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Prejudice: Islamic Perspective

courtesy :

by Uzma Mazhar © 2000

Prejudice is a premature judgment -- a negative attitude towards a person or group of people which is not based on objective facts. These assumptions are usually based on stereotypes which are oversimplified and over-generalized views of groups or types of people. A prejudgment might also be based on an emotional experience we had with a similar person.

Prejudice is what makes us justify oppression. Prejudice is a hostile, resentful feeling, an unfounded dislike for someone or an unfair blaming or degradation of others. It is a degrading attitude that serves no purpose except to make us feel superior. It is You against Me. Everything of mine is better than yours--my country, my religion, my kind of people, my family and my self.
(Think about this one... How good can I really be if I have to insult or degrade someone so that I can feel good about myself?)

People show prejudice when they form an opinion without knowing all the facts. These opinions might be about someone else's race, religion, or ethnic background. They might be based on a person's gender, age, or disability, or even income or education level. The root of all prejudice is fear and ignorance.

From the Islamic perspective, the division of human beings into nations, races, groups and tribes is for the sake of distinction, so that people of one race or tribe may meet and be acquainted with the people of another race or tribe and cooperate with one another. To learn from each other, to appreciate the differences and celebrate the similarities. It is not any different than the variety in plants, flowers and animals... it is an expression of Allah's creativity and artistry. It is meant to evoke a feeling of awe and wonderment, and respect for His creation.

Sūrah al Hujurat 49. 13
"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"

Sūrah ar Rum 30:22
"And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors. Verily, in that are indeed signs for those who know".

This division of the human race is neither meant for one nation to take pride in its superiority over others nor is it meant for one nation to treat another with contempt or disgrace, or regard them as a degraded race and usurp their rights.

Assumptions and generalizations that everyone of a certain color, race, religion or any such distinctive feature have the same characteristics... usually in the form of negative put-downs, insults or jokes is prejudice. Rather than building bridges between people, prejudice puts up walls. Prejudice then turns into hatred or unfair treatment of persons belonging to that group.

Sūrah al Hujurāt 49:11-12
"O You, who have attained to faith! No men shall deride other men: it may well be that those whom they deride are better than themselves; and no women shall deride other women, it may well be that those whom they deride are better than themselves. And neither shall you defame one another, nor insult one another by epithets (name-calling); evil is all imputation of iniquity after faith; and they who do not repent - it is they who are evil-doers.
O You who have attained to faith! Avoid most guesswork (about one another) for behold some of guesswork is sin, and do not spy upon one another, and neither allow yourselves to speak ill of one another behind their backs..."

Consider some of these statements:
"All African-Americans/Chinese/Arabs are . . ."
"All Jews/Catholics/Muslims/Hindus/Atheists always . . ."
"All poor people are . . ."
"Women/Men are . . ."
"Old people are . . . ."

Complete these sentences with what you believe about each group, and you will recognize your own prejudices. Question yourself... does your belief hold true for every single person of that group? Does your belief hold you back from interacting with that group?

Prejudice is learned, it is passed down through the family's beliefs and attitudes. As children we adopt prejudiced attitudes without thinking. Most families utilize certain stereotypes, such as "only men go to the mosque," "women are too emotional and can't think for themselves," "men who consult with their wives are wimps," "poor people are lazy bums," etc. Rigid gender roles that are taught by example in the family, (the women and girls always do the cooking and the housecleaning and taking care of babies.. men don't), are a form of prejudice.

Due to its unpleasant and hostile nature, prejudice discourages intimate contact with the "target" persons so that one doesn't discover what individuals of 'that' type are really like. Ignorance and fear perpetuates prejudice.

When we are prejudiced, we violate three standards that are the hallmark of Islām:

We are unreasonable if we judge others negatively without evidence or in spite of positive evidence or use stereotypes without allowing for individual differences. We are unreasonable when we do not see beyond our own limited, preconceived ideas.

We are unjust when we give preferential treatment to one group over another. We are unjust when we favor one nation over another. We are unjust if we discriminate and pay men more for the same work as women or select more men than women for leadership positions.

We are intolerant if we reject or dislike people because they are different, e.g. of a different religion, different socioeconomic status, or have a different set of values.

People who respect others as individuals, (instead of labeling them according to the group they belong to), are the people who show reason, justice and tolerance when dealing with others. These are people who respect humanity as a whole, who honor life.. everyone's life.

Tolerance means accepting other people just as they are, even if their beliefs differ from your own. It means seeing that someone else is different from you - and then saying that the difference is OK. It means treating other people the way you would want to be treated.

Sūrah al An'am 6:109
"Revile not those unto whom they pray besides Allah lest they wrongfully revile Allah through ignorance. Thus unto every nation have We made their deeds seem fair. Then unto their Lord is their return, and He will tell them what they used to do."

Sūrah al An'am 6:68
"And when you see those who meddle with Our Revelations, withdraw from them until they meddle with another topic."

Sūrah 42:15
"And be thou upright as thou art commanded, and follow not their lusts, but say: I believe in whatever Scripture Allah hath sent down, and I am commanded to be just among you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord. Unto us our works and unto you your works; no argument between us and you. Allah will bring us together, and unto Him is the journeying."

In this manner Islām teaches equality for the entire human race and strikes at the very root of all distinction. According to Islām, God has given man this right of equality as a birthright. Therefore no man should be discriminated against on the ground of the color of his skin, his place of birth, the race or the nation in which he was born.

The superiority of one man over another is only on the basis of God-consciousness, purity of character and high morals, and not on the basis of color, race, language or nationality,
and even this superiority based on piety and pure conduct does not justify that such people should play lord or assume airs of superiority over other human beings. Assuming airs of superiority is in itself a reprehensible vice which no God-fearing and pious man can ever dream of perpetrating. Nor does the righteous have more privileged rights over others, because this runs counter to human equality. From the moral point of view, goodness and virtue is in all cases better than vice and evil.

'O people, Remember that your Lord is One. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a black has no superiority over white, nor a white has any superiority over black, except by piety and good action (Taqwāh). Indeed the best among you is the one with the best character (Taqwāh). Listen to me. Did I convey this to you properly? People responded, Yes. O messenger of Allah, The Prophet then said, then each one of you who is here must convey this to everyone not present'. (Excerpt from the Prophet’s Last Sermon)

Prejudicial treatment in any way shape or form falls under the category of 'zulm' (abuse or cruelty) or 'ithm' (harm). Zulm is forbidden in Islam.. no exceptions. Even such supposedly 'harmless' practices as choosing a family member for a job over another qualified person is discouraged. There is no room for 'special favors' or partiality. The following verse makes it very clear that Muslims are required to stand for justice even if it against your own loved ones.

Sūrah an Nisa' 4.135
"O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do."

Islam stands for peace and as long as there is injustice against anyone, there can't be peace.



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