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Muhammad's views on slavery

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Muhammad's views on slavery

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Bilal ibn Ribah (pictured, atop the Kaaba) an Ethiopian former slave, was appointed by Muhammad to perform as the first official muezzin. He had been emancipated through Abu Bakr paying his ransom upon Muhammad's instruction. As a Muslim, he accompanied Muhammad on the Hijra and was the bearer of Muhammad's mace and spear on the latter's military expeditions. In January 630, in a richly symbolic moment, he was the first ever Muslim to proclaim adhan in Mecca as depicted.

Muhammad restricted the traditional means of enslavement, and urged compassion and moderation as the general rule for their treatment. He enforced emancipation as the necessary atonement for having assaulted one's slave without just cause,[1] and he deemed manumission as either meritorious or as a means or requirement for Muslims to earn forgiveness for serious transgressions.[2][3]

Many early converts to Islam were the poor and former slaves like Bilal ibn Rabah al-Habashi, and Muhammad would send his companions like Abu Bakr and Uthman ibn Affan to buy slaves to free.[4][5][6][7]

Muhammad's pronouncements regarding slavery simultaneously reinforced the principle of a slave's loyalty to his or her master and the master's circumscribed duty of reciprocation. By their fiat a master could sell and trade their slaves, and although the Qur'an frequently encourages the ransom or mukataba of slaves as a pious practice,[8][9] the act of emancipation was not incumbent upon believers. Female slaves could not marry without their master's consent, but the Qur'an also made it clear that it was forbidden to compel female slaves to "prostitution" if they desired chastity.[10] Sexual intercourse with a female slave was permissible.[11] It was also permissible to marry slave girls.[12]

Slavery in Islam

In Islamic law, the topic of slavery is covered at great length. Muhammad's fiqh brought major changes considered to have been of far-reaching effect to the practice of it inherited from antiquity, from Rome, and from Byzantium.[13] The major juristic schools of Islam have historically accepted the existence of the institution of slavery.[13] Arabian slaves are posited to have benefited from the Islamic reformulation, through "reforms of a humanitarian tendency both at the time of Muhammad and the later early caliphs".[13]

The Quran propounds manumission to be a meritorious deed either prescribed or allowed as a condition of repentance for certain grave sins and shortcomings. Fiqh treats slavery as an exceptional circumstance, applying a rebuttable presumption of freeborn status to those of doubtful or unclear origins. Moreover, as opposed to pre-Islamic slavery, it permits the origination of enslavement in only two classes or circumstances: capture in war, or birth to parents who are themselves both already enslaved.[14] Also, the innovation of the mukataba availed slaves deemed worthy [Quran 24:33] an opportunity to purchase or earn their own eventual emancipation, and Islamic elevation of the status of an umm walad (a female slave who had born a child acknowledged by her master as his offspring) restricting some of the possibilities for such a woman to be enslaved to an alternative master while the child remained alive.[14][15]

Muhammad made it legal for his men to marry their slaves and the women they captured in war, giving them full marriage rights,[16][17] based on two chapters of the Qur'an, Al-Muminun 6 and Al-Maarij 30, which clarify permissible sexual intercourse as being with either conventional spouses or female slaves, saying literally "their spouses or what their right hands possess". Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi explains that "two categories of women have been excluded from the general command of guarding the private parts: (a) wives, (b) women who are legally in one's possession".[18] This practice is referred to in the Quran as ma malakat aymanukum ("what your right hands possess").

His attitudes and pronouncements regarding slavery

The circumstances where Muhammad reproved the beating of a slave who had transgressed against his or her master were those where the beating itself nullified the benefit to the master of the slave's punished independent charitable deed[19] or otherwise because it created the circumstances of a blasphemy,[20] not because of inherent abhorrence of aggression per se or of its effect upon the recipient. He condemned unjustified cruelty toward slaves even to the extent that for a master to slap her or his slave without just cause could only be atoned by freeing the slave.[21] However, to his view the permission to beat a slave, still was broader than the analogous permission afforded to men with respect to free women under their authority.[22] Generally he exhorted Muslim believers to treat slaves with equanimity,[23] and he commended the spirit of the act of manumission by a master[21] equally to the degree that he damned the initiative of slave who might take their own freedom.[24] To his very end he affirmed divine sanction for the authority of masters over slaves and he urged obedience to authorities - be they even peculiar foreign slaves - exercising Islamic rule.[25][26]

Permits slavery

Sold and bought slaves

Owned a slave


Discipline by force

Enslaved by Muhammad

Manumission encouraged

Reward for Freeing Muslim Slaves

Themes in his dealings with slaves and his approach to slavery

Shortly after he began preaching Islam in his initial period in Mecca, several slaves allied themselves to him. Of them, Yasar and a Christian named are mentioned as being accused by the Quraysh of influencing him to foment political and religious tumult in the city.[28] In the same period a freed slave named Ammar and his family are recorded as being among the very earliest converts to Islam.[29] While Muhammad remained building his religious community in their city, Quraysh rulers especially targeted converted slave Muslims among those that they persecuted with imprisonment and physical torments;[30] see Yasir ibn Amir, Bilal ibn Ribah, Khabbab ibn al-Aratt, Abu Fakih, Abu Fuhayra, and Ammar ibn Yasir. Writing about that period, Muir has described that "the slaves of Mecca were peculiarly accessible to the solicitations of [Muhammad]. As foreigners they were generally familiar either with Judaism or Christianity. Isolated from the influences of hostile partisanship, persecution alienated them from the Quraysh, and misfortune made their hearts susceptible of spiritual impressions".[31]

The seal "Muhammad, messenger of Allah", used on Muhammad's outgoing letters and applied to treaties with outsiders that he ratified on behalf of the Ummah.

His slave associates

Shortly after his birth he was suckled by Thueiba, a slave of his uncle Abu Lahab, for a few days. He and Khadija retained a warm relationship with her, regularly offering her gifts until the occurrence of her death in 7 AH.[32] Khadijah's boy slave Maisara is known to have accompanied Muhammad on his journeys with her caravans in the period prior to the latter's marriage to her.[33][34]

The Ethiopian Abu Bakra (full name Nufay ibn Haris al Masruh), is an example of a fugitive slave who sought refuge amongst the Muslims, fought for them as a traitor besieging his community at Ta'if, himself became Muslim, and was refused to be returned to that community or to any condition of enslavement by Muhammad. Nine other slaves of the besieged garrison at Taif also availed themselves of Muhammad's offer to be freed as a reward for defection.[35] As a free man he closely observed the sunnah of Muhammad in the role of one of his more trusted associates. He died in Basra in the year 51 or 52 AH (670–672 CE) and was the father of some 20 children.[36]

Muhammad financially assisted Salman the Persian to redeem his own slave money.[37] Salman's closeness to Muhammad is signified by the latter's description of him as "a member of my household". After converting to Islam he became notable for devising the successful military tactics employed by the Muslims in the Battle of the Trench and for pursuing the strategy of employing a catapult at the unsuccessful Siege of Ta'if. He died in 33, 36, or 37 AH (654–659 CE).[38]

See also


  1. ^ Sahih Muslim Book 015, Hadith Number 4082.
  2. ^ Surat An-Nisā' (The Women) 4:92
  3. ^ Surat Al-Mujādila (The Pleading Woman) 58:3
  4. ^ The Qur'an with Annotated Interpretation in Modern English By Ali Ünal Page 1323 [1]
  5. ^ Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, Slaves and Slavery
  6. ^ Bilal b. Rabah, Encyclopedia of Islam
  7. ^ The Cambridge History of Islam (1977), p.36
  8. ^ Surat Al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2:177
  9. ^ Surat At-Tawbah (The Repentance) 9:60
  10. ^ Surat An-Nūr (The Light) 24:33
  11. ^ Sahih Muslim, Chapter 29, Book 008, Number 3432 titled "It is permissible to have sexual intercourse with a captive woman after she is purified (of menses or delivery) in case she has a husband, her marriage is abrogated after she becomes captive."
  12. ^ Surat An-Nisā' (The Women) 4:25
  13. ^ a b c
  14. ^ a b "Abd" (Brunschvig, 1960). Encyclopaedia of Islam Online. Ed. P.J. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 1573-3912.
  15. ^ Paul Lovejoy (2000), Transformations in Slavery. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-78430-1, p.2
  16. ^ See Tahfeem ul Qur'an by Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, Vol. 2 pp. 112-113 footnote 44; Also see commentary on verses [Quran 23:1]: Vol. 3, notes 7-1, p. 241; 2000, Islamic Publications
  17. ^ Tafsir ibn Kathir 4:24
  18. ^ Surat Al-Mu'minūn (The Believers)
  19. ^ Sahih Muslim, Book 5 (The Book of Charity), Number 2237
  20. ^ Sahih Muslim, Book 15 (The Book of Oaths), Number 4089
  21. ^ a b Sahih Muslim Book 15 (The Book of Oaths), Number 4079
  22. ^ Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 73, Number 68
  23. ^ Muir, Vol.4, Ch.31
  24. ^ al-Jami al-Sahih # 3047]
  25. ^ Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith; By Michael Wolfe, p.130. Published by Rodale, 2004 ISBN 1579549888, 9781579549886
  26. ^ Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 40, Number 4590
  27. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari » Book of Good Manners and Form (Al-Adab) » Hadith 78 Good Manners and Form (Al-Adab) (95)Chapter: Saying "Wailaka." Sahih al-Bukhari 6161 - Book 78, Hadith 187
  28. ^ Muir; Vol.2, Ch.4, p.122
  29. ^ Muir; Vol.2, Ch.4, p.125
  30. ^ Muir; Vol.2, Ch.4, p.129
  31. ^ Muir; Vol.2, Ch.4, p.108
  32. ^ Muir; Vol.2, Ch.1, p.18
  33. ^
  34. ^ Muir; Vol.2, Ch.2, p.17
  35. ^ Muir; Vol.4, Ch.25, p.125
  36. ^ Ayman, p.2
  37. ^ Al Kalabazi, Rijal Sahih al Bukhari, I, p. 326; Dhahabî, Kashif, I, p. 451; Ibn al Asir, Usd al Ghabe, II, p. 265; Ibn Hajar, al Isaba, III, p. 118 (all cited in Aydin, p.15).
  38. ^ Aydin, p.15

External links

  • Al-Bukhari Hadith Search: Manumission of Slaves
  • BBC Religion and Ethics - Muhammad and Slavery
  • University of Southern California Hadith Database Search Portal incorporating Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abu-Dawud (partial), and Malik's Muwatta
  • University of Southern California Qur'an Database Search Portal - employable for searches, e.g. 'slave', 'hand and possess', 'maid and servant'


  • Al-Tabari, Muhammad Bin Jarir. "Biographies of the Prophet's Companions and Their Successors" (Translated by Ella Landau-Tasseron). SUNY Press, 1998. ISBN 0791428192, 9780791428191.
  • Aydin, Elif Eryarsoy. "Prophet Muhammad's Attitude Towards Slavery from the Perspective of Human Rights"
  • Higgins, Godfrey & Abu'l-Fazl, Mirza (Contributor). "An Apology for the Life and Character of the Celebrated Prophet of Arabia Called Mohamed or the Illustrious" (1829). Kessinger Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0766176835, 9780766176836
  • Lane-Poole, Stanley. "The Speeches and Table-Talk of the Prophet Mohammad". Macmillan and Co., London, 1882.
  • Levy, Reuben (Professor of Persian at the University of Cambridge). "The Social Structure of Islam". Cambridge University Press, 1969.
  • Muir, William. "The Life of Mahomet" (1, 2, 3, 4). Smith, Elder, & Co., London, 1861.
  • Schacht, Joseph. "An Introduction to Islamic Law". Clarendon Paperbacks, 1982. ISBN 0-19-825473-3
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