Last month, two men were found guilty of killing Stephen Lawrence eighteen years ago. By Somayya Patel.
They murdered him because he was black. Whilst some commentators rightly pointed out that the more divisive issue we now face is one of poverty and not race, it would be naïve to assume that racism is a thing of the past.
In the current economic climate, where a scapegoat is much in demand, racism is all the more likely to rear its ugly head.
The Muslim community is quick (rightfully so) to condemn Islamophobia and speak out in favour of multiculturalism. We like to complain about how others are steeped in their prejudices and how their ignorance fuels their Islamophobic comments and actions. However, within our own communities we are sometimes blind to the presence of racism and other prejudices. Some Muslims speaking disparagingly about individuals from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds, not realising that ironically they themselves are regarded as being ‘Black’.
Similarly, you get the usual ‘I am from ethnic minority number one, so by default it makes me better than ethnic minority number two.’ And then you have the born-Muslims thinking they’re better than converts because they’ve been practising the faith for longer or at the other end of the spectrum, converts who delude themselves into thinking that their interpretation of Islam is more ’pure’ and free from cultural baggage .
You would think that by now, we would have tasted the bitter fruits of blind prejudice and lazy ignorance and realised how harmful they can be, yet we continue to practise precisely what we are victims of.
Lamenting this situation of ours, one of our scholars wryly remarked that in parts of our country some of us build grandiose mosques and then we may even name the masjid Masjid Bilal, but if Bilal, the Abyssinian companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) was here today, he wouldn’t even be allowed to sit on the masjid committee!
The Prophet (peace be upon him) made it clear in his farewell sermon that whiteness, blackness, Arabness or lack thereof is no distinguishing factor of superiority. Only piety and God-consciousness holds that privilege. And it is only God who is the sole Judge of that.
Somayya Patel works for the 1st Ethical Charitable Trust, which encourages British Muslims to express their faith in ways which benefit wider society, thereby fostering improved social and religious cohesion. For more information, please visit www.1stethical.com