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Is slavery still allowed in Islam in this day and age?

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Question:

Is slavery still allowed in Islam in this day and age?

Answer

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

As-salāmu ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullāhi wa-barakātuh.

Before answering your query, we shall reproduce an excerpt regarding slavery in Islam from Ma’ārif al-Qur`ān by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Uthmani below:

Let us now address the objection that Islam is the great upholder of human rights. Then how is it that it allows the enslaving of human beings?

This objection is a fallacy based on the false analogy drawn between Islamic concept of slavery and its practice in other religions and communities; whereas in Islam after the rights given to the slaves and the social status granted to them, they can hardly be called slaves in the generally accepted sense of the word. They in fact constitute a brotherhood. A famous orientalist in his book Arab Civilization writes:

When the word ‘slave’ is uttered in the presence of a European who is used to reading American writings, he conceives in his mind those helpless people who are shackled with chains, around whose necks are iron collars, who are lashed with whips and driven forth, whose food is barely enough to subsist, and for whom nothing more than dark dungeons are available to live in…there is absolutely no doubt about the fact that Islam’s concept of slavery is completely different from the Christian concept of slavery.

The Islamic viewpoint regarding slaves has been made plain in a famous Hadith of the Holy Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) as follows:

Your slaves are your brothers, and Allah has put them under your control. So whoever has a brother under his command should feed him of what he eats, and dress him of what he wears. Do not overburden them [slaves] to do things beyond their capacity, and if you do so, then help them.[1]

The social and civil rights that Islam has accorded to the slaves are almost equal to free individuals. Thus, as opposed to other nations, Islam has not only permitted the slaves to marry but also emphasized that the masters should marry off those of their slaves and slavegirls who are righteous[2] so much so that he can even marry a free woman. A slave’s share from the spoils of war is equal to that of a free person. If he gives refuge to an enemy, it would be respected in the same way as given by a free individual. There are so many injunctions in Qur`ān and Hadīth regarding good treatment of slaves that if they are collected together, they can be compiled into a voluminous book. Sayyidunā ‘Alī (radiyallahu ‘anh) says that the last words of the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) before his departure from this earthly life were:

“Take care of prayer; take care of prayer and keep your duty to Allah regarding slaves under your command.”[3]

Islam organized education and training programmes for slaves. Its effect was seen during the reign of ‘Abd-ul-Malik Ibn Marwan in almost all the provinces of the Islamic State. Some of the best and greatest authorities on education and intellectual development were slaves whose chronicles are narrated in several history books. Furthermore, this nominal slavery was gradually abolished or reduced. There is a huge number of Qur’anic verses and Holy Prophetic Traditions which set out the virtues and merits of setting the slaves free. There is no act better than emancipation of slaves. In juristic injunctions, pretexts have been looked for to emancipate slaves: expiation for violating fast, for murder, for zihār, for violating oaths and vows – in all these cases the first compulsory command is to emancipate a slave. A Hadīth tells us that if a person has slapped a slave, its expiation is to set him free. Thus, the Companions used to emancipate slaves in large numbers.

To sum up: anyone who looks impartially at the comprehensive reforms Islam introduced in the system of slavery, he cannot escape the conclusion that drawing analogy between Islamic concept of slavery and its practice among other nations is absolutely false.

Furthermore, holding prisoners of war in bondage is only up to the point of permissibility which means that if an Islamic State deems it appropriate, it may hold them in bondage, but it has not been taken as an obligatory or as a commendable act. As a matter of fact, the collective teachings of Qur’an and Hadīth lead us to believe that emancipating them is more meritorious.[4]

Now that the general concept of slavery in Islam has been understood, we will move on to the question of slavery and its permissibility in this day and age. Simply put, if Muslim nations enter into a compact with non-Muslim nations regarding a certain issue, as long as it does not contravene the general principles of Sharī’ah, then such a pact will be binding upon those Muslim nations and it will be there duty to hold up such a covenant.[5]

In our times, there are international treaties upheld by many countries between many nations that state that “no person shall be held in slavery.” This clause can be found under article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (for the full text, please follow this link:  http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml). Many countries signed this pact and agreed to uphold such a covenant. For a broad list of such treaties and the general agreement between such nations, you may refer to the following two links:

Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

These laws further extended to abolishing all forms of human trafficking as a result of the ongoing sexual abuse, human bondage, and complete disregard to human rights resulting from today’s form of human slavery. Examples of such laws include the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA)[6] and the Palermo Protocol regarding children and women[7].

All in all, as stated before, the Islamic form of slavery cannot be compared to the atrocities committed by the slavery we have come to know today. In order to combat such oppression and violation of human rights, international laws were created and many Muslim nations also agreed to abide by these laws for the greater good and to combat the oppression resulting from modern slavery.

And Allah Ta’āla Knows Best

Bilal Mohammad

Student Darul Iftaa
New Jersey, USA

Checked and Approved by,
Mufti Ebrahim Desai.

www.daruliftaa.net

Answered according to Hanafi Fiqh by Askimam.org


[1] Sahih al-Bukhari, 2545, The Book on Manumission of Slaves

[2] Al-Quran, 24:32

[3] Sunan Ibn Majah, 2698, The Book of Wills

[4] Uthmani, M. Shafi, “An Objection and its Rebuttal”, Ma’ārif al-Qur`ān

[5] Ibid.

وإذا رأي الإمام موادعة أهل الهرب، ولم يأخذ علي ذلك مالا، فلا بأس به، والكلام ههنا في فصول: أحدها: ؟إذا طلبوا من الإمام الموادعة سنين معلومة بغير شيء، والحكم فيه أن الإمام ينظر في ذلك، إن رأي الموادعة خيرا للمسلمين لشدة شوكة أهل الحرب وما أشبه ذلك فعل ذلك، فقد صح أن رسول الله صلي الله عليه وسلم صالح أهل مكة عام الحديبية علي أن وضع الحرب نينه وبينهم عشر سنين…ومن النظر حفظه قوة المسلمين أولا، وربما يكون ذلك في الموادعة إذا كان للمشركين شوكة، أو يحتاج الإمام إلي أن يور في دار الحرب؛ ليتوصل الإمام إلي قوم لهم بأس شديد، فلا نجد بدا من أن نوادع من علي طريقه لنأمن منهم.

(المحيط البرهاني، ج ٧، ص ٢٩٠، إدارة القرآن والعلوم الإسلامية)

[قال صاحب الهداية] (وَإِذَا رَأَى الْإِمَامُ أَنْ يُصَالِحَ أَهْلَ الْحَرْبِ أَوْ فَرِيقًا مِنْهُمْ وَكَانَ ذَلِكَ مَصْلَحَةً لِلْمُسْلِمِينَ فَلَا بَأْسَ بِهِ) لِقَوْلِهِ تَعَالَى {وَإِنْ جَنَحُوا لِلسَّلْمِ فَاجْنَحْ لَهَا وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ} [الأنفال: 61] «وَوَادَعَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ – صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ – أَهْلَ مَكَّةَ عَامَ الْحُدَيْبِيَةِ عَلَى أَنْ يَضَعَ الْحَرْبَ بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَهُمْ عَشْرَ سِنِينَ» ، وَلِأَنَّ الْمُوَادَعَةَ جِهَادٌ مَعْنًى إذَا كَانَ خَيْرًا لِلْمُسْلِمِينَ لِأَنَّ الْمَقْصُودَ وَهُوَ دَفْعُ الشَّرِّ حَاصِلٌ بِهِ، وَلَا يُقْتَصَرُ الْحُكْمُ عَلَى الْمُدَّةِ الْمَرْوِيَّةِ لِتَعَدِّي الْمَعْنَى إلَى مَا زَادَ عَلَيْهَا، بِخِلَافِ مَا إذَا لَمْ يَكُنْ خَيْرًا؛ لِأَنَّهُ تَرَكَ الْجِهَادَ صُورَةً وَمَعْنًى

[قال البابرتي] وَقَوْلُهُ (لِتَعَدِّي الْمَعْنَى) وَهُوَ دَفْعُ الشَّرِّ.

(العناية شرح الهداية، ج ٣، ص ٢٦٣، دار الكتب العلمية)

[6] “Trafficking Victims Protection Act”, Fight Slavery Now, accessed on May 19, 2014, http://fightslaverynow.org/why-fight-there-are-27-million-reasons/the-law-and-trafficking/trafficking-victims-protection-act/trafficking-victims-protection-act/

[7] “What is modern slavery?”, US Department of State, accessed on May 19, 2014, http://www.state.gov/j/tip/what/

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