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.
Translated from the Urdu by Ayyaz Mahmood Khan
Prior to bringing this discussion to a close, it is necessary to answer the question that if Islam brought a message of the freedom and liberation of slaves, why then did the Holy Prophetsa not order the manumission of all existing slaves at once? As such, the brief and simple answer to this is merely that the Holy Prophetsadid not do this because he was a true friend of slaves. Furthermore, the task of the Holy Prophetsa was reformation, not ostentation. Hence, the Holy Prophetsadid not take any such step, which apparently seemed to possess a nature of friendship, but was actually harmful to slaves and injurious to the progress of the country and civilisation. Every sensible individual can understand that in light of the circumstances of that time, to free hundreds and thousands of slaves all at once would have been equivalent to leaving them in such a helpless and insecure state as could have proven to be dangerous for them in many respects. In light of the circumstances of that time, the definite result of this immediate and universal manumission would have been that one segment of these slaves would have starved to death due to poverty. Then, the other segment would have become unemployed and inclined towards criminality; and thus become a means of their own moral destruction, as well as a means of causing disorder and unrest throughout the country and nation. Irrespective of how pleasant proposals of reform may seem at times from an emotional aspect, but actually in most cases they do not prove to be beneficial. Rather, in some cases they result in a dangerous effect on the habits and qualities of individuals, as well as on the collective life and civilisation of the nation. The Holy Prophetsa was a true Reformer and desired to do for slaves what was truly beneficial and blessed for them. Therefore, he did not tread a path as would cause a destructive earthquake in the Arab society, and instead of benefitting slaves, was a means of harm. Contemplate well that in light of the circumstances of that time, to free hundreds and thousands of slaves at once without a far-sighted system, definitely would have led to the life of these slaves being destroyed, as well as their religion. In other words, as far as their lives were concerned, most of them would have been left completely helpless and without a means of livelihood. Furthermore, they would have also been left without opportunities to learn a trade. From a religious perspective, this immediate and universal manumission would have taken a very detrimental toll on their morals and habits. In specific, due to a very lengthy era subjected to cruel slavery, they had developed ignobility, hard-heartedness, and other bad morals of this nature. Who knows what turn these morals would have taken and what effects they would have brought about as a result of immediate manumission. Then, the other harmful effects, which could have taken their toll on society as a result of this universal manumission are in addition to the ones previously mentioned. Hence, with the utmost wisdom, on the one hand, Islam proposed that for the future, all cruel forms of slavery were prohibited and thus brought a halt to any further expansion of this sphere (which shall become evident in the discussion hereafter). On the other hand, taking temporary circumstances into consideration, it employed practical strategies for the moral, societal and financial reformation and well-being of existing slaves. Along with this, it also proposed that as these slaves became capable of living beneficial free lives, they would definitely continue to be freed as well. In light of the circumstances at that time, it was this very true method of reformation, which could have been adopted with the greatest hope of promising results. As a matter of fact, an in-depth study of this system does not leave even an iota of doubt that this was an unparalleled system; the like of which cannot be seen in any era prior to this, nor has any nation until now been able to present such an example to the world thereafter.
At this point, the doubt may arise that in the previous century many European and American reformers have appeared, who as if, devoted their entire lives to the liberation movement of slaves and due to their endeavours, the system of slavery was abolished all together from most countries of the world; for example, Abraham Lincoln, who in his time was President of the United States, granted freedom to hundreds and thousands of black slaves at once, and no negative result came about due to this immediate and universal manumission; as a matter of fact this service of Abraham Lincoln is looked upon with great approval. Firstly, the answer is that there is a difference of heaven and earth between the circumstances of fourteen hundred years ago and today. Furthermore, this teaching of Islam regarding the gradual manumission of the slaves of that era was in light of the circumstances of that era, and the permanent teaching of Islam in this respect was something else, which shall be mentioned ahead; therefore, logically this comparison cannot be deemed correct in any case. Hence, in the circumstances of this era, if immediate and universal manumission did not prove to be harmful, this does not categorically substantiate that this practice would also not prove to be harmful in previous eras and in circumstances which differ to those of today. In the era of the Holy Prophetsa, the moral and societal state of slaves was immensely abject. Moreover, the culture and civilisation of the world was completely different from the culture and civilisation present in the world today. Therefore, in light of the circumstances of that era, it was more appropriate to employ a method of gradual manumission instead of immediate and universal manumission, otherwise, the outcomes would have definitely been detrimental instead of beneficial. This is a fundamental answer which can be given to this allegation. However, the truth is that the proposals employed by Islam, were far more advantageous and beneficial in any case. Furthermore, any unprejudiced individual who contemplates this issue with a cool heart shall reach the conclusion we have just mentioned. There is a very true saying of Jesus Christas, that a tree is recognised by its fruits. Hence, we should study that from among these two methods, which one has resulted in being more advantageous and favourable. Is it the method employed by Islam fourteen hundred years ago or the method employed in the current age by various European and American reformers? At this point, we cannot engage in an elaborate discussion. We only desire to briefly mention that the results of the relative merit of both these methods can be compared in two ways: firstly, which method from among these two methods brought about more true freedom; secondly, which method resulted in freed slaves attaining greater success. We confidently affirm that in the context of these two perspectives, the method adopted by the Holy Prophetsa fourteen hundred years from today was much more beneficial than the one employed by various Western reformers of this era. It is obvious that merely freeing a slave by name while failing to abolish the actual spirit of slavery cannot be considered to constitute an act of true freedom. However, if one looks closely, the reform implemented by Western reformers is no way different than the ‘so-called’ reform just mentioned. Undoubtedly, they may have freed hundreds and thousands of slaves by a single order, but they were unable to abolish the true spirit of slavery. Rather, even after this freedom, the spirit of enslavement continued to live on just as before in the hearts and minds of the emancipators and the emancipated. As a result of this, slavery could not be truly abolished and relations between masters and their slaves became severely tense. Take the example of America. No doubt, apparently in the United States, hundreds and thousands of black slaves received freedom at once. However, irrespective of the fact that due to this universal freedom, the country became engulfed in a dangerous fire of civil war, even today, has the black slave of America truly received emancipation? Rather, we ask that even to this day, is there a single law within the country, which can grant true freedom to the black slave of America? Does the white man of America not practically consider his freed black slave as being more despicable than even the worst slaves in the world? Then, does this freed black man truly consider himself as being free in America? Indeed, relations between the white emancipators of America and the black emancipated are the worst example of international relations found in the world today. This state of affairs is due to the fact that in freeing these slaves, such a method was employed whereby slaves were emancipated by name, no doubt, but they were unable to attain true freedom. No reformation took place in the minds of the emancipators or the emancipated. In comparison to this, those people who were freed according to the Islamic method, although they were freed gradually, but after their manumission, they were truly free. In other words, their bodies were free, their souls were free, their thoughts were free, their intellects were free, and such relations of love and sincerity had been developed between these freed slaves and their emancipators, as puts the real brotherhood of today to shame. When I cast a glance upon the African-American ‘Tom’ of today, and the Abyssinian-Arab Bilalra of fourteen hundred years ago, a strange spectacle is to be witnessed. Both of these individuals were of African descent and both were freed slaves. However, when the Arab slave (i.e., Bilalra) went to visit the King of that time (i.e., ‘Umar bin Al-Khattabra), on that occasion, despite there being very eminent Arab chieftains waiting at the entrance to meet the King, upon receiving news of the arrival of Bilalra, the King did not summon those Arab chieftains, who were also Muslims, rather, he immediately invited Bilalra instead. When Bilalra had finished his meeting, it was only then that these Arab chieftains were given their turn. In the audience of that King, when the name of Bilalra was mentioned, the King stated, ‘Bilal is our chief.’ However, in comparison to this, what status was given to ‘Tom,’ the freed American slave? The world knows that he would be kicked about by the feet of his emancipators and in gatherings, he would be made to sit in places of dishonour, endure all sorts of cruelties and could not even utter a word. Why this difference? Undoubtedly, the reason is that the method adopted by Islam for the manumission of slaves was in fact the true method of reformation. Hence, true freedom was established as a result of this, but the reform of Western reformers was defective, and their method was incorrect. As a result of the latter method, freedom was no doubt attained by name, but death did not come upon the actual spirit of slavery, and mindsets remained unaltered.
The second manner, in which this question may be analysed, is by looking at which method from among these systems resulted in more progress for freed slaves. As such, after the above-mentioned discussion, the answer to this question no longer remains difficult to determine either. The reason being that naturally, the path which would result in more progress for slaves would be the one which afforded them more true freedom. This path as the one offered by Islam. However, even practically, we see that from this perspective as well, the Islamic method is found to be more successful and beneficial. The reason being, that a very large number from among those people who were freed according to the Islamic method were found to be of such people who reached the very highest level of success in all fields, and assumed the status of being Muslim leaders in various areas. For example, as mentioned above, Zaid bin Harithahra was a freed slave, but he developed such ability that the Holy Prophetsa appointed him as the commander in many Islamic campaigns. Highly eminent Companions and even accomplished generals the like of Khalid bin Walidra, were positioned under him. Then, there was Salim bin Ma‘qalra, who was an ordinary freed slave of Abu Hudhaifah bin ‘Utbahra. However, he progressed in his knowledge and wisdom to the extent that he was among the four Companions who were appointed among the Muslims by the Holy Prophetsa to teach the Holy Qur’an, and were deemed worthy enough to be his representatives in this respect. Similarly, after the Companions, Nafi‘ the freed slave of Ibni ‘Umarra, ‘Ikramah the freed slave of Ibni ‘Abbasra, Makhul bin ‘Abdillah, ‘Ata’ bin Abi Rabah, ‘Abdullah bin Mubarak and Muhammad bin Sirin, were accepted as leaders in the field of Hadith and Jurisprudence. Many eminent people would consider it a means of pride to be among their pupils. Then, Hasan Basri and Mujahid bin Jubair were considered to be unparalleled in the fields of Mysticism and ‘Ilmi-Qira‘atrespectively. The most learned teachers in the field of history were Musa bin ‘Aqabah and Muhammad bin Ishaq, and the world would bow before their academic prowess. All of these people however, attained their status after being ordinary slaves. Then, the Indian dynasty of slaves whose various members developed excellence in politics and government, do not require any introduction. These radiant examples, which have been presented only by way of example (as the history of Islam is replete with such examples), are fruits of the Islamic system of manumission. However, in comparison to this what is the outcome of Western reformers? Is there even a single example in the whole of Europe, America, the whole of Africa or Australia of a freed slave who attained such a status of leadership and ascendancy in any field where even the nation who freed him began to accept him as a guide? We do not claim to be an expert on the history of nations, but to our knowledge, we are unable to find a single example from among the freed slaves of Christian nations, where any such person attained such a level of distinction. Rather, all that can be witnessed is that these people continued to remain insignificant, which is proof of the fact that the Islamic method of manumission was definitely far more beneficial and far more blessed. In these circumstances, to present the name of a current-day reformer in competition to the reform of the Holy Prophetsa is an insult of the truth. Invariably, we look to the work of these people with regard as well and praise their efforts. However, the effort of every individual possesses a certain status and the truth is that the reforms instituted by the Holy Prophetsa possess such a status as cannot be compared to the effort of any other person. Fourteen hundred years from today, when the world considered slavery to be their birthright and the state of slaves was worse than animals, the Holy Prophetsa raised a voice in support of slaves. He employed immensely sagacious strategies to practically improve the state of existing slaves, by completely abolishing all cruel practices of slavery for the future. Then, in addition to emphatically advocating the manumission of slaves, he instituted such a wise system by which these slaves could continue to improve their own state and then naturally continue to be freed as well. He also made it an obligation of the State to strictly oversee the work of reforming the state of slaves as well as to administer their gradual, but compulsory manumission. Then, the Holy Prophetsa managed this system so marvelously that those slaves who were freed, and their numbers ran into the millions, not only truly became free, but also became extremely beneficial citizens of the country and nation as well. Such people were then born among them who attained the status of being commanders and leaders among the Muslims. Even the necks of those who had freed them bowed before them. This is the work undertaken by the Holy Prophetsa, and it is this work of which no parallel can be found in the history of the world. Hence, to raise an allegation in the manner of ignorant people as to why the Holy Prophetsa did not free all slaves at once as Abraham Lincoln or other Western personalities have done, is merely a superficial outburst of human emotions, which possesses no depth at all.
Why Did Slavery Continue to Remain in Islamic Countries?
At this point, the question has also been raised that if the actual intent of the Islamic teaching was that slaves should be gradually freed, why then did the practice of slavery continue to remain in Islamic countries up until the current era? The answer to this is that on the one hand, until the Islamic State continued to progress and the sphere of its influence continued to expand; and the Muslims also continued to understand the true essence of the Islamic teachings and adhere to them, the liberation movement of slaves continued to move forward very rapidly. Millions of slaves were delivered from the misfortune of slavery by the efforts of Muslims. However, as mentioned above, during that era, there was a countless and limitless number of slaves throughout the world. There was no civilised country in the world where slaves did not exist in great abundance. Hence, prior to the depletion of this inexhaustible store, on the one hand the progression of Islamic conquests gradually weakened, and ultimately came to a halt completely. On the other hand, due to a distance from the prophetic era, that light of prophethood, which was the cause of all this bloom and blossom, began to fade in the hearts of the Muslims. That vigorous passion of understanding the true Islamic doctrine and adherence to it, with which the Companions stood up, and which was given to future generations by the Companions as inheritance, gradually began to vanish from the hearts of the Muslims. As a matter of fact, during this Dark Age, such people were born who, due to their ignorance or materialism, distorted religion and disfigured it completely. The result of this was that in the likeness of other nations, who still practiced a very repulsive form of slavery, Muslims also abandoned the Islamic teachings and traditions and resorted to that very cruel form of slavery, which Islam actually stood to uproot. However, even in the era of this crooked mindset and unbecoming conduct, as a whole, the state of slaves in Islamic countries remained comparatively better than in other countries. Moreover, at the outset, even though Muslims kept slaves, they were never supporters of the actual spirit behind slavery. Contrary to this, in the Christian country of Abyssinia, such a horrific form of slavery exists even today that upon witnessing it, mankind is put to shame. Even today, death has not come upon the spirit of slavery in the cultured and civilised Christian countries of Europe and America. Nonetheless, the miserable state of a neighbouring nation cannot wash away the blemish of our own deterioration. There is an immediate and dire need for Islamic governments and Islamic societies to engage in abolishing this cruel practice of slavery, with full concentration and effort. They must once again, bring the world back to that blessed nucleus, which the Holy Prophetsa and his Companions wished to gather it in, and the purpose of which was to eradicate slavery and its spirit from the world; and thus, establish true freedom and true equality.
A Final Testament of the Holy Prophetsa Regarding Slaves
I end this discussion with those immensely beautiful words, which were the last words uttered by the Holy Founder of Islam in a world of materialism. Hazrat ‘Ali bin Abi Talibra and Anas bin Malikra relate:
Meaning, “The last words which were heard upon the blessed tongue of the Holy Prophetsa in a state when death was about to overtake him were, ‘O ye Muslims! My last testament to you is,that you must never forget my teaching relevant to the obligatory prayers and slaves.’”
At the time when the Holy Prophetsa uttered these words, his wives who stood by his side in every difficulty and hardship as his life partners were also present. His beloved daughter and her children, as well as other friends and relatives of the Holy Prophetsa were also before him. The loyal Muhajirin, in whose sincere companionship the life of the Holy Prophetsa had passed were present as well. The devoted Ansar, who irrigated the plant of Islam by the water of their blood were also nearby. Moreover, this was a time when the Holy Prophetsa would not have had any further opportunity to advise anyone else. The Holy Prophetsa also knew and felt that an admonition made at such a time would outweigh all other exhortations. Yet, the eyes of the Holy Prophetsa did not settle upon any one of the people mentioned just now. If there was a single person in the world who the Holy Prophetsa remembered and this recollection made him uneasy even in his final moments before death, it was this immensely oppressed slave. Goodness gracious! What a true friend of slaves. What a compassionate and sincere friend was bestowed upon the world by God, but alas, the world did not give him his due value.
1. * Ahmad bin ‘Ali bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani, Al-Isabatu Fi Tamizis-Sahabah, Volume 3, Suhailubnu ‘Amribni ‘Abdi Shams, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah (Beirut, Lebanon: 2005), 178.
* ‘Izzuddin Ibnul-Athir Abul-Hasan ‘Ali bin Muhammad, Usdul-Ghabah Fi Ma‘rifatis-Sahabah, Volume 1, Bilalubnu Rabah, Darul-Fikr (Beirut, Lebanon: 2003), 285.
* ‘Izzuddin Ibnul-Athir Abul-Hasan ‘Ali bin Muhammad, Usdul-Ghabah Fi Ma‘rifatis-Sahabah, Volume 2, Suhailubnu ‘Amrin Al-Quraishi, Darul-Fikr (Beirut, Lebanon: 2003), 347.
2. Science of Qur’anic Recitation Style [Publishers]
3. * ‘Izzuddin Ibnul-Athir Abul-Hasan ‘Ali bin Muhammad, Usdul-Ghabah Fi Ma‘rifatis-Sahabah, Volume 2, Salimun Maula Abi Hudhaifah, Darul-Fikr (Beirut, Lebanon: 2003), 170.
* Abu ‘Umar Yusuf bin ‘Abdillah bin Muhammad, Al-Isti‘abu Fi Ma‘rifatil-Ashab, Volume 2, Salimubnu Ma‘qal, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah (Beirut, Lebanon: 2002), 135-136.
* Al-Imam Shihabuddin Abul-Fadl Ahmad bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani, Tahzibut-Tahzib, Volume 2, Zaidubnu Harithah, First Edition, Da’iratul-Ma‘arifin-Nizamiyyatil-Ka’inah (Hyderabad, Dakkan: 1326 A.H.), 234-235.
* Al-Imam Shihabuddin Abul-Fadl Ahmad bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani, Tahzibut-Tahzib, Volume 5, Mujahidubnu Jabar, First Edition, Da’iratul-Ma‘arifin-Nizamiyyatil-Ka’inah (Hyderabad, Dakkan: 1326 A.H.), 373-374.
* Al-Imam Shihabuddin Abul-Fadl Ahmad bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani, Tahzibut-Tahzib, Volume 5, Nafi‘un Al-Faqihu Maula Ibni ‘Umar, First Edition, Da’iratul-Ma‘arifin-Nizamiyyatil-Ka’inah (Hyderabad, Dakkan: 1326 A.H.), 606-607.
* Al-Imam Shihabuddin Abul-Fadl Ahmad bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani, Tahzibut-Tahzib, Volume 4, ‘Ikrimatu Al-Bariri, First Edition, Da’iratul-Ma‘arifin-Nizamiyyatil-Ka’inah (Hyderabad, Dakkan: 1326 A.H.), 167-171.
* Al-Imam Shihabuddin Abul-Fadl Ahmad bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani, Tahzibut-Tahzib, Volume 5, Makhulush-Shami, First Edition, Da’iratul-Ma‘arifin-Nizamiyyatil-Ka’inah (Hyderabad, Dakkan: 1326 A.H.), 529-530.
* Al-Imam Shihabuddin Abul-Fadl Ahmad bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani, Tahzibut-Tahzib, Volume 5, Muhammadubnu Sirin, First Edition, Da’iratul-Ma‘arifin-Nizamiyyatil-Ka’inah, (Hyderabad, Dakkan: 1326 A.H.), 139-140.
* Al-Imam Shihabuddin Abul-Fadl Ahmad bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani, Tahzibut-Tahzib, Volume 3, ‘Abdullahibnul-Mubarak, First Edition, Da’iratul-Ma‘arifin-Nizamiyyatil-Ka’inah (Hyderabad, Dakkan: 1326 A.H.), 247-248.
* Al-Imam Shihabuddin Abul-Fadl Ahmad bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani, Tahzibut-Tahzib, Volume 4, ‘Ata’ubnu Abi Rabah, First Edition, Da’iratul-Ma‘arifin-Nizamiyyatil-Ka’inah (Hyderabad, Dakkan: 1326 A.H.), 128-129.
* Al-Imam Shihabuddin Abul-Fadl Ahmad bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani, Tahzibut-Tahzib, Volume 1, Al-Hasanubnu Abil-Hasani Yasarin Al-Basri, First Edition, Da’iratul-Ma‘arifin- Nizamiyyatil-Ka’inah (Hyderabad, Dakkan: 1326 A.H.), 481-484.
* Al-Imam Shihabuddin Abul-Fadl Ahmad bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani, Tahzibut-Tahzib, Volume 5, Muhammadubnu Ishaq, First Edition, Da’iratul-Ma‘arifin-Nizamiyyatil-Ka’inah (Hyderabad, Dakkan: 1326 A.H.), 28-32.
* Al-Imam Shihabuddin Abul-Fadl Ahmad bin Hajar Al-‘Asqalani, Tahzibut-Tahzib, Volume 5, Musabnu ‘Uqbah, First Edition, Da’iratul-Ma‘arifin-Nizamiyyatil-Ka’inah (Hyderabad, Dakkan: 1326 A.H.), 574.
4. * Sunanu Ibni Majah, Kitabul-Wasaya, Babu Hal Ausa Rasulullahsa, Hadith No. 2697
* Al-Imam Jalaluddin bin Abi Bakr As-Suyuti, Al-Jami‘us-Saghiru Fi Ahadithil-Bashirin-Nadhir, Volume 1-2, Hadith No. 5172, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah (Beirut, Lebanon: 2004), 319.