66) What were the practical steps which the Qur’an adopted for the eradication of slavery ?
It may be seen that the Qur’an had adopted five steps for the eradication of slavery.
1. Created a sense of brotherhood. The Qur’an had, firstly, created a notion that both master and slave were brothers, one to the other, by inculcating an awareness that all men are the creations of the same God and were the children of the same parents. “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair)
of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (Qur’an 49:13)
Here, the Qur’an has decimated the very root of all forms of narrow mindedness that arose out of the feelings of superior birth. Indeed, the Prophet had taught that righteousness was measured not on the basis of colour, race or wealth, but on the basis of Godconsciousness alone. “The Arab has no superiority over the non-Arab or the non-Arab over the Arab; the white over the black or the black over the white except in the matter of God-consciousness.” (Tabari) Where slaves are mentioned, the Holy Qur’an remarked that “some amongst you proceed from others.”(Qur’an:4:25).
Here the Qur’an has made it clear that both master and slave are brothers, one to the other, and that it is circumstances alone which force slavery upon some people. 2. It created an awareness concerning the rights of the slave. The slave was a mere marketable commodity in all ancient societies. His lot was confined to duties alone. His obligation was simply to strive for an increase in the comforts and luxury enjoyed by the master and in this regard, there was to be no compromisewhatsoever. It was a paramount necessity that the slave was in good shape in order that he be able to work for his master. Indeed, it was for this reason, and for this reason alone, that he was provided with
food. The slaves lived in yards which world not have sufficed to accomodate not even cattle and other livestock. As for the clothes that they were provided with, they were sufficient not even to cover their nakedness such filthy pieces of clothes they were! Islam brought about a transformation in the situation. It taught that the slave was the brother of the master and that he had rights as
well. The Prophet commanded: “They are your brothers and relatives! Let each one provide for the brother under him with the food that he himself eats and with the clothes that he himself wears. Place not upon them any task that is overbearing for them. If you do assign them a difficult task, you must help them in its execution.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
The duty of the slave, in primitive societies, was never confined to mere labour. He was also doomed to be at the receiving end of his master’s sadistic pleasures like. The most cruel flogging while at work and to be always ready to kill and to be killed for the sake of his master’s pleasure. TheQur’an commanded that such a state of affairs must change. It insisted on the humane and proper treatment of the slaves. “Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are of kin, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the way-farer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: for Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.”(Qur’an 4:36)
The Prophet had clearly stated, “If anyone kills a slave, we shall kill him. If anyone maims a slave, we shall maim him as well. If anyone castrates his slave, we shall castrate him.”(Muslim, Abu Dawood)
From being the choice commodity for the master’s foibles and intricacies, the slave was being transformed into a being with his very own personality and rights. It was in a society in which existed the heinous practice of castrating slaves that the Prophet had, in the most unambiguous terms, declared that the master who castrates his slave will, in turn, ‘be castrated by us.’ The slaves were castrated in order that their sexual impulses be destroyed, whereby, they could then be made to work like animals. Islam, which prohibited this practice,
particularly instructs that means should be made available for the satisfaction of the sexual instincts of the slave also. “Marry those among you who are single, and the virtuous ones among your slaves, male or female: if they are in poverty, Allah will give them means out of His grace: for Allah is Ample-giving, and He knoweth all things.” (Qur’an 24:32)
Furthermore, the Qur’an prohibited the system of forcing female slaves into prostitution. “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 (for emancipation) 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 goods of this life. But if anyone compels them, yet, after such compulsion, is Allah
Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Qur’an 24:33) The Prophet had taught against even uttering anything that might injure the self-respect of the slave. The Prophet, who had taught that had made it clear that the slave, too, enjoyed self-respect upon which none had the right to trespass. The Prophet had admonished his companion, Abu Dharr, who, in an angry tussle with his slave, had called him ‘the son of a black woman’, in the following manner: “ O Abu Dharr…. There remains in you something of the culture of the days of darkness.” Islam teaches that the slave has the right to become even a leader and that in the event that he does get appointed as a leader, it is obligatory to obey him. “Even if it be a negro slave, with hair like dried grapes, who is appointed as your leader, you must hear and obey him.” Abu Hurairah, the companion of the Prophet, once scolded a man who had his slave walking behind the camel on which he was riding, “Seat him behind thee for he is thy brother and it is the same soul as yours that is within him.”
Islam gave new dimension to the relation between master and slave by insisting that the master and the slave both had the same soul. It is true, neverthless, that the slave does come under the jurisdiction of the master. However, the master is duty-bound to fulfill the rights of the slave. It is his duty to meet the slave’s requirements of food, clothing, sexual gratification and the like. The slave is never to be harmed. He should not be put into difficulty by entrusting him with burdensome tasks as well. In such fashion did Islam create a revolution of sorts in raising the slave, for the first time in history, to the position of a free man.
It was through these means that it became possible for Islam to bridge the wide gap that existed between the mental states of the master and the slave. The end result of this revolution was that the owner was emancipated from the belief that the slave was a commodity on which he could carry out any inhuman act according to his whims and fancy. At the same time, the slave was freed of the notion that he was doomed to a fate in which he was to bear with patience all the hardships and forever indulge in back-breaking toil.
3. Declared the emancipation of slaves to be an act of righteousness. By declaring the slaves to be human beings who had rights of its own, Islam had technically made slavery non-existent. Without stopping at that point, however, it went further by turning to a course of action which would, in time, serve to eliminate the system in a very practical sense indeed. This practical step which Islam had adopted to make slavery virtually non-existent was its act of declaring the emancipation of slaves to be an act of righteousness. The position of the Prophet as regards the emancipation of slaves was such that it
only reinforced the meaning of the Qur’anic reference that “Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (Scriptures) – In the Taurat and the Gospel; for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure) : He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the Light which is sent down with him, it is they who will prosper.” (Qur’an 7:157)
The Qur’anic verse which makes it clear that the emancipation of slaves is an act of the highest virtue goes as follows: “And what will explain to thee the path that is steep? (It is) freeing the bondman; or the giving of food in a day of privation, to the orphan with claims of relationship, or to the indigent (down) in the dust.” (Qur’an 90:12-16)
As far as the emancipation of slaves was concerned, the Prophet had exhorted his companions towards it by, firstly, making an example himself. He set free the slaves who were in his possession. His companions, too, followed the same path. In this context, it may be seen that Abu Bakr (r), a man of prominence amongst the companions, spent countless wealth in purchasing slaves from the pagans for setting them free.
There are numerous sayings of the Prophet which encourage the freeing of slaves. “If anyone sets free a believing slave, each of his body parts will be set free from Hell so much so that it will be the hand for a hand, the leg for a right up to the sexual organ for the sexual organ.” (Bukhari, Muslim) Once the companion, Abu Dharr (r), asked the Prophet, “Which is the highest act in the emancipation of slaves ?” The Prophet replied, “To set free the most valuable slave of the master.” The Prophet, while talking about those who become deserving of God’s reward twice, said, “He who confers a proper behaviour upon the female slave under him, then gives her the best education, sets her free and then marries her will become entitled to a double reward.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
Thus it was that the believers, both during the time of the Prophet and afterwards, began to set slaves free expecting, in return, the reward from the Lord Creator itself. Besides this, a situation came up wherein even the wealth of Zakat began to be used for the emancipation of slaves. It may be seen from history that during the reign of Umar bin Abdul Azeez, when there was not a single needy person to accept the wealth of Zakat, this money was used to purchase slaves in order to set them free.
4. Emancipation of slaves was made the act of expiation for many types of sin.
In addition to encouraging the believers towards its commission by declaring the emancipationof slaves to be a virtuous deed, Islam recommended it as an act of expiation for many types of sin. The atonement for sins like unintentional murder and breaking one’s vow of not approaching his wife was the freeing of one slave. As for those who were not ready to free slaves in expectation of divine reward alone, the command which made the emancipation of slaves an atoning act for sins committed, nevertheless, made it necessary for them to do so.
5. The facility of providing the slave with his freedom in exchange of the ransom value was made possible. Let us suppose that it was still not possible for a slave to become free by any of the means listed above. Even then freedom is not unattainable for him. Islam has opened a way out for any slave who desires his freedom. This becomes possible through a emancipation deed known by the technical name Mukathaba. If the yearning for freedom becomes entrenched within, it becomes possible for any slave to become a free man through the Mukathaba. The master and the slave get together to decide upon a ransom value and a time-frame for its payment on mutually agreeable terms. It is further possible for the slave to go out and work to earn this ransom value himself. Thus, the slave is enabled to pay the ransom value in instalments. With the completion of this payment he becomes a free man.
Through this facility, Islam has made possible the opportunity for fulfilling the dream of independence of any slave in whose heart arises such a desire. What if the slave, after having written down the document for his freedom, is unable to pay the ransom amount within the stipulated time period? Islam has provided the solution for this as well. One of the eight heads under which the Zakat wealth is to be expended is for the emancipation of slaves (Qur’an 9:60). If it happens that a slave is unable to pay his ransom value according to the Mukathaba, he can approach the Baithulmal (public treasury) for the purpose. It is the responsibility of those who handle it to set the man free by making use of a stipulated amount from it. Here Islam has devised a way which makes use of a portion of the wealth of the wealthy to emancipate slaves.
As far as the problem of slavery is concerned, Islam adopted a line of action which provided for the freedom from the binding chains by teaching the slave what freedom actually means and by enabling them to free themselves from dependence on others. In reality, there has been no other course of action to which anyone could point and say that that was a better way than the method adopted by Islam in the case of slavery. If that is to be really appreciated it would be necessary to view the problem from the perspective of the time and the society in which it prevailed as an established institution in itself.