Praise be to Allaah.
Discussing slavery and asking questions about it on the part
of those who promote Christianity and try to divert people from following
the religion of Islam is something that annoys the wise person and makes him
point the finger of accusation towards the ulterior motives that lie behind
That is because slavery is well established in Judaism and
Christianity, where it has taken unjust forms. They have many books which
discuss that in detail and condone it. Therefore it makes you wonder: how
can these churchmen call people to Christianity when Christianity condones
and legitimizes slavery?
In other words: how can they stir up an issue when they
themselves are up to their necks in it?!
The issue of slavery is completely different when discussed
from the angles of Christianity and Islam, and when compared with the
situation that prevailed at the advent of Islam.
Hence we must discuss this topic in some detail with
reference to what is said in Judaism, Christianity and contemporary culture
on this matter, then we will speak of slavery in Islam.
Many lies have been fabricated about Islam on this topic, at
a time when criminals with lengthy track records are safe and nobody points
a finger at them.
Islam and slavery:
Islam affirms that Allaah, may He be glorified and exalted,
created man fully accountable, and enjoined duties upon him, to which reward
and punishment are connected on the basis of man’s free will and choice.
No human being has the right to restrict this freedom or take
away that choice unlawfully; whoever dares to do that is a wrongdoer and
This is one of the basic principles of Islam. When the
question is asked: why does Islam permit slavery? We reply emphatically and
without shame that slavery is permitted in Islam, but we should examine the
matter with fairness and with the aim of seeking the truth, and we should
examine the details of the rulings on slavery in Islam, with regard to the
sources and reasons for it, and how to deal with the slave and how his
rights and duties are equal to those of the free man, and the ways in which
he may earn his freedom, of which there are many in sharee’ah, whilst also
taking into consideration the new types of slavery in this world which is
pretending to be civilized, modern and progressive.
When Islam came, there were many causes of slavery, such as
warfare, debt (where if the debtor could not pay off his debt, he became a
slave), kidnapping and raids, and poverty and need.
Slavery did not spread in this appalling manner throughout
all continents except by means of kidnapping; rather the main source of
slaves in Europe and America in later centuries was this method.
The texts of Islam took a strong stance against this. It says
in a hadeeth qudsi: “Allaah, may He be exalted, said: ‘There are three whose
opponent I will be on the Day of Resurrection, and whomever I oppose, I will
defeat … A man who sold a free man and consumed his price.’” Narrated by
It is worth pointing out that you do not find any text in the
Qur’aan or Sunnah which enjoins taking others as slaves, whereas there are
dozens of texts in the Qur’aan and the ahaadeeth of the Messenger
(peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) which call for manumitting
slaves and freeing them.
There were many sources of slaves at the time of the advent
of Islam, whereas the means of manumitting them were virtually nil. Islam
changed the way in which slavery was dealt with; it created many new ways of
liberating slaves, blocked many ways of enslaving people, and established
guidelines which blocked these means.
Islam limited the sources of slaves that existed before the
beginning of the Prophet’s mission to one way only: enslavement through war
which was imposed on kaafir prisoners-of-war and on their womenfolk and
Shaykh al-Shanqeeti (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: The
reason for slavery is kufr and fighting against Allaah and His Messenger.
When Allaah enables the Muslim mujaahideen who are offering their souls and
their wealth, and fighting with all their strength and with what Allaah has
given them to make the word of Allaah supreme over the kuffaar, then He
makes them their property by means of slavery unless the ruler chooses to
free them for nothing or for a ransom, if that serves the interests of the
Muslims. End quote from Adwa’ al-Bayaan (3/387).
He also said:
If it is said: If the slave becomes Muslim then why keep him
as a slave, when the reason for slavery is kufr and fighting against Allaah
and His Messenger, so this reason no longer applies?
The answer is that the well known principle among the
scholars and all wise people, which is that the previously established right
cannot be erased by a right that is established later, and that what came
first takes precedence, is obvious.
When the Muslims captured kuffaar, their right to possession
was affirmed by the law of the Creator of all, Who is All Wise and All
Knowing. So this right is confirmed and established. Then if the slave
became Muslim after that, his right to escape slavery by embracing Islam was
superseded by the mujaahid’s prior right to take possession of him before he
became Muslim, and it would be unjust and unfair to annul the prior right
because of a subsequent right, as is well known to all wise people.
Yes, it is good for the master to free the slave if he
becomes Muslim. The Lawgiver enjoined and encouraged that, and opened many
doors to it. Glory be to the Most Wise, the All Knowing. “And the Word of
your Lord has been fulfilled in truth and in justice. None can change His
Words. And He is the All‑Hearer, the All‑Knower” [al-An’aam 6:115].
“in truth” means in what He tells us, and “in
justice” means in His rulings.
Undoubtedly this justice refers to owning slaves and other
rulings of the Qur’aan.
How many people criticize something sound when their problem
is their own misunderstanding. End quote from Adwa’ al-Bayaan
Capture of prisoners during war was the most common way of
acquiring slaves. Prisoners would inevitably be captured during any war, and
the prevalent custom at that time was that prisoners had no protection or
rights; they would either be killed or enslaved. But Islam brought two more
options: unconditional release or ransom. Allaah says (interpretation of the
meaning): “Thereafter (is the time) either for generosity (i.e. free them
without ransom), or ransom (according to what benefits Islam)” [Muhammad
47:4]. During the battle of Badr the Prophet (peace and blessings
of Allaah be upon him) accepted ransoms from the mushrik prisoners of war
and let them go, and the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be
upon him) let many of the prisoners go for free, releasing them with no
ransom. During the conquest of Makkah it was said to the people of Makkah:
“Go, for you are free.”
During the campaign of Banu’l-Mustaliq, the Messenger
(peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) married a female prisoner from
the defeated tribe so as to raise her status, as she was the daughter of one
of their leaders, namely the Mother of the Believers
Juwayriyah bint al-Haarith (may Allaah be pleased with her). Then the
Muslims let all of these prisoners go.
Islam is not thirsty for the blood of prisoners, nor is it
eager to enslave them.
Thus we may understand the limited ways that can lead to
slavery. Islam did not abolish it altogether, because the kaafir prisoner
who was opposed to truth and justice was a wrongdoer, or was a supporter of
wrongdoing or was a tool in the execution or approval of wrongdoing. Letting
him go free would give him the opportunity to spread wrongdoing and
aggression against others and to oppose the truth and prevent it reaching
Freedom is a basic human right which cannot be taken away
from a person except for a reason. When Islam accepted slavery within the
limits that we have described, it put restrictions on the man who exploits
his freedom in the worst possible way. If he was taken prisoner in a war of
aggression in which he was defeated, then the proper conduct is to keep him
in reasonable conditions throughout his detention.
Despite all that, Islam offers many opportunities to restore
freedom to him and people like him.
The principle of dealing with slaves in Islam is a
combination of justice, kindness and compassion.
One of the means of liberating slaves is allocating a portion
of zakaah funds to freeing slaves; the expiation for accidental killing,
zihaar (a jaahili form of divorce that is forbidden), breaking vows and
having intercourse during the day in Ramadaan, is to free a slave. In
addition to that, Muslims are also encouraged in general terms to free
slaves for the sake of Allaah.
This is a brief summary of some of the principles of dealing
with slaves in a just and kind manner:
1 – Guaranteeing them food and clothing like that of their
It was narrated that Abu Dharr (may Allaah be pleased with
him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be
upon him) said: “They are your brothers whom Allaah has put under your
authority, so if Allaah has put a person’s brother under his authority, let
him feed him from what he eats and clothe him from what he wears, and let
him not overburden him with work, and if he does overburden him with work,
then let him help him.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari (6050).
2 – Preserving their dignity
It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with
him) said: I heard Abu’l-Qaasim (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon
him) say: “Whoever accuses his slave when he is innocent of what he says
will be flogged on the Day of Resurrection, unless he is as he said.”
Narrated by al-Bukhaari (6858).
Ibn ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) manumitted a slave
of his, then he picked up a stick or something from the ground and said:
There is no more reward in it than the equivalent of this, but I heard the
Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say:
“Whoever slaps his slave or beats him, his expiation is to manumit him.”
Narrated by Muslim (1657).
3 – Being fair towards slaves and treating them kindly
It was narrated that ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Affaan tweaked the ear of
a slave of his when he did something wrong, then he said to him after that:
Come and tweak my ear in retaliation. The slave refused but he insisted, so
he started to tweak it slightly, and he said to him: Do it strongly, for I
cannot bear the punishment on the Day of Resurrection. The slave said: Like
that, O my master? The Day that you fear I fear also.
When ‘Abd al-Rahmaan ibn ‘Awf (may Allaah be pleased with
him) walked among his slaves, no one could tell him apart from them, because
he did not walk ahead of them, and he did not wear anything different from
what they wore.
One day ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab passed by and saw some slaves
standing and not eating with their master. He got angry and said to their
master: What is wrong with people who are selfish towards their servants?
Then he called the servants and they ate with them.
A man entered upon Salmaan (may Allaah be pleased with him)
and found him making dough – and he was a governor. He said to him: O Abu
‘Abd-Allaah, what is this? He said: We have sent our servant on an errand
and we do not want to give him two jobs at once.
4 – There is nothing wrong with slaves having precedence over
free men in some matters
- with regard to any religious or worldly matters in which he
excels over him. For example, it is valid for a slave to lead the prayer.
‘Aa’ishah the Mother of the Believers had a slave who would lead her in
prayer. Indeed the Muslims have been commanded to hear and obey even if a
slave is appointed in charge of their affairs.
5 – A slave may buy himself from his master and be free.
If a person is enslaved for some reason but then it becomes
apparent that he has given up his wrongdoing and forgotten his past, and he
has become a man who shuns evil and seeks to do good, is it permissible to
respond to his request to let him go free? Islam says yes, and there are
some fuqaha’ who say that this is obligatory and some who say that it is
This is what is called a mukaatabah or contract of
manumission between the slave and his master. Allaah says (interpretation of
“And such of your slaves as seek a writing (of
emancipation), give them such writing, if you find that there is good and
honesty in them. And give them something (yourselves) out of the wealth of
Allaah which He has bestowed upon you”
This is how Islam treats slaves justly and kindly.
One of the results of these guidelines is that in many cases,
the slave would become a friend of his master; in some cases the master
would regard him as a son. Sa’d ibn Haashim al-Khaalidi said, describing a
slave of his:
He is not a slave, rather he is a son whom [Allaah] has put
under my care.
He has supported me with his good service; he is my hands and
Another result of the Muslims treating slaves in this manner
is that the slaves became part of Muslim families as if they were also
Gustave le Bon says in Hadaarat al-‘Arab (Arab
Civilization) (p. 459-460): What I sincerely believe is that slavery
among the Muslims is better than slavery among any other people, and that
the situation of slaves in the east is better than that of servants in
Europe, and that slaves in the east are part of the family. Slaves who
wanted to be free could attain freedom by expressing their wish. But despite
that, they did not resort to exercising this right. End quote.
How did non-Muslims treat slaves?
Attitude of the Jews towards slaves:
According to the Jews, mankind is divided into two groups:
the Israelites form one group and all of mankind is another group.
As for the Israelites, it is permissible to enslave some of
them, according to specific teachings contained in the Old Testament.
As for people other than the Israelites, they are a low-class
race according to the Jews, who may be enslaved via domination and
subjugation, because they are people who are doomed to humiliation by the
heavenly decree from eternity. It says in Exodus 21:2-6:
“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six
years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.
3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a
wife when he comes, she is to go with him.
4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or
daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only
the man shall go free.
5 But if the servant declares, 'I love my master and my wife
and children and do not want to go free,'
6 then his master must take him before the judges. He shall
take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he
will be his servant for life”
As for enslaving non-Hebrews, this is done by taking them
captive or overpowering them, because they believe that their race is
superior to others, and they try to find a justification for that slavery in
their distorted Torah. So they say that Ham the son of Noah – who was the
father of Canaan – angered his father, because Noah was drunk one day and
became naked as he was sleeping in his tent, and Ham saw him like that. When
Noah found out about that after he woke up, he got angry and he cursed his
progeny who were descendents of Canaan, and he said – according to the Book
of Genesis 9:25-26): “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to
his brothers.’ He also said, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May
Canaan be the slave of Shem.’”
In the same chapter (v. 27) it says: “May God extend the
territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan
be his [or
In the Book of Deuteronomy 20:10-14, it says:
“When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer
11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it
shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you.
12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in
battle, lay siege to that city.
13 When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to
the sword all the men in it.
14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and
everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves”
Attitude of the Christians towards slaves:
Christianity confirmed slavery as it had been affirmed
beforehand by Judaism. There is no text in the Gospels that prohibits or
denounces slavery. It is remarkable that the historian William Muir
criticized our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon
him) for not immediately abolishing slavery, whilst overlooking the attitude
of the Gospels concerning slavery, as there is no report from the Messiah,
or from the Disciples, or from the churches concerning this issue.
Rather, in his Epistles, Paul advised that slaves should be
loyal to their masters, as he says in his Epistle to the Ephesians, where he
enjoins slaves to obey their masters as they would obey the Messiah:
“5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear,
and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.
6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on
you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.
7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not
8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for
whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free”
In Grand Larousse encyclopédique,
it says: It comes as no surprise that slavery has continued among Christians
until today; the official representatives of the faith have affirmed its
validity and accepted its legitimacy.
… to sum up: the Christian religion approved fully of slavery
and still does so today. It is very difficult for anyone to prove that
Christianity strove to abolish slavery.
The saints affirmed that nature makes some people slaves.
Churchmen did not prevent slavery or oppose it; rather they
supported it, to such an extent that the philosopher saint Thomas Aquinas
supported the philosophical view that agreed with the view of religious
leaders, and he did not object to slavery, rather he praised it because –
according to the view of Aristotle – it is one of the conditions in which
some people are created naturally, and it does not contradict faith for a
man to be content with the lowest position in life.
Haqaa’iq al-Islam by al-‘Aqqaad
In the Dictionary of the Bible by Dr. George Yousuf it
says: Christianity did not object to slavery for political or economic
reasons, and it did not urge believers to oppose their generation’s views
with regard to slavery, or even debate it, and it did not say anything
against the rights of slave owners or motivate the slaves to seek
independence; it did not discuss the harm or harshness of slavery and it did
not enjoin the immediate release of slaves.
It did not change anything in the nature of the relationship
between master and slave; on the contrary, it affirmed the rights and duties
of both parties.
Contemporary Europe and slavery
It is the reader’s right, in this era of advancement and
progress, to ask questions about the pioneers of this progress and the
numbers of people who died because of the way in which they were hunted, and
who died on their way to the coast where the ships of the English Company
and others would wait, then the rest died due to changes in climate.
Approximately 4% died as they were being loaded onto the ships, and 12 %
during the journey, let alone those who died in the colonies.
The slave trade continued at the hands of English companies
that obtained the right of monopoly with the permission of the British
government, then gave free rein to British subjects to enslave people. Some
experts estimate that the total number of people seized by the British
during slavery and exiled to the colonies between 1680 and 1786 CE was
When Europe made contact with Black Africa, this contact led
to human misery during which the black people of that continent were faced
with a major calamity that lasted for five centuries. The states of Europe
came up with evil ways of kidnapping these people and bringing them to their
lands to serve as fuel for their revival, where they burdened them with more
work than they could bear. When America was discovered, the calamity
increased and they became slaves in two continents instead of just one.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica says (2/779) on the topic
of slavery: Hunting slaves in the villages that were surrounded by the
jungle was done by lighting fires in the straw of which the corrals
surrounding the villages were made, then when the villagers fled to open
land, the British hunted them down with whatever means they had at their
During the period from 1661 to 1774, for every million Black
Africans who reached the Americas, a further nine million died during the
hunting, loading and transportation. In other words, only one tenth of those
who were hunted survived and actually reached the Americas, where they found
no rest or relief, rather they were subjected to hard labour and torture.
At that time, they had laws which any wise person would be
Among these evil laws were those which said that any slave
who transgressed against his master was to be killed, and any slave who ran
away was to have his hands and feet cut off, and he was to be branded with
hot iron; if he ran away again, he was to be killed. How could he run away
if his hands and feet had been cut off?!
It was forbidden for a black man to become educated, and the
jobs of whites were forbidden to coloureds.
In America, if seven black people gathered together, that was
regarded as a crime, and if a white man passed by them it was permissible
for him to spit at them and give them twenty lashes.
Another law stated that the blacks had no soul and that they
possessed no smartness, intelligence or willpower, and that life existed
only in their arms.
To sum up, with regard to his duties and service to his
master, the slave was regarded as sane, responsible and punishable if he
fell short, but with regard to his rights, he had no soul and no being, and
he was not more than a strong pair of arms!
Finally, after many centuries of enslavement and oppression,
there came the protocol to abolish slavery and strive to put an end to it,
in a resolution issued by the United Nations in 1953 CE.
Hence their consciences did not awaken until the last
century, after they had built their civilization on the corpses of free men
whom they had enslaved unlawfully. What fair-minded person can compare this
with the teachings of Islam, which came fourteen hundred years ago? It seems
that accusing Islam with regard to this topic is like the saying, “She
accused me of her problem then walked away.”
And Allaah knows best.
See: Shubahaat Hawl al-Islam by Muhammad Qutub; Talbees Mardood fi
Qadaaya Khateerah by Shaykh Dr. Saalih ibn Humayd, the Imam of the Haram