know how they are.”
The difficult question then becomes how can Muslims claim moral authority over anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigots when there is internal racism that frequently goes unchallenged within the community?
Prophet Muhammad (prayers and peace be upon him and his family) challenged structural tribalism and racism that existed in his society. He did not ignore the problem by wishfully thinking that prayer alone would move people away from tribal prejudice. He actively encouraged intertribal interactions, such as pairing off immigrants from Mecca to be best friends with indigenous persons from Medina. Moreover, he gave his approval for several interracial marriages among his companions. He also immediately rebuked people when they belittled others, based on tribal and skin color differences.
The improvement in race relations is a process of change, which must take place within the generality, not just among community leaders who cross ethnic divides, due to socio-political reasons. Such change can come about through more social interactions with those outside of our particular groups and by cultivating the spiritual quality of empathy where we attempt to walk in others’ shoes, before separating ourselves from them and making judgments.
As we watch and read media coverage, remembering Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, I hope that we also can reflect on our own internal biases, with the intention of decreasing tribalism and racism among us as Muslims in America. I believe this is a good way to honor those who marched in Washington, D.C. a half a century ago and hoped for a more inclusive society.
— Dawud Walid is the Executive Director of CAIR-MI.