Islam In Fact Does Do Race

اسمعوا و أطيعوا و إن استعمل عليكم عبد حبشي كأن رأسه زبيبة

الراوي أنس بن مالك والمحدث البخاري

من باب السمع و الطاعة للإمام ما لم تكن معصية

“Listen and obey, even if an Ethiopian slave is appointed as your leader and his head be like a raisin.” — related by Anas Bin Mālik, collected by Imām al-Bukhārī.

Last week I gave a talk at the University of Pennsylvania, in conjunction with CAMP-Philadelphia and the Muslim Student Association at Penn entitled, African American Contributions to Islam: Bridging the Gap. When the event was posted on Facebook, one brother responded, critiquing Islam’s involvement in anything “racial”:

“salamon ulaikum…i am attending…but I think this event is a bit racist and historically incorrect. Why are we focusing on ‘African American’ contributions to Islam. Correct me if I am wrong, but there were no ‘African Americans’ during the time of the Prophet. They were all Arabs. Not American, Not African. Only one African, Bilal, and his contribution was minimal compared to Abu Bakr (r) and Umar (r) and Osman (r) and Ali (r)” — Abdul Basheer.

The person’s comments enraged and offended many if not most who read his reaction. While being equally offended by the ignorance of the gentleman’s statement, I feel that his words reflect a broader audience, black, white, Arab, or in the case here, Pakistani, who continue to labor under the delusion that “Islam,” simply “does not do race” (Sherman Jackson). However, there are a number of Qur’anic, or as the case above, Prophetic narrations, that support that “Islam,” as Dr. Jackson said “does do reality”. I concur that Islam does not do racism, but it does do race, and in fact, Islam recognizes the ills of racially-hierarchical thinking and its pitfalls. In fact, if we continue our conversation with Abdul Basheer, we must ask ourselves, who was the immediate audience of the Prophet when the above hadith was uttered? If Mr. Basheer’s thinking has any credence to it—specifically the majority-Arab theory, then it becomes even more interesting that the Prophet would clearly demarcate this social space for non-Arabs. But without a doubt, this message was directed at the Arab majority that made up his beloved Companions, may God be please with all of them.

In the end it is clear that Islam does do race and that having discussions about race in no way jeopardizes one’s commitment to Islam. I believe this to be an integral part of the development and maturation of Muslims in their religious worldview. This is especially important if Muslims have hopes of engaging America in meaningful dialog. Any such interaction must engage America on her level, which will involve coming to understand what race is in America on America’s terms and not simply dismissing race in the name of some misplaced sense of religiosity.

“The absence of race [from society] enables the powers that be to hide their intentions.” — Dr. Sherman Jackson


  1. national spirit or aspirations.
  2. devotion and loyalty to one’s own nation; patriotism.
  3. excessive patriotism; chauvinism.
  4. the desire for national advancement or independence.
  5. the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation, viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations.
  6. an idiom or trait peculiar to a nation.
  7. a movement, as in the arts, based upon the folk idioms, history, aspirations, etc., of a nation.