Islam declares all ideologies that summon to bigotry, racism, tribalism, or ethnic chauvinism to be false. Islam calls upon us to abolish bigotry from our hearts. There are no grounds to discriminate between people on the basis of race, ethnicity, or language. Islam teaches us that people are as equal as the teeth of a comb.
The superiority of one person over another is only by virtue of a person’s superior deeds, not because of that person’s lineage or pedigree. What matters most is a person’s righteousness and conduct. It is related to us from the Companions that: “Whoever has shortcomings in his deeds will find no compensation for it in his lineage.” [Sahîh Muslim (4867)]
Allah created all of us from a single soul: “O humankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women.” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 1]
Yes, there are differences between people as individuals. Though all of us descend from one set of parents, each of us is unique as a person. We all have different appearances, complexions, and degrees of beauty. We differ in physical strength, in our preferences, and our dispositions. We are identical to each other only in our basic makeup and our natural human instincts. We differ greatly in our individual characteristics.
Allah has blesses us all differently. Some people are wealthy while others are poor. People have different ancestries and backgrounds. Nevertheless, all of us were created for the same purpose – to worship our Creator. Allah says: “I created neither the Jinn nor humanity except to worship Me.” [Sûrah al-Dhâriyât: 56]
Therefore, in spite of our diversity in our personal traits and circumstances, the criterion by which some of us are superior to others is the criterion of piety. Allah says: “The most honored of you with Allah are those who are the most God-fearing.” Sûrah al-Hujurât: 13]
These two facts – our different individual aptitudes along with our essential equality – can be applied to various contexts. Take employment opportunities. According to our Islamic values lineage and social class are invalid considerations for preferring certain people over others for employment. There should be no discrimination in employment on such an invalid basis.
On the other hand, an individual’s abilities, expertise, and personal integrity do matter. The person needs to be equal to the job, qualified to carry it out in the best possible manner. In the work arena, that is a valid basis to distinguish between people.
With respect to education and cultural refinement, there are those who take the effort and make the sacrifices to study and work hard in acquiring knowledge. Such people acquire knowledge and sophistication. Others, who do not study and make such efforts, do not attain the same degree of education and cultural refinement. There can be no argument that people who possess knowledge are in a preferential position to those who do not.
As for considering social background as an aspect of equality in marriage, this is a valid consideration only to the extent that it promotes compatibility, harmony, and mutual affection between the husband and wife.
We need to be emphatic in asserting that Islamic Law does not recognize any kind of superiority discrimination, or prejudice on the basis of lineage, social class, color, or material affluence. We need to take this truth to heart and apply it in our lives.
And Allah knows best.