Racial Equality in Faith Traditions

Every Friday afternoon, the Imam at the Mosque announces the call to prayer, known as the athan. Amid the Imam’s recitation of the melodic words in Arabic, people from all corners of the world arrive, often dressed in traditional clothing, representing nearly every part of the world. Before performing the Friday prayer, every language can be heard echoing throughout the halls ranging from Urdu to Swahili. Soon, everyone lines up shoulder to shoulder and begins praying, reciting prayers in unison.

This beautiful demonstration of how religion allows us to set aside differences and come together is not isolated to Islam; the same is true on Sundays at Church and Friday afternoons at the Synagogue. These sacred moments of worship demonstrate the beautiful diversity present within faith traditions and how, in the eyes of the creator, differences in race are irrelevant since we are all equal in the eyes of God. Although the Abrahamic religions may seem to have more differences than similarities, they demonstrate an unwavering commitment to racial equality through scripture and practices.


The value of equality is most prominent in the story of Moses and the Pharoah in Exodus. In this story, the Hebrew people are held captive by the Egyptians, exploited, and forced to work night and day tirelessly. Moses (Moshe in the Torah) and his brother Aaron return to Egypt, where Moses organizes the Jewish people and confronts the Pharaoh, demanding the Hebrew people’s release. In Moses’ attempt to persuade the Pharaoh, he performs miracles, invoking God’s (YAHWEH) power to demonstrate that the Pharaoh’s actions are inappropriate and unjust. . Despite Moses’ miracles, the Pharaoh is unimpressed and only increases the Israelites’ workload. In response to the Pharaoh’s continual exploitation and cruelty toward the Jewish people based on their faith, God plagues Egypt with ten plagues, leaving the country in “a palpable darkness” (10:21).

With each of the ten plagues, the Prophet Moses demands the release of the Hebrew people; however, the Pharoah refuses. Egypt’s firstborn males are killed in the tenth and final plague. Moses instructs the Hebrews to cover their doorposts in the blood of a sacrificed lamb as a sign for God to protect their homes from his slaughters. After the death of his son, the Pharaoh released over 600,000 Israelites. The story of Exodus highlights how the subjugation of a racial or ethnic group allows for inequality in contradiction with the principles of Judaism and God’s favor. After being subjugated to bondage based solely on their identity, the Jewish people gained their freedom from their Pharaoh’s torture, making clear the importance of social equality not only to people but in the eyes of God.


The Parable of the Good Samaritan exemplifies the importance of empathy, compassion, and equality in the Christian faith tradition. When addressing Levitical law, Jesus presented this parable to demonstrate how to obtain eternal life. He recounts that a Jewish man was once passing through Jerusalem and was robbed, battered by bandits, stripped bare, and left to die. A priest and later a Levite walked past the trench and saw the man; they did not intervene, leaving him to die. However, unlike the priest and Levite, a Samaritan man passed by the ditch and stopped to help clean the man’s wounds and take him to an inn where he could heal.

At the time, the Jewish people thought of the Samaritans as inferior, yet it was the Samaritan that stopped helping the man. The Samaritan’s compassion ascended the boundaries of race or faith, and his willingness to help others is rooted in the belief in helping and loving your neighbors for who they are. In delivering this parable, Jesus emphasizes the importance of considering your neighbor yourself. Jesus’ radical message to his followers was to tell them that every human being is our neighbor, regardless of race or religious beliefs. The Parable of the Good Samaritan emphasizes the importance of racial equality and compassion in Christianity, embracing people who differ from us as neighbors and caring for them.


In his final sermon to his followers or ummah, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) provided a summation of Islam and the fundamental tenets of the faith. While he outlines the ethical and religious ideals Muslims should strive for, he also states that “There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a non-Arab over an Arab, and no superiority of a white person over a black person or of a black person over a white person, except based on personal piety and righteousness.” People do not attain better rank in God’s eyes based on their race or ethnicity but instead based on their just actions.

While his message was delivered to Arabs in the 7th century, who were deeply divided by concepts of tribe and ethnic superiority, his teachings seem remarkably relevant today, particularly concerning persisting racial injustice. According to Islamic scholars, the push for racial equality in the Prophet’s final lecture was a message to future generations that racial equality is a fundamental principle of Islam as Allah does not discern outward differences but differences in their character and conduct toward others.

Furthermore, Chapter 49, verse 13 of Islam’s sacred scripture, the Quran, declares: “O humankind! We have made you…into nations and tribes so that you may get to know one another. The noblest of you in God’s sight is the most righteous one.” This verse challenged many pre-Islamic Arab societies’ beliefs, including disparities based on tribal membership, kinship, and wealth. Kinship or lineal descent was the most critical determinant of a person’s social standing. The Quran stated that human piety and conduct, not tribal affiliation, were the merit basis – an alien and potentially disruptive message in a culture established on distinctions in wealth and ethnic group membership. Through the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) final sermon and the clear contrast to Arab culture, which was rooted in class and racial differences, Islam makes clear that one of the faith’s fundamental values is its dedication to equality for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religious practices, focusing more on their moral character and behavior. 


Though concepts of racial equality may appear to be new, emerging only in the previous century, the reality is that racial equality principles are woven into the very principles of the major faith traditions. The message in each faith is clear, as illustrated by the stories and verses above: physical distinctions are meaningless to God because we are judged based on our moral character. Next time you are lined up to pray in a mosque, seated in a pew, or on the floor reciting your religious texts alongside people of all races, I hope you take these stories with you. Noting how the beautiful message of religion does away with irrelevant physical differences, instead allowing for cultivating a community from all areas of the world. 

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