Beyond Black Victim Status : Slaves Are Superior

Beyond Black Victim Status : Slaves Are Superior
– by Umm Zakiyyah | Source : MuslimMatters

“We were of the most disgraced of people, and Allah granted us honor with this Islam. Now, whenever we seek honor in other than that which Allah honored us with, Allah shall disgrace us (once again).”  — ‘Umar b. al-Khattab

“Black people in America can never be Muslim,” he said to me as I stood next to his desk. I stared at my teacher with an expression that must have conveyed very little of what I felt right then. I didn’t know what to say. I studied his eyes, slightly enlarged by the thick glasses he wore. The deep olive of his Arab complexion was nearly the same as my American brown. We even shared the same hair texture—though my hair was covered right then.

But, even so, to an outsider looking in, he could have easily been my father. And given that he was the only Muslim teacher I had at the high school, I should have at least shared with him the commonality of “brother and sister” in Islam. But that, I knew, was impossible to this man. He was Arab. I was American—and “Black” at that. He wanted to make sure I understood this impossibility. I did.

I continued standing where I was only because I was waiting for my teacher to mention the reason he had called me to his desk. The other students were at their seats working, some looking up curiously every now and then, wondering what it was our teacher wanted from me. Naturally, like most students would, they imagined I’d gotten myself in trouble somehow, and they didn’t want to miss the action. I waited only because I didn’t want to miss his point.

The teacher’s matter-of-fact expression as he blinked back at me confused me only momentarily. I hesitated for only a second after the realization, mostly out of respect, and I made an effort not to display disdain for my elder as I excused myself and returned to my seat. But it was impossible for me to concentrate after that. I was genuinely perplexed.

“In life,” my father told us once, “you’ll meet many people who’ll say al-salamu ‘alaykum, but they’re not really Muslim.” He shook his head. “No, I don’t mean they’re not Muslims to Allah. I mean they’re not living Islam. They have no idea what this religion means.”

I thought of my Arab teacher.

“Beauty is in carrying yourself like a Muslim,” my parents would say. “Beauty is in living Islam.”

I stood browsing the shelves of the modest store—“the Sooq”—adjacent to the prayer area of the Islamic center I liked to attend in suburban Washington, D.C. I did a double take before picking up the small box. I stared at it a moment longer, realizing my eyes hadn’t been mistaken at all. The skin-bleaching cream—manufactured in a Muslim country—did indeed say what I thought it said.

The solution to pollution.

Next to this tagline was the image of two faces, one brown (incidentally very close to my own skin tone) and the other white—the “before” and “after” of this product. Disgusted, I returned the box to the shelf and left.

“And here we have a black woman,” the Muslim lecturer told the audience, his voice rising to reflect the sincerity of his message as he shared the famous hadith about the black woman afflicted with seizures, a story he hoped would encourage his Muslim sisters to take ḥijāb more seriously, “a black woman who wanted to guard her modesty. So she asked the Prophet, ṣallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, to invoke Allah so that she wouldn’t become uncovered. Sisters, this was a black woman…”

“My father would never let me marry a Black man,” my friend from Trinidad told me as we chatted one day. She laughed and shook her head. I couldn’t help noticing that her skin was a much richer brown than my own. “He told me, ‘You can marry whoever you want, but don’t ever marry a Black man.’”

“I must admit,” a sister from Somalia said after meeting me for the first time. We were at a book event for my novels held at an Islamic convention. “I’m really surprised you’re Black.” As we talked, she apologized for her prejudice: She had been unable to fathom that such “well-written” books could come from a Black American. Later at the same convention, a fellow American said something similar—but in different words. “And she’s really intelligent,” he said as he introduced me to his wife. His voice was between disbelief and awe. I smiled as I reached out to shake the hand of a woman who studied me with a sense of uncertainty that strangely mirrored her husband’s shock at my brain’s capacity. I read the question in her eyes. Really? Are you sure?

I could say that these experiences scarred me for life, that I went home in tears, and that these people’s bigotry incited within me that horrible inferiority complex due to my “Blackness” and my utter inability to be accepted not only by “White America” but also by the “real” Muslims of the world.

But I won’t. That would be dishonest. Truth is, I felt sorry for these people.

When I was still in high school, I would come home and recount such stories to my younger sister, and like myself at the time, she would become perplexed. And to be really honest, we would even laugh at times—not with the quiet, hesitant giggle most appropriate for our “lowly” status, but with the thunderous throw-your-head-back laugh that makes your stomach hurt and tears sting your eyes. This was how we dealt with much of the bigotry we witnessed in life.

Perhaps I am an exception. I can’t be sure. But I didn’t reach adulthood thinking I was less than anyone else. I didn’t shrink in the face of those deemed above me—whether Muslim or non-Muslim—and demurely accept their “superior” status. Quite frankly, I didn’t know they had one. Yes, I knew about those suffering from a tragic sense of insecurity, which made it necessary for them to release “statistics” about others’ intellectual abilities (or lack thereof) or call a student to their desk to say she couldn’t be Muslim.

Or to believe, perhaps, that those who aren’t Black are actually inferior. But, alhamdulillah, I didn’t go through any of that.

Yes, in childhood, I was mistreated—by non-Muslims mostly due to my Islam and brown skin and by Muslims mostly due to my “lack of Islam” because of my brown skin. And yes, it hurt. And yes, I cried from time to time. And no, I didn’t always feel confident in my Muslim headscarf and brown skin. And, naturally, I didn’t reach adulthood without insecurities (if such a thing is possible).

But, by Allah’s mercy, I also didn’t reach adulthood insecure. My self-image and self-esteem centered around one thing: my Islam. So when I picked up a “Muslim” magazine and happened upon the matrimonial section, it didn’t even occur to me that I should feel slighted or offended when I read dozens of ads by men looking for “fair” wives. I had a good laugh. And my sister did too.

“I’m Whiter than You”

I flipped back to the page of Al-Jumuah Magazine I had just seen. For a moment I just stared at the title. I couldn’t imagine what the article would be about. If there was a turning point in my youthful naivete, reading this article was probably it—though I was a wife and mother at the time I came across this piece.

To the author’s credit, the article was well-written and reflective. She was a White American who had accepted Islam and, due to her (apparently) being the recipient of superfluous praise for her appearance, she wished to let us know the downside of having white skin—sunburns and the like.

What was life-changing about this for me was two-fold: that the author had been inspired to write it in the first place and, what’s more, that a reputable Muslim magazine had seen value in printing it.

I sat still for quite some time. I wasn’t hurt. I wasn’t indignant. I was… confounded.

And concerned.

When I was in high school, a local radio show held a citywide essay contest, and contestants were to write about the hero in their lives. The winning piece would be read live from the Indianapolis radio station and broadcast for all the city to hear. As I contemplated whom I would write about, many personalities crossed my mind. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks… But in the end, I chose my father. And, to my surprise, I won.

I stood before the microphone as the radio host looked on, and I shared with the world my honest testimony of what I felt right then— that my father was my hero in life. It wasn’t because he was a well-known community activist or because I’d grown accustomed to seeing his name in the newspaper or his face on television. It wasn’t even because he was the spiritual advisor to the famous boxer Mike Tyson. It was because, despite the many obstacles he faced in life and despite his being a rather ordinary man, he managed to instill in me, as well as my siblings, a love for the lives that Allah gave us. And never once did he make me or my siblings believe that our worth (or beauty) could be measured by— or limited to— our bodies or skin.

In a word, he taught us… truth. Today, I find it truly heartbreaking that of the more than one billion Muslims in the world, so few of them could say the same of their parents.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, Muslims — whether “fair” or “dark”, Arab or non-Arab, Black or White — seek honor in lifestyles and values that are far removed from Islam.

“Is it honor you seek among them? Nay, all honor is with Allah.” [Quran (Surah Al-Nisa’, 4:139)]

While in truth, we should seek honor in only one lifestyle:

That of being slaves.

Not to our country, skin color, tribe, or family name. And not even to our “victim status” as oppressed people of the world.

But to Allah, our Creator. Who has given us Islam.

If we don’t seek honor through this religion, we will continue to live in humiliation and make utter fools of ourselves. Not only through revealing our tragic colonial mentality in racist comments, ridiculous matrimonial ads, and bizarre articles in magazines. But through our sullied souls when we die and meet Allah.

For to our Creator, there is but one measure of human beauty and worth: Being Allah’s slaves on earth. And these superior slaves are not distinguished due to their bodies or skin. But due to their pure hearts and righteous deeds…

And through having in their breasts not even a grain of pride when they are buried in the dirt from which they were created.

So as we take pride in the color (or lack thereof) of our fleshy dirt,

Tell me, O child of Adam…

Are you amongst these honored slaves?

[Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of the If I Should Speak trilogy and the novels Realities of Submission and Hearts We Lost. To learn more about the author, visit themuslimauthor.com or join her Facebook page.]

“I have never seen such a back before.”

Khabaab (RA) is one of those fortunate persons who offered themselves for sacrifice and suffering for the cause of Allah (Subhanahu wa Taala). He was the sixth or seventh person to embrace Islam and therefore, he suffered long.

He was made to put on steel armor and lie in the sun to sweat. Very often he was made to lie flat on burning sand, which caused the flesh on his back to dissolve. He was the slave of a woman. When she came to know that he was visiting RasoolAllah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wassallam), she used to brand his head with a hot iron rod.

Umar (RA) during his Caliphate once asked him about the details of his suffering after embracing Islam.

He showed him his back, seeing which Umar (RA) said, “I have never seen such a back before.”

He said, “My body was dragged over heaps of burning coal and the blood and fat coming out of my back put out the fire.”

When Islam spread and the Muslims conquered all the surrounding territory, he used to weep and say, “Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala) seems to be compensating us in this world for all our sufferings and perhaps nothing would be left for us as reward in the Akhirah”.

Source : From the Book “Stories of the Sahabah” by Shaikh Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhalvi.

Allah Loves those who do Good

One day, when Ja’far As-Sadiq wanted to perform ablution, he asked his slave to pour water on his hands from a jug. As the slave began to pour out the water, the jug fell onto the face and injured some part of his face,which resulted in Ja’far giving his slave a reproachful look. Fearing punishment, the servant said:

“Who repress anger.” *

Ja’far reassuringly said, “I have repressed my anger.”

“And who pardon men”, * said the slave.

“Indeed I pardoned you,” said Ja’far.

“Verily Allah loves Al-Muhsinun (the good-doers),” * said the slave expectantly.

“Go: You are free for the sake of Allah (Azza-wa-jal), and you may take from my wealth 1000 dinars [gold coins].”

* (Surah Ali ‘Imran 3:134) “Those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon (all) men;- for Allah loves those who do good;-“

Source : Bahrud-Dumu’ pgs.173-174, “Glimpses of the Lives of Righteous People” – by Majdi Muhammad Ash-Shahawi

“The One… The One!!”

Bilaal was an Abyssinian from the black race. His destiny made him a slave of some people of the tribe of Jum’ah in Makkah, where his mother was one of their slave girls. He led the life of a slave whose bleak days were alike and who had no right over his day and no hope for his tomorrow. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and the Holy religion of Islam made this weak Abyssinian slave a teacher to all humanity in the art of faith and defending it with whatever it takes.

When Bilaal’s owners found out he had embraced the religion of Islam, they took him out in the midday heat when the desert sand turned into burning hell. They would throw him naked on its scorching rocks and bring a burning hot rock, which took several men to lift from its place, and throw it onto his body and chest.

This savage torture was repeated every day until the hearts of some of his executioners took pity on him. Finally, they agreed to set him free on condition that he would speak well of their gods, even with only one word that would allow them to keep their pride so that the tribe of Quraish would not say they had been defeated and humiliated by the resistance of their slave. But even this one word, which he could pretend to eject from his heart and with it buy his life and soul without losing his faith or abandoning his conviction, Bilaal refused to say.

Indeed, he refused to say it and began to repeat his lasting chant instead: “The One… The One!” (Allah is the One and Only God). His torturers shouted at him, imploring him, “Mention the name of Al-Laat and Al-‘Uzzaa.” But he answered, “The One… The One!”

They said to him, “Say as we say.” But he answered them with remarkable mockery and sarcasm, “Indeed my tongue is not good at that.” So Bilaal remained in the melting heat and under the weight of the heavy rock, and by sunset they raised him up and put a rope around his neck. Then they ordered their boys to take him around the hills and streets of Makkah. Bilaal’s tongue did not mention anything other than his holy chant, “The One… The One!”

When the night overtook them, they began bargaining with him, “Tomorrow, speak well of our gods, say, ‘My lord is Al-Laat and Al-‘Uzzaa,’ and we’ll leave you alone. We are tired of torturing you as if we are the tortured ones.” But he shook his head and said, “The One…The One!”

So, Umayah Ibn Khalaf, his master, kicked him and exploded with exasperating fury, and shouted, “What bad luck has thrown you upon us, O slave of evil? By Al-Laat and Al-‘Uzzaa, I’ll make you an example for slaves and masters.” But Bilaal answered with the holy greatness and certainty of a believer, “The One… The One!” And he who was assigned to play the role of a sympathizer returned to talking and bargaining. He said “Take it easy, Umayah. By Al-Laat, he will not be tortured again. Bilaal is one of us and his mother is our slave girl. He will not be pleased to talk about and ridicule us because of his Islam.”

But Bilaal gazed at their lying cunning faces, and his mouth slackened like the light of dawn. He said with a calmness that shook them violently, “The One… The One!” It was the next day and midday approached. Bilaal was taken to the sun-baked ground. He was patient, brave, firm, and expecting the reward in the Hereafter. Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq went to them while they were torturing him and shouted at them, “Are you killing a man because he says, ‘Allah is my Lord?'” Then he shouted at Umayah lbn khalaf, “Take more than his price and set him free.” It was as if Umayah were drowning and had caught a lifeboat. It was to his liking and he was very much pleased when he heard Abu Bakr offering the price of Bilaal’s freedom, since they had despaired of crushing him. And since they were merchants, they realized that selling him was more profitable to them than killing him. They sold him to Abu Bakr, and he emancipated him immediately.

Bilaal took his place among free men. When Al-Siddiq put his arm round Bilaal, rushing with him to freedom, Umayah said to him, “Take him, for by Al-Laat and Al-‘Uzzaa if you had refused to buy him except for one ounce of gold, I would have sold him to you.” Abu Bakr realized the bitterness and disappointment hidden in these words. It was appropriate not to answer, but because they violated the dignity of this man who had become his brother and his equal, he answered Umayah saying, “By Allah, if you had refused to sell him except for a hundred ounces, I would have paid it.” He departed with his companion to the Messenger of Allah, giving him news of his liberation, and there was a great celebration.

Source: “Men Around the Messenger(pbuh).” By Khalid Muhammad Khalid.

Also Read : Abu Bakr Sets Bilal Free

Anything for Allah

Khabaab (RA) is one of those fortunate persons who offered themselves for sacrifice and suffering for the cause of Allah (Subhanahu wa Taala). He was the sixth or seventh person to embrace Islam and therefore, he suffered long. He was made to put on steel armor and lie in the sun to sweat. Very often he was made to lie flat on burning sand, which caused the flesh on his back to dissolve. He was the slave of a woman. When she came to know that he was visiting Rasulullah (Sallallaho Alaihi Wassallam), she used to brand his head with a hot iron rod. Umar (RA) during his Caliph once asked him about the details of his suffering after embracing Islam.

He showed him his back, seeing which Umar (RA) said, “I have never seen such a back before.”

He said, “My body was dragged over heaps of burning coal and the blood and fat coming out of my back put out the fire.”

When Islam spread and the Muslims conquered all the surrounding territory, he used to weep and say, “Allah (Subhanahu wa Taala) seems to be compensating us in this world for all our sufferings and perhaps nothing would be left for us as reward in the Akhirah”.

Source: From the Book “Stories of the Sahabah” by Shaikh Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhalvi.


Such were the followers of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who were ready to give anything but their faith in Allah. On the other hand, we Muslims today are ready to sell our iman for little material gains!

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