The Azan, the call to prayer, is heard five times a day in the Muslim world.
The person calling out faces each direction, north, south, east and west, declaring the supremacy of God Almighty.
The story of the Azan still brings chills to my spine, for it began with a dream in which the Prophet saw a man named Bilal Ben Rabeh, a freed Abyssinian (today’s Ethiopia) slave, calling out for all to come worship.
Bilal Ben Rabeh was drawn to Islam because the message of the Prophet Muhammad was one of social justice.
The idea that there was equality among men and women, prohibition in discriminating against race, color, slave or free, was a message that resonated among many in the seventh century, especially those suffering under slavery.
As a slave in Mecca, Bilal was not allowed to touch the holiest of places, the Kaaba.
Around the 630 CE, during the Conquest of Mecca, Muhammad marched into the city gates with Bilal by his side. He did not retaliate or vanquish his enemies, instead he forgave them and called for peace.
After The Prophet’s dream of Azan, he called Bilal, the former slave, to climb to the top of the most holy of holy places, the Kaaba, and declare the supremacy of God. This moment changed the world.
It was provocative and, to many, probably alarming, but that is what social justice is. It breaks down current acceptance of discrimination and shocks the world into a better place.
We experience profound moments of social justice in our own lives.
My children and I wept when we saw Barack Obama become the first Black U.S. president, and we wept as we saw Kamala Harris become the first female Black and South Asian vice president.
The Azan has been heard throughout history as not only a call to prayer, but also a call for justice.
The same words were heard by civil rights giants such as Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, who both stood against white supremacy, not knowing the genuine theology of Islam.
Both originally prescribed to the Nation of Islam, a Black supremacy movement. It wasn’t until Malcolm X decided to pilgrimage to Mecca, where the first Azan was called, that he realized Islam is colorblind.
It was then that he changed his name from Little to X. He came back to the states denouncing supremacy to all, regardless of skin color, and eventually laid down his life in a stand for justice.
In his farewell speech, The Prophet Muhammad said there is no superiority of a white over a Black, man over woman or Arab over non-Arab, for supremacy belongs to God. God scans our hearts and honors the most pious.
As an immigrant, watching the January 6 insurgence at the US capitol hit me hard. Violence and unrest are what I fled from.
But it hit me even harder as an American citizen to see the double standard in response to the violence based on the color of the rioters’ skin.
Five times a day, Muslims are reminded that color, age, sex, status does not matter, only God is supreme.
The Prophet tells us that when we discriminate or make fun of someone’s race, God responds as though you are disrespecting God’s own self.
Social justice is a part of our creed in Islam. It is the very heart of The Prophet’s message and anything less is heresy and must be stood against by all.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series running this week for the United Nations World Day of Social Justice (Feb. 20). The previous articles in the series are:
Holiness Code Envisions Communal Justice | Fred Guttman
Senior Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, and chair of Islamic Studies at Wimberly School of Religion at Oklahoma City University. He is the author of Cloud Miles: A Remarkable Journey of Mercy, Peace and Purpose, and appeared in the short documentary “Mercy” (2018) and the feature-length documentary, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims” (2010).