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Compiled by: Ayesha Hassan

The following discussion has been taken from the General Discussion Forum of Studying Islam (, one of our sister sites. While Razi Allah is the moderator of this discussion, Ayesha Hassan has compiled it for publication in the journal (Editor).

Every society has its own culture—a distinction that differentiates it from other societies. Although Islam plays the most important role in developing the ideological and practical infrastructure of all Muslim societies, each can be recognized distinctly because of their peculiar characteristics influenced by the atmosphere, the environment, and the geography etc of their specific regions. Traditional practices, seen in this perspective, undeniably hold immense value yet we need to be careful that we do not revere an inherent practice merely on the basis that it is a tradition. The following discussion probes into the notion of ‘The Caste System’, particularly characteristic of the East, and endeavours to find out if it is against the spirit of Islam.


Angeln: Caste system is very common in some countries e.g. Pakistan. Are castes acceptable in Islam? Where are they mentioned?

Tariq Hashmi: Classification of mankind in different branches is endorsed both by reason and revelation. Not only does the Qur’ān allude to this segregation, it also hints towards the basic acumen of the phenomenon. It says: ‘O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is all-knowing, all-aware.’ (49:13)]

Ayesha: Having stated the Qur’ānic verse, it is imperative to appreciate that castes should play absolutely no role in social relationships.

Ronnie: Although the Qur’ān has given us a sense of various people with differing backgrounds, I cannot agree that the caste system is merely a simple classification of human groups. Actually, the caste system is an erroneous concept that places certain groups of people as superior and inferior. While the Qur’ān has posed the beauty in our differences it has also reminded us that no one is better than another except through their works. Castes, on the other hand, are a classification for repression and disparagement. If this is the case then there seems to be no plausible harmony between castes and what the Qur’ān has stated.

Razi Allah: Since you have referred particularly to the prevalent caste system in Pakistan, I can present some observations from my experience. While it is true that there is nothing wrong in the caste system for the purpose of ‘knowing one another’, people tend to harbor certain preconceived notions, usually negative, about a particular caste, and judge the entire group accordingly with a naive and mock disregard for individual differences. This seems pervasive even among the educated people.

There are certain practices related to marriage and intermingling, based on the caste system, that breed inequality, intolerance and an air of superiority. Some of the vilest aspects of Hindu caste system are well-entrenched within the Muslim Pakistani society. Ordinarily, one will find people justifying every act via a convenient route i.e. Islam. Just as Islam has allowed every man to marry four women, please no ifs and buts, Islam also allows us to divide ourselves into castes, no ifs and buts.

Ronnie: Indeed there is no prohibition in dividing ourselves. That does not seem to be the point of contention. The nature of some of these castes is contrary to Islamic principles. Not only are they used to segregate people based on prejudice and hatred but they are also contrary to the Islamic concept of equality of humanity. The only division is that of the righteous and the evil doer. The Children of Israel created such a caste; they elevated themselves and cast out the world. Division is not evil or wrong but as implemented in most castes is without a doubt contrary to the Truth.

Razi Allah: My last statement was a sarcasm directed at the attitude that chooses to overlook the spirit behind Islamic directives. Just as there is wisdom behind directives related to polygamy, so is there wisdom in the division of people in nations and tribes. The attitude of summoning such verses of the Qur’ān at convenience, disregarding the real purpose and spirit i.e. no ifs and buts accepted was what I was sardonically referring to.



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