UNPACKING ISLAM’S RESPONSE TO RACISM IN HONOR OF THE 40TH DEATH ANNIVERSARY OF ROBERT SOBUKWE Print
Written by ramadan   
Sunday, 04 March 2018 19:03

UNPACKING ISLAM’S RESPONSE TO RACISM
IN HONOR OF THE 40TH DEATH ANNIVERSARY OF ROBERT SOBUKWE

(The colour of a person’s skin is as irrelevant as the shape of his ears!)


Jumuah lecture on Friday 2 March 2018 (13 Jamadi-u-Thani 1439)
at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
delivered by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider


There is one important question which is very relevant to our country and society, namely multi-racism or non-racism. Many years have passed since our liberation from Apartheid but this question is still very much relevant. I would like to address this question from our understanding of the Holy Quran ie. where do we stand on the question of multi-racism or non-racism?


As you know, these are 2 different political theories and philosophies, where multi-racism acknowledges the existence of race among the human society, their differences and their potential. In contrast, the philosophy of non-racism categorically denies the existence of anything by the name of race as a criterion for mankind.


Indeed, it is a very important, interesting and very relevant discussion!


We also find that there is a tendency towards either the one or the other among Muslim scholars. At least I can say that practically among Muslims and Muslim leadership or the history of Muslims, we unfortunately see a keen tendency towards the multi-racial approach.


UNDERSTANDING TAUHEED ABOLISHES RACISM


In all honesty, when we look at the prime source of Islam, namely the Holy Quran, we reach to a very simple conclusion, that in principle, the Holy Quran does not believe in race. This discussion has multiple angles to analyse from.


The philosophy of Tauheed is the foundation of everything from which all aspects of our belief branches off. If we look deeply at the philosophy of Tauheed, we will realise that there is no place for racism or multi-racism in Islamic thought.


We have chapter 112 of the Holy Quran which is known as Surah Tauheed (Ikhlaas – Sincerity). We read this Surah in almost every Salaah, as follows:


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In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful


Say: He is Allah, the One and Only (1);


Allah, the Eternal, Absolute (2);


He begets not, nor is He begotten (3);


And there is none like unto Him (4).


Very interestingly, this Surah is known as the chapter of sincerity to the monotheism of Almighty Allah (SWT), and has a very close relationship with the issue of racism.


RACISM WAS THE CONTEXT OF SURAH IKHLAAS BEING REVEALED

The great commentator of the Holy Quran of the 20th century, Allama Tabataba’i, narrates the background of the revelation of this Surah, in his expansive commentary of the Holy Quran called “Tafseer al-Mizan”,


He narrates that there were Jews who came to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), saying to him that they believe in chosen people ie. a selected nation. So they want to know from Rasulullah (SAWA) what is the race of the God he wants to promote! Rasulullah (SAWA) did not respond to this question for 3 days, until this Surah Ikhlaas (chapter 112 of the Holy Quran) was revealed.


So, the answer to their question of the race of God is Tauheed!


The great philosopher and leader Imam Musa Sadr (may Allah (SWT) hasten his comeback), has a most beautiful insight, saying that if someone understands this chapter of the Holy Quran, together with understanding “Ahadiyyah” and “Samadiyyah”, then you will be able to understand that Islam has no concept of race at all! What is the connection here, and what is the connection with the question of the Jews about the race of Almighty Allah (SWT), and then the response of Allah (SWT) in the form of the revelation of Surah Ikhlaas (Tauheed – monotheism)?


The background is that the Jews constantly promoted this notion of “the chosen people” or “the better race” of Allah (SWT). This chapter on Tauheed came as a direct response to address their false claims. It is critical to understand what does “Ahadiyyah” and “Samadiyyah” mean.


WHAT DOES AHAD AND SAMAD MEAN AS ALLAH’S (SWT) ATTRIBUTES?


The opening verse of Surah Ikhlaas says that Almighty Allah (SWT) is One and Only, and then verse 2 explains that this definition of Tauheed (monotheism) in the Holy Quran is that Allah (SWT) is the Eternal and Absolute.

Say: He is Allah, the One and Only (1);


Allah, the Eternal, Absolute (2);


We have numerous Hadith narrations from the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) where they explained the meaning of “Samad” in reference to Allah (SWT) in this verse. The crux of the matter is that it means someone who has absolutely no dependency or necessity, and everyone else is fully dependent on Him.


Verse 3 of this Surah Ikhlaas explains that He does not give birth to anyone, nor did anyone give birth to Him.

 

He begets not, nor is He begotten


Imam Musa Sadr beautifully explains that this means that Allah (SWT) does not have a father or mother, nor does He have children, siblings or family of any sort. He does not have a tribe, nor does He have a race. He cannot have a race! There is no birth involved! There is nobody before Him or after Him. This is the meaning of verses 2 and 3.


Imam Musa Sadr further explains that “Samad” means that Allah (SWT) is COMPLETELY independent ie. not needy of anybody. He goes further to explain what is the connection of “Samad” to the belief of the Jews about the racial preference of some over others? The answer is that Allah (SWT) has self-sufficiency on its ABSOLUTE level as He does not have race nor dependency. Therefore, due to this absolute self-sufficiency of Almighty Allah (SWT), He does not have a preference of one over the other. It means that His relationship to the creation is completely equal!


Imam Musa Sadr therefore concludes that the result of this Tauheed Ahadiyyah and Samadiyyah is that nobody can claim to be privileged or chosen people by Allah (SWT). The consequence of faith and belief in Ahadiyyah and Samadiyyah is that nobody in the creation of Allah (SWT) can claim to be better than the other. It is impossible; else Allah (SWT) is not “Samad”


In whatever form, our preferences as human beings originate from relationships or needs. Example, I need the help of this person therefore I prefer him on others, or I like this particular meal and therefore I prefer it over other dishes. However, when it comes to Ahadiyyah and Samadiyyah, there is no need, nor are there relationships (as explained earlier). Therefore, there is no space for the concept of race in Ahadiyyah and Samadiyyah.


THE SUBJECT OF THE HOLY QURAN IS HUMANITY


When you look at any book, it covers a particular subject, be it Science, Physics, or whatever the subject is. Now, what is the subject and addressee of the Holy Quran? The Quran is a divine discourse, ie. the address of Almighty Allah (SWT) using the Holy Quran as the medium.


The great commentator of the Holy Quran and mystic of our time, Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli says that beyond any iota of doubt, the subject and addressee of the Holy Quran is HUMANITY! It is not Muslim, nor Arab! Indeed, the Holy Quran does address particular groups of people depending on the situation, but the main addressee of the Holy Quran is HUMANITY! Therefore, it is very important to understand who this humanity is, since it is the proud subject of the Holy Quran.


Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli further explains that the reality of Insaan (humanity) is that fact which is floating around all of us as a commonality, where he says that humanity does not have gender, race or national allegiance.


Therefore, it is a different approach when we refer to racial equality. In Islam, we sometimes respond to the question of racial equality or justice saying that Islam is fair to all races, or Islam makes no distinction between different races. This is a very superficial answer. The truth of the matter is that Islam does not believe in races! This is a very different approach than believing all races are equal.


The issue of gender is no different. When we speak about gender justice and sexism, we ask what the rights of men and women in Islam are. Do men have more rights than women, and so on…


People like Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli refute this, saying that it is the incorrect question to ask. There is nothing by the name of men and women as a subject of the Holy Quran. The criterion is HUMANITY, and humanity does not have gender. The issue is not one of men and women having equal rights. Instead, there is nothing by the name of men and women when it comes to virtue or being better than the next. The criterion is your sense of humanity.


Yes, the Quran does recognise cultural and geographical differences which appeared over the years, but when it comes to the ultimate nature of humanity, the Quran very strongly believes in there being no racial categorisation or any semblance of chosen or inferior groupings.


SECOND KHUTBAH – REMEMBERING OUR REVOLUTIONARY THINKER ROBERT SOBUKWE


Without any doubt, the philosophy of Islam and the Holy Quran is a non-racist one and therefore Islam does not believe in the role of race in the progress and downfall of nations, since Islam does not believe in race to start with. Therefore, Almighty Allah (SWT) very clearly says in verse 11 of Surah Ra’ad (chapter 13 of the Holy Quran):


Surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition


This verse explains that change in the state of nations depends only on 2 things:

  1. The Will of Almighty Allah (SWT)

  2. The will of the people themselves

Now the political and social implications of this philosophy of non-racialism also become clear.


The reason I decided on this topic for today’s Jumuah Khutbah is to honour the 40 year anniversary of the death of a hero, the son of our African soil, Robert Sobukwe. This man stood firmly in the face of ALL his opponents to proudly proclaim that Africans do not believe in race, but rather believe in the humanity as the only race!


27 February 1978 is the day of his death, which we remembered this week. I do not hesitate to pay my respect to this revolutionary icon, despite him not being Muslim. When you read his thoughts and study his approach, it appears that this man probably did not have access to the Holy Quran and the message of Islam in its real format. Perhaps Islam existed as a cultural grouping, instead of a theology or more appropriately as a political philosophy! Unfortunately this did not exist for Robert Sobukwe to access!


As the renowned poet and philosopher from the Indo-Pak subcontinent Allama Iqbal says, there are people who live long before their time. Robert Sobukwe is one of those who lived before his time and spoke about this political philosophy of non-racialism and Pan-Africanism. Very interesting is his definition of African. It is not the definition of the racists, neither is it the definition of the multi-racists, from whom he proudly broke away, where skin colour and genetics is the criterion to define the race!


SOBUKWE’S PHILOSOPHY OF AFRICAN RENAISSANCE


According to Robert Sobukwe, the definition of African is the definition of the human race! He states that African refers to someone who lives in Africa, who loves Africa and who is committed to Africa. This is not a racist philosophy, nor is it a philosophy of multi-racism. It is PURELY NON-RACISM!


It is not saying that non-Africans are better or inferior to Africans. He is saying what the Quran is saying, that you have to be thankful to your Lord and be grateful to the land which has given birth to you and from which you enjoy the blessings to live. This is the Islamic approach and therefore we are really very proud to name one of the rooms in our mosque complex after him.


I would like to add that today, after so many years since the advent of our democracy in South Africa, we see that this issue of land reform and redistribution is finally being tabled for action. We really need to address this serious issue in our country, in the light of the philosophy of non-racism which is today’s Jumuah.


When Robert Sobukwe spoke about white supremacy, and when he spoke about European imperialism and capitalism, and the intention of the colonialists towards Africa, we seem to still be living in a dreamland, where we are oblivious to this serious challenge, despite enjoying democracy for 24 years now.

 

Until we do not come out of this rut, justice, peace and prosperity is not possible. Freedom of the minds and freedom of thought which Sobukwe and Steve Biko spoke about is the primary condition for real freedom and real democracy.