Islam Commands Equality for All
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
(A speech delivered by Mohamed Baianonie, Imam of the Islamic Center of Raleigh, NC, on December 19, 2007)
More than fourteen hundred years ago, the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) stood in Arafaat on the Day of Arafah fulfilling the main pillars of Hajj. This pilgrimage was the only pilgrimage that the prophet performed, which is known as his Farewell Pilgrimage. Unfortunately, four months later the prophet passed away in Medina in the middle of the month of Rabee’ Al-Awwal.
On the Day of Arafaat, the prophet (S.A.W.) began addressing masses of his followers pleading: "O people hear my words, for I do not know whether I shall meet with you again in this place." On this great ceremony, the prophet addressed important matters for establishing a true civilization that will lead humanity to success in this life as well as in the Hereafter.
One of the greatest principles addressed was his declaration of equality among people.
Islam declares equality among people; in fact, Islam respects humans solely because they are human beings and for no other reason. Islam makes no distinction between race, nationality, or color. During his last pilgrimage, the prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) addressed people about this concept, saying: "O People! Your God is one; your father is one; there is no preference over an Arab versus a non-Arab nor a non-Arab over an Arab or red over black or black over red except for the most righteous. Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous among you."
And also Allah (S.W.T.) says what may be interpreted as, "O Mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you in the sight of Allah is he who has the most taqwa (righteous) among you. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware." [surat Al-Hujuraat, (verse 13)]
Not only did Islam emphasize this principle of equality in theory, it also emphasized it many practical forms of worship. These forms of equality that Islam mandates in acts of worship constantly reaffirm to Muslims that we are all equal and no one is superior to the other.
For example, equality is practiced in the Masaaajid (mosques) during the weekly Friday prayer and in all the other five daily prayers as well. During these prayers, all differences in race, status, nationality and color vanish and true equality is practiced, starting with the row of prayer. Lines are formed based on whoever comes to the Masjid (mosque) first, and takes his place in the front rows. Color, nationality or financial status will not earn a person a position in front row, only arrival time. In the Masjid, rows are filled as people arrive. Those who arrives earlier fill up the front and as people fill the Masjid the rows extend into the back. If you observe the rows of Muslims during prayer, you will find the rich and poor, the knowledgeable and the illiterate, the Arab and the non-Arab side by side—all of these factors make no difference in the sight of Allah (S.W.T.). As they pray, they all face one direction, they move as one, they are lead by one Imaam, they recite from the one Qur’aan revealed by Allah, and they pray to the One Lord Allah (S.W.T).
Equality is even more evident in our worship in the holy land of Mecca when the annual pilgrimage and Umrah are performed. During regular prayers, Muslims are free to choose their clothing as far as quality, color, brand name and such. However, during Hajj and Umrah, Muslims are obligated to wear their Ihraam. This Ihraam consists of a simple white cloth—this cloth is worn by all men of all races, social and financial status, old and young, the governor and the governed, and all these men repeat the same Talbeyah, and circle the Ka'bah supplicating to the one Lord Allah (S.W.T.).
Furthermore, no one is ever above the law in Islam. Islam promotes fair and equal treatment of everyone before the law, no matter what status a person holds in society. What is permissible in Islamic law is permissible for all people and what is forbidden is forbidden upon all. What is mandated by law is an obligation upon everyone, and furthermore, whoever deserves punishment must get it fairly without cruelty, regardless of his position or status.
You can find many examples of equality from Islamic history:
One example comes from the time when the prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) governed over his Ummah. The companions of the Prophet were faced with a situation in which they needed someone to intercede for a well-respected woman of the Quraish Tribe. They picked Usaamah Bin Zaid who was one of the Prophet’s favorite companions to intervene for this well-respected woman. She had committed theft and was to be punished by cutting off her hand. Usaamah had spoken to the prophet (S.A.W.) about this matter, and the prophet (S.A.W.) got so angry and replied to the companions, "Truly, the people before you went astray and were ruined because the noble amongst them committed theft but were left untouched; however when the weak amongst them committed theft, they would execute the legal punishment on them. By Allah, if Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad were to commit theft, I would cut off her hand." Now this is true equality and justice.
There are even more examples of this practice of equality during the period of the guided Khalifs. Here are two examples:
In the first example, a prince of the Gassaan tribe slaps a Bedouin man. The Bedouin man went to the Caliph Umar and issued a complaint against the prince. Umar brought the prince, Jebellah Ibn Ul-Ayham before him and decided to allow the Bedouin to retaliate against the prince with a slap for a slap, unless the Bedouin chose to forgive the prince. The prince took this verdict harshly and believed that being slapped by a Bedouin was degrading to him. He complained to Umar saying: "How can he retaliate? I am a prince and he is a common man." Umar answered: "Islam has made you both equal to each other." This verdict was unacceptable to Jebellah who in response escaped from Medina, then rejected Islam. No one was concerned about the prince’s actions because his abandonment of Islam is trivial compared to treating even one person unjustly.
The next example is taken from the period when Umar ruled the Muslim Ummah. In this story, the son of Amr Bin Al-A’aass , the governor of Egypt, strikes a Coptic-Christian man with a stick and brags that he is the son of an honored family. That Christian man traveled from Egypt to Medina to complain against the governor’s son. In response to this complaint, Caliph Umar called the governor, his son and the Christian man to Medina and ruled that the Christian man were to strike the son of the governor the same way he was struck. The caliph then criticized the governor saying: "How and when did you enslave people while their mothers gave birth to them as free!"
Islam, the deen of Allah (S.W.T.) has called for equality among all and urged us to apply it in our lives and in society for more than 1400 years, especially during times when mankind discriminates so severely against one another to the point of enslavement of other humans.
Equality is one of the secrets that made Islam and Muslims prevail in their deen and in their Ummah (nation) in the past. It is a mistake to think that Islam prevailed only because Muslims like dying in battles as others like to live. Islam did not triumph through battles only, but it has survived and succeeded because it is a complete and unique way of life. Islam succeeded because it has won the hearts and minds of people.
Islam is unique in its rituals, its beliefs, and the way it teaches us to deal with others. This deen of Allah and all that it teaches is the guide Muslims have used in the past and can use today or in the future for success.
Humanity today needs to be rescued from the rampant inequality and injustice—Islam is the only way for liberation.
As Muslims we have received guidance from Allah (S.W.T.) we should practice the equality in our lives and it is our responsibility to carry on this message to save our entire humanity. If we fail in carrying on this duty as humanity continues to suffer, then Allah (S.W.T.) will hold us accountable for it on the Day of Judgment, on a day which no excuse will be of any benefit.
We ask Allah (S.W.T.) to make us from among those who have listened to this speech, benefited from its message, and apply it in their lives. "Aameen"