New Muslims Society

The Slavery System in Religious History and Practices


The system of slavery was a worldwide phenomenon with many vital sectors of livelihood dependent on slave labor.

The slavery system among Muslims in many aspects was different from other societies, and what many people envision about slavery according to practices among the Greeks, Romans and European colonialists.

Islam initially accepted the slavery system because it was an accepted and necessary part of the economic and social conditions in those times. The system of slavery was a worldwide phenomenon with many vital sectors of livelihood dependent on slave labor. Slavery was accepted and recognized in the previous religions. As it is stated in the Bible:

“10. When you came nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. 11. And it shall be, if it make your answer of peace, and open unto you, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto you, and they shall serve you. 12. And if it will make no peace with you, but it will make war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13. And when the Lord your God has delivered it into your hands, you shall smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword. 14. But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shall you take unto yourself, and you shall eat the spoil of your enemies, which the Lord your God has given you. 15. Thus shall you do unto all the cities which are very far off from you, which are not of the cities of these nations. 16. But of the cities of these people, which the Lord your God does give you for an inheritance, you shall save alive that breathes. 17. But you shall utterly destroy them.” (Deuteronomy 20:10-17)

And a master in the Judaic Law could even beat his slave to death as this next text states:

And if a man smites his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.

Notwithstanding, if he [the slave] continues (to live) a day or two, he (the slave owner) shall not be punished: for he (the slave) is his money (property). (King James Version Exodus 21:20-21)

Nowhere are there any indications in the Bible about the prohibition of slavery and this lead many to boldly proclaim, as Jefferson Davis the president of the Confederate States of America said:

“(Slavery) was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.” (Dunbar Rowland quoting Jefferson Davis in “Jefferson Davis”)

Considering this world environment, Islamic law followed a long-term and gradual plan to eliminate slavery from society.

We do not find any direct command to abruptly stop all dealings with slavery but, rather wisely, the sources of slavery were gradually restricted and diminished and emancipation of slaves encouraged. Moreover, strict rules of fair and honorable conduct were applied in dealing with slaves and allowing them o buy their own freedom.

The first stage was liberating themselves from within their hearts and minds. They were instructed to feel strong, healthy and capable within, and discouraged from feeling weak and inferior. Islam reconstructed the human feeling and integrity in the hearts and minds of the slaves by calling them brethren to their masters and owners.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,

“Your workers are your brethren. The Almighty Allah placed them under you (for your services). Whosoever has one (of his brethren) under him (working for him), he must feed him of what he eats, clothe him of what he clothes himself and do not assign them to do what they cannot do. If you do, then help them.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Slaves have established rights. The commandments of the Qur’an and Sunnah order Muslims to be kind and good to their male slaves and maiden servants. The Almighty Allah states in the Qur’an:

Worship Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are your kin, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (you meet) and what your right hands possess (slaves): for Allah loves not the arrogant, the vainglorious. (An-Nisaa’ 4:36)

The Prophets longstanding concern about the slaves is evidence by the fact that on his deathbed, the Messenger of Allah ordered the Muslims as a dying request to guard their prayers and the rights of the slaves.

He (peace be upon him) is also reported to have said:

“Whosoever castrated a slave we will castrate him.” (Al-Hakim)


The article is an excerpt from the author’s book “Misconceptions on Human Rights in Islam”.


New Muslims Worldview

Coexistence in Islam: Between Concept & Practice

We know that Islam secures freedom of belief. This is clear from many Qur’anic verses, but did Prophet Muhammad really force people to become Muslims? If not, then why did he fight non-Muslims? Is the principle of coexistence practically manifested in Islam?

coexistence in Islam

Allah commands Muslims to treat other people kindly provided they do not manifestly declare malice towards them.

The principle of coexistence underlying the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims is coexistence.

Allah commands Muslims to treat other people kindly provided they do not manifestly declare malice towards them and to think well of all of people alike. A person who thoroughly explores the verses of the Noble Qur`an will find that, in its entirety, it presents an integrated Qur’anic methodology concerning the treatment of non-Muslims.

It is noteworthy to mention that the variation in the manner of treating non-Muslims does not stem from a methodological inconsistency; rather, it depends on the different attitudes of the people we deal with.

People are different (with respect to behavior) and thus they must not be judged alike. It is considered a methodical injustice to generalize what has been made specific or to specify what has been left general in legal texts.

Just as there are individuals who accept Muslims’ beliefs, there are others who differ with them. Among this latter group, there are some who merely present their opinions or beliefs and those who go as far as to attack those who differ with them. Therefore, both groups are treated differently.

Coexistence in the Qur’an

There are many verses in the Qur’an, whether those revealed in Makkah or Madinah, that urge Muslims to be tolerant towards others and to treat them kindly. These include:

So pardon and overlook until Allah delivers His command. Indeed, Allah is over all things competent. (Al-Baqarah 2:109)

There shall be no compulsion in (acceptance of) the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut (false deities) and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing. (Al-Baqarah 2:256)

Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly. (Al-Mumtahanah 60:8)

The above verses from Surat Al-Baqarah and Al-Mumtahanah were revealed in Madinah and all of them exhort Muslims to be kind and merciful to their fellow men.

As for the legal texts, Qur’an and Sunnah, that command Muslims to be harsh towards some people, they can be compared to the previous verses as two integrated methodologies that deal with two different types of people:

The first methodology, which is the general case, enjoins Muslims to treat all people with kindness through dialogue and respect of freedom (of faith). This is the correct basis for inviting others to Islam; this does not abrogate a Qur’anic verse nor has it been abrogated though some jurists claim the contrary. Allah says:

And speak to people good (words) and establish prayer and give zakah. (Al-Baqarah 2:83)

In another verse, Allah instructs those who call others to His way on how they should invite others according to the different types of people:

Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is (rightly) guided. (An-Nahl 16:125)

Allah says about the People of the Book:

And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say, “We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims (in submission) to Him. (Al-`Ankabut 29:46)

The second methodology is concerned with those who attack Muslims, in which case it is necessary to defend oneself even in a harsh manner. Allah Almighty says:

(Fighting in) the sacred month is for (aggression committed in) the sacred month, and for (all) violations is legal retribution. So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him. (Al-Baqarah 2:194)

No Compulsion

Unlike the policy followed by some countries, Muslims do not treat others based on whether they are with or against them. Rather, Islam teaches its followers that people are different and must therefore be treated accordingly with respect to time and type of person.

Based on the above, one can understand the hadith which exhorts fighting non-Muslims until they testify that there is no god but Allah as fighting the aggressors who attack Muslims and not people in general. It also means that Muslims must merely deliver the message of Islam to them and not compel them to embrace the faith as per the words of Allah Almighty Who says:

Fight them until there is no (more) temptation (fitnah) and (until) worship is (acknowledged to be) for Allah. But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors. (Al-Baqarah 2:193)

In the hadith mentioned above, the Prophet (peace be upon him) refers to the apostates led by Musailamah who attempted to destroy the Islamic state and deviate from its general order. This was clearly a case of high treason, a charge that carries the death penalty according to penal codes and international laws.

The same applies to the above noble verse which speaks about a group of oppressors who share the same abominable characteristics. At that time, the Romans started to mobilize armies to fight the Prophet. The Muslims did not fight them except after they learned that the Romans wanted to abolish the Islamic state.