The Manumission of Slaves

Masjid Quba, the first Mosque built in Islam.
Masjid Quba, the first Mosque built in Islam.

Permanent System for the Manumission of Slaves

These were the various methods of compulsory manumission, which have been prescribed by Islam. However, it is obvious that despite these compulsory releases, many such slaves still remained, who were unable to benefit from any one of these methods. Furthermore, the acquisition of their freedom was not definite in the case of mere recommendation. Therefore, it was necessary that a permanent and solid system be arranged, by which existing slaves could continue to secure their own freedom. Hence, in this respect, Islam proposed the ingenious system known as Mukatabat. Under this system, the master was obliged to free his slave on the condition that he had become capable of manumission and generated a reasonable amount to pay for his own freedom. This amount was to be decided upon according to the circumstances of the slave, the identification of which rested with the government or judiciary and not in the hands of the master. As such, Allah the Exalted states:

Meaning, “O ye Muslims! From among your slaves, such as desire a deed of manumission in writing, it is your obligation to settle an agreement of Mukatabat with them and free them, on the condition that they have become capable of manumission. Moreover, it is also your obligation to give them a portion of this wealth, which actually belongs to God, but He has bestowed it upon you as a result of Mukatabat.”[1]

This verse serves as the foundation stone for the compulsory system of manumission. Although the words are very brief, the meanings contained therein are immensely vast and outstandingly forceful. In this verse, Muslims have been commanded that such slaves as desire to settle an agreement of Mukatabat with them in order to secure manumission, it is their obligation to release them on the condition that they have become capable of freedom. An agreement of Mukatabat refers to the settlement between a slave and his master, that if the slave pays a certain amount to his master, he shall be deemed free. The method of this was that after an agreement of this nature had been made the slave would practically be released. However, in this state of half-freedom, the slave would take up work or a profession in commerce, trade and skill, agriculture or labour etc., and endeavour to pay the amount settled in the agreement of Mukatabat. When this amount was fully paid, that person would be considered as being free completely. Furthermore, although this amount of Mukatabat was considered to be under the full control of the master, it was still his obligation to give an appropriate share to the slave as well. This system was so blessed and ingenious that such slaves as were worthy, continued to be released as a right. Moreover, since slaves were compelled to take up independent work in order to pay the amount settled in Mukatabat, and were made to bear the responsibility of a civil agreement, they also developed the ability of living a free life and becoming beneficial citizens of the country.

This system of Mukatabat was not dependent on the desire of the master, rather, it was compulsory. In other words, a master did not possess the right to refuse a slave’s demand for Mukatabat. It was the task of the judiciary or government to determine whether the slave had become capable of manumission. As such, there is a narration:

Meaning, “Anasra, who was a Companion of the Holy Prophetsa, owned a slave named Sirin, who desired to settle an agreement of Mukatabat with Anasra. However, Anasra refused thinking that he possessed much wealth and did not require the wealth of Mukatabat. Upon this, Sirin filed a complaint against Anasra with Hazrat ‘Umarra. Upon hearing the complaint lodged by Sirin, Hazrat ‘Umarra ordered Anasra to accept the request for Mukatabat. However, Anasra remained adamant upon refusal. At this, Hazrat ‘Umarra whipped Anasra and recited to him the verse, ‘O ye Muslims! If your slaves desire a deed of manumission in writing, it is your obligation to settle an agreement of Mukatabat with them.’ Upon this, Anasra settled an agreement of Mukatabat with Sirin.”[2]

The basis of the obligation of Mukatabat depended on whether a slave had become capable of manumission or not. As such, Yahya bin Kathir relates: Meaning, “The Holy Prophetsa would say that where the Holy Qur’an states, ‘It is your obligation not to refuse a proposal of Mukatabat, if you find good in your slaves,” the ‘good’ which has been referred to here is the ability of a trade skill. In other words, it becomes obligatory to settle Mukatabat with such slaves who are knowledgeable in a trade or skill, or who possess the ability to quickly learn one, so that they do not become a burden on society in any way after their acquisition of freedom.”[3]


As mentioned above, the decision of whether a slave possesses this capability or not was in the hands of the government and did not depend on the desire of the master. This Hadith also expounds that in actuality, the true desire of the Islamic teaching was to make the circumstances of existing slaves better and then instil within them the capability of manumission. Hence, as slaves continued to grow capable, so too, they continued to acquire their freedom.


Since the method of Mukatabat was the foundation stone of the manumission of slaves, it has been highly preferred in Islam. As such, it has been related in a Hadith:

Meaning, “Abu Hurairahra relates that the Holy Prophetsa would state, ‘There are three kinds of people for whom Allah the Exalted has declared that He would grant them succour as their right: firstly, a slave who has settled an agreement of Mukatabat, and is worried about paying the sum owed by him; secondly, a person who married with the intention of guarding his chastity; thirdly, a person who strives in the cause of Allah.’”[4]

The liberation movement of slaves was not only limited to individuals. Rather, it was also an obligation of the Islamic state to spend an adequate sum on the manumission of slaves from the National Baitul-Mal (House of Wealth). Hence, Allah the Exalted states in the Holy Qur’an:

Meaning, “The wealth of Zakat is to be spent on the poor and needy, and upon those employed in connection therewith, and upon weak new Muslims, and for the manumission of slaves, and for those in debt, and for the propagation of religion, and for the comfort of the wayfarer – an ordinance from Allah the Exalted.”[5]


In light of this verse, an obligation has been put upon the Islamic State to spend funds on the manumission of slaves from the revenues generated from Zakat.


Doctrine Relevant to Freed Slaves

In this system of the manumission of slaves it was also ensured that even after manumission, freed slaves did not remain completely without support and assistance. Therefore, the Holy Prophetsa devised a system whereby a master and his freed slave always remained tied together in a kind of brotherhood. According to the instruction of the Holy Prophetsa, a master and his freed slave were referred to as the ‘Maula’ or ‘ friend’ and ‘helper’ of one another. This was so that both master and slave kept in mind that they were friends, and in a time of need, they would help each other. It is due to this wisdom that a freed slave and his master were made heirs to one another. In other words, if a slave died without heirs, his previous master would inherit his wealth. Similarly, if a master died without heirs, his freed slave would inherit his wealth. As such, it is related in a Hadith:

Meaning, “‘A’ishahra relates that the Holy Prophetsa would state, ‘If a freed slave died without heirs, his wealth shall be inherited by his previous master.’[6] Ibni ‘Abbasra relates that on one occasion a person died without heirs. Albeit, a freed slave who once belonged to him was alive. The Holy Prophetsa granted his inheritance to his freed slave.”[7]

The foundation of this right of inheritance was not based on monetary or economic reasons. Rather, the actual desire was to maintain a relationship between a master and his freed slave. For this reason, the Holy Prophetsa issued the order that this right of inheritance could not be put up for sale or given as a gift, etc., As such, Ibni ‘Umarra relates: Meaning, ‘The Holy Prophetsa prohibited the buying and selling, or gifting, etc., of the right of inheritance between a freed slave and his master.’[8]

Then, in order to establish the dignity and honour of freed slaves, it is mentioned in a Hadith:

Meaning, “On one occasion, Salmanra, Suhaibra and Bilalra, etc., who were freed slaves, were sitting somewhere. Abu Sufyanra happened to pass by and they said, ‘This enemy of God was saved from the sword of Allah.’ When Hazrat Abu Bakrra heard this, he admonished them saying, ‘Is this how you speak of the leader of the Quraish?’ After this, Abu Bakrra presented himself before the Holy Prophetsa and related the entire incident. The Holy Prophetsa said, ‘Abu Bakr! Are you certain that you have not displeased Bilal, etc.? For in their displeasure is the displeasure of God.’ Abu Bakrra returned to Bilalra, etc., immediately and said, ‘O brothers! I hope you are not displeased at what I said.’ They responded, ‘O brother! We are not displeased. There is nothing to worry about.’”[9]

How Did the Muslims Act upon the Teaching of the Manumission of Slaves

Now the only question which remains is whether the freedom of slaves actually took place or not, as a result of these recommendations, expiations, and compulsory manumissions. The answer to this is that as mentioned above, in this era, slaves were found in abundance. This was to such an extent that in certain countries, the number of slaves was at times, even greater than the actual number of residents in the country.[10] Therefore, to empty this unlimited store was no easy task, nor did all of these slaves live under the small Islamic State and under Muslim owners, whose number was even smaller. Thus, it was obvious that this liberation movement could only move forward gradually. However, history shows that as far as the efforts of the Companions and their followers were concerned, they exerted their utmost concentration and effort in order to free slaves themselves, as well as secure the freedom of others. Most definitely, no such example can be found in the history of the world. As such, history establishes that in this era, not only did Muslims continue to free slaves in abundance by their own hands, rather, they would also purchase slaves with the specific intention and objective of freeing them. In this manner, due to the commendable efforts of the Muslims, countless slaves were delivered from the misfortune of slavery. Therefore, the following list, which is definitely not inclusive and only contains the names of a few Companions by way of example, is enough to prove our claim. It is narrated in Subulus-Salam:

1. The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa freed 63 slaves
2. Hazrat ‘A’ishahra freed 67 slaves
3. Hazrat ‘Abbasra freed 70 slaves
4. Hakium bin Hizamra freed 100 slaves
5. ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umarra freed 1,000 slaves
6. ‘Abdur-Rahman bin ‘Aufra freed 3,000 slaves
7. Hazrat ‘Uthman bin ‘Affanra freed 20,000 slaves on one day alone, which was the day of his martyrdom. The total number is far greater than this.
8. Dhul-Kila‘ Al-Himyari freed 8,000 slaves on one day alone

TOTAL NUMBER: 32,300[11]

As we have mentioned above, in this narration only a few Companions have been mentioned by way of example. If according to the proportion mentioned above, we were to approximate the number of slaves freed by a large number of other Companions, the Tabi‘in[12] and Taba‘ Tabi‘in,[13] this number definitely reaches into the millions. However, the truth is that even the number of freed slaves mentioned in this narration, which have been attributed to the above-mentioned Companions, is not completely accurate. Rather, the actual number is far greater. For example, with regards to Hazrat ‘A’ishahra it is proven from a narration that she freed forty slaves upon a single instance alone. From another narration it becomes evident that it was her practice to free slaves abundantly. Therefore, to assume that throughout the course of her entire life she only freed sixty-seven slaves, would most definitely be incorrect. Similarly, the number which has been attributed to the Holy Prophetsa, may be correct in relation to his personal circumstances, because his financial state at a personal level was not very good. Moreover, after the institution of these injunctions, the Holy Prophetsa only lived for a short period in time thereafter. However, this number definitely does not include those slaves who were freed by the Holy Prophetsa in his capacity as Head of the Islamic State, the number of which was very great. Another thing to remember with respect to the Holy Prophetsa is that many narrations substantiate that not a single slave came under his possession, who was not set free. As such, it is this very fact, which the following narration alludes to: Meaning, ‘Amr bin Al-Harith, who was the biological brother of Ummul-Mu’minin, Juwairiyahra and the brother-in-law of the Holy Prophetsa relates that upon the demise of the Holy Prophetsa, he did not leave behind a single Dirham, Dinar, slave or bond-woman.’[14]

Therefore, this teaching which has been prescribed by Islam in relation to slaves, was not merely for the embellishment of paper. Rather, this teaching became a necessary part of Islamic culture and civilization, and the Islamic way of living. Moreover, both individuals and the government keenly acted upon this teaching.

All Doors of Advancement were Open to Freed Slaves

It has already been mentioned that slaves were granted freedom after the assurance that they were capable of manumission as far as their morals, habits and ability to earn a living was concerned. Now we wish to mention that those slaves who were freed, did in fact become beneficial citizens and were considered just as honourable and respectful in the Islamic society as other people. As a matter of fact, it was a practice of the Holy Prophetsa that for the purpose of reforming the ancient views of people, he would be even more mindful of the dignity and honour of slaves and freed slaves, than others. Therefore, on many occasions, the Holy Prophetsa appointed his freed slave Zaid bin Harithahra and his son Usamahra,as the commander of many military campaigns. Many highly respected and prominant Companions were appointed under them and when ignorant people objected to this action of the Holy Prophetsa, due to their ancient views, he responded: Meaning, “You have objected to the appointment of Usamahra as a commander and prior to this you have also objected to the leadership of his father Zaidra. By God! Just as Zaidra was worthy and capable of leadership and was among my most beloved, so too, Usamahra is worthy of leadership and among my most beloved.”[15]

Then, what could be greater than the fact that the Holy Prophetsa wed the daughter of his biological paternal aunt, Zainab bint Jahashra,to Zaid bin Harithahra. It is a strange miracle that in the entire Holy Qur’an, if any Companion has been mentioned by name, it is this very Zaid bin Harithahra.[16] Then, there were many freed slaves who attained a lofty rank in their knowledge and wisdom. As such, Salim bin Ma‘qalra, the freed slave of Abu Hudhaifahra, was considered to be one of the most distinct scholars from among the Companions. Moreover, Salimra was also from among the four Companions who were appointed by the Holy Prophetsa to teach the Holy Qur’an.[17] Then, as far as honour and respect due to virtue and purity was concerned, Hazrat ‘Umarra would often say with regards to Bilalra,that he was their chief.[18]
Then, even after the Companions, various freed slaves attained a very high status in Islamic society. As such, ‘Ata’ bin Abi Rabah, Mujahid bin Jubair Nafi‘, the freed slave of Ibni ‘Umarra,and Musa bin ‘Uqbahra, are considered to be among the most revered among the Tabi‘in, before whom very illustrious people would humbly sit as pupils.[19]



1. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Nur, Verse 34.

2.   Sahihul-Bukhari, Kitabul-Mukatab, Babu Ithmi Man Qadhafa Mamlukahu/Babul-Mukatibi Wa

Nujumihi Fi Kulli Sanatin Najmun.

3.   Tafsirul-Qur’anil-‘Azim (Tafsiru Ibni Kathir), by ‘Imaduddin Abul-Fida’ Isma‘il bin ‘Umar Ibni

Kathir, Volume 6, p. 49, Tafsiru Suratin-Nur, Under Verse 33 “Wal-Yasta‘fifilladhina…..Fakatibuhum In ‘Alimtum…..”, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, Lebanon (1998).

4. Mishkatul-Masabih, Kitabun-Nikah, Al-Fasluth-Thani, Qadimi Kutub Khanah, Aram Bagh, Karachi.

5. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Taubah, Verse 60.

6. Sahihul-Bukhari, Kitabul-Fara’id, Babul-Wala’i Limani‘taqa….., Hadith No. 6751.

7. * Sunanut-Tirmidhi, Kitabul-Fara’id, Babu Fi Mirathil-Maulal-Asfal, Hadith No. 2106.

* Sunanu Abi Dawud, Kitabul-Fara’id, Babu Fi Mirathi Dhawil-Arham, Hadith No. 2905.

* Sunanu Ibni Majah, Kitabul-Fara’id, Babu Man-La Waritha Lahu, Hadith No. 2741.

8. Sahihul-Bukhari, Kitabul-‘Itq, Babu Bai‘il-Wala’i Wa Hibatihi, Hadith No. 2535.

9.   Sahihu Muslim, Kitabu Fada’ilis-Sahabah, Babu Min Fada’ili Salman Wa Suhaib wa Bilal….., Hadith

No. 6412.

10. The Encyclopedia Britannica (11th Edition), Volume XV, p. 219, Under the word ‘Slavery’,

Encyclopedia Britannica Inc, New York (1910-1911).

11.   Subulus-Salami Al-Musilatu Ila Bulughil-Marami, by Muhammad bin Isma‘il Al-Amirus-San‘ani,

Kitabul-‘Itqit-Targhibu Fil-‘Itq, Volume 8, p. 105, Darubnil-Jauziu, Al-Mamlikatul-‘Arabiyyatus-Sa‘udiyyah (1421 A.H.).

12. The generation of Muslims who were born after the death of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, but who were contemporaries of the Sahabara (Companions) of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa.

13. The generation after the Tabi’in in Islam.

14. Sahihul-Bukhari, Kitabul-Wasayah, Babul-Wasayah, Hadith No. 2739.

15. Sahihul-Bukhari, Kitabu Fada’ili Ashabin-Nabiyyisa, Babu Manaqibi Zaid bin Harithah….., Hadith No.3730.

16. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Ahzab, Verse 38.

17. Sahihul-Bukhari, Kitabu Fada’ili Ashabin-Nabiyyisa, Babu Manaqibi Salimin Maula Abi Hudhaifah,

Hadith No. 3758.

18. Sahihul-Bukhari, Kitabu Fada’ili Ashabin-Nabiyyisa, Babu Manaqibi Bilalubnu Rabah, Hadith No.3754.

19. Tahzibut-Tahzib, by Al-Imam Shihabuddin Abul-Fadl Ahmad bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani.



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