What Does Islam Say about Prejudice?

When my nephew was about two years old, he experienced his first meet up with a cockroach. My sister and I found him sitting very close to a cockroach, looking at it, smiling and enjoying his discovery. As soon as we saw the cockroach, we started screaming out of fear of the cockroach. In a way that the poor little kid ran away and started crying. From then on, whenever he saw a cockroach, his first reaction towards the poor insect was to start screaming and running away.


We, unwantedly, passed on our fear and hatred of the insect to that little kid. This hatred was shaped in us when we were kids and is passed on to next generations. Hostile actions are being shaped against cockroaches. Different poisons are made to destroy them. And still, they are the biggest enemies of people of some nation. The same story exists with British people and their spider enemies.



We never even start asking ourselves, if we can have a different attitude towards these insects. In our understanding, they are dirty, aggravating creatures that should be destroyed. Yet, it has happened to me to watch some well-made documentary films about insects. And think to myself why I am so ignorant and hostile towards these beautiful creatures of God.


prejudice in Islam


Prejudice and Discrimination


Prejudice, as described in Merriam Webster dictionary, is a “preconceived judgment or opinion; an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.” [1] Prejudice is usually based on ignorance. For example, using the following phrases: ‘all men, all women, all Christians, all Muslims, all uneducated people, all youths, all poor people, all rich people, all Americans, all Arabs, etc.’ are signs of having prejudice toward a specific gender, religion, social level, or nationality.



Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) says: “Avoid prejudice, as it begins with ignorance and ends up in regression.” [2]


In this article, we are going to analyze prejudice in Islam. And find out how much the definition of Merriam Webster dictionary is compatible with Islam’s view towards prejudice.



What Leads to Prejudice in Islam?


Imam Ali (AS) states that one of the main reasons for prejudice is “ignorance”. He explains that “As for Satan, he felt proud over Adam because of his origin and taunted him about his creation since he said, "I am of fire while you are of clay." And in the same way “the rich among the prosperous communities have been feeling vanity because of their riches, as (Allah) said: And said they: "We are more (than you) in wealth and in children, and we shall not be chastised." (Qur'an, 34:35)” [3]



In the Arabic text, the word that is used for “vanity” is Al-asbiyyah and Al-Lijajah, which means prejudice in Islam. Indeed, most of the times it is vanity and pride that makes people think they are better than others. As a result, they classify people and discriminate between different groups of people.


prejudice in Islam


Indecent Prejudices


Prejudice in the following cases is blamed according to Islamic teachings:


1. Race:

“Among His (Allah) signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors. There are indeed signs in that for those who know.” (30:22)


2. Social Class:

“Do not marry idolatresses until they embrace faith. A faithful slave girl is better than an idolatress, though she should impress you. And do not marry [your daughters] to idolaters until they embrace faith. A faithful slave is better than an idolater, though he should impress you.” (2: 221)



This verse emphasizes on the fact that the only thing that elevates people in the eyes of God and should be noticed in human classification is one’s faith and wariness of God. “Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most Godwary among you.” (49:13): unlike many people who may choose their spouse based on appearance, wealth, education, family lineage, etc.


3.Gender and Nationality:


“O mankind! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female and made you nations and tribes that you may identify yourselves with one another. Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most Godwary among you. Indeed Allah is all-knowing, all-aware.” (49: 13)



prejudice in Islam

Do not Humiliate Each other!

As it is clear in the above verses, that differences in nationality, race, color, or social class should not make a group of people feel that they are superior to others and that they have the right to insult or assault them.


Since prejudice is followed by mocking, insulting and humiliating others, Allah clearly detains people of such acts; “O you who have faith! Let not any people ridicule another people: it may be that they are better than they are, nor let women [ridicule] women: it may be that they are better than they are. And do not defame one another, nor insult one another by [calling] nicknames. How evil are profane names subsequent to faith! As for those who are not penitent [of their past conduct]—such are the wrongdoers.” (49: 11) and He emphasizes that “Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most Godwary among you.” (49:13)


Is Prejudice in Islam Always a Negative Attitude?


From definitions that we usually read about prejudice, we may think that prejudice in Islam is always an indecent attitude. But, in Islamic teachings, prejudice is not always a negative manner. Rather, in some cases, it is known to be admirable.


As Imam Ali (AS) points out, people should have prejudice for “good qualities and in praise-worthy habits like the protection of the neighbor, the fulfillment of agreements, obedience to the virtuous, opposition to the haughty, extending generosity to others, abstention from rebellion, keeping aloof from blood-shed, doing justice to people, suppressing anger and avoiding trouble on the earth.” [4]




With what we have discussed so far, we realize that prejudice comes from ignorance. And every one of us may have a negative prejudice against some people. Simply because we do not bother to gain more knowledge about other people, other religions, other cultures, etc. If we try to know other humans better and try to put ourselves in their conditions and empathize with them, and do not judge them based on what we’ve heard about them, but expand our knowledge by the sufficient studies, then there is a chance that we can help each other in the way of growth and improvement.




[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prejudice

[2] Mizan al-Hikmah, vol. 4, p. 2770

[3] Nahjul Balagha, sermon 192: https://www.al-islam.org/nahjul-balagha-part-1-sermons/sermon-192-praise-be-allah-who-wears-apparel-honour-and-dignity

[4] ibid