How was the prophet muhammad treatment of slaves? What are the views of slaves in islam?
“(Show) kindness unto… those whom your right hands possess…” (al-Nisa 4; 36)
Firstly, we need to remind our readers that it is not Islam that established slavery. Muslims found this institution that was rooted in all ancient beliefs and philosophical systems and spread all over the world, functioning during the rise of Islam. However, Islam also brought many improvements contrary to the inhumane practices of the old systems.
As some of the people whom believers need to help are stated in the Holy Qur’an, slaves are noted as follows: “(Show) kindness unto… those whom your right hands possess…” (al-Nisa 4; 36)
When we examine the Prophet’s approach to slaves, we can clearly see how this verse can be applied to daily life. As it is known, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) had been sent as a mercy for the worlds. (al-Anbiya 21; 107) Slaves also benefitted from this endless mercy. In fact, these people, who had not been regarded as human beings, gained the right to come into the presence of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and to request help for their problems. (Bukhari, Adab, 61)
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) taught how politely masters should address their servants in his following saying:
“None of you should say: My bondman and my slave-girl, for all of you are the bondmen of Allah, and all your women are the slave-girls of Allah; but say: My servant, my girl, and my young man and my young girl.” (Muslim, Alfaz, 15)
Paying attention to servants’ subsistence, feeding them with what the household eats and clothing them with garments similar to what the household wears are among the practices of the Prophet (pbuh).
Khaithama b. Abdullah reported:
“While we were sitting in the company of my teacher Abdullah b. Umar (r. anhuma) his steward entered. He (Ibn Umar) asked his steward:
“Have you supplied the provision to the slaves?” The steward replied:
“No, I have not.” Then he said:
“Go and give (the provision) to them, for I heard the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) saying:
“This sin is enough for a man that he withholds the subsistence from one whose master he is.” (Muslim, Zakat, 40)
Al-Ma’rur bin Suwaid narrated:
“I saw Abu Dhar Al-Ghifari wearing a cloak, and his slave, too, was wearing a cloak that was exactly the same. We asked him about that (i.e. how both were wearing similar cloaks). He replied,
“Once I abused a man because of his mother and he complained to the Prophet about me. The Prophet asked me,
“Did you abuse him by slighting his mother?” He added,
“Your slaves are both your servants and your brethren upon whom Allah has given you authority. So, whoever has brethren under his control, he should feed them with the like of what he eats and clothe them with the like of what he wears. You should not overburden them with what they cannot bear, and if you do so, help them (in their hard job).” (Bukhari, Itq, 15; Muslim, Aiman, 40)
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) advices his ummah not only to help their slaves in difficult tasks but also to forgive them and not to punish them right away when they make mistakes. Ibn Omar (r. anhuma) narrates:
“A man came to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and asked:
“How much do I need to forgive my servants?” Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) did not respond and kept his silence. The man asked again:
“O Messenger of Allah! How much do I need to forgive my servants?” This time the Prophet (pbuh) said:
“Forgive them seventy times a day.” (Tirmidhi, Birr, 31)
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) forbade beating and torturing slaves. He (pbuh) even stated in one of his sayings that the only way to be cleansed from the sin of beating a slave is to set that slave free. This principle is noted in the following saying:
“He who beats a slave without him having commited a cognizable offenceor slaps him (without any serious fault), then expiation for it is that he should set him free.” (Muslim, Aiman, 30)
Ibn Omar (r. anhuma) is the narrator of this saying. According to a report, one day he asked one of his slaves, who had somemarks on his body from beating:
“Did I hurt you?” The slave replied:
“No, you did not.” But Ibn Omar did not feel relieved so he set the slave free. And then He took hold of wood or something like it from the earth and said:
“There is no reward for me in this (setting this slave free) even equal to this piece of wood, but that I heard Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) saying, and he narrated the above mentioned saying.” (Muslim, Aiman, 30)
In this saying, Ibn Omar (r. anhuma) meant that he had set his slave free for expiation of his actions not as an act of goodness.
Abu Ali Suwaid b. Muqarrin (r.a.) said that
“I was the seventh one amongst my brothers during the lifetime of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), and we had but only one servant. The youngest one of us became angry and slapped him. Thereupon, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) commanded us to set him free.” (Muslim, Aiman, 32)
Abu Mas’ud al-Badri reported the following similar tradition:
“I was beating my slave with a whip when I heard a voice behind me:
“O Abu Masud! You should know.” But I did not recognize the voice due to my intense anger and did not hear the rest of the addressing. As the speaker came near me, I realized that he was the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). And he was saying to me:
“Bear in mind, O Abu Mas’ud; bear in mind O Abu Mas’ud. Verily Allah has more dominance upon you than you have upon your slave.” I (then) said:
“I shall never beat my servant in the future.” (Muslim, Aiman, 34)
In another version of the report Abu Mas’ud (r.a.) said that:
“O Allah’s Messenger, I set him free for the sake of Allah. Thereupon, he said:
“Had you not done that, (the gates of) Hell would have opened for you, or the fire would have burnt you. (Muslim, Aiman, 35)
Those who reproach, beat, and treat to the weak, the needy, and the servants badly for no reason should not forget the Prophet’s warnings.
Nevertheless, treating servants nicely, in accordance with the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh), is something that requires patience and tolerance. This is expressed by the following common saying: “According to Islam, buying a slave means becoming a slave.”
Our beloved Prophet (pbuh) asked from slaves first to worship Allah and then to serve their masters and behave nicely with good intentions. If they do this, their deeds will be rewarded twice as much. Allah’s Apostle emphasized this as follows:
“If a slave is honest and faithful to his master and worships his Lord (Allah) in a perfect manner, he will get a double reward.” (Bukhari, ‘Itq, 17)
After narrating a similar tradition, Abu Huraira (r.a.) added:
“By Him in Whose Hands Abu Huraira’s soul is if there had not been the reward for Jihad (i.e. holy battles), Hajj, and my duty to serve my mother, I would have loved to die as a slave. (Bukhari, ‘Itq, 16; Muslim, Aiman, 44)
On the other hand, enslavement of a free person except in wars is forbidden in Islam. In a sacred tradition, Allah the Almighty says that:
“‘I will be against three persons on the Day of Resurrection:
- One who makes a covenant in My Name, but proves treacherous.
- One who sells a free person as a slave and consumes the price,
- And one who employs a laborer and gets the full work done by him but does not pay him his wages.” (Bukhari, Buyu’, 106)
Islam has also taken precautions to get rid of slavery in the course of time. The requirement of setting a slave free for the atonement of some sins is one of them. For instance, if it is possible, one is required to set a slave free as an expiation for breaking an oath (al-Maidah 5; 89), for the incident of Zihar (al-Mujadilah 58; 3) and killing someone by mistake (al-Nisa 4; 92).
According to Islamic rules, if a slave offers to make an agreement with his master for his freedom and to pay his price (mukatab), his master should accept this offer and should even financially help his slave with the payment. (al-Nur 24; 33) Moreover, freeing a slave voluntarily is considered among the most valuable acts of worship. The spiritual and material rewards of emancipating a slave are noted in a Qur’anic verse as follows:
“But he would not attempt the uphill road, and what will make you comprehend what the uphill road is? (It is) the setting free of a slave, or the giving of food in a day of hunger to an orphan, having relationship, or to the poor man lying in the dust.” (al-Balad 90; 11-16)
This is also expressed in one of the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh):
“He who emancipates a slave, Allah will set free from Hell every limb (of his body) for every limb of his (slave’s) body …” (Bukhari, Kaffarah, 6; Muslim, ‘Itq, 22-23)
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) set all his slaves free for various reasons. Freed slaves were called mawali. Because of mawalis’ roots of slavery, there was a difference between the status of mawalis and the free members of the Arab society during the pre-Islamic period. In order to correct this understanding Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) wedded his freed slave Zaid’ with Zainab bint Jahsh, the daughter of his (the Prophet’s) aunt Umayya. (Ibn Hajar, al-Isabah, I, 564) He also contracted the marriage of Zaid’s son Uthama with Fatima bint Qais, the daughter of a Quraishite family. Abu Jahm and Muawiya had wanted to marry Fatimah, one of the early immigrants, but the Prophet (pbuh) suggested Uthama. (Muslim, Talaq, 36; Tirmidhi, Nikah, 38)
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) also gave positions to mawali in the state services. For instance, he appointed Zaid and his son Uthama (r. anhum) several times as the commander of the Muslim army. (Bukhari, Ashab al-Nabi, 17; Ibn Hajar, al-Isabah, I, 564) Bilal al-Habashi, the freed slave of Abu Bakr (r. anhum), served not only as the Prophet’s muezzin (Ibn Sa’d, I, 246) but also as the treasurer of the Muslim state (Ibn Hajar, al-Isabah, I, 165) and the host to foreign envoys. (Ibn Sa’d, I, 294, 298, 323)
The best manifestation of this approach can be seen in the treaty of brotherhood established by the Prophet (pbuh) between the Meccan immigrants and the Medinan believers without observing any difference among them. Companions like Bilal Habashi, Salman al-Farisi, Ammar b. Yasir, and Salim who were freed slaves attract our attention as part of this treaty; for Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) declared a brotherhood between Bilal and Abdullah b. Abdurrahman (Ibn Sa’d, III, 233, 234), between Salman al-Farisi and Abu al-Darda (Bukhari, Adab, 67), between Salim and Muaz b. Maiz (Ibn Abdilbar, II, 567), and between Ammar and Hudhaifa al-Yamani (Hakim, III, 435).
This brotherhood did not derive from ostentation; rather it was the result of love and a relationship of faith. It was based on mutual rights including the law of inheritance, equality, and cooperation. (Bukhari, Kafalah, 2; Adab, 67) Even though this relationship has continued as a principle in the later periods of Islam, the law of inheritance is later reserved for the blood kinship. (al-Anfal 8; 72-75; Bukhari, Faraiz, 16)
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) did not forget the slaves in his death bed and his last words were:
“(Be careful about) Prayer, prayer; fear Allah regarding those whom your right hands possess.” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 123-124; Ibn Majah, Wasaya, 1)
 Zihar: means that a husband likens his wife to the back, or belly, or another bodily part prohibited to look at of someone whose marriage is permanently banned in Islam. The reason for calling this practice zihar is that it is usually done by using the word “zahr or back of a person.” In pre-Islamic times, zihar was a way to dissolve marriage. Islam prohibits this form of marriage dissolution, asked men who make such statements to return their wives after serving a penalty. The wife is prohibited to her husband after he makes such a statement, and until he frees a slave, fasts the daytime of two consecutive lunar months if he does not find the wherewithal to free a slave, or feeds sixty needy people if he is unable to fast, in that order.
Source: The History of Prophets in Light of The Qur’an, THE CHAIN OF PROPHETS II, Osman Nuri TOPBAŞ, Erkam Publications