Slavery in Islām & Modernist Apologists

Q:

One particular question I have right now is with regards to the claim
made by people that Hadhrat `Umar ibn al-Khattaab
رضي الله عنه had
abolished slavery. People say that `Allaamah Shibli Nu`maani has
mentioned this, but I have not as yet come across any such claim in
the Mu`tabar Kutub of Taareekh.

Perhaps you have come across something on this issue, Maulana Saheb?
Did Hadhrat `Umar رضي الله عنه abolish slavery?

 

A:

وعليكم السلام ورحمة الله وبركاته

Burden of Proof lies on the Claimant

 

Before addressing the actual question, I would remind the respected questioner and all readers in general, that in Islām the onus of proving a statement lies on the narrator, not on the hearer. Even if this were not what we are commanded to do, consider the thousands of ridiculous lies which float in cyber space  and which Muslims sadly magnify by the casual press of a forward button. If just the false conversion stories were true (Neil Armstrong, Pope Benedict), I wonder how many non-Muslims would be left on the face of the earth. If just the messages on foodstuffs which supposedly have pork in them were to be true, there would be billions more pigs roaming on earth than what there actually are. If we were to examine, trace and refute every lie, sadly most of which seem to have Muslim origins, there would not be time for the good deeds we are in fact commanded to do, even prayer.

 

البينة على المدعي

Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ said, “The onus of proof lies on he who makes a claim.” [al-Bayhaqī]

 

Thus those who have lied to you must produce their “proof”. I shall nevertheless respond on this, because within the claim there hide certain dimensions which I had thought to write on independently, but hope to address now within the ambit of your question, if Allāh wills.

 

ʾal-ʿAllāmah Shiblī

 

I have of course not read every word ever penned by this most illustrious scholar, Allāh’s mercy be upon him, but I say without a shadow of a doubt that no Muslim scholar with the tenth of his learning and fear of Allāh would ever have made such a ridiculous statement, let alone someone of the stature of ʾash-Shaykh Shiblī ʾan-Nuʿmānī.

 

If on the possibility that he is simply being misquoted, misunderstood, or taken out of context, then I would offer the following incident which is narrated in ʾal-Wilāyah ʿalal Buldān as a basis for the misunderstanding:

 

ʿAmr bin ʾal-ʿĀṣ, may Allāh be pleased with him, was governor of Egypt under ʿUmar, may Allāh be pleased with him. ʿAmr’s son unjustly struck a Copt boy, under the delusion that his father’s status protected him from justice. The boy’s father took the boy to ʿal-Madīnah and sought justice from ʿUmar, who summoned ʿAmr and his son. When they arrived, ʿUmar handed the Copt boy a whip and allowed him to strike his Muslim oppressor. He then rebuked his governor:

متى استعبدتم الناس وقد ولدتهم أمهاتهم أحرارا؟

Since when have you enslaved people whose mothers gave birth to them as free men?

 

In other words, free men are not to be enslaved and mistreated outside the ambit of the law. In fact Islām accords slaves great dignity as well. Yet not by the furthest stretch of the imagination can this be equated with a “ban on slavery”.

 

The Spirit of Islām is Emancipation & Kindness

 

Islām never abolished slavery outright in the letter of the law. Yet it is clearly obvious that the spirit of Islām is to encourage manumission of slaves. There are many penalties in Islām, which are compensated by means of freeing slaves. For example:

 

لَا يُؤَاخِذُكُمُ اللَّهُ بِاللَّغْوِ فِي أَيْمَانِكُمْ وَلَٰكِن يُؤَاخِذُكُم بِمَا عَقَّدتُّمُ الْأَيْمَانَ ۖ فَكَفَّارَتُهُ إِطْعَامُ عَشَرَةِ مَسَاكِينَ مِنْ أَوْسَطِ مَا تُطْعِمُونَ أَهْلِيكُمْ أَوْ كِسْوَتُهُمْ أَوْ تَحْرِيرُ رَقَبَةٍ ۖ فَمَن لَّمْ يَجِدْ فَصِيَامُ ثَلَاثَةِ أَيَّامٍ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ كَفَّارَةُ أَيْمَانِكُمْ إِذَا حَلَفْتُمْ ۚ وَاحْفَظُوا أَيْمَانَكُمْ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ

“Allāh will not punish you for what is unintentional in your oaths, but He will punish you for your deliberate oaths; for its expiation (a deliberate oath) feed ten poor persons, on a scale of the average of that with which you feed your own families, or clothe them or manumit a slave. But whosoever cannot afford (that), then he should fast for three days. That is the expiation for the oaths when you have sworn. And protect your oaths (i.e. do not swear much). Thus Allāh makes clear to you His signs that you may be grateful.”[al-Māʾidah:89].

 

عن أبى هريرة (رضى الله عنه) قال: قال رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وسلم : ( من أعتق رقبة مسلمة أعتق الله بكل عضو منه عضوا منه من النار حتى فرجه بفرجه

Abū Hurayrah (may Allāh be pleased with him) narrated that Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ said, “He who frees a Muslim slave will have Allāh free an organ of his from the Fire for every organ of the slave, to the extent of his private part in exchange for the slave’s private part.” [al-Bukhārī]

If this is truly the spirit of Islām, why not simply abolish slavery? Firstly, in this age of atheism and apostasy, it is people who refuse to accept the station of the Most Glorious Master and that we are indeed His slaves, who feel qualified to challenge His decree. I may be a sinner, but I thank Him for guiding me not to approach that line. Secondly, the means Allāh created for a certain benefit may not always be palatable to all, yet the very fact that Allāh decreed it means that it is wise whether we see it or not. It would be a most depraved person who actually enjoys slaughtering a sheep and ending its life, nevertheless the mutton obtained is a blessing we all enjoy. Some people have a fantasy version of the spread of Islām that wherever a Muslim appeared, entire countries suddenly converted on the spot. Certainly there were mass and peaceful conversions. Certainly there was also stubborn resistance. Battles were fought and enemies killed. Did the Companions of Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ enjoy killing for the sake of bloodshed? Certainly not! Did they however hesitate to kill when the need arose? No! And whether you like it or not, one of the means of subjugating stubborn enemies was slavery. The Companions enslaved those who had to be restrained and slaves were sold in the market of ʾal-Madīnah.

 

The full fruits of this form of slavery is known only to Allāh, bit consider the amount of knowledge we would have been deprived of had ʿIkrāmah, not been the slave and student of Ibn ʿAbbās (may Allāh be pleased with him), and that is but one example.

 

On the other hand, the disgusting history of Oman’s human trafficking in East Africa may well have been within the letter of the law but far, far be it from the spirit of Islām. Yet if legal, what is the issue? In contradistinction to the above examples, Oman’s enterprise in Africa was one of terror and inhumanity. Slavery was pursued for itself and its economic benefit, with nary a thought to need, the glory of Islām and the rights which Islām accords slaves. So much did the name of Muslims stink that it was only when Christian Germany removed that dirty empire from Africa that Islām more rapidly spread under Christian rule! Sadly these days “foreign” Muslims are treated worse in the Gulf than what Islām allows Muslims to treat non-Muslim slaves.

 

A comparison I would draw is that of the Islāmic penal code. It is stipulated in the Qurʾān, and whoever denies or argues it away should not pretend to be a Muslim. Yet the spirit of Islām is that the government should avoid exercising the penal code as far as possible. It is a tool which should be sparsely implemented, as opposed to the unrestrained practice of the Satanic Saudi regime and the cult known as ISIS. I have written about this previously in my article Misconceptions regarding Islāmic Penal Code & distancing myself from ISIS.  

 

The disease of Apologetics

 

As humans we all commit some sin of the body or the other and are not in a position to judge each other. However, the sin of apologetics is born from diseased hearts which are not satisfied to confine the disease within the afflicted, but seek to infect the entire ʾUmmah and create an epidemic of doubt, inferiority complex in regards the west, atheism, theories without any basis in the Qurʾān and Sunnah, etc.

 

For example, democracy in its very terminology is alien to Islām when adopted as an ideology, instead of a mere tool of governance, for it means that sovereignty lies within people and not the Creator. Yet there are so many who identify as Muslims who are so eager to bow to the western idol, that they insist that Islāmic Shurā (consultation), a command of Allāh, and whose result is not binding on the ruler, somehow equates to democracy, which teaches that the people can veto the Creator e.g. legalising prostitution.

 

These people have no concept of the regulations Islām imposed on slave owners. Instead their view of slavery in Islām is coloured by the movies Hollywood spews, and which might in fact be true for the west, but not for Islām. The slave in Islām was part of the family and every position was open to the slave. Slaves had government positions and were so placed, they even managed to assume authority of Egypt, Baghdād and Delhi, and the Muslim populace accepted these as their legitimate governments. There is no parallel in the west. The uneducated Muslim is unaware of the full facts and therefore desperately seeks create the fiction of a ban on slavery.

 

Certainly there were Muslims who were unjust to their slaves, but does a minority  breaking the law mean that the we change the Qurʾān? My previous landlord, a man who is five times a day in the front row of the Masjid, almost directly behind the ʾImām, never returned my deposit. Every month, as funds dry up, I think of that sum I am entitled to and which would be most helpful. Do financial irregularities of such people mean that Muslims are banned from financial activity? The reasoning is the same.

 

What further astounds me is that until very recently, the Church justified slavery as a punishment upon the “cursed” black descendants of Ham. Instead of tackling that racism and the evils which were practiced as religious tenets, not individual failings, we have Muslims who seek to transpose that western history upon Islām and change the Qurʾān!

 

One who commits a sin of the body, knows he is a sinner and can repent. The one who fictionalises laws of Islām, and is secretly unhappy with the religion he was born with, never repents. He claims to be an intellectual doing good, whilst he challenges Allāh and His Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ. The laws he concocts without authority requires scripture or a prophet. In challenging Allāh and His Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ he in fact implies that he is a god or a prophet, or at the very least, knows better than Muḥammad  صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ.

 

 Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ owned Slaves

 

Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ and his Companions owned, bought, sold, and freed slaves. Are the apologists more pious and learned? There are so many narrations on this, but I thought the following narration of Muslim would be interesting, as it implies that the father who gifted a slave to each child would have been more just than just giving one child a slave. That was the law. Yet again, the spirit of  Islām is to restrict slavery, so he cancelled the gift., Note he did not free the slave.

عن النعمان بن بشير أنه قال إن أباه أتى به رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال إني نحلت ابني هذا غلاما كان لي فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أكل ولدك نحلته مثل هذا فقال لا فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فارجعه

ʾan-Nuʿmān bin Bashīr narrates that his father took him to Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ and said, “”I have gifted a slave which I owned to this son of mine.”

Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ asked, “Did you give such a gift to every child of yours?”

“No,” he replied.

Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ then said, “Then take him back.”

 

There were slaves to the day ʿUmar died

 

ʿUmar (may Allāh be pleased with him) would never have dreamt of challenging the Qurʾān and Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ. To say otherwise is the height of disrespect. The simplest evidence which somehow evades those who concocted this lie, is that his accursed assassin, Feroz Abū Luʾluʾ, was the slave of Mughīrah (may Allāh be pleased with him). He complained that the fee Mughīrah charged him was too high. ʾUmar ruled that the fee was fair based on his skills. The enraged slave then killed ʿUmar (may Allāh be pleased with him.

 

Summary

 

  • ʿUmar never banned slavery.
  • The spirit of Islām however encourages its eradication in practice.
  • In theory, the ruler retains the legal right to enslave a hostile population. To argue otherwise means that is some other revelation the proponent has received.
  • The legal right where a need arises, does not contradict the overall spirit of emancipation.

 

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