If someone asks you, “What is your identity?” how would you answer this question? Would you state your name (I am Ibrahim), or job title (I am a doctor), or nationality (I am Palestinian), or ethnicity (I am an Arab), or lineage (I am the son of the great so and so), or tribe (I am of Quraysh)? How many of us would instantly reply, “I am a Muslim”?
How does Allah ﷻ (“Perfect and Highly Exalted is He”) and His Messenger ﷺ (“May the peace and blessings of Allah perpetually descend on him”) identify us?
Categories of Human Beings
Consider the beginning verses of Surah Al-Baqarah (2:1-29), where Allah ﷻ has divided mankind into three categories on the basis of an essential choice people make in this life and their ongoing behavioral lifestyle:
Believers (mu’minûn, i.e., ‘Muslims’)
Rejectors (kâfirûn, i.e., self-declared non-Muslims / non-believers)
Hypocrites (munâfiqûn, i.e, disbelievers posing as Muslims).
On the Day of Judgment, how will mankind line-up? Will they be divided according to their nationality, or ethnicity? No. Allah ﷻ says in Sûrah Al-Isrâ’ (a.k.a. Surah Bani Isrâ’îl):
“…the Day when We will call every people with their Imâms (Prophets and Book of Deeds” [Sûrah Al-Isrâ’, 17:71]
On the night of Mi’râj (ascension to the heavens), Allah’s Messenger saw the entirety of mankind divided as follows:
Narrated by Ibn Abbâs
“When the Prophet (ﷺ) was taken for the Night Journey, he passed by prophets with some followers, and other prophets with a group of followers, and some other prophets with no followers, until he passed by a large multitude. The Prophet ﷺ said: I said: ‘Who is this?’ It was said: ‘Musa and his people. But raise your head and look.’ There was a large multitude that covered the horizon, from one side to the other. It was said: ‘These people are your Ummah….” (Jamî’ Al-Tirmidhi 2446)
Comment: We can understand from this hadith that mankind will be grouped according to the prophet they followed, not gathered by nationality or ethnicity, etc.
Believer Communities and Their Members
Consider another verse, in which Allah ﷻ referred to mankind as composed of various ‘communities’ (ummahs):
“Then, how [awful a spectacle] would it be when We shall bring from every community [ummat–in] a witness [shahîd-in], and shall bring you over them as a witness [shahîd-an].” [Sûrah Al-Nisâ’, 4:41]
Comment: The tafsir of this verse makes it clear that “witness” (shahîd) refers to the group’s imâm or prophet, and “community” (ummah) refers to his followers.
Furthermore, Allah ﷻ says:
“…the religion [millah] of your father Ibrâhîm. He named you ‘muslims’ previously, and in this [Quran] as well—that the Messenger may be a witness [shahîd-an] over you… ” [Sûrah Al-Hajj, 22:78]
In this verse, “your” (plural) refers to all the Muslims until the Day of Judgment. However, the biological progeny of Ibrâhîm (“May the peace of Allah perpetually descend on him”) are the Adnani Arabs and the Jews, so how can Ibrâhîm be the “father” of all the Muslims? It is because our identity in the sight of Allah is based not on our ethnicity, nationality, etc. but rather on our faith community. Thus, the Muslims are a single ‘nation,’ and Ibrâhîm is the father of our nation.
This point is further elucidated by the fact that Allah ﷻ said that the biological son of Nûḥ was not counted as part of his family on account of that son’s disbelief. Allah ﷻ relates:
“Nûḥ called unto his Lord and said, “My Lord, my son is a part of my family…” He [Allah] said, “O Nûḥ, in fact, he is not a part of your family. Indeed, his doing is other than righteous.” [Sûrah Hûd, 11:45-46]
Comment: In the sight of Allah ﷻ even blood-ties are not the primary method of identifying people. Rather, the real identity of people is based on faith and deeds, as Allah says:
“Surely the noblest of you, in Allah’s sight, is the one who has the most taqwa [consciousness and fear of Allah leading to shunning sins].” [Sûrah Al-Ḥujurât 49:13b]
The Bond of Faith and the Meaning of Brotherhood
“All believers are but brothers, therefore seek reconciliation between your brothers.” [Sûrah Al-Ḥujurât 49:10]
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
“The believers are like one person; if his head aches, the whole body aches with fever and sleeplessness.” (Saḥîḥ Muslim 2586 c)
Comment: The totality of Muslims is compared to a single body, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, tribe, etc. In fact, the bond among Muslims is not restricted to those who are contemporaries (i.e., those living at the same time). The bond of îmân (faith) is among all Muslims until the Day of Judgment. To illustrate, consider the following:
Abu Hurairah (RA) reported:
“The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) …said… I wish we could see my brothers.” The Companions said, “O Messenger of Allah! Are not we your brothers?” He (ﷺ) said, “You are my Companions, but my brothers are those who have not come into the world yet.” They said; “O Messenger of Allah! How will you recognize those of your Ummah who are not born yet?” He (ﷺ) said, …”They [my followers] will come with bright faces and white limbs because of Wuḍû’ [ablution in preparation for Prayer]; and I will arrive at the Hawd [Al-Kawthar] [a geographical basin of abundant water] [i] ahead of them.” (Riyâḍ Al-Ṣalihîn 38, from Saḥîḥ Muslim)
Furthermore, when ‘Umar (RA) refused to distribute the conquered lands amongst the fighters, he stated that future generations had a right to that wealth too! One may refer to the tafsîr of Surah Al-Ḥashr, 59:7 (below) for more details on the distribution of fâi’ (spoils of war obtained without actual combat).
Allah ﷻ explains the differences in our ethnicities as follows:
“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.” [Sûrah Al-Ḥujurât 49:13a]
All men have been created from a single male (Adam) and a single female [Hawwâ’] as human beings. Therefore, all people are the descendants of ‘Adam and Hawwâ’ and have been declared equal in the sight of Allah. No one is allowed to take pride nor to degrade others on the basis of pigment of his skin, the amount of wealth he possesses or by his rank or by his social status, descent or pedigree, but by his moral uprightness and the way he discharges his obligations to Allah and man. The entire human race is but one family. Division into nations, tribes and sub-tribes of all sizes, and races is meant only to give a better identification of one another. [Volume 8, p 143]
Imagine if all of us looked the same! It is in the wisdom of Allah ﷻ that He has created us with a variety of features.
However, the Shayṭân has been very successful in using these differences to disunite the Muslims, whereas the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) has told us:
“None of you will have faith till he wishes for his [Muslim] brother what he likes for himself.” (Saḥîḥ Al-Bukhari 13)
Circumstances of Revelation: This verse was revealed on the occasion of the conquest of Makkah. When it was time for prayer, the Holy Prophet ﷺ asked Sayyidna Bilâl (RA) to call the adhân. One of the pagan Quraish cynically remarked, “Thank God that my father died before this happened, and he did not have to see this bad day.” Hârith Ibn Hishâm remarked, “Could Muhammad not find anyone better than this black crow to sound the adhân in the Sacred Mosque!” Abu Sufyân said, “I do not wish to utter anything for fear that the Master of the heavens will inform him.” Thus Jibril came down and informed the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) about this conversation. The Holy Prophet called them and asked them about it and they admitted to their [racist] comments. At this, the current verse (Q 49:13 – quoted above) was revealed.
An Un-Islamic Anti-Immigrant Mentality
Due to ignorance, even today some Muslims harbor ill thoughts and feelings against immigrants, who are typically looked down upon. We should remember that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ himself was an immigrant. However, unlike the ignorant Muslims of today, the Muslims of the first and best generation treated the immigrants as follows:
“And [fai’ is also for] those who had already established themselves in the homeland [of Madīnah] and in faith before the latter ones [arrived in Madīnah] —[for those] who have love for those who immigrated to them, and do not feel in their hearts any (desire to have/envy) for what is given to the [the immigrants] (from fâi’), and give preference [to them] over themselves, even though they [the hosts] are in poverty. And those who are saved from the greed of their hearts are successful.” [Sûrah Al-Ḥashr, 59:9]
Comment: The Companions immigrated to Medina to protect their faith and to join the first Islamic constitutional state. Today also, people such as the Rohingiya have been forced to abandon their homes after being persecuted for their faith, but the reaction of Muslims today, in the way they have treated these immigrants, is very far from what is pleasing to Allah ﷻ. Such immigrants have a right to receive a warm welcome from fellow Muslims, and it is the duty of those around them to provide them with all forms of assistance and welcome them as brothers, instead of simply containing them in refugee camps.
However, Islamic concepts cannot be applied independently of social, economic and political conditions in the host country, and a replication of the treatment displayed by the Ansâr will require that mutual brotherly bonds also be in place. The actual implementation of such concepts is beyond the scope of this article, which intends to shape the thinking of today’s Muslims with regards to our fellow Muslims.
On the other hand, other Muslims are immigrating to richer countries for the sake of dunya (better opportunities, pay, facilities etc.). While they cannot expect the same level of hospitality from a minority Muslim community, the general brotherhood of Islam dictates that Muslims identify themselves and others as Muslims first. If we can identify someone as a Muslim brother, then there is no scope for discrimination.
In any case, racism in the Islamic community is totally un-Islamic and, where it exists in attitude or social limitations, it must be intelligently addressed.
May Allah ﷻ cure the ummah of the diseases from the Days of Ignorance —including racism, wherever it may exist—uniting our hearts and granting victory to the Ummah of Muhammad ﷺ (“May the peace and blessings of Allah perpetually descend on him!”).
[ii] Ma’arif ul Qur’an: A Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Qur’an, by Muhammad Shafi’i Deobandi (in Urdu). Translated by Professor Muhammad Hasan Askari, Professor Muhammad Shameem, Muhammad Wali Raazi Usmani, Muhammad Ishrat Husain, and Ahmed Khaleel Azeez. Edited, and revised with an Introduction by Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani. Karachi: Maktaba Darul Uloom, 1995–2004. 8 vols.