Br Wesley Muhammad, PhD
The Muslim world today, and its Islam, is characterized by profound misogyny/sexism and a rabid White Supremacy and anti-black racism. Neither characterized early Islam, however. It is a myth that Jahili (pre-Islamic) and early Islamic Arabia was racist and that Black people were ill-treated on account of their blackness. In fact, Arabia and the Arabs were themselves still black on the eve of Islam. To the existent that there was any racism at all, it was certainly anti-white racism. Al-Mubarrad (d. 898), the leading figure in the Basran grammatical tradition, affirmed:
“The Arabs used to take pride in their brown and black complexion (al-sumra wa al-sawad) and they had a distaste for a white and fair complexion (al-humra wa al-shaqra), and they used to say that such was the complexion of the non-Arabs.”
That these indigenous Blacks of Arabia took pride in their blackness is noted also by Al-Jahiz (d. 869), who declares in his Fakhr al-sudan ‘ala l-bidan: “The Arabs pride themselves in (their) black color (al-‘arab tafkhar bi-sawad al-lawn).”
As Dana Marniche points out:
“As if the world has been turned upside down, blackness in the early Arab culture as in pre-Ptolemaic Egypt and early Dravidian India (according to Marco Polo), was revered as representative of what was archetypically good, holy and powerful, while in European culture even in early times it appears to have been the exact opposite.”
That Jahili and early Islamic Arabia were free of anti-black racism has been pointed out by several Western scholars. John Alembillah Azumah, Associate Professor of World Christianity at Colombia Theological Seminary and former director for the Centre of Islamic Studies at the London School of Theology, in his The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa, affirms:
“in pre-Islamic Arabia blacks were held in high esteem and did marry Arab women … the discrimination against the (blacks) on account of the colour of their skin is a development within the Islamic period. “In pre-Islamic Arab poetry and historical narrative blacks…were usually referred to as Habash…There is hardly any trace of antagonism or discrimination on the basis of the skin color in pre-Islamic and early Islamic Arabia. In line with this pre-Islamic and early Islamic period, the Qur’an, apart from one instance where the colours black and white are used in an idiomatic sense to depict evil and good respectively, express no prejudice in matters of race or colour… In social life in pre-Islamic and early Arabia there were black slaves as well as white slaves, mainly captured during war, and there is no evidence that the former suffered any specific discrimination by virtue of the colour of their skin. On the contrary, the Habash, who were active in the sixth-century Arabia as allies of the Byzantines, were usually regarded as people with a higher civilization than the Arabs and respected during early Islamic times as people with a revealed religion. It was partly due to the high esteem with which the Habash were held in the early Islamic period that Muhammad advised his persecuted followers to seek asylum in Abyssinia in 615 CE.”
The late St Clair Drake, who created at Roosevelt University one of the first African American Studies programs in the United States, noted also:
“In early Islam, there were positive associations with blackness…The rabbinic and midrashic stories that interpret black skin as a curse was apparently not part of early Arab oral tradition…However…they became known after the seventh-century Arab conquests, among scholars in Mesopotamia who were developing Islamic religious thought. The scholars…some [were] Arabs, [most were] Persians.”
The absence of racism in early Islam and the creation of it in later Islamic texts is affirmed also by Prof Bernard Lewis of Princeton University, who has done the most to expose the racism that eventually took root in Islam:
“the Qur’ān expresses no racial or color prejudice. What is perhaps most significant is that the Qur’ān does not even reveal any awareness of such prejudice…The evidence of the Qur’ān on the lack of racial prejudice in pre-Islamic and the earliest Islamic times is born out by such fully authenticated fragments of contemporary literature as survive. As in the Qur’ān so also in the ancient Arabian poetry, we find awareness of difference…We do not however find any clear indication that this was felt in racial terms, or went beyond the normal feeling of distinction which all human groups have about themselves in relation to others…There are verses (indeed many verses) attributed to pre-Islamic and early Islamic poets which would suggest very strongly a feeling of hatred and contempt directed against persons of African birth or origin. Most if not all of these, however, almost certainly belong to later periods and reflect later problems, attitudes, and preoccupations. Such projection backward into early Islamic or pre-Islamic times is a very common feature, and a recurring difficulty in Islamic scholarship.”
The role that non-Arab converts, particularly Iranian, played in the manipulation and fabrication of Islamic tradition has by documented in my God’s Black Prophet’s: Deconstructing the Myth and the White Muhammad of Arabia and Jesus of Jerusalem (2010). This ‘Aryanization’ of Islam introduced anti-black racism. This racism was falsely attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (who was himself black-skinned) in fabricated hadith reports. Shaykh Abdullah Faisal, in his work, 100 Fabricated Hadith, discusses the most notorious of these racist fabrications. I reproduce here Shaykh Faisals full discussion of this.
“Hadith 35 There is no good in black people; when they are hungry they steal and when their stomach is full they commit zina (fornication/adultery). However they have two noble characteristics, which are generosity to their guests and perseverance at times of hardship. Related by Tabaraani and classified fabricated by Imam Bukhari and Ibn Jawzee. This fabricated hadith…is detrimental to the Islamic brotherhood and sisterhood because they create a feeling of nationalism and racism, which are both unbelief. Ibn-ul-Qayyim al Jawzia said all ahaadith cursing black people are fabricated. Bilal (ra) the Muathin of the Prophet was black and the Prophet (saw) said: “Bilal is from my household.”
Our father Adam (s) was black hence Allah (swt) said:
“And indeed, We created Mankind from sounding clay of altered black smooth mud.”
Prophet Musa (s) was also black, If the people who fabricate hadith say those were Prophets so it was expected for them to be good; we say that Luqman the wise and Bilal were black with good character and they were not prophets. How could the above-mentioned khabar be authentic when the Holy Prophet (saw) said to Bilal: I heard the sound of your shoes in Paradise just in front of me.” If Black people didn’t have any good in them how was it possible for Bilal (ra) to be promised Paradise by the Holy Prophet?
Narrated by Jabir Ibn Abdullah (ra): “Umar used to say Abu Bakr is our chief and he manumitted our chief, meaning Bilal.” In the Arab world people do not call their sons Bilal (ra) even though he was a prominent Sahaabah; all this is due to racism on their part.”
 See Wesley Muhammad, “Were the Pre-Islamic Arabs Racist? The Evidence of Bilal ibn Rabah,” @ http://blackarabia.blogspot.com/2011/09/bilal-b-ribah-not-first-black-muslim.html
 Apud Ibn Abi al-Hadid, Sharh nahj al-balaghah, V:56.
 Al-Jahiz, Fakhr al-sudan ‘ala al-bidan, I:207.
 Dana Marniche, “FEAR OF BLACKNESS PART II: EARLY DESCRIPTIONS OF THE CENTRAL ARABIAN TRIBESMEN WHO COMPRISED THE ‘MOORS’ OF SPAIN,” http://www.africaresource.com/rasta/sesostris-the-great-the-egyptian-hercules/fear-of-blackness-part-ii-dana-marniche/
 John Alembillah Azumah, The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa: A Quest for Inter-religious Dialogue (Oxford: Oneworld, 2001) 139, 112.
 St Clair Drake, Black Folks Here and There, 2:85, 152.
 Bernard Lewis, Race and Color in Islam (New York: Harper & Row, 1971) 7, 8-9.