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Islamic Ideology ( 20 Dec 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Cultural And Ethnic Differences And The Stance Of The Quran

By S. Arshad, New Age Islam

21 December 2021

God Created Communities And Tribes On Earth To Test Men

Main Points:

1.    Diversity in language and ethnicity were created for the sake of beauty on earth.

2.    All the people are the sons and daughters of Adam a.h.

3.    Ethnic and cultural confrontation is not approved by the Quran.


Life on the planet is very colourful and diverse. Billions of species of flora and fauna apart from human beings and animals inhabit the earth. The plants and trees are of millions of species; animals on earth are also in millions of species and animals, birds and insects are also in millions of species and in differenct colors.

Similar is the case with the human beings. The human beings fall under two categories; male and female with different physical qualities and properties. The human beings on the earth have different body stature, complexion, food habits and dress code. They have different languages. Thanks to different languages, food habits and social customs and physique, human beings on earth are divided into communities, tribes and nations. This difference of culture most of the time becomes the cause of confrontation between tribes and ethnic communities.

Sometimes this confrontation leads to bloodshed and sometimes it leads to massacres. The confrontation emerges out of the sense of supremacy of tribes and nations on the basis of presumed historical or ethnic superiority. Some communities or tribes regard them superior to others on the basis of birth or some historical supremacy of historical achievements of their forefathers.

Some tribes and communities regard themselves superior to others on the basis of their complexion or physical build up. In the primitive age the powerful communities would enslave the members of the weaker communities. The ruling community would regard the ruled community inferior and slaves. This sense of supremacy gave way to the tradition of slavery. Slavery had many forms. Men were used as labourers or soldiers or domestic help while women were employed as domestic help and sex slaves.

Next slavery went on as a lucrative trade and slave trade flourished worldwide. Though with the progress of civilsation, the tradition of slavery gradually went out of vogue, it was not eliminated totally for economic and political reasons.

However, thought slavery became outdated, suppression of weaker communities continued on cultural and political levels. The majority communities in many countries subjugated and suppressed the identity of the minority communities that had different cultural and ethnic roots. The minority communities fought for the saving their cultural identity. Cultural identity was more important than the religious identity. That’s why many communities with different religions but with same cultural and ethnic background co-habit peacefully but cannot live with communities with same religion but with different cultural background.

The Quran though recognizes ethnic and cultural differences but does not recognize religious differences. The Quran recognized ethnicities and cultural identity for positive purposes and not for dividing the people. Since God loves diversity and colourfulness on earth, He has formed communities and tribes and nations for making the world a diverse and colourful place to live in. However, God does not want human beings to fight and shed blood of each other on the basis of cultural, physical and ethnic superiority. God says that he created tribes and communities for making the world a diverse community but the basis of supremacy of individuals as well as communities in the eyes of the Quran is their piety and moral upliftment. Therefore, the differences between communities and tribes on the basis of culture and ethnicity has no importance according to the Quran:

“O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into races and tribes, so that you may identify one another. Surely the noblest of you, in Allah’s sight, is the one who is most pious of you. Surely Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.”(Al Hujurat: 13)

God wanted to test the human beings by making them different in colour and physique and in language. God wanted human beings to be compassionate with each other and be united in all circumstances. Being united when all are of the same colour and tribe is easy but being united when people are different in ethnicity and culture is difficult. There lies the real test of unity of mankind.

It is human nature that they feel solidarity with people of their own region, religion, language and ethnicity but do not feel the same degree of solidarity with the people of other communities. This solidarity with the people of same community most of the times leads to ethnic and cultural confrontation. These differences are promoted by modern political ambitions and aspirations of politicians. Narrow-minded religious interpretation of scriptures also promotes cultural and ethnic differences.

Most ethnic communities hold their ethnic and cultural identity close to their heart and think that if they lose their ethinic identity, they will lose their existence on earth and will be forced to live in the society as a faceless community with no dignity and no social status. They think that their social and political status in the society solely depends on their ethnic identity. Therefore, saving their ethnic identity becomes an existential issue for them and they do not hesitate to lay down their lives to save their ethnic identity.

Cultural and ethnic identity among Muslims has always been a bone of contention among Muslims. We can see this confrontation as far back as during the prophet’s life. They hypocrites (Munafiq) would incite the Ansars (the natives of Madina) against the Muhajirs (the natives of Makkah)  on the basis of ethnicity but due to the  grand and powerful presence of the personality of the Prophet pbuh, this cultural and ethnic difference could not become a social crisis. However, in later period, ethnic and cultural differences among Muslims not only caused a social and political crisis but also caused massacre of Muslims at the hand of Muslims.

The latest example of massacre on the basis of ethnic and cultural differences is the bloodshed in Bangladesh between the Urdu-speaking Muslims and Bengali-speaking Muslims. The denial of the Balochs of Pakistan is another example of sense of ethnic supremacy which has taken the form of a political crisis in Pakistan. The sense of ethnic cultural identity is the cause of political crisis between the Turks and Kurds of Turkey. Kashmir problem in India is also a product of this pride in the ethnic supremacy of the Kashmiri people.

This sense of ethnic and cultural supremacy is not a characteristic of the Muslim society. Other communities also have this sense of ethnic and cultural identity and there have been bloodshed and massacre due to cultural and ethnic differences. The massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda   is another example of ethnic and cultural confrontation.

The Quran attempted to do away with ethnic and cultural supremacism by declaring piety and moral conduct the only basis of supremacy in society. The Quran time and again says that all the human beings on earth are the sons and daughters of Prophet Adam a.s. and Hadhrat Hawwa a.s. (Adam and Eve) and so no man or woman has preference over the other on the basis of birth. Only those whose deeds are good have preference over others. The Quran therefore, reminds people that they should strive to build a society where diversity will be only for the purpose of making the world a beautiful place to live in and not for causing bloodshed and for creating differences between human beings. The realization of this truth will end hate, confrontation and bloodshed on earth on the basis of cultural and ethnic differences.


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