This is another aspect of the human tendency in our enduring civilization, namely the affirmation of true equality between people regardless of their color. After the Qur’an had declared the principle of equality in the verse, Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that [believer] who has At-Taqwa [i.e. he is one of the Muttaqoon (the pious)]. (Qur’an 49: 13), – The Messenger (Blessings and Peace be upon him) stood during his last Pilgrimage to proclaim during his Farewell Sermon, “People come from Adam and Adam came from dust. There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a white person over a black, except in terms of piety (taqwa).
This equality did not stop at the level of principles which are announced on various occasions – as is done by the leaders of modem civilization today – rather it is an equality that was implemented as something ordinary that was not regarded as unusual at all, not something that would be made a show of in a self-conscious manner. It was manifested in the mosques where white and black would stand together in the same row, in submission to Allah and in humility before Him. A white man would not feel offended in any way to find a black man standing beside him. It was manifested during the Hajj when all the races of mankind, white and colored alike, would meet in one place, wearing the same clothes, with no distinction between white and black and no feelings of superiority on the part of the whites towards the blacks. Indeed, we find an even more sublime example than that, when on the day of the conquest of Makkah, the Messenger of Allah (Blessings and Peace be upon him) commanded the Ethiopian Bilaal to climb up onto the Kaaba to give the call to prayer from the top of the Kaaba and to proclaim the words of truth. The Kaaba was the sacred sanctuary of the Arabs during the Jaahiliyah, and it was the qiblah (direction of Kaaba) which was venerated in Islam, so how could a colored slave-like Bilaal climb on top of it and step on it with his feet?
Something like this could not be imagined in modern civilization, (in America for example), but our civilization did this fourteen centuries ago. Bilaal’s climbing on top of the Kaaba was no more than a declaration of human dignity above all else, and a statement that man deserved to be honored in this way because of his knowledge, reason, morals, and faith, not because of his white skin. A man’s white skin does not make him any better if his deeds are bad, and a man’s black skin does not make him inferior if he is intelligent and strives hard. Hence the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not approve of Abu Dharr, who was one of the noblest of his Companions when he slandered another and said to him, “0′ son of a black woman!” He did not approve of that and he rebuked him, saying, “Are you insulting his mother? Verily you are a man in whom there is ignorance (Jaahiliyah)!”
This is the criterion that distinguishes between knowledge and ignorance in Islamic civilization, between humane civilization and ignorant civilization. The civilization in which no race feels superior to another and no color feels superior to another is the civilization that is established by dignified and wise men and in which mankind can find true happiness. The civilization in which whites feel superior and humiliate blacks, in which those with white skins are happy and colored people are miserable, is an ignorant civilization that puts mankind back hundreds of years to the ages of blindness, arrogance, ignorance, and foolishness. ‘You are a man in whom there is ignorance’ … This is the description of the ignorant civilization which proclaims racial discrimination. This is what our civilization fought against in all spheres of life, in the mosques, schools, courts, and leadership, with friends and enemies alike.
Historical Perspective of Racial equality
When the Muslims came to conquer Egypt, they penetrated deeply into the country until they reached the fortress of Babylon. The ruler of Egypt, AI-Muqawqis, wanted to negotiate with the Muslims, so he sent a delegation to them to find out what they wanted, then he asked them to send a delegation to him. ‘Amr sent to them ten men, among whom was ‘Ubaadah ibn as-Saamit. ‘Ubaadah was very black and so tall that they said he was ten handspans tall. ‘Amr issued an instruction that he (‘Ubaadah) was the one who should do all the talking. When they came to Al-Muqawqis, led by ‘Ubaadah, AI-Muqawqis was scared of his blackness. He said to them, “Keep this black man away from me and let someone else speak to me.” All the men of the delegation said, “This black man is the best among us in wisdom and knowledge; he is our leader and the best among us. We all refer to his opinion, and our leader (Ameer) has issued instructions to him and not to us, and has commanded us not to go against what he says.” Al-Muqawqis said to them, “How can you be pleased that this black man is the best among you; rather he should be the least among you!” They said, “Not at all! Even though he is black as you can see, he is one of the highest in position among us; he is one of the earliest Muslims, and one of the best in wisdom and knowledge. Blackness is not something that is despised among us.” So AI-Muqawqis said to ‘Ubaadah, “Come forward, O’ black man, and speak to me kindly, for I am afraid of your blackness, and if you speak harshly you will make me even more afraid.” ‘Ubaadah, who had seen that AIMuqawqis was afraid of his blackness, said: “Among our army, there are a thousand black men who are even more black than I am.”
Do you not see how wonderful, sublime, and humane this civilization is? For all people – even the civilized people of the twentieth century – think that black people are inferior, and they do not think that black people are qualified to be among whites, so how could they defer to them, make them leaders or recognize that they may be superior in wisdom and knowledge? Our civilization came to destroy these standards and show these views to be foolish, to show that a black man may be superior to a white if his knowledge, wisdom, and courage warrant that. ‘Ubaadah ibn asSaamit was just one of these black men who were raised to positions of leadership by our civilization. ‘Abdul-Malik ibn Marwaan commanded a caller to proclaim during the Hajj that no one was to issue fatwas (religious rulings) to the people except ‘Ataa’ ibn Abi Rabaal), the Imam of the people of Makkah and their scholar and faqih Jurist).
Do you know what this ‘Ataa’ was like? He was black, one-eyed, flat-nosed, crippled, lame, kinky-haired, and no one would have thought much of him. When he sat in his study circles among thousands of his students, he looked like a black crow in a field of cotton! But our civilization made this flat-nosed, one-eyed black man an Imam to whom people referred for fatwas, and a school at whose hands thousands of white people graduated and among whom he was honored, loved, and revered. In our civilization, there were respected figures in the fields of science and literature whose skins were black, but their blackness did not prevent them from being literati who were in the inner circle of the Caliphs, such as the poet Naseeb, or fuqaha’ who wrote the respected sources of Islamic fiqh (Jurisprudence), such as ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Ali az-Zayla’i, who wrote a commentary on AI-Kanz fil-Fiqh al-Hanafi, and Al-Shaafi, Jamaal ad-Deen Abu Muhammad ‘Abdullah ibn Yoosuf az-Zayla’i (762 AH). They were both black men from Zayla’, in Ethiopia.
There is no Arab who is unaware of Kaafoor allkhsheedi, the black slave who ruled Egypt in the fourth century AH, and who was immortalized by the poet AIMutanabbi in verse that both praised and condemned him. The bottom line is that this racial discrimination between white and black was unknown in our civilization. There were no places exclusively for blacks in which no white people lived, there was no persecution of blacks which made them objects of hatred and scorn for the whites. Rather, our humane civilization treated all people with truth and justice and only looked at the whiteness or blackness of people’s actions.
“So whosoever does good equal to the weight of an atom shall see it. And whosoever does evil equal to the weight of an atom shall see it.” (Qur’an 99: 7-8)