Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammad’ssa Teachings on Slavery

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Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad(ra) was one of the sons of the Promised Messiah(as). Born on April 20, 1893 he passed his matriculation in 1910 with distinction, and according to the wishes of the Promised Messiah(as), attained an MA in Arabic in 1916. A great religious scholar and prolific writer, his books and speeches are easily understandable by the average reader. Some of his important works include Siratul Mahdi (Life of the Mahdi), Silsila-e-Ahmadiyya (The Ahmadiyya community), Tabligh-e-Hidayat (Propagation of Guidance), Kalimutal Fasl (The Decisive Word) and Hamara Khuda (Our God). He also contributed countless articles to magazines and periodicals of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, such as the daily Al-Fazl, and was Editor of The Review of Religions for many years. Sirat Khatamun Nabiyyin is his magnum opus; an outstanding biography of the Holy Prophet(saw), which includes insightful analysis and commentary on various aspects of his life. For the first time this book has been translated into English. The English rendering, “The Life and Character of the Seal of Prophets,” will be serialised in various parts in The Review of Religions.

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Translated from the Urdu by Ayyaz Mahmood Khan

First ever serialisation of the newly translated Volume II of Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad’sra outstanding biography, Seerat Khatamun Nabiyyin, on the life and character of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa.

Now we take up the second aspect of this question, which relates to the manumission of existing slaves, which was a prime objective of Islam and the Founder of Islamsa. Hence, it should be known, that in this regard two methods have been employed by Islam; firstly, the “recommendatory method” and secondly, the “coercive method.” By the united effects of both these practices, the liberation movement was given strength. First we take up the recommendatory method. In the very beginning, when the Holy Prophetsa initially made his claim and he still resided in Makkah, the following divine revelation was sent down:

Meaning, “O Messenger! Are you aware of a religious precept, which may be likened to a great ascent upon a mountain, by which a person is able to climb to the heights of divine nearness? If you are unaware, then We tell you that it is the freeing of a slave.”1

Then, He states:

Meaning, “True virtue in the estimation of God is that an individual believes in God, spends in His cause for love of Him, on the kindred, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and for freeing slaves.”2

It is narrated in a Hadith:

Meaning, “Abu Hurairahra relates that the Holy Prophetsa would say, ‘Such a Muslim who frees a slave would be granted complete salvation by Allah the Exalted from hell.”3

Then, it is narrated in a Hadith:

Meaning, “Bara’ bin ‘Azibra relates that a Bedouin presented himself before the Holy Prophetsa and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! Inform me of such a deed that if I perform it, I may be directly admitted into paradise.’ The Holy Prophetsa said, ‘You have used very few words, but inquired of a matter which is rather great. You should free a slave and if you are unable to do so alone, then do so with the help of others.”4

Then, it is narrated in a Hadith:

Meaning, “Abu Burdah relates from his father that the Holy Prophetsa said, ‘If a person has a bond-woman whom he educates well, teaches good manners, frees her and then marries her, such an individual would be worthy of a double reward from God.’”5

Aside from these emphatic recommendations, the manumission of slaves has been established as law in the Islamic doctrine as atonement for various lapses and sins. This can be understood as falling between the recommendatory method and coercive method. Hence, Allah the Exalted states in the Holy Qur’an:

Meaning, “The punishment of an individual who kills a believer by mistake is that he shall free a Muslim slave and pay blood money to be handed over to his heirs, unless they remit it by themselves. But if such an individual is unable to find a slave to be freed, then he shall fast for two consecutive months.”6

Then, He states:

Meaning, “If the person slain be of a people that is hostile to you and at war with you, but the person (i.e., the one slain) be a believer, then the punishment of the offender shall be the freeing of a Muslim slave. But if such an individual is unable to find a slave, then he shall fast for two consecutive months.”7

Meaning, “And if the person slain be of a people between whom and you there are covenants and agreements, even if he is a disbeliever, then the punishment of the offender shall be to pay blood money to the heirs of the person slain and to free a Muslim slave. But if such an individual is unable to find a slave, then he shall fast for two consecutive months.”8

Then, He states:

Meaning, “If a person takes an oath in the name of God, then breaks it, the expiation for this is the feeding of ten poor people according to his capacity, or the clothing of them, or the freeing of a slave. But whoso is unable to find a slave shall fast for three days.”9

Then, He states:

Meaning, “As to those who vow to abstain from their wives, but for some reason, desire to return to them, their expiation is the freeing of a slave…But whoso does not find one, he must fast for two successive months…And whoso is not able to fast, should feed sixty poor people.”10

These are the different methods of expiation, which Islam has prescribed for the manumission of slaves. Moreover, as per its custom, taking into consideration a variance in circumstances, Islam has prescribed two or three alternatives and given Muslims the choice to follow whichever course of action is easiest and best. Furthermore, it is with great wisdom that in these verses, wherever God the Exalted has alluded to the freeing of slaves, He has also added that if an individual is unable to find a slave, then the following method should be employed. This proves that the actual intent of Islam was to ultimately do away with the practice of slavery all together. Hence, as an alternative to the practice of freeing a slave, the words, “If an individual is unable to find a slave,” definitely demonstrate that there is no doubt in the fact that the prime objective of Islam was to free existing slaves.

Then, it is narrated in a Hadith:

Meaning, “Asma’ bint Abi Bakrra relates that the Holy Prophetsa would order the Muslims to free a slave on the occasion of a solar eclipse.”11

Now we take up the method of freeing slaves by compulsion. In this respect, Islam has proposed various methods. It is related in a Hadith:

Meaning, “Suwaidra, a Companion of the Holy Prophetsa relates that we were seven brothers who owned a single slave. Due to some reason, one of us became angry and slapped the slave. When the Holy Prophetsa was informed, he commanded that the slave be freed.”12

The very same Hadith is related by Ibni ‘Umarra as well, in which he mentions that if an individual beats his slave and then sets him free, he shall receive no spiritual reward for this action. The reason being, that the freeing of a slave has been prescribed as the punishment for a master who beats his slave.13 In other words, one method employed by the Holy Prophetsa to free slaves by compulsion was to prescribe the punishment that if a master beats his slave he must then release him immediately.

Then, it is related in a Hadith: Meaning, “Ibni ‘Umarra relates that the Holy Prophetsa commanded, “If an individual happens to acquire a slave who turns out to be a close relative, that slave shall be considered free by default.”14

Then, it is related in a Hadith: Meaning, “Ibni ‘Umarra and Abu Hurairahra relate that the Holy Prophetsa said, ‘A person who possesses joint ownership of a slave, and he chooses to free the slave by way of his own share, it becomes his obligation to pay the other owners their share from his own wealth and to free the slave completely. If that person does not possess enough wealth to do so, even still the slave shall be freed practically, so that he may earn the remaining sum owed to the other masters and secure complete freedom for himself. In this respect, the slave shall be facilitated in every way possible.’”15

Then, it is narrated in a Hadith that once a few slaves fled from the idolaters of Makkah and reached the Holy Prophetsa. Upon this, the idolaters requested the Holy Prophetsa to return these slaves to them. Various Muslims also interceded on their behalf, but the Holy Prophetsa became displeased. As such, the words of this Hadith are as follows:

Meaning, “The Holy Prophetsa became angry on this occasion and refused to return the slaves. The Holy Prophetsa said, ‘These slaves have been set free by Allah. Shall I return them to a life of slavery and polytheism once again?’”16
Then, it is related in a Hadith:

Meaning, “Ibni ‘Abbasra relates that the Holy Prophetsa would say, ‘If a person marries his bond-woman, even if he does not free her, but a child is born to him from the bond-woman, she will be considered free by default thereafter.’”17 In another narration it is related that an Ummul-Walad18 wife shall be considered free, even in the case of a stillbirth.19
ENDNOTES

1.  Al-Balad (90:13-14).
2.  Al-Baqarah (2:178).
3.  Sahihul-Bukhari, Kitabu Kaffaratil-Iman, Babu Qaulillahi Ta‘ala Aw Tahriru Raqabah, Hadith No. 6715.
4.  Mishkatul-Masabih, Kitabul-‘Itq, Al-Fasluth-Thani, Qadimi Kutub Khanah, Aram Bagh, Karachi.
5.  Sahihul-Bukhari, Kitabun-Nikah, Babu Ittikhadhis-Sarariyyi Wa Man A‘ataqa Jariyah, Hadith No. 5083.
6.  An-Nisa’ (4:93).
7.  An-Nisa’ (4:93).
8.  An-Nisa’ (4:93).
9.  Al-Ma’idah (5:90).
10.  Al-Mujadalah (58:4-5).
11.  Sahihul-Bukhari, Kitabul-‘Itq, Babu Ma Yustahabba Minal-‘Ataqati Fil-Kusuf, Hadith No. 2519.
12.  Sahihu Muslim, Kitabul-Iman, Babu Suhbatil-Mamalik, Hadith No. 4304.
13.  Sahihu Muslim, Kitabul-Iman, Babu Suhbatil-Mamalik, Hadith No. 429.
14.  Sunanu Ibni Majah, Kitabul-‘Itq, Babu Man Malaka Dha Rahimin Mahramin Fahuwa Hurrun, Hadith No. 2525.
15.  * Sahihul-Bukhari, Kitabul-‘Itq, Babu Idha A‘ataqa ‘Abdan Bainathnain, Hadith No. 2523.
* Sahihul-Bukhari, Kitabul-‘Itq, Babu Idha A‘ataqa Nasiban Fi ‘Abdin Wa Laisa Lahu Malun, Hadith No. 2527.
16.  Sunanu Abi Dawud, Kitabul-Jihad, Babu Fi ‘Abidil-Mushrikina Yulhaquna Bil-Muslimin, Hadith No. 2700.
17.  Sunanu Ibni Majah, Kitabul-‘Itq, Babu Ummahatil-Aulad, Hadith No. 2515.
18.  A bond-woman who is set free by default if she bears a child to her master [Publishers.
19.  Kashful-Ghummah ‘An Jami‘il-Ummah, By Abil-Mawahib ‘Abdil-Wahhab bin Ahmad bin ‘Ali Ash- Sha‘rani, Kitabul-‘Itq, Babu Ummahatil-Aulad, Volume 2, p. 255, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, Lebanon (1998).

 

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