Does Islam promote Slavery?

It is important to note that Islam did NOT introduce slavery. Slavery was already existing and rampant during those times. Islam regulated slavery and prescribed methods to abolish slavery and ultimately eradicated it. It is important to note that slavery was abolished more than 1000 years ago in Arabia while it was abolished in the western countries ONLY in the 19th century.

The slave trade continued at the hands of English companies that obtained the right of monopoly with the permission of the British government, then gave free rein to British subjects to enslave people. Some experts estimate that the total number of people seized by the British during slavery and exiled to the colonies between 1680 and 1786 CE was around 2,130,000. When Europe made contact with Black Africa, this contact led to human misery during which the black people of that continent were faced with a major calamity that lasted for five centuries. The states of Europe came up with evil ways of kidnapping these people and bringing them to their lands to serve as fuel for their revival, where they burdened them with more work than they could bear. When America was discovered, the calamity increased and they became slaves in two continents instead of just one.

The Encyclopedia Britannica says (2/779) on the topic of slavery: Hunting slaves in the villages that were surrounded by the jungle was done by lighting fires in the straw of which the corrals surrounding the villages were made, then when the villagers fled to open land, the British hunted them down with whatever means they had at their disposal. During the period from 1661 to 1774, for every million Black Africans who reached the Americas, a further nine million died during the hunting, loading and transportation. In other words, only one tenth of those who were hunted survived and actually reached the Americas, where they found no rest or relief, rather they were subjected to hard labor and torture.

At that time, they had laws which any wise person would be ashamed of. Among these evil laws were those which said that any slave who transgressed against his master was to be killed, and any slave who ran away was to have his hands and feet cut off, and he was to be branded with hot iron; if he ran away again, he was to be killed. How could he run away if his hands and feet had been cut off?! It was forbidden for a black man to become educated, and the jobs of whites were forbidden to coloreds.

In America, if seven black people gathered together, that was regarded as a crime, and if a white man passed by them it was permissible for him to spit at them and give them twenty lashes. Another law stated that the blacks had no soul and that they possessed no smartness, intelligence or willpower, and that life existed only in their arms.

To sum up, with regard to his duties and service to his master, the slave was regarded as sane, responsible and punishable if he fell short, but with regard to his rights, he had no soul and no being, and he was not more than a strong pair of arms!

Finally, after many centuries of enslavement and oppression, there came the protocol to abolish slavery and strive to put an end to it, in a resolution issued by the United Nations in 1953.

During the time of the prophet (peace be on him), the slaves were got in the following ways:

  1. Free men and women were captured by oppressors (Kidnapping, Raids, debt (where if the debtor could not pay off his debt, he became a slave), poverty and need and were sold as slaves. This method is well shown in the movie Gladiator.
  2. Slaves purchased from markets which used to sell slaves
  3. People captured as prisoners of war

Majority of the slaves were generated by the first method – by means of oppression, kidnapping and raids. The main source of slaves in Europe and America in later centuries was this method.

Islam on slavery:

Islam prohibited enslaving people by the first two methods mentioned above. Islam limited the sources of slaves that existed before the beginning of the Prophet’s mission to one way only: enslavement through war. By doing this, Islam eradicated major portion of enslaving people.

The prophet peace be on him said :

Allah, may He be exalted, said: ‘There are three whose opponent I will be on the Day of Resurrection, and whomever I oppose, I will defeat … A man who sold a free man and consumed his price.’

Narrated by al-Bukhari (2227).

There were many sources of slaves at the time of the advent of Islam, whereas the means of manumitting them were virtually zero. Islam changed the way in which slavery was dealt with; it created many new ways of liberating slaves, blocked many ways of enslaving people, and established guidelines which blocked these means.

Now comes the question: Why did Islam allow prisoners of war to be taken as slaves? To understand why, we need to know who the prisoners of war are.

Who are the prisoners of war?

They are the people who fought in the battle with you and were eager to kill you. Had they got an opportunity, they would have killed you and NOT to forget the fact they would have killed other people who belonged to our party or country. So you are basically dealing with an enemy who was ready to take your life and the life of others. Let us keep this in mind, when we analyze the concept of slavery.

Before the advent of Islam, there were ONLY two things that were done to the prisoners of war.

  1. They were killed
  2. They were captured as prisoners of war and were used as slaves

Islam introduced TWO MORE methods to deal with the prisoners of war. They are: unconditional release and release them for a ransom. This is mentioned in Chapter 47: Verse 4 of the Quran

Thereafter (is the time) either for generosity (i.e. free them without ransom), or ransom (according to what benefits Islam), until the war lays down its burden.

So to sum up, there are 4 methods in Islam to deal with the prisoners of war.

  1. To kill them
  2. To capture them as prisoners of war
  3. To release them unconditionally
  4. To release them for a ransom

If you see the Islamic history, prophet (peace be on him) has used all the four methods depending on the situation.

During the battle of Badr the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) accepted ransoms from the prisoners of war and let them go.

During the conquest of Makkah it was said to the people of Makkah: “Go, for you are free.” This was done without any ransom.

In certain wars, the prisoners of war were also killed (because of the atrocities they committed before and during the war) and some were also captured as prisoners of war.

Now comes the question:

How is it humane to kill the prisoners of war?

What is humane and what is NOT humane depends on the situation. For example: Once prophet (peace be on him) sent some messengers to a tribe to teach them Islam when the tribe requested for teachers. The tribe showed their back and murdered all the messengers sent by the Prophet (peace be on him). Even today killing the ambassador of another country is a great crime. That is why, the countries which wages war send the ambassadors back to their home countries. The tribe went against this universal norm and killed the messengers mercilessly. What punishment do they deserve? Hence they were fought against and they were killed.

Although taking a person’s life is NOT humane, some crimes deserve such capital punishments. This is the reason why countries have death penalty.

Why NOT release all the prisoners of war for ransom or release them unconditionally? Why should we capture them as slaves?

Please NOTE that Islam is not thirsty for the blood of prisoners, nor is it eager to enslave them. It is the primary duty of every country and state to ensure that the citizens in the country are safe from the attacks and problems caused by the enemies. Any efficient state or country will NOT compromise on the safety of its citizens. This is universally accepted and this was the same reason given by U.S to attack Afghanistan (to prevent another Sep 11th).

Now releasing all the prisoners of war for a ransom or to release them unconditionally will give them the opportunity to regroup and spread wrongdoing and aggression against the state or the country. So basically, we now go back to square ONE. There will be another war in which several lives will be lost. This can be easily prevented ONLY if the prisoners of war are dealt with appropriately. Hence, the ONLY way to deal with the dangerous prisoners of war whom we do NOT want to kill is to enslave them.

Should the prisoners of war be used as slaves? Why can’t they be put in prisons?

This is a nice question. We need to understand that there were NO concepts of prisons those days and moreover, having prisons and maintaining it, is NOT a great idea. The reason being: There is so MUCH MANPOWER and MONEY required to maintain a prison. In India alone, several crores of rupees are spent on the salary of police force for prison and maintenance of prisons.

Moreover, sometimes the number of prisoners of war will be so high, that even a prison may NOT be possible idea. For example, in the battle of Hunain, 6000 people were captured. Imagine, maintaining these 6000 people in a prison. What is the MAN POWER and MONEY INVOLVED? How long can we sustain doing this?

Islam gave a beautiful solution to this problem. The solution was to distribute the prisoners of war amongst the people who fought for the country. In this way, the prisoners of war were also taken care and kept under check and NO special COST and MAN POWER was required to maintain them.

What is the Islamic way of dealing with these slaves (Captured Prisoners of war)?

The moment we read slaves, we have an image of a person who is in Chains, beaten up etc. Islam does NOT prescribe this type of treatment of slaves. It prescribed that slaves should be treated with kindness and justice.

Islamic guidelines on treating the slaves:

1 – Guaranteeing them food and clothing like that of their masters.

It was narrated that Abu Dharr (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said:

They are your brothers whom Allah has put under your authority, so if Allah has put a person’s brother under his authority, let him feed him from what he eats and clothe him from what he wears, and let him not overburden him with work, and if he does overburden him with work, then let him help him.

Narrated by al-Bukhaari (6050).

2 – Preserving their dignity

It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: I heard Abu’l-Qaasim (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say:

Whoever accuses his slave when he is innocent of what he says will be flogged on the Day of Resurrection, unless he is as he said.

Narrated by al-Bukhaari (6858).


Ibn ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) manumitted a slave of his, then he picked up a stick or something from the ground and said: There is no more reward in it than the equivalent of this, but I heard the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say:

Whoever slaps his slave or beats him, his expiation is to manumit him.

Narrated by Muslim (1657).

3 – Being fair towards slaves and treating them kindly

It was narrated that ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Affaan tweaked the ear of a slave of his when he did something wrong, then he said to him after that: Come and tweak my ear in retaliation. The slave refused but he insisted, so he started to tweak it slightly, and he said to him: Do it strongly, for I cannot bear the punishment on the Day of Resurrection. The slave said: Like that, O my master? The Day that you fear I fear also.

When ‘Abd al-Rahmaan ibn ‘Awf (may Allah be pleased with him) walked among his slaves, no one could tell him apart from them, because he did not walk ahead of them, and he did not wear anything different from what they wore.

One day ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab passed by and saw some slaves standing and not eating with their master. He got angry and said to their master: What is wrong with people who are selfish towards their servants? Then he called the servants and they ate with them.

A man entered upon Salmaan (may Allaah be pleased with him) and found him making dough – and he was a governor. He said to him: O Abu ‘Abd-Allah, what is this? He said: We have sent our servant on an errand and we do not want to give him two jobs at once.

4 – There is nothing wrong with slaves having precedence over free men in some matters

It is valid for a slave (who is a Muslim) to lead the prayer. ‘Aa’ishah the Mother of the Believers had a slave who would lead her in prayer. Indeed the Muslims have been commanded to hear and obey even if a slave is appointed in charge of their affairs.

5 – A slave may buy himself from his master and be free.

If a person is enslaved for some reason but then it becomes apparent that he has given up his wrongdoing and forgotten his past, and he has become a man who shuns evil and seeks to do good, is it permissible to respond to his request to let him go free? Islam says yes.

This is what is called a mukaatabah or contract of manumission between the slave and his master. Allah says (interpretation of the meaning):

And such of your slaves as seek a writing (of emancipation), give them such writing, if you find that there is good and honesty in them. And give them something (yourselves) out of the wealth of Allah which He has bestowed upon you

(Chapter 24: Verse 33)

Quran recommends that the freed slave should be given some wealth along with his freedom. Can you imagine somebody talking about such things 1400 years ago when people were NOTHING BUT BARBARIANS?

This is how Islam treats slaves justly and kindly.

Now compare this with how the countries like U.S treat the prisoners of war. One classic example is: Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The whole world knows how the prisoners of war were treated and tortured. This is in the 21st century. You can see lot of videos about the war crimes committed by the US and UK soldiers in Iraq. This is in the 21st century.

Please see above video (What you didn’t know about the war?)

I request the reader to compare this treatment with the treatment of the prisoners of war prescribed by Islam. An unbiased reader will accept that Islamic treatment of prisoners of war is the most humane and rational.

Who are the people who are referred to as “Whom your right hand possesses”?

The people who are referred to as “Whom your right hand possesses” are the female prisoners of war.

The female prisoners of war are also distributed (If they are NOT released) amongst the participants of the war. When Quran mentions the right hand possesses, please NOTE that it is NOT taking innocent women who did NOT participate in war as slaves rather it refers ONLY to the women who participated in the war along with men. So the description given for the male enemies will also hold good for the female enemies.

The norms to deal with the female prisoners of war (as happens today) is to gang rape them and humiliate them in public by parading them naked etc. Unfortunately, today the army rapes and humiliates even innocent women who did NOT participate in wars. The examples are: Incidents in Iraq, Kashmir, IPKF who went to Sri Lanka, Special Task force that was formed to catch brigand Veerappan which raped innocent tribal women. These are just a few examples.

If this is how people treat innocent women, imagine how they will treat female prisoners of war!!!

Islam again gave a beautiful solution to prevent these atrocities on female prisoners of war.

The solution was the distribution of the female prisoners of war to the people who participated in the battle for the country. The distribution came with strict conditions. Apart from the general principle of treating the slaves justly and kindly which were mentioned above, additional conditions were laid for the treatment of female prisoners of war. They are:

  1. There will be only ONE master for the female prisoner of war.
  2. The marriage of the female prisoner of war will be nullified if she is already married.
  3. The master can have sexual intercourse with her after the waiting period to ensure that she is NOT pregnant.
  4. If the female prisoner of war is pregnant, the master has to wait till she delivers the baby before he can have any sexual relationship with her.
  5. The female prisoner of war should NOT be RAPED or forced into sexual intercourse.
  6. The female prisoner of war should NOT be forced to do prostitution or satisfy master’s friends or relatives.
  7. It is NOT permissible for the female prisoner of war to have intimate relationship with anyone other than her master.
  8. The child born out of the relationship between the female prisoner of war and the master will be considered the master’s child and the child has all rights for inheritance from its father. The female prisoner of war also becomes a free woman after giving birth to the child.
  9. The relationship between a man and his female slave should be announced publicly and not kept secret. That is because there are rulings that stem from this announcement such as if they have children, and so as to ward off any suspicions that people who see them together may have concerning him and her.

It was narrated that Ruwayfi’ ibn Thaabit al-Ansaari said: I heard the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say on the day of Hunayn:

It is not permissible for any man who believes in Allaah and the Last Day to irrigate the crop of another else – meaning to have intercourse with a woman who is pregnant. And it is not permissible for a man who believes in Allaah and the Last Day to have intercourse with a captured woman until he has established that she is not pregnant. And it is not permissible for a man who believes in Allaah and the Last Day to sell any booty until it has been shared out.

Narrated by Abu Dawood, 2158; classed as hasan by Shaykh al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood, 1890.

Some of the benefits of this solution:

  1. It prevents humiliation and atrocities committed against the female prisoners of war.
  2. It grants security and protection for her.
  3. She can claim the rights if she gets pregnant and has a child.

How is it correct to allow a man to have sex with female prisoners of war?

We have seen that the best way to deal with the prisoners of war was to distribute them amongst the participants of war. If the female prisoners of war are distributed, it must be noted that they are under the complete control of their masters. In such a scenario, it will be very difficult to prevent any sexual assault. So Islam allowed having sex with them with the CONDITIONS (Nine conditions) given above.

Moreover, the marriage of the female prisoner of war is nullified (as we cannot allow them to live a married life – remember this is punishment and NOT a home for destitute). With the marriage being nullified, the female prisoner of war is also in need of sexual relationship. If Islam does NOT permit it with the master, she will resort to some other means like prostitution or illicit sex, thus causing corruption in the society.

It must also be noted that this relationship between the master and the lady paves way for her freedom when she gives birth to her child.

Is allowing sex with the female prisoners of war = prostitution?

There is a huge difference between prostitution and the relationship between the master and the female prisoner of war. Some of them are:

  1. There is ONLY ONE MALE sexual partner in this relationship. In prostitution, there are MANY MALE sexual partners causing the spread of deadly diseases in the society.
  2. The master is responsible for the safety and protection of the lady. In prostitution, NONE is responsible for the safety and protection of the lady.
  3. The master is responsible for the child he has with the lady and the child becomes the legal heir of the master. This is NOT the case in prostitution.

Why was NOT an upper limit set for the number of slave women a person may have?

It is NOT practically possible to restrict the number of female slaves per person because we have no control over the number of the female prisoners of war captured. For example: if there are more female prisoners of war than the actual people to whom they can be distributed, it is inevitable that each person will get more than ONE female prisoner of war. If we restrict the number of female slaves to one, then what do we do with the excess female slaves? We cannot go back to the prison strategy because of the problems involved like cost, maintenance, protection and safety of the female slaves etc. So not setting the upper limit for the number of female slaves is the ONLY option.

Islam on freeing the slaves:

There is no doubt that Islam encouraged the freeing of slaves.

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said,

Whoever frees a Muslim slave, Allah will save all the parts of his body from the (Hell) Fire as he has freed the body-parts of the slave. Said bin Marjana said that he narrated that Hadith to 'Ali bin Al-Husain and he freed his slave for whom 'Abdullah bin Ja'far had offered him ten thousand Dirhams or one-thousand Dinars.

[Bukhari, Vol.3, Book 46, #693]

And pointed out to him the two conspicuous ways? 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

Quran Chapter 90: Verses 10-13

There are numerous ways in which a slave may become free.

One way is through expiation for certain sins committed by the master, such as involuntary manslaughter or perjury. Other ways include emancipation through becoming an mother of the master’s child or an independent act of piety by the master, as recommended by the Qur'an.

It is also commendable to manumit a slave who demands his freedom and is considered worthy of it.

Another method is the mukataba contract: which states that "the slave may redeem himself if his master agrees and contracts to let him go on payment of a stipulated sum of money, which may be paid in two or more installments, or on the giving of stipulated services or other consideration. If the consideration is a sum of money, the master must grant the slave the right to earn and to own property."

What does Wikipedia say?

The Islamic prophet Muhammad encouraged manumission of slaves, even if one had to purchase them first. On many occasions, Muhammad's companions, at his direction, freed slaves in abundance. Muhammad personally freed 63 slaves, and his wife Aisha freed 67. In total his household and friends freed 39,237 slaves. The most notable of Muhammad's slaves were: Safiyya bint Huyayy, whom he freed and married; Maria al-Qibtiyya, given to Muhammad by a Byzantine official, whom he freed and who may have become his wife; Sirin, Maria's sister, whom he freed and married to the poet Hassan ibn Thabit and Zayd ibn Harithah, whom Muhammad freed and adopted as a son.


Please contrast this with the current world affairs on how the prisoners of war are treated and the rampant war crimes that are very common today.

America rejoiced for having the first black president in Obama. This is in the 21st century. The first Muaddhin (the person who does the call for prayer) was a former black slave called Bilal (May Allah be pleased with him). What the US achieved today, was done by Islam 1400 years ago.

The truth of the matter is: Islam is indeed the greatest benefactor for humanity.