The May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd was substantial. Still, three years after this tragedy, America still struggles with the very issues that prompted it. Violence, race riots and murder have happened in cyclical patterns throughout America’s history.  

The opposition to Critical Race Theory is rooted in the fear and discomfort that comes with the exposure of institutionalized injustice and oppression. This political attempt to suppress knowledge of atrocities committed just because the descendants of those who committed them may feel awkward is insulting to the realities of the descendants who were subjected to these hardships, and have in fact suffered anguish and trauma.  Those present while racial injustices were being committed and did nothing, and those descendants who have NOT fought to effect laws or any systemic change are bystanders to oppression. Their collective disquiet drives them into a shared denial and resistance to discuss these past transgressions or fully confront them.

Muslims like El Hajj Malcolm Shabazz were some of the most forceful to speak out against the barbaric treatment of African-Americans and other minorities.  Although often criticized as a racist, Brother Malcolm explained “…. speaking like this doesn’t mean that we are anti-white, but it does mean we are anti-exploitation, we’re anti-degradation, we’re anti-oppression.” Although these words are more than 60 years old, they are appropriate when reflecting on the murder of George Floyd and its aftermath.

In 2021, just one year after the death of George Floyd, Newsweek magazine reported that 229 African-Americans had been killed by the police. The same article listed the names of the victims. Such shocking statistics prevail in a society where bystanders are not “innocent” but guilty by their silence.

In Islam, there are three times when staying silent is really a sin: 

  • When we are certain of something being evil (Munkar) and there is no gray area.
  • When we have strong evidence or even first hand witness that an evil thing has been committed. 
  • When we realize that speaking up will most likely remove or reduce the evil being committed.

The political and frankly racist pretense that police shootings of unarmed African-American men “could” be justified because the man “may” be dangerous, or a criminal is outrageous. The concerted absence of all citizens demanding responsible and principled policing is studied and deliberate.  

Too many in society just want to stand by and let it happen, but not intervene mainly because it is not happening to their own cultural or ethnic group in any measurable numbers. Still, once it is established that the victim is unarmed, the use of lethal force is a crime. It is intolerable to kill a human based on an unreasonable assumption of guilt.  What kind of society does not question the supposed threat of a 12-year-old playing with a toy like Tamir Rice, or a woman sleeping in her own bed, like Breonna Taylor. But the issue is black and white.

Since, many police shootings are recorded by police video or nearby citizens, public viewers have strong evidence with their own eyes and are witnesses to these atrocities of injustice.   

In the Quran, we are taught that justice is a tool that maintains the balance in the lives of human beings: 

And the heaven He raised and imposed the balance. That you not transgress the balance. And establish weight in justice and do not make deficient the balance.” 

(Quran, 55:7-9)

The only way to establish and preserve justice in society is to do something about it.  Most of us are aware of the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, in Sahih Muslim:

“Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then (let him change it) with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.”

The Prophet was a champion of justice for all people, and his words and deeds serve as an example for what we can do when people are being oppressed or injustice exists.

In other Hadiths, we find that the Prophet reminded us that we were to visit the sick, follow the funeral processions, say “May Allah’s Mercy be upon you” when someone sneezes, return the greetings given to us, help the oppressed, accept invitations extended to us and help others fulfill their promises.

As Muslims, we are not bystanders or observers of injustice, but rather people who stand firmly against it.  When we see police overstep their bounds and commit atrocities we have the power of our wallet, our votes, and our protest to effect systemic change and force them to uphold their oath to “protect and serve” rather than harass and murder. In this manner, we not only help those who are being subjected to this cruelty but also help stop further tyrannical acts.  

The Prophet said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one. People asked, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?’ The Prophet said, “By preventing him from oppressing others” (Muslim).

Islam does not advocate that we compound the abuse by imitating those Americans who remain silent on injustice, or even pretend police shooting of unarmed people not even committing a crime is somehow a “grey area” just because it makes them feel uncomfortable.  In fact, Allah tells us:  

“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both.”
(Quran 4:135)

So as Muslims, we are not bystanders to injustice, but rather people who stand by and up for those who are being oppressed.