Muhammad's views on slavery

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Bilal ibn Ribah (pictured, atop the Kaaba) an Ethiopian former slave, was appointed by Muhammad to perform as the first official muezzin. He had been emancipated through Abu Bakr paying his ransom upon Muhammad's instruction. As a Muslim, he accompanied Muhammad on the Hijra and was the bearer of Muhammad's mace and spear on the latter's military expeditions. In January 630, in a richly symbolic moment, he was the first ever Muslim to proclaim adhan in Mecca as depicted.

Muhammad restricted the traditional means of enslavement, and urged compassion and moderation as the general rule for their treatment. He enforced emancipation as the necessary atonement for having assaulted one's slave without just cause,[1] and he deemed manumission as either meritorious or as a means or requirement for Muslims to earn forgiveness for serious transgressions.[2][3]

Many early converts to Islam were the poor and former slaves like Bilal ibn Rabah al-Habashi, and Muhammad would send his companions like Abu Bakr and Uthman ibn Affan to buy slaves to free.[4][5][6][7]

Muhammad's pronouncements regarding slavery simultaneously reinforced the principle of a slave's loyalty to his or her master and the master's circumscribed duty of reciprocation. By their fiat a master could sell and trade their slaves, and although the Qur'an frequently encourages the ransom or mukataba of slaves as a pious practice,[8][9] the act of emancipation was not incumbent upon believers. Female slaves could not marry without their master's consent, but the Qur'an also made it clear that it was forbidden to compel female slaves to "prostitution" if they desired chastity.[10] Sexual intercourse with a female slave was permissible.[11] It was also permissible to marry slave girls.[12]

Slavery in Islam[edit]

In Islamic law, the topic of slavery is covered at great length. Muhammad's fiqh brought major changes considered to have been of far-reaching effect to the practice of it inherited from antiquity, from Rome, and from Byzantium.[13] The major juristic schools of Islam have historically accepted the existence of the institution of slavery.[13] Arabian slaves are posited to have benefited from the Islamic reformulation, through "reforms of a humanitarian tendency both at the time of Muhammad and the later early caliphs".[13]

The Quran propounds manumission to be a meritorious deed either prescribed or allowed as a condition of repentance for certain grave sins and shortcomings. Fiqh treats slavery as an exceptional circumstance, applying a rebuttable presumption of freeborn status to those of doubtful or unclear origins. Moreover, as opposed to pre-Islamic slavery, it permits the origination of enslavement in only two classes or circumstances: capture in war, or birth to parents who are themselves both already enslaved.[14] Also, the innovation of the mukataba availed slaves deemed worthy [Quran 24:33] an opportunity to purchase or earn their own eventual emancipation, and Islamic elevation of the status of an umm walad (a female slave who had born a child acknowledged by her master as his offspring) restricting some of the possibilities for such a woman to be enslaved to an alternative master while the child remained alive.[14][15]

Muhammad made it legal for his men to marry their slaves and the women they captured in war, giving them full marriage rights,[16][17] based on two chapters of the Qur'an, Al-Muminun 6 and Al-Maarij 30, which clarify permissible sexual intercourse as being with either conventional spouses or female slaves, saying literally "their spouses or what their right hands possess". Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi explains that "two categories of women have been excluded from the general command of guarding the private parts: (a) wives, (b) women who are legally in one's possession".[18] This practice is referred to in the Quran as ma malakat aymanukum ("what your right hands possess").

His attitudes and pronouncements regarding slavery[edit]

The circumstances where Muhammad reproved the beating of a slave who had transgressed against his or her master were those where the beating itself nullified the benefit to the master of the slave's punished independent charitable deed[19] or otherwise because it created the circumstances of a blasphemy,[20] not because of inherent abhorrence of aggression per se or of its effect upon the recipient. He condemned unjustified cruelty toward slaves even to the extent that for a master to slap her or his slave without just cause could only be atoned by freeing the slave.[21] However, to his view the permission to beat a slave, still was broader than the analogous permission afforded to men with respect to free women under their authority.[22] Generally he exhorted Muslim believers to treat slaves with equanimity,[23] and he commended the spirit of the act of manumission by a master[21] equally to the degree that he damned the initiative of slave who might take their own freedom.[24] To his very end he affirmed divine sanction for the authority of masters over slaves and he urged obedience to authorities - be they even peculiar foreign slaves - exercising Islamic rule.[25][26]

Permits slavery[edit]

Narrated Al-Ma'rur: At Ar-Rabadha I met Abu Dhar who was wearing a cloak, and his slave, too, was wearing a similar one. I asked about the reason for it. He replied, "I abused a person by calling his mother with bad names." The Prophet said to me, 'O Abu Dhar! Did you abuse him by calling his mother with bad names You still have some characteristics of ignorance. Your slaves are your brothers and Allah has put them under your command. So whoever has a brother under his command should feed him of what he eats and dress him of what he wears. Do not ask them (slaves) to do things beyond their capacity (power) and if you do so, then help them.' "
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "A pious slave gets a double reward." Abu Huraira added: By Him in Whose Hands my soul is but for Jihad (i.e. holy battles), Hajj, and my duty to serve my mother, I would have loved to die as a slave.
Narrated 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle said, "Everyone of you is a guardian and is responsible for his charges. The ruler who has authority over people, is a guardian and is responsible for them, a man is a guardian of his family and is responsible for them; a woman is a guardian of her husband's house and children and is responsible for them; a slave ('Abu) is a guardian of his master's property and is responsible for it; so all of you are guardians and are responsible for your charges."

Sold and bought slaves[edit]

Narrated Jabir bin Abdullah: A man decided that a slave of his would be manumitted after his death and later on he was in need of money, so the Prophet took the slave and said, "Who will buy this slave from me?" Nu'aim bin 'Abdullah bought him for such and such price and the Prophet gave him the slave.
Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) reported: There came a slave and pledg- ed allegiance to Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) on migration; he (the Holy Prophet) did not know that he was a slave. Then there came his master and demanded him back, whereupon Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Sell him to me. And he bought him for two black slaves, and he did not afterwards take allegiance from anyone until he had asked him whether he was a slave (or a free man)

Owned a slave[edit]

Narrated Anas bin Malik: Allah's Apostle was on a journey and he had a black slave called Anjasha, and he was driving the camels (very fast, and there were women riding on those camels). Allah's Apostle said, "Waihaka (May Allah be merciful to you), O Anjasha! Drive slowly (the camels) with the glass vessels (women)!"


Discipline by force[edit]

'Umair, the freed slave of Abi'l-Lahm, said: My master commanded me to cut some meat in strips; (as I was doing it) a poor man came to me and I gave him some of it to eat. My master came to know of that, and he beat me. I came to the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) and narrated it to him. He (the Holy Prophet) summoned him and said: Why did you beat him? He (Abi'l-Lahm) said: He gives away my food without being commanded to do so. Upon this he (the Holy Prophet) said: The reward would be shared by you two.
Zadhan reported that Ibn Umar called his slave and he found the marks (of beating) upon his back. He said to him: I have caused you pain. He said: No. But he (Ibn Umar) said: You are free. He then took hold of something from the earth and said: There is no reward for me even to the weight equal to it. I heard Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: He who beats a slave without cognizable offence of his or slaps him (on the face), then expiation for it is that he should set him free.
Abu Mas'ud reported that he had been beating his slave and he had been saying: I seek refuge with Allah, but he continued beating him, whereupon he said: I seek refuge with Allah's Messenger, and he spared him. Thereupon Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: By Allah, God has more dominance over you than you have over him (the slave). He said that he set him free.
Narrated Ali ibn AbuTalib: A slave-girl belonging to the house of the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) committed fornication. He (the Prophet) said: Rush up, Ali, and inflict the prescribed punishment on her. I then hurried up, and saw that blood was flowing from her, and did not stop. So I came to him and he said: Have you finished inflicting (punishment on her)? I said: I went to her while her blood was flowing. He said: Leave her alone till her bleeding stops; then inflict the prescribed punishment on her. And inflict the prescribed punishment on those whom your right hands possess (i.e. slaves).

Enslaved by Muhammad[edit]

Narrated Anas: The Prophet offered the Fajr Prayer near Khaibar when it was still dark and then said, "Allahu-Akbar! Khaibar is destroyed, for whenever we approach a (hostile) nation (to fight), then evil will be the morning for those who have been warned." Then the inhabitants of Khaibar came out running on the roads. The Prophet had their warriors killed, their offspring and woman taken as captives. Safiya was amongst the captives, She first came in the share of Dahya Alkali but later on she belonged to the Prophet . The Prophet made her manumission as her 'Mahr'.


Narrated Abu Dhar: I asked the Prophet, "What is the best deed?" He replied, "To believe in Allah and to fight for His Cause." I then asked, "What is the best kind of manumission (of slaves)?" He replied, "The manumission of the most expensive slave and the most beloved by his master." I said, "If I cannot afford to do that?" He said, "Help the weak or do good for a person who cannot work for himself." I said, "If I cannot do that?" He said, "Refrain from harming others for this will be regarded as a charitable deed for your own good."
Narrated Asma' bint Abu Bakr: The Prophet ordered us to free slaves at the time of solar eclipses.
Narrated Asma' bint Abu Bakr: We were ordered to free slaves at the time of lunar eclipses.
Narrated Kurib: the freed slave of Ibn 'Abbas, that Maimuna bint Al-Harith told him that she manumitted a slave-girl without taking the permission of the Prophet. On the day when it was her turn to be with the Prophet, she said, "Do you know, O Allah's Apostle, that I have manumitted my slave-girl?" He said, "Have you really?" She replied in the affirmative. He said, "You would have got more reward if you had given her (i.e. the slave-girl) to one of your maternal uncles."

Reward for Freeing Muslim Slaves[edit]

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "Whoever frees a Muslim slave, Allah will save all the parts of his body from the (Hell) Fire as he has freed the body-parts of the slave." Said bin Marjana said that he narrated that Hadith to 'Ali bin Al-Husain and he freed his slave for whom 'Abdullah bin Ja'far had offered him ten thousand Dirhams or one-thousand Dinars.

Themes in his dealings with slaves and his approach to slavery[edit]

Shortly after he began preaching Islam in his initial period in Mecca, several slaves allied themselves to him. Of them, Yasar and a Christian named are mentioned as being accused by the Quraysh of influencing him to foment political and religious tumult in the city.[28] In the same period a freed slave named Ammar and his family are recorded as being among the very earliest converts to Islam.[29] While Muhammad remained building his religious community in their city, Quraysh rulers especially targeted converted slave Muslims among those that they persecuted with imprisonment and physical torments;[30] see Yasir ibn Amir, Bilal ibn Ribah, Khabbab ibn al-Aratt, Abu Fakih, Abu Fuhayra, and Ammar ibn Yasir. Writing about that period, Muir has described that "the slaves of Mecca were peculiarly accessible to the solicitations of [Muhammad]. As foreigners they were generally familiar either with Judaism or Christianity. Isolated from the influences of hostile partisanship, persecution alienated them from the Quraysh, and misfortune made their hearts susceptible of spiritual impressions".[31]

The seal "Muhammad, messenger of Allah", used on Muhammad's outgoing letters and applied to treaties with outsiders that he ratified on behalf of the Ummah.

His slave associates[edit]

Shortly after his birth he was suckled by Thueiba, a slave of his uncle Abu Lahab, for a few days. He and Khadija retained a warm relationship with her, regularly offering her gifts until the occurrence of her death in 7 AH.[32] Khadijah's boy slave Maisara is known to have accompanied Muhammad on his journeys with her caravans in the period prior to the latter's marriage to her.[33][34]

The Ethiopian Abu Bakra (full name Nufay ibn Haris al Masruh), is an example of a fugitive slave who sought refuge amongst the Muslims, fought for them as a traitor besieging his community at Ta'if, himself became Muslim, and was refused to be returned to that community or to any condition of enslavement by Muhammad. Nine other slaves of the besieged garrison at Taif also availed themselves of Muhammad's offer to be freed as a reward for defection.[35] As a free man he closely observed the sunnah of Muhammad in the role of one of his more trusted associates. He died in Basra in the year 51 or 52 AH (670–672 CE) and was the father of some 20 children.[36]

Muhammad financially assisted Salman the Persian to redeem his own slave money.[37] Salman's closeness to Muhammad is signified by the latter's description of him as "a member of my household". After converting to Islam he became notable for devising the successful military tactics employed by the Muslims in the Battle of the Trench and for pursuing the strategy of employing a catapult at the unsuccessful Siege of Ta'if. He died in 33, 36, or 37 AH (654–659 CE).[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sahih Muslim Book 015, Hadith Number 4082.
  2. ^ Surat An-Nisā' (The Women) 4:92
  3. ^ Surat Al-Mujādila (The Pleading Woman) 58:3
  4. ^ The Qur'an with Annotated Interpretation in Modern English By Ali Ünal Page 1323 [1]
  5. ^ Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, Slaves and Slavery
  6. ^ Bilal b. Rabah, Encyclopedia of Islam
  7. ^ The Cambridge History of Islam (1977), p.36
  8. ^ Surat Al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2:177
  9. ^ Surat At-Tawbah (The Repentance) 9:60
  10. ^ Surat An-Nūr (The Light) 24:33
  11. ^ Sahih Muslim, Chapter 29, Book 008, Number 3432 titled "It is permissible to have sexual intercourse with a captive woman after she is purified (of menses or delivery) in case she has a husband, her marriage is abrogated after she becomes captive."
  12. ^ Surat An-Nisā' (The Women) 4:25
  13. ^ a b c Lewis, Bernard (August 1994). Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press. pp. Chapter 1. ISBN 978-0195062830. 
  14. ^ a b "Abd" (Brunschvig, 1960). Encyclopaedia of Islam Online. Ed. P.J. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 1573-3912.
  15. ^ Paul Lovejoy (2000), Transformations in Slavery. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-78430-1, p.2
  16. ^ See Tahfeem ul Qur'an by Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, Vol. 2 pp. 112-113 footnote 44; Also see commentary on verses [Quran 23:1]: Vol. 3, notes 7-1, p. 241; 2000, Islamic Publications
  17. ^ Tafsir ibn Kathir 4:24
  18. ^ Surat Al-Mu'minūn (The Believers)
  19. ^ Sahih Muslim, Book 5 (The Book of Charity), Number 2237
  20. ^ Sahih Muslim, Book 15 (The Book of Oaths), Number 4089
  21. ^ a b Sahih Muslim Book 15 (The Book of Oaths), Number 4079 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "free" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  22. ^ Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 73, Number 68
  23. ^ Muir, Vol.4, Ch.31
  24. ^ al-Jami al-Sahih # 3047]
  25. ^ Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith; By Michael Wolfe, p.130. Published by Rodale, 2004 ISBN 1579549888, 9781579549886
  26. ^ Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 40, Number 4590
  27. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari » Book of Good Manners and Form (Al-Adab) » Hadith 78 Good Manners and Form (Al-Adab) (95)Chapter: Saying "Wailaka." Sahih al-Bukhari 6161 - Book 78, Hadith 187
  28. ^ Muir; Vol.2, Ch.4, p.122
  29. ^ Muir; Vol.2, Ch.4, p.125
  30. ^ Muir; Vol.2, Ch.4, p.129
  31. ^ Muir; Vol.2, Ch.4, p.108
  32. ^ Muir; Vol.2, Ch.1, p.18
  33. ^ Life of Prophet Muhammad - Glossary, retrieved 2008-07-29 
  34. ^ Muir; Vol.2, Ch.2, p.17
  35. ^ Muir; Vol.4, Ch.25, p.125
  36. ^ Ayman, p.2
  37. ^ Al Kalabazi, Rijal Sahih al Bukhari, I, p. 326; Dhahabî, Kashif, I, p. 451; Ibn al Asir, Usd al Ghabe, II, p. 265; Ibn Hajar, al Isaba, III, p. 118 (all cited in Aydin, p.15).
  38. ^ Aydin, p.15

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