Slavery in Islam
All the ancient as well as the contemporary scholars acknowledge the fact of slavery in Islam and clarify the status of slaves. I have chosen the opinions of the most famous scholars to shed light on their position.
The Scholars of al-Azhar in Egypt
In his book, "You Ask and Islam Answers", Dr. 'Abdul-Latif Mushtahari, the general supervisor and director of homiletics and guidance at the Azhar University, says (pp. 51,52),
The text is plain that all prisoners of war must either be killed or become slaves. The ancient scholars are in full agreement over this issue, such as Ibn Timiyya, Ibn Hisham, Malik etc. Ibn Timiyya says (Vol. 32, p. 89),
Then (Vol. 31, p. 380), he indicates clearly and without shame,
In Part 4, p. 177 of the "Prophet Biography" (Al-Road Al-Anf'), Ibn Hisham says,
This is the statement of Ibn Hisham, on whom all Muslims and students of Muhammad's biography rely. Of course, these matters which Ibn Hisham recorded used to take place continuously in all of Muhammad's wars and invasions. All of Muhammad's people (his wives, and Muhammad himself) owned many slaves - males and females. In his campaign against the children of Qurayza (the Jewish tribe), Muhammad killed all the males (700-900) in one day. Then, he divided the women and the children among his people.
The Caliphs across the ages followed Muhammad's footsteps and enslaved (by hundreds and thousands) men and women who were captured in wars. Many of them were Persians and Byzantines. All the Islamic Chroniclers without exception have recorded these facts. The way Arab Muslims invaded Africa and killed and enslaved Africans is a well-known, historical fact.
In Vol. 2, Part 3, p. 13, Malik Ibn Anas repeated the same text as did Ibn Hisham who is also quoted by Ibn Timiyya, and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya in his book, "Zad al-Ma'ad" (part 3, p. 486). All of them taught the same principle and said the same words.
This question was delivered to Ibn Timiyya who was Mufti of Islam (Vol. 31, pp. 376, 377),
Ibn Timiyya says emphatically,
Then Ibn Timiyya states (Vol. 31, p. 380) that the legist Abu Hanifa says, "Muhammad is an Arab; thus it is not admissible to enslave Arabs because of the nobility of this race since Muhammad is from them." Yet other scholars disagree with him, emphasizing that Muhammad (in one of his campaigns) enslaved Arabs, too. However, it is evident from Muhammad's traditions that he regarded Arabs to be the most noble race, especially the Quraysh, his tribe. His famous saying (that the caliphs must be elected from the Quraysh tribe) is acknowledged by all translators of the tradition without exception.
He should have told A'isha, "Set her free because she is a human being like you. It is not important whether she is a descendant of Ishmael or of Isaac!"
Islam Encourages Muslims to Keep Slaves - No Liberation
All Muslim scholars acknowledge that Islam has retained the principle of slavery, though some of them claim that Islam encourages the liberation of slaves. Maybe some of Muhammad's sayings and a few Qur'anic verses indicate so, yet from a practical point of view, we realize that the liberation of slaves was a rare occurrence. The reason is well known. Neither Muhammad nor his wives or companions were a good example in this regard. Sometimes, Muhammad used to talk about the merits of liberating a slave, yet he himself owned dozens of slaves and maid-slaves. However, we encounter a strange opinion spelled out by Muhammad's wives and his friends in which he encourages them to retain their slaves. In Vol. 33, p. 61 Ibn Timiyya says,
On the same page Ibn Timiyya stresses that this is what all Muhammad's friends said (such as Ibn 'Abbas and Ibn 'Umar) as well as his wives (such as Zaynab, A'isha, and Um Salama).
Is the liberation of slaves a bad thing so that it is possible for a man who swears he will liberate his slaves to renounce his oath and retain them? It should be said that whoever takes an oath to free his slaves if so and so happens, is obliged to fulfill his oath and liberate his slaves, but we see that Muhammad's wives, his great companions and his relatives say something different according to the testimony of Ibn Timiyya.
The Qur'an itself (in several places) approves of slavery and assures the Muslim the right to own dozens of male and female slaves either by purchasing them or as bounty of war. The Qur'an talks about the possession of slaves as "the possession of their necks" (Chapter 58:3, Surah Al-Mujadilah).
Slaves of Muhammad - Prophet of Freedom and Equality!
Muhammad himself owned numerous slaves after he proclaimed himself to be a prophet. I would like here to quote Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya who is one of the greatest scholars and chroniclers of Islam. In his book, "Zad al-Ma'ad" (Part I, p. 160), he says,
This trading used to take place in the slave market in the Arab Peninsula and in Mecca. Muhammad was accustomed to sell, purchase, hire, rent, and to exchange one slave for two. Thus, he had an increasing number of slaves, especially after he claimed to be a prophet, and after his immigration from Mecca to escape death at the hand of his tribe Quraysh. Also, the slaves of Muhammad and his followers were constantly increasing as the result of those who were captured in wars and not only by purchase. This should alert those who have accepted Islam - the Muslims of New York, Chicago, Georgia, Detroit, Los Angeles as well as all the Africans and all Muslims of the world. Even among the Arabs are Muslims who are not aware of these facts concerning Muhammad. Sadly, this is only a small part of the facts of which they are unaware concerning Muhammad.
The Names of Muhammad's Slaves
A) Male Slaves:
Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya relies always on the prophet's biographies written by great ancient scholars. Therefore, he is regarded by Muslims as an authority, a primary source and a leader among the students of the Islamic religion. This scholar tells us in his book, "Zad al-Ma'ad" (part 1, pp. 114, 115, and 116), the following,
The story shows their ruthlessness and does not need explanation or clarification. The ill treatment Muhammad and his companions made of Mahran is very repulsive. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya is not the only one who recorded this episode and the list of names of Muhammad's slaves. The Tabari also (in his Chronicles, Volume 2 p. 216, 217, 218) presents us with these accounts. No one among the contemporary Muslim leaders denies these matters, especially if he is faced with the Tabari's and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya's records.
Still, in regard to Muhammad's slave Zayd Ibn Haritha, Muhammad set him free and adopted him, then he married him to his (Muhammad's) cousin Zaynab. Later Zayd divorced her after he realized that Muhammad was captivated by her. The scandalous story is documented by verses in the Qur'an, and Muslim scholars admit it.
B) Maid Slaves:
In this same Section (One, p. 116), Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya as well as other Muslim authors of chronicles recorded the list of names of Muhammad's maid-slaves. They are Salma Um Rafi', Maymuna daughter of Abu Asib, Maymuna daughter of Sa'd, Khadra, Radwa, Razina, Um Damira, Rayhana, Mary the Coptic, in addition to two other maid-slaves, one of them given to him as a present by his cousin, Zaynab, and the other one captured in a war.
The Status of the Slave Under Islam's Unjust Laws
Let us survey together some strange things embraced by Muhammad and Islam pertaining to slaves. Then let us shed some light on the attitude of Christianity towards this issue.
The Freeman Should Not Be Killed For A Slave
The Qur'an as well as Muslim scholars are explicit in this regard The Qur'an (the Chapter of the Cow:178) shamelessly says,
The reader does not need the interpretations of the scholars to understand these explicit words which indicate that the freeman should be killed only for another freeman, a slave for a slave, and a female for a female. Still, I promised to stick to the interpretations of the great expositors of these Qur'anic verses from among the Muslim scholars because they are more knowledgeable of their Book and its verses. We rely on their interpretations and not on our own. In the commentary of the Jalalan (p. 24), we read the following regarding the above mentioned verse,
What kind of equality is this between human beings!
To explain the aforementioned verse (2:178), the Baydawi relates what really happened with the prophet Muhammad, Abu Bakr and 'Umar. This is recorded in his book entitled, "The Commentary of al-Baydawi". On p. 36, we read,
These are the verses of the Qur'an and this is the attitude of Muhammad himself as well as Abu Bakr and 'Umar after him.
The Muslim legists
The Shafi'i, Malik and Ibn Timiyya, pronounce the same principle as in the Qur'an (2:187).
The Imam Shafi'i tells us plainly and decisively in Part I of his book, "Ahkam al-Qur'an" ("The Ordinances of the Qur'an", p. 275),
On the same page he adds,
What justice! What equality! Then he adds,
Malik Ibn Anas was asked: "What is the punishment of a master who beats his slave to death?" He answered: "Nothing!" (Vol. 6, Part 15, p 164).
In Vol. 28, p. 378, Ibn Timiyya also says:
I do not have better witnesses in this regard than these scholars: Abu Bakr, 'Umar, 'Ali and Muhammad's deeds, and all great, popular Muslim scholars.
A Slave Is Not Entitled To Property Or Money
Ibn Hazm says in Vol. 6, Part 9,
In part I, p. 180 of his book, "The Ordinances of the Qur'an", the Shafi'i also says,
He also indicates in Part II, p. 21, "The owned one does not have money." Besides, according to the Islamic law, all Muslims receive portions of war bounty except slaves and women. Malik Ibn Anas says (Vol. 2, Part 3, pp. 33,34),
This is true even if they have been fighting with the rest of the Muslims. In Part III of the "Prophetic Biography" (p. 386), Ibn Kathir says,
The Testimony Of The Slave Is Not Admissible
In Vol. 35, p. 409 Ibn Timiyya remarks,
If we also turn the pages of the "Ordinances of the Qur'an" by the Shafi'i (part II, p. 142), he determines,
The testimony of a Jew or a Christian is not acceptable, as we have mentioned before, even if justice would be hindered for lack of their witness. This is not important. In his "Sahih" (Part III, p. 223), Al-Bukhari remarks,
What is the meaning of the Shafi'i's statement,
Does not Mr. Shafi'i know that God only is the One who owns people? How dare he utter the phrase, "our possessed slaves."
There Is No Punishment For One Who Makes False Accusation Against Slaves
It is well known that if a Muslim falsely accuses another free Muslim and slanders his honor, he will be punished by being flogged with eighty lashes. This is what happened when some of Muhammad's companions and relatives accused A'isha, his wife, of adultery with one of the young men because they stayed behind after the departure of the caravan, then later in the morning they arrived together. Muhammad ordered each one of them flogged with eighty lashes. But if a Muslim calumniates a slave, he would not be punished.
This is the opinion of all the scholars.
For instance (Vol. 8, Part II, p. 27 1), Ibn Hazm asserts that this is the opinion of Abu Hanifa, Shafi'i, Malik, and Sufyan al-Thawri and not only his own opinion. This is what the Sharawi shamelessly remarks,
A good example is the incident of Safiyya, daughter of Hay, who was taken as a bounty in the war of Khaybar. All the chronicles (as well as the biographies without exception) have recorded, "We wonder why it is said about women and girls that they are of `shed dignity'." The Shafi'i and the Sharawi state this word for word. Is it necessary for us to repeat that Islam sheds the dignity of man under the pretense that he is a slave, that she is a woman, or that he is a non-Muslim?
On Matters Of Sex And Marriage - and About Black Slaves
1. The Slave cannot choose for himself.
This was confirmed by all the Muslim scholars on the authority of Muhammad. In Vol. 6, Part 9, p. 467, Ibn Hazm said,
"If a slave gets married without the permission of his master, his marriage will be invalid and he must be whipped because he has committed adultery. He must be separated from his wife. She is also regarded as an adulteress because Muhammad said, `Any slave who gets married without the approval of his master is a prostitute.'"
The same text is quoted by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (Part 5, p. 117 of "Zad al-Maad"), as well as Ibn Timiyya (Vol. 32, p. 201). Malik Ibn Anas relates (Vol. 2, Part 4) more than that. He says (pp. 199, 201, 206),
2. The male slave and the female slave are forced to get married.
Malik Ibn Anas says explicitly,
Ibn Hazm says that Sufyan al-Thawri, too, has said that the master has the right to force his male or female slave to marry without securing their approval (Vol. 6, Part 9, p. 469). Ibn Timiyya is of the same opinion.
I must not fail in this regard to mention that Malik Ibn Ons, who (after agreeing with the other scholars that the master has the right to force his male or female slave to get married) added,
We wonder here, what did Malik Ibn Anas mean when he said, "An ugly black slave"? Is a man valued on the basis of the color of his skin? Do you say that, O Malik Ibn Anas, and you are one of the great four legists? Or is a man valued on the basis of his personality, reasoning, and heart? We also have the right to wonder why Mihran, the black slave, suffered the humiliation afflicted on him by Muhammad and his companions when they made him carry their belongings in the burning desert while Muhammad was saying to him, "Carry them, for you are a ship." Thus he became known by that surname. Did they not have dozens of other slaves?
Muhammad even discriminated (in Islam) between a black dog and a white dog! Yet, what concerns us here is what I pointed out about slaves in general, their masters treat them as if they are not human beings who have feelings, desires and self-will.
Let us continue our discussion in order to have a more complete picture about how the Islamic religion abuses the dignity of men and women under the pretense that they are slaves and not free human beings.
3. The Arab freeman does not marry a slave unless it is inevitable:
In Vol. 31, p. 383, Ibn Timiyya says,
Malik Ibn Anas notes,
"It is not allowable for a man to wed a slave besides his freewoman wife. In this case, his wife has the right to divorce him. Likewise, if he marries a freewoman while he is already married to a slave and he fails to tell her so, the freewoman has the right to leave him" (Malik, Vol. 2, p. 204).
I do not have any comment on these strange principles, yet I wonder why an Arab freeman cannot marry a slave. Is not he a man and she a woman? And why (if it is inevitable that he should marry her) should all her descendants be slaves? These are iniquitous and ruthless ordinances. It is obvious that Muhammad failed to change the traditions of the tribal society of the pre-Islamic period. Most Arab Muslims had slaves. His companions, wives and he himself owned and retained dozens of them. He bought more after he claimed his prophethood and declared his message - the message or equality, and freedom, and human rights!
What Would Happen If A Freewoman Married Her Slave?
She might be an open-minded woman who did not discriminate between one man and another. Thus she might have fallen in love with her slave who also loved her and they intended, officially, to get married. What is the attitude of Islam in this case? If something like that took place in Islamic society, it would be a disaster! Let us see the reaction of Umar Ibn Khattab in these situations. In Vol. 8, Part 11, pp. 248, 249, Ibn Hazm remarks,
Is there any comment on the ruthlessness of this second caliph who was Muhammad's father-in-law and one of the ten to whom Muhammad promised paradise? He is one of the two whom Muhammad requested the people to follow as a model when he declared, "Emulate Abu Bakr and Umar." Yet Umar was a tyrant, a ruthless man without a heart who attempted to stone a woman for no reason except she married a man who was her slave. He also scourged another woman, forbidding any other man to marry her, and beat and exiled a slave. And when a third woman wanted to free her slave in order to marry him and live happily together, especially after she lost hope in getting married to a freeman, Islam and Umar intervened and said, "No, this is not permissible." He scourged the slave and sold him into a foreign country. By that, he became an example of relentlessness, a hard heart, and detestable oppression.
In matters of sex and marriage, Ibn Timiyya states:
The Value Of The Slave - What Is His Price In Dinars?
Is this how the value of a man is calculated? If the loss amounted, for example, to 600 dinars and the value of the slave in the estimation of the master did not exceed more than 400 dinars because he was sick or weak, his master would, in this case, deliver him to be killed!
We have looked at six points concerning the status of slaves in the Islamic religion. Actually, any one point, if we ponder it, is sufficient to clarify the truth. It reveals to us how human dignity is crushed in the practice of slavery. From the very beginning, we referred to the principle of slavery as it is manifested in this religion, and we have listed the names of Muhammad's slaves, the master and the "apostle of God!"
The Position of Christianity - the Teaching of the Gospel
Christianity is very decisive in this matter. The words and the spirit of the Gospel are very clear. From the very beginning, we have used a fundamental principle in this study and research; namely, the comparison must always be between the Gospel and the Qur'an - Christianity as religion and teachings and Islam as religion, in order to see which one of the two reveals the thoughts of the true, living God. Also, the comparison should be between Muhammad, his life and his sayings on the one hand, and Christ, His life and teachings on the other.
If we were to find (for example) some Europeans or Americans who allowed themselves to acquire slaves, we should not blame Christianity for that because we must realize that the Gospel teaches something different. We see that Jesus and His disciples did not possess slaves.
We do blame Islam in this regard because Muhammad himself acquired male and female slaves by dozens. All his friends, his wives and most Muslims of his time and after owned slaves. The Qur'an encourages that and the scholars do not negate it. We blame Islamic thought and the behavior of Muhammad in regard to this matter and other issues recorded in the most authentic Islamic sources.
We should not, in any subject, dwell on the behavior of some Christians or some Muslims but rather try to examine the attitude of Islamic thought (or Christian thought) toward the issues under discussion. Some people, for instance, believe that a man like Khomeini is an extremist because of Islam, the religion of tolerance, love, and reason. We, for our part, feel surprised to hear that, because who says that this statement is true? Islam is not the religion of tolerance, love, or reason. Not at all! Islam is the exact opposite of this claim.
Did we not see that this religion humiliates and persecutes women and non-Muslims as well as waging offensive wars and encouraging Muslims to kill apostates? Is Muhammad, who ordered the killing of a woman who insulted him, the prophet of tolerance? Why should we blame Khomeini when he issued an order to kill Rushdie? Does not Rushdie (according to the law of Islam and Muhammad, not the law of the United Nations) deserve death for attacking the Qur'an, Muhammad and his wives? Khomeini was never radical; he was always a true student of Muhammad. He intended to enforce the Islamic laws and to fight nations which do not comply with them - such as Iraq (even though Islam is its official religion).
When Muslims kill one another, it is because Muhammad's friends and disciples did so immediately after his death, each one of them trying to force his friend to go in the right way. Khomeini is a true Muslim who follows Muhammad and his friends. Thus, we hear about "exporting the Islamic revolution" to other countries. All these things are compatible with the views of Muhammad and the rightly guided Caliphs who succeeded him such as Abu Bakr, Umar and Ali. When Khomeini slaughtered his opponents, he was following the footsteps of Ali who killed the dissenters, like Talha, Al Zubair and Al Khwareg, even though they were faithful Muslims.
Now, what does the New Testament say about slaves? If we turn in the pages of the New Testament we read these verses:
Christ was always warning his disciples and all believers from calling themselves masters. He said to them:
"But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be abased (humbled); and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Matt. 23:12).
By these last words Christ has turned over all the feeble human standards - The "... greatest among you shall be your servant." How profound and deep are these wonderful words!
This truth is clearly taught in the New Testament by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It happened that there was a slave called Onesimus who ran away from his master, Philemon. Onesimus met the apostle Paul in Rome and was converted to Christianity. Paul sent him back to Philemon with a very impressive letter which is included in the New Testament and in which we read these shining words,
Paul, Peter and the rest of the disciples did not have the authority to abolish slavery within the Roman Empire. Paul was not one of the Roman governors, but a fugitive and a persecuted man. Later he and most of the disciples were killed at the hands of the Romans along with thousands of their Christian brothers. Muhammad and his successors were rulers and could have outlawed slavery. Instead, they retained it and kept their slaves.
In another letter, Paul urged the Christians to "give your servants what is just and fair" (Col. 4:1). The text emphasizes these two words - brotherhood and justice - because there is neither slave nor freeman, but all are one in Christ.
Egyptian history relates a story about a courageous man who stood in front of his tyrannical rulers who mistreated people and wondered in agony, "Why have you enslaved people whose mothers gave birth to them as free persons?" This brave man did not know that he was addressing multitudes of people across the ages, whether ruthless Westerners in Europe and America or the prophet of Islam himself who failed to liberate the slaves because he himself had acquired dozens of them.
Christian religious leaders such as John Wesley boldly condemned slavery in Europe and sent strong messages to the rulers of Europe and America. They led the movement of slaves' liberation during the day of Abraham Lincoln. Now there are multiplied black men who hold various positions of honor and respect in America. They teach in colleges and universities. They sit on the bench of the courts of the land-even the Supreme Court. They are freely elected to local, county, state and federal positions. They hold high military offices. They build their own fortunes with which they do as they wish. They freely marry and raise their families without fear.