The Condemnation of Slavery by Islam

Category: Featured, Life & Society Topics: Islam, Slavery, Women

Among many other misconceptions about Islam is the notion that it gives sanction to slavery and permits its followers to enslave prisoners of war, particularly women and establish extra-marital relations with them. We strongly affirm that Islam has not the slightest link with slavery and concubinage. On the contrary, it completely forbids these practices. It is quite outrageous to associate such barbarities with a religion revealed to upgrade humanity.

The point which needs to be appreciated and which, perhaps, is the real cause of the misconception is that Islam had adopted a gradual process to abolish the institution of slavery because of the social conditions prevalent in Arabia at that time. It must be kept in mind that slavery was an integral part of the pre-Islamic Arab society. There were scores of slave men and women in almost every house. This was largely due to two reasons: First, during those times, the standard practice of dispensing with prisoners of war was to distribute them among the army who captured them. Second, there were extensive slave markets in Arabia in that period where free as well as men and women of all ages were sold like animals.

In these circumstances, in which slavery had become an essential constituent of the Arab society, Islam adopted a gradual way to eliminate it. An immediate order of prohibition would have created immense social and economic problems. It would have become impossible for the society to cater for the needs of a large army of slaves, who were, otherwise, dependent on various families. Also, the national treasury was in no position to provide them all on a permanent basis. A large number among them were old and incapable of supporting themselves. The only alternative left for them, if they were instantly freed, would have been to turn to beggary and become an economic burden for the society. The question of slave girls and women was even more critical, keeping in view their own low moral standards. Freeing them, all of a sudden, would have only resulted in a tremendous increase in brothels.

Perhaps, the reason behind this gradual eradication can be understood better if one considers the position which interest occupies in our economy today. No one can refute that our national economic structure is interest oriented. How the parasite of interest has crippled the national economy is apparent to every keen eye. However, there is no denying the fact that without it our present economic system cannot sustain itself. Every reasonable person will acknowledge that today if a government wishes to rid the economy from this menace then, in spite of its utter prohibition in Islam, it will have to adopt a gradual methodology. During this interim period interest oriented deals will have to be tolerated and temporary laws will have to be enacted to handle them, just as the Qur'an had given certain provisional directives about slaves during the interim period of their gradual eradication. An alternative economic framework will have to be steadily incorporated in place of the existing one. A sudden abolition, without another parallel base, will only hasten the total collapse of the economic system, which, of course, will be disastrous for the country.

To avert a similar disaster and to ward off a similar catastrophe, Islam had adopted a progressive and a gradual scheme, fourteen hundred years ago, to do away with the inhuman institution of slavery. Following are some of the measures it took in this regard:

  1. In the early Makkan period, it pronounced that slave emancipation was a great deed of piety. The very initial Makkan surahs appealed to the Muslims to liberate as many slaves as they could.

  2. The Prophet , unequivocally, directed the Muslims to raise the standard of living of the slaves and bring it equal to their own standard. This, of course, was meant to discourage people from persisting with them.

  3. For the atonement of many sins manumission of slaves was divinely ordained.

  4. All slave men and women who could support themselves in the society were directed to marry one another, in order to raise their moral and social status. 

  5. A permanent head in the public treasury was fixed to set free slave men and women. 

  6. Prostitution, which was largely carried out through slave women, who were mostly forced by their masters do so, was totally prohibited.

  7. The affronting names of 'abd and amah by which slave men and women were called, were abrogated so that people should stop regarding them as slaves. In their place, the words fata (boy) and fatat (girl) were introduced.

  8. Finally, the law of mukatibat provided very easy access for the slaves to the gateway to freedom. Every slave who was capable of supporting himself was allowed by law to free himself, provided that he either gave a certain monetary amount to his master or carried out certain errands for him. After this, he could live as a free man. A special head in the treasury was fixed for this purpose; also, wealthy people were urged to help the slaves in this regard. The net result of this law was that only handicapped and old slaves were left to be provided for by their masters, which not only went in their own favour but also prevented them from becoming an economic burden on the society.  

     
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As far as the case of prisoners of war was concerned, the Qur'an directed the Muslims to set them free, either as a favor or against some ransom. There was to be no second option:

When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads, and when you have thoroughly subdued them, bind your captives firmly - then grant them their freedom (either as a favour or) against some ransom - until the war lays down its armour. (47:4)

How the Prophet went about obeying this directive is a golden chapter of Islamic history, and we shall now briefly describe some of its salient features.

It is a well known historical fact that in the battle of Badr - the first main encounter with the Quraish - about seventy prisoners were captured by the victorious Muslim army. Most of these  prisoners were freed against some ransom money, while those who could not arrange  for this money were freed if they taught a certain number of children of the tribe of Ansar how to write.

In the battle of Bani Mustaliq, the prisoners captured were either freed in the battlefield as a favour while some others were freed on ransom. The Prophet brought the remaining prisoners to Medinah and while waiting for their families to procure them, gave them into the temporary custody of his Companions. Among them was Sayyidah Jawairiyah as well. Her father arrived with some camels as ransom. The Prophet inquired about the two well-bred camels he had hid behind. This astounded him so much - for he knew that there could be no way that the Prophet could have had knowledge of them - that he accepted faith. At this, Sayyidah Jawairiyah also accepted faith. The Prophet proposed for her to which her father consented. Upon this, the marriage was solemnized. The result of this marriage was that all the remaining prisoners of war were set free by the Muslim soldiers, since they thought that it was not appropriate to keep the Prophet's in-laws in captivity.

In the battle of Khaibar, after a peace treaty had been concluded with the enemy, the Muslim forces came across Safia binti Huyee - a helpless widow of an aristocratic family. Her father, Huyee bin Akhtab - a prominent leader of the Jews had been killed in the battle of Quraizah. The Prophet set her free and gave her the option to go to back to her family or to marry him if she wanted. Saffiyah showed her consent to marry the Prophet. The marriage subsequently took place.

In the battle of Hunain, thousands of prisoners were captured by the Muslim army. The Prophet waited for many days for their people to come and fetch them but  they never turned up. At this, the Prophet returned to Medinah and distributed them among the soldiers. However, after a lapse of many days, their people showed up. The Prophet said that he had no objection in giving away his share back to them but as far as the other tribes were concerned, he could only appeal to them. Later on, almost all the people surrendered their prisoners when the Prophet , subsequently, offered six camels for each prisoner from the spoils they would obtain in the very next battle. This was enough for them to forfeit their share as well.

Thus the Prophet throughout his reign followed the Qur'anic directive of setting free the prisoners of war either as a favor or against some ransom. However, there is, perhaps, just one instance in the Prophet's life which may become a source of misconception in this regard. This was the battle with the Jewish tribe of Banu Quraizah in which all the male prisoners were executed and the women and children were made slaves. An analysis of the whole matter shows that the Muslim army had surrounded their fortress for almost a month. At last, they requested to appoint Sa'ad bin Muazz (rta), the leader of the tribe of Aus, as an arbitrator and promised to willingly accept his decision. They reckoned that since they had remained the allies of the Aus, Sa'ad would be lenient to them in his decision. But Sa'ad bin Muazz, much to their dismay, gave his decision in accordance with the Jewish Shariah. According to the Jewish Shariah, the male prisoners were to be executed while the women and children were to be enslaved 1 . It is, therefore, clear that the Islamic Shariah could not have come to their rescue in this regard since they were dealt with according to their own law by a person they themselves had appointed as an arbitrator.

During the term of the Rightly Guided Caliphate also, the practical abolition of the institution of slavery continued with full force. However, in spite of all these extensive measures spanning almost half a decade, it is known fact that it was not until the turn of this century that mankind was actually able to rid itself completely of this institution. We believe the reason for this must be sought in the social complexities which exist in a community. It is extremely difficult to eradicate customs and traditions which are deeply rooted in a society. The society, as a whole did not accept the reformation started by Islam. A similar instance can be observed in the case of the political set up envisaged by Islam. It totally condemned the institution of dictatorship in which a despotic ruler and his few henchmen exercised absolute powers. It established a government which was democratic in the sense that it came into power by a majority mandate. Throughout the term of the Rightly Guided Caliphate this principle remained in force for the election of the ruler. However, after the end of the Rightly Guided Caliphate, the Arab society rejected this system and reverted to dictatorship.


Notes:

1. When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labour and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, and children, the livestock and everything else in the city you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. (Deuteronomy. 20:10-15)

Source: Renaissance


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  15 Comments   Comment

  1. Yahya Bergum from USA

    Human life is the gift of our Creator. It should never be for sale. - G.W. Bush

    Salam. Whatever else I would be, insha'Allah, I would be an abolitionist. Since before the American Civil War abolition has been (very much) a Republican cause, masha'Allah. Yes, John Brown's body lies a mouldering in the ground but the truth keeps marching on. And yes, I realize that John Brown was quite arguably a terrorist.

    Vote as would be your pleasure. If only two percent of Muslim American voters would vote to reelect George Bush then of course Allah knows best. Then again, in my way of thinking, the ideal driving conditions are whatever it takes to keep other drivers off the road - and hopefully safe at home. Barakatuhu warahmatallahi (wassalam).

  2. Aisha Faatima Shabazz-Muhammad from USA

    Who will comment on the treatment of the black afrikan, in the Sudan by outside Islamic forces. What of the enslavement and oppression of Black Afrikans at the hand of Islamic????????

  3. H.A. from Yathrib

    There is no place for slavery in Islam, Christianity and Judaism. That's the end of the story.

    May God bless the people of the book!

  4. Peter from USA

    Akbar,

    My friend, I seek your advice. I had a dream about Khidr. Who or what is Khidr? It seemed important; and had something to do with Islam.

    To my other fellows: in truth, I have not read the article. I sought out Akbar about my matter at hand. I hope this is okay, adn I am open to hearing aobut Khidr from anyone who can inform me, but Mr.Khan had impressed me greatly with his wisdom.

  5. Akbar Khan from Canada

    People who have a problem with this article are just in a state of denial, and cannot even read about historical points and their significance, as written in this Renaissance article.

    This should be couriered to all the dictators in Muslim countries, and non-Muslim countries, who are defiant, turn a blind eye to the needs of the people, and most of all, ignorant of Al-Qur'an Al-Karim and how, if understood correctly, can be of a tremendous benefit to the conditions of all people in the world.

  6. Yahya Bergum from USA

    Assalamu alaikum. In the interest of a fair and balanced presentation, in the sharing of scripture:

    When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them; for you may eat of them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field men that they should be besieged by you? Only the trees which you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down that you may build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls. [Deuteronomy 20:19-20]

  7. Brother Islam from Bilad as Shirk (America)

    AS SALAMU ALAIKUM

    Alhamduallah this ia a very good article and topic that needs more discussion(inshallah)!!!

    Being that i'm of African descent for me I REVERTED BACK TO ISLAM through ALLAH(swt)RAHMAH.

    The u.s."media" is very EVIL and HIPOCRITICAL before I made my six months HIJRAH to the BILAD AS SUDAN(LAND OF THE BLACKS)the u.s."media" had concocted lies about "White Arabs" of the north enslaving Black Africans of the south and how the Islamic faith supported slavery.I found all of this to be lies which is so common with the u.s "media".I lived in the famous city of Omdurman which is one of SUDAN'S largest cities,I had neighbors who were not only Muslim but Chistians and "Animist" all lived in peace.Until I spoke"english"they all thought I was one of them(SUDANESE).African"Americans" are racially the same people as the Sudanese the difference are religion,language,culture.The Sudanese are not "perfect" but as Blackman and a Muslim I enjoyed peace,security,ISLAMIC SOVEREIGNTY AND made friends in all walks of life there.america is a sespool of immorality,pristine pure rascism and a growing biasness towards ISLAM.In the GREAT

    "DEMOCRACY"OFTHE U.S OF A." 1.5 million+ women are raped yearly(80%done by WHITE ANGLO SAXON MEN),800,000+ prison rapes yearly,1.8 million+abortions yearly,animal rape is making a strong come back(check out the stats.!)CHRISTIAN CLERGY RAPE has destroyed many AMERICAN lives with many of the victims commiting SUICIDE!!!The transvestites,metrosexuals,homosexuals, bisexuals,trisexuals(man,woman,animal)

    transgenders,drag queens,child molesters, population is fast growing.The u.s.of a.LEADS THE WORLD in child deaths by violence,missing persons,KIDNAPPING,prison population 2 million+(Abu Ghraib),BATTEREY an ABUSE AGAINST WOMEN,there's not enough ink in my cartrige to list the SATANIC EVILS(past or present)of the u.s.of a.Does Christianity have the moral fiber to cleanse america? How did African"American become Christian in the u.s?????????

  8. Patricia from France

    I found the article informative but I must take exception

    to the way that author refers to slavery of women. The

    message is that these women had low morals BECAUSE

    they were slaves. But if they were slaves, controlled by

    others, would could they successfully choose a higher

    morality?? See these sections of the article's text:

    - (The difficulty of how to free existing slaves)

    "The question of slave girls and women was even more

    critical, keeping in view their own low moral standards.

    Freeing them, all of a sudden, would have only resulted

    in a tremendous increase in brothels."

    And later in the article:

    "Prostitution, which was largely carried out through

    slave women, who were mostly forced by their masters

    do so, was totally prohibited. "

    Of course it was "mostly forced by their masters" -- in

    ancient or modern times, only a small minority of

    women would choose to be humiliated and controlled

    by sexual abuse.

    It's positive that Islam recognized this degrading

    situation and created new laws to protect the dignity of

    women. But let's not assume that all women who are

    raped during a war have 'low morals' to begin with.

    This evil practice has happened since the days of old,

    and regrettably it is still happening today. I wish

    healing and strength to all sisters who have been

    raped as a consequence of war and conflict.

  9. Yahya Bergum from USA

    Salam Abdullah. Did not the men of the Jewish tribe in question attempt to massacre the Muslim women and children at Medina - while the 3,000 Muslim men were busy defending the (entire) community against the 10,000 pagans from Mecca - before the Muslims in question (subsequently) laid siege to the Jews in question? As for the fate of the "infidels" in question, if my understanding is correct, the Prophet (pbuh) took the advice of one of the Jewish tribal-elders who had remained friendly to the Muslims. Also, corrupted or otherwise, there might still appear to be one or two Jews even today who seem inclined to apply those particular verses to the present-day situation - might there not?

    Trying to imagine myself in the place of the hostile Jews of Yathrib, I can only imagine that, having failed to uphold their agreement with the Meccan pagans, the men would have elected to forfeit their own lives that their women and children would be afforded mercy. (Real men are like that, God willing.) Anyway, slaves in the early Muslim community did not seem to have it all that bad - all things considered. As for missed opportunities, I would be inclined to agree with you there - but then Allah knows best. Wassalam.

  10. haneef shaheed from united states

    As an African American male living in the United States this article help my understanding.

    There have been many who try to discredit Islam and turn African Americans away from Islam by accusing the Arab Muslims of participating in the slave trade. If you read the Quran and study you will find that their participation was not a mandate from the Quran but transgressions from it's Laws. We (african americans) may never heal from the wounds of slavery but to blame any religion would and should be wrong. Only the man that participated in it should be held to blame.

    UNITY IS "OUR" GOAL. WE LOVE "ALL" OF OUR BROTHERS

    THROUGHOUT THE WORLD. WE WILL NOT BE KEPT FROM EACH OTHER MUCH LONGER!!!!

  11. BNAK

    Mr.Abdullah:

    Your name suggests that you are a slave of Allah. But, based on your comments, it's clear that you are actually Abd-as-Shaitan (slave of the devil).

    You are obviously blinded by your hatred of muslims which shows itself all over your comments.

    You say: "The massacre of the Jews has given guidance to terrorists like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad". Really? under what guidance are the Jews killing hundreds of Palestinians in a 7:1 ratio? Under what divine guidance are the Jews building the so called "Security Fence" that is literally converting the Palestinian homeland into open-prisons worst than ghettoes?

    Under what guidance did Israel occupy Palestinian lands killing 1000s in the process?

    I am probably wasting my time trying to reason with a bigoted person like you who is already blinded-folded to reality. Experience has shown me this many times in the past. If you had even a semblance of open-mindedness, you would have studied the entire incident in question objectively. The Jews of Medina had betrayed the muslims by siding with the Quraysh army and had planned to massacre the muslims along with the Quraysh, thus violating the peace treaty they had in place with the muslims. So, the punishment the Jews were then accorded as per the terms of the treaty was as per their own agreement and as per their own law, through an arbiter they had appointed or agreed to. So, it was only fair enough that justice was done in a fair and just fashion.

    Do not waste you time here man, if you want to throw your garbage here. If you come here, then talk ONLY sense or there are many websites of your own people, where people like you should spew your anti-muslim venom.NOT HERE! Get it?

  12. Mike from USA

    Sura 23 Almuminun

    ......

    .......

    5 Who do not lay down their clothes

    6 Except with their spouses, or what their right hand posses, they are free from blame,

    7 But those whose seek other than that are transgressors;

    in contrast to what Shahzad Saleem claims, Islam allows slavery as long as it follows the Islamic principles explained in Qur'an and Sunnah. Saleem made many mistakes in his presentation and I would like to point to them.

    Saleem claims that the prohibition of slavery follows the same way the prohibition of prostitution and drinking. The evidence of the gradual prohibition here does not apply. Saleem forgets that the gradual prohibition of mentioned problems was finalized before the death of the messenger of Allah. Slavery, however, was not prohibited before the death of the messenger of Allah. And Saleem, please do not tell me the United Nation helped finalizing the prohibition of slavery, because that is a joke. Slavery was not prohibited and is a legtimate system that people can use.

    Saleem says: "It must be kept in mind that slavery was an integral part of the pre-Islamic Arab society." The answer to that is that all of the evil practice that Arabs did were addressed and prohibited with no regard to anything but to establish the rules of Allah. Adultery was deeply rooted, oppression was deeply rooted, and hatred was deeply rooted. All these deep-rooted traditions were addressed and uprooted by Islam from the society. Saleem also claims, "It is extremely difficult to eradicate customs and traditions which are deeply rooted in a society." In this case, then, let us not condemn racism in the USA because it is related to "customs and traditions that are deeply rooted in a society."

    Saleem Adds "A large number among them were old and incapable of supporting themselves." I am wondering were he got these figures.

    Saleem adds "However, in spite of all these extensive measures spanning almost half a decade, it is known fact that it was not unt

  13. Abdullah from USA

    Of course the Deuteronomy scripture was corrupted as Muslims claim the previous scriptures were corrupted. This article is again an example of intellectual dishonesty by Muslims. God knows people judge others not by the good they do but by the evil they do or permit. The massacre of the Jews has given guidance to terrorists like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad to execute and kill Jews that they feel "oppress" them as it is "obvious" this verse teaches that for Jews God feels the correct punishment for them is Death. Of course even if this verse is not corrupted it is obvious to the intellecutally honest that this law did not apply to Jews but to Non-Jews which were met in battle. Jews were not to kill Jews but Non-Jews. And, of course, the other way to look at this verse is the famous Muslim way. This verse was only for a specific time at a specific battle. It was not to be use for all time. This is another example of a missed opportunity to lead by example as with Aisha. There are those that seek to please man by changing things in a manner to suit man (gradually) and there are those that seek to please God by changing things immediately. Afterall, Muhammad did not gradually phase in to the Pagans the idea of one God, he did it immediately as God would want.

  14. Yahya Bergum from USA

    It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards east or West; but it is righteousness... to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves... [Quran 2:177]

    Never should a believer kill a believer; but (if it so happens) by mistake... it is ordained that he should free a believing slave, and pay compensation to the deceased's family, unless they remit it freely. If the deceased belonged to a people at war with you, and he was a believer, the freeing of a believing slave (is enough). If he belonged to a people with whom ye have treaty of mutual alliance, compensation should be paid to his family, and a believing slave be freed... [Quran 4:92]

    Allah... will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons... or give a slave his freedom... [Quran 5:89]

    If any men among you divorce their wives by Zihar [effectively declaring their wives to be as ineligible for them as their own mothers would be]... then wish to go back on the words they uttered... should free a slave before they touch... and Allah is well acquainted with all that ye do. [Quran 58:2-3]

    Verily, We have created man into toil and struggle... Have We not shown him the two highways? But he hath made no haste on the path that is steep. And what will explain to thee the path that is steep? (It is) freeing the slave; or the giving of food in the day of privation to the orphan... or to the indigent (down) in the dust. Then will he be of those who believe, and enjoin patience, (constancy, and self-restraint), and enjoin deeds of kindness and compassion. [Quran 90:4-17]

    Verily Man is in loss, except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy. [Quran 103:2-3]