Islam and Racism: Jena six - by Mohammed Khaku

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Remember the memorable words of Pastor Martin Neumueller leading up to World War II “First they came for the communist, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t Communists. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me”.

Muslims must stand shoulder to shoulder with our African-American brethren in  confronting and challenging the hate crimes to obtain justice. Muslims should speak up against inequitable Justice rendered against one race. The horrific incidents like Jasper killing, Katrina, Watts Riots, LA riots and now Jena 6 are all to do with racism. The case known as Jena Six is about six black boys ranging in age from 15 to 17 years old are charged with attempted murder for schoolyard fight after nooses were hung from tree and face up to 100 years in prison without parole. The fight took place amid mounting racial tension after a black student sat under a tree in the schoolyard where only white students sat. According to published reports, race has always been an issue in Jena.  Jena is a small rural town of 4,000 people in Louisiana and since last year it has become a central point in the debate around issues of race and justice in this country.

Certainly, Islam isn’t racist and is very steadfast against racism and prejudice as demonstrated in the Quranic words "O Mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you” (Quran 49:13).

This is also evident by Prophet Muhammad establishing the Moaakha system. Moaakha is a system of making people brothers to establish brotherhood based not on color, language, race or ethnicity but purely on faith and piety. Muslims pray daily five times a day shoulder to shoulder with no regards to any nationality, ethnicity, or color difference. And Hajj  (pilgrimage to Mecca) is the classic example of fighting racism. Malcolm X is one of the Muslim who through his blessed journey to Mecca in 1964 made him so profoundly shift his perspective  on race and racism. This is what he wrote in a letter to the followers the Nation of Islam. “There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors; blue-eyed blondes to black skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white”.

Islamic egalitarianism (the ideals of equality, brotherhood, and social justice) still gains converts from the untouchables of India to likeness Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. However, how should Muslims win the minds and hearts of the fellow human beings to fight the diseases of racism, nationalism, prejudice and stereotype?  Muslims should initiate a personal Jihad for tolerance and pluralism with interfaith dialogue and assimilation with other culture and faiths.

The Prophet Said: if one of you sees something evil he should try to change it. If he cannot, he should speak out against it and if he cannot do even that he should at least detest it in his heart, this being weakest form of faith (Sahih Muslim).

Looking at the life history of the Prophet Muhammad one finds his companions were from around different continent,  like the first Muezin (caller for prayers) - Bilal, the Black African slave from Abyssinia. Salman the devout from Persia, Suhayb the blonde haired the Roman and Abdullah the Hebrew.  Prophet said: Indeed my friends and allies are not the tribe of so and so. Rather, my friends and allies are the pious wherever they may be.

The battle of Karbala, which took place in the year 680 between 72 men of Husayn ibn Ali (grandson of Prophet Muhammad) finds that warriors of truth participated from all ages, race, class and sanctuaries. As Muslims, it is our duty to speak out against prejudice and racism weather it is committed against Native American, Jews, Gypsies, Japanese American, Blacks or Muslims because Holy Quran says “And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variation in your language and you color; verily in that are Signs for those who know.”

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