In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, racism and its impact in society are topics of wide discussion more than ever today, but these are not new social phenomena. These were ills that plagued society since the time of the Holy Prophet (SAW) and Imam Ali (AS). Under the tenets of Islam, it was made very clear that there is no place for discrimination on any basis. The Holy Prophet (SAW) said,
“There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a non-Arab over an Arab, and no superiority of a white person over a black person or of a black person over a white person, except on the basis of personal piety and righteousness.”
Imam Ali (AS) embodied anti-racism and anti-discrimination. His words echo the Holy Prophet’s (SAW) in his famous letter to his companion, Maalik al-Ashtar: “There are two kinds of people: your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity.”
Not everyone saw their fellow Muslims as brothers during the time of the Holy Prophet (SAW) and Imam Ali (AS). People were discriminated against on the basis of race and culture. Arabs were typically given precedence over non-Arabs, and the Muhajireen (those who migrated with the Prophet (SAW) from Mecca to Medina) were seen to be superior and favoured over the Ansar (the helpers who were native to Medina).
During the governance of Imam Ali (AS), one way in which racist behaviour was evident in the Arabs’ refusal to marry non-Arabs, despite the Imam’s efforts to propose on their behalf. Imam Ali (AS), with his wisdom and practicality, advised the non-Arabs to educate themselves and learn the skills to become traders, a reputable and profitable career path at the time. This would allow the non-Arabs to grow economically and gain a stronger influence, status, and respect in society1. In this way, the Imam (AS) worked actively towards creating equality and eradicating discrimination systematically by empowering those who were marginalized.
This manner in which Imam Ali (AS) managed this issue and validated the concerns of his people illustrates how anti-racism and anti-discrimination in the government can create ripple effects creating change in the mentality and mindset of the broader society at large. His example is as relevant as ever today. From governments to workplaces to relationships and marriages, how would the Imam (AS) advise us against our racist and discriminatory behaviour today?