السّلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته
Rohith Vemula was a student of University of Hyderabad (India) who committed suicide in January 2016 due to being wrongfully persecuted for his stand against the government of India, he was a Dalit or in other words someone who belonged to lowest social class in India (as the religion of Hinduism grades / social ranks their followers, Dalits are also knows as untouchables / Harijans). He was beaten up and his scholarship fund was stopped allegedly on the orders of the government.
Let me make it very clear, this post is neither a commentary on the present far right leaning Indian government and neither on Hinduism.
I was but curious to know for myself if there was any such incident in the time of the birth of Islam in Arabia, and how Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had addressed them. As you may already know, the pre-Islamic Arabs also had deeply embedded and debilitating notions of casteism that affected their society for generations.
That’s until Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) started preaching.
To extrapolate on the matter, I give you few incidents from the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
During the pre-Islamic period, the Arabs regarded themselves as a superior race and did not recognize the blacks except as slaves. The Prophet (peace be upon him) brought about a radical change in that attitude by establishing a true spirit of equality. During His (peace be upon him) period, the mosque was the MOST important center of official activities. He (peace be upon him) himself acted as the Imam (leader) in leading congregational prayers and bestowed on Bilal (may Allah ta’ala be pleased with him), formerly a black slave, the rare honor of working as the Muezzin (caller to prayers). Bilal (ra) did that from atop the Ka’bah in Mecca!
When the Prophet (peace be upon him) was on His (peace be upon him) deathbed, He appointed Usamah (may Allah be pleased with him) son of Zaid (ra), a former slave, to act as the commander of a battalion which was sent for an expedition. One day a heated discussion arose between Abu Dharr Al Ghiffari (ra) and a former black slave. Abu Dharr (ra) addressed the former slave saying, “O son of a black woman!” The Prophet (peace be upon him) was highly irritated by this remark and said to Abu Dharr (ra), “How dare you revile him because of his mother’s color? You still have traces of pre-Islamic attitudes”. Then He (peace be upon him) said: “You have gone too far. A white woman’s son has no superiority over a black woman’s son except due to greater piety and righteousness .”
Upon hearing this, Abu Dharr (ra) put his face on the ground and said to the person he had previously reviled, “Come, and step over my face.”
In His (peace be upon him) final sermon delivered on the occasion of His (peace be upon him) farewell pilgrimage, He (peace be upon him) said:
“Mankind, all of you belong to Adam (peace be upon him) and Adam (peace be upon him) is created out of dust. The Arab has no superiority over the non-Arab nor does the non-Arab have superiority over the Arab except in taqwa (fear of God)”.
An another occasion, in matters of pride of affiliation to a community or ancestry, He (peace be upon him) commanded His (peace be upon him) followers: “Abandon it, for it stinks.”
The quality by which one can achieve superiority in the sight of Allah ta’ala / Islam is piety and that can be achieved by any human being, man or woman, however at the same time, it does not entitle its possessor to any special privilege but only makes him more honorable in the sight of Allah ta’ala. No wonder then that the Prophet (peace be upon him) once advised his daughter Fatimah (ra) “Fatimah, work for your future life, for I shall avail you nothing when you stand in front of God”
These are but very few incidents.
From the Glorious Quran: (2:213)
كَانَ النَّاسُ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً فَبَعَثَ اللَّهُ النَّبِيِّينَ مُبَشِّرِينَ وَمُنذِرِينَ وَأَنزَلَ مَعَهُمُ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ لِيَحْكُمَ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ فِيمَا اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ ۚ وَمَا اخْتَلَفَ فِيهِ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ أُوتُوهُ مِن بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَتْهُمُ الْبَيِّنَاتُ بَغْيًا بَيْنَهُمْ ۖ فَهَدَى اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لِمَا اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ مِنَ الْحَقِّ بِإِذْنِهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ إِلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ
Mankind was one single nation, and Allah sent Messengers with glad tidings and warnings; and with them He sent the Book in truth, to judge between people in matters wherein they differed; but the People of the Book, after the clear Signs came to them, did not differ among themselves, except through selfish contumacy. Allah by His Grace Guided the believers to the Truth, concerning that wherein they differed. For Allah guided whom He will to a path that is straight.
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءَلُونَ بِهِ وَالْأَرْحَامَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا
O mankind! reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, His mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women;- reverence Allah, through whom ye demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (That bore you): for Allah ever watches over you.
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَكُم مِّن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ إِذَا أَنتُم بَشَرٌ تَنتَشِرُونَ
And of His signs is that He created you from dust; then, suddenly you were human beings dispersing [throughout the earth].
…and many other verses.
I’m sure this would suffice to inform anyone seeking to know how true Islam stands for equality.
In sha Allah, I shall continue to update the post with relevant info.
وعليكم السلام و رحمة الله و بركاته
- Glorious Quran and commentary of Abdullah Yusuf Ali (rh) via Quran.com
- Traditions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
- From the writings of Ustadh Murtahim Billah (damath baraka tuhum).