Missing the Point: Slavery

Slavery is against Islam.

The absurd idea that somehow slavery is not against Islam isn’t as much a misconception amongst non-Muslims as it is amongst Muslims. Or more likely, it is a misconception amongst non-Muslims, but few want to make accusations when slavery is rampant in their own history. In my experience, both times a non-Muslim has pointed to a history involved in slavery as a means to excuse their Islamophobia… they were both Christians. (Oh come oooooonnn.)

Generally when Muslims rush to the defense of Islamic history on this specific subject, they say that slavery was not as devastating to its victims in Islamic history than in the history of other faiths or other territories, because you could not identify a slave by his or her race, and they were supposedly better treated than any other time period of slavery anywhere else because they are supposed to eat at the table with your family–same food–and have your things. I’m kind of tentatively calling bullshit on this. Maybe the former may have been true for early Islam, before the expansion, when most Muslims belonged to the same race (by today’s standards) and the differences between slaves and slave-owners were tribal. But later works clearly betray that slaves were identified by darker skin tones; whether or not this resulted from the influence of outside empires is up for debate. (Besides, in an only partly discovered world tribes are basically races.) And sure, they were supposed to be treated well–we know by now not to expect this in reality. Muslims are supposed to not bomb things but… yeah. I don’t doubt that slavery was “better” in the Islamic regions than other empires, but it really doesn’t matter to me. To say it was better–that sounds too much like a justification for my comfort. Even in the suffocating desperation of being backed into a corner by Islamophobia, that is not an argument anyone should be making.

There is no way around it. It happened. It is humiliating–for anyone–to confess, “There is slavery in my national/religious/ethnic identity’s history.” But it happened. And it still happens. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable whenever Muslims try to water down the atrocity, or to claim, “Yeah we were slave-owners but–we were better slave-owners than you!” Yeah, don’t care. It is disturbing that you can talk about slavery in your history without your face crumbling to dust in shame.

So. Much. Fail.

But what’s even more of a fail is when Muslims attempt to convince other Muslims that slavery is not against Islam. The most common argument? “It’s it in the Qur’an.”

Great! Soooo… didya read it? Because God does not seem happy.

Slavery existed before Islam, already so heavily in practice that it was the basis of financial security, and Islam encouraged that the corrupt economic system come to an end. It’s not surprising that the results didn’t show overnight, since chaos is likely to have ensued, which is why the discouragement of keeping slaves was blatant but gradual. But there is no argument that the practice itself violates the religion at its core in suggesting that a human being can have a human master, or any master other than God. Blasphemous.

And there is no debate that verses discourage it heavily:

And if any of your slaves ask for emancipation, give them such if you know any good in them: and give them the wealth of God that God has given you! And force not your female captives to prostitution for they desire chastity only to gain the fleeting pleasures of worldly life. (Qur’an 24:33)

Modern English: Free the slaves! You must also pay them, because they must have money to start with, and that money’s not yours anyway because God gave it to you so don’t bitch about it! And for crying out loud, don’t rape people!

There are also several confirmed stories of people “buying” slaves (in quotes because you can’t buy a human being) just to free them; we usually only know about this when the former slaves becomes someone historically remarkable or famous so there is a chance that it happened more frequently than reported. And the Qur’an encourages paying for slaves to free them:

True piety does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or the west – but truly pious is one who believes in God, and the Last Day, and the angels, and revelation, and the prophets; and spends substance – however much one may cherish it – upon one’s near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; […] (Qur’an 2:177)

The Qur’an also makes freeing slaves mandatory if you’ve sinned in other ways:

And it is not conceivable that a believer should slay another believer, unless it be by mistake. And upon him who has slain a believer by mistake there is the duty of freeing a slave and paying compensation to the deceased’s family unless they remit it freely to charity […] (Qur’an 4:92)

There’s hadith dictating that if you so much slap a slave in the face, you are obligated to free him/her. You’re supposed to free a slave for even totally random things, like dissing your wife and changing your mind:

And those who say, regarding their wives, ‘thou art unlawful to me,’ and then retract what they have said, they shall set free a slave […] (Qur’an 58:3)

Want another one? Okay.

God will not call you to account for what is futile in your oaths, but God will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; or clothe them; or give a slave freedom. (Qur’an 5:89)

Here, have some hadith on the treatment of slaves, since I mentioned it before and am a disorganized person:

Narrated Al-Ma’rur: The Prophet said, Your slaves are your brothers and sisters so whoever has a brother or sister under command you should feed him or her of what you eat and dress him or her of what you wear. Do not ask them (slaves) to do things beyond their capacity (power) and if you must, then help them.’ (Bukhari Vol 1 Book 2 No 29)

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, When the slave of anyone amongst you prepares food for him and he serves him after having sat close to (and undergoing the hardship of) heat and smoke, he should make him (the slave) sit along with him and make him eat (along with him), and if the food seems to run short, then he should spare some portion for him (from his own share) (Muslim, Book 015 No 4096)

It is clear that in an Islamic society, the purpose had always been to completely eliminate slavery because it is Islamically unlawful. (The gradual nature of change is prevalent in Islam, and the Qur’an itself says, “Why is not the Qur’an revealed to him [the Prophet] all at once? Thus (is it revealed), that We may strengthen thy heart thereby, and We have rehearsed it to thee in slow, well-arranged stages, gradually.” (Qur’an, 25:32)] There is an incredible emphasis on the importance of liberating slaves, on paying them to start off their new lives, and there is also a significant amount of encouragement for marrying slaves into the family.

But of course, we still have bimbos like Salwa al-Mutairi, “activists” who call for not only the legalization of slavery, but specifically of sex slavery [aka SYSTEMATIC RAPE]… because that would keep men from committing adultery, according to her logic.

*headdesk headdesk headdesk*

16 thoughts on “Missing the Point: Slavery

  1. OH MY GODS WHAT ARE YOU DOING POSTING THIS IS HOMEWORK TIME.I shouldn't encourage you. But. When I did a project on Cordoba in 10th grade I read repeatedly most of the slaves were Slavs. As in, visibly lighter-skinned than the original Moors, so the idea slaves couldn't be identified by race is kind of ridiculous, especially when they were deliberately buying the slaves the word 'slave' came from because the men found Slavic women more 'exotic.'


  2. Ok…so if there are all these reasons in which you should free a slave as recompense…why didnt god just say…free all your slaves because owning another human being is dispicable? Or…if you own slaves and never commit any of those things you mentioned…does that mean the order to free a slave doesnt ever pertain to you and you get to keep your slaves? If any of your slaves ask for emancipation give it to them….hmmmm…I would imagine just about any person that was forced to be a slave would wake up every morning and ask to be freed that day….what are the odds that their owner would just let them go…and with some money in their pocket to boot?If you slay a believer you must free a slave…what if you slay a nonbeliever…not worth the freeing of a slave? Sounds rather discriminating there.If you say to your wife that "thou art unlawful to me" then retract it you must free a slave…but if you dont retract it the slave is out of luck? I would imagine a lot of household slaves wait with bated breath to see whether a retraction is made or not…and thus their very freedom hangs in the balance. So stressful if you lived with a couple that fought constantly. Last of all…the prophet says "your slaves are like your brother and sisters…" so treat them as such…well in that case…how many of you treat your brothers and sisters like slaves? How many of you would make slaves out of your brother and sisters? It seems the first thing I would do if I was meant to view my slaves as my siblings would be to set them free…not just make sure they had similar food and clothing etc as I did. I can see where the logic in slowly removing some things from those early muslims…like alcohol etc as those are harmful to oneself but people can find it hard to give them up….but reducing slavery over a period of time seems cruel to slaves no matter how well you treated them. At the end of the day you still own that person…they still are unable to leave on their own free will. This doesnt seem like something that should end gradually but all at once…owning people is simply wrong. Period. There is no gray area here. now whether or not slaves that suddenly found themselves free to go would actually go is another issue all together…but for god to clearly state that "owning people" is over as of today, would have sounded so much nicer…than just giving lots of reasons why you would HAVE to free one to compensate for a sin you did.


  3. Flint: I haven't heard of that! Interesting. And sick. =(zeina: It's the translation–the translation dudes translated "female captives" as "maids." =Pcoolred: There are many hadith of people coming to the Prophet with a sin, and the Prophet being like, "Go free slave, dude." (Rough translation.) And then they'd be all, "I can't afford it!" And then he'd be like, "Fine, go feed 60 poor people etc. etc." (Usually he had to go on because they couldn't afford that either.)And slaying a nonbeliever is something that happened mostly during periods of war. People are killed in wars. In masses. (And captives are taken during war.) That would have been the equivalent of being like, "Free all your slaves!"As is commanding that a slave who has asked to be freed should be freed.I'm sure the day that verse was revealed every slave who could asked to be freed did, and wasn't. People wouldn't have been able to do it even if the Qur'an commanded it entirely like, "No real Muslim would have slaves!" And yet it comes very close to saying this. I think it's out question to interpret that God didn't say owning people is wrong. Every verse that says no one should be your master but God kind of screams it.That said, I (obviously) don't know why God does or doesn't do things, and I'm not going to speculate (because that is always disastrous) and I plan to take it up with God when I die.


  4. When people say that slavery was weird in Islam… it really WAS weird in Islam. It's awful to say, because like you said in the article it sounds like a justification, but it's also a possibility that many slaves DIDN'T ask to be freed. If even SLAVEOWNERS were so poor, it's likely that they couldn't pay a slave enough to start a new life after they freed them, and they can't just wander around after being freed without food or water or clothes or shelter… They wouldn't survive.


  5. Wait wait wait hold up. there were LIGHTER slaves in Islamic history? But there were also darker ones…so wouldn't that make it true that race wasnt a factor? Overall, I mean, of course, not in certain regions at certain times.


  6. KelsShells: My mother comes from a country where people hand themselves over as "servants"–but really they are treated so brutally and paid so little they might as well be slaves–and yet they are driven to do it because of their own financial conditions, so that is an interesting observation. aziza: …Well, then that's true for everyone isn't it?Okay, it actually might not be. (It definitely wasn't true for USian history.) But the point is that the appearance of slaves seemed to go in and out like a fad, which is freakin disturbing. Unless comparatively darker slaves and comparatively lighter slaves existed at the same time, you could still tell.


  7. Yes, but if you're deliberately acquiring slaves who are 'Other,' whether lighter or darker, you are getting slaves who can be identified by their race. Also, the Moors were a different ethnic group than Arabs or other North African groups. It's possible they had different aesthestics when it comes to slavery.


  8. Wait, wait, wait.Sex slavery… reduces ADULTERY?How the fucking hell are you going to be married, have a sex slave and NOT commit adultery? Not to mention, you know, rape?


  9. almostclever

    Small point – but I have to say it. There are plenty of maids today who are slaves. In fact, there are more slaves today, worldwide – than during the European colonization of the Americas. We are not talking about the past here, we are talking about the here and now. The reason people are trying to say Islam allows slavery is because many Muslim royals and Muslim peoples own slaves today. Of course it is not just Muslims, but I'll stick to that area since we are talking about the idea of slavery in the Quran. This is not our ancestry or a practice of another time, slavery is bigger now than it ever was before. Trafficking of humans for slavery is 2nd only to drug trafficking. This debate about the Quran allowing slavery has real ramifications for millions of people being sold to Muslim countries. We cannot say slavery WAS, we must say slavery IS.The trend of slavery in present day is that of women of color from developing countries. Is it race or is it poverty, I'm not sure – but many eastern european women are trafficked also so I think today it has a lot to do with money/class. More can be said on this but I'll leave it at that.


  10. almostclever

    "But of course, we still have bimbos like Salwa al-Mutairi, "activists" who call for not only the legalization of slavery, but specifically of sex slavery [aka SYSTEMATIC RAPE]… because that would keep men from committing adultery, according to her logic."I think I would literally punch this person in their face should I ever meet them in real life. It is a cause I would be happy to go to jail for.


  11. Almostclever: Wait, WHAT? Someone SAID that? A woman someone? Just who does she think is going to be the sex slaves? What makes her so elevated other women can be slaves for her ease and comfort?


  12. Flint… yeah something actually said that. Sick, twisted woman.Loved this post Nahida!Especially this passage from the Qur'an: "And force not your female captives to prostitution for they desire chastity ", just really goes to show that this twisted woman's suggestion is unislamic, and whoever said differently ought to reread their Holy Book!


  13. Great post!I've seen slavery apologism in two contexts prior to this: from a Christian standpoint (which is similar to the Islamic standpoint of the slavery apologists you refer to in this post), and from an "America can do no wrong" patriotic bullshit standpoint. Yes, there are conservative pundits (Michael Medved stands out strongest in my mind, but there are others) who are so invested in the idea that America is and always has been the bastion of freedom for every human, that they engage in a bunch of historical revisionism about how American slavery wasn't that bad, and the slaveowners weren't really into it, and they really, really wanted to free their slaves but they were waiting for Lincoln to give them permission! Yeah, it's sickening.


  14. Hina

    Just because a lot of people couldn’t “afford” to free their slaves makes it okay to own a person? Why not hire them as servants? So they can also earn money and own things and if they please stop working for the person who used to own them? Saying free any slave who wants to be free is such an absurd thing to say and coolred already explained why above. If those slaves were instead given citizenship, allowed to own property and make money and had freedom to decide if it’s better for them to stay with their owner and work for food and water or if they rather leave, that would be a step in favor of human rights not what you described above. Islam can tell people to make drastic changes like doing wudu and praying 5 times a day yet can’t tell people that all humans are created equally and should have a basic human rights like freedom? You force someone to convert to Islam which changes their entire life style yet can’t tell people to free their slaves?



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