“O People, lend me an attentive ear.” Those were the words the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ began his final sermon with. Knowing they would listen, knowing that he already held their attention, knowing he was their leader, their teacher, and their Rasul, he began with a simple request—listen. Approaching the end of his life, he knew today’s words would matter and that they would still be repeated some 1400 years later.
On this day, he spoke about the dignity of human life. He told them that life and property were a sacred trust. He reminded his disciples of the Golden Rule. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. He reminded them to avoid temptation, to pray, to give charity. He looked at the masses and drove home his message: Respect one another. Treat women with kindness. Hold on to your chastity.
Knowing his days were numbered, he told them what he was leaving behind. He told them to ground themselves in the Quran and Sunnah. And he asked them to pass on his message to those who didn’t hear it directly.
Centuries later, we still read those words and find solace in them. We still recognize how relevant and appropriate his advices are in our lives. We still imagine him delivering what would come to be known as his Final Khutba. But there’s one part, one advice that we see to overlook—maybe because it’s so inherent or maybe because it’s so controversial. It’s an advice that we’ve all heard. It’s one we all understand. But it’s one that we’re not sure how to deal with.
There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab and for a non-Arab over an Arab, nor for the white over the black, nor for the black over the white—except in good actions and piety. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that all Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.
These words, we know them. No racism in Islam. No discrimination in Islam. No prejudice in Islam. We know these concepts. We preach these concepts. But do we live these concepts? In our communities, racism is a problem. We don’t like to talk about it. We don’t enjoy addressing it. But it’s real. It exists. And it’s not going anywhere—unless we do something about it.
“America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white, but the white attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all together, irrespective of their color.”
Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz)
Are we living that reality? When we walk into a masjid where the majority of the congregation is of a different race or ethnicity than us and we feel the searing stares of exclusion—are we living that reality? When we walk into a masjid where the majority of the congregation is of a different race or ethnicity and we find ourselves judging the congregation and holding preconceived notions about them—are we living that reality? When Black Muslims are looked at funny and South Asian Muslims ridiculed—are we living that reality? Is that reality being lived, being respected, when Arabs are stereotyped, when Europeans are labeled, when people of color find themselves at a different side of the room than those of no color?
This is our reality. Is it this bad everywhere? No. But do these problems still exist? Yes, very much so. These problems break apart our communities. They break apart our families. They cause pain and suffering when, in fact, they shouldn’t even exist in Islam. In the last line of the quote above, the Prophet makes it simple: Do not do injustice to yourselves.
Racism hurts both the doer and the receiver. When we judge someone, when we enter a situation where we hold preconceived notions about someone due to their appearance, we hurt ourselves as much as we hurt them. For a month now, we’ve stood side by side by people of all races, of all colors. At our masjids, the diversity that can be seen is matched by no other place of worship. Nations upon Nations are represented on any given night. I’ve broken fasts with Irish-Muslims and Mexican-Muslims. I’ve prayed behind Russian and African Muslims. I’ve eaten American food, Pakistani food, Arab food, and I-personally-believe-they-now-transcend-nationhood McDonalds food throughout Ramadan. That’s an experience so many of us have shared. Our Ramadan’s have been diverse. They’ve be integrative. They’ve been unifying.
So as we move out of this blessed month, hold onto that sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. Realize that race is something we need to work on. Realize that race becomes irrelevant when we are all dropping our heads in prostration to the same Creator. It’s easy to stand together and be united when we feel attacks from the bigots and the Islamophobes, but it’s more difficult when the attacks come from the inside. Racism is an internal problem. And it’s one we need to deal with.