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Is there Racial superiority in Islam?

In this article I wish to shed light on some texts that deal with the concept of racial prejudice.


Qur’an

يَا أيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَاُنثَی وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

O people! We have created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most honorable of you with Allah is that [one] who fears Allah. Indeed, Allah is Omniscient, All-Aware.

Quran 49:13

The Islamic faith rejects all racial, political, ethnic, tribal, geographical, economic, intellectual, cultural, social, and military segregations and places fear of God [taqwa] as the standard for distinction between virtues and vice; […] Indeed, the most honorable of you with Allah is that [one] who fears Allah […] {49:13}

When the blessed verse is saying: O people! We have created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. […] {49:13}

‘Creation of mankind from a male and a female’, indicates tracing the genealogy of mankind to Adam and Eve. Therefore, all mankind spring from the same root and taking pride in terms of genealogy and tribe is meaningless.

Thus, all outward and material privileges are invalidated and the true standard of values is determined by fear of God saying that it is solely through fear of God that one may attain closeness to God Almighty. [1]

Hadith

We find the previous point reiterated in various ahadith such as in the famous story of the poor Sudanese companion of the Prophet ﷺ, Juwaybir.

As it is stated in a long hadith:

[…]
Juwaybir said, “O Messenger of Allah, I pray to Allah to keep my soul and the souls of my parents in service for your cause, who will want me? By Allah, I do not have any good position and social standing, or wealth, or physical beauty. No woman will ever pay attention to me.”

The Messenger of Allah then said, “O Juwaybir, Allah by means of Islam has removed those who were called noble in pre-Islamic time of darkness and ignorance and has honored them with Islam. To those who did not have any social position before Islam, Allah has granted honor as well as to those who were considered low in the time of ignorance. With Islam He has removed the pride of the time of ignorance and people’s expressing pride because of tribes and strong genealogy. Today (we say) all people, white and black, those from Quraysh, Arab, non- Arab are all from Adam, and Adam was created by Allah from clay. The most beloved in the sight of Allah, most Majestic, most Glorious, on the Day of Judgment will be those who are most obedient to Him and most pious before Him. O Juwayabir, I do not see any of the Muslims as better than you except because of his being more pious and more obedient to Allah than you.’”
[…]

Al-Kafi, vol 5, pg 339 – Full Narration Link

Shaykh Asif al-Mohseni: Muʿtabar [Reliable] – Mashra’at Bihar al-Anwar (1/387)
Shaykh Hadi al-Najafi: Sahihat al-Isnad [Authentic by chain] – Mawsu’at Ahadith Ahlulbayt (9/392)
Allamah Baqir al-Majlisi: Sahih [Authentic] – Mir‘at al ‘Uqul Fi Sharh Akhbar Al al Rasul (20/33)


We also find general condemnation of ta’asub (racial prejudice) in the narrations:

عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ الله (عَلَيهِ السَّلام) قَالَ مَنْ تَعَصَّبَ أَوْ تُعُصِّبَ لَهُ فَقَدْ خَلَعَ رِبْقَةَ الإيمَانِ مِنْ عُنُقِهِ.

It has been narrated Imam al-Sadiq عليه السلام said: “Whoever exercises racial discrimination or it is exercised for him, he has taken off the collar of belief from his neck.”

Al-Kafi, vol 2, pg 307

Shaykh Asif al-Mohseni: Muʿtabar [Reliable] – Mashra’at Bihar al-Anwar (2/367)

قَالَ رَسُولُ الله (صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وآلِه) مَنْ كَانَ فِي قَلْبِهِ حَبَّةٌ مِنْ خَرْدَلٍ مِنْ عَصَبِيَّةٍ بَعَثَهُ الله يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ مَعَ أَعْرَابِ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ.

It has been narrated The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Whoever has racist feelings in his heart of the size of mustard seed, on the Day of Judgment Allah will raise him with the Arabs of the time of Jahiliyah [pre-islamic age of ignorance]”

Al-Kafi, vol 2, pg 308

Shaykh Asif al-Mohseni: Muʿtabar [Reliable] – Mashra’at Bihar al-Anwar (2/367)

عَنْ أَبِي جَعْفَرٍ اَلْبَاقِرِ عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَمُ قَالَ: ثَلاَثَةٌ مِنْ عَمَلِ اَلْجَاهِلِيَّةِ اَلْفَخْرُ بِالْأَنْسَابِ وَ اَلطَّعْنُ فِي اَلْأَحْسَابِ وَ اَلاِسْتِسْقَاءُ بِالْأَنْوَاءِ .

It has been narrated Imam al-Baqir عليه السلام said: “Three are the acts of al-Jahiliya; taking pride in their ancestry; to defame the ancestry [of other families]; to believe that rain was caused by the influence of stars [astrology]”

Ma’ani al-Akhbar, pg 326

Shaykh Asif al-Mohseni: Muʿtabar [Reliable] – Mashra’at Bihar al-Anwar (2/367)


Now there have been some allegations against the Shi’a for some narrations with racial prejudice we will briefly address them to showcase their weakness in chain, but important to note is that Shi’a school of thought does not depend solely on the authentication of a chain.

A hadith with an authentic chain may still be rejected if it goes against the Qur’an and the established Sunnah, which is also the case for these narrations as you can see by the the preceding texts quoted.


It has been narrated from abu Rabi’ al-Shamiy who has said the following: “Abu ’Abd Allah عليه السلام, once said to me, ‘You must not buy anyone from al-Sudan, but if you must buy, then buy from al-Nawbah; they are of those about whom Allah, most Majestic, most Glorious, has said, “Of those who have said, ‘We are helpers’, We took a covenant from them; then they forgot the share of what they were reminded.” (5:14) However, they will remember that share and they, a group of them, will come out with the rise of al-Qa’im with divine authority from us. You must not marry anyone of the Kurds; they are a species of Jinn from which the cover is removed.’”

Allamah Baqir al-Majlisi: Mursal [Disconnected, therefore Weak] – Mir‘at al ‘Uqul Fi Sharh Akhbar Al al Rasul (20/56)


It has been narrated from Ali ibn Dawud al-Haddad who has said the following: “Abu ‘Abd Allah عليه السلام, has said, ‘You must not marry, al-Zanj and al-Khazar; they have such wombs that indicate disloyalty.’ He (the Imam) said, ‘Of Indians, al-Sind and al-Qand – meaning al-Qandahar – a hybrid does not exist among them.’”

Allamah Baqir al-Majlisi: Dha’eef ‘ala al-Mashoor [Weak] – Mir‘at al ‘Uqul Fi Sharh Akhbar Al al Rasul (20/56)


It has been narrated from Mas’adah ibn Ziyad who has said the following: “Abu ‘ Abd Allah, ‘Alayhi al-Salam, has said that ’Amir al-Mu’minin has said, ’You must remain on your guard against marriage with people of al-Zanj because it is a distorted creature.’”

While Allamah Majlisi mentioned the chain for this hadith in Al-Kafi is sahih [according to his standards], we also find him saying the chain for this narration is weak in Tahdheeb al-Ahkam this is because there seems to have been a copyist error in one of the 2 books this hadith is mentioned in. The chains are as follows:

Al-Kafi:

Ali b. Ibrahim -> Harun b. Muslim -> Mas’ada b. Ziyad -> Abi Abdillah [al-Sadiq] (as)

Tahdheeb al-Ahkam:

Muhammad b. Ya’qub [al-Kulayni] -> Ali b. Ibrahim -> Harun b. Muslim -> Mas’ada b. Sadaqa -> Abi Abdillah [al-Sadiq] (as)

Allamah Majlisi graded the one in Tahdheeb al-Ahkam: Mursal / Majhool [Disconnected & Unknown, and therefore weak.] – Milaadh al-Akhyaar (12/336).

In the entry of Mas’ada b. Sadaqa in Rijal al-Najashi we find the mention to one of his books:

له كتب، منها: كتاب خطب أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام. أخبرنا ابن شاذان قال: حدثنا أحمد بن محمد بن يحيى، عن عبد الله بن جعفر قال: حدثنا هارون بن مسلم عنه.

He has books, among them: Book of Speeches of Ameer al-Mumineen (as) it was narrated to me by […]

Rijal al-Najashi, pg 415

And since this narration is attributed to Ameer al-Mumineen [Ali ibn Abi Talib] (as) it potentially indicates that the correct Mas’ada is Mas’ada b. Sadaqa, who is unknown regarding his reliability [2] and thus the chain would be correctly graded as unreliable, as Allamah Majlisi did in Milaadh al-Akhyaar.

But even if assume it was indeed Mas’ada b. Ziyad, we would still disagree with Allamah Majlisis grading as the hadith would still be unreliable because it is Mursal [Disconnected].

Harun b. Muslim who was contemporary to Imam al-Hadi and al-Askari عليهم السلام [The 10th and 11th Imam] would be narrating directly from Mas’ada b. Ziyad who was contemporary to Imam al-Baqir and al-Sadiq عليهم السلام [The 5th and 6th Imam] [3]

Shaykh Mohseni comments on a similar chain of Harun b. Muslim narrating from Mas’ada b. Ziyad:

This should have been enough to establish the reliability of the narration under discussion, despite this I do not consider it reliable and that is because of the suspicion of a disconnection in its chain, because Harun b. Muslim could not have narrated from the companions of al-Sadiq directly, so an intermediary or two must have been dropped and are missing


In addition to the fact that some of our Imams are likely to have had a dark skin themselves based on the information we have of their mothers.

Shaykh Baqir al-Qurashi [4] mention that this was a deliberate action by the Imams, we see that he states in the biography of Imam al-Jawad عليه السلام:

His mother was one of the purest and most abstinent and virtuous of Muslim women. It was sufficient to her that she had given birth to one of the best figures of Islam and one of the best imams of the Muslims. It did not degrade her position nor harm her dignity that she was a bondmaid. Islam has declared a war against this phenomenon and considers it as an aspect of the pre-Islamic life, which Islam has done away with. In the Islamic point of view, piety and obedience to Allah are the bases of preference amongst people and nothing else.

Islam proudly annulled all kinds of racial segregation and considered them as factors of backwardness and declination in society because they divided the nation into fighting sects and parties. Therefore, the imams of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s) married bondmaids in order to do away with malicious feuds and remove the causes of separation amongst Muslims.

Imam Ali bin al-Husayn Zaynol Aabideen (as- Sajjad) (a.s) married a bondmaid who gave birth to the great revolutionary martyr, Zayd. Imam ar-Ridha’ (a.s) married a bondmaid who gave birth to Imam al-Jawad (a.s). The situation of the infallible imams in their marriages with bondmaids was a decisive refutation towards the enemies of Islam who tried their best to keep Muslims divided.

The Life of Imam Muhammad Al-Jawad

Shaykh al-Kulayni (rah) says:

وَأُمُّهُ أُمُّ وَلَدٍ يُقَالُ لَهَا سَبِيكَةُ نُوبِيَّةٌ وَقِيلَ أَيْضاً إِنَّ اسْمَهَا كَانَ خَيْزُرَانَ وَرُوِيَ أَنَّهَا كَانَتْ مِنْ أَهْلِ بَيْتِ مَارِيَةَ أُمِّ إِبْرَاهِيمَ بْنِ رَسُولِ الله (صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَآلِه )

[…] His mother was Umm Walad, called, Sabika Nubiyya. It is also said that her name was Khizuran. It also is narrated that she was from the family of Maria, mother of Ibrahim, son of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ.

Al-Kafi, vol 1, pg 491

The term Nubiyya refers to her descent from Nubia (Southern Egypt / Northern Sudan)


The mother of the Mahdi (ajtf) has also been narrated to be black:

 عن ضريس الكناسي قال سمعت أبا جعفر ع يقول إن صاحب هذا الأمر فيه سنة من يوسف ابن أمة سوداء يصلح الله عز و جل أمره في ليلة واحدة

Verily, the Master of this affair (i.e. al-Qa’im) in him is the tradition of Yusif عليه السلام , he is the son of a black bondswoman, and Allah (azwj) will reform his affair in one night

Kamaal al-Deen, vol 1, pg. 329

Brother Nader Zaveri goes into more detail about the reliability of the chain of this report here: Reviving al-Islam


The racial compositions of our Imams according to research by Amina Inloes which you can find here: ResearchGate

والحمد لله رب العالمين وصلى الله على محمد وآله الطاهرين

Footnotes

1. An Enlightening Commentary into the Light of the Holy Qur’an
2. Buhuth fi ‘Ilm al-Rijal, pg 47
3. Al-Mufeed min-Mu’jam Rijal al-Hadith, pg 601; pg 649
4. You can find his biographies of the Imams here: https://www.al-islam.org/person/baqir-shareef-al-qurashi

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