Adapted from Mufti Muḥammad Shafīc’s critique of Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism in Aḥkām al-Qur’ān, and Mufti Taqi cUthmani’s introduction to the chapter of slavery in his commentary on Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Takmilah Fatḥ al-Mulhim
عن النبي صلى الله عليه و سلم فيما روي عن الله تبارك و تعالى انه قال يا عبادي اني حرمت الظلم على نفسي و جعلته بينكم محرما فلا تظالموا
Allāh, Blessed and Exalted is He, said in a hadīth qudsī, “O, My slaves! Indeed, I have made oppression unlawful for Myself, and have made it unlawful amongst you, so do not oppress one another.”
Imām Ṭabrī relates that when the Prophet ﷺ was deputed, the Arabs protested, saying, “Allāh is too great to have a messenger who is a human being.” So Allāh revealed, “Is mankind amazed that We send revelation to a man amongst them,” and, “We only sent men as messengers before you.” Once Allāh repeatedly established these proofs against them, they objected, “If it was a human being then someone besides Muḥammad is more deserving of messengership,” and “If only this Qur’ān was revealed to a great man from the two cities.” The Quraish thought it farfetched that the Qur’an should be revealed on Muḥammad, a poor orphan, and brashly demanded that it should descend on a mighty leader due to their presumption that people of honor and wealth were great. Mufti Shafīc details their thought pattern like this, “Messengership is a great status which is only fit for the great” but while they were measuring greatness by means of wealth and honor, which is the opinion of ignorant people in every time and place, they failed to see that great people are only those whom Allāh considers great.
Ibn Kathīr states that Allāh refutes this opposition of theirs, saying, “Do they distribute the mercy of your Lord?” This āyah calls them stupid, rebukes them, and expresses amazement at their opinion, enquiring how they could consider themselves so great as to want to be entrusted with the distribution of prophethood, messengership, and spiritual blessings in spite of the fact that Allāh, Pure and Exalted is He, has not deemed them fit to be entrusted with measuring out their own material livelihood, something which is less significant and more base than spiritual favors, especially prophethood and messengership.
Allāh continues the āyah, stating, “We distributed their livelihood amongst them in the life of this world, and elevated some over others in stages,” in accordance with Divine wisdom, thus amongst them are the weak, the strong, the poor, the rich, the servant, the served, the ruler, and the ruled, “so that some might take others as laborers.” One benefit in this distribution is that if everyone was tasked with taking care of all of their own concerns they wouldn’t have the strength to do so and would waste away and die.
Mullā cAlī al-Qarī explains, “We caused differences to occur between them in sustenance and other matters so that some might make use of others in [the fulfillment of] their needs and thus a harmony that gives order to their actions and states is established; [these differences are] not due to some perfection on the part of the one experiencing expanse, nor deficiency in the one experiencing restriction.” In His wisdom He has not left the system of the world to our short-sighted and whimsical selves, but has kept it in His control and bound the needs of individuals to one another so that there exists amongst the human beings fluid social classes whose importance has nothing to do with a person’s true worth or eternal salvation.
In sūrah Yusuf we read that the son of a prophet was sold by his brothers to people who took him to a foreign land and sold him to the state treasurer. This man “instructed his wife to provide good lodging for [him], not to treat him like [a] common [slave] and see that good arrangements [were] made for him.” In spite of these kind instructions, this pious individual was confronted with such an environment that he desired prison over being on the outside. How many times have we read this story and thought about the resilience of this prophet and his staunch attachment to the commands of Allāh in a state considered, in our minds, to be the worst condition a human being could face?
In spite of our perception of slavery, a word that causes blinders to come down over our senses, our Prophet ﷺ described Prophet Yūsuf, peace be upon him, as, “The noble one, son of the noble one, son of the noble one, son of the noble one: Yūsuf, the son of Yacqūb, the son of Isḥāq, the son of Ibrāhīm, may peace and blessings be upon them all,” and Allāh, Most High, calls his story aḥsan al-qaṣaṣ [the best story].
Similarly, the Nubian wiseman, Luqmān, peace be upon him, has an entire sūrah named after him, and is remembered not for his social status as a man who was enslaved but for his words of wisdom. A thousand some odd years after the sūrah bearing his name was revealed we still benefit from his advices, and as long as the Qur’ān is recited his wisdom will continue to be repeated.
In his Oxford Union address, Malik al-Shabbāz, may Allāh have mercy on him, cited America as an example of extremism and noted, “Old Patrick Henry said ‘liberty or death’-that’s extreme, very extreme.” Some of us have swallowed this extreme notion hook, line, and sinker, and assume that freedom is the pinnacle of an individual’s life. In fact, the idea of freedom and being free to do as one pleases that underlies this sentiment does not exist; one is either a slave to Allāh or they are a slave to their lower desires and Shayṭān.
One of our spiritual forefathers, Ayuba ibn Sulaimān ibn Ibrāhīm Diallo, a multilingual ḥafidh from Senegal who was forcibly brought to this country, managed to escape the plantation he was on. He was eventually caught and thrown in jail until they could figure out where he came from. On inquiry he informed his captors that he had escaped because of a number of complaints he had against his owner, one of which was his inability to perform ṣalāh. That is, one of his reasons for running away was his inability to implement one of the most important commands of his true Master, Allāh, in his current state. In case this appears to be making light of the oppressive system of chattel slavery practiced in the Americas or institutional racism, reread the ḥadīth qudsī quoted at the beginning of this section: “O, My slaves! Indeed, I have made oppression unlawful for Myself,and have made it unlawful amongst you, so do not oppress one another.”
The point being made here is that just as the aforementioned examples are not defined by slavery or having been in a social class considered “inferior” to some, but rather by their spiritual worth, which is really the only status that matters, we should move beyond the false notion that (1) all slavery is the same, and (2) the intrusion of chattel slavery, or the mere mention of slavery in connection to a black person, is a blot on our history. As the poet says, “With respect to their outward form, humans beings are all equal/ Their father is Adam and their mother Ḥawwā’/ If, in their origin, there was some honor to boast by/ then it is clay and water.”
The stark contrast between the slavery condoned under Islamic law, which was more akin to indentured servitude, as opposed to that practiced in non-Islamic law, specifically the transatlantic slave trade, is noteworthy. The transatlantic slave trade stripped human beings of all rights and treated the one enslaved like merchandise to be disposed of by the owner in any way they pleased. It was accompanied by novel explanations for the cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment of the human beings they had under their control, and it ended in racism and a permanent stigma on the enslaved as well as their descendants.
Contrary to this model of slavery, Allāh orders kind treatment to the human beings who are in bondage: “Worship Allāh, do not associate anything with Him, and be good to parents, kinsmen, orphans, the needy, the close neighbor and the distant neighbor, the companion at your side, the wayfarer, and what your right hands possess. Surely, Allah does not like those who are arrogant, proud.”
In a hadīth reported by Ṣāḥīḥ Bukhārī, the Messenger of Allāh commands those given authority to feed their bondsmen and women from what they eat, clothe them from what they wear, not to burden them with such things that will overpower them, and if they do so then they should assist him. In Sunan Abū Dāwūd we are told that the compensation for merely slapping one’s slave is to free them. Another hadīth mentioned in Sunan Ibn Mājah, contains the strong wording, “The one who is harsh to his slaves will not enter paradise.” As the historians, John Hope Franklin and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, correctly point out: “[S]laves where viewed as inhabiting a temporary state of legal exclusion and as having the same spiritual value as a freeborn person. Muslim slaves were allowed to marry, to have a family, and independent income, and to purchase their freedom.”
Furthermore, the slavery sanctioned in Islām was not on the basis of race, meaning no one particular race was singled out, nor did it carry the stigma of the European model. Under the merit-based society brought about through the justice of Islām’s Divinely sanctioned laws, slaves, former slaves, and descendants of slaves became highly respected scholars, rulers, poets, and cawliyā. Consider Zayd Ibn al-Hārithah, may Allāh be pleased with him, the freed slave of the Prophet ﷺ and his adopted son, about whom it is mentioned that the Prophet ﷺ didn’t send any dispatch with him in it except that he made him the leader, and who is the only companion mentioned by name in the Qur’ān. Look at the lineage of the shaykh of the people of Baṣrah, Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, may Allāh have mercy on him, whose mother was the freed slave of one of the Mothers of the Believers. Contemplate the background of the great interpreter of dreams, Ibn Sīrīn, may Allāh have mercy on him, whose father belonged to Anas Ibn Mālik, may Allāh be pleased with him.
Seven hundred eighty-one years of Muslim rule in what is now Spain and Portugal, starting from 711 and lasting until 1492 of the Christian Era, was started by the arrival of an ex-slave turned general, and the governor of Tangiers, Ṭāriq Ibn Ẓiyād, after whom the Straits of Gibraltar are named. The Imām, Shaykh al-Islām, and scholar of his time, cAbdullāh Ibn al-Mubārak, may Allāh have mercy on him, was the son of a Turkish man who used to be the slave of a merchant from Banū Handhalā. The Khalīfah’s concubine once saw a large crowd gathered behind cAbdullāh Ibn al-Mubārak and commented, “By Allāh, this is power and kingship, not the authority of Hārùn which can only gather people by means of the police and servants!”
Allāh states in the Qur’ān, “Without a doubt, Allāh has favored the believers by sending amongst them a Messenger from themselves who will recite His āyāt to them, purify them, and teach them the book [i.e. al-Qur’ān] and the wisdom [i.e. the sunnah], while before they were in clear misguidance.” Ibn Kathīr, may Allāh have mercy on him, explains that this āyah means that Allāh has favored them by deputing a human like themselves so that they would be able to speak with him, ask him questions, and benefit from him, when before this Messenger they were in such error and ignorance that it was clear and apparent to everyone. Allāh has indeed blessed and favored us by granting us Islām. It is through the lens of Islām that we understand how to navigate this world, not the concocted delusions of philosophers and so-called intellectuals whose worldview has no grounding in Divine guidance, nor is it illuminated by the nūr of prophetic teachings.
National affiliation, family connections, and race do not have any value beyond being aids to assist us in carrying out our duties to Allāh. Love the people Allāh has chosen to place you among if you want, but love the righteous more, and never make the mistake of turning a blind eye to the wrongs committed by an individual solely because you share the same racial, ethnic, national background, nor make the mistake of thinking that your race makes you superior to another human being. Remember that our Prophet ﷺ proclaimed: “Certainly, your lord is one and your father is one; there is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab, nor a red over a black, nor a black over a red, except by means of taqwā.”
In conclusion, Allāh says in the Qur’ān, “Say: O Allāh, the Owner of Dominion, You give dominion to whomsoever You wish and take dominion from whomsoever You wish; You give honor to whomsoever You wish and abase whomsoever You wish.” When we say that Allāh is the Creator, this is not limited to the tangible. It includes emotions, states of being, etc. He is the creator of movement. He is the creator of stillness. He is the creator of wealth, poverty, respect, honor, dishonor, etc. Like all of His creations they belong to Him and He disposes of them as He wills and there is none who can question Him.
May Allāh cause the author and readers to benefit from this work, and save us from any harm contained in it. May Allāh revive our hearts with the mention of His righteous slaves, and give us the tawfīq to follow in their noble footsteps. Āmīn.