Slavery in Islam

26 Oct 2021 Ref-No#: 3832

Q1) How does slavery work in Islam. Can a man only get a slave from warfare or can a man get slaves even outside of warfare
Q2) How many female slaves can a man have in Islam


Wa ʿAlaykumus Salām Wa Raḥmatullāhī Wa Barakātuh

A1. A person becomes enslaved through warfare and a slave may subsequently be sold and purchased by another.

A2. There are no restrictions with regard to the quantity of slaves that one may own.

We further request you to read the following which is extracted from one of the famous commentaries of the Qur’ān titled Mʿārif al-Qur`ān’:

“Let us now address the objection that Islam is the great upholder of human rights. Then how is it that it allows the enslaving of human beings?

This objection is a fallacy based on the false analogy drawn between Islamic concept of slavery and its practice in other religions and communities; whereas in Islam after the rights given to the slaves and the social status granted to them, they can hardly be called slaves in the generally accepted sense of the word. They, in fact, constitute a brotherhood.

A famous orientalist in his book Arab Civilization writes:

When the word ‘slave’ is uttered in the presence of a European who is used to reading American writings, he conceives in his mind those helpless people who are shackled with chains, around whose necks are iron collars, who are lashed with whips and driven forth, whose food is barely enough to subsist, and for whom nothing more than dark dungeons are available to live in…there is absolutely no doubt about the fact that Islam’s concept of slavery is completely different from the Christian concept of slavery.

The Islāmic viewpoint regarding slaves has been made plain in a famous Ḥadīth of the Holy Prophet ﷺ as follows:

Your slaves are your brothers, and Allah has put them under your control. So, whoever has a brother under his command should feed him of what he eats, and dress him of what he wears. Do not overburden them [slaves] to do things beyond their capacity, and if you do so, then help them.

The social and civil rights that Islam has accorded to the slaves are almost equal to free individuals. Thus, as opposed to other nations, Islam has not only permitted the slaves to marry but also emphasized that the masters should marry off those of their slaves and slave girls who are righteous so much so that he can even marry a free woman. A slave’s share from the spoils of war is equal to that of a free person. If he gives refuge to an enemy, it would be respected in the same way as given by a free individual. There are so many injunctions in Qur’ān and Ḥadīth regarding good treatment of slaves that if they are collected together, they can be compiled into a voluminous book.

ʿAlī (may Allāh be pleased with him) says that the last words of the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ before his departure from this earthly life were:

“Take care of prayer; take care of prayer and keep your duty to Allāh regarding slaves under your command.”

Islām organized education and training programmes for slaves. Its effect was seen during the reign of ʿAbd- al-Malik Ibn Marwān in almost all the provinces of the Islāmic State. Some of the best and greatest authorities on education and intellectual development were slaves whose chronicles are narrated in several history books.

Furthermore, this nominal slavery was gradually abolished or reduced. There is a huge number of Qur’ānic verses and Holy Prophetic Traditions which set out the virtues and merits of setting the slaves free. There is no act better than emancipation of slaves. In juristic injunctions, pretexts have been looked for to emancipate slaves: expiation for violating fast, for murder, for ẓihār, for violating oaths and vows – in all these cases the first compulsory command is to emancipate a slave. A Ḥadīth tells us that if a person has slapped a slave, its expiation is to set him free. Thus, the Companions used to emancipate slaves in large numbers.

To sum up: anyone who looks impartially at the comprehensive reforms Islam introduced in the system of slavery, he cannot escape the conclusion that drawing analogy between Islamic concept of slavery and its practice among other nations is absolutely false.

Furthermore, holding prisoners of war in bondage is only up to the point of permissibility which means that if an Islamic State deems it appropriate, it may hold them in bondage, but it has not been taken as an obligatory or as a commendable act. As a matter of fact, the collective teachings of Qur’ān and ḥadīth lead us to believe that emancipating them is more meritorious.

Now that the general concept of slavery in Islam has been understood, we will move on to the question of slavery and its permissibility in this day and age. Simply put, if Muslim nations enter into a compact with non-Muslim nations regarding a certain issue, as long as it does not contravene the general principles of Sharī’ah, then such a pact will be binding upon those Muslim nations and it will be their duty to hold up such a covenant.”

Lastly, the following has been mentioned with regard to sexual relations with slaves:

The verses of Qur’ān explain that if a man possessed a female slave, then it was allowed for him to have sexual relations with that slave girl, since she belonged to him and was totally in his care. He was also made responsible for tending to her needs such as shelter, food and clothing.

These allowances came at a time when slavery existed.  Now that slavery has been abolished, these allowances will not be applicable.

However, if slavery once again surfaces upon this earth through warfare under an Islāmic Caliphate or rulership, then the laws of slavery would be applicable.

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