Did Islam Promote Or Obliterate Slavery?

By Luqman Ahmed: He is a Missionary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Canada, currently based in Quebec City, Canada. He can be followed on twitter @luqman255.

In light of the recent actions of ‘Boko Haram’ of Nigeria of kidnapping more than 200 innocent girls, some have brought up the issue of slavery in Islam. Some have gone so far as to saying that these disgusting and inhumane acts are somehow Sharia-sanctioned and ‘Boko Haram’ represents the true picture of Islam. This however is simply not true. As a member of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, Muslims who believe in the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, I can tell you that these acts have nothing to do with Islam or its teachings about slavery. In
fact, Prophet Muhammad was the first person in history to have completely eradicated the system of slavery. I would like to briefly highlight Islam’s perspective on slavery to clear any such misconceptions.

Slavery can be defined as a system in which a human being is held to be the legal property of another and is bound to absolute obedience.  It started with the enslavement of the conquered nation by their conquerors, but as time progressed, people started to devise ways to enslave free men as well such as attacking weaker nations and reducing their men and women to captivity.

At the time of the advent of Islam, slavery was rampant in every part of the world including Arabia. Now the question is that how did Islam address this issue? A brief answer would be that Islam abolished all forms of slavery.

About the existing slaves, the Holy Qur’an commanded that all such slaves should be freed and that Muslims should help them integrate in the society and even aid them financially. God says:

And such (slaves) as desire a deed of manumission in writing from among those whom your right hands possess, write it for them if you know any good in them; and give them out of the wealth of Allah which He has bestowed upon you. (Chapter 24: Verse 34)

Not only did the Quranic teachings ensure the freedom of the slaves of that time, they also put a permanent stop to this practice. Islam commanded its followers that no free men or women can now be subjugated to slavery. Except withholding the war prisoners and state criminals, all kinds of slavery and captivity was deemed unlawful by Islam. God say in the Qur’an:

It does not behove a Prophet that he should have captives until he engages in regular fighting in the land. (Chapter 8: Verse 68)

Hence Islam immediately and categorically abolished all forms of real slavery, i.e. those cruel practices of slavery which were aside from taking captives in wars.

About the prisoners of wars and state criminals, the teachings of Islam are very clearly mentioned in the Holy Quran. God says:

Then afterwards either release them as a favor or by taking ransom — until the war lays down its burdens. That is the ordinance. (Chapter 47: Verse 5)

Islam has made it clear that when war is over, prisoners should be released, either as an act of favor, or on taking ransom from them, or by negotiating mutual exchange. They should not be held permanently in captivity or treated as slaves.

In summary, there are two fundamental principles in the Islamic teaching relevant to prisoners of war. Firstly, no one can be held as a captive or a slave except as a prisoner of war. Secondly, after captives had been taken, according to the circumstances, they should either be released without a ransom by way of benevolence, and this was the most preferable practice, or they could be released in lieu of a reasonable ransom; or if it is necessary, to lengthen their period of captivity until the end of war.

Additional Reading:

Concubines and the Holy Quran

Categories: Africa, Americas, ISLAM, Nigeria, Slavery

4 replies

  1. By Luqman Ahmed:—quote–A brief answer would be that Islam abolished all forms of slavery.–unquote.
    I agree 100 per cent, Muslim Scholar who live in 21st Century, have to dare to obolish the form of Slavery and also all verses regarding to slavery at the time of Prophet. Otherwise, some extremist Muslim will justify to enslave women.
    These verses of slavery at the time of prophet 1400 years ago.
    And those who guard their private parts, (their chastity )(29) Except from their wives and those (slave-girls) owned by their hands,__ because they are not to be blamed, (30) But the one who seeks (sexual gratification) beyond that, then such people are the transgressors,__ QS 70;29-30.
    And those who guard their chastity (i.e. private parts, from illegal sexual acts). (5) Except from their wives or (slaves) that their right hands possess,( at war time ) – for then, they are free from blame; QS 23;5-6

    Those who cannot afford to get married shall maintain morality until GOD provides for them from His grace. Those among your servants who wish to be freed in order to marry, you shall grant them their wish, once you realize that they are honest. And give them from God’s money that He has bestowed upon you. You shall not force your girls to commit prostitution, seeking the materials of this world, if they wish to be chaste. If anyone forces them, then GOD, seeing that they are forced, is Forgiver, Merciful. [QS.24:33].
    read more; . QS 33;50-52,QS 33:50-52.,
    I urge Muslim Ahmadiah to declare those verses above should be abolished, otherwise Extremist Muslim will justify their deeds.
    With all my love

  2. alatif, there is something else also that we need in the 21st century. We need not think like children, concretely, in black and white terms, in terms of abrogating or abolishing.

    We are better and smarter than that!

    Cannot we say that we understand and interpret these verses in the context of the time.

    I do not know the statistics of the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, but, at the time of Jesus, may peace be on him, almost 75% of the population of the Roman Empire, were slaves. So, certainly we needed a teaching, which was relevant to the contemporary society.

    Those same verses will have different meanings today. More subtle forms of slavery still exist. If you will care to Google the term.

    You are a smart man, so, please come off this bandwagon of obsessing with the words, “abrogate,” and “abolish,” when it comes to text of the books.

    If nothing else, all texts serve a historic purpose.

  3. @ Zia..quote–So, certainly we needed a teaching, which was relevant to the contemporary society.
    My intention is to educate the next generation and explain to them that those verses can not apply in 21st century, any more.
    If we do not dare to use the –abrogate,” and “abolish,–we can use the other word. The most importantthing is to educate our next generation, in order the bad scholar / extremist scholars can use these verses to justify their action..
    Second, those who hate Islam can not make joke that Islamic teaching allow to enslave girls and boys, and rape a women from the defeated country
    Zia—Hopefully you can see my point.
    I have been praying years and years at thousand Mosque around the world, I never hear that a Imam tell or explain to people about ancient laws–slavery-.I never find a Islamic book that explain about the verses of slavery-
    We need to explain urgently to our student, our followers and to public about ancient laws.
    With all my love

  4. Alatif, I’m happy to know that you’ve understood the verses of Quran which categorically abolish all forms of slavery. As for your suggestion that all such verses should be abolished which contain guidelines on how to deal with slaves or war prisoners (mulk yamin), I do not agree with this point due to following reasons because these verses explain the methods employed by Islam to abolish slavery. Not only is it part of history but also if any such situation arises again, the Quranic method can be deployed to find a solution.

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