Among many other misconceptions is the
notion that Islam gives sanction to slavery and permits its followers to enslave
prisoners of war, particularly women and establish extra-marital relations with
them. We strongly affirm that Islam has not the slightest link with slavery and
concubinage. On the contrary, it completely forbids these practices. It is quite
outrageous to associate such barbarities with a religion revealed to upgrade
The point which needs to be appreciated
and which, perhaps, is the real cause of the misconception is that Islam had
adopted a gradual process to abolish the institution of slavery because of the
social conditions prevalent in Arabia at that time. It must be kept in mind that
slavery was an integral part of the pre-Islamic Arab society. There were scores
of slave men and women in almost every house. This was largely due to two
reasons: First, during those times, the standard practice of dispensing with
prisoners of war was to distribute them among the army who captured them.
Second, there were extensive slave markets in Arabia in that period, where slave
men and women of all ages were sold like animals.
In these circumstances, in which slavery
had become an essential constituent of the Arab society, Islam adopted a
progressive way to eliminate it. An immediate order of prohibtion would have
created immense social and economic problems. It would have become impossible
for the society to cater for the needs of a large army of slaves, who were,
otherwise, dependent on various families. Also, the national treasury was in no
position to provide them all on a permanent basis. A large number among them
were old and incapable of supporting themselves. The only alternative left for
them, if they were instantly freed, was to turn to beggary and become an
economic burden for the society. The question of slave girls and women was even
more critical keeping in view their own low moral standards. Freeing them, all
of a sudden, would have only resulted in a tremendous increase in brothels.
Perhaps, the reason behind this gradual
eradication can be understood better if one considers the position which
interest occupies in our economy today. No one can refute that our national
economic structure is interest oriented. How the parasite of interest has
crippled the national economy shall be elaborated upon some other time, but
there is no denying the fact that without it our present economic system cannot
sustain itself. Every reasonable person will acknowledge that today if a
government wishes to rid the economy from this menace then, inspite of its utter
prohibition in Islam, it would have to adopt a gradual methodology. An alternate
economic framework would have to be steadily incorporated in place of the
existing one. A sudden abolition, without another parallel base, would only
hasten the total collapse of the economic system, which, of course, would be
disastrous for the country.
To avert a similar disaster and to ward
off a similar catastrophe, Islam adopted a progressive and a gradual scheme,
fourteen hundred years ago, to do away with the inhuman institution of slavery.
The measures it adopted completely exterminated this social evil from the
society without causing any harmful side effects. For the benefit of our
readers, we briefly describe these measures:
1. The first step which Islam took in
this regard was in the early Meccan period when it pronounced that slave
emancipation was a great social virtue.
2. The Prophet (sws), unequivocally,
directed the Muslims to raise the standard of living of the slaves, and equate
it with their own standards.
3. For the atonement of many sins
manumission of slaves was divinely ordained.
4. All slave men and women who could
support themselves in the society were directed to marry each other, in order to
raise their moral and social status.
5. A permanent head in the public
treasury was fixed to set free slave men and women.
6. Prostitution, which was largely
carried out through slave women who were mostly forced by their masters do so,
was totally prohibited by Islam.
7. The affronting names of `abd and amah
by which slave men and women were called, were abrogated so that people should
stop regarding them as slaves. In their place, the words fataa (boy) and fataat
(girl) were introduced.
8. The policy adopted about the
prisoners of war was to either set them free as a favour or against some ransom,
while the ringleaders were, if necessary, executed.
9. The last step: the law of mukaatibat
practically uprooted slavery from the Arab society. Every slave who was capable
of supporting himself was allowed by law to free himself, provided that he
either gave a certain monetary amount to his master or carried out certain
errands for him. After this he could live as a free man. A special head in the
treasury was fixed for this purpose; also, wealthy people were urged to help the
slaves in this regard. The net result of this law was that only handicapped and
old slaves were left to be provided for by their masters, which not only went in
their own favour but also prevented them from becoming an economic burden on the
Inspite of these measures, if someone
still insists that Islam gives sanction to slavery, he has all the right to do
so. There are many people in this world whose claims are actually their desires
in the guise of religion.