One Human Race
“O humankind! Indeed, We created you from a single male and a single female and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may ‘get to’ know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous among you. Allah is truly All-Knowing, All-Aware” (Quran 49:13).
On August 12, 2017, a self-identified white supremacist plowed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 other people as race riots broke out in Virginia. Unfortunately, Virginia historically reminds us of an incident of unimaginable racism; that is, the case of Ota Benga, who spent part of his life in Virginia. Ota Benga was an African pygmy who was kidnapped from Congo to be featured in the anthropology exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair, Missouri, in 1904, and a human zoo exhibit at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. Samuel Philips Verner, an American businessman and African missionary, found out that Benga, being four feet, two inches tall, and having pointed teeth, was an excellent example to illustrate evolution! This was one of the darkest moments in human history, humans caging other humans in zoos. This clearly exemplified the ugly face of racism. Sadly, on March 20, 1916, Ota Benga, age 32, committed suicide by shooting himself with a pistol, ending the short and tragic life of the “missing link.”
In his Descent of Man, Charles Darwin, author of the famous Origin of Species, writes: “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world.” Whether Darwin was spelling racism here or not, the ugly truth is that social Darwinism emerged to justify a series of moral crimes and mass destruction, as in the case of eugenics and Nazism. For instance, from the 1920s to the 1970s, state-run eugenics and the horrifying compulsory sterilization victimized more than 60,000 Americans in 33 states. Among the targeted people were African Americans and children from low-income families. North Carolina was the first state in the US to compensate victims with a payment of about $20,000 in 2014.
Currently, chants like “Go back to your country” by US political leaders and their supporters are heinous examples of modern racism in the land of “immigrants,” a title that ironically applies perfectly to the families of countless politicians and policymakers! It is alarming that such atrocious voices evoke and revive the racist roots that are not pulled out from many hearts yet. Such racist remarks are not slips of the tongue or unintentional mistakes. They are deliberate, made to feed the rage of a targeted group to draw more support and attract more voters! That is why the supporters of such politicians cheer as they hear the vicious racist comments, which these politicians want. They want votes even if they rely on divisive rhetoric or racist remarks.
To uproot racism, the Quran, as in (49:13), reminds us of our unifying origin: Adam and Eve, who make humanity a single family under One God. Interestingly, the phrase “human being” in Arabic is Adami, which means “the one who belongs to Adam.” Similarly, the Quran addresses humans as “Banu Adam” (the children of Adam). As the world celebrated the victory of Barack H. Obama as the first Black president, I remembered that Anwar Sadat of Egypt was Black. Yet, no one noticed simply because the problem did not exist! Such vocabulary of colors has no place in the heart that is instructed to prostrate before God five times a day, regardless of color, culture, race, rank, language, or locality. It is for that reason that the Prophet of Islam considers racism a form of ignorance. Al-Bukhari records the Prophet’s correction for Abu Dharr’s abuse:
“We went to Abu Dharr and saw that he had a mantle over him, and his servant had one like it. We said: Abu Dharr, had you used the two mantles together, it would have been a complete beautiful garment for you. Thereupon he said: There was a dispute between a brother whose mother was a non-Arab and me. I reproached him for his mother. He complained against me to Allah’s Prophet. As I met him, the Prophet said: Abu Dharr, you are a person who still has remnants of the days of ignorance. Thereupon I said [as a justification]: Allah’s Messenger, he who abuses other people, they abuse (in return) his father and mother. Affirmatively, the Prophet responded: Abu Dharr, you are a person who still has remnants of ignorance in him! Your servants are your brothers. Allah has put them in your care, so feed them with what you eat, clothe them with what you wear, and do not burden them beyond their capacities, but if you overburden them, then help them.”
Thanks to the Prophet’s directions, Abu Dharr’s servants became like brothers who dressed exactly like him. This spirit of universal brotherhood is captured in Imam al-Sayyadi’s treatise, Hadiqat al-Ma’ani fi Haqiqat al-Rahim al-Insani, wherein he listed four aspects of blood relations. The first was what he called the “Adami relatives,” which he thought was supported by the Quran: 4:1. “People, be mindful of your Lord, who created you from a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them spread countless men and women far and wide; be mindful of God, in whose name you make requests of one another. Beware of severing the ties of kinship: God is always watching over you.” Furthermore, he sees the different “colors” as an element in making the beautiful human garden. He added that universally any nation that goes against the rights of the human garden would suffer self-punishment, and any nation that administers justice in this regard will grow and prosper.