Who was the first Anti-Racist?


Syed Tahir Rashdi
Relations between different ethnic and religious groups in the Middle East, U.S., and EU are deteriorating at a rapid pace. Across these three areas, Muslims are pitted against non-Muslims and black and brown people are pitted against white. What is needed now more than ever is a role model whose teachings counter bigotry and whose acts serve as a model for coexistence. I believe that role model is none other than Prophet Muhammad(PBUH). Approximately 1,400 years before the Civil Rights movement in the US and the anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa, the Prophet Muhammad dealt with the issues of xenophobia and prejudice in Saudi Arabia. In this short piece, I highlight how the Prophet fought against the idea of judging individuals and groups based solely on their skin color and ancestry.The meaning of the word ‘ummah’ is community. The word’s usage varies depending on time, place, and space, but it is rooted in a common Islamic faith. It is bigger than race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or sexuality. And yet we see repeatedly how amongst Muslim communities all around the world, predominantly communities where Arab and South Asian voices are privileged, anti-blackness is prevalent, harmful, and hypocritical.When learning the stories of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions, a favorite of many is the story of Bilal ibn Rabah. The bare bones of his story are that he was a slave, then Abu Bakr freed him, then he converted to Islam, and then he became the first mu’azzin of the Muslims, chosen by the Prophet (PBUH) himself to deliver the call to prayer atop the Ka’aba. He had a beautiful voice.Bilal ibn Rabah is considered one of the most distinguished names in Islamic history. His story is one of the most cited and most notable stories of Islam’s respect for human equality, anti-racism, and social equity.Bilal’s story is rich and important and much longer than this reflection has space for. Often, the story of Bilal functions as a means of bolstering the idea that Islam is aligned with liberation and racial equality. This is particularly so when grouped with the ayah, “O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into races and tribes, so that you may identify one another. Surely the noblest of you, in Allah’s sight, is the one who is most pious of you. Surely Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware” (49:13), as well as the hadith from the Prophet’s (PBUH) last sermon indicating that an Arab is no better than a non-Arab and vice versa. According to these sources, no human is fundamentally worth more than any other as far as human eyes are concerned, and certainly not based on race.