Islamic views on slavery

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A photograph of a slave boy in the Sultanate of Zanzibar. 'An Arab master's punishment for a slight offence.' c. 1890. From at least the 1860s onwards, photography was a powerful weapon in the abolitionist arsenal.
The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. ~ Winston Churchill

Islamic views on slavery represent a complex and multifaceted body of Islamic thought, with various Islamic groups or thinkers espousing views on the matter which have been radically different throughout history.

QuotesEdit

  • Everybody infers that Islam must be free from slavery and caste. Regarding slavery nothing needs to be said. It stands abolished now by law. But while it existed much of its support was derived from Islam and Islamic countries. (228-230)
    • B.R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or The Partition of India (1946)
  • The Hidayah lays down that “if the Mussulmans subdue an infidel territory before any capitation tax be established, the inhabitants, together with their wives and children, are all plunder, and the property of the state, as it is lawful to reduce to slavery all infidels, whether they be Kitabees, Majoosees or idotters.” The Hidayah also lays down that “whoever slays an infidel is entitled to his private property,” which invariably included his women and children.
    • Hidayah (Muslim law book), Hamilton, Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1994). Muslim slave system in medieval India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 5
  • The object, in the purchase of a female slave, is cohabitation and generation of children.
    • Hidayah (Muslim law book), Hamilton, II, 409. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1994). Muslim slave system in medieval India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Ch. 11
  • "The Imam, with respect to captives, has it in his choice to slay them, because the Prophet put captives to death, and also because slaying them terminates wickedness; or if he choose, he may make them slaves, because by enslaving them the wickedness of them is remedied, and at the same time the Muslims reap an advantage; or, if he please, he may release them so as to make, them freemen and Zimmis, according to what is recorded of 'Umar; but it is not lawful so to release the idolaters of Arabia, or apostates. It is not Lawful for the Imam to return the captives to their own country, as this would be strengthening the infidels against the Muslims. If captives become Muslims let not the Imam put them to death because the wickedness of them is hereby remedied without slaying them; but yet he may Lawfully make thorn slaves, after their conversion, because the reason for making them slaves (namely, their being secured within the Muslin territory) had existence previous to their embracing the faith it is otherwise where Infidels become Muslims before their capture, because then the reason for making them slaves did not exist previous to their conversion. It is not lawful to release infidel captives in exchange for the release of Muslim captives from the infidels. According to the two disciples, this is lawful (and such also is the opinion of ash-Shafi'i) because this produces the emancipation of Muslims, which is preferable to slaying the infidels or making them slaves. The argument of Imam Abu Hanifah is that such an exchange is an assistance to the infidels, because those captives will again return to fight the Muslims, which is a wickedness, and the prevention of this wickedness is preferable to effecting the release of the Muslims, since, is they remain in the hands of the infidels, the injury only affects them, and does not extend to the other Muslims, whereas the injury attending the release of infidel captives extends to the whole body of Muslims. An exchange for property (that is, releasing infidel prisoners in return for property) is also unlawful as this is assisting the infidels, as was before observed, and the same is mentioned in the Mazhabu 'l-Mashkur. In the Sairu 'l-Kabir it is asserted that an exchange of prisoners for property may be made where the Muslims are necessitous, because the Prophet released the captive taken at Badr for a ransom. If a captive become a Muslim in the hands of the Muslims, it is not lawful to release and send him back to the infidels in return for their releasing a Muslim who is a captive in their hands, because no advantage can result from the transaction. If, however, the converted captive consents to it, and there be no apprehension of his apostatizing, in this case the releasing of him in exchange for a Muslim captive is a matter of discretion. It is not lawful to confer a favour upon captives by releasing them gratuitously, that is, without receiving anything in return, or their becoming Zimmis, or being made slaves. Ash-Shafi'i says that showing favour to captives in this way is lawful, because the Prophet showed favor in this way to some of the captives taken at the battle of Badr. The arguments of the Hanafi doctors upon this are two-fold: First, it is said in the Qur'an, 'Slay idolaters wherever ye find them'; secondly, the right of enslaving them is established by their being conquered and captured, and hence. it is not lawful to annul that right without receiving some advantage in return, in the same manner as holds with respect to all, plunder; and with respect to what ash-Shafl'i relates that the Prophet showed favour in this way to some of the captives taken at the battle of Badr, it is abrogated by the text of the Qur'an aleady quoted.
    • Hamilton's Hidiyah, vol. Ii. p. 160. Quoted from Hughes, T.P., Dictionary of Islam, W.H. Allen & Co., London, 1885
  • T.P. Hughes on the authority of the Hidayah says: “The Imam, with respect to captives, has it in his choice to slay them because the Prophet put captives to death and also because slaying them terminates wickedness; or, if he choose, he may make them slaves, because by enslaving them the wickedness of them is remedied, and at the same time the Muslims reap an advantage; or, if he please, he may release them so as to make them freemen and Zimmis… but it is not lawful so to release the idolaters of Arabia, or apostates… If captives become Muslims, let not the Imam put them to death; … but yet he may lawfully make them slaves, after their conversion…”
    • Hughes, T.P., Dictionary of Islam, W.H. Allen & Co., London, 1885, 597. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1994). Muslim slave system in medieval India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Ch. 11
  • The Muhammadan religion appears to give almost unlimited license to concubinage, provided the woman be a slave and not a free Muslim woman. Those female slaves must be either (1) taken captive in war, (2) or purchased by money, (3) or the descendants of slaves. Even married women, if taken in war, are, according to the injunction of the Qur'an, Surah iv. 28, entirely at the disposal of the Muslim conqueror. "(Unlawful) to you are married women except such as your right hand possess (i.e. taken in war or purchased as slave)." This institution of concubinage is founded upon the example of Muhammad himself, who took Rihanah the Jewess as his concubine after the battle with the Bani Quraizah (A.H. 5), and also Maria the Copt, who was sent him as a slave by the Governor of Egypt.
    • Hughes, T.P., Dictionary of Islam, W.H. Allen & Co., London, 1885
  • Muslims are allowed to cohabit with any of their female slaves. Surah iv. 3: "Then marry what seems good to you of women, by twos, or threes, or fours; and if ye fear that ye cannot be equitable, then only one, or what your right hands possess." Surah iv, 29: "Take of what your right hands possess of young women." Surah xxxiii. 49 "O prophet! verily We make lawful for thee wives to whom thou hast given their hire (dowry), and what thy right hand possesses out of the booty God hath granted thee."
    • Hughes, T.P., Dictionary of Islam, W.H. Allen & Co., London, 1885
  • They [Muslims] are allowed to take possession of married women if they are slaves. Surah iv. 28: "Unlawful for you are . . . married women save such as your right hands possess.' (On this verse al-Jalaln the commentators say: "that is, it in lawful for them to cohabit with those women whom you have made captive, even though their husbands he alive in the Daru 'l-Harb.")
    • Hughes, T.P., Dictionary of Islam, W.H. Allen & Co., London, 1885
  • Muslims are excused from strict rules of decorum in the presence of their female slaves, even as in the presence of their wives. Surah xxiii. 5: "Those who are strict in the rules of decorum, except for their wives, or what their right hands possess." See also Surah lxx. 29.
    • Hughes, T.P., Dictionary of Islam, W.H. Allen & Co., London, 1885
  • The helpless position of the slave is regards his master illustrates the helpless position of the false gods of Arabia in the presence of their Creator. Surah xvi. 77: "God has struck out a parable, an owned slave, able to do nothing, and one provided with a good provision, and one who expends therefrom in alms secretly and openly, shall they be held equal? Praise be to God, most of them do not know!" See also Surah xxx. 27.
    • Hughes, T.P., Dictionary of Islam, W.H. Allen & Co., London, 1885
  • Muslims shall exercise kindness towards their slaves. Surah iv. 44) "Serve God and do not associate aught with Him, and show kindness to your parents and to kindred and to that which your right hands possess."
    • Hughes, T.P., Dictionary of Islam, W.H. Allen & Co., London, 1885
  • When slaves can redeem themselves it is the duty of Muslims to grant the emancipation Surah xxiv. 33: "And such of those whom your right hands posses as crave a writing (i.e. a document of freedom), write it, out for them if ye know any good in them, and give them of the wealth of God which He has given you. And do not compel your slave-girls to prostitution if they desire to keep continent."
    • Hughes, T.P., Dictionary of Islam, W.H. Allen & Co., London, 1885
  • And concerning slavery, that was when slavery was a world-wide structure and which was conducted amongst Muslims and their enemies in the form of enslaving of prisoners of war. And it was necessary for Islam to adopt a similar line of practise until the world devised a new code of practise during war other than enslavement.
    • Sayyid Qutb, in Fi Zilal al-Qur'an, Surah Tawbah (3/1669) also in Tafsir of Surah Baqarah (/230), tafsir of Surah Mu'minoon (4/2455), tafsir of Surah Muhammad (6/3285)
  • Islam made it lawful for a master to have a number of slave-women captured in wars and enjoined that he alone may have sexual relations with them ... Europe abhors this law but at the same gladly allows that most odious form of animalism according to which a man may have illicit relations with any girl coming across him on his way to gratify his animal passions.
    • Muhammad Qutb, Islam, the Misunderstood Religion, Markazi Maktabi Islami, Delhi-6, 1992 p.50
  • Islam has clearly and categorically forbidden the primitive practice of capturing a free man, to make him a slave or to sell him into slavery. On this point the clear and unequivocal words of Muhammad are as follows: "There are three categories of people against whom I shall myself be a plaintiff on the Day of Judgement. Of these three, one is he who enslaves a free man, then sells him and eats this money" (al-Bukhari and Ibn Majjah). The words of this Tradition of the Prophet are also general, they have not been qualified or made applicable to a particular nation, race, country or followers of a particular religion. ... After this the only form of slavery which was left in Islamic society was the prisoners of war, who were captured on the battlefield. These prisoners of war were retained by the Muslim Government until their government agreed to receive them back in exchange for Muslim soldiers captured by them ...
  • It is difficult to come by slave-girls in the present times, for the conditions required for lawful slave-girls are difficult to obtain now, and hence one cannot have and keep a slave-girl. If the custom of slave-girls obtains anywhere, it is not reliable without legal inquiry and to cohabit with them without marriage is not permissible. ‘Allamah Shami writes: ‘In our times the slave women secured as booty are not lawful slave women and copulation with them is not permissible because it is certain that the division of the booty is not done as it ought to be done, and hence the rightful claimants’ (the recipients of the 1/5 share—khums—and the rest of the warriors’) rights are ignored (and thus de jure possession is not proved for any slave woman)’ (Shami, vol. ii, p. 396). Lawful slave women are those who, having been captured in war and crusade (jihad), may have been included in the booty, and the amir, that is the Caliph of the Muslims or his vicegerent, after having brought them from the territory of war (daru’l-harb) to the land of Islam (daru’l-Islam), may have distributed them according to the law of the Shariah. Prior to her being brought to the land of Islam and distribution by the amir, the slave woman is not lawful for anyone, although the imam or the commander-in-chief may have announced that the captor of a slave woman will be her master, yet she shall not be lawful for the captor and victor before bringing her to the land of Islam. Where do these laws obtain anywhere in the period? According to the Islamic law of holy war the rule is that 1/5 part of wealth captured as booty from the enemy should be set aside to be given to the needy and the indigent like orphans and widows and the remaining four parts should be divided among the victorious soldiers; as long as the booty is not brought to the country, that is, the land of Islam, its division is not valid, and so long as it is not divided, it is joint property on which all have a claim; however, after the amir has divided it, the share of each will be lawful for the recipient. Even as a girl becomes lawful for the man with whom her guardian marries her and not before marriage, the amir is the slave woman’s guardian and whomever he makes her master for him she becomes lawful with certain conditions. If the master then sells her or gifts her away to anyone, she becomes lawful for the buyer or the recipient of the gift, as the case may be. Similarly, if a slave woman has continued being transferred from one inheritor to another she is even now a legal slave woman and the owner can keep her. But where is found such a slave woman today? Apparently such slave woman does not exist in the present times at least.
    • Fatawa-i-Rahimiyyah, quoted in Arun Shourie - The World of Fatwas Or The Sharia in Action (2012, Harper Collins).
  • A slave-girl of any race and any religion can be owned but coition is permissible with only that who is a Muslim or a scripturary (Jew or Christian); copulation with a polytheist, i.e., an idol-worshipping slave-girl is not permissible. One may, as per his strength and status, keep as many legal slave-girls as he likes, for there is no restriction on number, but the rules for having slave-girls are very delicate and they should be kept in mind. For example, if one has copulated with a slave-girl, then it is not permissible to have sexual relations with her near relatives (like sister, mother’s sister, father’s sister, sister’s daughter, brothers’ daughter, etc.), although such related women be his property; sexual congress with them is as impermissible as in the case of marriage. Strict veiling, as in case of free women, has not been prescribed for slave women for whom it is necessary to serve her master; she has to perform domestic and out-door chores, and hence the Shariah has not enjoined upon her, like free women, to observe purdah. A slave woman’s progeny from her master’s seed shall be deemed free. A slave woman does not become heir to her master’s property, but the master’s children (begot through her) shall be heirs.
    • Fatawa-i-Rahimiyyah, quoted in Arun Shourie - The World of Fatwas Or The Sharia in Action (2012, Harper Collins).
  • If the legislator (pbuh.!) had prescribed marriage as necessary for the lawfulness of coition with slave women, the latter themselves would have faced great difficulties. It is stated in the glorious Quran that the Most High Allah intends facility for you and does not wish to put you to hardship and trouble: ‘Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth not hardship for you’ (II: 185). May it be remembered that the prescription in the religious law of a slave woman’s being lawful for her master is not with a bad intent and purpose; on the contrary, it is due to wishing well for the slave woman and for social and cultural good.... Now the question why an owned slave-woman is lawful without marriage, why there is no condition of ‘affirming and consent’ and marriage in her case. The answer, firstly, is that it is not required at all.... And there is the reason, believe it or not, of the moral needs of the slave woman! If the master were not allowed to bed slave women without marrying them, the ulema explain, the slave women would be at a great disadvantage. Being slaves the women will have difficulty in finding husbands; not having husbands they will commit lechery and debauchery. Hence the rule to help them—that their master can bed them without marrying them! As the ulema put it: There were in it other difficulties as well on account of which the condition of marriage was unwise; for instance, the slave-girl is not equal in status to a free woman and as such it would be difficult for her to have a husband which could result in lechery, called ‘an abomination’ and ‘debauchery’ by Allah’s Book, repugnant to God and the worst of habits. Hence the Shariah proposed this form which, though, as it is, is not like marriage but, by reason of its result, creates in it the virtue of marriage, because after the slave-girl’s bearing a child the owner’s ownership becomes defective, that is, it is then not permissible to sell her. She then becomes the mother of her master’s children, a mistress of the house and as good as the owner’s wife; she will become free after her master’s death; she cannot be given to the heirs nor can she be sold.
    • Fatawa-i-Rahimiyyah, quoted in Arun Shourie - The World of Fatwas Or The Sharia in Action (2012, Harper Collins).

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