It is important to take note of the verses and hadiths that discourage racism (though as mentioned in the introduction, Islamic anti-semitism is covered in a separate article).
O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.
The circumstances of revelation (Asbab Al-Nuzul) by Al-Wahidi for this verse says that it was revealed when a person derided another's lineage, and when another person made a racist complaint that a black man (Bilal) had been appointed by Muhammad to make the call to prayer.
(O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female") [49:13]. Said Ibn 'Abbas: "This was revealed about Thabit ibn Qays when he made a remark about the man who did not make room for him to sit: 'What, the son of so-and-so [referring to his mother]'. The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: 'Who mentioned that woman?' Thabit stood up and said: 'I did, O Messenger of Allah!' The Messenger said to him: 'Look at the faces of those present'. And when he looked, he asked him: 'What do you see?' He said: 'I see white, red and black people'. The Prophet said: 'Well, you are not better than any of them unless it be through [the good practice of] religion and God-fearingness'. Allah, exalted is He, then revealed this verse". Muqatil said: "On the day Mecca was conquered, the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, ordered Bilal to climb on the roof of the Ka'bah and perform the call to prayer. 'Attab ibn Asid commented on this: 'Praise be to Allah, that Allah has taken my father to Him and made that he did not see this day'. Al-Harith ibn Hisham said: 'Did Muhammad not find any other caller to prayer except this black raven?' Suhayl ibn 'Amr said: 'Allah willing, he will change him'. Abu Sufyan, on the other hand, said: 'I am not going to make any comment; I am afraid that the Lord of heaven will divulge what I say!' Gabriel, peace be upon him, went to the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and informed him about what they said. The Prophet summoned them and asked them about what they said and they admitted it. Allah, exalted is He, then revealed this verse warning them against boasting about their lineages and abundance of wealth and against looking down on the poor".
In a hadith graded sahih by al-Albani, Muhammad said the following during the farewell pilgrimage (the word translated "righteousness" is taqwa - piety or reliosity):
Abu Nadrah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said during the middle of the day at the end of the pilgrimage,“O people, your Lord is one and your father Adam is one. There is no virtue of an Arab over a foreigner nor a foreigner over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin nor black skin over white skin, except by righteousness. Have I not delivered the message?” They said, “The Messenger of Allah has delivered the message.”
In a sahih hadith Muhammad criticises boasting and reviling based on ancestry, which could be interpreted to apply to tribe and even ethnicity.
Abu Malik al-Ash'ari reported Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:
Among my people there are four characteristics belonging to pre-Islamic period which they do not abandon: boasting of high rank, reviling other peoples' genealogies, seeking rain by stars, and walling. And he (further) said: If the wailing woman does not repent before she dies, she will be made to stand on the Day of Resurrection wearing a garment of pitch and a chemise of mange.
Unfortunately as we shall see in the following sections, such sentiments are somewhat undermined by some other sahih hadiths where we find prejudice against some Arab groups, and black people are used with negative imagery. In addition, some classical Islamic scholars of high repute are guilty of promoting explicitly racist attitudes.
Narrated Wathilah bin Al-Asqa':
that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: "Indeed Allah has chosen Isma'il from the children of Ibrahim, and He chose Banu Kinanah from the children of Isma'il, and He chose the Quraish from Banu Kinanah, and He chose Banu Hashim from Quraish, and He chose me from Banu Hashim." Grade: Sahih (Darussalam)
Arabs are the most noble people in lineage, the most prominent, and the best in deeds.
We were the first to respond to the call of the Prophet. We are Allah’s helpers and the viziers of His Messenger. We fight people until they believe in Allah. He who believes in Allah and His Messenger has protected his life and possessions from us. As for one who disbelieves, we will fight him forever in Allah’s Cause. Killing him is a small matter to us.
"A man married a maid-slave who bore him a child. Would that child be free or would he be an owned slave?" "Her child whom she bore from him would be the property of her master according to all the Imams (heads of the four Islamic schools of law) because the child follows the (status) of his mother in freedom or slavery. If the child is not of the race of Arabs, then he is definitely an owned slave according to the scholars, but the scholars disputed (his status) among themselves if he was from the Arabs - whether he must be enslaved or not because when A'isha (Muhammad's wife) had a maid-slave who was an Arab, Muhammad said to A'isha, `Set this maid free because she is from the children of Ishmael.'
Ibn Timiyya, Vol. 31, pp. 376-377
Ali Ibn Abi Talib, said: Verily the Prophet said: God divided the earth in two halves and placed (me) in the better of the two, then He divided the half in three parts, and I was in the best of them, then He chose the Arabs from among the people
, then He chose the Quraysh from among the Arabs, then He chose the children of ‘Abd al-Muttalib from among the Banu Hashim, then he chose me from among the children of ‘Abd al-Muttalib, and from them he chose me.
Ibn Sa'd, Vol. 1, p. 12
The fact that Allah Most High has chosen the Arabs over other nations is affirmed in rigorously authenticated hadiths of the Prophet
, may Allah bless him and give him peace; related by Bukhari and Muslim in their “Sahih” in the beginning of the chapter of merits, # 5897, on the authority of Wathilah ibn al-Asqa` who said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, say, ‘Verily Allah has chosen Kinanah from the son of Isma`il, and He has chosen Quraysh from among Kinanah and He has chosen Hashim from among Quraysh and He has chosen me from the Bani Hashim.’”
So this hadith is a primary text about the preference of Arabs over others and the preference of some Arabs over other Arabs. And this is what the Imams have chosen from the………of their books, and even in individual books such as the book of Qurb about the merit of Arabs, authored by the great Imam al-Hafiz Zayn al-din al-`Iraqi. And it was summarized by Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami and others.
Therefore the preference of Arabs over other nations, and the preference of some Arabs over other Arabs is affirmed in the Sacred Law. Allah has even preferred some months over other months and some days and nights of over others, as well as places. So in the same way, Allah Glorious and Exalted is He, has chosen some men over others, such as the prophets over others and even some prophets over other prophets. Muslims should not have any objection to this, because all of this returns to the wisdom of the Most Wise, Glorious is He, who is not asked about what He does, but rather, they are the ones who are asked. So after a Muslim has believed in Allah as his Lord, the Truth, and that there is no God but Him, then he should know that this is from among His matters, Blessed and High is He, and there is nothing but magnificent wisdom in it that we might see or that we might not see. Either way, we are only responsible for submitting to His rule, Glorious is He. And among His rulings is that Arabs are preferred over others and that some Arabs are better than other Arabs, as the above hadith clearly explained. So it is not appropriate for anyone to disagree in this when the proof is perfectly valid.
And there should be no disagreement in what has just preceded nor any disagreement in what appears in the Magnificent Book and in the sunna where we find that the real source of Allah’s preference is God-fearingness (taqwa) which result in the good deeds that people earn and that they are accounted for. So whoever sends forth good for himself, Allah has preferred him over those who have sent forth evil. As for the preference of an Arab over a non-Arab, and the preference of some Arabs over others, this is not a deed that one can earn. Rather, it is a bounty that Allah gives to whom He wills. So he may will something for these people, and there is no objection to your Lord’s rule. This is like the preference of some days over others, because the mind reasons that all days are the same in and of themselves, and there is no distinction that might appear between them. However, the mind can understand why something is better if there is not ……….. So the Sacred law came and affirmed the preference of some over others, and for some of those things there were reasons and wisdoms, such as the preference of the night of Power over others because the Majestic Qur’an was revealed during it. And in some of these things, the wisdom is not apparent to us and so this falls into the chapter of absolute obedience, such as the number of cycles (rak`ahs) in the prayer.
It is obligatory on a Muslim to believe that Arabs are preferred over other nations because there is a proof for it. However, this is not one of the pillars of our religion such that if someone rejected this, they would be considered outside of Islam. But if one does reject this, one has sinned for not believing in it because it is an affirmed matter according to a clear rigorously authenticated hadith. Also, this issue is not something that is commonly known among most Muslims, so for this, one should not hasten to blame one who disagrees with it. It is necessary, rather, to tell him about the issue.
And the fact that Arabs are preferred over others does not mean that a non-Arab can not have a higher merit in the religion than an Arab, because a person earns the good deeds that Allah has recommended we compete for. This is the highest merit of God-fearingness and this will be the basis upon which things are decided in the hereafter. However, the merit of the Arabs will still remain, in terms of their respect and exaltation being higher than others. And from this some hadiths have come to us about the Quraysh being put first for the caliphate before others, such as the hadith in Bukhari (#3500) on the authority of Mu`awiyah, may Allah be well pleased with him who said, ” I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, say, ‘This matter of government belongs to the Quraysh. Anyone who takes a hostile attitude to them will be thrown on his face, as long as they are true to the faith.” And Bukhari also related (#3501) on the authority of Ibn `Umar from the Prophet, may Allah bless him and give him peace, that he said, “Government continues to belong to the Quraysh, even if they are (no more than) two.”
So I say that the merit of God-fearingness is what counts, according to the rigorously authenticated hadith, “And he who is slow in doing good deeds, his noble lineage will not quicken him (into entering Paradise).
Superiority of One Tribe Over Another
Narrated Jabir bin Samura:
I heard the Prophet saying, "There will be twelve Muslim rulers (who will rule all the Islamic world)." He then said a sentence which I did not hear. My father said, "All of them (those rulers) will be from Quraish."
Testimony of Bedouins is Not Allowed
Narrated AbuHurayrah: The Prophet said: The testimony of a nomad Arab against a townsman is not allowable.
Racism Against Black People
Narrated Anas bin Malik: Allah's Apostle said, "You should listen to and obey, your ruler even if he was an Ethiopian (black) slave whose head looks like a raisin.
The Prophet said, "Listen and obey (your chief) even if an Ethiopian whose head is like a raisin
were made your chief."
Narrated Anas bin Malik:
The Prophet said to Abu-Dhar, "Listen and obey (your chief) even if he is an Ethiopian with a head like a raisin
Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) reported: There came a slave and pledg- ed allegiance to Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) on migration; he (the Holy Prophet) did not know that he was a slave. Then there came his master and demanded him back, whereupon Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Sell him to me. And he bought him for two black slaves
, and he did not afterwards take allegiance from anyone until he had asked him whether he was a slave (or a free man)
'Ubaidullah b. Abu Rafi', the freed slave of the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him), said: When Haruria (the Khwarij) set out and as he was with 'Ali b. Abu Talib (Allah be pleased with him) they said," There is no command but that of Allah." Upon this 'Ali said: The statement is true but it is intentionally applied (to support) a wrong (cause). The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him described their characteristics and I found these characteristics in them. They state the truth with their tongue, but it does not go beyond this part of their bodies (and the narrator pointed towards his throat). The most hateful among the creation of Allah us one black man among them (Khwarij). One of his hand is like the teat of a goat or the nipple of the breast.
When 'Ali b. Abu Talib (Allah be pleased with him) killed them, he said: Search (for his dead body). They searched for him, but they did not find it (his dead body). Upon this he said: Go (and search for him). By Allah, neither I have spoken a lie nor has the lie been spoken to me. 'Ali said this twice and thrice. They then found him (the dead body) in a rain. They brought (his dead) body till they placed it before him (Hadrat 'Ali). 'Ubaidullah said: And, I was present at (that place) when this happened and when 'Ali said about them. A person narrated to me from Ibn Hanain that he said: I saw that black man.
Shem, the son of Noah was the father of the Arabs, the Persians, and the Greeks; Ham was the father of the Black Africans; and Japheth was the father of the Turks and of Gog and Magog who were cousins of the Turks. Noah prayed that the prophets and apostles would be descended from Shem and kings would be from Japheth. He prayed that the African’s color would change so that their descendants would be slaves to the Arabs and Turks.
Ham [Africans] begat all those who are black and curly-haired, while Japheth [Turks] begat all those who are full-faced with small eyes, and Shem [Arabs] begat everyone who is handsome of face with beautiful hair. Noah prayed that the hair of Ham’s descendants would not grow beyond their ears, and that whenever his descendants met Shem’s, the latter would enslave them.
A man of B. al-'Ajilan told me that he was told that Gabriel came to the apostle and said, 'There comes to sit with you a black man with long flowing hair, ruddy cheeks, and inflamed eyes like two copper pots. His heart is more gross than a donkey's
; he carries your words to the hypocrites, so beware of him.' This, so they say, was the description of Nabtal.
"I have heard the Apostle say: 'Whoever wants to see Satan should look at Nabtal.' He was a sturdy black man with long flowing hair
, inflamed eyes, and dark ruddy cheeks. He used to come and talk with the Prophet and listen to him. He would carry what he had said to the hypocrites. Nabtal said, 'Muhammad is all ears. If anyone tells him something he believes it.' Allah sent down concerning him: 'To those who annoy the Prophet and say that he is all ears, say, 'Good ears for you.' For those who annoy the Apostle there is a painful punishment."
It is your folly to fight the Apostle, for Allah’s army is bound to disgrace you. We brought them to the pit. Hell was their meeting place. We collected them there, black slaves, men of no descent.
The black troops and slaves of the Meccans cried out and the Muslims replied, ‘Allah destroy your sight, you impious rascals.’
"Abu Darda reported that the Holy Prophet said: Allah created Adam when he created him (sic). Then He stroke (sic) his right shoulder and took out a white race as if they were seeds, and He stroke (sic) his left shoulder and took out a black race as if they were coals. Then He said to those who were in his right side: Towards paradise and I don't care. He said to those who were on his left shoulder: Towards Hell and I don't care. - Ahmad"
Mishkat, Vol. 3, p. 117. Al-Tirmidhi No. 38
(CD-ROM), Alim.org (Archived
Ahmad ibn Abi Sulayman, the companion of Sahnun said, “Anyone who says that the Prophet was black should be killed.
Ibn Musa al-Yahsubi, Qadi ‘Iyad, p.375
"Ham [Africans] begat all those who are black and curly-haired, while Japheth [Turks] begat all those who are full-faced with small eyes, and Shem [Arabs] begat everyone who is handsome of face with beautiful hair. Noah prayed that the hair of Ham's descendants would not grow beyond their ears, and that whenever his descendants met Shem's, the latter would enslave them."
"Shem, the son of Noah was the father of the Arabs, the Persians, and the Greeks; Ham was the father of the Black Africans; and Japheth was the father of the Turks and of Gog and Magog who were cousins of the Turks. Noah prayed that the prophets and apostles would be descended from Shem and kings would be from Japheth. He prayed that the African's color would change
so that their descendants would be slaves to the Arabs and Turks."
Narrated 'Abdullah: The Prophet said, "I saw (in a dream) a black woman with unkempt hair going out of Medina and settling at Mahai'a, i.e., Al-Juhfa. I interpreted that as a symbol of epidemic of Medina being transferred to that place (Al-Juhfa)."
Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Umar:
concerning the dream of the Prophet in Medina: The Prophet said, "I saw (in a dream) a black woman with unkempt hair going out of Medina and settling at Mahai'a. I interpreted that as (a symbol of) the epidemic of Medina being transferred to Mahai'a, namely, Al-Juhfa."
Narrated Salim's father:
The Prophet said, "I saw (in a dream) a black woman with unkempt hair going out of Medina and settling in Mahai'a. I interpreted that as (a symbol of) epidemic of Medina being transferred to Mahai'a, namely, Al-Juhfa."
Islamic Writers and Scholars on Black People
Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) was, among other things, an Islamic jurist, Islamic lawyer, Islamic scholar, Islamic theologian, and hafiz
"Therefore, the Negro nation are, as a rule, submissive to slavery, because [Negroes] have little [that is essentially] human and have attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals, as we have stated."
Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, 14th century
"beyond [known peoples of black West Africa] to the south there is no civilization in the proper sense. There are only humans who are closer to dumb animals than to rational beings. They live in thickets and caves, and eat herbs and unprepared grain. They frequently eat each other. They cannot be considered human beings."
Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah
Ibn Sina or Avicenna (980-1037), was, among other things, a Hafiz, Islamic psychologist, Islamic scholar, and Islamic theologian
[Blacks are] people who are by their very nature slaves.
Quoted in “Blasphemy Before God: The Darkness of Racism In Muslim Culture” by Adam Misbah aI-Haqq
Ibn Qutaybah (828-889), was a renowned Islamic scholar from Kufa, Iraq
"[Blacks] are ugly and misshapen, because they live in a hot country."
Ibn Qutaybah (828-889)
Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī (1201-1274), was a Shia Muslim Scholar and Grand Ayatollah
"If (all types of men) are taken, from the first, and one placed after another, like the Negro from Zanzibar, in the Southern-most countries, the Negro does not differ from an animal in anything except the fact that his hands have been lifted from the earth -in no other peculiarity or property - except for what God wished. Many have seen that the ape is more capable of being trained than the Negro, and more intelligent."
Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, Tasawwurat (Rawdat al-taslim):
[The Zanj (African) differ from animals only in that] their two hands are lifted above the ground,... Many have observed that the ape is more teachable and more intelligent than the Zanj.
Al-Muqaddasi (945/946-1000) was a medieval Muslim geographer
"Of the neighbors of the Bujja, Maqdisi had heard that "there is no marriage among them; the child does not know his father, and they eat people -- but God knows best. As for the Zanj, they are people of black color, flat noses, kinky hair, and little understanding or intelligence."
Al-Muqaddasi (fl. 966), Kitab al-Bad' wah-tarikh, vol.4
Al-Masudi (896-956), was a Muslim historian and geographer, known as the "Herodotus of the Arabs."
"Galen says that merriment dominates the black man because of his defective brain, whence also the weakness of his intelligence."
Al-Masudi, Muruj al-dhahab
Ibn al-Faqih was a Muslim historian and geographer
"A man of discernment said: The people of Iraq ... do not come out with something between blonde, buff and blanched coloring, such as the infants dropped from the wombs of the women of the Slavs and others of similar light complexion; nor are they overdone in the womb until they are burned, so that the child comes out something between black, murky, malodorous, stinking, and crinkly-haired, with uneven limbs, deficient minds, and depraved passions, such as the Zanj, the Somali, and other blacks who resemble them. The Iraqis are neither half-baked dough nor burned crust but between the two."
Ibn al-Faqih al-Hamadani, Mukhtasar Kitab al-Buldan, 903 AD
Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (973-1048), was an Islamic scholar and polymath
"The Zanj are so uncivilized that they have no notion of a natural death. If a man dies a natural death, they think he was poisoned. Every death is suspicious with them, if a man has not been killed by a weapon."
Abu Rayhan al-Biruni, India, 1030 AD
Hudud al-`Alam is a book dedicated to Abu l-Ḥārith Muḥammad b. Aḥmad, a ruler of the local Farighunid dynasty.
"Their [Zanj] nature is that of wild animals. They are extremely black." "Among themselves [the Sudan] there are people who steal each other's children and sell them to the merchants when the latter arrive."
Hudud al-`Alam, 982 AD
"[inhabitants of sub-Saharan African countries] are people distant from the standards of humanity" "Their nature is that of wild animals..."
Hudud al-`alam, 982 AD
"As regards southern countries, all their inhabitants are black on account of the heat of their climate... Most of them go naked... In all their lands and provinces, gold is found.... They are people distant from the standards of humanity."
Hudud al-`Alam, 982 AD
Al Jahiz (781–869), was a famous Muslim scholar
"Like the crow among mankind are the Zanj [African Blacks] for they are the worst of men and the most vicious of creatures in character and temperament."
Jahiz, Kitab al-Hayawan, vol. 2
"We know that the Zanj (blacks) are the least intelligent and the least discerning of mankind, and the least capable of understanding the consequences of actions."
Jahiz, Kitab al-Bukhala (The Book of Misers)
"They [the Shu`ubiyya] maintain that eloquence is prized by all people at all times - even the Zanj, despite their dimness, their boundless stupidity, their obtuseness, their crude perceptions and their evil dispositions, make long speeches."
Jahiz, Al-Bayan wa`l-tabyin, vol. 3
Ibn Abi Zayd (922–996), was a Maliki scholar from Al-Qayrawan in Tunisia.
It is disliked to trade in the land of the enemy or the land of the blacks. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, "Travel is a portion of punishment."