Contemporary and Social Issues

Slaves, Dowry and a Tale of Two Weddings

Slaves, Dowry and A Tale of Two Weddings
©Pixabay

Zafir Malik, UK

Billions of people have walked the face of the earth. There are some who achieved great feats and as a result, their legacy outlives them and they are etched in the annals of history. In contrast, others are remembered for the evil they committed, a potent reminder of what one should NOT do.

Recent events have brought us to reflect upon the case of two men in history. The following is not a comparison of their respective achievements in life or of their character because, quite simply, there is no comparison between the two. Nevertheless, they were both leaders in their own times; and two events in their life bear striking similarities – but with vastly opposing outcomes.

One of these two men lived approximately three centuries ago. He was the owner of a large estate, which he had inherited from his half-brother after his demise. [1] Just prior to his marriage, he had joined the army; but after brief success in this venture, he became disillusioned with the system. Thus, resigning his commission, he returned to run his estate and start work on his plantations. [2] When it came to the time of his marriage, he owned 18 slaves of his own. [3] The woman he was betrothed to was a widow with children from her previous marriage. She was older than he was, but not by much. However, she was one of the wealthiest women of her area; and aside from a large estate, she brought with her 84 slaves as part of the dowry. [4] Much debate has arisen recently around how this individual treated his slaves, given the situation at present. No amount of condemnation can even scratch the surface of such an abhorrent crime against humanity. One can imagine the treatment handed out to these slaves from the fact that his personal assistant ran away (although his plan was thwarted) and so did both the family cook and his wife’s personal maid (and they were successful). [5] At the time of his death, he owned more than 300 slaves. [6]

The second tale is of a man who lived chronologically before the first by almost a thousand years. He was orphaned at a young age and was first looked after by his grandfather and then later by his uncle. Not only was this era starkly different to the aforementioned one, but their geographical location, culture and civilisation were also poles apart. There was, however, one thing that was common to both lands and eras: slavery. Just like in the first tale, he married a widow who was older than him; and she too had children from her previous marriage. [7] Again, she too was very wealthy – and as was the case in the first tale, aside from her wealth, she brought along her slaves to the union.

After marriage, realising that the disparity in their circumstances could prove to be the making of an unhappy marriage, she proposed the idea of handing over her estates to him, including all the slaves. However, in contrast to the first tale, this individual made his intention clear that as soon as he was given control of the estate and the slaves, he would set them all free and distribute a greater part of the wealth to the poor. [8] To this, she happily agreed; and he did as he had vowed to do.

How was his treatment of the slaves? Since they were set free there is not much to judge by. However, we find that one of the slaves, although he was now a free man, refused to go anywhere. Instead, owing to the benevolence shown to him, he wished to stay with this couple. Even when this freed slave’s father tracked him down and take him back, the freed slave refused to go with him, saying that he would never leave the side of this man. [9]

Who were these two individuals?

The first tale is that of George Washington, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America and also the 1st president.

George Washington
George Washington
©Pixabay

The second is the story of Prophet Muhammad (sa), the founder of Islam. The reason why there can be no comparison is because the former was a worldly ruler, governed by his own principles, instincts and thoughts, whereas the other was a Prophet of God, commissioned to establish God’s rule on earth. Though not yet a prophet when the aforementioned incident occurred, his behaviour speaks volumes on his inherent nature and the revolution he was soon to bring about.

The Holy Prophet (sa)

Image: © Pixabay
Muhammad (sa)

Slavery May Have Been Abolished, but the Mentality Lingers On

On 25th May 2020, George Floyd, an African American man was killed by a white police officer. During the arrest, police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd for seven minutes and forty-six seconds [10]. Bodycam footage revealed that George Floyd pleaded more than 20 times stating he couldn’t breathe; at one point he even called out to his mother, but the officer continued to bear down on his neck. This was not an isolated incident of injustices against African Americans; the names of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Dion Johnson immediately come to mind. The killing of George Floyd sparked waves of protests both inside the USA and around the world as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement gathered momentum. Now that these flames have subsided, it gives a chance to reflect on the root cause of this problem and to assess what the long term solutions are because if there is something we learn from history it is that mere protests and marches may do well to raise awareness in the immediate aftermath, but they are not a long term solution. After all, why is it that after 150 years since slavery was abolished in the US constitution [11], events such as these are still perpetrated today against African Americans? Why is it that 100 years on from the Emancipation Proclamation, there was a need for the civil rights movements? Moreover, after the creation of these civil rights movements, why does it seem like nothing much has changed?

The fact of the matter is that when a people have been systematically targeted for hundreds of years, generation after generation viewing them through the lens of white supremacy as being ‘sub-human’ or ‘evolutionary backward’ [12], simply passing a bill is no solution to the long term problem. The root of the issue needs to be addressed. Undoubtedly, a large part of the problem stems from the transatlantic slave trade. Torn away from the peace and comfort of their homeland and loved ones, approximately 12.5 million Africans [13] were abducted and forcibly transported to the New World under inhumane conditions. This was not the only case of savagery seen on the shores of America. The genocide of the Indigenous Americans is another heart-wrenching chapter of American history. From the time the Europeans landed on American soil, ‘the U.S. government authorised 1,500 wars, attacks and raids on Indians, the most of any country in the world against its indigenous people.’ [14] This resulted in the population of North American Indians to go from 12 million in 1500, to just 237,000 in 1900. [15] There are several reasons for this genocide, gaining territory with an abundance of natural resources is one, but another was simply that ‘the indigenous people were just too different: Their skin was dark. Their languages were foreign. And their world views and spiritual beliefs were beyond most white men’s comprehension.’ [16]

A similar narrative was actively used during the slave trade and its repercussions can be seen even today. The slave trade was not something that was simply taking place: rather it was actively being justified by those involved and others alike. Edward Long, for example, in his ‘History of Jamaica’ refers to Africans as ‘irredeemably inferior and perhaps not even human.’ [17] This whole idea became known as ‘The Scramble for Africa’, which was the notion that by colonising Africa, Europeans were taking their civilisation to a continent deemed by them to be ‘backward’ and ‘underdeveloped.’ [18]

African American History. Manumission of Slaves in Islam.
©Pixabay

Some merchants, such as Michael Renwick Sergeant from Liverpool, tried to justify slavery by asserting that they were ‘helping’ the African slaves by removing them from despotic governments. [19] Zaphaniah Kingsley, a slave owner from Florida, wrote an entire treatise in defence of slavery and how to use it ‘effectively and for the benefit of the white owners’. [20]

This narrative did not stop there; rather, it took on different and darker forms. When assessing State populations, the 1st article of United States constitution states ‘all other persons (referring to enslaved Africans) should be counted as three-fifths of a human being.’ [21] Recently, the Bronx Zoo apologised for displaying an African man – Ota Benga – inside the monkey enclosure in 1906. [22] It may be argued that 1906 is a distant memory and many things have changed since then; yet in 1958 we find that in Belgium, a 200-day ‘world fair’ was organised to celebrate post-war success. A perfectly reasonable event to mark the occasion, one may assume, except that the issue was that ‘Expo 58’ – as it was known – contained a human zoo. Three hectares of tropical gardens were fenced off at the foot of the Atomium (a monument in Brussels) using bamboo, in which Congolese men, women and children were put on live display, [23] a spectacle of amusement for onlookers. It is no wonder then that a team of psychologists at Stanford, Pennsylvania State University and the University of California-Berkeley presented a research paper, which showed that many Americans subconsciously associate black people with apes. [24]

This subconscious bias is not something seen solely in the US; its wider implications can be witnessed elsewhere as well. For example, a recent survey by the Danish firm ‘RunRepeat’ carried out research in association with the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) which showed significant bias from commentators on the basis of their skin colour. 80 televised games from four European leagues were analysed including; the Premier League in England, Italy’s Sierra A, France’s Ligue 1 and Spain’s La Liga. Research showed that players with a lighter skin tone were praised more often for their intelligence and work ethic. In contrast players with darker skin tones were ‘significantly more likely to be ‘reduced to their physical characteristics or athletic ability, such as their pace and power.’ [25] It would be an injustice to say that these commentators were actively being racist. However, it highlights the dangerous ramifications this constant dehumanisation has had over the years.

The Islamic Solution to Abolishing Slavery: Step 1 – Challenging the Mind-Set

When Islam appeared in this world, slavery existed in most parts of the world and Arabia was no exception. However, seeing the beautiful teachings of brotherhood, unity and equality, slaves entered the fold of Islam in large numbers. They saw the Holy Prophet (sa) of Islam as a champion for freedom and equality for all. The Islamic method for the emancipation of slaves was different to that which took place at the end of the European slave trade. Even after Emancipation in USA, society was still segregated by race. The ‘Jim Crow’ laws meant that in the southern states, black people were not allowed to sit on certain parts of the bus as white people, they had segregated seating in Cinemas, different entrances to restaurants to name a few of these injustices. In contrast, Islam addressed the root of the problem first, while at the same time ensuring that the means of permanent and unequivocal emancipation were also set in place. The first order of business was to raise the status of the slaves in the eyes of the people around them and to reform their contorted views of slaves, ensuring they were considered as equals by society. In this regard, God Almighty commanded that one ought to treat one’s slaves with love and respect:

وَّ بِالۡوَالِدَیۡنِ اِحۡسَانًا وَّ بِذِی الۡقُرۡبٰی وَ الۡیَتٰمٰی وَ الۡمَسٰکِیۡنِ … وَ مَا مَلَکَتۡ اَیۡمَانُکُمۡ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ لَا یُحِبُّ مَنۡ کَانَ مُخۡتَالًا فَخُوۡرَا

‘O ye Muslims! Allah the Exalted commands you to show kindness and benevolence towards parents, and to kindred, and orphans and the needy…and towards your slaves and bondswomen; And know that surely Allah loves not the proud and boastful.’[26] In addition to this, Muslims were commanded to ensure that slave men and women had a right to marry and that preference ought to be given to believing slaves over idolaters. [27]

Another subtle but vital teaching ensured that slaves were considered as members of one’s immediate family.

لَا یُبۡدِیۡنَ زِیۡنَتَہُنَّ اِلَّا…اَوۡ مَا مَلَکَتۡ اَیۡمَانُہُنَّ

‘O ye Muslim women! Display not your beauty and embellishments except to your husbands and to such and such near relatives. In other words, observe the limitations of Pardah [i.e. Hijab, the Islamic injunction of veiling and segregation] which have been enjoined upon you, albeit, you are not required to observe Pardah from your slaves.’ [28] This subtle teaching outlined that the slaves were to be considered as close relatives, and owing to this, Muslim women did not have to observe the Pardah from their slaves just as they are exempt therefrom in the presence of their close relations.

Aside from the teachings of the Holy Qur’an, there are countless sayings of the Holy Prophet (sa) in which he encouraged his companions to ensure the kind treatment of those in bondage. A companion of the Prophet of Islam, Abu Dharr, narrates that Holy Prophet (sa) would command them: ‘Your slaves are your brethren. Hence, if an individual has a slave under his control, he should feed him what he himself eats and he should clothe him with what he himself wears. Do not burden your slaves with a task that is beyond their capacity; and if you do, assist them in this task yourselves.’ [29] The clause ‘assist them’ is crucial, as it shows that any task that one appoints the slave should be such that if the owner had to do themselves, they would be able to do it and would not consider it degrading.

These were not mere statements; indeed, the companions of the Holy Prophet (sa) acted on them in their day to day lives. With regard to Hazrat Ali (ra), the cousin of the Holy Prophet, we find a narration by Abu Nawar, a cotton cloth merchant, who stated that once Hazrat Ali (ra) came to his shop and at the time he was accompanied by his slave. Ali (ra) purchased two thin shirts and said to his slave, ‘Select the shirt you desire from among these two.’ So the slave chose a shirt and Hazrat Ali (ra) wore the other one. [30] This shows just how cautious the companions were concerning these teachings. These instructions were crucial in order to ensure the slaves were given the same status in society as everyone else and ensure that society also thought the same. It was to bring them on par with the rest of society and remove the label of ‘slave’ hanging around their necks. Otherwise, when they were eventually to be released, this label and perception would not change.

Teachings of Islam Regarding Manumission of Slaves

Alongside reforming the mentality of the people, Islam ensured that measures were put in place for the permanent manumission of slaves. Islam’s ultimate purpose was to eradicate this abhorrent institution and in the early days of the Holy Prophet’s ministry, God Almighty began revealing verses regarding the freeing of slaves, declaring it to be an act of piety of the highest order. One of the earliest verses was:

وَ مَاۤ اَدۡرٰٮکَ مَا الۡعَقَبَۃُ فَکُّ رَقَبَۃٍ

The expanded meaning of this is: ‘O Messenger! Are you aware of a religious precept, which may be likened to a great ascent up 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.’ [31]

Similarly, in the second chapter of the Holy Qur’an God Almighty states:

‘True virtue in the estimation of God is that an individual believes in God, spends in His cause for the love of Him, on kindred, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and for freeing slaves.’ [32]

Charity is a key part of most religions. Every Muslim is enjoined to spend out of their wealth to help those who are less fortunate. God Almighty has clearly outlined which factions of society the money ought to be spent on. In chapter 9, it is stated:

‘Alms are only for the poor and the needy, and for those employed in connection therewith, and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and for the freeing of slaves…’ [33]

In conjunction with these commandments, the Prophet of Islam would constantly advise his companions to free slaves. In one narration by Hazrat Abu Hurairah, the Holy Prophet (sa) stated: ‘A Muslim who frees a slave would be granted complete salvation by Allah the Exalted from hell.’ [34]

In one gathering, a Bedouin came to see the Holy Prophet (sa) and asked: ‘O Messenger of Allah! Inform me of a deed that if I perform it, I may be directly admitted into paradise.’ The Holy Prophet (sa) 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.’ [35]

Aside from these resounding recommendations, another layer of measures to ensure the manumission of slaves was that Islam stipulated the releasing of slaves as atonement for various errors and sins. Hence, God Almighty states:

‘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.’ [36]

Similarly, we find a commandment for one who takes an oath but then breaks it:

‘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.’ [37]

One practice that was widespread in Arabia prior to Islam was ‘Zihaar‘, whereby a husband would abstain from relations with his wife by declaring her akin to his mother. This too was abolished by Islam, and the atonement for this act was also to free a slave. In Chapter 58, God Almighty states:

‘As to those who vow to abstain from their wives, but for certain reasons desire to return to them, their expiation is the freeing of a slave… But whoso does not find one, must fast for two successive months… And whoso is not able to fast, should feed sixty poor people.’ [38]

In all three commands, one clause worthy of note is: ‘But whoso is unable to find a slave.’ In the 7th century, when slavery was very much the norm across the world, the Holy Qur’an stated that in the case one is not able to find a slave, there are alternative ways to atone for one’s errors. This shows that the ultimate objective of Islam was to do away with the practice of slavery altogether and that there would be a time in the future when slavery would be abolished. Why else would the Qur’an highlight alternatives?

In the sayings of the Prophet of Islam, we find many occasions on which the Holy Prophet (sa) ordered the companions to free slaves. Asma bint Abi Bakr (ra) narrates that the Holy Prophet (sa) would order Muslims to free a slave on the occasion of a solar eclipse. [39] On one occasion, a few slaves fled from the idolaters of Makkah and reached the Holy Prophet (sa). The idolaters of Makkah requested the Holy Prophet (sa) to return the slaves to them. The Holy Prophet (sa) refused to hand them back to a life of servitude. The Hadith states: ‘The Holy Prophet (sa) became angry on this occasion and refused to return the slaves. The Holy Prophet (sa) said, ‘These are slaves who have been set free by Allah. Shall I return them to a life of slavery and polytheism once again?’’ [40] Thus, at every instant, Islam and its founder wished for this abhorrent crime to end at a time when the world thought nothing of it.

Mukatabah: The Permanent System for the Manumission of Slaves

Despite the presence of all these methods and measures for the freeing of slaves, it could still be the case that a slave does not benefit from any of these scenarios. Therefore, a permanent system needed to be put in place whereby slaves could obtain their own freedom. For this, Islam proposed the system of Mukatabah, whereby the slave would be able to buy his or her own freedom. The amount required for emancipation was to be decided upon by the government or authorities and not by the master. For this, God Almighty states:

‘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 Mukatabah 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 the wealth, which Allah has bestowed upon you…’ [41]

The system of Mukatabah was not optional, but a binding contract that the master had to enter with his slave. The master could not refuse the slave ‘once they had become capable of manumission.’ This clause meant that slaves became capable of manumission once they had learnt a trade or a skill. The wisdom behind this was that later on in life, they would be able to earn a livelihood and work for themselves, rather than being forced to seek help through other means. This point is explained in a hadith related by Yahya bin Kathir: ‘The Holy Prophet (sa) would say that where the Holy Qur’an states, ‘It is your obligation not to refuse a proposal of Mukatabah 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 Mukatabah 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.’ Hence, this teaching shows that Islam did not simply wish for slaves to be free, but instead wanted them to be able to stand on their own two feet and become active members of society. Subsequently, they would be judged on merit alone, no person would be superior to another except by piety and good works alone.

The practical implementation of this was witnessed in the history of Islam. Hazrat Bilal (ra), an Abyssinian slave, was among the early converts to Islam. He was a slave of Umayyah bin Khalaf and was subjected to the most severe forms of torture. After Hazrat Bilal (ra)’s conversion to Islam, he would be dragged through the streets of Makkah. In the burning heat of the midday sun, he would be made to lie down on the sand and a heavy boulder would be placed on his chest in an attempt to deter him from his faith. Yet, he remained resolute in the face of all this torture and his faith never wavered. Owing to his sacrifices for his faith, he was granted a lofty rank within Islam, among which one was that he had the honour of being the first Muadhin [the one who calls Muslims to prayer]. Hazrat Abu Hurairah (ra) narrated the following saying of the Holy Prophet (sa). One day, at the time of Fajr [the morning prayer], the Prophet asked Bilal (ra): ‘O Bilal! Tell me of the best deed you have performed after embracing Islam, for I heard your footsteps in front of me in Paradise.’

When the Muslims conquered Makkah, the Holy Prophet (sa) stated that whoever took refuge around certain flag bearers would be granted amnesty. One of the flag bearers was Hazrat Abu Ruwaiha and his brother in Islam Hazrat Bilal (ra). The Holy Prophet (sa) then ordered Hazrat Bilal (ra) to go ahead and announce that whoever sought refuge under their flag would be granted amnesty. [42] Just imagine: only a decade or so earlier, this same Bilal (ra) was being dragged through the streets of Makkah and beaten mercilessly; but on that day, he stood in front of those very tormentors and extended them the hand of peace. Even today, every Muslim feels a sense of pride in associating themselves with the name ‘Bilal;’ and irrespective of their race, background and ethnicity, they happily name their children after him.

Hazrat Usama bin Zaid (ra) was the son of a former slave, Zaid bin Haritha (ra). Prior to his demise, the Holy Prophet (sa) appointed him as general of the Muslim army in an expedition to counter the Byzantine forces. Before the departure of the army, the Holy Prophet (sa) passed away and Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) was elected as the 1st Caliph of the Muslims. Despite the fact that Usama (ra) was still a young adult and that there were several experienced generals among them belonging to noble families of the Quraish, the Holy Prophet (sa) appointed Usama (ra) over them as their leader. To the extent that Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) accompanied the army on foot, holding the reins of Hazrat Usama’s horse and advising him on certain matters. Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) then sought Hazrat Usama’s permission to keep Hazrat Umar (ra) back in Madinah as his advice was needed on important matters; Hazrat Usama gladly obliged. [43] Even though Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) was the Supreme Leader of the Muslims and did not need to seek permission, it shows how much regard he had for a command issued by the Holy Prophet (sa). Such was the revolution brought about through the Prophet of Islam.

Conclusion: Unless We Recognise the Mistakes of the Past, We Can Never Make Progress in the Future

Throughout the article, I made reference to the injustices of America for their role in the slave trade and their failure to address issues post-slavery. Perhaps Britain adopted a different course of action that may have changed the fortune of slaves after slavery had been abolished. Indeed, Britain did pass the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, which prohibited the ownership of any human being. The British government took a loan of £20 million – equivalent to almost £300 billion today – to finance the slavery compensation act. [44] One may expect that this money went to the slaves or the families of the slaves in an attempt to try and make amends for crimes committed against them or their forefathers. Shockingly enough, not a single penny went to the slaves, instead, this colossal loan was used to pay 46,000 slave owners, as compensation ‘for their loss’. According to the Legacies of British Slave Ownership project at University College London, it is estimated that approximately 10%-20% of Britain’s wealthy families have significant links to fortunes made through slavery. [45] This loan was not fully paid back until 2015, which effectively means that generations of taxpayer’s in Britain have been paying off the debt for slavery, not to the families that underwent this torture, but to those who perpetrated this crime or their descendants.

There has been much debate recently about whether or not countries today ought to apologise for the mistakes of the past. Prince Harry and his wife Meghan even drew criticism for saying that ‘we must acknowledge uncomfortable past of the Commonwealth.’ [46] In contrast to that, Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University, said that the Commonwealth has no ‘dirty secrets’ [47]. What’s more troubling is that some modern authors seem to think that race was an issue of the past. Douglas Murray in his book ‘The Madness of Crowds’ argues that owing to a decline of ideologies in the 20th century, issues such as race were resolved, but they have now been used to simply fill this void of ideologies. He says: ‘Among the many depressing aspects of recent years, the most troubling is the ease with which race has returned as an issue.’ [48] The truth is that race was an issue in the past just as it is in the present. The civil rights movements and more recently organisations such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ are proof enough of this. This mindset is deep-rooted in European Colonialism, the ramifications of which are felt even today. If one is unable to apologise or atone for the mistakes of the past, the least one can do is acknowledge that mistakes were made.

Let us turn once again to an incident in Islamic history where certain youths not only acknowledged the mistakes their forefathers had made with respect to slavery, but they paid the ultimate price in an attempt to atone for those mistakes. Hazrat Umar (ra), the second Caliph of Islam, once visited Mecca. All the renowned chiefs of the eminent tribes came to greet him. They thought that since Hazrat Umar (ra) was fully acquainted with their families, and they themselves were the chiefs of their tribes, he would extend them respect and honour; and through this, they would be able to establish some of their tribes’ lost glory. Thus, when they came to meet Hazrat Umar (ra), they began conversing with him. Whilst they were engaged in conversation, Hazrat Bilal (ra) joined this gathering. A short while later Hazrat Khabbab (ra) arrived and coincidentally, all the former slaves who had accepted Islam in the early years came to this gathering one after another. All of them were previously slaves either of the chiefs who were present at the gathering or of the forefathers of those present. When they were in bondage, those chiefs had inflicted the most severe cruelties upon them.

Each time one of these former slaves such as Hazrat Bilal (ra) and Hazrat Khabbab (ra) came to the gathering, Hazrat Umar (ra) would greet him lovingly and request that the chiefs move back – as traditionally, the chiefs would be seated at the front of such gatherings – in order to allow the former slaves to be seated at the front. This continued to the extent that the young chiefs eventually reached the door.

When these chiefs found themselves forced to sit where the shoes had been left and they saw with their own eyes that each one of the former slaves was made to sit ahead of them, they felt greatly aggrieved and left the gathering. Outside, they began to quarrel amongst themselves as to who was to blame for this humiliation. One of the young chiefs concluded that their own forefathers were the ones to blame; for when the Holy Prophet (sa) began preaching his message, their forefathers opposed him, but it was these very slaves who accepted him and offered great sacrifices for their faith. When the truth of the matter had finally dawned upon them, the now repentant young chiefs sought a way to atone for the errors of the past. When Hazrat Umar (ra) came out of the gathering, the young chiefs approached him and mentioned how they had been treated. Hazrat Umar (ra) replied: ‘Forgive me, for I was obliged to act in this manner; they were people who had been honoured in the gatherings of the Holy Prophet (sa). They may have been your slaves, but in the gatherings of the Holy Prophet (sa) they were shown great honour and respect. Therefore, it was my duty to extend them the same respect.’ The young chiefs understood the matter and asked if there was a way to remove this blemish. Hazrat Umar (ra), who was born and raised in Makkah, knew full well the power and influence their forefathers wielded. Nobody could even dare look them in the eye. Overcome with a sense of intense emotion, Hazrat Umar (ra) could only point towards the north, indicating that the war between the Muslims and the Byzantine forces was taking place – and that they could go and fight in that war. Without hesitation, the youths swiftly made their way there and joined in the battle. History tells us that not a single one of these chiefs returned [49]. They sacrificed their lives in an attempt to right the wrongs of the past.

No doubt the way this incident played out was appropriate for that time and era. In this day and age, however, as stated earlier, if one is unable to apologise for the errors of the past, one can at least acknowledge the fact that mistakes were made – as this would be the first step upon the road to redemption, leading towards a better future for all.

About the AuthorZafir Malik serves as the Associate Editor of The Review of Religions, having graduated from Jamia Ahmadiyya UK – Institute of Modern Languages and Theology. He is also an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and regularly appears as a panellist on MTA International and Voice of Islam radio station answering questions on Islam. 


ENDNOTES

[1] https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Washington

[2] https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Washington/Marriage-and-plantation-life

[3] https://www.history.com/news/did-george-washington-really-free-mount-vernons-slaves

[4] https://www.history.com/news/did-george-washington-really-free-mount-vernons-slaves

[5] https://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/slavery/ten-facts-about-washington-slavery/

[6] https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Washington

[7] Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad, The Life & Character of the Seal of the Prophets Vol.1, (Islam International Publications Ltd. 2011, Tilford) 148

[8] Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Life of Muhammad, (Islam International Publication Ltd, 2013, Tilford) 8-9

[9] Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Life of Muhammad, (Islam International Publication Ltd, 2013, Tilford) 9

[10] https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-06-18/derek-chauvin-had-knee-george-floyd-neck-746-rather-than-846

[11] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/slavery-abolished-in-america

[12] https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Scramble_for_Africa

[13] https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/how-many-slaves-landed-in-the-us/

[14] https://www.history.com/news/native-americans-genocide-united-states

[15] https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/7302

[16] https://www.history.com/news/native-americans-genocide-united-states

[17] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/08/european-racism-africa-slavery

[18] https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Scramble_for_Africa

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/08/european-racism-africa-slavery

[19] http://www.recoveredhistories.org/storiesproslavery.php

[20] http://palmm.digital.flvc.org/islandora/object/uf%3A721#page/Page+1/mode/1up

[21] https://web.stanford.edu/~eberhard/downloads/2008-NotYetHuman.pdf https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/article/article-i

[22] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/bronx-zoo-african-man-exhibit-apology-a9647366.html

[23] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/16/belgium-comes-to-terms-with-human-zoos-of-its-colonial-past

[24] https://news.stanford.edu/pr/2008/pr-eber-021308.html

[25] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/53226508

[26] The Holy Qur’an, 4:37

[27] The Holy Qur’an, 2:222

[28] The Holy Qur’an, 24:32

[29] Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitab Al-Itq, Hadith No. 2545

[30] Usdul-Ghabah Fi Ma‘rifatis-Sahabah, Izzuddin Ibnul-Athir Abul-Hasan ‘Ali bin Muhammad, Volume 3, p. 599, ‘Aliyyubnu Abi Talib, Darul-Fikr, Beirut, Lebanon (2003)

[31] The Holy Qur’an, 90:13-14

[32] The Holy Qur’an, 2: 178

[33] The Holy Qur’an, 9:60

[34] Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitab Kaffartil Iman, Hadith No. 6715

[35] Mishkatul Masabih, Kitab Al-Itq, Al-Fasluth-Thani, Qadimi Kutub Khanah, Aram Bagh, Karachi

[36] The Holy Qur’an, 4:93

[37] The Holy Qur’an, 5:90

[38] The Holy Qur’an, 58:4-5

[39] Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitab Al-Itq, Hadith No. 2519

[40] Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab Al-Jihad, Ḥadith No. 2700

[41] The Holy Qur’an, 24:34

[42] Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Life of Muhammad, (Islam International Publication Ltd, 2013, Tilford) 157

[43] Akbar Shah Najeebabadi, The History of Islam Volume 1, (Darussalam International Publishers & Distributors, 2000) 278-279

[44] https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/29/slavery-abolition-compensation-when-will-britain-face-up-to-its-crimes-against-humanity

[45] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jun/18/barclays-hsbc-and-lloyds-among-uk-banks-that-had-links-to-slavery

[46] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/royal-family/2020/07/06/prince-harry-meghan-must-acknowledge-uncomfortable-past-commonwealth/

[47] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/royal-family/2020/07/07/commonwealth-history-hides-no-dirty-secrets-says-professor-prince/

[48] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/sep/19/the-madness-of-crowds-review-gender-race-identity-douglas-murray

[49] Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, At-Tafsir-ul-Kabir Vol 8, pp 65-67