Perhaps in this country, more than in most other countries, people are judged by the colour of their skins, the shape of their noses, the type of hair they have, and their African countries of origin. We have lived through long periods of different forms of racism, some of which were entrenched in the laws of this country. Even during the period of so-called democracy, xenophobia campaigns were directed at immigrants from countries near to us. We have found all kinds of prejudice against human beings, one of the most distasteful things in my experience of living in this country. Prejudice is not only directed against people for racial reasons, but you also get prejudices directed at old people, people with disabilities, and people of another gender. In many ways, South Africa is a classic example of how human beings should not be treated.
Recently  we came across the most unbelievable racism directed at Muslim brothers of another population group. This is not something new in this country. Racial prejudice is very common in the Muslim community. It is as common as it is disgusting, as it is contrary to the teachings of Islam. Of course, racial prejudice is an exhibition of “Iblis-like” arrogance towards others whom one thinks are inferior to one. In Islam, the only measuring rod for human assessment, is piety. Nowhere, just nowhere in this religion, are there any teachings which encourage the variety of prejudices against others, and some of those who exhibit this and practice it, belong to Sufi Orders and pray to their Lord five times a day. In the example I came across recently, the perpetrators of this prejudice against Blacks also participate in regular dhikr sessions and they are supposed to be members of a sufi order. One can only hang one’s head in shame, because they do not understand Islam, neither do they understand the inner-workings of spirituality. In fact, they had ejected the Blacks from the mosque, because of their deep ingrained hatred against the “other”. One hangs one’s head in shame, because they are supposed to be on a similar spiritual path that one is on. We want our Lord to forgive us, because we feel that we don’t want them as spiritual companions. We ask for forgiveness, because that is not our decision. It is my Lord’s decision and decree that operate all the time, at every moment.
Are we so ignorant of the teachings of our religion that we do not know that our Lord has decreed us to be in a single brotherhood? Every single Muslim is a brother or sister in Islam of every other single Muslim. One day Sayyiduna Abu Dharr (r.a.) quarrelled with Sayyiduna Bilal (r.a.) and during the exchange of words, Sayyiduna Abu Dharr (r.a.) referred to Sayyiduna Bilal (r.a.) as black. The latter reported him immediately to the Messenger (ﷺ) who said to Sayyiduna Abu Dharr (r.a.): “You are still in Jahiliyyah” or something similar. This description of him, as still being in a pre-Islamic historical period of ignorance, caused him to fall on the ground and plead with Sayyiduna Bilal (r.a.) to put his foot on his cheek. I suppose that Sayyiduna Abu Dharr (r.a.) regretted his words for years to come.
I want to appeal to all of you to be very careful with the words you choose to use and the attitudes you show in dealing with each other. The Naqshbandi goal is to unite all the murids into a single strong brotherhood of believers who are for Allah (ﷻ), who work in His Cause, and who love each other. The Messenger (ﷺ) described the Awliya’ as those “who love each other in Allah”. A person who has attained this spiritual station or who is working towards it, doesn’t have prejudice in him. When he sees a human being, he sees a creation of Allah (ﷻ), honoured by his Lord. When he sees a human being, he sees someone better than him in all aspects of human activity. Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic that a traveller should have on the spiritual path is intense humility, seeing himself as nothing, as hopeless and helpless, and seeing everybody else as way ahead of him with regard to these characteristics. Travellers on the spiritual path should not see these paths as “tickets to heaven”, but as an intense path of spiritual purification to attain special graces from their Lord.
One should not be blind to one’s own faults or try to justify them, but one can only work for spiritual purification if one recognizes one’s weaknesses and replaces them with praiseworthy characteristics. How can we spit on others and expect our Lord to pour hasanat on us?
We recently had a letter from a Muslim in KwaZulu-Natal confirming what we have written on prejudice. It is even more sad, because this “Black Muslim” describes his personal experiences as a Muslim and the experiences of other Blacks as Muslims in that province. It appears that there’s considerable pretence amongst many of us when it comes to the acceptance of the verse teaching us that all the believers are brothers and sisters to each other.
The message of this brotherhood was revealed more than 1400 years ago in a country characterized by ethnic and tribal divisions and antagonisms. The message managed to break down most of these. That message of Islam and of the brotherhood of believers reached our shores about 350 years ago. We came here as people at the bottom of the social scale. Our forefathers came here as “slaves, political exiles or criminals” from the 1600’s to the 1800’s. Another stream of migrants came here at the end of the 1800’s and beginning of 1900’s mainly as poverty-stricken sugar plantation workers. Both streams of immigrants had nothing to pretend about, because of their social status. But amongst them there were many that were Muslims. And despite their socio-economic position and the social trauma they suffered, they kept their religion in their hearts. This was possible to a large degree, because amongst these immigrants were very pious people operating in Sufi Orders. It is very sad that the descendants of these people adopted, in addition to their own ethnic divisions, the racism that prevailed in this country. To a large degree our forefathers in all the initial streams of immigrants were too poor, too socially traumatized and too culturally and educationally deprived to have adopted the growing racial attitudes in this country. But not their descendants! They entrenched the ethnic divisions from their countries of origins of their forefathers and adopted a considerable amount of the racial attitudes that became part of the social landscape of this country. Today racism flourishes in the Muslim community despite what Islam teaches.
We live a lie with regards to the unity of the Ummah and with regards to the brotherhood of the believers. We have the temerity to bow down in prayer to our Lord and to celebrate His praises, but we treat His creation with contempt. The descendants of many of these immigrants forget that part of the Divine Decree from the countries of origin was that these forefathers would migrate to “Black Africa” for their sustenance. It was “Black Africa” that gave them a home and provided facilities for them within which many of them gained considerable wealth. They have no shame to treat with disdain the very people of a continent which provided for them in such a way that they could once more walk tall as human beings. There’s no appreciation in them of the continent that provided so much for them. The first Hijrah was to Africa!
Islam without its teachings of brotherhood is greatly deprived. It is this deprived religion that many of our Muslims practice. One cannot understand, for the life of one, how an individual can pray to his Lord and celebrate his Lord’s praises but treat his Lord’s creation with disrespect. We will have so much to answer for on the Day of Judgement. We will have so much to explain …
If one has an understanding of the historical context within which Islam was revealed, then one will also have some understanding why the religion is so deeply non-racist. The most important aspect of the social message of Islam was revealed in the very first verse of the new revelation. The verse says:
إِقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِى خَلَقَ
Read In the Name of your Lord Who created (xcvi: 1).
Everything that’s in existence is a creation of Almighty Allah and when we treat any part of this creation with disdain, then we are treating the Message, the Messenger (ﷺ) and Almighty Allah with contempt. One day, two Awliya’ of Almighty Allah were walking in the road and the one kicked a stone out of his way. The other said: “Why did you kick the stone? Do you not know that it is part of Allah Almighty’s creation?” My word! If one must show respect to a stone, how must you not show respect to the most honoured creation of Almighty Allah, the human being. We must all make du’a that Allah (ﷻ) removes all traces of racism and prejudice from our hearts and from the hearts of others. For so many times I have said: “Please embrace other human beings”. And I am saying again to all the murids: “Please embrace all other human beings”.
[Letters to Seekers on the Spiritual Path Vol 2 – Unpublished 2012]