Islam - and Justice for All - By: Noor Saadeh
Let there arise a nation who invites to goodness and enjoins what is right and forbids what is wrong. The Family of Imran 3:104
Although it is presumed that the rapid rise of Islam could have occurred only by use of the sword, in reality it was the message that all were created equal in the eyes of God that won the hearts and minds. 11 centuries before the rise of democracy, verses commending justice and equality were among the first revelations and continue to be the cornerstone of the Qur’an.
Early 7th century Arab society separated according to tribalism, lineage, and wealth. Not surprisingly, the pervasive message of equality of the Quranic revelations was bitterly fought by the elite and privileged. Those who followed the message with no tribal or financial support were persecuted and tortured. Not only were blacks enslaved but impoverished whites and prisoners of war as well, regardless of ethnicity or lineage. The message of equality and justice proclaimed by Muhammad appealed to people from all walks of life but it was among the underprivileged and underserved with whom the message resonated most strongly.
Like today, there were those of the elite classes that recognized the deplorable injustice and inhumanity within their society. One renowned story is that of Bilal bin Rabah, an Abyssinian slave. Tortured by his owner for his unwavering conviction to the pure monotheism advocated within the Qur’an, he was bought then freed by Muhammad and his followers. He became not only one of the closest companions and supporters of Islam but was physically raised in stature, high atop the first house of worship, as the caller to the prayer.
Racism is but one aspect of injustice and inequality but perhaps in its most deplorable and illogical state, for none of us have the ability to determine the color of our skin, or place and situation of our birth. Much like viruses and epidemics now turned pandemics, racism and accompanying components of pride, arrogance, ignorance, hatred, anger and envy fuel injustice. They will always be with us. It’s part of the human condition. No child is born infected but neither are they immune. These traits are readily transmitted by parents, family, school and society.
Racism as a basis for inequality is found everywhere and throughout time. Even religion has been manipulated to give credence to racism and superiority as a ‘divine plan’ for the management of humankind, twisting and turning scripture to suit the status quo, sect or position.
Much like the invisible Corona Virus, these vices invade minds and hearts and sicken our bodies and our souls. It’s an ugly whisper within us that we are better than another; that fear of the ‘other’ is natural and right; that what is different is abnormal, unacceptable and best to avoid.
Racism, inequality and injustice were not eradicated through Islam. Wiping out the traces of these viruses is an ongoing battle still today. However verses were revealed throughout a 23 year period to commend equal treatment and to abolish the very idea that any soul could rightfully be the property of another. Wrongs could be righted and sins atoned for by freeing a slave. Prisoners of war were promised their freedom if they agreed to live among the Muslims and teach the illiterate to read and write. A man or woman could free a slave through marriage and any children born of their union were considered free. The commandments of spiritual excellence and use of positive reinforcement for the gradual lessening of slavery, indeed all injustices, gave slaves and slave owners alike time to adjust to a different social construct. Quite unlike the disaster that followed the Emancipation Proclamation of our own history.
A verse detailing the very purpose of creation calls to our attention: O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know, one another. The Chambers 49:13 That the best of people are those possessed of ‘spiritual excellence’: i.e. worshiping God as if you see Him, and though you cannot, to know that He sees you and to act accordingly. Prophet Muhammad’s final sermon is legendary for its time: ‘No Arab is better than a non-Arab, no white man is better than a black’. That the defining characteristic of the best of creation is God-consciousness and the treatment of one’s fellow man.
Much like with any virus we all need to take proactive steps to protect ourselves from infection. Unlike Covid 19, retreating behind a mask, quarantining in our homes, and using all manner to distance ourselves from those who are different is not the answer.
As an American convert, my desire to know others different than myself drew me to the message of equality within Islam. Having joined the ranks of a minority and now sharing my faith with so many diverse peoples, I have an even better appreciation and empathy with those who face intolerance, misunderstanding and hate. Although I check off ‘white' in the 2020 Census, the fact that I am visibly Muslim has given rise to speculation and suspicion about me and about my heritage. Constantly queried “Where are you from?” by non-Muslim and Muslim alike, I've even been told that because of the scarf I proudly wear I could no longer be classified as white! The ignorant and illogical assumption of this is merely laughable, albeit sad.
I find the idea of knowing others resonates within me strongly. Meeting and learning about those different from ourselves is enlightening and can be a joyful, soul-shifting experience. Statistics prove that even knowing one individual from a group different than ourselves, whether a colleague, classmate, neighbor, or branching out to work with the less fortunate, the immigrant, or the refugee provides us with far more realistic understanding and compassion and can shatter long held stereotypes that accompany race, ethnicity, socio-economic position and religion.
Knowing and knowledge are compatible musts. Contrary to the popular expression, ignorance seldom leads to bliss. We like to have good opinions of ourselves: loving, worldly, tolerant. Few would proudly wear the label of arrogant, ignorant, hateful,. Yet as long as people seek to build self-esteem and ego on the backs of others these viruses will never be eradicated.
We have certainly created man in the best of stature; then We return him to the lowest of the low, Except for those who believe and do righteous deeds, for they will have a reward uninterrupted. Al Tin 94:4-6
Enjoining what’s right and forbidding what’s wrong resounds throughout the Qur’an as do verses that commend those who believe and do good works but condemn those who oppress. Islam not only speaks out strongly against the ills of injustice but also offers prescriptions. Muhammad (ﷺ) said, "Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is oppressed.” His companions asked, “How should we help him if he is an oppressor?" Muhammad (ﷺ) said, "By preventing him from oppressing others." Sahih Buhari
You who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly - if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do. The Women 4:135
Muhammad additionally elaborated three possible steps for addressing any wrong: at the very least, recognize it; a better step, speak up, and the superlative 3rd step, take action to eradicate the wrong, thus giving every individual a proactive approach suitable to their ability and personality. “I am a good person. I could be better. I will strive to do my best.” We must all take a good hard look within at the prejudices we hold, seek education, then raise our voices. When it comes to ‘the other’, social distancing and avoiding any contact is not the means to a cure.
The Qur’an is addressed to all mankind and we can and should rise up to its challenge: You are the best of the nations raised up for the benefit of humanity; you enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and believe in God. Ali Imran 3:110
Noor Saadeh is an American convert to Islam of over 30 years. She and her husband are owners of Noorart, one of the largest Islamic Media online platforms in North America. Prior to her years as a Muslim she performed as classical musician on opera and concert stages in New York City. Now known as the ‘Barney/ Mother Goose’ of the Muslim world, she is a published song and story teller, author of several popular audio albums for children. Born in the Midwest she now resides in Dallas and calls Amman, Jordan a second home. Since 2004 she has been active in the Dallas community as a public and motivational speaker.
Noor is the Muslim co-lead for the Dallas Chapter of Daughters of Abraham as well as a member of the steering committee for Friends for Good, an interfaith group of Jewish, Evangelical Christian, Muslim and Unitarian congregations. Through her introduction and subsequent friendship with Shivaun Palmer she pens a monthly blog for Plaid for Women,
an award-winning multi-media company that provides substantive content for women. Noor additionally is a monthly contributor for Divine Perspectives that offers Muslim and Christian perspective on a wide variety of topics for Family Favors magazine of Amman, Jordan. In addition to her monthly writings she was recently invited as a contributor for Islamic Horizons, the bi-monthly publication of ISNA (Islamic Society of North America), and will be featured as Faith editor in the soon-to-be released national online magazine American Muslim Today.