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Questions on Slavery

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As-salamu `alaykum, dear brother or sister. I am writing to you at a time of great personal struggle and pain, and I turn to you in hope of some help. I cannot understand some parts of the Qur’an and Hadith about slaves and especially women slaves. While trying to strengthen my faith, I looked on the Internet for answers and came across a page in a Web site that was an awful article. What scares me is that a lot of the things written I have read in Islamic books by Muslims. Please clarify things for me.

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Thank you for contacting us.

If you want to learn more about Islam, you should visit Web sites that are written by Muslims and that provide accurate information. The site you visited is obviously written by enemies of Islam. It mixes correct information taken out of context with half truths and outright lies.

Slavery existed long before the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and among most peoples. It was not limited to Arabs and was institutionalized long before the Qur’an was revealed.

Modern Muslim scholars agree it was the intent of Islam to gradually abolish slavery and that slavery is now forbidden.

In the past, under Islam, if a slave’s master mistreated him, he could appeal to a judge and procure manumission. The slave’s dignity as a Muslim was inviolable. The status of slave was the outcome of having been taken as a prisoner of war. A captive with the means could ransom himself, or else he remained in the possession of the captor until he had earned his freedom by work or was granted liberty by his master (Titus Burckhardt, Moorish Culture in Spain, cited in Ahmad ibn Naqib Al-Misri, Reliance of the traveler trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller, (1999 ed.), p. 871).

It is well known that Muslims were ordered to provide their slaves with food and clothing of the same quality as they themselves had. A Muslim man was allowed to sleep with his female slave; if she bore him a child, he should free the slave and she would have all the rights of a wife; the child would also be free and recognized as the child of the master. What a contrast to slavery in America, in which slaves were routinely raped to breed more slaves.

Furthermore, Muslims were encouraged to manumit slaves as an act of worship. And if all that is not enough to demonstrate the differences between slavery in Islam and elsewhere, remember that the Mamelukes who ruled Egypt for nearly 300 years were slaves who legally belonged to the Islamic state (Ahmad ibn Naqib Al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveller, trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller, pp. 458-59).

As for some of the other accusations in the Web site you visited, if Muslims were involved in the slave trade in Africa it does not mean that Islam allowed it. The European slave traders who kidnapped millions of black Africans were Christian, but no one uses that to claim that Christianity allows slavery. There are two sides to every coin: slave traders wouldn’t have flourished if the others hadn’t been so eager to buy.

For more, please read the links provided at the bottom of this answer.

Thank you and please keep in touch.

Salam.

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