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Womens AM corner – Ilma Magazine
Mummy, I want to be bright like the light
By Islam Channel Presenter Shahina Khatun.
Follow Shahina on Twitter: @shahina_media and visit her blog www.lyricallyspeakingsite.wordpress.com
“Mummy, I want to be bright like the light”. Intrigued, but hesitant, I asked Maryam; “what do you mean?” Her following words made my heart drop down to my stomach; “I don’t want to be dark, I want to be a lighter colour…”
From the instance my baby girl was born, I vowed to protect her from words uttered by colonised minds that pity a girl with a darker shade of brown. I vowed to protect her from growing up with insecurities about her skin colour and to not let anyone cause her to falsely believe that she is in anyway less for- tunate or less beautiful. And more importantly, for her to believe that it is not our appearance that de nes us. So to hear these words from my ve year old daughter, as I was putting her to sleep, came as a shock. More than that, it hurt.
This is not the perception a child should have, and it is not a perception that children should be exposed to. I realise that there is only so much I, as a parent, can do to protect my child from such racist and shallow form of thinking that is widespread and ingrained within our communities. However, the least we can do is rstly, to not accept this attitude around us. Secondly, to try and change people’s mind- set that is often bred out of ignorance as well
as to raise awareness about the negative impact it has on individuals, as well as society itself.
Within many societies if a child, especially a girl is born with fair skin, it is a matter of celebration. It seems that the standard of beauty is de ned by the colour of one’s skin; the lighter the colour, the more beautiful one is deemed to be and off course, the more advantaged you are in life than a person with darker skin, especially with regards to marriage prospects.
Disappointing as this attitude may be, it is real and it exists. The concept that ‘fairer is better’ is not a problem within just one or two communities; it is deeply rooted in many other cultures and communities, including the Afro-Carib- bean, Asian, Latino, Chinese and Arab communities. The skin lightening industries are making a fortune out of people’s insecurities; insecurities that are created by the media and magazines that tell their audience that in order to look better, purchasing a particular lighten- ing cream or product would make that hap- pen. Where does this standard of beauty emanate from? Not just beauty, rather, the belief that “lighter skin is righter”. Historians would argue that the root cause of this perception leads back to European imperialism.
During pre-colonialism, in some cultures i.e. North Africa and Japan; there may have been a lifestyle based colourism, where pale hair and dark skin signi ed under-privileged lifestyle of rural workers working outdoors, and pale skin signi ed wealth and the nancial status or economic well-being of the individual, just as being overweight. Although every civilisation may have de ned attractiveness, the modern stand- ards of beauty emanate from colonialism and slavery.
The exportation of standards and ideas of the white master-race by Europeans to the colonised lands, created a toxic reaction that produced a harmful new idea of the better race and colour. This concept is deeper than the ideal physical appearance.
Skin colour was used as a tool to create a hierarchy within slavery itself. As a result of black female slaves being abused by their white masters, a generation of mixed race children were born. As they were lighter in shade, they were given the better jobs within the household, as opposed to working in the elds with those with darker skin. Hence, the lighter the shade, the better prospects available for the person. In some instances, it lead to some achieving their freedom from slavery, instilling in the minds of the colonised, the path to accomplishment and success is through achieving this standard set by their colonisers.
The colonised mind now aspires to be like its coloniser, to dress like them, behave like them and, to look like them; the white-skinned man perceived as the epitome of success. This mind-set has created an inferiority complex and self-hate that continue to plague many in the modern world.
Following colonisation in India, for example, there was a deliberate re-enforcement of the caste system and the colour of the skin as a measure of what is ‘better and ‘righter’, or rather, a ‘superiority’ system that placed the fairer skin at the top of the strata, with more opportunities and privileges. This was done in order to further imbed colonial rule.
The impact of colonial perception towards the fairer skin is strongly felt to this day. This standard appears in its ugly form particularly when within people, but it is also a cause of division and is dangerous especially at a time when unity of Muslims is challenged. We are the ‘Ummah’ (community) of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Our Lord is One and we are one. Language, race or colour, are not there to divide us. Our bond is one that is greater than blood and based on a uni ed belief in Allah, The Most High.
And so that we may recognise each other… searching for a bride or groom for marriage, especially within certain communities such as the Arab and South Asian communities. It is important to realise that it is not just women who are criticised for their skin colour, but men also. Often, if not the first, the key question asked is: is she fair? Is he or she dark? How dark? A glimpse into matrimonial websites will highlight the open-armed acceptance of this attitude. There are sections with boxes to tick for the preferred skin colour of the potential spouse – Fair? Tanned? Light brown? Dark brown?
Claim to superiority is still made in various forms and methods. For instance, Darwinism claims the theory of the ‘Survival of the Fittest’, which has been interpreted by some people that the most civilised and advanced form of evolution is the white man, again pushing the idea that the white man is superior to the black man.
Language is a powerful tool in itself i.e. terms given to different groups of people. A British person who migrates abroad is termed as an ‘expat’, whereas a person from the East would be termed as an ‘immigrant’. There is a suggestive message in such usage of words.
Why do we allow this? This is acceptance and reinforcement of an ignorant and backward attitude that our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) came to abolish over fourteen hundred years ago.
Surely it is our piety and goodness that defines our worth as human beings. Surely it is the one who upholds justice and speaks the ‘Haqq’ (truth) in the face of injustice, is what raises one in rank in the eyes of Allah, The Most High.
“Allah, the Exalted is He, does not look at your appearances and your possessions, rather He only looks at your hearts and your deeds”. [Muslim]
Racism in all its forms, even if subtle, is a whisper of the ‘Shaytan’ (devil) that seeks to lower Muslims down to their knees. Not only does this backward attitude create an inferiority complex within people, but it is also a cause of division and is dangerous especially at a time when unity of Muslims is challenged. We are the ‘Ummah’ (community) of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Our Lord is One and we are one. Language, race or colour, are not there to divide us. Our bond is one that is greater than blood and based on a uni ed belief in Allah, The Most High.
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “The Muslim Ummah is a unique Ummah among the whole of man- kind: Their land is one, their war is one, their peace is one, their honour is one and their trust is one”. [Ahmed]
This shallow thinking does not belong in us. It is an alien concept in Islam and the kind that Islam came to abolish. How does one claim superiority over another based on colour when Allah created us all from clay; when we are all descendants of Prophet Adam (pbuh)? Rather, this difference is a sign of beauty and magnificence in the creation of Allah, The Most High.
“O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that (Believer who has Taqwa (i.e. is one of the Muttaqeen – the pious). Verily Allah is All-knowing, All-Aware”. [Qur’an, Surah Al-Hujurat: The Rooms, 49:13]
And so that we may recognise each other…
“Among His Signs is the creation of the Heavens and the Earth and the variety of your lan- guage and your colours. There are certainly signs in that for every being”. [Qur’an, Surah Ar-Rum: The Romans, 30:22]
“Do you not see that Allah sends down water from the sky and by it we bring forth fruits of varying colours? And in the mountains there are streaks of white and red, of varying shades, and rocks of deep jet black. And mankind and beasts and livestock of varying colours. Only those of His slaves with knowledge have fear of Allah. Allah is Almighty, Ever-forgiving”. [Qur’an, Surah Al-Fatir: The Originator, 35:27-28]
So this incorrect thinking needs to be stamped out, starting with our own mind-set, making sure that we ourselves are not affected by “fairer is better” mentality and investing in skin lightening products that can be harmful to our skin! When history teaches us the roots of this standard, hence an illogical standard, we are obliged to question how we define what is attractive.
More than anything, we should not allow family, friends or relatives to make negative comments about our skin colour, even though they are supposed to be “light-hearted humour”. There is nothing humorous about the discrimination of a people due to a biological difference. We know this is common, not just amongst the elders but also the young. Our children have a binding right over us to protect them not just from physical harm, but from psychological harm too, including protection from being made to feel inferior.
I can say for certain, that most of those who have a darker shade of skin colour have been hurt by this within their own community, made to feel that they are not good enough and less fortunate. This is a form of racism. It is also a form of bullying which we experience and impose
on ourselves. This racist mentality is more openly accepted by most communities and is promoted by various institutions such as the media and the beauty industries.
When it comes to protecting our children and raising the next generation, we need to raise them without the incorrect ingrained definitions of what beauty is, or to even give ones appearance such significance that it affects their personality. It has to stop and In shaa Allah (if Allah wills it) will be abolished. We should not allow anyone to entertain negative comments and so- called light-hearted jokes about skin colour or anyone’s physical appearance for that matter. And the same applies to racist attitude towards people who are Caucasian or have a lighter skin colour, as this does exist too.
Does Islam not teach us the meaning of true beauty? In one’s character and conduct, kindness and compassion towards others, in ones struggle to beautify the heart and mind in worship to Allah, The Most High? I look at my daughter and hope that she grows up strong enough to not let this type of behaviour impact her. I hope that I am able to teach her the true definitions of beauty and what truly matters. I hope she grows up to speak out against injustice and strives to uphold the truth.
I pray for you my baby-girl that Allah, The Most High, does make you glow brighter than the light, in His Eyes, He whose perception of you is only what matters. May our Lord make you and all our children’s heart illuminate brighter than any light and beauty of the calibre and eminence that we can ever comprehend. Ameen.
WAM had a great discussion on this topic and to view this episode please click here:
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