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"O mankind! There has come to you a good advice from your Lord (ie, the Qur’an), and a healing for that (disease of ignorance, doubt, hypocrisy and differences, etc) in your breasts,-a guidance and a mercy for the believers."

Holy Qur’an 3:83



What is the Quran’s approach towards slavery ?

Slavery is a tradition which is non-existent in our society today. It is necessary to understand clearly the roots of slavery and the influence that it exerted on the societies in which it was prevalent when we set about to study this phenomenon of the past from the environs of today. Indeed, it is not possible to come to but one conclusion in a current study of past phenomena. It is only when we realize what slavery actually is, and the influence which it exerted on the past societies, that we can truly appreciate the greatness of the Quran’s own approach towards it.

By slavery is meant the state in which one person comes under the complete domination of another. Indeed, he is a slave who surrenders all that is of his own which includes his body, life, family and all else to the control of another person. He is the property of the owner. The owner may be an individual, a society or even a nation. No matter who that owner might be, the slave is the one who is destined to live under his master enjoying whatever the rights and privileges that is allowed to him by his owner.

There are no relevent documents that serve to show the exact way in which the institution of slavery developed or how, or when, it did start off. It is, however, certain that this institution had commenced by twenty centuries before Christ. Slaves have found mention in the legal code U r Name which existed around 2050 B.C. It is believed that slavery must have originated from the practice of curtailing the freedom of those caught as prisoners-of-war and of forcing them into unpaid labour, This belief is founded on the names with which slaves were referred to in the ancient Sumerian language. The male slave was named Nida-koor and the female slave Munas-koor. The meaning or these terms were ‘Foreign man’ and ‘Foreign woman’ respectively. It is believed that as the prisoners-of-war were brought in from foreign lands and made slaves, they were referred to by these very names.

Slavery, in one form or the other was prevalent in almost all parts of the world. The Old Testament of the Bible, which describes the ancient tales of Israeli society, is replete with many accounts concerning slavery. It can be seen that the tradition of selling people existed during the time of the patriarch prophet, Abraham, itself. (Genesis 17:13,14). It is the commandment of the Bible that prisoners-of-war are to be enslaved (Deuteronomy 20:10,11). The Bible, which permits the torture of the slave by the master, nevertheless, stresses the point that the slave is not to be killed during the course of torturing. The law which prevailed, in this matter, amongst the Israeli society was that, “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.’’ (Exodus 21:20,21)

The instituion of slavery was prevalent both during, and after, the time of Jesus Christ. There has been nothing from among the sayings of Jesus, which serve to show the treatment that was to be meted out to the slaves. If, the statements: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eyes is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good be does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism

with him.” (Ephesians 6:5-9) and “Slaves, obey your earthly mastersin everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” (Colossians 3:22) are excepted , there is nothing in the letters of Paul which deal with slavery. It can be seen that the cruel system of slavery that prevailed in the Graeco-Roman tradition continued to exist without any change, whatsoever, even after its Christianization. It is of greater pertinence to note that the official religion of the Roman civilization which boasted of its own tales of a cruel, and barbaros form of slavery, was Christianity.

In India, slavery existed as part and parcel of religion itself. The caste system was an inextricable portion of religion.We see the roots of the caste system in the purusha verse of the Rig Veda (10:90:12), the foremost among the vedic compilations which, in themselves, form the most important part of the Shruthi. It was but natural that under the caste system that was based on the reference in the Rig Veda that “the Brahman is created from the head, the Vaishya from the hands and the Shudra from the feet of the Parampurusha”, the Brahman was considered highly and the Shudra of a lowly stature. All the books of Hinduism have only sought to justify the caste system

The Bhagavath Gita, which is known to be the book of shruthi of modern Hinduism, has itself said: “Chaturvarnyam Mayasrishtam guna karma Vibagusha” (4:13). This means that, “I have created the four castes according to the division of their deeds.” It was natural then that the one who was created from the feet of God was destined to a life of foot-service alone. Indeed, it was believed that the shudra was specially created for the very purpose of service alone. The religious scriptures had taught that one is born of a lower caste owing to the sins of an earlier life and that if one is to attain salvation at least in the next life, he is to render service to those of the higher castes and employ himself in keeping them satisfied in this life. The Chandoupanishad has compared those of the lower caste to pigs and dogs. A reading of the Manusmrithi and the Parasharasmrithi will serve to show that the attitude and conduet adopted towards them was more cruel and wicked than that shown to the animals.

It can also be seen that along with the tradition of condemning to slavery by virtue of one’s birth, there also existed, in India, the slave trade that was accompanied by all the cruelty that goes with it. It is also given to understand from the scrolls unearthed in Tamilnadu that the slave trade which was associated with temples flourished both during and after the period of the Cholas. Slave trade was prevalent in Myrore, Bihar and Kerala as well. With the arrival of the English East India company, the practice of taking away people from India, of enslaving them and then taking them overseas also came into being. Some historical documents record the incident wherein an Italian priest from Trancubar sells off, for the sum of thirty pagodas, the wife and four children of a Christian from Madurai to the captain of a ship bound for Manila [Sarvavijnanakosham, Volume I, page 258] According to a survey taken in 1841, there were between eighty to ninety lakhs of slaves in India at that period. Moreover, it was in the Malabar region, where the largest concentration of slaves in India existed. Indeed, it has been remarked that 15 percent of the entire population in the region were slaves! (Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 27, p.289)

It is further given to understand that the most cruel form of slavery had prevailed during the period which lasted between the second century before Christ and the next long stretch of six hundred years in the Roman empire. The slave in the Roman empire was merely an object of trade with no rights in any form whatsoever. He was treated as lowly as to be destined to a fate wherein he was even doomed to death in a fight against another slave merely to provide sadistic pleasure to his master. Indeed, it was the usual practice of the masters to shout ‘hurray’ and to threaten the slaves at the point of the whip when the loss of blood from the body of the slave, so involved in a fight unto death, increased in quantity! The most cruel form of slavery this was!

It was Columbus’s discovery of America which had, in fact, served to make slavery rampant in the modern world. The Negroes were made slaves and were traded in the markets. It was a Spanish bishop, Barthalocha De Lascasas, who had first initiated the American system of slavery. There were companies in Europe which had been registered for the purpose of slave trade alone. The trade of these companies involved the bringing away of slaves from the coastal regions of Africa and then selling them off in America. It is estimated that nearly one and a half crores of slaves were thus imported into America during the 17th to the 19th century. The slaves were taken away in pairs abroad the ships bound in hand and feet chains to one another. A sizeable portion of the slaves would perish while overcoming the Atlantic Ocean itself. There are no records which show the number of persons who had died in this manner. How cheap, indeed, was the life of the slave ?!

It has been as an introduction to the study of the Quran’s vision on slavery as well as its approach towards it that the origins and history of the said tradition has been dealt with in some detail. Instead of an impractical and unscientific approach whereby a centuries-old institution was sought to be abolished by a single declaration, Islam developed and implemented a very practicable system of eliminating slavery.

In this context, if the sheer practicability of Islam’s line of action is to be fully appreciated, we will have to understand the very psychology of the slave as well. There exists a vast difference between the mindset of the slave and that of the free man. In the formation of the mindset of the slave, a life of continual slavery exerts a very great influence indeed. As a result of carrying the yoke of slavery upon himself for generations, the habits of obedience and submission will have become deep-rooted within his mind. He is, as such, incapable of executing tasks on his own or taking up any responsibility. His mind, however, is ever ready to take upon his head any command of the master and knows, moreover, to carry forward all matters according to his master’s wishes. Neverthless, he is able only to obey and execute orders. His mind will be incapacitated in taking up responsiblities. His mind can, in no wise, be so burdened. He is only able to flee from taking up responsibilities. However, he will always be ready to take upon his head whatever it is that the master commands.

The psychology of the slave and the master is located at two opposite poles or extremes. If one is that of arrogance, the other will be that of meekness. The example of America is, in itself, the best case in point to show that the emancipation of slaves that is not based on an approach whereby these mindsets, which are located at opposite poles, are first brought together on to the same plane, will never be emancipation at all. It was through the activism of Abraham Lincoln that, through a single proclamation, the slaves in America achieved freedom one fine morning! But what was it that actually happened there? The slaves who ultimately recieved their freedom were, however, unable to bear the ‘weight’ of this freedom. They looked around, not quite knowing what it was that they were to do. Since there was none to command them now, they were unable to do anything at all. Indeed, they returned back to their masters and actually asked them to to take them back as slaves. Here, it is seen that it is futile to physically set free those who are psychologically unprepared for that freedom.

The Quran, which has been revealed by God who is fully aware of the physical and mental states of human beings, has provided a completely practical code of action. The system of slavery was one of the pillars of the economic set-up of Arabia. It’s roots had penetrated much deeper than to enable its eradication by a mere order of prohibition. As a system that had prevailed in the regions where Islam flourished as well as in areas where it did not, not only would it be practically difficult to abolish it, but such a course of action would, far from being effective, be quite harmful, indeed. It was, therefore, that Allah, who is acutely aware of the nature of human society, contrary to bringing a law that would completely abolish slavery, accepted a practical code of action for its eradication.

Islam had, firstly, sought to bring the two groups of people, situated as they were at two extreme states of the mental condition, on to a common platform. The Quran had put forward a programme of civilizing both slave and master. Besides this, it kept open all the ways for achieving freedom as a gift and as a product of one’s own labour. The Quran had, by bringing the slave and the master on to the same plane of psychological awareness, opened out the ways for achieving freedom and, furthermore, enabled him (i.e., the slave) to protect that freedom once he had attained it. Indeed, such alone was the practical way in the matter.

 


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What were the practical steps which the Quran adopted for the eradication of slavery ?

It may be seen that the Quran had adopted five steps for the eradication of slavery.

1. Created a sense of brotherhood.

The Quran had, firstly, created a notion that both master and slave were brothers, one to the other, by inculcating an awareness that all men were the creations of the same God and were the children of the same parents. “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (Quran 49:13)

Here, the Quran has cut apart the very root of all forms of narrow mindedness that arose out of the feelings of superior birth. Indeed, the prophet had taught that righteousness was measured not on the basis of colour, race or wealth, but on the basis of God-consciousness alone. “The Arab has no superiority over the non-Arab or the non-Arab over the Arab; the white over the black or the black over the white except in the matter of God-consciousness.” (Tabari)

Where slaves are mentioned, the Holy Quran remarked that “some amongst you proceed from others.”(Quran:4:25). Here the Quran has made it clear that both master and slave are brothers, one to the other, and that it is circumstances alone which force slavery upon some people.

2. It created an awareness concerning the rights of the slave.

The slave was a mere commodity item in all ancient societies. His lot was confined to duties alone. His obligation was simply to strive for an increase in the comforts and luxury enjoyed by the master and in this regard, there was to be no compromise whatsoever. It was a paramount necessity that the slave was in good shape in order that he be able to work for his master. Indeed, it was for this reason, and for this reason alone, that he was provided for with food. They (i.e., the slaves) were housed in yards which sufficed to accomodate not even the cattle and other livestock. As for the clothes that they were provided with, they were sufficient not even to cover their nakedness and, that too, filthy pieces of clothes they were!

Islam brought about a transformation in the situation. It taught that the slave was the brother of the master and that he had rights as well. The prophet commanded: “They are your brothers and relatives! Let each one provide for the brother under him with the food that he himself eats and with the clothes that he himself wears. Place not upon them any task that is overbearing for them. If you do assign them a difficult task, you must help them in its execution.” (Bukhari, Muslim)

The duty of the slave, in primitive societies, was never confined to mere labour. He was also doomed to be at the receiving end of his master’s sadistic pleasure-seekings. The most cruel flogging while at work! To be always ready to kill and to be killled for the sake of his master’s pleasure! TheQuran commanded that such a state of affairs must change. It instructed in the humane and proper treatment of the slaves. “Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good - to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are of kin, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the way-farer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: for Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.”(Quran 4:36)

The prophet had clearly stated, “If anyone kills a slave, we shall kill him. If anyone maims a slave, we shall maim him as well. If anyone castrates his slave, we shall castrate him.”(Muslim, Abu Dawood)

From being the choice commodity for the master’s choicest desire, the slave was being transformed into a being with his very own personality and rights. It was in a society in which existed the heinous practice of castrating slaves that the prophet had, in the most unambiguous terms, declared that the master who castrates his slave will, in turn, ‘be castrated by us.’ The slaves were castrated in order that their sexual impulses be destroyed, whereby, they could then be made to work like animals. Islam, which prohibited this practice, particularly instructs that means should be made available for the satisfaction of the sexual instincts of the slave also. “Marry those among you who are single, and the virtuous ones among your slaves, male or female: if they are in poverty, Allah will give them means out of His grace: for Allah is Ample-giving, and He knoweth all things.” (Quran 24:32)

Furthermore, the Quran prohibited the system of forcing female slaves into prostitution. “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 (for emancipation) 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.” (Quran 24:33)

The prophet had taught against even uttering anything that might injure the self-respect of the slave. The prophet, who had taught that had made it clear that the slave, too, enjoyed self-respect upon which none had the right to trespass. The prophet had admonished his companion, Abu Dharr, who, in an angry tussle with his slave, had called him ‘the son of a black woman’, in the following manner: “ O Abu Dharr.... There remains in you something of the culture of the days of Jahiliyya.”

Islam teaches that the slave has the right to become even a leader and that in the event that he does get appointed as a leader, it is obligatory to obey him. “Even if it be a negro slave, with hair like dried grapes, who is appointed as your leader, you must hear and obey him.” Abu Hurairah, the companion of the prophet, once exhorted a man who had his slave walking behind the mount on which he was travelling, “Seat him behind thee for he is thy brother and it is the same soul as yours that is within him.”

Islam gave new meaning to the relation between master and slave by insisting that the master and the slave both had the same soul. It is true, neverthless, that the slave does fall under the jurisdiction of the master. However, the master is duty-bound to fullfill the rights of the slave. It is his duty to meet the slave’s requirements of food, clothing, sexual gratification and the like. The slave is never to be harmed. He should not be put into difficulty by entrusting him with burdensome tasks as well. In such fashion did Islam create a revolution of sorts in raising the slave, for the first time in history, to the position of a free man.

It was through this way that it became possible for Islam to bridge the wide gap that existedQuran commanded that such a state of affairs must change. It instructed in the humane and proper treatment of the slaves. “Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good - to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are of kin, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the way-farer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: for Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.”(Quran 4:36)

The prophet had clearly stated, “If anyone kills a slave, we shall kill him. If anyone maims a slave, we shall maim him as well. If anyone castrates his slave, we shall castrate him.”(Muslim, Abu Dawood)

From being the choice commodity for the master’s choicest desire, the slave was being transformed into a being with his very own personality and rights. It was in a society in which existed the heinous practice of castrating slaves that the prophet had, in the most unambiguous terms, declared that the master who castrates his slave will, in turn, ‘be castrated by us.’ The slaves were castrated in order that their sexual impulses be destroyed, whereby, they could then be made to work like animals. Islam, which prohibited this practice, particularly instructs that means should be made available for the satisfaction of the sexual instincts of the slave also. “Marry those among you who are single, and the virtuous ones among your slaves, male or female: if they are in poverty, Allah will give them means out of His grace: for Allah is Ample-giving, and He knoweth all things.” (Quran 24:32)

Furthermore, the Quran prohibited the system of forcing female slaves into prostitution. “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 (for emancipation) 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.” (Quran 24:33)

The prophet had taught against even uttering anything that might injure the self-respect of the slave. The prophet, who had taught that had made it clear that the slave, too, enjoyed self-respect upon which none had the right to trespass. The prophet had admonished his companion, Abu Dharr, who, in an angry tussle with his slave, had called him ‘the son of a black woman’, in the following manner: “ O Abu Dharr.... There remains in you something of the culture of the days of Jahiliyya.”

Islam teaches that the slave has the right to become even a leader and that in the event that he does get appointed as a leader, it is obligatory to obey him. “Even if it be a negro slave, with hair like dried grapes, who is appointed as your leader, you must hear and obey him.” Abu Hurairah, the companion of the prophet, once exhorted a man who had his slave walking behind the mount on which he was travelling, “Seat him behind thee for he is thy brother and it is the same soul as yours that is within him.”

Islam gave new meaning to the relation between master and slave by insisting that the master and the slave both had the same soul. It is true, neverthless, that the slave does fall under the jurisdiction of the master. However, the master is duty-bound to fullfill the rights of the slave. It is his duty to meet the slave’s requirements of food, clothing, sexual gratification and the like. The slave is never to be harmed. He should not be put into difficulty by entrusting him with burdensome tasks as well. In such fashion did Islam create a revolution of sorts in raising the slave, for the first time in history, to the position of a free man.

It was through this way that it became possible for Islam to bridge the wide gap that existed between the mental states of the master and the slave. The end result of this revolution was that the owner was emancipated from the belief that the slave was a commodity on which could be carried out his choicest desire while the slave was freed of the notion that he was doomed to a fate in which he was to bear, and to be patient and labouring always.

3. Declared the emancipation of slaves to be an act of righteousness.

By declaring the slave’s to be an existence which had rights of its own, Islam had technically made slavery non-existent. Without stopping at that point, however, it went further by turning to a course of action which would, in time, serve to eliminate the system in a very practical sense indeed. This practical step which Islam had adopted to make slavery virtually non-existent was its act of declaring the emancipation of slaves to be an act of righteousness. The position of the prophet as regards the emancipation of slaves was such that it only reinforced the meaning of the Quranic reference that “Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (Scriptures) - In the Taurat and the Gospel; for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure) : He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the Light which is sent down with him, it is they who will prosper.” (Quran 7:157)

The Quranic verse which makes it clear that the emancipation of slaves is an act of the highest virtue goes as follows: “And what will explain to thee the path that is steep? (It is) freeing the bondman; or the giving of food in a day of privation, to the orphan with claims of relationship, or to the indigent (down) in the dust.” (Quran 90:12-16)

As far as the emancipation of slaves was concerned, the prophet had exhorted his companions towards it by, firstly, making an example himself. He set free the slaves who were in his possession. His companions, too, followed the same path. In this context, it may be seen that Abu Bakr (t), a man of prominence amongst the companions, spent countless wealth in purchasing slaves from the pagans for setting them free.

There are numerous sayings of the prophet which encourage the freeing of slaves. “If anyone sets free a believing slave, each of his body parts will be set free from Hell so much so that it will be the hand for a hand, the leg for a right up to the sexual organ for the sexual organ.” (Bukhari, Muslim)

Once the companion, Abu Dharr (t), asked the prophet, “Which is the highest act in the emancipation of slaves ?” The prophet replied, “To set free the most valuable slave of the master.”

The prophet, while talking about those who become deserving of God’s reward twice, said, “He who confers a proper behaviour upon the female slave under him, then gives her the best education, sets her free and then marries her will become entitled to a double reward.” (Bukhari, Muslim)

Thus it was that the believers, both during the time of the prophet and afterwards, began to set slaves free expecting, in return, the reward of the Lord Creator itself. Besides this, a situation came up wherein even the wealth of Zakat began to be used for the emancipation of slaves. It may be seen from history that during the reign of Umar bin Abdul Azeez, when there was not a single needy person to accept the wealth of Zakat, this money was used to purchase slaves in order to set them free.

4. Emancipation of slaves was made the act of expiation for many types of sin.

In addition to encouraging the believers towards its commission by declaring the emancipationof slaves to be a virtuous deed, Islam recommended it as an act of expiation for many types of sin. The atonement for sins like unintentional murder and breaking one’s vow of not approaching his wife was the freeing of one slave. As for those who were not ready to free slaves in expectation of Divine reward alone, the command which made the emancipation of slaves an atoning act for sins committed, nevertheless, made it necessary for them to do so.

5. The facility of providing the slave with his freedom in exchange of the ransom value was made possible.

Let us suppose that it was still not possible for a slave to become free by any of the means listed above. Even then freedom is not impossible for him. Islam has opened a way out for any slave who desires his freedom. This becomes possible through a freedom deed known by the technical name Mukathaba. If the yearning for freedom becomes entrenched within, it becomes possible for any slave to become a free man through the Mukathaba. The master and the slave get together to decide upon a ransom value and a time-frame for its payment on mutually agreeable terms. It is further possible for the slave to go out and work to earn this ransom value himself. Thus, the slave is enabled to pay the ransom value in instalments. With the completion of this payment he becomes a free man.

Through this facility, Islam has made possible the opportunity for fulfilling the dream of independence of any slave in whose heart there, indeed, arises such a desire. What if the slave, after having written down the document for his freedom, is unable to pay the ransom amount within the stipulated time period? Islam has provided the solution for this as well. One of the eight heads under which the Zakat wealth is to be expended is the emancipation of slaves (Quran 9:60). If it happens that a slave is unable to pay his ransom value according to the Mukathaba, he can approach the Baithulmal (public treasury) for the purpose. It is the responsibility of those who handle it to set the man free by making use of a stipulated amount from it. Here Islam has devised a way which makes use of the wealth of the wealthy to emancipate slaves.

As far as the problem of slavery is concerned, Islam adopted a line of action which provided for the freedom from the binding chains by teaching the slave what freedom actually means and by enabling them to free themselves from dependence on others. In reality, there has been no other course of action to which anyone could point and say that that was a better way than the method adopted by Islam in the case of slavery. If that is to be really appreciated it would be necessary to view the problem from the perspective of the time and the society in which it prevailed as an established institution in itself.
 


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Has not the Quran actually legalized adultery by allowing for the master to have sexual relationships with his female slaves?

Female slaves are the natural by-product of the system of slavery. The situation that prevailed in all societies where the institution of slavery existed was such that slave women were used at will and were employed to gain economic advantage by inciting them towards prostitution. As for Islam, it provided for a facility which would, in the course of one generation, bring an end to the system through the slave women themselves.

The slave woman is the property of the master. However, the master has no right, whatsoever, to incite her towards adultery. Like the male slaves, the female slaves, too, have rights of their own. It is the duty of the master to provide her with food, shelter, clothes and other necessities. Moreover, the Quran has asked the owner to make the necessary arrangements for her marriage as well (Quran 24:32).

This, in effect, means that the Quran has prompted the owner towards having sexual relations with an unmarried female slave. This permission is however restricted to the owner alone. None elseis allowed to use her in this fashion even if it be with the permission of the master!

In giving birth to the child of the master, the slave woman becomes entitled to new rights. Thenceforth, the master has no right to sell her. She becomes the mother of her master’s children. These children, too, become entitled to all the rights and privileges enjoyed by the master’s other children. Islam disagrees with the Jewish stand that the children born through a slave woman has none of the rights that accrue from the position of fathership. These children are, in all respects, his own children. There is to be no discrimination of any kind between them and the other children.

With the death of the master, the slave woman, who is the mother of his children, becomes a free woman. She is then protected by her own children. They, too, like the other children, will becomes entitled to a share in their father’s inheritance.

The permission to accept slave women as one’s life-partner was, in fact, a provision which would, in the course of one generation, cut out the very root of slavery. In reality, therefore, the permission granted for having relations with slave women was one among the many unique steps taken by Islam in practically eradicating slavery. Indeed, that was exactly what transpired in the Islamic world.

It is not possible to equate the permission given for having relations with slave women to adultery. Both cases stand at two opposing poles. One is the case of the woman who lives under her master enjoying the protection that he confers upon her. It is a relationship in which he fully agrees to take up the responsibilities that may accrue as a product of that relationship. It is a relationship in which her personality, beyond the contours defined by sex, is accorded full recognition. It is a relationship which opens to her the door to freedom. As for the second, it is nothing but an irresponsible relationship with a prostitute. The prostitute is, in fact, much worser off than the slave woman. For, she is nothing more than a soul less animal. Her function is restricted solely to the gratification of the animal passions of man. There is not even a grain of love and compssion in that relationship. Not the slightest touch of personal fulfillment even. It is but a transaction made solely for money. Flesh trade! The man who comes for the satisfaction of the desire of his flesh is never prepared to take up the responsibility that may accrue from it. He has no obligation towards her. She is only an animal destined to satisfy the desire of his flesh. Each one of her relationships will serve only to immerse her even deeper into the mire that is the inhumanity of prostitution. Even the very dream of freedom will be alien to her. She is one doomed to embrace the loneliness of orphanhood when in a diseased state, with her skin withered and faded, she ends up being the object of nobody’s concern.

What, then, of the tradition which lays open, before the slave, the very door to freedom? And what of the rottings system which drives the woman from one dependence to the other? Any comparison, whatsoever, between these two is impossible. Two systems that stand at two opposing and extreme poles. One recognized by benign humanism, the other which leads to the depredation of beastiality.

 


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Why did the Quran not make marriage mandatory for having sexual relations with the slave woman?

The Quran does provide permission for those who wish to marry slave women (4:27). Indeed, the prophet had said that such marriages will confer a double reward. “He who provides the slave woman under him with proper manners, provides her with the best education, then frees her and ultimately marries her will be given a double reward.’’ (Bukhari, Muslim)

The guardian of the slave is the master whether it be a male or a female slave. The guardianship of the slave woman who is under a male master rests with that man. Even if she is to be married off, it is he who will have to carrry it out to completion. It is also he who is to take care of all her affairs. It is for this very reason that there is not the need for the act of marrying her. In Islam, marriage is a contractthat is solemnized by the guardian of the woman and the bridegroom. Here, both is the master himself. Those is is that the marriage ceremony becomes irrelevant in itself.

The Quran instructs that the maximum number of wives for a man must be four (4:3). Let us suppose that there is a slave woman under the care of a man who has four wives He cannnot, in that case, marry her. If he is not ready to grant her her freedom, liberation from dependence will remain for her a dream. She will then be forced to approach adultery in her bid to satisfy her sexual desire. But since there is the law that the master can engage in sexual relations with her without recourse to marriage, a solution for all such problems manifests itself. It becomes possible for her to walk into freedom when she gives birth to her master’s child. It will also be the solution for her sexual needs. In a society where slavery prevails, if a solution is not found for the satisfaction of hude.....,it will lead to a large scale erosion of values. Along with this, there will also be the problem of the children born off adulterous relationships. Natuarally, they ,too,will end up as slaves. The end result of all this will be that slavery becomes entranched as a system that can, is, no wise, he terminated.

In the case of Islam, however, the provision is made such that the masters are permitted to have sexual relations with woman slaves, whereby, within the span of a single generation, slavery is made extinct. If ‘marriage’ is made a condition for it, it is not possible then to obtain the results envisaged by Islam. Certainly, all masters would not be willing to marry their woman-slaves. Besides, it is impossible for those who already have four wives.
 


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Why did Islam not limit the number of one’s woman slaves ?

Islam, which commanded that marriages should be restricted to four, has, however, not imposed any restriction on the number of woman-slaves. Who may be kept in one's possession. This means that a man may keep as many slave-women as he likes under him. Why did Islam allow this?

Slaves comes into the possession of the master in three ways. These ways are: as inheritance, personal purchase and as captured prisoners-of-war. Of these three, a man can decide the number of slaves to be under him only in the case of personal purchase. He is, however, unable to control, or limit, the number of slaves who come into his possession by way of inheritance and as prisoners-of-war who are captured and enslaved. If the governments decision is to enslave the captured prisoners-of-war, the usual practice is to divide them amongst all those who participated in the war. In the event that a large number of prisoners-of-war are captured, then the number of slaves who come into the possession of each individual will increase. It may be seen from history that nearly six thousand men were captured in the Battle of Hunain.

The prisoners-of-war who were captured were, however, made slaves only under inevitable circumstances . The Muslims were not in the habit of capturing women and children when, in battle, the enemies were defeated at their hands. It may be seen that during the wars that took place in the time of the Caliphs, nobody was enslaved in Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Egypt. If in war, the men were killed or taken as prisoners, the women and children will, as a result, become orphans. Islam has commanded that they are never to be killed in war. Even if the children and women who went to war with their men are captured as prisoners, more often than not they were exchanged for Muslim prisoners. However, in some instances, Islam did permit their enslavement. It will be remembered that this permission was granted in a society in which slavery was prevalent.

In any case, to limit the number of slaves who came into one's possession, by these means under the existing circumstances was extremely difficult. Similar was the case of the women as well .

The problem was, therefore, the question as to what it was that was to be done with the women who would come into one's possession by these means. It was possible then to marry her off to anotherman. It must be remembered here that the chances of a free man marrying a slave woman was, indeed, remote. Perhaps she could be married off to another slave. In both cases, however, as long as the slave remains the property of this man, her children, too, will continue to be his property as well. This meant that they, too, would end up being slaves. Apart from either option, they may be unconditionally set free. But such freedom will lead to their being rendered orphans, and to a serious erosion of values as well. Another option will be to allow her the exercise of all her human rights without yet marrying her and to let her live with her master. (After all, it would not be practical for all masters to set her free and then to marry her)

If the number of slaves living in such wise is limited, the question arises as to what is to be done with the other slave women who come beyond this limit but are still staying with the master. There would then be no means for them to attain their freedom. Their sexuality will then be either neglected or exploited. This will thus become the cause of great moral degeneration.

If these problems are seen in the context of a society in which slavery has its own existence, the fact that the laws envisioned by Islam in the matter are, indeed, very practical ones will become clearly manifested. In such a society, it is not possible to fix a limit for the number of male slaves who will come into one's possession. This is also the case with slave women as well. Such restrictions were never practical in that society. It was for the same reason that Islam never took the trouble to impose them.

 


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Why was it that the Quran did not go to the extent of completely prohibiting slavery ?

Islam, which had undertaken a practical course of action necessary for the eradication of slavery, however, never went to the extent of issuing an order of total prohibition against it which it had done in the cases of intoxicants and adultery. Why was this so?

There is more than one reason for this. The line of action of the Quran which refrained from completely prohibiting slavery has, in fact, made clear its applicability for all time. From the stand adopted by it in this issue we has been given to understand the fact that the Quran is, indeed, a revelation from the Lord God Himself who is best aware of the changing trends and evolutionary processes of human society. If the Quran's act of not imposing total prohibition on slavery is studied in some depth, it will be a conclusive testimony to the statement of fact that Islam is, indeed, adaptable to the exigencies of time and that its recommendations are practical in any age.

The beginnings of the system of slavery traces itself to the prisoners who were captured in war. Before the proclamation made by modern states which imposed a total prohibition on slavery, it was the usual and prevalent practice to enslave prisoners captured in war. Prisoners-of-war were either to be killed or enslaved. This was the practice. Indeed, these were the only practical solutions available. After all, there was no provision to accommodate them as prisoners in those times.

What was to be done with those who were captured as prisoners-of-war?

In this regard, the recommendation of the Quran is as follows: “Therefore, when ye meet the unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; at length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind (the captives) firmly: therefore (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah’s Will, he could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the way of Allah, He will never let their deeds be lost.” (Quran 47:4). In this verse, which instructs to kill the enemies on the battle field, there is also the command to either ransom or set free those captured in war. In the light of this verse, all the eminent companions of the prophet have opined that prisoners-of-war were not to be killed.

The prophet has himself set the precedent in handling prisoners-of-war in four ways:

1. Set them free without any ransom. Prisoners-of-war may be set at liberty if it is clear that it will not be harmful for the Muslim society to do so.

2. They may be exchanged for the Muslims captured by the enemies.

3. They may be freed after securing a ransom.

4. They may be divided amongst the Muslims soldiers as slaves.

It may be seen that the prophet had, in different battles, employed all the different types of options listed above. Amongst those four options, the last option of enslaving the prisoners-of-war was used only when the other three options were wholly impractical. Indeed, if slavery was totally prohibited, a situation would have come up wherein the Muslims would never be able to accept this option at all. In actual fact, therefore, such a situation would have created many a difficulty for the Muslims especially in a social context wherein slavery prevailed as an established institution.

These who engaged in warfare with the Muslim society were people who accepted slavery as an option and were warring to acquire slaves as well. Furthermore, when warring with them, they either enslaved or killed the Muslims captured by them. If slavery had been abolished, the Muslims would never have been able to enslave those captured from their side. This would then have enabled the enemies to perpetrate even greater cruelty towards the Muslim prisoners. The Muslims would, moreover, be unable to use the captured prisoners of the enemy to effectively bid the price of those who were captured from their own side.

The enemies were aware that if slavery was abolished in Islam, the Muslims would become powerless to enslave or kill those captured from their side. Thus, the enemies would never settle for a mutual understanding that would allow for an exchange of their prisoners in return for the freedom of those captured from the Muslims.

As for the Muslims, the prisoners captured from the enemy ranks will merely end up being a headache. Their accommodation will become the responsibility of the Muslim community. It need not be said that on occasions where thousands of prisoners are captured, accommodating all of them will be an onerous task. The Muslim community will then become obliged to provide them with food and clothes as well. While they gladly live here under the protection of the Islamic community, those captured from the Muslim side will live suffering the cruelties inflicted upon them by the enemies of Islam and executing the heavy tasks imposed by them. This can never be just. Indeed, this can, only become the cause of the destruction of the Muslim community. A situation will then come up in which war can only serve to annihilate the Islamic community. Therefore, under a context in which slavery was not prohibited world wide, it would have been suicidal if Islam had ventured to prohibit slavery. It was then for the same reason that Allah, the Knower of all Space-Time, refrained from prohibiting slavery.

In reality, because slavery existed in the world as an established institution, there was bound to be greater harm than good if Islam had abolished it. Islam, while allowing for slavery, did, however, teach that the slave and the master were brothers one to the other and that the slave had rights of his own and that he was to be treated humanely, as against cruelly and that he was never to be insulted. Thus, for a slave living under a Muslim, slavery would never be a burden. Furthermore, it is possible for him to become a free man at any point in time. He can attain his freedom even when he is inclined towards it.
 


 

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