06 July 2019 CE | 04 Dhul-Qadah 1440 AH

Hadith Explanation

Free Slaves

The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “If somebody manumits a Muslim slave, Allah will save from the (Hell) Fire every part of his body for freeing the corresponding parts of the slave’s body, even his private parts (will be saved from the Fire) because of freeing the slave’s private parts.” [Sahih Bukhari]

This is one of the many Ahadith that describes the rewards that Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) bestows on those who grant slaves freedom or buy it for them. Slavery is an institution as old as mankind itself. One of its worst manifestations, in recent history, was in North America with African slaves. Slavery within Islamic culture is not to be confused with Roman slavery or with the American variety of the nineteenth century.

In Islam a slave was never a mere “thing.” If his master treated him badly, he could appeal to a judge and procure his freedom. His dignity as a Muslim was inviolable. The forced prostitution of female slaves, a Near Eastern custom of great antiquity, is condemned in the Quran.

Brockopp writes: “Other cultures limit a master's right to harm a slave but few exhort masters to treat their slaves kindly, and the placement of slaves in the same category as other weak members of society who deserve protection is unknown outside the Quran. The unique contribution of the Quran, then, is to be found in its emphasis on the place of slaves in society and society's responsibility toward the slave.”

In Arabia, as elsewhere, “slavery was ingrained in the structure of society, and its overnight wholesale liquidation would have created problems which would have been absolutely impossible to solve.” Quranic legislation brought two major changes to ancient slavery which were to have far-reaching effects: presumption of freedom, and a ban on the enslavement of free persons. Islam's reforms stipulating the conditions of enslavement seriously limited the supply of new slaves. The idea of using Sadaqah for freeing slaves is unique to the Quran as is the practice of freeing slaves in expiation for certain sins (such as violating one’s fast). Because of these Quranic teachings slaves were gradually released in society in such a manner that they were easily absorbed into it.

Rasul Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) and his Sahabah bought the freedom of many slaves. Rasul Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) personally freed 63 slaves, and his wife Aisha (radi Allahu anhu) freed 67. [Human Rights in Islam, by Mawdudi] In total, his household and friends freed 39,237 slaves. [Nadvi p.453] The most notable of Rasul Allah’s (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) slaves were: Safiyya bint Huyayy (radi Allahu anha), whom he freed and married; Maria al-Qibtiyya (radi Allahu anha), given to Rasul Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) by a Sassanid official; Sirin, Maria's sister, whom he freed and married to the poet Hassan ibn Thabit (radi Allahu anhu) and Zayd ibn Harithah (radi Allahu anhu), whom Rasul Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) had freed and adopted as a son. [Kitab a-Tabaqat al-Kabir]

Freed slaves are able to occupy any office within the Islamic government, and instances of this in history include the Mamluk dynasty who ruled Egypt for almost 260 years and the eunuchs who have held military and administrative positions of note.

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