The recent incident in the U.S. involving Henry Louis Gates Jr. highlights the racial and ethnic tensions that still exist in Western societies. Nationalistic and patriotic bonds existed prior to the revelation of Islam. Allah (swt) has established the Islamic Aqeedah as the bond between Muslims. Recent history has seen the re-introduction of nationalism and patriotism into the Muslim Ummah. We must think, feel and act only according to the Quran and Sunnah and not according to family/tribal traditions or customs relating to geographical locations.
In mid July of this year, Henry Louis Gates Jr, a Harvard University professor and documentary film maker returned home from a trip to China to find his front door jammed. He and his driver attempted to gain entrance by forcing the door open. A neighbor passing by called police reporting a possible break-in. The ensuing confrontation resulted in Gates being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Prosecutors later dropped all the charges. The incident spurred an exchange of views about race relations and law enforcement throughout the United States. The arrest eventually led to an invitation to Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley (the arresting officer) by President Barack Obama for a "beer" to discuss race relations.
Far from being isolated events, racial tensions have existed in both the US and Europe for quite some time. For example:
L.A. Riots – In 1992, riots broke out in L.A. after white police officers were acquitted of all wrong doings in what was perceived to be a racially motivated beating of Rodney King, an African-American, whom they had stopped for speeding. 53 people died, thousands were injured and damages were estimated at $1 billion.
French Riots – In 2007 two teenagers of a North African descent were riding a motorcycle when they were rammed by a police car and left to die. Due to simmering ethnic tensions between the immigrants and the police, riots erupted and clashes between police and the immigrants ensued. Many were injured and property was damaged.
Unfortunately, xenophobic attitudes are also present in the Muslim world. Too often do we see racial, ethnic and tribal tensions exist between Muslims living in one area versus another. Therefore, it is important for us to understand racism and tribalism - where they originate and how to solve them.
Nationalism: The Root of Racism
Racism is defined as, “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.” Tribalism is defined as, “strong loyalty to one’s own tribe.” Racism and tribalism can exist in a society and between people when nationalism and nationalistic ideas are used by individuals to identify and relate to each other.
Nationalism is a bond between people that is based on family, clan or tribal ties. Nationalism arises among people when the predominant thought they carry is that of achieving domination. It starts from the family, where one member asserts his authority to achieve leadership in the affairs of the family. Once achieved, the individual extends his leadership to the wider family. In this way, the families would also try to achieve leadership in the community they reside in. The next stage is that of tribes competing with each other, all trying to dominate others in order to enjoy the privileges and the prestige that comes with authority.
Prior to the message of Islam, the Arabian Peninsula was split along tribal lines. People living in a tent or a house formed a family, a group of families made a clan and a group of clans formed a tribe. Each tribe had its own set of rules and regulations according to which the people were governed. All activities were confined within this structure and anyone stepping outside these limits was reprimanded. The strong loyalties to the tribe often led to inter-tribal rivalries, often culminated in physical clashes, which led to tribal wars over trivial issues.
Islam Eradicates Nationalism
The tribal structure of Arabian society which existed for centuries was eradicated by the arrival of Islam. Islam invited people to believe in Allah (swt) – The One True Creator of the heavens and the earth and everything in them.
Allah (swt) revealed:
وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ حُنَفَاءَ وَيُقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُوا الزَّكَاةَ وَذَلِكَ دِينُ الْقَيِّمَةِ
“And they were commanded not, but that they should worship Allah, and worship none but Him Alone, and perform As-Salat and give Zakat: and that is the right Deen.”[TMQ 98:5]
Islam commanded loyalty to the Deen rather than to the tribe, as Allah (swt) revealed:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا لَا تَتَّخِذُوا آَبَاءَكُمْ وَإِخْوَانَكُمْ أَوْلِيَاءَ إِنِ اسْتَحَبُّوا الْكُفْرَ عَلَى الْإِيمَانِ وَمَنْ يَتَوَلَّهُمْ مِنْكُمْ فَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ (23) قُلْ إِنْ كَانَ آَبَاؤُكُمْ وَأَبْنَاؤُكُمْ وَإِخْوَانُكُمْ وَأَزْوَاجُكُمْ وَعَشِيرَتُكُمْ وَأَمْوَالٌ اقْتَرَفْتُمُوهَا وَتِجَارَةٌ تَخْشَوْنَ كَسَادَهَا وَمَسَاكِنُ تَرْضَوْنَهَا أَحَبَّ إِلَيْكُمْ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَجِهَادٍ فِي سَبِيلِهِ فَتَرَبَّصُوا حَتَّى يَأْتِيَ اللَّهُ بِأَمْرِهِ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْفَاسِقِينَ (24)
“Oh you who believe! Take not for Auliya' your fathers and your brothers if they prefer disbelief to Belief. And whoever of you does so, then he is one of the Zalimun. Say: If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your kindred, the wealth that you have gained, the commerce in which you fear a decline, and the dwellings in which you delight are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger, and striving hard and fighting in His Cause, then wait until Allah brings about His Decision (torment). And Allah guides not the people who are Al-Fasiqun.”[TMQ 9:23-24]
Ties between the Muslims were therefore based on the Aqeedah of Islam. All Muslims were treated exactly the same, irrespective of their family background or race. Anyone who declared the Shadahah became part of the Muslim Ummah.RasulAllah (saw) clearly prohibited ‘asabiyyah (nationalism):
“He is not one of us who calls of ‘asabiyyah or who fights for ‘asabiyyah or who dies for ‘asabiyyah.”[Abu Dawud]
“He who calls for ‘asabiyyah is as if he bit his father’s genitals.”[Mishkat al-Masabih]
On one occasion, a non-Muslim youth in the Islamic State was sent to incite remembrance of the battle of Bu’ath that took place between the Aus and Khazraj (the 2 tribes that formed the Ansar) prior to Islam reaching them. The poetry that the youth recited stirred strong emotions and as a result, there was a call to arms. When the news reached RasulAllah (saw), he rushed to the situation and said, “Oh Muslims, remember Allah, remember Allah. Will you act as pagans while I am present with you after Allah has guided you to Islam, and honoured you thereby and made a clean break with paganism; delivered you thereby from disbelief; made you friends thereby?” When the Aus and Khazraj heard this they wept and embraced each other as brothers.
Allah (swt) then revealed:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ تُقَاتِهِ وَلَا تَمُوتُنَّ إِلَّا وَأَنْتُمْ مُسْلِمُونَ (102) وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنْتُمْ أَعْدَاءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُمْ بِنِعْمَتِهِ إِخْوَانًا وَكُنْتُمْ عَلَى شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِنَ النَّارِ فَأَنْقَذَكُمْ مِنْهَا كَذَلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ آَيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ
“Oh you who believe! Fear Allah as He should be feared and die not except in a state of Islam And hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah, and be not divided among yourselves, and remember Allah's Favour on you, for you were enemies one to another but He joined your hearts together, so that, by His Grace, you became brethren, and you were on the brink of a pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus Allah makes His Ayat clear to you, that you may be guided.”[TMQ 3:102-103]
The bond of the Islamic Aqeedah continued to be the basis of the relationship between the Muslims for over a thousand years. Islam therefore united people irrespective of their colour, race, status or language. It was this bond that provided strength and might to the Islamic State.
After failing to defeat the Muslims in the Crusades, Britain and France along with the United States focused their attention to separate Muslims from Islam. One of these means was to re-inject nationalism into the Muslim Ummah.
Using Missionaries who operated in the Uthmani Khilafah, there were many attempts (and failures) to try and establish associations and organizations of members belonging exclusively to one ethnicity (tribe) – such as “Arab” or “Turk”. In 1857, the missionaries were successful in establishing the Syrian Scientific Association and in 1875 the Secret Association was established in Beruit. These organizations, would promote “Arabism” and its related pre-Islamic culture while criticizing the Uthmani Khilafah and accusing the “Turks” of stealing the Khilafah from the “Arabs”. In this manner, Arab nationalism was re-introduced into the Muslim Ummah. By the turn of the 20th century, the fever of nationalism had spread to all corners of the Islamic State.
When the Colonialists occupied various parts of the Islamic State, by dividing it into nation states, patriotism (the temporary bond between people of a geographical location against an external threat) emerged among the Muslims as a reaction to the political and economic oppression by the Colonialists. By the time the Islamic State was abolished Muslims were no longer bound solely by the Islamic Aqeedah. Rather, there were additional ties of race, ethnicity, tribe and geographical location.
Tyrannical Rulers Welcome Nationalism
The current regimes emphasize and amplify nationalism and patriotism within their area of control. In order to keep Muslims bound by their race, ethnicity, tribe and geographical location these regimes use every tool available, including:
Independence Day – Every Muslim country spends great amount of effort, energy and enthusiasm in celebrating the day of its so-called freedom from colonial occupation when in fact the Kufr thoughts and laws still govern the Muslims.
Wars between Muslim countries – There have been many disputes and altercations in the recent past between Muslim countries including Iran and Iraq, Kurdish Muslims and Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran and between Turkey and Syria. These wars only stress the existence of the artificial borders created by the colonial powers, such as Britain and France.
Entertainment – Even in forms of entertainment such as soccer, the Muslim countries when playing each other incite nationalistic emotions resulting in vehement opposition of fans to the other teams and their fans – despite being brothers in Islam!
These tools culminate in stronger bonds between Muslims (and/or non-Muslims) of one specific geographical location compared to those between Muslims of different locations. As a result we see tensions between Sunni and Shia, between Muslims from India and Muslims from Pakistan, between the Muslims from Lebanon and the Muslims from Palestine or the Muslims who have darker skin versus the Muslims who have lighter skin.
Protect Yourself from the Disease of Nationalism
Irrespective of whether we were born in the West or we emigrated from the Muslim lands, we must be very careful of the attitude towards our brothers and sisters from different parts of the world. Being constantly bombarded with nationalistic and patriotic slogans, it is possible that many of our own decisions and emotions are influenced by these ideas. As a result, we should monitor our thoughts and emotions and if we recognize them to be nationalistic and/or patriotic, we should actively change our thoughts and our emotions so that they are governed solely by the Islamic Aqeedah.May Allah (swt) cleanse our hearts and minds of nationalism and patriotism and may He allow us treat all Muslims as our own brothers and sisters.
Allah (swt) says in the holy Qur'an:
وَلَقَدْ أَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكُمْ آَيَاتٍ مُبَيِّنَاتٍ وَمَثَلًا مِنَ الَّذِينَ خَلَوْا مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ وَمَوْعِظَةً لِلْمُتَّقِينَ
“And indeed We have sent down for you Ayat that make things plain, and the example of those who passed away before you, and an admonition for those who are Al-Muttaqun”[TMQ 24:34]