Qur'anic Verdict on Slavery

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[Adopted from "Islam-A Challenge to Religion" by G.A.Parwez and
"Qur'anic and Non Qur'anic Islam" By Brigadier Nazir Ahmed]

Before the Quranic revelation, slavery prevailed all over the world. In those days it seemed perfectly normal for people to have slaves whom they had captured in war or purchased in the markets. But the Quran proclaimed the equality of all men in the sight of God. It struck at the root of slavery by recognizing the moral worth of a human being as a human being. However there were at the time of the Quranic revelation numerous slaves that pre existed in that society as well as other parts of the world. The Quran in every conceivable way discouraged slavery and improved the lot of slaves. The Believers were urged to be kind and considerate to slaves, they were told that to emancipate a slave was a meritorious act. They could atone for some of their offences by setting a slave free. Thus the number of slaves was gradually reduced and the society was made less dependent on slave labor. The Arabic words "Maa malakat aimanukum" as occurred in the Quran which mean "Those whom your right hands possessed" are in the past tense and refer to those who had already been enslaved. When they were emancipated through a gradual process, slavery died a natural death.

Islam (Quranic Islam, which is actually what was practiced by Muhammed the Messenger of Allah and those with him, and not the distorted picture of Islam as promoted among the masses today by the pen of the historians and human conjecture) set in motion a gradual process of improvement in the status of those in bondage and culminating in the abolition of this institution. The process started with:

"…ye…may wed believing girls from among those whom your right hands posses….wed them with the leave of their owners, and give them their dower…"[4:25]

This conferred upon the slave girls all the rights and privileges of a wife. Verse 36 of Sura 4 brought another big change in the status of slaves by enforcing the obligation to do good to one’s parents and in the same breath, also to the slaves:

"…do ‘Ihsan’ (goodness) to parents …and (to) what your right hands posses."[4:36]

verse 60 of Sura 9 exhorts Believers to give monetary help to those in bondage in order to alleviate their economic status:

"Alms are for…those in Bondage.."[9:60]

Verses 2:177,4:29,5:89 etc make another quantum change in this matter by urging the believers to free those in the shackles of slavery:

"…But it is righteousness…to spend of your substance out of love for Him…for the ransom of slaves.."[2:177]

"And whoever kills a believer by mistake, it is ordained that he should free a believing slave.."[4:92]

"He will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation…give a slave his freedom.."[5:89]

According to Quran if a slave asks for his freedom ,the believer is left for no other choice but to accede to his request and is also required to help him with funds in order to rehabilitate him as a free man:

"And if any of your slaves ask you for a deed in writing (for emancipation) give them such a deed; If ye knew any good in them: yea, give them something yourselves out of the means which Allah has given to you…"[24:33]

The main source of slaves, were prisoners of war. The Quran laid down that they should be set free either for a favor or as ransom for your own prisoners of war:

"So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks until when you have overcome them, then make (them) prisoners, and afterwards either set them free as a favor or let them ransom (themselves) until the war terminates…"[47:4]

Thus the Quran has restricted the victor with either freeing prisoners for ransom or as a favor. There is no third choice given by the Quran, and thereby it has not only abolished slavery but abolished the very source of this evil, i.e. prisoners of war.

The basic and fundamental teaching of the Quran is that subservience is due to Allah alone and not to any human or group of humans. Obedience and sovereignty is only and only for Allah, says the Quran at numerous places. Qur'anic Islam does not accept Slavery. Unlike the Bible which states:

"ye, shall take them (the slaves) as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them (the slaves) for a possession, they shall be, your BONDMEN (slaves) for ever . . . LEVITICUS 25:46

The Qur'an unambiguously states that no man no matter how high a status he may occupy, be that status of a direct recipient of Divine messages even (Nabuwah) ,no human being has the right to enslave any other human or group of humans, says the Qur’an:

"It is not meet for a mortal that Allah should give him the Book and the wisdom and 'Nabuwah' (prophethood), then he should say to men: Be my slaves rather than Allah's; but rather (he would say): Be sustenance providers (Rabaniyoon) because of your teaching the Book and your studying (it yourselves)."[3:79]

The above clarifies the basic teaching of the Qur'an in stating that obedience is not due to any human or group of humans’ man made laws but according to the Quran, obedience and subservience is due to Allah alone, which is implemented in human affairs by following his Book (see 6:114) and instances where man subjects man, are described in the Quran as a great injustice. (Ref: Narration of enslavement of Children of Israel by Pharoah and his forces.)

From above and many other verses it is very clear that the Qur'an has abolished slavery, and not upheld it. If their remain certain verses were slaves are mentioned then these are those which were already existing in society from days of ignorance and about whom the Qur’an enjoined a gradual elevation in status leading to their freedom and abolishment of any future enslavement.

Furthermore it is the Quran which is the final authority for all matter of Islam and its verdict is final and absolute. No other Book carries more weight or reliability than the Quran in matters of Islam.

Article taken (with Thanks) from Islam-Herald


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This page was last updated on June 14, 2003 .