Slavery: Historic Perspective & Islamic Reforms

by Dr. Hafiz Safwan Muhammad Chohan

Abstract: Slavery, generally defined, refers to the systematic exploitation of labor for work and services without proper compensation and the possession of human being as property. Although there is no clear timeline for the formation of slavery in any formalized sense, the history of slavery covers many different forms of human exploitation across many cultures and throughout human history. Existence of slaves can be traced to the earliest records that refer to slavery as an already established institution.

This articles starts with finding the reason that is impetus to slavery. The history of slavery is surfed. Slavery in Turkey is specially scanned due to the special, distinctive position of the Ottoman caliphate— the last body of the united Muslim Ummah. How did Islam take up with the institution of slave trade and what corrections & legislations did it put in this inhumane system so that it eventually transformed the typical master-slave relation into a fraternity and “brotherhood,” is discussed at large. A casual look at the content may be this way that: the foundation of the practice of slavery; what features made this institution a necessary racecourse; why did Islam let it continue with certain customizations and parameters. The articles of concubine and mukātabat (مکاتبت) are separately treated.

Muhammad صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم did instruct on his deathbed about taking care of and being gentlemanly to the slaves [i]. The words of his last will lend colour to the fact that slavery will never die out. It will remain alive with the humanity, in one form or another. In this sense, the slogans of driving slavery to a full stop seem more a political stunt and a downright nonsense than a serious suggestion.

Slavery was legally abolished as it did not remain economically feasible. However, this abolition was in name only. In the past it prevailed due to economic reasons, and is found today in different fiber in consonance with the present-day economic needs. Today’s forms of slavery, i.e., “white-collar” slavery which is commonly labeled as “job” or “service,” and the mass enslaving of governments and sucking their resources, is also discussed.

Missionaries hold that the social reforms which they impose are the dictates of Christianity but the facts are otherwise; these icons of development are the result of intellectual progress and their religion has no say in these reforms. If it were true, slavery won’t have persisted in them for millenniums. In contrast, whatever Islam did to do away with slavery was not prompted by economic exigencies or social conditions. It did only from a moral point of view. According to the teachings of Islam, all men are equal and it is not proper for anyone to impose himself on another.

Western sources of the era of legal abolition of slavery worldwide (late 19th and early 20th centuries) are quoted plentifully so that varying perspectives of the forerunners of slavery come in front. Blemish over the practice of slavery is not the problem of Islam, for Islam is rightfully proud of being superbly immaculate in its nature, having a spotless character without any such blemish and immune to all such defilements.

[i] Ibn Mājah: 1614 (Chapter on Funerals)

The complete paper can be accessed here.