By Abdul-Rahman Al Sheha
Men and women are created equal in their basic humanity, and have all the shared linage and dignity of Allah’s creation and privilege of man over the other creatures of His creation. What does Islam say about equality?
Discrimination due to race, sex, color, lineage, class, region or language is vehemently prohibited in Islam to avoid the artificial barriers between the privileged and underprivileged.
Equality does not mean that all are exactly alike since there is no denial about natural differences. The two genders complement and complete each other. Allah says in the Qur’an:
O mankind! Fear and revere your Lord, Who created you from a single person, created from it its mate, and from them scattered (like seeds) countless men and women; so fear Allah, through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (that bore you): for Allah ever watches over you. (An-Nisaa’ 4:1)
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
“O Mankind! Your Lord is One. Your father is one. All of you belong to Adam (peace be upon him). And Adam is created of soil. Truly, the most honorable person in the Sight of Your Lord, the Almighty Allah, is the most pious among you. There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab. There is no superiority for a non-Arab over an Arab. There is no superiority for a red (race) person over a white person. Likewise, there is no superiority of a white over a red (race) person, except for the piety and God consciousness.” (Ahmad)
All humanity, according to Islam, with all its races, has one original source, so how can some exploit others claiming superiority or special privilege? Islam does not tolerate false pride in lineage and social status. The Messenger of Allah said:
“The Almighty Allah has removed the false pride which was practiced in the pre-Islamic period wherein individuals took false pride in their ancestors. All mankind belongs to Adam. And Adam is created of soil.” (Abu Dawud)
Pride of race and class are rampant in some societies. For example, some Jews and Christians have considered themselves of a higher status, breed, race or class of people.
Allah the Exalted and Almighty has exposed the truth of this arrogance, as He states in the Qur’an:
The Jews and the Christians say: “We are sons of Allah, and His beloved.” Say: “Why then does He punish you for your sins? Nay, you are but men, of the men He has created: He forgives whom He pleases, and He punishes whom He pleases: and to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between: and unto Him is the return (of all). (Al-Ma’idah 5:18)
Islam & Racism
The laws of Islam eradicate any misguided basis of racism. For instance, Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) once said to a black slave “O the son of a black lady!” Upon hearing this, the Messenger of Allah turned to Abu Dharr, and said to him:
“Are you insulting this man with his mother? Truly you possess some of the qualities of the era of Ignorance (pre-Islamic times). That time is finished and over. There is no virtue or merit for the son of a white woman over the son of a black woman, except through piety and righteousness, or by good deeds and actions.” (Ahmad)
It is reported that Abu Dharr upon hearing the comment of the Prophet, put his head down on the ground in humility for the slave to come and step on his head with his foot, as an expiation for his misdeed, although the Prophet did not command him to do so. Abu Dharr wanted to discipline himself by self-humiliation so that he would never repeat such a sin in the future.
In the Sight of Allah
All people in Islam are completely alike and equal in terms of the obligation to perform various acts of worship to Allah. The rich and the poor, the leader and the peasant, the white and the black, the one of dignified means and the one of lower means, all are alike and equal as humans before Allah; the most noble is the most righteous and most sincere and steadfast in worship and good deeds. As the Prophet said:
Allah doesn’t look at your bodies and your colors but at your acts and your hearts (i.e. outward deeds and inward intentions and sincerity.” (Muslim)
All commands of obligation and prohibition are applicable to all without any distinction because of class, social status or race:
Whoever works righteousness benefits his own soul; whoever works evil, it is against his own soul: nor is Your Lord ever unjust (in the least) to His slaves. (Fussilat 41:46)
The differentiation between individuals in the Sight of Allah is based on their levels of piety, righteousness, and compliance to the Commands of Allah, the Most Beneficent:
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 (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the Sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. In addition, Allah has full Knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (Al-Hujurat 49:13)
All individuals are equal before the Islamic code of law and the appointed Muslim judge. The penalties, judgments and legal sentences are applicable to all races and classes of people without any distinction and without any privileged person acquiring immunity.
Equality in Punishment
One outstanding example will be cited reported that the Quraysh were deeply concerned when a noble woman of the Makhzum clan stole, and Allah’s Messenger wanted to apply the due punishment in her case by amputating her hand. The Quraysh consulted among themselves and said: ‘the best person to talk to the Prophet about the Makhzumi woman thief is his beloved Companion (and the son of his beloved Companion) Usamah ibn Zayd (may Allah be pleased with him).’
Therefore they sent Usamah to speak to the Prophet to intercede on behalf of this Makhzumi woman. Upon listening to Usamah, the Prophet said:
“O Usamah! Are you coming to intercede concerning a punishment set by Allah?” Allah’s Messenger stood up, as soon as he finished his conversation with Usamah and delivered a speech saying: “The people (or nations) before you were destroyed due to the fact that when a noble person among them would steal, they let him go unpunished, but if a poor, weak and insignificant person among them stole, they would apply the punishment on him. By Allah! If Fatimah ; the daughter of Muhammad stole, I shall cut off her hand.”
None has the right to monopolize, abuse or act for his personal Interest on national resources. All members of the nation have the right to benefit from the national resources, each according to just and equitable rights and obligations.
However, they will not be equal in terms of the work and the benefit they present for the public good. The Islamic government must exert every effort to secure job opportunities for its constituents and organize the utilization of national resources.
Islam declares all people equal in terms of human values yet every individual is rewarded according to what he presents to his society and community. The only distinction between people is on the basis of service that they offer. For instance, it does not look at a hardworking individual and a sluggish individual on equal footing in terms of pay and financial rewards:
To all are degrees (or ranks) according to their deeds: for Your Lord is not unmindful of anything that they do. (Al-An`am 6:132)
Source: The article is an excerpt from the author’s book “Human Rights in Islam and Common Misconceptions”.