Wars and Battles

Treatment of Prisoners of War

28 The Review of Religions – June 2004 Slavery has been defined as the system in which a human being is held to be the legal property of another and is bound to absolute obedience and submission. A slave is thus a human chattel who may be retained or sold or otherwise dealt with as his master pleases. The system had its origin in war. In the beginning of human society, whenever there was a war between two tribes or nations, the combatants of the vanquished army – and very often, even the noncombatant male members of the vanquished nation – were put to the sword, while the children and women were taken into slavery and made to do all sorts of work for their masters. Gradually, however, as civil life and industries developed and there was a greater demand in the world for servants and labourers, it was felt that the best and easiest way of securing labour was to enslave the conquered people. Conquering nations then began to enslave rather than slay their prisoners of war, who were forced to do manual work both for the conquering nation and its individuals. Over time, the system became so widespread, that in some countries, the slaves even outnumbered the free inhabitants, and slavery became an integral part of civil life1. These slaves were looked upon as the sole property of their masters, who could treat them in any way they liked, exact from them any work they pleased, inflict on them any punishment they desired, and sell them to others whenever they chose to do so. Eventually the system became so extended that even the children Treatment of Prisoners This is an article by Hadrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad entitled ‘Islam and Slavery’ published in The Review of Religions, May 1995. It has been reproduced owing to the significance of this subject following the disclosure of prisoner abuse in the recent war and indeed the high handed treatment by some in authority in other prisons, penitentiary centres and police cells. 29 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 of the slaves were treated as the property of their masters, and thus a permanent system of slavery was established. When people found this system to be so lucrative, they no longer confined themselves to the enslavement of only the prisoners of war, but devised other cruel ways of enslaving free men. For instance, they made unprovoked raids on weaker tribes, and reduced their men and women to a condition of bondage. In certain countries even civil debtors became liable to be converted into slaves. At the advent of Islam, nearly 1400 years ago, the practice prevailed more or less in all countries. Hundreds of thousands of slaves were leading lives of extreme misery and pain in Rome, Greece, Egypt, Persia and other countries. Their lot was hardly better than that of dumb driven cattle. In Arabia, too, there were thousands of slaves in those days, and they formed an essential part of the wealth of the rich. Perhaps nowhere in the world were they more despised than in Arabia. They were treated with the utmost cruelty and heartlessness. When the Holy Founder of I s l a m( s a ) began his preaching roughly in 611 A.D., his teachings included the injunction that slaves should be treated with leniency and kindness, and his earliest revelations declared the emancipation of slaves as an act of great virtue. In one of its earliest Surahs, the Qur’an refers to this subject in the following words: ‘Have We not created for man two eyes, and a tongue and two lips, and have We not shown him the two ascending paths of nobility? But he did not follow the path of ‘Aqabah. And what should make thee know what the ‘Aqabah is? It is the setting free of a slave, or the feeding in a day of hunger an orphan who is near of kin or a poor man lying in the dust.’ (Ch.90: Vs.9-17) 30 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 The simplicity and excellence of the teachings of Islam, combined with this special injunction about slaves, made a deep impression upon the slaves of Arabia who began to look upon the Holy Prophet’s(sa) call as the call of a deliverer. It was for this reason that notwithstanding the atrocities that were inflicted upon them by their infidel masters on account of their acceptance of Islam, the new religion spread very rapidly among the slave population. The proportion of slaves was indeed extraordinarily large among the early converts. It appears from history that even in the very beginning of Islam, slaves were not treated with contempt in Muslim society. As time advanced and further Divine commandments were revealed concerning the slaves, their position became stronger and their condition better, till at last there ceased to be any distinction between the slaves and their masters except that the former were administratively subor- dinate to the latter. Along with this, the movement for the emancipation of slaves also gained in force day by day, and the Muslims, under the influence of the teachings of the Qur’an, and stimulated by the example of the Prophet( s a ), vied with one another in taking an active part in this movement. Muslim history teems with instances of slaves set free by their Muslim masters. But the question is whether the work of the Holy Prophet(sa) with regard to slaves was confined only to the improvement of their position and gradual eman- cipation, or whether he took effective steps to put an end to the cruel inhuman ways of reducing free men to slavery. It is true that even if it be supposed that his work did not go beyond the limit stated above, he can not fail to be regarded as one of the great benefactors of humanity for having rendered conspicuous service in the amelioration of the condition of slaves, and inau- gurating a movement for their emancipation. But his real work went very much farther, for, he not only ameliorated the condition of the slaves, but took 31 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 e ffective measures to abolish slavery altogether. His teachings about slaves thus fall under two heads: 1. Teachings for the betterment of the condition of the existing slaves and measures for their gradual eman- cipation. 2. Steps for the permanent abolition of slavery. We propose to deal in these pages with the teachings of the Holy Prophet(sa) under each of these two heads. The prisoners of war If there is any teaching of Islam which may be represented as sanctioning slavery, it is its teachings with regard to the prisoners of war. But, as it will presently appear, war prisoners were not actually treated in Islam as slaves. In this connection, it should be mentioned at the very outset that, as borne out by history, it was in the prisoners of war that the institution of slavery had its origin. Subsequently, h o w e v e r, other ways were invented, owing to which slavery, which was originally an inevitable outcome of the early conditions of the world, assumed a heinous aspect, and instead of serving as a means for preventing tyranny for which it was originally meant, it became a dreadful instrument of oppression. Originally the institution of slavery consisted of one nation who made an unprovoked attack upon another, and tried to blot them out from the face of the earth or reduce them to subjection by unjustly depriving them of their liberty; the latter, in case of their triumph over the aggressive party, took their men as captives and detained them as prisoners of war. This course was necessary, for, if it had not been adopted, international wars would never have come to an end, nor would the aggressors ever have desisted from com- mitting excesses upon public peace, and tyranny and oppres- sion would have become rampant. Religious communities 32 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 in particular needed this kind of protection since they were always bitterly persecuted by the disbelievers amongst them who wanted to exterminate them by sword. This form of slavery was, therefore, found more or less in all the nations of the earth. The system was in vogue even among the Israelites who were the descendants from the chosen Prophets of God and who, as a nation, had been brought up under the care and guidance of a long chain of Divine Messengers. They practised it in compliance with an injunction of their own law (Deut. 20:13-14) and it continued to be practised even among the early Christians who were in fact an offshoot of the Israelite people 3. It also continued in the Christian countries of the west right up to the eighteenth or even the nineteenth century. Similarly, slavery was practised by the ancient Aryan people as well4. In fact the Sudras and the other untouchables who are still to be found in India in millions are a sad remnant of the system of slavery that was in vogue in ancient India. In short, in the early days of the world slavery was found more or less in all countries and was a necessary consequence of the state of things then prevailing and was primarily meant as a check to tyranny and oppression. It was, as stated, more urgently and more truly needed by religious communities, who were subjected to atrocities more than any other people, and to extirpate those religions, men rose up in arms against them. This form of enslavement (which was further softened and purified by Islam so much so that it was practically reduced to mere tem- porary imprisonment) involved no injustice, for those who desired to destroy the religion of others by sword, who were blood-thirsty tyrants, who sowed the seed of anarchy, murder and plunder in the country by resorting to methods subversive of public peace, forfeited all rights to freedom, just as a thief 33 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 or a thug or a dacoit forfeits his right to remain outside a prison. The Holy Prophet(sa) and his companions had to encounter such outrage more than any other people. The idolaters of Arabia subjected the Muslims to the most tyrannical persecution. They drew out their swords against the Muslims with the avowed intention of exterminating their religion by force. They sought and conspired to dye their unholy hands with the sacred blood of the Muslims’ master. They detained innocent and free Muslims with them as prisoners. They captured defenceless and innocent Muslims by the vilest t r e a c h e r y, made them their slaves, and murdered some of them in the most savage manner. They conspired to enslave their women and made war upon them with that object in view. They mutilated the bodies of Muslim martyrs, and having cut off their noses and ears, strung them together and garlanded them- selves therewith. They made brutal attacks on their sick and s u ffering women causing in certain cases a miscarriage. They killed the chaste wives of the Muslims by piercing them with spears in the most horrible and shameless manner (Zurqani, Vol. I, p.266). If, under circumstances like these, the tyrants who committed such savageries had been deprived of their liberty and reduced to a state of bondage, that would have been by no means unjust. But such was the kindness of the Holy Prophet(sa) that even the perpetrators of these heinous crimes were pardoned by him, and those of them who were taken captives in the war had only a temporary restraint put on their liberty. Even during that temporary detention, the Holy Prophet(sa) gave such directions for their comfort and convenience that under their influence, his Companions took off their own shirts, and gave them to the prisoners to wear (Bukhari) – the very prisoners who had been thirsty for their blood. They ate dry dates while giving cooked food to the 34 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 prisoners (Tabari & Ibn Hisham). They walked on foot giving their camels to the prisoners to ride on (Qur’an, Ch.8:V.68). Do we find a parallel to this in the history of any nation or any country? The gist of Islamic teachings with regard to the prisoners of war is contained in three verses of the Qur’an, two of which deal particularly with the prisoners of war, while the third enunciates a general principle also applicable to war prisoners. The first verse runs as follows: ‘It does not behove a p rophet that prisoners of war should be captured for him, until there has actually been fought between him and the enemy a pitched battle. You have in view the advantages that are near at hand (i.e., you hasten to take captives so that with the help of the ransom money you may become prepared to meet the enemy), but Allah desires for you the Hereafter (and as this course is not commendable with a view to the end, and is calculated to lead to evil results morally, God orders you to refrain from it); and if you are afraid of the numbers and power of the enemy, then remember that Allah is Powerful over all and He is also Wise.’ (Ch.8:V.68) This verse teaches that the Muslims should not, out of consideration for their own weakness or the power of the enemy or out of a desire to strengthen their financial posi- tion by means of ransom money, be careless or unduly hasty in the matter of taking captives so that they may take prisoners of the enemy wherever they may find them weak, or that they may take captives at the battlefield before the armies actually engage in battle. The Muslims are per- mitted to take prisoners only when they have met the enemy in a pitched battle. This teaching of Islam, which rests on a far sounder foundation than any other International Code of War, reduces the extent and number of 35 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 the prisoners of war to the narrowest possible range, which clearly indicates that Islam is loath to taking prisoners of war except in the most unavoidable circumstances. The second verse of the Qur’an says: When you meet the disbelievers in battle, fight steadfastly and slay the a g g ressors: and when the battle has been well fought take captives from among the enemy. After that you should either set them at l i b e rty without taking any ransom (if circumstances are favourable and you hope matters will mend thereby) or you should release them for a reasonable ransom, or (if it be unavoidable) you may retain them as prisoners until the war is over and you are relieved of its burdens. (Ch.47:V.5) This verse forms, as it were, the foundation-stone of the Islamic teachings with regard to the prisoners of war. It describes the three different courses which may be followed under different circumstances in dealing with war prisoners. These courses are: Firstly, to release the prisoners without taking any ransom money. S e c o n d l y, to release them for a reasonable ransom. The practice of the Holy Prophet( s a ) shows that there can be three forms of ransom: (a) Payment of ransom in cash either immediately or under the system of Mukatabat a l r e a d y described, the alternatives being at the option of the prisoner, (b) Exchange with Muslim prisoners, (c) Exacting of some suitable service from the prisoners; for instance, if the prisoners know some art or profession, it might be stipulated with them that if they taught that art or profession to a certain number of Muslims, they might be set at liberty in return for that service. Thirdly, to prolong the period of imprisonment till the termination of the war. By the termination of war is meant its complete termination when not only 36 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 military operations practically cease, but also the burdens which the war might have laid on the nation and for which the enemy is held responsible are removed. This last alternative has been proposed as a provision for cases when on the one hand it is not advisable to release the prisoners without ransom, and on the other they or their friends and relatives do not come forward, for some reason or other, to pay ransom. In such cases, the prisoners may be detained till the termination of w a r, so that their release may not add to the troubles of the Muslims. It is this form of imprisonment that has some- times been termed ‘slavery’ and which has been permitted by Islam, but even a cursory study of the true situation will show, that, truly speaking it is not slavery at all. It is merely a form of imprisonment which is further restricted and qualified by a fundamental law enunciated in the verse given below. The third verse of the Qur’an runs as f o l l o w s : ‘If you think it necessary to punish the oppressors o r take some strong measure against him by way of r e t r i b u t i o n, then take care that the action you take against him does not exceed the evil that has been done to you, and that you resort not to any measure which the enemy has not been the first to resort to. If, however, it be possible for you to exercise patience, then have patience, for patience is better.’ (Ch.16:V.127) Under this principle, the alternative course with regard to prisoners i.e., that which pertains to the prolongation of impris- onment, may take diff e r e n t forms. For instance, if the enemy exacts some service from Muslim prisoners, the Muslims can also exact suitable service from the prisoners taken from the enemy but this service shall be subject to the general conditions governing the exacting of service from slaves. Thus the prisoners of war shall not be called upon to perform a work which is more 37 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 than they can bear, nor shall they be required to do a work which their captors are not themselves willing to do. Similarly, if instead of keeping Muslim prisoners in state prisons, the belligerent nation distributes them among its individuals, the Muslims shall also have a right to place their prisoners in the custody of individuals, and so on. But whatever form is adopted, it is essential that it should not be at variance with any basic injunc- tion of Islam. For instance, the term of imprisonment must in all cases terminate with the termination of war. Similarly, no prisoner shall be put to death merely because he is a member of the enemy force nor shall any prisoner be called upon to perform a work which exceeds his capacity and power, nor shall his convenience and comfort be neglected, and so on. Such are the teachings which Islam gives with regard to the prisoners of war. Now, let the reader judge for himself whether there is any trace of slavery in these teachings. Call the prisoners of war slaves if you please; but are they slaves in fact? Do not modern govern-ments take prisoners of war? Do not modern governments exact work from them? Do not modern govern- ments lengthen the period of their imprisonment, in case the war is prolonged? If all this is done by every nation and if the international law of all ages has sanctioned that practice, why blame Islam and its Holy F o u n d e r( s a ) for it? Nay, far from being blamed, Islam deserves the unique credit for conferring a lasting boon on humanity by emphasising the element of leniency and kindness in the code of war and has thus paved the way for international peace and amity. The distribution of war prisoners among the soldiers We now come to the question relating to the placing of war prisoners in the custody of individuals. It is true that in the beginning the prisoners were distributed among the Muslim soldiers, and in fact, it is this circumstance alone which has been taken to give this practice 38 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 the colour of slavery. But when we carefully consider the circumstances under which the above course was adopted, we find that there is absolutely nothing objectionable about it nor can the word ‘slavery’ be applied to it in the sense in which it is generally understood. We must first of all bear in mind that the practice in question did not form an essential part of the Islamic teachings. As a matter of fact it finds no mention in the special instructions which have been given in the Qur’an with regard to the prisoners of war (Ch.8:V.67; Ch.47:V.4). It was only a retributive measure which was taken recourse to as an answer to the extremely aggressive conduct of the enemy who made slaves of Muslim prisoners and distributed them among the individuals. It was therefore, only to bring the enemy to his senses, that the Muslims also resorted to the method of placing the prisoners of war in the custody of individuals; but Islam never permitted their enslavement in the way in which the Muslim prisoners were enslaved by the infidels. Moreover, Islam laid it down as a condition that all the war prisoners must necessarily be set at liberty as soon as the war was over. Another reason why the prisoners of war were placed in the custody of individuals was that in those days there were no state prisons, and the prisoners were necessarily distributed among, and placed in the charge of, the individual members of the victorious nation. This practice naturally remained in vogue among the Muslims as well. From the above it is clear that in reality this practice was not slavery but merely an arrange- ment for the protection and maintenance of the prisoners of war – a system which was gradually changed, and was finally replaced by that of State p r i s o n s . It must also be remembered that so far as an Islamic government was concerned, this system by no 39 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 means caused any unavoidable hardship on the prisoners. On the contrary it was in many ways even more convenient and comfortable than the system of the present-day State prisons. Thanks to the emphatic injunc- tions of the Holy Prophet( s a ) a n d the watchful supervision of the Muslim State, the prisoners of war lived, not as servants or labourers, but as members of the families to which they were attached and were practically treated like guests. For instance, it is on record that the prisoners taken at Badr, who were amongst the worst enemies of Islam, were treated with such kindness that they could not but pay the Muslims warm tributes of praise, and some of them were so deeply touched by the kind treatment that they willingly joined the fold of I s l a m6. In short, even this so- called ‘slavery’ which Islam permitted offered such a spectacle of kindness and benevolent treatment, that even the blessings of the so-called liberty and freedom of the present day fade into insignificance when com- pared with it. Yet, as the system practised was merely a retributive step, it must TH A N K S TO T H E E M P H AT I C I N J U N C T I O N S O F T H E HO LY PR O P H E T(S A) A N D T H E WAT C H F U L S U P E RV I S I O N O F T H E MU S L I M STAT E, T H E P R I S O N E R S O F WA R L I V E D, N O T A S S E RVA N T S O R L A B O U R E R S, B U T A S M E M B E R S O F T H E FA M I L I E S TO W H I C H T H E Y W E R E AT TA C H E D A N D W E R E P R A C T I C A L LY T R E AT E D L I K E G U E S T S. FO R I N S TA N C E, I T I S O N R E C O R D T H AT T H E P R I S O N E R S TA K E N AT BA D R, W H O W E R E A M O N G S T T H E W O R S T E N E M I E S O F IS L A M, W E R E T R E AT E D W I T H S U C H K I N D N E S S T H AT T H E Y C O U L D N O T B U T PAY T H E MU S L I M S WA R M T R I B U T E S O F P R A I S E, A N D S O M E O F T H E M W E R E S O D E E P LY TO U C H E D B Y T H E K I N D T R E AT M E N T T H AT T H E Y W I L L I N G LY J O I N E D T H E F O L D O F IS L A M. 40 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 be regarded only as a special measure meant to meet the conditions then existing. In the present times, therefore, when those conditions have ceased to exist, and the old system has been replaced by that of State prisons, the permission for the retributive measure no longer holds good. The law of Islam does not permit that the prisoners of war should, even under the altered conditions of the present age, be distributed among Muslim individuals, thus bringing into existence a state of things analogous to slavery. In connection with this, the Holy Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement, who claimed to be a messenger of God raised for the regeneration of mankind and who was the greatest authority on Islam in these days, says: It is a matter for gratification that in the present times non- Muslim nations have abandoned the aggressive practice of making slaves of Muslim captives, therefore, now the Muslims are also not allowed to enslave their prisoners, for, the Holy Q u r’an says that the punishment inflicted on the enemy should be propor- tionate to the wrong the enemy has been the first to inflict on the Muslims. Hence, now when the conditions have changed and the people hostile to the Muslims no longer go to the extent of making slaves of Muslim men and women in times of war, but treat them as state prisoners, it would be unlawful for the Muslims to make slaves of the prisoners of war taken from a belligerent army. ( C h a s h m a – i M a ’ refat, pp.244- 4 5 ) To sum up, there are two fundamental teachings of Islam concerning the prisoners of war: Firstly, that so far as possible, there should be no haste in taking captives, and prisoners should be taken only as a last resort when a battle has been actually fought. Secondly, that after the prisoners have been taken, they should be dealt with in one of three ways, 41 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 as the circumstances demand. They should either be set at liberty as an act of favour without taking any ransom – and that is the most commendable course – or they should be released in return for a reasonable ransom, or, if n e c e s s a r y, the period of their imprisonment may be extended to the end of war. This is the only teaching that has been expressly laid down in Islam with regard to the prisoners of war. Islam, however, gives a general rule to the effect that if political considerations demand the taking of a strong retaliatory measure against the enemy, it should be subject to the condition, firstly, that no such action should be taken against the enemy which the enemy was not the first to take against the Muslims, and secondly, that the action taken should not be in contravention of any explicit teaching of Islam. It was under this rule that the prisoners of war were distributed among the Muslim individuals, but now as non-Muslim nations do not make slaves of their captives but treat them as State prisoners, it would be unlawful for the Muslims as well to distribute their prisoners among individuals. Can prisoners of war be put to death? We have already pointed out that Islam does not allow putting the prisoners of war to death, but as some Muslim ulema h a v e dissented from this view and as some of the Christian writers have made this point an object of attack against Islam, it appears desirable to discuss it here at some length. First of all, we must remember that verse 5 of Chapter 47 of the Qur’an clearly shows that it is not lawful for a Muslim to put the prisoners of war to death, and obviously no one has the right to devise a new law in opposition to the injunctions of the Qur’an. But in order to satisfy the reader, we wish to make it plain that the meaning which we have ascribed to the verse in question is not an innovation. It is the interpretation which the companions of the Holy Prophet(sa) put on it and they 42 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 acted accordingly. This view is borne out by the following incident: Hassan says, ‘A captive was brought before Hajjaj, who said to Abdullah, son of Caliph Umar( r a ) who happened to be there, ‘Get up and cut off the head of this p r i s o n e r.’ Abdullah answered, ‘ We have not been commanded to do so; for God says that when prisoners are taken in war they are to be released either as an act of favour or for ransom. There is no injunction to put them to death.’ (Kitab Al-Khiraj, by Qadi Abu Yusaf, p.121) Similarly, Ata bin Abi Ribah is reported to have said: ‘The prisoners of war cannot be put to death; the commandment con- cerning them is that they should be released either as an act of grace or in return for reasonable ranson.’ (Fath Al-Baree, Vol. VI, p.106). The plain verse of the Qur’an referred to above coupled with the clear explanations quoted above leaves no doubt as to the fact that Islam does not allow the slaying of the prisoners of war, and certainly those who ascribe this teaching to Islam are grievously mistaken. If it be asked why some of the Muslim theologians have declared the slaying of the prisoners of war to be lawful when Islam does not allow it, the answer is that this has been due to a misunderstanding. There are certain instances in history when the Holy Prophet( s a ) o r d e r e d certain prisoners of war to be put to death. But those who have inferred the justifiability of slaying prisoners of war from these instances have ignored the fact that the prisoners who were slain, were slain not because they were prisoners of war but because they had been guilty of certain crimes punishable with death. It is evident that if a prisoner is guilty of an offence which calls for capital punishment, the fact of his being a prisoner cannot exempt him from that punishment. If a free man can be punished with death for the offence punishable with 43 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 death, why cannot a prisoner be so punished? As may be seen from an inquiry into each individual case, every prisoner who was put to death by the order of the Holy Prophet(sa) was put to death not because he was a member of a hostile army, or a fighting nation, but because he had committed an offence the punishment of which was death. However some of our the- ologians, merely seeing that the persons slain were prisoners of w a r, concluded that it was justifiable to slay a prisoner of war. But as pointed out above this conclusion is utterly erroneous and unwarranted according to the plain teachings of Islam and the practice of the Holy Prophet(sa). Such, in short, is the outline of the Islamic teaching with regard to the prisoners of war. Now, every sensible man can see how extremely fair this teaching is which God vouchsafed to the world through the Holy Prophet of Islam( s a ). Even the most advanced and enlightened nations of the present day have not been able to give to the world a better law than this. It is a law which, while calculated to put a check upon the undue prolongation of war and the aggression of one nation against another, has been tempered with mercy and kindness in a most remarkable w a y. The truth is that in the law of Islam relating to war prisoners, the element of clemency and benevolence has been made to outweigh even that of self- protection and defence. Certainly, no nation on earth has prescribed such a beneficient treatment towards its enemies. Female prisoners of war A female prisoner of war has the same avenues open to her to eff e c t her release, namely, be freed for ransom, be freed in an exchange of prisoners of war, be freed at the termination of hostilities, or make use of the Mukatabat p r o v i s i o n already discussed in detail, or just be freed as an act of grace by the c a p t o r s . If, however, a female prisoner of war does not avail of any of the 44 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 above modes of release to make it possible for her to return home, it is obvious that she feels unsafe in going back to her nation and chooses to stay with the Muslims. In that case, she will not be allowed to stay in this society without getting married. This is to safeguard her morals as well as the morals of the society. In the Muslim society, everyone is expected to get married. There is no room for bachelors or spinsters so that the chastity and moral well being of the society is safeguarded. Conclusion To sum up, the teachings of Islam about slavery fall under two main heads: F i r s t l y, the teachings which relate to that class of people who had already been fettered in the shackles of slavery, and whose manners and habits had conse- quently become degraded in the extreme. They were leading servile lives and had wholly lost that spirit of freedom which enabled a man to lead an independent life in this world. The programme adopted by Islam with regard to these people was that they should first be uplifted morally and socially, and as their condition improved, they should be set at liberty; and Islam so arranged that when these slaves were liberated, their liberty was true and real and not merely nominal and spectacular. This programme was carried into effect under State supervision so that there could be no laxity or negligence in this respect. S e c o n d l y, those fundamental teachings which Islam gave with regard to slavery as such. According to these teachings the enslavement of any free man or woman was strictly forbidden. It is true that in certain cases the prisoners of war were deprived of their liberty, but that was only a retaliatory and a temporary step, and when we go into details of this system, we find that it was not slavery in the true sense of the term but was really imprisonment, and even this practice is not allowed by Islam in the present times, for now the 45 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 system of state prisons has been introduced and the opponents of Islam no longer make slaves of Muslim captives, nor distribute them among their individuals but keep them as State prisoners. It would, therefore, be unlawful for the Muslims as well to commit their prisoners to individual custody and thus give their action a semblance of slavery. I must conclude my article with the extremely beautiful and most beloved words of the Holy Prophet(sa), the last words spoken by him in this world of matter. A l i( r a ) son of Abu Talib and A n a s( r a ) son of Malik, both eminent companions of the Holy Prophet(sa) and Ummi Salma(ra), wife of the Holy Prophet( s a ), report as follows: ‘The last words that the Holy Prophet(sa) was heard to say, when he was in the agony of death, and the soul was fluttering to leave his mortal frame, were, ‘Stick fast to the prescribed Prayers and to my injunctions with regard to slaves’. (Ibn Majah) When the Holy Prophet(sa) spoke the above words, there were before him his devoted wives who had been the companions during his life and who had remained utterly faithful to him in times of privation and hardship. There also were his beloved daughter and her children and others that were near and dear to him. There, too, were the faithful Muhajirin, the refugees from Makkah, in whose devoted companionship he had passed the troubled days of his life. The loyal A n s a r, the helpers of Madinah, who watered the plant of Islam with their blood, were also near him. And that was a time after which the Holy Prophet(sa) was to have no other earthly opportunity of making any communication to his followers, and he knew full well that the words of advice uttered by him on that occasion would carry the greatest weight with his relations, friends and followers. What was that to which his thought turned? It was to the 46 Treatment of Prisoners The Review of Religions – June 2004 downtrodden slave that his thought was directed to in the last moments of his life and that thought made him forget all other earthly connections. Ah! What a friend, what a benefactor of slaves that God gave to the world, but alas, the world knew him not! Hadhrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad is the author of many articles in defence of Islam. His ‘Seerat Khatamal Anbiyya’ ranks as the best biography on the Prophet of Islam (sa). REFERENCES 1. Chambers Encyclopaedia, under Slavery. 2. Encyclopedia Britannica, under Slavery 3. Paul, VI, S; P e t e r, II., 18. In connection with these references it should be noted that modern editions of the New Testament use the word ‘servant’ instead of ‘slave’, but the context clearly shows that it is the slaves that are really meant in the passages in question. 4. Rig Veda 1. 126/1 to 3; Mahabharat, Sabha Prab Adhiai 149; Manu 8/415 and lharat Varash ka Ithas vol. II, p. 51. 5. Zurqani vol. I, pages 266-70, and Tarikh Kamil. Chapter on the persecution of Muslims. 6. Muir, Prisoners taken at Badr. Advertise your business in The Review of Religions and see sales scale to new heights. Existing adverts can be placed and sponsorship on regular features is available in this longest running worldwide Muslim monthly magazine. Rates available on request from the Manager at: The Review of Religions 16 Gresssenhall Road London SW18 5QL