by Rama Mbacke
Juz’ 28 of the Quran is comprised of nine Surahs from the first verse of Surah al-Mujadilah to the end of Surah al-Tahrim. Although the themes vary, the context in which some of the Surahs’ verses were revealed is significant. This was during a time when Muslims were living as a community in Medina (Yathrib) after Prophet Muhammad (s), his companions, adherents and followers emigrated from Mecca to escape persecution. The revelations of Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta‘ala) that the Prophet (s) and his followers needed at the time were not the same kind as those they needed when they were oppressed and persecuted in Mecca, which is noted throughout the Quran. The “Mecca” verses spoke most directly to the Prophet (s)—to affirm his mission—and to uplift the consciousness of individual believers. In contrast, the “Medina” verses were aimed primarily at the Muslims as a social and political community and the Prophet as legislator, a reformer and an example to follow.
In Surahs 60:7 and 60:8, Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta‘ala) says:
“It may be that Allah will put friendship/affection between you and those of them whom you hold as enemies. Allah is Able and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
“Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you for religion and have not driven you from your homes. Allah loves who acts justly”.
These verses mark a defining moment in history of Islam also known as Hijrah. Indeed, Hijrah was the beginning of the triumph of Islam over the entire Arabian Peninsula.
In Medina, a new community was established that was not bound to the traditional tribal organization of Arabia. The Meccans who migrated with the Prophet Muhammad (s) were known as Muhajirun, while natives of Medina were called the Ansar, which was a name given by the Prophet Muhammad (s) to honor and distinguish them from the immigrants from Mecca. One of the first major acts of the Messenger of Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta‘ala) was to agree on a pact with the different religious and ethnic groups in Medina. He encouraged the Ansars to welcome the Muhajiruns. This journey of the Prophet (s) to a new territory is somewhat similar to our stories as Blacks in America. We are named African Americans. We belong to the minority groups.
I am from Senegal, West Africa where I was born and raised. I am Black, African, an immigrant, who embraces American culture, and above all else, I am a Muslim. Here in the US, I am considered a minority because I am Black in contrast to Senegal where a minority is the person who is not Black or not Muslim as Islam is the dominant faith. A minority is perhaps differentiated on the basis of language more than racial identity in Senegal. I then belonged to the “larger” group. The definition of “minority” that I learned in the United States taught me that the definition of the term varies depending of where one lives.
Nevertheless, the concept of “minority” (as defined in the current context that we live in) does not necessarily exist in Islam for there is not a “majority” in Muslim communities. There is no distinction made between people i.e. native vs. migrant or white vs. Black. The only distinction is between Muslims and non-Muslims and that only applies when it comes to laws and principles. The Quran has brought it up in al-Anfal (8:26):
“And remember when you were a few and oppressed in the land…”
The term “qalil” used in this context can be defined as “few” but also as minority.
Practicing Islam in the context of a historically Christian society, we are confronted with different systems (educational, legal, judicial, economic and political) of “mainstream” America that constant reminds us of our “differences.” For example, in the field of law and justice, Islam has a series of laws whose authority that transcends any legal system. However, American law does not recognize all Muslim religious law (Sharia). There is a perceived difference between Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh) and American law. How do we follow the teachings of Islam and maintain that balance as a minority group in America?
Diversity and multiculturalism have always been part of Islam. From an Islamic perspective, the differences in civilizations, cultures and religions are perceived as multiple expressions of a unique message sent by Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta‘ala) to people living in different places at different times.
“…and the diversity of your language and your colors” 30:22
The Ascension of the Prophet Muhammad (s) during the night in which he met Prophets Ibrahim, Musa and Isa (Alayhimu al-Salam) is symbolic in the sense that it highlights the interaction between believers, whether within their communities or with other traditional communities. The existence of different communities, each with its cultural, linguistic, historical and religious differences is specified in the Quran for the guidance of humanity. The acceptance and recognition of the other and reconciliation between people are the foundation of a natural peaceful coexistence synonymous with unity in diversity. From the beginning, Islam has supported the notion of belonging to a single community, gathered around the Prophet (s). Islam then seeks to establish a society where race, language, ethnicity, gender or culture does not become the basis for discrimination and no privilege is given to one particular community over another.
“We are but brothers” 49:10
“…hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided” 3:103
As Black Muslims, we do have roles and responsibilities to play in that although our experience as Black Muslims in America differs from that of Muslims born in Muslim-majority countries like Senegal. We belong to a community whose religious and political identity was marked by the struggle for equality, freedom and justice and we continue to face challenges associated with race and our heritage as Africans and Americans.
As such, much like the experiences lived by the Prophet Muhammad (s) and his companions in Mecca and Medina, interacting with a larger interfaith, intercultural or interracial community can be challenging. In order to overcome these challenges, we are recommended by the Prophet Muhammad (s) (among other recommendations) to:
- Respect the laws in which we are governed.
- Interact respectfully with other communities and be open to dialogue.
“…and cooperate in righteousness and piety” 5:2
- Have good morals, ethics, reliability and trustworthiness.
“…O you who have believed, fulfill all contacts” 5:1
- Have patience, kindness, compassion and be responsible.
- Honor ourselves.
May Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala) bless us, forgive our sins, and accept all of our prayers in this month of Ramadan.
Rama Mbacke is a great-granddaughter of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba, founder of the Muridiyya Sufi Tariqa in Senegal, West Africa. She moved to Los Angeles in 2006 after graduating high school and completing her Islamic education through the Quran, Tawheed, Fiqh and Tasawwuf. She is a graduate of California State University, Los Angeles with a B.S and M.S in Electrical Engineering. Rama is now working as a Nuclear Engineer and also continuing on the legacy of her grandparents
Brian | July 3, 2016
That is a beautiful “celebratory” historical narrative of ideal Islam. Unfortunately, this view of no discrimination in Islamic communities is not so rosie. Being a “Black” Muslim born and raised in the United States I have witnessed and been victimized by the racism and bigotry that my brethren and sisters in Islam have demonstrated. We still have a long way to go to achieve the ideals of life in Medina.