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Slavery

 

 

"Have We not created for man two eyes, and a tongue and two lips, and have We not shown him the two great ways of evil and virtue?  But he attempts not the high mountain road.  And what should make thee know what the high mountain road is?  It is the setting free of

a slave, or the feeding in a day of hunger an orphan who is of kin or a poor man cleaving to the dust." (Qur'an 90:8-16)



       

Islam and Slavery

 

 

Material extracted from Islam and Slavery by Bashir Ahmad; translation and commentary of Holy Qur'an by Maulana Muhammad Ali


v  Slavery
v  Introduction
v 
Pre-Islamic Arabia
v  Threefold process to end slavery
v  Qur’an and Slavery
v  Holy Prophet’s teachings about the existing slaves
v  Emancipation of the existing slaves
v  Compulsory emancipation
v  Mandatory emancipation
v  Mukatabat, writing of freedom
v  Concubinage with female slaves not sanctioned
v  Teachings of Islam about emancipated slaves
v  How the Muslims acted on the Prophet’s teachings
v  All doors open for advancement were open
v  Why were all the slaves not freed at once?
v  Survival of slavery in Muslim countries?
v  Prophet’s teachings to not reduce the free to slavery
v  Prisoners of war
v  Can prisoners be put to death?
v  Concubinage not sanctioned with female prisoners
v  Conclusion

Introduction

v  Slavery has been defined as the system in which a human being is held to be the legal property of another and is bound to absolute obedience and submission.

v  A slave is thus a human chattel who may be retained or sold or otherwise dealt with as his master pleases.

v    The system had its origin in war.

v  In the beginning of human society, whenever there was a war between two tribes or nations, the combatants of the vanquished army, and very often, even the non-combatant male members of the vanquished nation, were put to the sword, while the children and women were taken into slavery and made to do all sorts of work for their masters.

v  Gradually, however, as civil life and industries developed and there was a greater demand in the world for servants and laborers, it was felt that the best and easiest way of securing labour was to enslave the conquered people.

v  Conquering nations then began to enslave rather than slay the prisoners of war, who were forced to do manual work both for the conquering nation and its individuals.

v  By degrees, the system became so wide-spread, that in some countries the slaves even outnumbered the free inhabitants, and slavery became an integral part of civil life. (Chambers Encyclopedia under slavery)

Pre-Islamic Arabia

v  When people found this system to be so lucrative,  they no longer confined themselves to the enslavement of only the prisoners of war, but devised other cruel ways of enslaving free men.  For instance, they made unprovoked raids on weaker tribes, and reduced their men and women to a condition of bondage.

v  At the advent of Islam, more than 1350 years back, the  practice  prevailed  more  or less in all countries. Hundreds of thousands of slaves were leading lives of extreme misery and pain in Rome, Greece, Egypt, Persia and other countries.  Their lot was hardly better than that of dumb driven cattle.

v  In Arabia too there were thousands of slaves in those days, and they formed an essential part of the wealth of the rich.  Perhaps nowhere in the world were they more despised than in Arabia.  They were treated with the utmost cruelty and heartlessness.

Threefold Process to end Slavery

v  The Holy Prophet teachings fall into three heads:

v  (1) An end to all the tyrannical way of reducing the free human beings to slavery

v  (2) Teachings for the betterment of the condition of the existing slaves and measures for their gradual emancipation.

v  (3) Steps for the permanent abolition of slavery.

Qur’an and Slavery

v  When the Holy Founder of Islam began his preachings, which was roughly in 611 A.D., his teachings included the injunction that slaves should be treated with leniency and kindness, and his earliest revelations declared the emancipation of slaves as an act of great virtue.  The Qur’an, in one of its earliest Surahs refers to this subject in the following words:

v  "Have We not created for man two eyes, and a tongue and two lips, and have We not shown him the two great ways of evil and virtue?  But he attempts not the high mountain road.  And what should make thee know what the high mountain road is?  It is the setting free of a slave, or the feeding in a day of hunger an orphan who is of kin or a poor man cleaving to the dust." (Qur'an 90:8-16)

v  A later revelation reads:

It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteous is the one who believes in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels and the Book and the prophets, and gives away wealth out of love for Him of the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and to set slaves free and keeps up prayer and pays the poor-rate; and the performers of their promise when they make a promise, and the patient in distress and affliction and in the time of conflict. These are they who are truthful; and these are they who keep their duty. (Qur’an 2:17)

Holy Prophet’s teachings about the existing slaves

v  Abu Zar, a companion of the Holy Prophet relates that the Prophet used to say,  "Your slaves are your brethren.  So if any one of you happens to have a slave, let him give him the same food that he himself eats, and the same clothing that he himself wears.  And do not give them such work as is beyond their power to perform, and if you ever happen to give them such work, you should help them in doing it." (Bukhari)

v  Again, Ubadah, son of Walid, says : "We once met Abdul Yusr, a companion of the Holy Prophet, who was accompanied by a slave.  We saw that he wore a striped garment coupled with a Yemnite garment, and so did his slave. I said to him,  'Uncle, why did you not take the striped garment of your slave and  give  Yemnite garment to him, or take his Yemnite garment for your self and give him your striped garment of the same kind ?' Abul Yusr laid his hand on my head and blessed me and said. 'Dear nephew, my eyes have seen, and my ears have heard, and my mind remembers that the Holy Prophet used to enjoin,  'Give to your slaves the same food that you yourselves eat and give them the same garment that you yourselves wear.  Therefore, I prefer to give of my worldly possessions an equal share to my slave rather than lose any part of my reward on the Day of Judgment."  (Bukhari)

Emancipation of existing slaves

v  In order to effect the emancipation of the slaves two courses were adopted, one commendatory and the other mandatory.

Commendatory emancipation

v  Recall, "And what should make thee know what the high mountain road is?  It is the setting free of a slave" (Qur'an 90:12-13)

v  Bara son of Azib, relates that once an Arab of the desert came to the Holy Prophet and said : "O Prophet of God, let me know a work by doing which I may go straight to heaven." The prophet replied : "Your question is brief, but you have asked a big thing.  Emancipate a slave; and if you cannot do it alone, do it jointly with others."  (Baihaqi)

v  Again, Abu Burdah relates from his father that the Holy Prophet (may peace and blessings of God be upon him) used to say : "If any of you have a slave girl, whom he gives good education and excellent training, and then he emancipates her and marries her, he shall have a two-fold reward." (Bukhari, Kitab Al-Nikah)

v  Suwaid, a companion of the Holy Prophet, relates as follows : "We were seven brothers and had a slave common to us all. One of us once became angry with him and getting out of temper gave him a slap on his face. The Holy Prophet came to know of this and ordered us immediately to set the slave free." (Muslim, Kitab Al-Iman)

v  The same incident has been related by lbn Umar, who adds that if anybody beats a slave and then sets him free, he deserves no reward for this act. Thus one form of compulsory emancipation instituted by the Holy Prophet was that he laid down the emancipation of slaves as a punishment for beating.

v  In another report we read: "Once when I was chastising my slave for some offence of his, I heard a voice from behind me  saying,  'Abu Masood, what are you doing? But being enraged, I did not recognize the voice and went on chastising him.  Then the voice drew near and grew louder and when I looked back, I saw that the Holy Prophet, himself was rapidly advancing towards me, saying, 'Abu Masood, what are you doing?" When I saw him, my stick dropped from my hand. The Prophet cast an angry look at me, and said, 'Abu Masood, do you not know there is God above you Who has far greater power over you than you seem to have over your slave.  I said, '0 Messenger of God; forgive me, I set this slave free  for Allah's  sake.'  The Holy Prophet said,  'if you  had  not done so, the fire of Hell would have scorched your face." (Muslim, Kitab Al-lman)

Mandatory Emancipation

v  And let those who cannot find a match keep chaste, until Allah makes them free from want out of His grace. And those of your slaves who ask for a writing (of freedom), give them the writing, if you know any good in them, and give them of the wealth of Allah which He has given you. (Qur’an 24:33)

v  Every possible facility was afforded to the slave to earn his freedom. Though the practice of the master making such a contract with the slave prevailed before the advent of Islam, the important reform introduced by Islam was that, when a slave desired such a contract to be made, the master could not refuse it. Twelve centuries before any attempt was made by any individual or community to legislate for the liberty of slaves, a dweller in the Arabian desert had laid down this noble institution, that, if a slave asked for a writing of freedom, he was not only to be given that writing by the master, but he was also to be provided with money to purchase his freedom, the only condition being if you know any good in them, i.e., if he is fit for work and able to earn his livelihood. And, in addition, the duty was imposed upon the State of spending a part of the collection of the poor-rate for this object, as stated in 9:60.

Mukatabat

v  This not only helped those of the slaves who were in a position to lead free lives to secure their freedom by way of right. but even in case where the slaves did not at first possess such capability it encouraged them to engage in some work like free men and to learn to bear the responsibility of civil contract in order to earn the required sum of money and acquire free citizenship.

v  It  must  also  be  borne  in  mind that the question of emancipation through mukatabat did not depend upon the sweet will of the master; it was obligatory.  Whenever a slave demanded such a contract to be made, the master had no right to refuse.

v  It was for the Government or the Court to decide whether the slave was fit to lead a free and independent life, and if the decision went in favour of the slave the master was bound to accept it.

Writing of Freedom

v  That the obligation of mukatabat depended on the fitness of the slave to lead an independent life and on nothing else may be determined by the following tradition.

v  Yahya bin Kasir relates:  "The Holy Prophet used to say that the words of the Qur’an, 'Make a contract of Mukatabat with them if you find them to be fit for some work or trade so that after being set free, they may not become a burden upon society." (Abu Daud as quoted by lbn Kasir under the verse relating to Mukatabat

v  It is on record that once Sirin, a slave of Anas, a companion of the Holy Prophet, desired his master to give him a contract of freedom on payment of a certain sum, but Anas, thinking that he was a rich man and needed no money, refused to make the required contract.  Sirin complained to Umar, the second successor of the Holy Prophet, who summoned Anas and ordered him to give Sirin the desired contract. Anas refused; Umar thereupon hit him with a whip and recited the Qur’anic verse which says, "As for those slaves who desire to enter into a contract of Mukatabat with you, make such a contract with  them."  Thereupon  Anas agreed. (Bukhari, Kitab Al-Mukatabat

Concubinage was not sanctioned with the female slaves

v  Among the evils of the institution was the custom of making slave girls act as prostitutes, in order to profit by ignoble earnings. It was strictly prohibited. The evil of concubinage was removed by making rightful wedlock an essential for cohabitation with women in bondage. Marriage with slave girls was encouraged, and such alliance paved the way for emancipation. In this respect the Qur’an says:

v  “And marry those among you who are single, and those who are fit among your male slaves and your female slaves. If they are needy, Allah will make them free from want out of His grace. And Allah is Ample-giving, Knowing.” (Qur’an 24:32)

v  And let those who can not find a match keep chaste, until Allah makes them free from want out of His grace. And those of your slaves who ask for a writing (of freedom) give them the writing, if you know any good in them, and give them of the wealth of Allah which He has given you. and compel not your slave girls into prostitution whne they desire to keep chaste, in order to see the frail goods of this world’s life.” (Qur’an 24:33)

v  Abu Burdah relates from his father that the Holy Prophet (may peace and blessings of God be upon him) used to say : "If any of you have a slave girl, whom he gives good education and excellent training, and then he emancipates her and marries her, he shall have a two-fold reward." (Bukhari, Kitab Al-Nikah)

v  If these slave women are the sexual partners of their guardians, how can God offer them to the believing men?

v  God asks them to maintain their moral behavior, by not committing adultery or having secret lovers. Those verses clearly shows those slave women are not the sexual partners of their guardian.

Teachings of Islam about emancipated slaves

v  Side by side with the scheme for the emancipation of slaves, it was  also  kept in  view that even after  emancipation, the freed slaves should not remain without support and helpers.

v  Accordingly, the Holy Prophet established a sort of brotherly relationship between the freed slaves and his former master.  They were to be called each other's Maula i.e., friend  or  helper.

v  This  was  done  that  there  might exist a feeling between the two  that  they were  friends to each other and that they were to stand by each other in times of need.

v  It was with this end in view that both the emancipated slave and his former master were also given the right of inheriting each other.  If the  emancipated  slave  died without any other heir, his property was inherited by his late master; similarly, if the latter died  without  any  other heir his property went to the former.

v  In this connection the following traditions may be quoted: "Aisha relates that the Holy Prophet used to say, that if any emancipated slave died  heirless, his property was to go to his late master." (Bukhari)

v  Similarly, "lbn Abbas relates that a man died in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet leaving no heir other than a slave whom he had emancipated. The Holy Prophet ordered his property to be given over to his freed slave." (Tirmidhi,  Abwab al-Fraiz,  and  Abu Daud and  lbn Majah as quoted by Mishkat in its chapter on slaves)

How the Muslims acted on the Holy Prophet’s teachings

v  It is on record that besides liberating in very large numbers the slaves of whom they themselves were the masters, they purchased slaves from others with the pious intention that they might set them free after purchasing   them. Thus numberless slaves obtained their freedom through the efforts of the Muslims.

All doors of advancement open

v  Now we wish to show that the slaves whom the Muslims set at liberty, after satisfying  themselves  as  to  their fitness  for  freedom,  actually became  useful citizens, and they were treated with the same honour and respect as other respectable members of the  society.

v  The  Holy Prophet in order to remedy the old aversion to slaves showed even greater regard for the capable persons among freed  slaves than for others.  For instance, on several occasions he put his freed slave, Zaid, and his son Usama at the head of military expeditions while many of his most eminent and high-placed companions served under them, and  when  some of the thoughtless people, under the influence of their old ideas, took exception to this, he was greatly displeased and said,

v  "You have taken exception to the leadership of Usama and before this you also took exception to the leadership of his father Zaid. But, by God, just as Zaid was fit for leadership and was one of those whom I most loved and trusted, similarly, his son Usama is fit for leadership and is one of the most beloved and trusted of men to me." (Bukhari)

v  We notice in history that some of the emancipated slaves rose to great eminence by reason of their learning and culture.

v  For instance, Salim bin Ma'qal, the freed slave of Huzaifa, was reckoned among the most learned of the companions.  Indeed he was one of the four whom the Holy Prophet appointed for giving lessons in the Qur’an. (see Bukhari Kitab Fazail)

Why were not all the slaves freed at once?

v  The brief and simple answer to this question is that the Holy Prophet did not do so because he was a true friend of the slaves and what he aimed at was real reform and not mere display.  He did not take any step which  might  outwardly  appear  to be friendly to the slaves,  but which was really  harmful to them and detrimental to the welfare and advancement of the country.

v  Every sensible man can easily see that to liberate immediately hundreds of thousands of slaves under the conditions then prevailing in the country was  to  send them adrift in the land utterly helpless and unprotected, and this was dangerous to them and to the country in  more  ways  than  one. The result of this revolutionary and universal emancipation would have been that whereas a part of the freed slaves would have turned paupers and died of starvation the rest would have been driven by unemployment to adopt, a life of crime and, becoming moral wrecks, would have turned into a source of seething unrest for the country and its people.

v  Hence, the Holy Prophet, who was a true reformer and who wished to do for the slaves that which was really beneficial for them, did not follow any such course as might prove disastrous to society  and  do  the  slaves more harm rather than good.  Just consider what would have been the result under the circumstances which then existed if all the slaves who numbered hundreds of thousands, had been suddenly set free without any prudential  arrangements  having  been  made  for  their maintenance, comfort and control.  Certainly such a step would have meant their total ruin both temporally and morally; temporally, because most of them would have been left without any support or means of livelihood, and without having any opportunity to learn some trade or profession; and morally, because their sudden and universal liberation would have exercised a corrupting influence on their morals and habits, particularly because owing  to their long subjection to tyrannical treatment they had acquired meanness, stony-heartedness and similar other low morals, and God knows in what channels their degraded morals would have run and what fruit they would have borne if all the slaves had been set free immediately.

v  It was in view of such  wise considerations  that  Islam very judiciously followed two courses with regard to slavery.

v  In the first place, it put an end, once for all, to all the tyrannical ways of reducing free human beings to slavery and thus stopped further extension of the system. Secondly, in view of the state of things then prevailing, it  took effective steps to bring about the moral, social and economic uplift of the existing slaves, providing at the same time that as these slaves became gradually fit to  lead independent lives in a useful manner, they should gradually but compulsorily be set at liberty.

Survival of slavery in Muslim countries?

v  As long as the Muslims had continued to adhere to the true spirit of the Islamic teachings and to act upon them, just as the Holy Prophet Muhammad and his companions who made rapid strides to abolish slavery, then we would have seen the institution of slavery in Islam end long ago, but people through ignorance or from worldliness, distorted and disfigured the noble teachings of Islam, and thus reverted to the cruel ways of enslavement, following the example of other nations, practicing slavery in disgusting forms, which Islam sought to extirpate.

God will make war with those whom reduces man to slavery

v  Islam gives most positive and clear and direct injunctions to the effect that it is a great sin and an act of most heinous nature to reduce a free man to slavery, an act for which the offender shall be severely called to account. For instance,  we may quote the following saying of the Holy Prophet in Bukhari. the most authentic book on Tradition:

v  "Abu Huraira relates that the Holy Prophet used to say that God had spoken to him saying: "There are three classes of men with whom I will make war on the Day of Judgment.  Firstly, the man who makes a covenant with some one in My name and then breaks it.  Secondly. the man who enslaves a free man, sells him and eats his price.  Thirdly, the man who employs a man to do a work and exacts full work from him but does not pay him his wages.“ (Bukhari)

v  Again,  Abdullah, son of the Caliph Umar relates that: "The Holy Prophet used to say that God had spoken to him  saying  that  there were three classes of men whose prayers He would not accept and with whom He would make war on the Day of Judgment. Firstly, the man who makes a solemn Promise in His name and then breaks it ; secondly, the man who enslaves a person whom God has made free; and thirdly, the man who exacts work from a labourer and then does not pay him his wages." (Abu Daud as quoted by Fath Al-Bari. vol. IV, p. 346)

Prisoners of War

v  In this connection, it should be mentioned at the very outset that, as borne out by history, it was in the prisoners of war that the institution of slavery had its origin. When the Prophet came to Madinah and the conditions of warfare began, the following verse was revealed which totally abolished slavery of the old type and made war captivity the only kind of imprisonment permissible in Islam.

v  "It is not fit for a prophet that he should take prisoners unless he has fought and triumphed in the land. You desire the frail goods of this world, while Allah desires (for you) the Hereafter" (8:67-68).

v  In other words, the verse abolished slavery and allowed Muslims to make war-prisoners, and this only so long as the war lasted. Slavery was prohibited by the verse quoted above, except for prisoners of war, which could be taken only after a battle. Even these were not to be sold into slavery, as was the pre-Islamic custom, nor were they to be kept permanently as made clear in another verse:

v  "Then when you have overcome (them), make prisoners and afterwards set them free as a favour or for ransom" (47:4).

v  It is therefore apparent that a Muslim must fight a hard battle in self-defense, before he can be permitted to take prisoners of war, and that as regards such prisoners they are either to be set free or ransomed.

v  The Prophet adopted the former course in most cases; for instance, in the case of the prisoners of the Bani Mustalik a hundred families were set at liberty, and in the case of Hawazin six thousand prisoners were released out of favour. Those prisoners taken at Badr had to pay ransom because Islam was very weak at that time and the enemy was determined to crush it out of existence. But many among the Badr prisoners were released when, at request of the Prophet, they taught reading and writing to his companions.

v  In the battle of Hunein six thousand of the tribe Hawazin were made captives, but as the order in which the two alternatives are placed in the above quoted verse dealing with the emancipation of the war slaves  either "set them free as a favor or let them ransom themselves” clearly shows that preference is given to the former course, the Holy Prophet kept waiting for some time for the survivors among the Hawazin to come and ask for the release of their prisoners, but no one turned up for about ten days, and the 'Prophet distributed the prisoners among the Muslim soldiers.

v  After this, the Hawazins came and requested the Prophet to set their people free. The Prophet could not do so at that stage without the consent of their guardians.  He, however, ascended the pulpit and addressed the Muslims thus: "After due praise to God, I inform you that your brethren have come to you repentant, and I have come to the conclusion that their captives should be given back to them.  Whoever of you, then loves to do it as an act of kindness, let him do it, and whoever desires that he should be paid the ransom, him will we pay out of what God will give us."  All in one voice obeyed the commandment of the Holy Prophet, and the prisoners were released without paying any ransom  (Bukhari)

Distribution of war prisoners among the soldiers

v  A reason why the prisoners of war were placed in the custody of individuals was that in those days there were no State prisons.  However, Islam laid it down as a condition that all the war prisoners must necessarily be set at liberty as soon as the war was over.

v  It must also be remembered that so far as Islamic government was concerned, this system by no means caused any unavoidable hardship on the prisoners. On the contrary it was in many way more convenient and comfortable than the system of the present-day State prisons. For, thanks to the empathetic injunctions of the Holy Prophet (may peace and blessings of God be upon him) and the watchful supervision of the Muslim State, the prisoners of war lived, not as servants or labourers, but as members of the families to which they were attached and were practically treated like guests. For instance, it is on record that the prisoners taken at Badr, who were amongst the worst enemies of Islam, were treated with such kindness that they were forced to pay the Muslims warm tributes of praise, and some of them were so deeply touched by the kind treatment they willingly joined the fold of Islam. (Muir, Prisoners taken at Badr)

Treatment of War Prisoners

v  Regarding their treatment Sir William Muir writes: In pursuance of Mahomet's commands the citizens of Medina and such of the refugees as possessed houses received the prisoners and treated them with much consideration. 'Blessings be on the men of Medina', said one of these prisoners in later days, 'they made us ride while they themselves walked; they gave us wheaten bread to eat when there was little of it, contenting themselves with dates'.”

v  One prisoner recalled: "The helpers [Muslims originating from Madina] who kept me in their house during my captivity would, when meal times came, give me a meal but have dates themselves [because they were so poor]. I would be embarrassed and return the food to them, but they would not touch it and would give it back to me. And this was because the Holy Prophet had directed that the prisoners should be treated well" (Tabari, quoted by Shibli in his Sirat an-Nabi).

v  A man called Suhail ibn Amar used to deliver bitter speeches against the Prophet and he was brought before the Holy Prophet. A Muslim suggested that some of Suhail's teeth should be knocked out to disable him from speaking well. The Prophet replied: "If I disfigure any of his limbs, God will disfigure mine in retribution." (Tabari)

Can prisoners of war be put to death?

v  47:4 of the Qur'an which has already been referred to shows that it is not lawful for a Muslim to put the prisoners of war to death.

v  It is the interpretation which the companions of the Holy Prophet put on it and they acted accordingly.  This view is borne out by the following incident:

v  Hassan says, "A captive was brought before Hajjaj, who said to Abdullah, son of Caliph Omar who happened to be there, 'Get up and cut off the head of this prisoner.' Abdullah answered, 'We have not been commanded to do so; for God says that when prisoners are taken in war they are to be released either as an act of favour or for ransom. There is no injunction to put them to death."  (Kitab Al-Khiraj, by Qazi Abu Yusaf, p. 121.)

v  Similarly, Ata bin Abi Ribah is reported to have said: "The prisoners of war cannot be put to death; the commandment concerning them is that they should be released either as an act of grace or in return for reasonable ransom." (Fath Al-Bari, vol. vi, p. 106.)

v  If it be asked, why some of the Muslim theologians have declared the slaying of the prisoners of war to be lawful when Islam does not allow it, the answer is that this has been due to a misunderstanding.

v  There are certain instances in history when the  Holy Prophet,  ordered certain prisoners of war to be put to death.  But those who have inferred the justifiability of slaying prisoners of war from these instances have ignored the fact that the prisoners who were slain were slain not because they were prisoners of war but because they had been guilty of certain crimes punishable with death.

Concubinage was not sanctioned with female prisoners of war

v  And whoever among you cannot afford to marry free believing women, (let him marry) such of your believing maidens as your right hands possess. And Allah knows best your faith — you are (sprung) the one from the other. So marry them with the permission of their masters, and give them their dowries justly, they being chaste, not fornicating, nor receiving paramours; then if they are guilty of adultery when they are taken in marriage, they shall suffer half the punishment for free married women. This is for him among you who fears falling into evil. And that you abstain is better for you. And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Qur’an 4:25)

v  Verse 4:25 clearly destroys the common charge hurled at Islam, that is sanctions concubinage. Nothing can be clearer than the words ‘not fornicating, nor receiving paramours.’

“Whom your right hands possess”

v  Explain:

v  “Whom your right hands possess”

v  The much misunderstood term, “whom your right hands possess” has been much exploited. It is taken to mean concubines. To describe a concubine bought from the market or from the master as one “whom your right hands possess” is a complete misnomer.

v  The very use of the words “whom your right hands take possession of” which is the correct rendering of the Arabic phrase mimma malakat aimanukum clearly points to women captured in battle. That is where the right hand is used to take possession of a prisoner. To apply that phrase to a woman bought from a slave market or from a master is totally unwarrantable.

Masters

v  The Holy Qur'an still speaks of such a woman being taken in marriage with the permission of her master. (4:25) Who is this master? It was the practice of the Holy Prophet and the latter-day Muslim commanders to distribute all prisoners, male or female, to the soldiers as part of the spoils of war.

v  They were kept in homes, sometimes in a better way than the master or the mistress of the Muslim home, but always at least on the same scale of living. It is this master spoken of in the verse under consideration. If they are now kept in a war prison, the Government holding them is the master.

State of female prisoners

v  The female prisoners were to be set free without ransom, or with light ransom, as in the case of male captives.

v  But the trouble about the female prisoners of war is that if they are sent back, even free men folk are not prepared to take them back as they assume that the women must have been ravished by the captors as was the common practice among the Arabs before Islam. Such disgraceful treatment of the female prisoners of war was not possible in the Holy Prophet's time, or even under the Early Caliphate, when the moral standards were of the highest possible order. Not a single case is to be found in the history of those periods. All doubtful reports must be rejected out of hand because of the clear Divine command:   “And those who cannot afford to marry must remain chaste" (Qur’an 24:33)

v  The question of affording to marry arose out of the Islamic requirement that the bridegroom must pay the mahr (dowry) to the bride in accordance with his and her rank. The Holy Qur'an envisages even 'a heap of gold' being paid by those who can afford it (4:20) as mahr (dowry). The question remains, if the female prisoners of war are not taken back by their people, even if they are set free without ransom, what is to become of them? Are they to be let loose on society? Obviously they would take to prostitution if they are not looked after. So the Holy Qur'an allows destitute Muslims, who cannot afford to pay the mahr (dowry) of free women, to marry such freed female prisoners of war.  (4:25)

Why is there a distinction made between free believing woman and “those whom your right hands possess”

v  Why are 'those whom your right hands possess' mentioned in this and other places separately from free women? That is also explained in this very verse. If the former are guilty of adultery after marriage, their punishment is to be half of free married women. It is because of the separate treatment under the Qur’anic law of these women who have come recently from a non-Muslim society, and because, therefore, the same high moral standards cannot be expected from them, that there separate mention was required.

v  Again, because of the clear ban on sexual indulgence outside marriage  (24:33) and the requirement that even the women 'whom your right hands possess' must be married properly (4:25), concubinage is simply not permissible in Islam. The Holy Prophet, being the perfect exemplar, properly married those female prisoners of war whom he took as wives.

Conclusion

v  The simplicity and excellence of the teachings of Islam, combined with this special injunction about slaves, made a deep impression upon the slaves of Arabia who began to look upon the Holy Prophet's call as the call of a deliverer. It was for this reason that notwithstanding the atrocities that were inflicted upon them by their masters on account of their acceptance of Islam,  the new religion spread very rapidly among the slave population.  The proportion of slaves was indeed extraordinarily large among the early converts.  It appears from history that even in the very beginning of Islam, slaves were not treated with contempt in Muslim society. And as time advanced and further Divine commandments were revealed concerning the slaves, their position  became  stronger and their condition better, till at last there ceased to  be any distinction between the slaves and their masters except that the former were administratively subordinate to the latter.  Along with this, the movement for the emancipation of slaves also gained in force day by day, and the Muslims, under  the  influence of the teachings of the Qur’an, and stimulated by  the example of the Prophet vied with one another in taking an active part in this movement.  Muslim history teems with instances of slaves set free by their Muslim masters.  But the question is whether the work of the Holy Prophet with regard to slaves was confined only to the improvement of their position and gradual emancipation, or whether he took effective steps to put an end to the cruel inhuman ways of reducing free men to slavery.  It is true that even if it be supposed that his work did not go beyond the limit stated above, he can not fail to be regarded as one of the great benefactors of humanity for having rendered conspicuous service in amelioration of the condition of slaves, and inaugurating a movement for their emancipation. But his real work went very much farther, for, he not only ameliorated the condition of the slaves, but took effective measures to abolish slavery altogether.

v  The slaves of pre-Islamic Arabia lost that spirit of freedom which enabled a man to lead an independent life in this world. The program adopted by Islam with regard to these people was that they should first be uplifted morally and socially,  and as their condition improved, they should be set at liberty. And Islam so arranged that when these slaves were liberated their liberty was true and real and not merely nominal and spectacular.

v  I must conclude with the extremely beautiful and most beloved words of the Holy Prophet, the last words spoken by him in this world of matter.  Ali son of Abu Talib, and Anas son ofMalik, both eminent companions of the Holy Prophet and Ummi  Salma,  wife of the Holy Prophet, report as follows:

v  "The last words that the Holy Prophet was heard to say, when he was in the agony of death, and his soul  was fluttering to leave his mortal frame, were 'Stick fast to the prescribed Prayers and to my injunctions with regard to slaves'. (lbn Majah)

v  It was to the down trodden slave that his thought was directed in the last moments of his life and that thought made him forgetful of all other earthly connections. Ah! What a friend, what a benefactor of slaves that God gave to the world, but alas, the world knew him not! And our last words are that all praise is due to Allah the Lord and Master of the universe.

 

Subpages (1): Concubinage
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