Black History Month

Salam and welcome to another blog 🙂

As we are coming close to the end of another year and for most of us, this time is often spent in reflection.

October is the month in which the UK celebrates black history #blackhistorymonth to educate ourselves on the excellence of black history and think about the adversities the community have faced. In the midst of all this, it is extraordinary to see what some members of the community have achieved.

We are fortunate enough to have the authentic sayings (Hadith) of the beloved prophet Muhammad PBUH and most importantly the Holy Qur’an; both of which highlight the importance of unity, equality and diversity.

So what can we learn from the collection of Hadith and the Holy Qur’an?  What does Islam say about how to treat others? how we should behave towards others?

Allah mentions in the Qur’an:

“And verily this Ummah (nation) of yours is one Ummah and I am your Lord and Cherisher, therefore fear Me and no other.”(Quran 23:52)

We (Muslims) believe that our Prophet Muhammad PBUH is the last messenger and Prophet of Allah. This means from the moment the Qur’an was revealed until the end of time everyone on this earth will be part of the ummah of prophet Muhammad PBUH. Allah refers to the ummah as one ummah which highlights the importance of unity despite the apparent or hidden differences we may have, Allah is the creator of all and we should not fear anyone but him. We as one ummah should not uphold such practices within us which are set to divide or discriminate between each other. In such cases one should fear Allah and turn to the teachings of Islam which contradict such characteristics.

 

“There is no compulsion in matters of faith/religion.” (Qur’an 2:286)

In this verse Allah advises all that dawah (islamic invitation and knowledge) is not given by forcing others to believe or to complete certain acts of religion. The importance of living in harmony and valuing each individual is a core aspect in Islam. We understand from this ayat the way we communicate and behave around others is very vital, further confirming to treat everyone in an equal manner with respect and to not exercise harshness.

Lessons from the life of the prophet Muhammad PBUH

The last sermon:

When the prophet Muhammad PBUH set out to complete his hajj in the 10th year after Hijrah (migration), he knew it would be the final time he could address his ummah at a large gathering. The prophet Muhammad PBUH passed away around 3 months later and thus used this as an opportunity to cover some important points for his ummah to remember. The sermon was given on the day of Arafah and is known as ‘the farewell sermon’. This sermon is often used to reference that Islam does not promote racism and discrimination.

The prophet Muhammad PBUH included the below in his speech:

The prophet Muhammad PBUH conveyed that this nation should not treat others differently based on their ethnic backgrounds or the appearance of their skin. Piety and good action are what differentiates us from one another but this is an aspect Allah can only judge and see. We as humans are not aware of what actions an individual may complete in solitude and which actions Allah has accepted.

There is a reason as to why the prophet Muhammad PBUH wished to mention this in his last sermon. He was aware that after his death, the ummah would divide and become disunited. Conflicts between mankind arise when there is no kindness or unity. We know this statement is very true by looking at the state of our world today.

If we take some time to reflect on the atrocities the black community have faced and still face, all based on the appreance of their skin, it should shock us all. The brutality, the weary looks, the assumptions and the deprivation of their basic rights are just a number of issues they have to tackle. We are all the creation of Allah and he has beautified us in different ways and most importantly we are all one ummah.

A lot of our communities fail to acknowledge when they are treating another in an unjust manner. Some common scenarios in our society include:

  • Children being advised not to make friends with another black child or child of colour.
  • People of colour or darker complexion are considered at times to be less attractive.
  • Women/men are advised not to consider a person of colour for marriage.

Dear readers, this is part of the problem and has no part in Islam. We ask that you use this month to contemplate on how you can better yourselves as a Muslim and simply a fellow human being in this world. A world which has unfortunately been coloured with racism, discrimination and privilege.

This month should also be used to research past historical figures and the lessons we can learn from them. Throughout this month, will be releasing a number of different blogs regarding some of the most influential figures in history.

Although October is known as black history month it is our duty to always remember and educate ourselves. Each day is an opportunity to increase our knowledge and help perfect our character. May Allah grant us the ability to reform our actions and transform ourselves into better.

 

  1. Bilal Ibn Rabah (ra)

Sayyid al-Muaddineen – Leader of all muaddins (callers to prayer)

Bilal (ra) was a close companion of the prophet Muhammad Pbuh. His ethnic background originated from Ethiopia, but he was born in Makkah and his parents were both slaves. Like his parents, Bilal (ra) also grew up as a slave but was later freed by Abu Bakr (ra)

When Bilal (ra) was a slave, he often faced a lot of racist remarks and mistreatment from the Arabs. The ignorant leaders had given him the nickname ‘Ibn Sawdah’ (son of the black lady) and this is how they would address him. So, Bilal (ra) not only had to face the brutal conditions of his slavery he also had to deal with racist slurs from the leaders around him.

Although Bilal (ra) was Ethiopian, he was born and bred in Makkah making him an inhabitant of the holy city. His first language was Arabic. His home was Makkah. He belonged in Makkah and had a place in the city just as any other man/woman born there. Like many immigrants face the same issue.

Bilal (ra) adopted a lot of patience and never retaliated this was the character of Bilal (ra) and one the main reasons he became an inspiration and role model to Muslims till today.

Special qualities of Bilal ibn Rabah RA

Abu Huraira narrated, at the time of the Fajr prayer the Prophet Muhammad pbuh asked Bilal (ra) “Tell me of the best deed you did after embracing Islam, for I heard your footsteps in front of me in Paradise.” Bilal (ra) replied, “I did not do anything worth mentioning except that whenever I performed ablution during the day or night, I prayed after that ablution as much as was written for me.” (Sahih Bukhari 1149)

This hadith is regarding a dream the prophet pbuh had in which he heard Bilal (ra) footsteps in front of him in Jannah. The prophet pbuh wanted to know which deed Bilal (ra) was consistent in completing which would guarantee his entry into paradise. Bilal (ra) answered the only unique deed he carried out was that after completing his wudu, he would always pray nafl prayer (additional).

We know the prophet pbuh has been guaranteed a place in Jannah but this did not stop him from wanting to continue earning Allah’s pleasure. So, when the prophet pbuh had this dream he had to know which action Bilal (ra) did which was so beloved in Allah’s eyes.

This is a beautiful hadith as it shows we can always learn from others. This hadith demonstrates that Bilal (ra) was a special person in Allah’s eyes and that he has a place in Jannah waiting for him with the Messenger of Allah our prophet Muhammad pbuh.

The honour he was given as the first muaddin:

 

When one of the sahabas had a dream regarding the adhaan the prophet pbuh confirmed it was a true dream and the call to prayer should now commence. The prophet pbuh without hesitation summoned Bilal (ra) and choose him to become the first muaddin and the official muaddin of the prophet pbuh. In fact, every person who calls the adhaan until the end of time will be following the footsteps of Bilal (ra).

Bilal (ra) was chosen due to his clear, powerful and melodious voice. How ironic that the man who was once taunted for the colour of his skin and ethnic background was now given the privilege of being the leader of all muaddins? The privilege to pray the adhaan which is in Arabic, was not given to an Arab man. The Ethiopian man who was once a slave was now given the special quality of being Islam’s first muaddin. This proves that in Islam, your background or your social status has no meaning in the eyes of Allah or in the religion of Islam. Our good deeds and level of piety are what matter the most.

Bilal (ra) became a close companion of the prophet pbuh and did not leave his side until the prophet’s death. He accompanied the Prophet pbuh on all his journeys and expeditions.

Bilal (ra) was the first person to pray the  adhaan in all holy 3 mosques. He first prayed the adhaan in Madinah at Masjid Nabawi when the prophet pbuh chose him. Later when Makkah was conquered, the prophet pbuh instructed Bilal (ra) to climb the Kabah and pray the adhaan from the roof. During Umar (ra’s) caliphate, Palestine was conquered and Umar (ra) specially requested Bilal (ra) to pray the adhaan at Masjid Al Aqsa, a request which he could not decline.

Bilal (ra) did not have an easy life but his story should motivate us during the difficult stages of our life. The patience he exercised throughout his life was an example that we can all follow. The man who gathered the strength he had left in him to say ‘Ahad’ after being troubled and abused by many. The man who was tortured in this world became the same man whose footsteps could be heard in Jannah by the beloved prophet pbuh. Despite the hardships he went through, he truly is blessed with a special resting place till Jannah Insha Allah.

Bilal (ra’s) story should remind us all of the beautiful ayat: “So, verily with hardship comes ease” (94:5)

 

2. Nana Asma’u – The West African Princess

Asmaʾu bint Usman dan Fodiyo better known as Nana Asma’u was a teacher, scholar, poet and activist during the 19th century. Her father was the Sultan and ruler of the Sokoto Caliphate in West Africa which included countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Burkina, Niger.

What was Nana Asmaʾu known for?

  • Nana Asma’u was very well educated and fluent in a number of different languages. This meant that she was able to communicate well with others.
  • Nana Asma’u was a poet and wrote hundreds of different poems regarding her childhood, religion, her experiences and life in general. Her poetry would be used to educate others much like how we use textbooks in schools/universities.
  • Nana Asma’u was best known for being a teacher and a scholar. She was responsible for educating hundreds of women across the countries her father ruled.
  • She encouraged women to learn about their religion and their rights. She made sure that women were given access to an education and fought for their rights.
  • Nana Asma’u led groups of women around West Africa and trained them to teach others about Islam.

If it wasn’t for Nana Asma’u a lot of women would not have received basic education and religious education. The women Nana Asma’u taught would later become teachers and continue to spread knowledge within their communities.

Nana Asma’u was responsible for creating an education network for women across certain parts of West Africa. Till this day some countries in West Africa dedicate their educational institutes to her, in order to keep her legacy alive.

3. King Negus of Abyssinia – Ashama Ibn Abjar (An – Najashi)

Ashama ibn Abjar ra was the King of Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia) during the time of the Prophet pbuh. In Arabic and in the hadith he is often referred to as An-Najashi. He was known for being a just and righteous ruler. Before becoming Muslim he was a devout Christian scholar.

The prophet pbuh advised Muslims who wish to seek protection elsewhere should travel to Abyssinia and visit the just King Ashama.

When the Muslims left for Abyssinia, the Arab leaders became aware and sent two of their men to ensure the Muslims are not granted asylum. They arrived in Abyssinia with extravagant gifts and attempted to convince King Negus the Muslims were corrupt people. They requested that he expel the Muslims and return them back to Makkah. King Ashama ra was known for being a just King, hence he refused to hand the Muslims back to the Arab leaders without hearing their plea. The Muslims were questioned by the King so that he could make a fair judgement on this case.

Ja’far bin Abi Talib ra (a companion) spoke on behalf of the Muslims. Some of the points he mentioned are below:

  • Prior to becoming Muslim they were people of ignorance and immorality worshipping man made idols.
  • They did not engage in any good practices or have any good beliefs.
  • Allah sent a prophet from amongst their own people who was known in the community as a trustworthy honest man.
  • The prophet Muhammad pbuh taught people to worship Allah alone and maintain good relations with others by being honest, fulfilling promises, avoiding bloodshed, being kind, respecting women etc
  • The Arab leaders began harassing Muslims to make them reject Allah and the Messenger pbuh and worship their idols.
  • When this became insufferable they left Makkah and travelled to Abyssinia hoping that they can live here in peace.
  • Ja’far ra also read a passage from the Qur’an which detailed the story of Esa as’s birth and his mother Maryam AS showing that Muslims also believe in Jesus (Esa) just like the Christians.

When the King heard Ja’far ra’s speech he became very emotional. Ashama RA then ordered that the Muslims were safe and welcome in his kingdom and so is the prophet pbuh. He confirmed the prophet pbuh is Allah’s messenger as per Isa (AS’s) advice in their holy book.

Special qualities of Ashama ra.

  • Ashama RA was the first King to give shelter and protection to the Muslims.
  • He was also the first king to accept Islam, prior to this he was an orthodox Christian.
  • He was never unjust and dealt with all his cases in a civil manner.
  • It is said that over 80 people later travelled to Abyssinia so they can be a Muslim in peace and live in harmony. Some resided there for a number of years. This was due to King Ashama’s kindness.
  • The King would be in contact with the prophet pbuh after this and they would write letters to each other.
  • Ashama RA sent gifts to the prophet pbuh. He also actively tried to encourage his people to learn about Islam and sent a group of them to Madina to learn directly from the Prophet pbuh.
  • When the King passed away, the prophet pbuh prayed for him and instructed his companions to make dua for him.

Hudhaifah bin Asid narrated that The Prophet pbuh led them out and said: “Pray for a brother of yours who has died in a land other than yours.” They said: “Who is he?” He said: “Najashi.” (Ibn Majah 1537)

Ashama RA recognised Islam to be a true religion through the eloquence of Ja’far RA’s speech. From this we should all understand that there is so much weight attached to our words.

The polytheist Makkan leaders rejected their own blood relatives and people based on their beliefs. The Christians of Abyssinia accepted the outsiders despite their beliefs. There is a great lesson in this story. It teaches us to focus on the points that unite us rather than the factors that may divide us.

May Allah grant us the patience and piety of Bilal (ra) the ability to remain firm on our beliefs, the same passion and zeal Nana Asma’u had for knowledge and may he grant us the kindness and righteousness of King Negus. Ameen

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