On the Racist Views of Islam

Islam is often times sold to others by contrasting the modern racist Christian history - think racial segregation in churches – to a few select exemplary instances of cohesion between the different races under the rule of Islam. After all, a black companion of Mohammad scaled Al-Kaaba - a great honor, according to Islamic tradition - to recite the Muslim call for prayer just after Mecca was conquered by the Muslims. We also know that quite a few non-Arab Muslims – though they be blond and blue eyed Eastern Europeans - had left “slavedom” to enter the top echelons of power at various points in the classical history of Islam.

Shall we then buy into this argument, and accord Mohammad some credit in this regard? The answer is - you guessed it - no. Racism in Islam is rife, but in a very subtle manner. And that is exactly what makes it all the more pernicious, for this means that it seeps deeply and sneakily into the unconsciousness of those who profess to the religion. As a matter of fact, it could be safely argued that Islam has negatively influenced how its subjects have conceived of the black race in specific, from its early inception and up until this moment, as will be illustrated throughout the rest of this article.

Racism in the Fundamental Corpus of Islam

The Quran and Islamic Oral Tradition are considered to be the two major, if not the only, sources of Islamic creed. In all fairness, both of them exhibit instances of tolerance and what sounds to be an encouragement to brush aside any discrimination made between humans based on the color of their skin, and it is such verses and narrations that Muslims draw on in their said comparison between Christianity and Islam.

However Muslims are reticent – at least in their dialog with the other -  about the fact that these very verses are always trailed by commands from their god demanding of them instead to discriminate on the basis of faith. If you think this is ugly – and, well, a bit digressing - just wait. Disturbing racist images are found almost everywhere throughout the Islamic corpus. In many of the strongly worded threats by the muslim god, it is stated that part of the “justice” package the sinners are dealt in the end, consists in the changing of the color of their faces so as it becomes black. Take the following verse as a representative example:

“On the Day of Judgment wilt thou see those who told lies against Allah; their faces will be turned black; is there not in Hell an abode for the Haughty?” - Surah 39.60, as translated by Yusuf Ali1.

On reading such a verse, one is bound to be dazzled by the amount of chutzpah it takes somebody with such a view to claim a position superior to all others, and to claim that theirs is the most humane and merciful view humanity has ever witnessed to boot!

Racism in the Contemporary Islamic Discourse

Fast-forward to the present, and you will find that it is not uncommon at all to hear a Muslim scholar “attesting” to the greatness of Islam by explaining how it allowed the black – often said in a condescending tone – to sit side by side and rub legs and shoulders with their lighter-skinned counterparts at the mosque or during the Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage). Of course, some Muslims might retort by saying that I am being selective here, and that such scholars don’t really represent Islam; a classical response, which has become the subject of many parodies in the Arab atheist community.

Perhaps I am prejudiced, but where racism in the contemporary Islamic discourse is undeniably tangible is in the way Muslims scramble to spread around stories of the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam – mind you, mostly forged stories – so long as they are not black. Make of that what you will, but I am sure that you won’t make much of it other than coming to the following simple fact: Islam is as racist as it can get, especially when it comes to the black race.

1 Some translations replace “turned black” with “darkened” to evade the racist implications. However the word used in the original Arabic text is “Moswadda” which shares the same root with the Arabic word for black, “Aswad”. On the other hand “darkened” corresponds to “Mothlema”, which is a far cry from the original text.

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