There has been widespread condemnation and protest in the United States and around the world over police brutality towards African Americans following the killing of an African American man, George Floyd, on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, while in police custody.[i]
This is not the first time that an African American man has died in police custody in America (or has been killed by police officers). However, it was the manner in which Mr Floyd was killed that has enraged millions across the globe. Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer choked Mr Floyd to death, by pinning him to the ground with his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck in broad daylight with his hands in his pocket while three other police officers looked on. Mr Floyd pleaded for nearly nine minutes that he could not breathe, up until his final breath.
It will surprise no one that America has not truly come to terms with its past regarding the continuous mistreatment of African Americans. Many have argued that the injustices committed against African Americans are the result of racism and/or white supremacy – the belief that whites are superior to people of other races and must, therefore, be dominant over them. This injustice is rooted in the history of America and has social, economic, institutional, and political implications. Racism has caused (and continues to cause) untold suffering of African Americans (and other racial minorities) in America.[ii]
To be sure, this is not the first time African Americans have protested official acts of violence directed at them and called for justice, which they have seldom received.[iii] African Americans do not believe that the American justice system has given them justice. Often cases involving police brutality against them do not get prosecuted, and when they do, do not result in convictions. As Dr Martin Luther King, Jnr., observed, the promissory note the US government gave to African Americans has not been honoured.[iv]
How then do we root out causes of injustice? We are fortunate to have extensive guidance on this topic in Islam.
In his historic address at the European Parliament on February 28 2013, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba) reiterated the Islamic golden principle of attaining peace, saying ,
“We should not tolerate injustice toward others or for their rights to be usurped. In the same way that we would not accept for our own rights to be taken, we should not be willing to accept it for others.”[v]
True peace also means that governments at all levels take the necessary steps, with deliberate speed, to dismantle all structures of injustice across society. Right now, we are experiencing a global pandemic. African Americans (and other minorities) have been disproportionately affected by the impact of Covid19 more than white populations.[vi] We know that they also struggle more than the white population to find jobs;[vii] and have a tougher time accessing housing credit, which research also reveals is a key factor in the Black-White wealth gap.[viii]
What is the way forward ? Can the teachings of Islam guide us with respect to the elimination of racism and injustice?
Allah states in the Holy Quran: “O ye who believe! be strict in observing justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against parents and kindred. Whether he be rich or poor, Allah is more regardful of them both than you are. Therefore, follow not low desires so that you may be able to act equitably. And if you conceal the truth or evade it, then remember that Allah is well aware of what you do” (4:136).
The Holy Prophet of Islam, Hazrat Mohammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said in his Farewell Sermon as far back as 632 AD that “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; white has no superiority over black, nor does a black have any superiority over white; except by piety and good action.”
Indeed, the worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad,(aba) has repeatedly admonished the world, particularly leaders, about the need for them to apply the golden rule of absolute justice and that unless there is absolute justice, the world will not see true peace.[ix]
True peace, therefore, means that all people of goodwill must be prepared to call for justice whenever injustice is done. Political leaders across America are now claiming that in the wake of Mr Floyd’s killing, they recognized the systemic racism in America and want to see immediate action taken to address it.[x]
This is indeed one of those times that, as Dr King said, “Silence is betrayal.” There cannot be true peace when the justice system favours white Americans over black Americans (or any others for that matter) while the majority looks on unperturbed for and for African Americans to fight this injustice alone.[xi]
In his Friday Sermon of September 13 2013, which was delivered from the Baitul Futuh Mosque in London, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V(aba) reminded political leaders of this admonition of the Holy Prophet(sa) of Islam:
“On that day when there will be no shade apart from the shade of God, He will cover in His shade of mercy seven persons. The first will be the Imam-e-Aadil [the just leader] …. On the Day of Judgment, Allah the Almighty will find most beloved and near to Him he who is a just leader. And the most disliked and far-removed from God will be a cruel leader…. If he who has been made the guardian or responsible over people does not carry out his responsibility properly, or if in their well-being there is any shortcoming, then upon his death, Allah the Almighty will make Paradise forbidden for him.”[xii]
In another tradition, Hazrat ‘Aishah(ra) said, in response to being asked by someone, that:
“I shall inform you of something which I have heard the Holy Prophet(sa) say in this very house of his. He said: ‘O Allah [‘O Allah’ in fact is a type of prayer] from amongst my people whoever is made the responsible person and acts harshly to them, You also treat him in a harsh manner. And he who is made responsible amongst my people and is gentle and kind amongst my Ummah, You also be kind to him.’”[xiii]
His Holiness further stated:
‘Thus, the summary of all teachings (in this regard) is in this latter Hadith: “Do not be cruel and unjust to one other.” The leaders should not be cruel to the citizens, nor should the citizens carry out any such act which proves to be unjust or inappropriate in order to obtain their rights.’
While African Americans call for justice for Mr Floyd’s killing and the complete overhaul of the American political, economic, and social systems which are stacked against them, the reiteration of the Holy Prophet’s(sa), warning to political leaders by the Khalifa of the time is opportune. We hope they are able to heed this.
About the Author: Hassan Wahab is the Editor of the Race & Equality Section of The Review of Religions. He is currently a lecturer of Political Science at the University of Ghana, Legon. He has an MA in African American & African Diaspora and a PhD in Political Science from Indiana University Bloomington. He was Managing Editor of Africa Today Journal at Indiana University for 7 years, and a lecturer of social sciences and political science at Olive Harvey College, Kennedy-King College and Chicago State University.
[ix] https://www.reviewofreligions.org/7854/the-path-to-peace-just-relations-between-nations/; and at the European Union Parliament in Brussels
[xiii] Sahihu Muslim, Kitabul-Imaarah, Babu Fadeelatil-Ameeril-‘Aadil wa Uqubatil-Jaa’ir…, Hadith No. 4722.