Allowing Our Community to Breathe: Race & Taqwa

Despite the platitudes we’ve heard in recent years about how the race problem is getting better in this country, let this sink in—the policemen in the Rodney King and Amadou Diallo cases of the 1990’s at least went to trial. We can’t say that about Michael Brown or Eric Garner. Progress? Their killers are not even getting indicted anymore! The injustice and brutality in their deaths, followed by the non-indictment of the policemen involved, points to a growing failure in our society.

You see an incident like this and you realize that all these secular attempts at racial equality simply are not working. Prejudice, anger, fear of the other, hate of the other—these are things inside the human being. Sometimes we do not even detect them. You cannot eliminate inner feelings through laws or even peer pressure. If it is a problem inside the human being, then the only solution is something which penetrates the depth of the human heart. I believe that thing is taqwa (God-consciousness) and nothing else.

The thing is, we Muslims can say this, but all of this is just talk until we demonstrate this on a broad community level. We need a display, a living proof. An example of a community that goes on decade after decade, generation after generation, in which taqwa and character are the guiding lights of our decisions and actions, not race. That is not going to happen overnight. But it can happen if it is an emphasized and re-emphasized religious teaching. There are so many Prophetic counsels about racial equality. We all know them. But we need to see it in action, in our lives. It needs to be so obvious that it needs no comment. And I'm confident this will happen because mosque-going Muslims have proven that they care about the deen and they want to do it right. Despite all the temptations and trials of modernity, there are still believers deening real hard, putting out a good effort day in and day out.

The immigrant-convert era of duality and tension had too many variables involved, so we have to throw many of the conclusions and racially-fueled conflicts from that era out the window. It was like an experiment with no control group, and skewed results. Converts, second-generation immigrants and indigenous Muslims now pretty much share the same culture and experiences. It is in these second and third generations where there will be a more accurate demonstration, since education, experience in the faith, and cultural background will all be a wash. Non-factors. At that point, the test is real.

This does not mean that racial and cultural divides will not affect successive generations of Muslims in this country. We are not immune to this, and the test only gets harder. Like any other disease in the heart, notions of racial, cultural and socioeconomic superiority will continue to be problems until we recognize them as problems, give them precedence in our discourse, and make a concerted effort to eradicate them from our hearts and community.

Racial equality must be planted into the soil of the deen and Shariah as the sine qua non of our religious experience, inculcated with simple proofs—Qur’anic verses, hadiths, stories from the Seerah and the Sahaba—so that it reaches a level equivalent to the typical halal-haram issues we are so careful about. That way the common mosque-going Muslim is going to take it dead serious. Like, "I can go to Jahannam over this, just like zina or khamr." And then we repeat, repeat, repeat, just as we repeat the proofs of dhikr and aqida until it is so ingrained in the believers' minds that it is a reflex and instinct to judge by deen and khuluq (character), not race.

Whenever Islam spread it was because their community offered a solution to the land's problems. We are in this situation now. Only knowledge and taqwa will allow our communities to overcome racial divides.


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