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Summary of 7.8 "Emancipation of “Slaves” I"


First we indicated that at the advent of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 1400 years ago slavery was both wide spread and inhuman.  The challenge of Islam was to try and change the situation by providing emancipation on three planes: physical, psychological and spiritual.  We mentioned that the approach that is found in the Quran and Prophetic tradition is to first show that there is no such division of people into masters and slaves and that there is only One Master of the whole universe and that is God.  The second thing that is emphasized is the equality of all humans and that there is no superiority or inferiority on the basis of ethnic, nationalistic or any other ground.  The only criterion that people are differentiated by are piety and good deeds.  We also indicated that Islam took a further step by changing the total nature of the institution from slavery to more of a domestic servant in preparation to totally remove it from existence.  There was one Hadith that said “Your servants (he did not say slaves) are your brothers.”  So it was not only changed from a slave which was regarded as a thing to a servant but it was even changed from a servant to a brother.  We also indicated the Quran’s emphasis in chapter four of good treatment not only of parents but also of people who are in bondage.  It follows from this that in Islam all harassment, humiliation or indignity had to be stopped towards people who were enslaved.  It was also indicated that Islam opened the door to emancipate those who were in bondage, either through people who were in charge of them by releasing them in order to atone for their sins.  Also, they were released if they were tortured or slapped (freeing is the only method of atonement for committing these acts against ones servant).  In the history of Islam we find many great figures that were former slaves or came from the decedents of former slaves including Bilal, Al Mukdad, Zaid Ibn Haritha, Osama, Atta’a Ibnu Rabah and others.


In the last part of the program we addressed why slavery was not eventually totally forbidden like intoxicants.  We indicated that intoxicants is a personal habit and from the beginning of the Islamic State in Medina there was only about ten years left in the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and enough time to detoxify people from drinking.  However, the slavery was a very deeply rooted institution that required more than ten years to really rid the society from it.  Islam approached the problem from two angels.  One it dried the sources of acquiring new slaves (kidnapping, aggressive war or taking people for unpaid debts) with the exception of legitimate warfare.  On the other hand it opened the door for the release of people who were in bondage through different methods.

7.9  Emancipation of “Slaves” II


Host:  Is it right that Islam succeeded in drawing up all the sources except those of war captives?


Jamal Badawi:

This is correct but with some qualifications for the term war.  It is only acceptable in war that is legitimate from an Islamic sense.  This automatically eliminates wars that are waged out of aggression for others who are peaceful, wars for national glory or expansion of territory and no other purpose.  Wares waged for raiding people or taking people as captives as was the norm before Islam was not permitted.  When we say war we are saying the kind that is permitted from the point of view of Islamic jurisprudence.  War is only permitted under two circumstances: one is to fight back aggressors and to remove human tyranny which may stand in the way of people’s freedom of choice and particularly freedom of faith.  It follows that if a person is captured in a war of these types he is really an aggressor and nothing more, and to say that one is not allowed would be too simplistic and unrealistic.  Islam gives the right to capture this person but puts restrictions in regard to what can be done to him and how he should be treated.  Islamic law is specific as to how those people should be treated.  The most important point is that they should be treated with compassion.  One example is in the case of the Battle of Badr, one of the early battles with the pagans, the people who were taken into captivity were given the better food by their captures even though they were the aggressors.  In fact, at a later time, many people were so impressed with this compassion that they turned to Islam.  This shows that the main purpose is not to collect people but to give them guidance.  Even in the case of war captives it does not mean that every POW (prisoner of war) is destined to be enslaved or to remain in bondage.  In fact in a society like that of the 7th century where they did not have prisons or concentration camps and the only realistic way to have them under the charge of some of the people who participated in the battle.  This was the only realistic way to look after them both in terms of their needs as well as for security purposes until hostilities came to an end.  Even in the cases of legitimate warfare bondage was never viewed as a perpetual state of bondage at all.


Host:  Is there any documentation that shows that the state of bondage was meant to be a transitional situation and not a perpetual situation?


Jamal Badawi:

Yes, we find proof of this in the Quran, Prophetic Traditions and behavior of the Prophet (PBUH).  In (47:5) it talks about what happens in battlefields and warfare and it says that after inflicting punishment on aggressors in the battlefield “thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom.”  Ransom in Islam can be one of three basic things: first is a ransom or payment of certain amounts of money (a person who fights an aggressive war inflict damage in property and life), second is the exchange of POWs (happened in the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad when he freed POWs for the freedom of captured Muslim soldiers) and the third case is quite unique as they would ask the POW to offer useful services to the community in return for his freedom.  Now sometimes they allow people to give community service instead of being thrown into jail and people think this is a concept of the twentieth century but it is not.  One of the early examples after the Battle of Badr in the 7th century the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) offered some of the captives their freedom if they taught ten Muslims how to read and write.  This is a constructive approach that is mutually beneficial and of course a POW would rather be a teacher than a prisoner.  In some cases the Prophet implemented the part of the verse that says “generosity” and he let some of the prisoners go for nothing in return.


Host:  Can you explain the position of Islam on the question of concubines?


Jamal Badawi:

Concubines in accordance to many (non-Muslim) authorities was an institution that existed prior to Islam just like slavery.  Many authorities indicate that having concubines was quite common among the Semites and especially among the Jewish traditions.  Even some Jewish prophets had concubines.  When Islam came it did not accept the institution as it was and the approach was to gradually change the nature and perception of the institution and then gradually removing it from existence.  Basically, a woman who is captured in the battle field is treated exactly the same as men in terms of being treated kindly and with compassion.  In the case of women captured in the battle case (not the normal case) adds an additional problem as women are more prone to having violence being committed against them than men (rape by the victorious army).  Until now we hear about the wars that go on in different places where a great deal of violence is committed against women in particular.  This raises a number of problems even if these women are spared the initial or possible plunder by the victorious army, they might have lost their bread winner (fathers, husbands or brothers) which makes this problem more complex.  On one hand one must take measure to prevent violence and rape being committed against them and on the other hand one has to protect society from corruption and from circumstances pushing women to earn their living from dishonorable means.


Islamic law did permit cohabitation with concubines or captives.  This provided a number of benefits.  One is that the relationship is basically a marriage because the concubine is regarded as a wife.  The difference between this relationship and regular marriage is the absence of consent.  Of course consent is a very important issue in marriage, according to Islamic law, but in the unusual case of warfare and captivity there are restrictions on freedom.  Another benefit is that the women are not imprisoned or put into concentration camps nor do you leave them in society (might lead to prostitution) and temptation is prevented.  One can not preach for people to be chaste while opening the door for temptation and possibility of problems.  In this case a concubine is provided with a husband, home and all her needs in addition to her instinctive needs.  This protects her from other men because she practically has the status of a wife.  Also, if the woman bears a child for her husband then the child is immediately freed upon his birth.  Also, upon the death of her husband she becomes free because once she bears a child he no longer has the right to give her away .  Even then we find in terms of the Prophetic Tradition and practice a strong recommendation was made that the woman be freed and then offer her marriage.  This would allow for normal husband wife type of relationship.


In Bukhari Prophet Muhammad says if a person has a concubine whom he brings up correctly by teaching her, frees her and then marries her that God will give him two rewards.  This is a highly commendable act which actually happened with the Prophet when he acquired a concubine in battle whom he freed with the offer to send her back to her family or marriage.  She accepted to marry him and as a result a hundred of her people were freed by Muslims because they were holding captives the relatives of the Prophet’s wife.  This was an indication by the prophet that Muslims should free the concubines without condition which is more human and commendable.

Host:  Is it possible for the person in bondage to initiate any kind of action which would bring about emancipation?


Jamal Badawi:

This is known as Mukataba, which literally means a deed, but means that any person in bondage can go to the person who is holding them, offer them a contract that a mutually agreed upon sum would be paid for his freedom.


Host:  What if the master refuses the contract?


Jamal Badawi:

The explanation of this is found in (24:33) “And if  any of your slaves ask for a deed in writing (to enable them to earn their freedom for a certain sum), 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.”  This means that one should accept the contract and give them financial help or reduce the amount that they offered.  It was reported that Omar, the second Caliph after the Prophet, insisted that one companion by the name of Anas Ibn Malik to free a person by the name of Serean (Omar actually threatened him ).  Some jurists say that if it was permissible to reject the contract Omar would not have threatened Anas should accept the contract.  Serean turned out to be the father of one of the great scholars in Islam known as Muhammad Ibn Serean.  Many jurists agree that if a person refuses to accept a contract the Muslim ruler has the right to force the person to accept the contract and free the person.


Host:  In terms of the given environment how are they able to obtain the funds needed to obtain their freedom?


Jamal Badawi:

In the Quran in (9:60) when it specifies the way charity should be spent and it says wa filriqab “Alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.”  So a person seeking freedom is entitled legally to partake in the charity.  Aside from institutional charity the Prophet (PBUH) encouraged people to help pay for people to gain their freedom.


A famous incident in the lifetime of Ali, the fourth Caliph after the Prophet, where a servant came to him and asked if he should go ahead with a contract even though he had no money.  The Caliph said yes and asked people to give him charity.  People gave him so much that the servant could pay his master and had some left over.  He asked the Caliph what he should do with the rest of the money and the Caliph said that he should use it to help another person in bondage.


An interesting thing that happened during the rein of Omar Ibn Abdulaziz, who came about a hundred years after Prophet Muhammad.  One of his regional rulers in North Africa, Yahya Ibn Saeed, wrote to him and said “I collected the money for charity and there are not enough poor people to take it, what should I do with it?”  Omar said “Use that money to buy people in bondage and then set them free.”  This is a unique aspect of Islamic history that is unparalleled.


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