Status of the Arabs in Islam

“Muhammad is the noblest of the Arabs and `Ajam.

Muhammad is the best of those who trod the earth.”


Question:  “Has Allah placed Arabs above non Arabs?”


Some verses and hadiths emphasize the worth of Arabs, some emphasize the worth of non-Arabs, and some criticize part of the Arabs harshly.  Our approach to this question must balance mostly the first two kinds of emphasis. This is not a defense of a cultural bias, but a description of what Allah and His Prophet (saws) said.

The evidence for the superiority of Arabs can only be based on the fact that the last Revelation took place within the historical context of Arab culture.  Because of that, Arabs are distinguished, just as Muslims are distinguished, but accidentally (i.e. historically) the Arabs stand in the forefront and this is from Divine favor.

In the same sense, the Arabs are the first concerned by the Divine Revelation because Allah Most High said “We have revealed it in a clear Arabic tongue”.

The linguistic superiority of Arabic, and the superiority of Arabs in achieving full knowledge of Arabic, is a reality which is derived from the necessity of knowing the Qur’an and the Sunna fully, and they are expressed in Arabic.  In that superficial linguistic sense, as in the accidental historical sense, Arabs also have a natural superiority.

None of this is to say that an impious Arab is superior to a pious non-Arab nor that an ignorant Arab is superior to a knowledgeable non-Arab: in those cases, the reverse is true. Also, a non- Arab who learns Arabic intending fuller knowledge of Shari`a, is rewarded more than if he didn’t have to learn Arabic first even if the teaching and learning of Arabic simply as a language, is mustahabb (a praiseworthy act) for all over and above that of any other language. That is why the Shari`a encourages every Muslim to learn Arabic and it is said to be a duty.

Allah also said “You are the best of peoples” (3:100) and this ayat addresses primarily the first generation of Muslims, the Muhajirun and Ansar, who were Arabs except for very few.  The ahadith that praise the Prophet’s (s) generation or century, “then the next, then the next” (Muslim) and Abu Bakr and `Umar as the best of mankind after him, confirm that verse although the number of non-Arabs increased.

But the epicenter of both the above-mentioned verses and the hadiths is the Prophet (saws).

We respect and love Arabs only because the Prophet (saws) is one of them, in the sense that we respect and love him (saws) in those whose Arab pride consists in following him (saws). In this respect we respect and love every sincere Muslim as every sincere Muslim is an Arab through the kinship of Islam; and every sincere Muslim is a Friend of Allah (in the general not the special sense of Wilaya) for being a follower of His Prophet (saws). This is Imam al-Shafi`i’s understanding of the Aal Muhammad (saws) in the Salat Ibrahimiyya in the last tashahhud.

It is confirmed in the narration of the two freedmen among the Companions who quarreled, whereupon each one hurled at the other the name of his ethnic origin by way of insult, namely: “You Copt!” and “You Abyssinian!” Hearing this, the Prophet (saws) said to them: “Stop this, for you are now both from Aal Muhammad.” The Shaykh of our teachers Abu al-Yusr `Abidin mentioned it in his book on slavery in Islam titled _al-Qawl al-Wathiq fi Amr al-Raqiq_ citing al-Sayyid al-Hifni’s _al-Jawahir al-Hisan fi Tarikh al-Habashan_.

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