What does the Quran say about race and racism?
Every human is an artifact of one true God. The difference in physical appearance and language are a testimony to God’s creative power but not a marker of superiority among people.
In light of recent developments in the USA regarding police brutality and Black Lives Matter movement, a legitimate question arises: What does the Quran say about race and racism?
Before answering it, let’s take a look at the two definitions. Race refers to a person’s physical characteristics, such as bone structure and skin, hair, or eye colour. Racism, on the other hand, is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of these physical characteristics.
The Quran was revealed at a time and place where different types of discrimination were rampant. Women, orphans, the poor, slaves, the displaced and the destitute were wronged on a daily basis. All this was done in the name of tradition and it was perpetuated for years. The powerful oppressed the weak and power came with wealth and lineage.
The Quranic message subverted the way people were thinking. Human history is a witness to how hard and slow social change can be. To change harmful customs and laws requires a lot of effort and strife for decades. Yet we know that the hardest to change is people’s way of thinking, their value system, the way they view themselves and others.True and long-standing transformation comes only when perspectives shift.
By addressing the hearts and the minds of its audience, the Quran proclaims the truth about the value of being human and the meaning of difference. Every human is an artifact of one true God. The difference in physical appearance and language are a testimony to God’s creative power but not a marker of superiority among people. And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge. (Quran 30: 22)
The Quran does not erase difference, so it is not color blind. On the contrary, vested with divine authority, the Quran recognizes difference and diversity as manifestations of God’s will and power.
O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is All-knowing and aware. (Quran 49:13)
In this verse, God explains to us that our diversity should spike our curiosity because it is an amazing manifestation of God’s art. Naturally, this curiosity must bring the desire to know one another. The Arabic verb used here is taarafu which means to know intimately, to befriend, to get closer in the heart. This verse also rejects any kind of hierarchy or superiority based on gender, race or ethnicity; rather it emphasizes the common origin of humanity (from one male and female) and brotherhood that must stem from it.
If one must look for nobility, the Quran points to piety which is not a state that a person is born into but it is reached with much effort. Piety or righteousness is a state of the heart, known only by God and hidden to people. That is why the verse ends with the reminder that God is All-knowing, Aware.
The Quran does stop here though
After making clear the origin and purpose of difference, the Quran warns that God will not tolerate transgression and discrimination of any kind. He will hold accountable the transgressors on the day of judgment and vindicate the oppressed and the wronged ones.
God doesn’t love transgressors. (2:190)
So on that Day no excuse of theirs will avail the transgressors, nor will they be invited (then) to seek grace (by repentance). (30:57)
And the transgressors will be Companions of the Fire! (40:43)
Many verses in the Quran speak about justice and the establishment of justice as a sublime goal in this life. Rights of women, orphans, the widows, the poor, the slaves, the immigrants and other vulnerable groups are pronounced as unalienable in the Quran and they are under the protection of God himself who will not overlook the smallest injustice. Believers are commanded to adhere meticulously to justice at all costs.
In conclusion, we can say that the Quran, as a beacon of light for the darkest moments of humanity, calls unto us to treat each other with dignity because we are equally human. As it is stated in the chapter titled The Moon (57:17) : And We have indeed made the Qur’an easy to understand and remember: then will anyone take heed and learn?
And that is the question.