Living The Quran
From Issue: 1012 [Read full issue]
Tongues and Colours
Al-Rum (The Romans) - Chapter 30: Verse 22
We all deserve to be treated with equality and dignity. But the Quran goes on to make some more explicit points. All human beings, whatever their creed, race, class and culture, are equal, we are told. And it is not just the individuals who deserve respect. The 'diversity of your tongues and colours' are 'His signs'. So discrimination is forbidden not just on the basis of colour, but also on the basis of language and culture. The Quran insists that all languages and cultures are equal, equally important for maintaining diversity, and have to be valued equally. Thus Arabic is as important as, say, Swahili, Urdu or English; one language cannot claim superiority over the other. And the culture of, for example, Australian Aborigines is as important and deserving of respect as European cultures. One cannot assimilate the other; or relegate the other to the margins.
In the 'diversity of your tongues', the Quran tells us, 'there are messages' for those 'who possess knowledge'. What could these messages be? One obvious message is that diversity and difference are the very essence of God's creation. Everything exists in multiples and in diverse forms. Only the uncreated God is one. Another message is that diversity is a prerequisite for survival itself. When diversity is diminished—a language disappears, one culture is assimilated into another, flora and fauna are eradicated—we and our world are diminished. Diversity makes it possible for us to exist and live in our terrestrial abode and thrive. Equally, it enables us to engage with one another, to recognise each other, and hence to know each other.
What is it we can know of each other if we live in different nations, with different religions, different languages, being people of different races and cultures? These are the elements that define identity. Quran is saying that identity is central to our capacity as human beings first to know ourselves and then through knowing ourselves as God's creation know other people equally as God's creation. Only when we are grounded in our own identity can we learn how to extend to others the obligations and responsibilities, the rights and the duties we claim for ourselves.
"Reading the Qur'an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam" - Ziauddin Sardar, pp. 241, 242