Race & Culture: Fences Or Bridges?

In the battle between Islamic theology and Nationalism, the latter almost always triumphs. Humans, by nature, are fettered to deeply rooted prides of their nations and, consequently, stereotype mercilessly the peoples of the rest of the world. But I am surprised at our species, for what gives humans the right to commit such a crime when Allah subhanu wata’la Himself does not assign partiality based on superficiality?

Aside from Christianity, Islam is one of the few religions to permeate into almost every corner of the earth. The Prophet (PBUH) is blessed with an ummah as diverse in ethnicities and classes as a cosmopolitan city, but it is our level of piety, not our worldly status, which determines our ranks in this faith. The king does not stand on any higher ground in jamaat than the beggar next to him, nor can we say one hijabi receives more blessings in a day than a non-hijabi. We, as Muslims, share the same goal to attain Jannah, yet we are as divided as scattered dandelions in a field.

We are divided because of arrogance; we create boundaries among each other to justify superiority over each other. One member of group A marks distinction in skin color to defend his cruel actions, while another member in group B marvels at his tribe’s intelligence, ignoring the manual prowess of group C. Muslim individuals are talented in a myriad of ways, but instead of allowing healthy competition to whittle imperfections and propel the Ummah toward excellence in every field of academia, competition gnaws at our pride and cracks the Muslim Shield.

It is a known fact that a child is not born racist and that society forces this abstract and ridiculous idea into his or her mind.  But perhaps the human adult can redeem himself when he considers exactly why he is Muslim. Are the five prayers a force of habit, or sincere reflections toward the Creator? Is abstinence from pork and alcohol a result of childhood brainwashing, or submission to a divine command?

Why are you Muslim? No matter your race, ethnicity, class, gender, or numbers of years having embraced Islam, your answer should be the same. 

It is important to note that it is not necessary to disown one’s culture in an attempt to bridge the gap between one another. In contrast, our backgrounds can serve as exotic treats for each other, so that we may not only expand our knowledge of one another, but also enjoy the fruits of other cultures. What would it be like to be of Indonesian descent but never having tasted chicken biryani? Wouldn’t our clothes smell less sweet without Arabian ittar to caress the soft fabric?

To love another individual of a different culture as if he or she were kin may be a bit too much to ask. To respect a fellow brother or sister in Islam, though, or in any faith for that matter, is an expectation. Only then can we hope for social boundaries to blur and a sense of community to emerge. 

Sarah Salam writes from Baltimore, Maryland.