Justice and Diversity of the Human Race
As the COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll on lives and the livelihood for many of us, there seems to be another challenge to humanity that we see unfolding. The chaos and protests across the United States signals the impact of unwavering concern over race relations by the powers that be. The death of George Floyd during a police arrest on May 25th triggered these protests and slogans like ‘no justice, no peace’ capture the very essence of deep racial and ethnic divide that has become part of the race relations pattern in the US. A Pew Research findings in 2019 stated that six in ten Americans (58%) say that race relations in the United States are bad and most Americans (65%) believes that it is more common now for people to express racist or racially sensitive views. With COVID-19 still a major challenge for the country, the imminent economic recession and millions of unemployment, the current chaos unfortunately is what most analysts would regard the situation as a perfect storm in the United States.
Racism is a cancer that destroys the foundation of the human society and if not treated, could bring about collapse to a nation. For a government that belongs to a dynamic and multiracial country, race and ethnic relations are crucial aspects that require serious attention and must be managed well. The objective to this is not just to ensure no grievances arise caused by inaction by the government, but most importantly is to ensure that everyone enjoys the right kind of justice regardless of race, ethnicity or religious backgrounds.
Diversity of humankind is not an alien concept in Islam. God the Almighty says in the Holy Quran: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Al-Hujurat, 49:13). Islam celebrate diversity of the human race as it is one of the signs of God’s creation on earth. We embrace this understanding by upholding peaceful coexistence and interact positively with one another although we might be of different race and ethnicity.
For Islam, the essence of peace in communities characterized by these differences in cultures, race, religions and ethnicities is justice. People will feel at peace if they feel that they are being treated fairly and justly. Feelings of discontent and hopelessness arise when people start to feel that they are being discriminated, prejudiced against and rejected because of the colour of their skins, the ethnic and the cultural groups that they belong to or the sounds of their surnames. In the Islamic worldview, justice signifies positioning things in their rightful place. It is also understood as a moral virtue and an attribute of human personality. Justice needs to be determined and applied according to the principles and guidelines set by God through divine revelation. Islam’s approach to justice is all-embracing whereby the means, procedures, and processes which help to ease, refine, and advance the foundation of justice, and do not transgress the Islamic Law are acceptable and supported.
The Quran regards justice as a supreme virtue. It is a basic objective of Islam to the level that it is placed next in order of priority to belief in God’s exclusive right to worship and the acceptance of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him).
Allah Almighty says in the Quran:
“Indeed, Allah commands justice, grace, as well as courtesy to close relatives. He forbids indecency, wickedness, and aggression. He instructs you so perhaps you will be mindful” (An Nahl 16:90)
Injustices and inhumane treatment towards others under the claim of racial or ethnic superiority must be admonished and condemned. Conflicts occur as a result of the inability to understand the essence of diversity among mankind and the refusal to practice tolerance towards these differences. Governments need to regulate positive interactions and engagements within the society as a means to promote peace and harmony. Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace be upon Him) leadership in the City of Madinah is the exemplary governance model of a plural society where justice and tolerance are the principal virtues in managing diversity of culture, ethnicity, race and religions. The reality of diversity should not be something to be swept under the carpet with the hope that through time, people will learn to live at peace with one another. History has proven that civilization flourished when people are treated justly and plurality of cultures are cherished and respected.
As Malaysia is also currently facing hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its socioeconomic impact, we should not allow the perfect storm to form or cloud over our heads. Together, we must remain resilient against any force may it be politically or socially, that tries to break the nation apart. If we fail to do so, we will lose the tranquillity, uniqueness, harmony and peace that we have enjoyed and safeguarded for so long. Let us celebrate the cultural and racial diversity that exist in our society as something that enrich the nation. We must take the opportunity to discover our cultural differences and learn to know each other better, reject any forms of prejudices and uphold the spirit of togetherness that has become part of our legacy as a multiracial and multicultural nation.