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7 Luminous Black Companions of the Prophet

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By Dawud Walid

During Black History Month, I have the intention of writing brief summaries, not in depth biographies, of some of the early figures in Islamic history who were black.  My usage of the word black, for the sake of what I plan on writing, will not be restricted to Nubians and Abyssinians but also for Arabs who had black and brown colored skin in which in contemporary times would be perceived as black such as Sudanese who are both Arabs and blacks.

Umm Ayman: Mother After the Prophet’s Mother

The first luminous figure in this series that was a companion is Barakah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) also known as Umm Ayman.  Umm Ayman raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was Abyssinian and a servant of Abdullah bin Abdil Muttalib, the father of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). When Aminah, the mother of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) died, Umm Ayman raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) took over as primary care-giver of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).  Umm Ayman raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was later emancipated at the time of the marriage of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to Sayyidah Khadijah bint Khuwaylid raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her).

Umm Ayman raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was one of the early adherents of Islam in Makkah and was one of those who faced persecution from Quraysh.  She raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was among those who migrated from Makkah to Al-Madinah.

Umm Ayman’s raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) first marriage was to Ubayd bin Zayd raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) who was from Bani Khazraj, a prominent tribe in the Hijaz.  According to ibn Kathir in Al-Bidayah wa An-Nihayah and others, Ubayd raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) himself was black in color or Al-Habashi though his lineage was from Bani Khazraj, a prominent Arab tribe in the Hijaz.  Umm Ayman raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and Ubayd raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) bore a son named Ayman raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) who was also black.  Ubayd raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) was martyred at Ghazwah Khaybar, and Ayman raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) was martyred at Ghazwah Hunayn.  Umm Ayman raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) participated in Ghazwah Uhud and Ghazwah Khaybar.

After Ubayd’s raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) martyrdom, it’s reported by Ibn Sa’ad in At-Tabaqat Al-Kubra that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said to the companions that if anyone wanted to marry a lady from the People of Paradise then marry Umm Ayman raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her).  Zayd bin Harithah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), the man who the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) emancipated and raised like a son, was then married to Umm Ayman raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her).  Though Zayd raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was Arab and there are some conflicting descriptions about his physical appearance, Tanwir Al-Ghabash min Fadl Al-Sudan wa Al-Habash by ibn Al-Jawzi and others states that Zayd raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) was short with a flat nose and had dark skin.

Umm Ayman raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) had a particularly close relationship to Ahl al-Bayt, the Household of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).  She shared intimate moments with Ahl al-Bayt such as being present at the marriage that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) conducted between his daughter Sayyidah Fatimah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and Imam Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).  At the time of the passing of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), she grieved alongside Ahl al-Bayt.

There are conflicting narrations about Umm Ayman’s raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) passing.

Usamah bin Zayd: Teenager General of the Prophet

Usamah bin Zayd raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) was one of the beloved companions of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

Both of Usamah’s raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) parents, Zayd bin Harithah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) who was Arab and Umm Ayman raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) who was Ethiopian, were freed from slavery by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). He was born in Makkah seven years prior to hijrah and is described as having black skin.

Much of Usamah’s upbringing was done in the house of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in the same time-frame as the rearing of the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) grandson Al-Hasan bin ‘Ali 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him).

Usamah was later married by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to Fatimah bint Qays, who was Arab and from Quraysh. It is narrated that this marriage took place when Usamah was at the age of 15 years old and that on his ring was etched at the time of the wedding “Love of the Messenger of Allah.”

While a teenager, Usamah was elected by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to be a general of an expedition against the Romans in Syria. Some of the companions became extremely angry at Usamah being appointed as general over older companions from Quraysh. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said after praising and thanking Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), “Oh People! Word has come to me that some of you mad that I appointed Usamah bin Zayd. I swear by Allah that surely your obeying Usamah is certainly your obeying me just as obeying his father before him.”

Usamah passed in 61 A.H. in Al-Madinah during the government of Mu’awiyah bin Abi Sufyan.

Sa’ad Al-Aswad: Internally Oppressed to Martyrdom

One of the black companions of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was Sa’ad Al-Aswad As-Sulami raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).
Sa’ad was from the Ansar and suffered discrimination in Al-Madinah.

Due to an inferiority complex, Sa’ad asked the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) if he too could enter into Jannah because of his low position among the Muslims. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) replied to him that he was entitled to the same reward as other believers. Sa’ad then inquired that if he was an equal believer then why would none of the Arabs allow him to marry one of their daughters.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)then told Sa’ad to go to the home of ‘Amr bin Wahb to ask him for his daughter for marriage. When Sa’ad told ibn Wahb that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) sent him to request for his daughter for marriage, Ibn Wahb became angry at the proposal. Ibn Wahb also stated to him that didn’t he know that his daughter is known for her beauty! When Ibn Wahb’s daughter heard this, she told her father that she could not turn down a proposal that came at the suggestion of the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)!

Sa’ad was later martyred in a battle in which it is narrated that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) wept over him while holding him in his lap.

Julaybib

One of the helpers of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who is mentioned in a number of texts is the companion known as Julaybib raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

Julaybib accepted Islam in Al-Madinah, thus is described as one of the men from the Ansar. His lineage was unknown among the Arabs which made him an outcast. According to ibn Al-Jawzi in Tanwir Al-Ghabash, he was described as black (aswad). The companion Abu Barzah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) according to ibn Al-Athir also described him as short (qasir) and ugly (damim).

Being that Julaybib had no tribal and family connections in Al-Madinah as well as no wife, he spent more time in the company of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) than many of the other Ansar. In fact, the People of Al-Madinah used to ridicule Julaybib and would not befriend him.

In narrations that are deemed sound, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) proceeded to find a wife for the honorable Julaybib. When he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) went to the home of one of the Ansar, a father opened the door in which the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) told him that he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) came to him for a marriage proposal. The father immediately said yes thinking that his daughter would get the honor of being one of the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) wives. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) told him that he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) did not come for himself but was asking on behalf of Julaybib. The father then said that he was going to defer the decision to his wife.

When the wife of the Ansari came, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) told her that he had a marriage proposal. The wife also became happy and said yes. Then the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) told her that he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) came on behalf of Julaybib. The wife then replied that she would not allow her daughter to marry a man like Julaybib!

Upon hearing noise, the daughter of the two came out and asked the reason for the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) coming to their home. The mother told the daughter that he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) came on behalf of Julaybib but that she was not accepting for her to marry him! The daughter replied, how can we turn down a proposal coming from the Messenger of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)? She said to send Julaybib to her, for surely he will not bring ruin to her!

In Al-Asabah by ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, it is mentioned in reference to this event the application of Surah 33, Ayah 36, “It is not fitting for a believing man or woman that when Allah and His messenger decree a matter that they should have an opinion about it from their matter. And whoever disobeys Allah and His messenger surely is in clear error.” It is mentioned in several texts including Al-Musannaf by ibn Abi Shaybah in the Chapter of Compatibility in Marriage that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) then performed the marriage between Julaybib and the lady.

In a battle after the marriage, Julaybib achieved martyrdom. When the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saw the martyred Julaybib, he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said twice, “This [man] is from me, and I am from him.” An-Nanawi said in his commentary of Sahih Muslim that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) used exaggeration (mubalaghah) showing the importance of Julaybib as if Julaybib was a member of his ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) own klan such as when the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said about Salman [ranua], who was Persian, “Salman is from us, the People of the Household (Ahl al-Bayt).”

It is also narrated that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) personally dug the grave of Julaybib and placed him in the grave without washing him, signifying his status as a martyr.

‘Ammar bin Yasir: the Man who the Prophet Predicted his Martyrdom

One of the companions who has several narrated merits pertaining to his faith, personality and resilience is ‘Ammar bin Yasir raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

‘Ammar is described in Al-Mustadarak ‘ala As-Sahihayn by Al-Hakim and authenticated by Adh-Dhahabi as being tall in stature, black in skin color and having kinky hair. His father Yasir raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) was Arab.

‘Ammar was one of the earliest Muslims to accept Islam and was regularly tortured along with his family. Once while being severely tortured, he unwillingly recanted Islam. He later came to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in a state of tears saying that he verbally recanted Islam but did not mean it, in which the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) wiped away his tears and recited Surah 16, ayah 106, “Whoever disbelieves in Allah after belief except who is forced and whose heart is still content with faith…”

After much persecution, ‘Ammar with other companions migrated to Abyssinia finding protection under a just Christian king though ibn Ishaq disputes that he was one of those companions in Abyssinia. He later migrated with other companions to Al-Madinah making him within a select group of companions that made two migrations for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

‘Ammar later participated in the major campaigns to protect the Muslim community including Badr and Uhud. He also was a witness to the Farewell Pilgrimage and the event of Ghadir Khumm.

Prior to the death of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), he told ‘Ammar, “You will be killed by a group of transgressors.” This hadith is sahih and mutawatir, meaning narrated so widely by many sound people that it is beyond doubt.

During the government of ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab, ‘Ammar was nominated to be the governor of Kufah in Iraq to be later removed from his position when ‘Umar consolidated the governorship of Kufah with Basrah under Abu Musa Al-Ashari.

During the government of ‘Ali bin Abi Talib raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), ‘Ammar accompanied Imam Ali’s army at the Battle of Jamal and defended him against the Khawarij movement, the original takfiris. ‘Ammar later achieved martyrdom at the Battle of Siffin by being killed by a man from the army of Mu’awiyah bin Abi Sufyan.

Mihja’: One of the Best of the Blacks

One of the famed companions of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is Mihja’ bin Salih raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). Mihja’ raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) was one of the early adherents of Islam in Makkah, and one of those who migrated for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to Al-Madinah.

According to At-Tabaqat Al-Kubra of ibn Sa’ad, Mihja’s raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) lineage traces back to Yemen. He’s described as has having black skin (aswad al-lawn) and Arab. He was enslaved in the Hijaz and suffered as other enslaved (wo)men did. He was later emancipated by Umar bin al-Khattab.

In Makkah, Quraysh used to mock the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) because he used to sit and keep company with his poor followers who were formerly enslaved. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) told the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)in Surah 6, Ayah 52, “Do not repel those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening seeking His face.” According to Abdullah bin Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) in Zad Al-Masir fi ‘ilm At-Tafsir by ibn Al-Jawzi, those people that Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was referring to were Bilal, Suhayb, Khabbab, ‘Ammar, Mihja’, Salman, ‘Amir bin Quhayrah and Salim, who was freed by Abu Hudhayfah.

After migration according to At-Tabari and others, Mihja’ raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was the first to be martyred at Ghazwah Badr.

It is narrated by Al-Hakim in Al-Mustadrak ‘ala As-Sahihayn and authenticated as sahih by As-Suyuti in Al-Jami’ As-Saghir that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “The best of the blacks are three: Bilal, Luqman [who is mentioned in the Qur’an] and Mihja’.”

Abu Dharr: Man of Moral Courage

One of the honorable companions, who is known for his faithfulness and concern for the poor was Abu Dharr raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her).
Abu Dharr’s full name was Jundab bin Junadah from the Tribe of Ghifar. He was described by ibn Sa’ad in At-Tabaqat Al-Kubra and others as being tall with brown (asmar) skin.

In the Era of Ignorance, the Ghifari tribe was known for banditry and alcohol consumption besides worshiping idols. Abu Dharr, however, turned away from these tribal norms even before embracing Islam.

When a man from his tribe informed his people that he saw a man in Makkah, meaning the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), who he saw enjoining good and forbidding evil, Abu Dharr set off for Makkah. After meeting the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), Abu Dharr swiftly accepted Islam. He went to the Ka’bah to publicly declare his faith in which Quraysh proceeded to beat him. He went the following day to proclaim his faith again in which he was beaten again. After days of doing this and facing beatings, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) told him to go back to his tribe, so he could declare his message to them.

He later migrated to Al-Madinah and participated in Ghazwah Badr and other expeditions with the companions.
During the government of ‘Uthman, Abu Dharr was one of the outspoken companions against the lavish lifestyle and large amounts of money which particular Muslims were receiving from the treasury. After conflict between Abu Dharr and Marwan in Al-Hakam, a cousin of ‘Uthman, over a payment that he received of 500,000 dirhams, Abu Dharr was sent away from Al-Madinah to Damascus. While in Damascus, Abu Dharr continued to speak out against luxuries and neglect of the poor which brought him into conflict with the Governor of Damascus, Mu’awiyah bin Abi Sufyan, who was also a cousin of ‘Uthman.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) predicted to Abu Dharr, “You will live alone, die alone, rise from the dead alone, and enter Jannah alone.” This prediction of his living and dying manifested itself. Due to the circumstances of the time, Abu Dharr left Damascus for Ar-Rabathah desert with virtual no possessions in which he eventually died alone.

Ayman: The Brave Shepherd

One of the faithful companions of the Prophetṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was Ayman bin ‘Ubayd raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

Ayman’s roots were Abyssinian through his mother. He was born through the union of his mother Barakah, a woman who was eventually freed from slavery by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his father ‘Ubayd bin Zayd who was from the tribe of Harith bin Khazraj; their marriage took place in Makkah in the Era of Al-Jahiliyyah. Ayman was also born in Makkah.

Ayman embraced Islam in Makkah and made migration for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to Al-Madinah. He was a shepherd and was entrusted by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to look after his goats.

Ayman was a participant in the campaigns to defend Islam. At Ghazwah Hunayn when some of the Muslims became panicked, Ayman was one of eight Muslims who stood by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and defended him. The Muslims ended up winning the battle. In the process, Ayman achieved martyrdom.

After his martyrdom, Al-Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), one of the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) uncles who was one of those eight that stood firmly with Ayman to defend the Prophetṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), composed a poem praising the steadfastness and bravery of Ayman.

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31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Aminu Abubakar

    February 28, 2015 at 8:26 PM

    1st, i understand that without the intervention of prophet Muhammad (SAW), no white arab is willing to give marriage of his daughter to black man.

    2nd, no black name is mentioned without stamping him/her as slave.

    3rd, conclusively,i observed, blacks’ faith in Islam rated higher than that of the Arabs of their time. And Prophet Muhammad (Saw) has shown his ultimate love for black people.

  2. Avatar

    Aadil

    March 1, 2015 at 2:40 PM

    In the name of God, the most Gracious, the most Merciful.
    Peace be upon you and the mercy and the blessings of God.

    I do not mean to be rude but how was Bilal ibn Rabah (ra)not mentioned fully. He was mentioned briefly twice but he deserves at least a section if not a whole article or series of articles.

    May God reward you well. Only God knows best.
    The good is only from God.The bad from elsewhere.
    Peace be upon you and the mercy and the blessings of God.

    • Avatar

      Aminu Abubakar

      March 3, 2015 at 6:28 PM

      One wonders why hadiths were not source from Bilal ibn Rabah (‘may Allah be pleased with him ) despite his closeness with Prophet Muhammad (SAW) day and Night.
      Can any one tell me why ? I am curious.

      • Avatar

        Rabi'u AbdulQadir

        March 9, 2016 at 10:41 AM

        Yeah same me post please when you get updatated

      • Avatar

        Yasser

        July 21, 2016 at 11:37 PM

        Not entirely sure, but it could be for the same reason Khalid Bin Walid was not sited often, memory of exact sayings. Not all close companions of the prophet narrated his sayings too. Allahu Alam. But there are quite a few hadiths about Sayidna Bilal and his conduct or place in paradise

      • Avatar

        Anwar Ali

        September 19, 2016 at 4:14 PM

        Assalamu Alaikum
        after co.pliments
        my dear brother
        In that case the most number of hadeeths should be recorded from none othervthan Sayyidina Abubakr Radhiyallahu Anhu. He was with the Prophet Swallallahu Alaihi wa sallam more than anybody.
        but Sayyidina Abu Huraira Radhiyallahu Anhu is seen to have recorded lots of hadeeth.
        There are reasons for that.
        if ur intrrested in this topic let me know. we shall talk
        my id anwarali_22@yahoo.com

    • Avatar

      Dawud Walid

      August 31, 2015 at 10:32 AM

      I specifically didn’t mentioned Bilal (RA) for two reasons: 1) Most Muslims know his story, but these other nobles are not as familiar. 2) Bilal (RA) is mentioned as the token black Muslim many times.

      • Avatar

        AbdulRasheed

        July 25, 2016 at 10:23 PM

        Salam alykum, In response to brother Aminu Abubakar; I do not think Bilal made it his primary focus to report everything he learnt from the prophet. His primary assignment was just being the best Muazzim he could be. In other words, he was not like Abu Hurairah, who focused very much on reporting what he learnt from the prophet. Something similar to this is the fact that Aishah reported more hadith than any of the other wives. Allah knows best.

  3. Avatar

    Hamid

    May 31, 2015 at 8:37 PM

    This article is misleading. It should be none that the original Arabs were black anyway and that the current Arabic speaking Europeans in the region were a mixture of Turks, Byzantines, Persians, etc, that adopted the Arabic language and culture, moved into the region and became the “new” Arabs. The other explanation of the new Arabs is when the original Arabs went on their conquests, they acquired a large amount of European slave women, especially with the spread of Islam in Moorish Spain. They had children with them and within 1 or 2 generations, the Arabs became white. This information is readily available and there is tons of documentation to prove it.

    • Avatar

      Dawud Walid

      August 31, 2015 at 10:34 AM

      5 of the 7 mentioned were “black Arabs.” I even mentioned the tribes that they were from.

    • Avatar

      Ibrahim

      January 30, 2016 at 4:08 PM

      So true, the original off-spring of Hajara (Haggar) were black the Ismailites, the children of Ibrahim. You will find difficulty among arabs to find a woman named Hajara because they do not want any association with blacks. When you read of the Islamic slaves, Arabs in disobedience of the Sharia took slaves from Blacks as far as China and then later America.

    • Avatar

      Fitzgerald Mistral

      February 23, 2016 at 11:43 PM

      The Prophet himself, the quintessence of the Arabian individual, was closer to a white complexion than black. There goes your whole theory about Arabs being white through European DNA!

  4. Avatar

    islam

    August 31, 2015 at 2:38 AM

    U forget Abu BAkar, Umar, Ali, Uthman, Ibn Masud, TAlah, Saeed bin Zaid, Abu TAlha, Anas bin Malik, etc.

  5. Avatar

    sara

    September 14, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    Tariq bin Ashyam (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:

    Whenever a man entered the fold of Islam, the Prophet Sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam would show him how to perform Salat and then direct him to supplicate:

    “Allahumm-aghfir li, warhamni, wa-hdini, wa ‘afini, warzuqni (O Allah! Forgive me, have mercy on me, guide me, guard me against harm and provide me with sustenance and salvation).”‘ [Muslim].

    In another narration Tariq said: A man came to the Prophet Sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam and said to him: “O Messenger of Allah! What shall I say if I want to pray to my Rubb?”

    He said, “Say: ‘Allahumma-ghfir li, warhamni, wa ‘afini, warzuqni (O Allah! Forgive me, have mercy on me, protect me and provide me with sustenance).’ Surely, this supplication is better for you in this life and in the Hereafter.”

  6. Pingback: » Erasing Race: Problems with our Islamic History

  7. Avatar

    Abu

    February 27, 2016 at 1:05 PM

    Hamid is right ! The original Arabs were black as we would use the term today meaning shades of brown all the way to black. The evidence from the scholars and ahadith is vast . I can bring pages and pages of proof . Don’t be mislead by modern eurocentric agendas and fallacies in general.

    • Avatar

      Yasser

      July 21, 2016 at 11:59 AM

      I hated seeing the ethnicity panel in the US that lumps Middle East under Caucasian and white. Ok the Levant Arabs that immigrated to the States were mostly white mixed, but the Middle East is the oldest cosmopolitan society in the world, so they cannot be pure Caucasian. I myself, who’s a Saudi with a family is originally from the South of Iran am mixed (Persian, Bedouin, Ethiopian, Turkish and Levant Arab) others have Indian and south Asian among others, especially in Hijaz and East Saudi Arabia. Even if an Arab comes up to you and is red with ginger hair, trust that they have fifty other ethnicities in them. African is the most common, especially since our link to Africa precedes 3000 years. I read an article a few years ago that concludes a theory that the first settlers in south of Arabia came from the Horn of Africa and passed through sad Ma’rib during the low tides. Who knows? And No! Our link to Africa is not all slavery like the Europeans. We have ancient Afro-Arabic families who are originally tradesmen, pearl divers and merchants, sailors, kings and nobles of Abyssinian decent (Yemen and Ethiopia ruled each other and mixed) , and post Islamic we have a few Nigerian who Established hospitals in our region. i always struck out that stupid option on the Ethnicity section on those American forms and put in “Other” “non-white non-Caucasian Middle East” LOL! On another note, it’s completely FALSE to assume that all Caucasians are white. Only western Europeans. The term Caucasian refers to the skeletal refrences, not skin color. The Caucasians of the near east were brown and beige and you can see it in their art work and old pictures. Of course white exists all over the Islamic world as well as Asians, because Islam removed racism as a rule and encouraged marriage and friendship of all races for faith above all. We need to get back to that! Anyway, I applaud the effort of this article, even if there are some discrepancies. At the very least it forces Arabs to accept their ancestors were not Italian looking a they wish it to be. Uff! If we were white, why is the no. Cosmetic procedure skin whitening and nose jones in Arabia and the highest selling cream Fair and Lovely (ugly)

      • Avatar

        Black Lion

        August 20, 2016 at 2:27 PM

        Salam alaikum, Yasser. I’m just curious, since you were honest enough to admit this from inside of the region and its culture, how do others in Arabia treat you when they learn of your honesty on this subject?

  8. Avatar

    Rabi'u AbdulQadir

    March 9, 2016 at 10:43 AM

    Yeah same me post please when you get updatated

  9. Avatar

    Amal

    March 9, 2016 at 6:36 PM

    Thank you for this article. I love um Ayman, may Allah be pleased with her.

    Just a point: According to al-dhahabi in his book siyar a’lam al-nubala, Arabs used the following words to mean :
    Ahmar- white (like people from al-shaam)
    Abyad- wheat colour complexion
    Aadam and asmar – Indian colour
    Aswad – black

    Abu dharr is described as being Aadam by al-dhahabi. The dictionary lisaanul Arab describes asmar as being a stage between black and white. Therefore Abu dharr was most likely that type of colour. Not that it matters to me what colour he was, but just to add some accuracy and understanding to the terms being used and because I value academic rigour in research. And Allah knows best!

    Sr amina- regarding your question about bilal (ra) not narrating many hadiths. There are plenty of companions who were very close to the prophet and yet were not prolific hadith narrators, including Abu bakr, omar etc. Hadith narration depends on many factors, including when the companion died, if they were busy with other posts etc. In fact the most prolific hadith narrator was Abu huraira, who only knew the prophet in the last 3-4 years of the prophet’s life! You’ll generally find that the most famous hadith narrators were young companions such as Abdullah ibn omar, Abdullah ibn abbas, etc and those that spent intimate time with the prophet such as aisha, or those that specifically devoted their lives to learning hadith such as Abu huraira. I advise you to read Jonathan brown’s book ‘hadith’ if you want to learn more.

    And Allah knows best.

    • Avatar

      Ibn

      March 30, 2016 at 6:24 AM

      Amal, I want to correct you when you say aadam and asmar = “indian color” and aswad = “black”. By “black”, it is presumed you mean “black African.” You see, the color spectrum in India is the same as it is in Africa. There are millions of very light-skinned indians and there are millions of very light-skinned africans. there are hundreds of millions of brown skinned indians and hundreds of millions of brown skinned africans. there are tens of millions of black skinned indians and tens of millions of black skinned africans. this is a self-evident truth so anyone that would disagree needs to present evidence to the contrary.

      Aadam and asmar means “brown” color. Given the proximity and existing relations (cultural, economic, genealogical, etc) between the populations east and west of the red sea, we can safely assume that when the narrations say that so and so are “adaam” or “asmar” either they are ethnically Arab or ethnically African or some mixture of the two.

    • Avatar

      Solange

      November 24, 2018 at 9:32 PM

      Please note that ʿUmar (raḍī Allahu ʿanhu) was in fact the tenth most prolific narrator of āḥādīth, narrating
      537.

  10. Avatar

    Black Heart

    May 1, 2016 at 3:13 AM

    Arabs today call themselves white, and they don’t mean “Caucasian”, that to them nowadays means “not Black”. This is who they are. If you aren’t African Black, you’re white to them. This is not their concept of individual complexions, but of race. They see themselves as not European, but white none the less. They may not want to annihilate us the way white supremacists do, but they want to be accepted by whites as whites, and this is important to them. Not becoming darker is important to them. This by itself is enough for us to regard them as brothers in deem, but the kind of brothers you can’t expect much from.

  11. Avatar

    Ali Khan

    May 14, 2016 at 1:55 PM

    There is a problem with this article. Abu Dharr called Bilal (May Allaah be pleased with them) “SON OF A BLACK WOMAN” to which he was reprimanded by the Prophet (Peace and Blessings be upon him)… So how was he Black?

    http://muslimmatters.org/2011/02/21/race-matters-colorblind-racism-in-the-ummah/
    “…“Abu Dharr, the leader of the tribe of Ghifar, and one who accepted Islam in its early days, narrates:

    Once I was conversing with Bilal. Our conversation gave way to a dispute. Angry with him, the following insult burst from my mouth: ‘You cannot comprehend this, O son of a black woman!’

    As Islam expressly forbade all kinds of racial, tribal and color discrimination, Bilal was both upset and greatly angered.

    Some time later, a man came and told me that the Messenger of God, upon him be peace and blessings, summoned me. I went to him immediately. He said to me:

    ‘I have been informed that you addressed Bilal as the son of a black woman.’

    I was deeply ashamed and could say nothing. God’s Messenger continued his reprimand: ‘This means you still retain the standards and judgements of the pre-Islamic days of ignorance. Islam has eradicated all those false standards or measures judging people by blood, fame, color or wealth. It has established that the best and most honorable of men is he who is the most pious and upright in conduct. Is it right to defame a believer just because he is black?’

    Abu Dharr felt profound remorse. He went straight to Bilal’s house and, putting his head on the threshold, said: ‘This head will not rise from here until the blessed feet of Bilal tread on the face of foolish, impolite Abu Dharr.’

    Bilal responded: ‘That face deserves to be kissed, not trodden upon,’ and forgave Abu Dharr.” …”

    • Avatar

      Ali

      June 23, 2016 at 7:14 PM

      Ali Khan, the writer mentioned in the intro that his usage of the term black is in accord with the way that we see “race” today. Meaning, today (especially in America) we generally classify anyone who is not white european looking as black. So according to this standard wheat completion, light brown, brown, and black are all classified as “black”. During the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, “race” was not classified the same. This is why people are discribed as abydh, asmar, aswad, ahmar, four different catagories. Being that Abu Dharr was classified as asmar, he was not viewed as black, in that place and time. So the article doesn’t contradict the narration if you look at it that way.

      • Avatar

        Yasser

        July 21, 2016 at 11:15 AM

        You are right. What we call “white” today was not called white by the Arabs and Africans. The Europeans were known as humor or Red people, Afranj, Ruman, Shuqur. Because they saw them red in their lands. White in Africa and Arabia was used to describe people of wheat or olive completion who tanned in the sun. Even so, the term black was used to insult, because the correct term for describing someone who is extremely dark skinned is Adam al lawn, like our father Adam (this is irrespective of African, Arab or Indian). Arab tribes, especially in the south were mostly Adam “black” skinned for the most part but their features were Semetic and had medium corse to ringlet hair. Think of India, the south are black skinned and the North are Asmar or wheat completion. Asmar was the norm for all Arabia. Only post Ottoman and colonial era saw an explosion of whiteness across the Arab world. It was rare prior to that with the exception of Areas like the Levant and some of North Africa.

  12. Avatar

    Yasser

    July 21, 2016 at 4:48 PM

    Overall I want to thank you for this article and thank everyone for the fruitful discussions in the comments section. This is how we will come together as an ummah insha Allah. It helps to get us all have a better appreciation for our four fathers in faith and respect the way God created all of us and that we are all beautiful when we allow each other to see that beauty. What I love about Islam and its people’s hostory is that it does not hide human error and mistakes and offers ways to rectify and change things for the better Insha Allah. As an Arab (of multi ethnicities) I am happy to read and share this, because I know many of my people are suffering from a poor self image in many ways, especially women and this article helps them see themselves in a better way.

    One last comment: someone said Arabs don’t like naming or avoid naming their daughter Hajar because of her darkness. This is not true and quite hurtful to say. Hajar is one of the most popular names in the Middle East for multiple reasons, most important: we walk her footsteps in Makkah, she is one of the most beloved Muslims, she is the mother of the Arabs. I have many cousins and acquaintances named Hajar. So please be more sensitive with your remarks

  13. Avatar

    Black Heart

    August 20, 2016 at 2:54 PM

    This article was necessary and helpful, and Dawud Walid’s work is very good for dispelling misconceptions. If you want to attack the issue without going too far and blaming non-Blacks for a level of bias they did NOT have, then his work is where you start.
    However, what we Black folks must keep in mind is that those semi-Black or non-Black fellow Muslims may not want to be freed from the brainwashing that has been successful against them. We need this kind of information for ourselves, but we do not need it for any “tragic mulattoes” of an Eastern background so that we can save them from becoming our enemies and we can all hold hands and sing “kumbaya”. Adam was Black, alayhi salaam. Hawa was Black, may Allah be pleased with her. If you were Shaytan and had argued with Allah over them and lost your seat in the heavens with the angels over them, you would hate them, too, and you would seek to turn their descendants against themselves, in degress, until they were most against the descendants who most resembled Adam and Hawa. You would even whisper self-hatred into the descendants who still resembled them. We must remember that there is an enemy who we cannot see and can see us, and can whisper directly into our subconscious minds without us knowing it’s him and his comrades. Do you think they will ever give up and surrender trying to get mankind to hate its darkest members the most? They cannot get back up to the heavens with the angels, and they cannot win against Allah. All they can do is take down as many of us as possible with them when they get thrown in to a fire whose fuel is men and stones.
    We need to remember that if any others want to accept these whispers and brainwashing, then let them, until they eventually becomes so attached to their idea of their own whiteness that they apostatize by going too far in their racism. If they want to confront this racism and brainwashing and save their religion, then let them, and share this with them. But this information is for our own benefit first and foremost. Because this same enemy we can’t see will whisper hatred into their hearts, or at the very least the idea that they are better-looking than us and we unfortunately ugly, and THEN will come to us and whisper to us to hate “them”, after which he will whisper to us that “Islam is responsible for their feelings about you.” Have we not seen this already? Have we not seen the Black consciousness movement turn against Islam and Muslims in degrees because of Arabs’ and Persians’ default pro-whiteness? Have they not won many apostates from our ranks? This info is needed, not to make some tragic mulatto love us since we have to pray in the same rows, but to combat the inferiority complex and self-hate with our enemy will whisper to us once we join other Muslims and find out how much these whispers have succeeded with them.
    I seek refuge with Allah from being oppressed and oppressing others.

  14. Avatar

    M. Husain Andu Nasir

    November 16, 2016 at 7:09 AM

    In the name of Allah Most Gracious, Most Merciful
    Infinite Thawab and Barakah be upon the Beloved of Allah, the Mercy to All the Worlds, Syedunna Muhammed Mustafa Sallulahu Alaiyhi Wa Salaam.

    Salaams all, just a small bit of advice, I do not feel it is proper to refer to any of these Noble Beings as “BLACK”. Black is not the color of any skin, rather out is a condition of the soul. Those with black souls are the people of Juhennum (Hell). You must always be very mindful of each and every word used when speaking of those whom Allah SWT loves. Better to say things such as darker in complexion or Of African tones. Even from a personal stand point I myself take offense to the word black being referred to when speaking in regards to my skin color. Common sense will tell you that our skin is lighter and darker shades of BROWN. Allah bless you all. Salaams

  15. Avatar

    Son of Arabia

    June 4, 2018 at 4:04 AM

    As a man from an Arabian tribe and lives in Arabia, I think the author mixed between Sahaba of African decent and very dark Arabs. I just want to clarify few things about Arabs in Arabia not any other place because it is very mixed in other places like Egypt and Iraq.

    1. Arabs especially in Arabia are the best in the world in tracing their heritage and ancestry and they take great pride in doing so. That makes it quite offensive when someone says that they are a mix of Europeans, African, and Asians.

    2. Arabs are descendants of Ibrahim and Ismail PBUH who are not African, European, or Persian. Also, Arabia and even Makkah at that time were not multi ethnic; they were Arab with small number of foreign slaves, mainly African but there are other ethnicities. Also, at that time every African was assumed to be from Habasha (Ethiopia).

    3. When it comes to skin complexion, Arabs have always been very diverse from pale white (but not reddish like europeans) to very dark which is a different shade of brown that is closer to Indian than African. They all however have more or less similar features of big noses and big eyes and they tan very easily. if you look at old images of Arabia you will see poor nomads with very dark skin. So, Darkness of the skin was a sign of working in the sun and poverty. This is why you don’t see very dark Arabs anymore; because they don’t work half naked in the sun all day not because of mixed genes.

    3. Arabs in Arabia are among the least mixed people because of their pride when it comes to marriage. People from one tribe may not marry their daughters to other tribes if they see them as a lower status tribe. So, the idea of marrying your daughter to a non-arab is near impossible. This is still valid today in Arabia, you rarely see anyone from a tribe marrying someone who has an immigrant heritage.

    4. Most available sources in English are tainted by orientalist views which are extremely biased and have ulterior motives. Most of the pre-islamic history of Arabia is lost because it was verbal and was never written. Remember to ask yourself is this source written by an Arab based on verbal history or by an orientalist 5-10 centuries later.

    5. There are plenty of sources about Arabian ancestry and pre-islmaic history but they are in Arabic and not translated.

  16. Avatar

    Dana

    September 25, 2018 at 3:00 PM

    The tribes of Sulaym and Hawazin, Harb, Ghatafan, Quda’a, Nubayt and Mudar-Qays tribes of Hawazin, Za’za, Kab Uqayl, Baliyy, Hashem, Utaybah, Qureish, Ans and Maddhij Murad, Tayy, Khazraj, Aus, Hamadha, Azd all from Qahtan . All are described as sumr and khudr and al udmah and thought the idea of a fair-skinned Arab was funny. Arabia was considered one of the zones of Bilad es Sudan. The idea of “black Sahaba” is as silly and redundant as the idea of “black Zanj”. Feel free to try and point out which Arab tribe was not called black or near black before the 15th century. It doesn’t exist. ; )

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Civil Rights

Podcast: Lessons from the Life of Malcolm X | Abdul-Malik Ryan

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One of the things that happens with historical figures who continue to remain well-known and influential years after they can continue to speak for themselves is that others seek to speak for them.  Attempts are made to co-opt their legacy, either in sincere efforts for good or in selfish efforts for ideological or even commercial gain.  This is especially true of Malcolm X, who is not only a historical and political icon but in many ways a “celebrity” remembered by many primarily for his style and attitude.

The only real and meaningful tribute we can pay to Malcolm X is to follow his example. Click To Tweet

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Once, while in class at college, an Arab girl I was sitting next to said quite loudly to another, “Hey, give this paper to the ‘abdah” referring to a black girl in the class. I wondered if she was even aware of what she was saying in English. Did she think that ‘abdah translates to “black girl” and never thought of its true meaning? Did she think that I didn’t understand?

 

Read by Zeba Khan, originally posted here on Muslimmatters.org.

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When Racism Goes Viral: The Coronavirus And Modern Muslim Orientalism

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Lumping an entire people together for collective punishment, reveling in their suffering, and sniggering at their food choices isn’t an exercise in science, Sunnah, or compassion. It’s good, old-fashioned orientalism.

In the eight weeks since it was identified, the 2019 novel coronavirus has infected nearly 12,000 people in China alone, 200 of whom did not survive. Symptoms are flu-like in nature, and global side effects include acute, apparently contagious… racism.

Online, in Muslim as well as non-Muslim spaces, social media feeds are sniggering “Eww, you eat gross things! Of course you’ll get gross diseases!” In the midst of this human tragedy, orientalist tropes about the Chinese are being sloppily repackaged as health concerns over the coronavirus, and served with a side of bat soup.

Yes, bat soup.

The coronavirus in question is found in bats, and thanks to the scientific expertise of social media, videos of Chinese people consuming anything from bat soup to baby mice and rats are popping up as “proof” of the disease’s cause.

However the coronavirus made the jump from bats to humans, the initial source of the outbreak seems to have originated from the Wuhan Seafood market, where a number of employees and a few shoppers were the first casualties to the infection. The 2019-nCoV is moving from person to person the same way the flu does, and what a person eats – or doesn’t eat – has no bearing on whether they contract the virus or not.

In an article titled, No, Coronavirus Was Not Caused by ‘Bat Soup’–But Here’s What Researchers Think May Be to Blame, Health.com writes:

“Coronaviruses in general are large family of viruses that can affect many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In rare cases, those viruses are also zoonotic, which means they can pass between humans and animals—as was the case with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory system (SARS), two severe coronaviruses in people.

Initially, this novel coronavirus was believed to have started in a large seafood or wet market, suggesting animal-to-person spread, according to the CDC. But a large number of people diagnosed with the virus reportedly didn’t have exposure to the wet markets, indicating that person-to-person spread of the virus is also occurring. However, it’s still possible that the novel coronavirus began with an infected animal at the market—and then went on to person-to-person transmission once people were infected.”

Being uncomfortable with things you’ve never considered edible before isn’t necessarily a racist reaction. When my husband told me he ate a chocolate-covered cricket once, I hid my toothbrush for a week, but that’s not what’s happening right now. There is a deadly virus threatening a group of people, and the internet sees fit to make fun of them. Why? Because orientalism.

Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.

Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.Click To Tweet

The inferiorizing feature is step one, because in order to position yourself as a winner, the other guy has to be a loser in some way.

The otherizing is the step 2, and both steps are important because if you say that your little brother is a loser, in the end you’re still family and you’ve got his back. This would be inferiorizing, but not otherizing.

But if you say that other kind of guy is a loser, then you have no common ground. And when the other kind of guy is in trouble, you need only gloat and make nasty comments on Twitter. That’s inferiorizing with otherizing. Orientalism can be loosely translated as US vs THEM, normal versus weird, and local versus invasive foreign, or exotic.

The otherizing of orientalism is so subconsciously embedded in people that it even creates auditory illusions to maintain the “otherization” of the subject being viewed. As crazy as that sounds, everyone has their own experience. Mine for just last month played out as follows. A homeless man approached my window and said “Ma’am, do you have two dollars?”

I smiled and responded to him, “I have exactly two dollars!”

As I dug around for my wallet, he cocked his head and said, “Your accent. There’s something different about it. Something… foreign, exotic?”

“It’s Chicago,” I said, handing him two dollars.

He blinked a few times. “What’s Chicago?”

“My accent. It’s Chicagoan. English is my first language. My accent is from Chicago.”

He narrowed his eyes at me suspiciously, this gatekeeper of Chicagoness. “What part of Chicago?”

“North side, Lincolnwood area,” I said. “I grew up on Devon Ave.”

“Pulaski Park!” he beamed, pointing to himself. “I’m from Chicago too!”

We smiled at each other, basking for a moment in our mutual Chicagoness. Then I waved and drove away, adding his insistence of my  exotic“otherness” to the dozens of other peoples’ who have heard my perfectly flat, perfectly blandly midwestern accent and perceived something foreign. I call that one “hearing with your eyes.”

I have lost track of people who have tried to insist that I have an accent. One woman even went so far as to imply that I was lying about being a native English speaker, that I must have some other first language, because there’s “Something else in there, I can hear something foreign! But you’re very articulate though.”

(To form your own opinion on my exotic accent or the lack thereof, visit the MuslimMatters podcast here!)

Compliments like “You’re so articulate!” or “You’re so different!” give you partial credit for your exceptionality, while still discrediting every other member of your general race, religion, region, or hemisphere. The left-handed compliment has a long history, and follows a predictable pattern. Take, for example, this excerpt from The Talisman, a crusade-genre fiction published in 1825.

In this scene, our gallant, invading knight finds himself unable to defeat the enemy “Saracen,” aka – Muslim defender of the Holy Land. In grudging admiration, the knight concedes:

“I well thought…that your blinded race had their descent from the foul fiend, without whose aid you would never have been able to maintain this blessed land of Palestine against so many valiant soldiers of God. I speak not thus of thee in particular, Saracen, but generally of thy people and religion. Strange it is to me, however, not that you should have the descent from the Evil One, but that you should boast of it.”

Translation: “Your people and your religion are the spawn of satan, but not you. I speak not thus of thee in particular. You’re so cool for Muslim!” Spoiler alert: turns out it’s Salahuddin.

From the crusades to colonialism to America’s chronic invasion of Muslim lands, the misrepresentation of people from Over There is both a cause and effect of policy decisions. Orientalism creates the “bad guys” necessary to justify the “good guy” response by “proving” the bad guys to be so weird, inferior, and intrinsically bad that it becomes necessary to call for the good guy cavalry. That gives the good guys permission to take over the resources that the bad guys are too incompetent to manage anyway, and overthrow the governments they’re too stupid to run, and free the women that they’re too barbaric to appreciate.

One excellent reference on this is Dr. Jack Shaheen’s brilliant documentary Reel Bad Arabs, which summarizes a hundred years of Hollywood’s orientalist portrayal of “Arab Land,” a mythical, exotic, treacherous, incompetent, and seductive place, whose capital city is apparently Agrabah which, in 2015, a public policy poll found that 30% of GOP voters were in favor of bombing.

Another side effect of orientalism is the refusal to allow for individual accountability and the insistence on collective blame. “Western” men who harm and oppress women are rightly labeled as jerks and abusers who don’t represent Western morals, ethics, or ideals through their individual actions. Same for white racists, extremists, and criminals in general.

However, Muslims jerks who do the same are awarded representative status of the entire Muslim population (1.9 billion) and Islamic tradition (1441 years). The perception as all Muslim men based on only the worst of them seems ludicrous on paper, and such generalizations are no longer acceptable to make about race, but are still perfectly popular to make about minority religious groups.

Orientalism enables the belief that Muslims are terrible terrorists who are terrible to their women. If they say otherwise, it’s because their religion is terrible and lying about it is part of the religion too. They don’t deserve their own lands or resources, they’ll just use them for more terribleness. We should go in there and save them from themselves! And also, make lots of predictable, idiotic romance novels and movies in which a poor, beautiful Oriental Female is rescued through the power of Love and Freedom. Because just as violence is the natural state of the Muslim man, oppression is the natural state of the Muslim woman. Miskeena. Habibti.

Human beings can be horrible to each other. No ethnic, religious, or racial group is any exception. The problem arises when individual horribleness is elevated to collective attribution, and that collective attribution is used to justify collective punishment, as well as collective suffering.

When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)?Click To Tweet

When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)? What about snails, frog legs, crawfish, chocolate covered ants, and those tequila-inspired lollipops with an actual worm candied in the center?

The filtering effect of orientalism means that our weird foods – be it maghz masala and katakat– are quirky and fun, but their weird foods are disgusting and totally cause to celebrate infectious disease.

If the tables were turned and a deadly coronavirus originated from say, Saudi Arabia, would it be alright to ridicule Muslims for what they ate, or how they lived? What if that specific coronavirus actually originated in camels.

Yes, camels. The Islamophobic internet would have a field day with that one. Yes, we ride camels and prize camels and even eat camels – and they’re delicious I might add – but if a deadly virus originated from camels, found its way into humans in the Middle East, and from there caused death and destruction in other countries- would it be our fault? Would we deserve scorn? Would the suffering and death of our people be justified by how “gross” it is that we eat camels, even if only a few us actually do, and the rest of us prefer shawarma?

Pause for dramatic emphasis. Open the Lancet. Read.

“Human coronavirus is one of the main pathogens of respiratory infection. The two highly pathogenic viruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, cause severe respiratory syndrome in humans and four other human coronaviruses induce mild upper respiratory disease. The major SARS-CoV outbreak involving 8422 patients occurred during 2002–03 and spread to 29 countries globally.

MERS-CoV emerged in Middle Eastern countries in 2012 but was imported into China.

The sequence of 2019-nCoV is relatively different from the six other coronavirus subtypes but can be classified as betacoronavirus. SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV can be transmitted directly to humans from civets and dromedary camels, respectively, and both viruses originate in bats, but the origin of 2019-nCoV needs further investigation.

The mortality of SARS-CoV has been reported as more than 10% and MERS-CoV at more than 35%.”

MERS-CoV, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome –Coronavirus emerged in 2012, traveling from bats to camels to humans, killing 35% of the people who contracted it. It originated in Saudi Arabia and found its way across the continent all the way to China. So could the Chinese internet have been justified in ridiculing our deaths because we ate camels?

Could they legitimize posting “gross” videos of whole, pit-roasted camels? Could they say it was science, not racism, as they moved on to our other “gross” foods, like locusts and the dhab lizard?

Read more about the Sunnah of the Dhab Lizard.

Locusts and lizards have as much to do with MERS-CoV as mice and rats have to do with 2019 novel coronavirus, but doesn’t our grossness in general mean we deserve our fate?

No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.

No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.Click To Tweet

Orientalism is alive and kicking both of our communities in the teeth — Chinese and Muslim – but to further complicate the matter, there’s the ongoing genocide of the Uighur Muslims in China, and that’s rooted in orientalism too.

The Chinese government has imprisoned 3 million Muslims in concentration camps, a number equal to the entire Muslim population in America. It is not unexpected that some people wishfully assume the 2019 novel coronavirus epidemic to be the comeuppance that the Chinese government deserves for its cruelty, but that’s sad and wrong on many, many levels.

People cheering the coronavirus on fail to understand a few very big, very important things about the situation. I will list them, because the internet is no place for subtlety and these points have to stand out for those who would sail over the entire article so they can trash it in the comments. They are as follows:


  1. The entire population of China is no more responsible for the actions of its government than you are for yours. If you hate Donald Trump, his border wall, the separation of families, the Muslim Ban, cuts to medical benefits, and corruption in general but STILL live in America, then you understand that a great, frustrated, and powerless mass of citizens can have little to no effect on its government’s choices. Such is politics. Such is life. Such is China too.

    This guy is all our fault specifically. So I hope we all die of the flu.

  2. The coronavirus’s lethality is exponentially higher in people with poor health and weak immune systems. Like the flu, the coronavirus is overwhelmingly most lethal to children and elderly. The coronavirus is not targeted at, nor limited to the Chinese leadership for its crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, that is not how epidemics work.
  3.  The spread of Coronavirus – like all respiratory infections – is greatly accelerated through close living quarters as well as poor sanitation and hygiene. The 3 million Uighur Muslims interred by the Chinese government are imprisoned in distressingly cruel, cramped, and unhygienic conditions. Their close proximity as well as population density mean that if the virus makes it into the captive population, hundreds of thousands – if not millions of Muslims – would die. Don’t root for the coronavirus. It does not discriminate based on religion or race, even if you do.

And now we come full circle. When Muslims ridicule the Chinese for “being gross,” they are simply echoing the same racist, Orientalist talking points that labeled the Chinese – and later the Japanese – as the “Yellow Peril,” a filthy, faceless, monolithic mass deserving all of our scorn and none of the individual considerations that we insist on for ourselves.

Given the abuse that Muslims have been subject to by orientalist tropes, it should make us all the more aware of its dangerous cultural impact. We know what it’s like to be looked down on, laughed at, and blamed for our own suffering. We know what it feels like to have our foods gagged at, our accents mocked, and our cultural clothing turned into Halloween costumes.

Worse still, we know, very painfully and very currently, what it looks like for an entire people to be treated as a disease in and of themselves. China has declared Islam to be a contagious disease, an “ideological illness,” and on this very basis is it holding 3 million Muslims hostage. In an official statement loaded with situational irony, the Chinese Community Party officially stated,

“Members of the public who have been chosen for reeducation have been infected by an ideological illness. They have been infected with religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology, and therefore they must seek treatment from a hospital as an inpatient.

… There is always a risk that the illness will manifest itself at any moment, which would cause serious harm to the public. That is why they must be admitted to a reeducation hospital in time to treat and cleanse the virus from their brain and restore their normal mind … Being infected by religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology and not seeking treatment is like being infected by a disease that has not been treated in time, or like taking toxic drugs … There is no guarantee that it will not trigger and affect you in the future.” – source

The dangers of racism and orientalism are real, and the victims number the millions. Knowing how much damage orientalism causes in our community, we must commit to never, ever stooping to the same ideologies that are used to justify our own oppression. No matter how many bats people eat, or how evil their government can be, people are individual people. We stand on equal footing, equally deserving of respect, compassion, and acknowledgement of our humanity.



The Orientalist mindset that diminishes and distances us from each other strips us of our dignity, whether we are its victim, or its the perpetrator. Such racism is antithetical to the Prophetic compassion and mercy that Islam demands from us as Muslims. When Muslims celebrate the suffering of innocent people as some sort of epidemiological revenge for the suffering of innocent people, that’s not Islam.

That’s prejudice.

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