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In Islamic law, a mukataba (مكاتبة) is a contract of manumission between a master and a slave according to which the slave is required to pay a certain sum of money during a specific time period in exchange for freedom. In the legal literature, slaves who enter this contract are known as mukatab.[1][page needed] Although the owner did not have to comply with the request, it was considered mustahabb (praiseworthy) to do so.[1][2] Mukataba is one of the four procedures provided in Islam for manumission of slaves.[3]

Mukataba in the Qur'an and early Islam[edit]

The institution of mukataba is based on Qur'an [Quran 24:33]:

The Quran, chapter 24 (An-Noor), verse 33:

Let those who find not the wherewithal for marriage keep themselves chaste, until Allah gives them means out of His grace. And if any of your slaves ask for a deed in writing (to enable them to earn their freedom for a certain sum), give them such a deed if ye know any good in them: yea, give them something yourselves out of the means which Allah has given to you. But force not your maids to prostitution when they desire chastity, in order that ye may make a gain in the goods of this life. But if anyone compels them, yet, after such compulsion, is Allah, Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful (to them),  — translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali

Transliteration: Wa Līasta`fifi Al-Ladhīna Lā Yajidūna Nikāĥāan Ĥattá Yughniyahumu Al-Lahu Min Fađlihi Wa ۗ Al-Ladhīna Yabtaghūna Al-Kitāba Mimmā Malakat 'Aymānukum Fakātibūhum 'In `Alimtum Fīhim Khayrāan ۖ Wa 'Ātūhum Min Māli Al-Lahi Al-Ladhī 'Ātākum ۚ Wa Lā Tukrihū Fatayātikum `Alá Al-Bighā'i 'In 'Aradna Taĥaşşunāan Litabtaghū `Arađa Al-Ĥayāati Ad-Dunyā ۚ Wa Man Yukrihhunna Fa'inna Al-Laha Min Ba`di 'Ikrāhihinna Ghafūrun Raĥīmun

Arabic: وَلْيَسْتَعْفِفِ الَّذِينَ لَا يَجِدُونَ نِكَاحًا حَتَّىٰ يُغْنِيَهُمُ اللَّهُ مِنْ فَضْلِهِ ۗ وَالَّذِينَ يَبْتَغُونَ الْكِتَابَ مِمَّا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ فَكَاتِبُوهُمْ إِنْ عَلِمْتُمْ فِيهِمْ خَيْرًا ۖ وَآتُوهُمْ مِنْ مَالِ اللَّهِ الَّذِي آتَاكُمْ ۚ وَلَا تُكْرِهُوا فَتَيَاتِكُمْ عَلَى الْبِغَاءِ إِنْ أَرَدْنَ تَحَصُّنًا لِتَبْتَغُوا عَرَضَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۚ وَمَنْ يُكْرِهْهُنَّ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ مِنْ بَعْدِ إِكْرَاهِهِنَّ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ

According to Joseph Schacht, those who were hearing Muhammad pronouncing this verse "were supposed to know the details of the transaction referred to, and the strictest interpretation of the passage suggests that it was not identical with the contract of manumission by mukataba such as was elaborated later by the ancient lawyers in the second century of Islam." The earliest interpretation of the verse suggested that the mukatab became free after paying one-half of the agreed amount. Another early decision attributed to the Meccan scholar Ata ibn Rabi Rabah was that the slave acquired liberty having paid three-quarters. The doctrine of an early school of Islamic jurisprudence based in Kufa held that the mukatab became free as soon as he paid off his value; other contemporaneous opinions were that the mukatab became free pro rata with the payments or that he became free immediately after concluding the contract, the payments to his master being ordinary debts. Finally the view of the Kufan scholars prevailed, and according to Schacht, the hadith supporting this position were put into circulation; first they were projected to Muhammad's companions and later to Muhammad himself.[4]

Islamic law[edit]

Among later Muslim scholars, an early opinion that Qur'an 24:33 implied a strict obligation did not prevail; the consensus reading of the verse is that the verse makes only a recommendation,[1][page needed] and accepting a request for a mukataba from slaves is thus not obligatory for masters.[5] There are two different views of mukataba among scholars causing a divergence in the details: some call mukataba as a "conditional enfranchisement", while others see it as "ransom by the slave of his own person". Jurists usually disapprove of entering a mukataba with a female slave with no honest source of income.[1] The majority of Sunni authorities approved the manumission of all the "People of the Book", that is, Christians and Jews, but according to some jurists, especially among the Shi’a, only Muslim slaves should be liberated.[6]

Although the owner did not have to comply with the request for mukataba, it was considered praiseworthy to do so.[2] According to the opinion of a majority of Muslim jurists, the slave must pay the agreed-upon amount in instalments. The followers of Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence accept one immediate payment; scholars of the Maliki school require one instalment, while Hanbalis and Shafi'is insist on at least two instalments.[1] The slaves were allowed to either work independently and apply their earnings for their ransom, or to work for the master.[7] Having given his consent the owner was not permitted to change his mind, although the slave had such an option. In the event the slave became delinquent in meeting the payments, he was obliged to return to unqualified servitude, with the master keeping the money already paid him.[2] At the end of the payments, a rebate is usually given to the slave in compliance with [Quran 24:33]. The amount of the rebate depending on the authorities can be "fixed or discretionary, obligatory or merely recommended".[1]

The emancipation of a mukatab occurs only when he has paid to the master the agreed amount in full.[1] The contract may be revoked when the slave defaults on one of the payments. The mukatab may receive the proceeds from the Islamic charity (zakat), but he is not entitled to them.[8] When the mukatab makes the final payment, he is entitled to a rebate, in compliance with the Qur'anic text. Islamic authorities disagree as to whether the rebate is obligatory or merely recommended and whether its sum is fixed or discretionary.[1] After manumission, the slave liberated through mukataba remains a client (mawali) of his former master.[8]

Most Muslim scholars forbid selling the slave after concluding the mukataba; the Hanbalis, who disagree with this view, maintain that the purchaser inherits the obligation to liberate the mukatab under the terms of the contract of enfranchisement.[1] The owner cannot marry a mukatab without his or her consent.[9] Islamic law prohibits concubinage with a female slave who has concluded a mukataba.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Brunschvig, Encyclopedia of Islam, Abd
  2. ^ a b c Gordon 41
  3. ^ Ahmad A. Sikainga(1995), p.7
  4. ^ Schacht 42–43
  5. ^ Lewis(1990) 6
  6. ^ Lewis(1990) 106
  7. ^ Dursteler 76
  8. ^ a b Schacht 130
  9. ^ Schacht 131


  • P.J. Bearman; Th. Bianquis; C.E. Bosworth; E. van Donzel; W.P. Heinrichs (eds.). "Abd". Encyclopaedia of Islam Online. Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 1573-3912. 
  • Gordon, Murray. Slavery in the Arab World. New Amsterdam Press, New York, 1989. Originally published in French by Editions Robert Laffont, S.A. Paris, 1987.
  • Lewis, Bernard. Race and Slavery in the Middle East. Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • Schacht, Joseph. An Introduction to Islamic Law. Clarendon Paperbacks, 1982. ISBN 0-19-825473-3
  • Dursteler, Eric R. Venetians in Constantinople: Nation, Identity, and Coexistence in the Early Modern Mediterranean. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-8018-8324-5
  • Ahmad A. Sikainga, Shari'a Courts and the Manumission of Female Slaves in the Sudan 1898-1939,

The International Journal of African Historical Studies > Vol. 28, No. 1 (1995), pp. 1–24