Originally published in The Trentonian
As we celebrate Juneteenth amidst our current national crises, let’s revisit history. Despite slaves having been emancipated in 1865, many opposed their integration into society. Even in the North, African-Americans were systematically discriminated against through practices like redlining.
On the other hand, we see a different historical example in how the Prophet Muhammad ended slavery in 7th-century Arabia. Rather than simply emancipating all the slaves, he took step-by-step measures to ensure that they would be truly free. He first taught the Muslims to treat their slaves equitably — such as by providing them the same type of food and clothing as themselves — and he put it into practice himself. In fact, he gave the honor of announcing the first call to prayer to Bilal, a freed Abyssinian slave. Muslims were encouraged and given many opportunities to free existing slaves, and future slavery was outlawed. And once they were rid of the shackles of slavey, Muhammad further elevated their status by making them governors and commanders in the army, and many former slaves became prominent scholars. As a result, these measures didn’t only abolish slavery, but also served to eliminate racial prejudices in the hearts of the early Muslims.
Compare this to America’s predicament: while slavery was nominally eradicated, its stains were ever-present and we are witnessing the trickle-down effects.Thus, until we evolve in our understanding of racial equality and thoroughly seek to improve the condition of all people in this nation — such as demonstrated by the founder of Islam — the aim of Juneteenth will stay unrealized.