The institution of slavery was well established in the social system much before the advent of Islam. Slaves were considered a commodity, which was marketable and heritable and like cattle or property they could be disposed. They were fettered in heavy chains so that they could not run away. They were beaten for small mistakes even for the pleasure of their sadist master. Their masters had absolute right over them. They could exploit them in any way they had wished. Such was the plight in which the slaves were living in Europe, Persia, Egypt, and India. There were so many social, psychological and political problems involved with this institution that no legal enactment or social reform could have abolished this practice at once.

The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) did not like this practice and in his famous Last Sermon he said, "O Mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from then twain hath spread aboard a multitude of men and women". "You are all children of Adam and Adam was created from dust". Islam treats all the human beings as equal since they have common parents and they come from the same human stock. There is no distinction between Arab and non-Arab, between white and black, between master and slave and between rich and poor in Islam. Thus Islam abolished all distinctions between men, which were based on race, colour, language, nationality or any other man-made prejudice. There is no superiority for master over the slave merely because of his being master. If a slave is more pious and virtuous than his master, he is superior in the sight of Allah. The Qur’an calls the believers as brothers, while the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) of Islam declared that one Muslim is brother of another Muslim.


The Believers are but
A single Brotherhood:
So make peace and
Reconciliation between your
Two (contending) brothers;
And fear Allah, that ye
May receive Mercy.
(Surah Hujurat V-10)

About the slaves, Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) enjoined upon his followers: "Your brethren Allah has placed them under your hands……So feed them out of what you eat and cloth them with what you cloth yourselves."

Islam permitted marriages between masters and slaves and the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) of Islam, as a mark of respect for the feelings of the slaves, commanded his companions: "Dont say: This is my slave and this is my slave-girl: rather say: This is my man and this is my maiden."

There were two sources of perpetuating slavery, namely: capture of free men, women and children in peace times and their sale in markets; and prisoners who were taken in a war and later on made slaves. Islam brought an end to both the sources.

The slaves in Islam enjoyed ranks and positions unparalleled in the history of man. The first Muazzen (prayer caller) in Islam was BilalR.A, a Negro slave. He was a close companion of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and was appointed commander of an army. ZaydR.A, who was a freed slave of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was married to ZaynabR.A, a cousin of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) himself appointed ZaydR.A as commander of an army in the Muta expedition. UsamahR.A, son of ZaydR.A was commander of a Muslim army, which included the great companions of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) like Abu BakrR.A, UmarR.A, AliR.A and UthmanR.A. Salman FarsiR.A was a slave and AliR.A said about him "He was one of our household (family member)".

Abdullah bin UmarR.A reported (Trimizi) that once a man came to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and said, "O Messenger of Allah! How many times shall we pardon a servant?" the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) remained silent. The man asked the same question to him again, but he remained silent. When the question was asked for the third time, he replied: Pardon him 70 times every day".

Abu Masud al-Ansari reported (Muslim): "I was assaulting my slave when I heard a voice from behind me: Know, O Abu Masud! Allah is powerful over you more than what you have got over him. Then I looked when lo! He was the Messenger of Allah. I said: O Messenger of Allah! He is free for the sake of Allah. He said: Beware! Had you not done it, the Fire would surely have burnt you, or the Fire would have touched you".

Abu Musa al-Ashari reported (Bukhari) that the Messenger of Allah said, "A man with whom there is a slave-girl, who teaches her manners and then makes her manners good; who gives her education and imparts it well, and who then emancipates her and afterwards takes her in marriage-there are double rewards for him".

Abu HurairahR.A reported (Bukhari) that the Messenger of Allah said, "The Almighty Allah said: there will be three persons whose opponent I shall become on the day of Resurrection; a man who gave a promise in my name and then broke trust, and a man who sold a free man and enjoined his price, and a man who engaged a labourer and enjoyed full labour from him but did not pay his wages".

The holy Qur’an has enjoined upon the believers not only to permit those male and female slaves who are capable of assuming the responsibilities of marriage to marry but also to make arrangements for such marriages.

One of the major factors, which promoted slavery and encouraged the trade in slave-girls, was that the slave-girls were used for prostitution. The Qur’an says,


Let those who find not
The wherewithal for marriage
Keep themselves chaste, until
Allah gives them means
Out of His grace.
And if any of your slaves
Ask for a deed in writing
(To enable them to earn
Their freedom for a certain sum),
Give them such a deed
If ye know any good
In them; yea, give them
Something yourselves
Out of the means which
Allah has given to you.
But force not your maids
To prostitution when they desire
Chastity, in order that ye
May make a gain
In the good of this life.
But if anyone compels them,
Yet, after such compulsion,
Is Allah Oft-Forgiving,
Most Merciful (to them).
(Surah Al-Nur V- 33)

In addition to that Islam prohibited fornication and adultery in any form. Adultery was declared a major sin and punishable crime. The Qur’an says,


Nor come nigh to adultery:
For it is a shameful (deed)
And an evil, opening the road
(To other evils)
(Surah Al-Isra V-10)

Thus by abolition of prostitution and banning adultery in any form, Islam removed one of the prime reasons which encouraged purchase and sale of slave-girls.

Islam not only raised the status of the slaves to the level of human beings but also exalted them to the position of leaders, military commanders and nobles. A common bond of Islamic brotherhood was established between them and their masters. UmarR.A the second rightly guided caliph of Islam declared: "Had Salim, the slave of Abi HuzaifaR.A been alive, I would have appointed him my successor".

The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) is known to have said, "They should not be entrusted with a work, which they are unable to do. If the assignment is difficult, the master should assist the slave". The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) declared that the worst of the men is he who beats his slave and does not help him in performing a difficult task. One who treats a slave badly will not enter Paradise. The families of the slaves should not be separated from them.

Islam treated the slaves equally with free Muslims and provided them every right and opportunity to progress in knowledge, religion, military, politics, and social life. Being a slave was in no way a barrier or hindrance in their way as it was in other societies.