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Islam Op-Ed: From Race Consciousness to God Consciousness

ISLAM-OPED is a syndication service of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) designed to offer an American Muslim perspective on current political, social and religious issues. ISLAM-OPED commentaries are offered free-of-charge to one media outlet in each market area. Permission for publication will be granted on a first-come-first-served basis.
Please consider the following commentary for publication.
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From Race Consciousness to God Consciousness
Prof. Parvez Ahmed and Sen. Larry Shaw
We are the products of, in the words of Sen. Obama, “the decency and generosity of the American people.” One of us is the son of slaves who rose to become one of the highest elected state officials and the other an immigrant who came to America seeking higher education but stayed behind for its values. Like Sen. Obama, only in America is our story possible. And we are not alone.
Despite our successes we have been at the receiving end of the post 9-11 hysteria regarding the “other” in America. A systematic distortion of facts has painted all members of our faith and ethnic groups as either “violent” or “angry”. Individual indiscretions have been conflated with group ideology.
The recent controversy over Rev. Jeramiah Wright’s sermons once again exposes the fragile state of race relations in America. Such propensity to stereotype the “other” led former presidential candidate Gov. Richardson to express concerns about how the debate over immigration has inexplicably and unnecessarily demonized the Hispanic people.
In this climate of extreme demagoguery, patriotism is not always instinctive. A multitude of pent-up grievances has built within us contumacious layers of cynicism. Yet through our many challenges we stand on the fundamental idea so eloquently expressed in our holy book, The Quran – “O mankind! We (God) created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is the one who is the most righteous amongst of you.”
Within all of us there exists a voice that urges us to accentuate our differences often inducing an air of superiority. But also within us there exists another voice, one that understands the universal truth – that all men (and women) are created equal and endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Almost 800 years ago, the Spanish-born Islamic philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes) noted that one of the ultimate aims of human soul is to pursue happiness. However, happiness comes not from the mere accumulation of wealth, power and material comforts. Happiness comes from the pursuit of moral virtues. What can be more virtuous than eradicating race-consciousness – a scourge that afflicts so many and remains the root cause of so many conflicts.
Sen. Obama has set the tone for the next generation of work on improving race relations. However to make a real difference, all of us will need to be more circumspective and less accusatory. Rather than recount grievances we need to reckon the limitless possibilities our future holds. In addition, we need to contend with our own deep seated prejudices that gnaw at our inner humanity.
If Sunday is the most segregated hour in America then Friday afternoon, the time for Muslim congregational prayer, happens to be one of the most integrated. However pockets of our congregations remain stubbornly Black, Arab or Southeast Asian. Many of our kitchen table conversations display biases and stereotypes, which will make us cringe if such invectives were directed towards us.
Religious consciousness is not possible without a social ethic that endeavors to transcend group allegiance in favor of primary loyalty to universal principles. We need to shed our bitterness and join hands to build an America where in the words of poet Langston Hughes, “O, let my land be a land where Liberty is crowned with no false patriotic wreath. But opportunity is real, and life is free. Equality is in the air we breathe.”
Until we can come to the table of brotherhood with a standard of justice that reflects equality for all regardless of faith, gender, and class, our humanity will never shine forth.
During his 1964 pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, Malcolm X movingly expressed how God consciousness can transcend race consciousness, “Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors. …. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.”
This we believe.
[Parvez Ahmed is Chairman of Council on American-Islamic Relations and Associate Professor at the University of North Florida. Larry Shaw is a U.S. Democratic member of the North Carolina General Assembly representing the state’s twenty-first Senate district. Sen. Shaw is currently serving in his sixth term in the state Senate]


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