Could you give some information on nationalism and racism? Is it religiously permissible if I love my nation better than other nations?

Details of the Question
Could you give some information on nationalism and racism? Is it religiously permissible if I love my nation better than other nations?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

One’s love for his own nation and motherland is surely religiously permissible; however, considering his own nation to be superior to others is wrong. Islam defines the superiority of humans according to advancement in devotion of one’s self to Allah. For this reason, no matter which nationality one belongs to, the one who devotes himself to Allah more is deemed superior to others. In that case, the superior one in devotion to Allah must be superior to us in comparison. On the contrary, love for a non-believer in our nation more than Muslims in other nations and considering this non-believer to be superior is not right. For this very reason, Islam has set forth the principle of religious fraternity in order to abolish this kind of conflict in believers’ opinions. A Muslim is our brother or sister no matter what his/her nationality and race is, and s/he is superior to non-believers. Within these criteria, there is no drawback to feeling love for our own nation.

In the verse from the Qur’an which informs us that racism is forbidden and all humans have come from the same origin, it is stated: “Surely the noblest, most honorable of you in God's sight is the one best in piety, righteousness, and reverence for God.” (the Qur’an, Al-Hujuraat 49:13).

So it means that under the concept of fear of Allah, including anti-racism, the acceptable ones in God’s sight, are not those whose nationality is this or that but those who show furthest advancement in piety, righteousness and reverence for Allah no matter what their races are.

Piety has the meaning of fear of Allah and keeping firmly and sensitively away from His prohibitions. On the other hand, when we look at the verses in the Qur’an which include attributions of pious ones, we can see that piety is the symbol, even a sign of designing life completely according to the way Islam suggests.

In the surah “Aal-i-‘Imran”, Allah invites us to His masterpiece, His Paradise and even instead of inviting, He tells us to “hasten”. And the verse ends stating this Paradise has been “prepared for the God-revering, pious.”(the Qur’an, Al-‘Imran 3:133)

The next verse in the surah defines the attributions of pious ones as:

They spend (out of what God has provided for them,) both in ease and hardship
Ever-restraining their rage (even when provoked and able to retaliate)”
Pardoning people (their offenses).” (the Qur’an, Aal-i-‘Imran 3:134)

And in the following verse, these attributions continue to be defined:

They are also the ones who, when they have committed a shameful deed or wronged themselves (through any kind of sinful act), immediately remember God and implore Him to forgive their sins
They do not persist knowingly in whatever (evil) they have committed.” (the Qur’an, Aal-i-‘Imran 3:135)     

And those who bear these attributions are the ones whom Allah loves. No matter which nation, race and position (e.g in government) and which level of (fiscal) income they have. The believers who are aware of devotion to and reverence for God and who have tasted this pleasure, are they not obliged to feel love for ones whom Allah loves? While Allah loves these people, how come one can feel love for a person who lacks in these attributions?

In the surah right after the surah al-Fatiha, the statement “a guidance for the God-revering, pious who keep their duty to God” and pointing out how significant piety is very meaningful ( the Qur’an, Al-Baqarah 2:2).  In this surah, the attributions of the pious are : “to believe in the Unseen”,  “establish the Prayer”, “to provide sustenance for the needy out of what Allah gave ”( the Qur’an, Al-Baqarah 2:3), and “to believe in the Qur’an and what was sent down before (such as the Torah, Gospel and Psalms, and the Scrolls of Abraham), and in the Hereafter” ( the Qur’an, Al-Baqarah 2:4).

In this surah, there is no mention about race and tribe or chief and servant or slave and master.
These verses are just examples. Through this point of view, we can see obviously that all the verses of the Qur’an forbid racism.

All the commands are for either all humanity or only believers. The verses calling for guidance are for all humanity. No race or tribe or no position or rank is excluded. An Arab’s response to the call for guidance is not more important than an Englishman’s.

The verses about praying and obedience are for believers. No exceptions are made in this issue among the believers. The commands like “worship God” and "prostrate in adoration for God” and “distribute your Zakats” and advice like “do not put your property out at interest”, “ keep away from adultery” and “do not gossip”  are for the attention of all the believers. The virtue of obeying these commands and avoiding these prohibitions is the same for all nations.

In addition, there are the verses about punishment. Warning verses which tell us about punishment over people of the past. In these verses, crimes, rebelling, denials, excessiveness in bad deeds they committed and tortures and torments prophets were exposed are pointed out. Punishment on them was for their crimes, not for whatever nationality they belonged to.

They were punished because of not paying attention to their prophets and even offending them. These verses are great intimidation against us  because even though our Prophet (peace be upon him) left this world for the eternal accommodation, he is still connected with his people.

Each disobedience of ours hurts His exalted spirit and His special heart. Why are we writing this? Because of the fact that almost the whole surah including the holy verse which prohibits racism is connected with this meaning. The holy verse: “We made you into tribes and families” (the Qur’an, Al-Hujuraat, 49:13). In the beginning of this surah, believers are warned “not to raise their voices above the voice of the Prophet” (the Qur’an, Al-Hujuraat 49:2). Lest they could hurt the Holy Prophet.

Afterwards, the event which gave the surah the title are told. The event of a group of bedouin (nomadic Arabs) calling the Prophet (peace be upon him) outside with their high voices. This surah, in a sense, is full of advice for believers to keep away from evil deeds to. warn us not to disturb our Prophet (peace be upon him).

In ninth verse, the command, “If two parties of believers fall to fighting, make peace between them (and act promptly). But if one of them aggressively encroaches the rights of the other, then fight you all against the aggressive side until they comply with God's decree (concerning the matter).” is given and believers are strongly forbidden to bring out discord ( the Qur’an, Al-Hujuraat 49:9).

In the next verse, it is stated, “the believers are but brothers”, and  the command, “make peace between your brothers” is conveyed. (the Qur’an Al-Hujuraat 49:10).

The following verse informs that believers are forbidden to “deride another people” (the Qur’an, Al- Hujuraat 49:11), and the latter verse, believers are advised that they should “avoid suspicion” and that they should “not spy on one another nor backbite against one another” (the Qur’an, Al-Hujuraat 49:12). And finally the next verse informs us that humankind has been “created from a single (pair of) man and woman” and believers are forbidden to commit racist acts and the following is stated, “the noblest, most honorable of you in God's sight is the one best in piety, righteousness, and reverence for God” ( the Qur’an, Al-Hujuraat 49:13).

A believer who takes lesson from this surah avoids any kind of evil deeds as from raising their voice above their elders to backbiting and suspicion and finally nourishing racism. He fears Allah regarding the issue. As it is stated in the very verse of this surah, “O you who believe! Do not be forward in the Presence of God and His Messenger. Keep from disobedience to God in piety and reverence for Him” (the Qur’an, Al-Hujuraat 49:1), believers are forbidden to bring opposite willful measures to the Book and Sunnah and to keep making those kinds of mistakes.

A believer who evaluates this command well holds tightly to the statement “the noblest, most honorable of you in God's sight is the one best in piety, righteousness, and reverence for God” and avoid bringing a new honor criterion by regarding their nation or race or tribe as superior.

Boasting is alone a disease; a kind of soot that blackens the heart. An enemy corroding the spirit. One of the bad habits that Islam forbids: Arrogance which means relying on good deeds. Boasting of good things and good deeds and regarding one’s self to be away from Hell. This habit has been considered to be bad since it veils the fear of Allah.

Let us consider it justly : if boasting of a good deed which we commit with our will and under the command of Allah is a sin, how come can we boast of ourselves or our nationality or race issues on which came into existence out of our will and which we have no right to choose; and how come can we insult or look down on a person whose race is different from ours? How can we condemn them and the worst of all, how can we become enemies against them?

Our Prophet (peace be upon him) put this expression about racism for our consideration that it is nothing to do with mind, knowledge or justice: “Solidarity of ignorance

A person can be regarded neither good nor bad because of his race. None of the descriptions of good and bad includes this concept. As any mind ratifies, every conscience is familiar with it. We talk about a person’s good morals or piety or their good deeds, honesty and their being industrious when we are to describe them. All these are about their will. So, since nobody can choose their race at their own will, we will be declaring our ignorance if we are to say something like “this man is good because he is from that race”.

Solidarity of ignorance. Racism is nothing but ignorance; no matter what your point of view on it is.

Does the spirit belong to any race?

The spirit is the guest of country of “body”. Man lives a kind of a vegetable life until he becomes four months old in the mother’s womb. He is a descendant of a father from such-and-such race and decided to settle in a mother’s womb from whatever race. With the bestowal of his Lord who created the human seed in his father’s body and who made the mother’s womb a residence for him, in this dark spot, he continues to grow.

The concept of race only bears its meaning here about this spot and this residence. The guest in this domicile does not belong to any race. From the realm of spirits, he comes to the womb. The spirit is from no race. And man is nothing but spirit in its complete and mature meaning. The body is only an apparel and no human can change even if they wear costumes made of different cloths.

Let us give up these matters of costume like foolish children. Let us fill our hearts with good traits which Allah will consent to us. Let us make our love for Him be the sultan of our spirituality. And may all other love be subject to Him. Let us have our minds consider His great work. And let all the knowledge become nicer as long as they serve Him. Let our guide be not the perverse leaders of any ideology but His Prophet.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) was not brought about in the Arab nation. He is sent not only for Arabs but also as a blessing for all nations and races. Arabs could be only one of these nations. He came on the scene to preach the Unity of God. He encountered every kind of shirk (the sin of believing in any divinity except God and of associating other gods with God). He just wanted to free people from the slavery to idols, from captivity of bodily appetites and from domination of superstitions and change them into good servants for Allah and have them bow their heads down to Him.

Justice would be substituted in place of persecution, and he would eliminate all sorts of false consideration with the light of divine inspiration. He would change all kinds of bad morals into the morals the Qur’an suggests. Beyond tribe, beyond race was his struggle even beyond universe. How could a nonbeliever be superior to any one? Then he would begin his work in faith. And he did so.

How could a person rebelling against his Creator be virtuous? So he would make people around worship Him. And he did so. His own people opposed to him. His own relatives opposed. Even his own uncle opposed.

In the Golden Age, how meaningful it is that the believers battled against their relatives who did not believe in God! In those battles, with every ruptured head of the deniers, both idolatry and racism were collapsing. Believers with their faithful brothers with whom they had no genealogical relationship fought shoulder to shoulder and they were killing their own fathers and brothers. With that spilled blood, racism and shirk was flowing and vanishing in the past. Along with the tears of the devil.

A thousand and four hundred years passed. However, the devil still was the same devil. Compared to past, perhaps he must have gained a considerable amount of experience.

Let us consider the verse “He ( Satan) is a manifest enemy to you” ( the Qur’an, Ya-Sin 36:60). Let us not go to Hell by following the one who caused our Father to be banished from Paradise.

Here is the place, we think, for the blood feud.

Who is the first to struggle for racism and whose characteristics is this kind of action?

Racism is far beyond a struggle. Just as being from this or that race is out of our control, it is a reality that we cannot ever change our race into another. Then, what is the point of struggle and propaganda for racism? Would it not be foolish of a person if he attempted to boast of himself like, “ Is there anyone as tall as I am?” Everyone would respond to him: “Brother, your parents did not stretch your body to make you tall. And a short person was not squeezed in a clamp. It is in vain what you are struggling for. Even if I am to appreciate you, is it possible that I can be like you? So what are you struggling for?”

Satan started boasting of the race or ancestry and look down on people from other races in scorn. He had refused to prostrate to Adam (peace be upon him), saying “You have created me from fire and him, You have created him from clay. "(the Qur’an, Saad 38:76). Claiming, “Fire is superior to clay. So how can I prostrate one who is inferior to me?”, he attempted to defend his rebellion.

Now, we feel sorry to see that this same mentality of Satan reigns over the people, all of whom were created from clay. This reverse mentality, this false evaluation only takes the owner to Satan’s side because, he is the inventor of this idea and he owns the patent for it.

What is the point of view on racism in the Qur’an?

The timeless decree and divine command from the surah Al-Hujuraat: “The believers are but brothers, so make peace between your brothers” (the Qur’an, Al-Hujuraat 49:10).

Allah regards neither Turks nor Kurds as brothers but believers. A non-believer cannot be an inheritor to his believing father. Once the belief is lost, material, anatomical and racial relations mean nothing.

Stating “ Those who do not want for their believing brothers the things they want for themselves cannot be complete and mature believers”, the prophet ( peace be upon him) shows us how to reflect this verse to our deeds and feelings.

If grudge or enmity enters among believers for this or that reason although they are expected to love each other, then what should they do? The rest of the verse tell us : “Make peace between your brothers; and keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety (particularly in your duties toward one another as brothers), so that you may be shown mercy (granted a good, virtuous life in the world as individuals and as a community, and eternal happiness in the Hereafter).” ( the Qur’an, Al-Hujuraat 49:10).

According to the decree of the Qur’an, all believers are brothers and sisters. All of them are a family. Today, standing against the discord and strengthening the ties of communication among the believers is a kind of a jihad.

A lesson from the surah Hud : Noah wanted his son to be rescued from the Flood and pleading that "O my Lord, my son was of my family (as a believer)”( the Qur’an, Hud 11:45) and Divine response was : “O Noah, he ( being a unbeliever) is not of your family.” And he was forbidden to take his son on board.  So, it means a non-believer son is considered not to be of their family.

A non-believer from the same race cannot be a friend or brother to them. Allah’s word which grants no possibility for willful misinterpretations: “O you who believe! Do not take your fathers and your brothers for confidants and guardians (to whom you can entrust your affairs), if they choose unbelief in preference to belief. Whoever of you takes them for confidants and guardians, those are wrongdoers (who have wronged themselves by committing a great error).” ( the Qur’an, At-Taubah 9:23)

The lesson from the verse “The believers are but brothers” (the Qur’an, Al- Hujuraat 49:10) is a sign of a delicate spirit and profound consciousness. Your father or brother who does not believe is not a friend to you. Taking them for friends is wrongdoing.

Those who took them for friends tread over the truth and wrong themselves.
Their feeling of love that Allah bestowed on them was misused and wronged.
This wrong choice led them to Hell and they behaved cruelly to their own selves.
On their scale of love, denial weighed more than belief and they became cruel by committing this injustice.

Judgment Day is the exceptional time when everyone will declare their contempt in the presence of God. Allah “The Master of the Day of Judgment” informs us: “The Day when neither wealth will be of any use, nor offspring. But only he (will prosper) who comes before God with a sound heart (free of all kinds of unbelief, hypocrisy, and associating partners with God). " (the Qur’an, Ash-Shu’ara 26: 88/89).

Is the relation between a father and the son not the very first step and the furthest level of racial closeness? This verse informs us that this relation will be of no use at that particular time. And what is the point of talking about racism? That day, none of the property or wealth or the offsprings will be of any use for anyone.

Only valid on that day is a sound heart. A clean and pure heart that has been given in to Allah and that has obeyed His commands. A heart that has loved but Him. Whoever has this kind of heart, whether an Arab or Iranian, is acceptable. And paradise is the destination of reward for the owners of sound heart. Each believer will be rewarded a domicile according to their deeds, morals, strife and their effort to be deserve this reward.

Let us remember the verse which forbids racism: O humankind! Surely We have created you from a single (pair of) male and female, and made you into tribes and families so that you may know one another (and so build mutuality and co-operative relationships, not so that you may take pride in your differences of race or social rank, or breed enmities). Surely the noblest, most honorable of you in God's sight is the one best in piety, righteousness, and reverence for God. (the Qur’an, Al- Hujuraat 49:13).

What is Prophet’s (peace be upon him) point of view on racism?

The only guide for the human and the jinn used the expression of “ solidarity of ignorance” on the matter of racism and regarded it as a disgraceful struggle remaining from the period of jahiliyyah ( period of ignorance) before the Golden Age of Islam. Also, there are a number of hadiths on the issue. One of them is: “My people will perish due to these three reasons: fate (denial of fate in the expression of ‘creation of one’s own act’). Racism and indolence in religious deeds. (Imam Tabarani, Mu’jamus Saghir, 158).

Another hadith: “Whoever attempts to struggle for racism, to spread it and who fights for the sake of it is not from us” ( Abu Dawood, Adab, 121).

Another hadith also tells us: “whoever battles for false matters, calls out for racism, and gets carried away with racism filled with rage and fearless action without thinking dies as an ignorant. ( Ibn Majah, Fitan 7)  

If we evaluate these hadiths, love for one’s own race and racism is different from one another. “Struggle for racism” that Islam forbids, and the Prophet suggests us to stay away from, looking down on believers in scorn, attempts to separate Islamic world, considering other aspects as superior to piety are all against the spirit of Islam. Otherwise, everybody  loves their parents and relatives and commit favors for them. There are already many encouragements in Allah’s commands on the issue. A person’s love for his nation, his sympathy with them, attempts to correct their mistakes and efforts to become a deserving descendant for their ancestors and to take pride in their honorable actions in the past is something so much more different from racism.

Islam does not refuse races but racism. We can exemplify this with the concept of gender. The Qur’an informs us that we were “made into tribes and families” and that we were created into men and women. Neither do we refuse race nor gender. Just as the concept of family would destroy if men and women divided into different sides and battle, dividing into sides for the sake of struggle of racism brings us no use but injury for our nation and state and weakness against our enemies. 

I will conclude our Prophet’s statement on racism with the “Farewell Sermon”. Our Prophet (peace be upon him) performed his last hajj in his final days of his life after twenty three year’s preaching Allah’s word and with his matchless sermon that he yielded from this preaching, he called Muslim’s attention to the main issues once again. And it is of high importance that racism was pointed out in this sermon.

In one part of the sermon, the following was stated : “Your Lord is one; your father is one. You are all children of Adam. Adam was created out of mud. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab a red skinned person has no superiority over a black; nor a black has any superiority over a red skinned person. Superiority is only through taqwa (piety). The best of you in the eye of Allah is the one that fears Him the most.”

Prof. Dr. Alaaddin Başar

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