Concept of Concubines and Slavery in Islam

History of Slavery

First of all, it should be known and kept in mind that slavery is not something that is introduced or legalized by Islam. In contrast, it is something that was widely practiced throughout the pre-Islamic period of Ignorance. Roman empires used to have slaves only for the purpose of intimacy, sex and trade. Even, mankind has known it since thousands of years. There is also a discussion on slavery in the bible as mentioned in the Divine Revealed Scriptures such as Torah and the Gospel. Hagar (Hajar) mother of Prophet Ishmael (Ismail) was a slave-girl presented by a tyrant Egyptian king as a gift to Sarah, the first wife of Abraham (AS). The practice was also existed and well-known among the ancient people of this world such as Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, Greeks and Romans.

Treatment with Slaves in Islam

This issue of SLAVERY IN ISLAM is totally opposite to the concept of slavery in Christianity. Islam used a better psychological approach to win people’s hearts in the struggle against slavery and all forms of discrimination by placing a strong emphasis on human dignity, equality and encouraging to set slaves free. It is worth noting that having slaves is never encouraged in Islam nor is it the objective of it. These days we hear a group of people known as “ISIS” (Islamic state of Syria and Iraq) are enslaving people without fulfilling the conditions to enslave. Moreover, ISIS is not giving rights to slaves which they are deemed to get. The point to be noted is that Islam and actions of Muslims confuses a normal person because our actions do not represent the idea of Islam.

Slavery in Christianity and Judaism

Slavery is rampant throughout the Bible in both Old and New Testaments. The Bible vividly approves having concubine in various and numerous passages as it tells how to obtain slaves, how hard one can beat slaves and when one can have sex with the female slaves or concubines.

History of Slavery in the Roman Empire

Slavery existed in the Roman society from the early stage of its development. There were many different ways that one could become a slave in Rome. Some were made slaves for the money they had borrowed and could not pay it back. The government itself would take people as slaves if they could not pay their taxes. The poor among them were selling their children as slaves to their richer neighbors. Romans practiced child slavery. Thousands of captured soldiers were sold or traded as slaves. Prisoners were taken to the slave markets in naked state with placards around their necks showing their good and bad qualities and sold as roman sex slaves. A rich Roman would pay more for an attractive young girl. The Romans treated their slaves very badly. They were beaten, burdened beyond their ability and even they were killed unjustly. They were deprived from the basic human rights and needs and humiliated with different kinds of humiliations.

Who is a Slave?

A slave is a human owned as a property by another human.

Ruling Concerning Slavery in Islam

According to the teachings of Islam it is lawful for a Muslim to have slaves. Allah (SWT) says in the Holy Quran:

“And those (slaves) whom your right hands possess.” (An-Nisa 4:36).

And the Prophet (PBUH) said:

“Whoever slaps or beats his slave, the expiation for that is to set him free.” (Muslim 1658).

So the question “Is slavery allowed in Islam?” The answer to this is that slavery in Islam is permissible as long as the master fulfils their rights but one cannot have the children of slaves as child slaves.

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Major Causes of Slavery

There are many causes that people used to enslave the people and the following are the major of them:

  1. Wars

When there was a war between groups and one of the defeated the other, the victorious group took the women and children of the defeated ones as captives and slaves.

  1. Poverty

On some occasions, poverty forced some people to sell their beloved children as child slaves to others.

  1. Kidnapping people on high-ways or high-seas

Big groups and parties of European gangs used to pirating on seas and kidnapping Africans whom they would then sell at European slave markets.

Islam, as the true religion of our Lord, did not permit but only one of the above-mentioned causes, which was enslavement through wars, as a sign of mercy that Islam came to spread.

Before the advent of Islam, it was the habit of the victorious groups to cause great harm to the defeated groups by killing their women and children and burning their homes to the ground as a gratification to quench their thirst for revenge. But Islam allowed its followers to take women and children as captives due to the following reasons:

  • In order to keep them alive.
  • As a preparation to make them happy and set slaves free later on.

As regards the male fighters who were captured, Islam gave the Muslim leader a choice of setting them free without any ransom or taking ransom. Allah (SWT) says:

“So, when you meet (in fight Jihad in Allah’s Cause), those who disbelieve smite at their necks till when you have killed and wounded many of them, then bind a bond firmly (on them, i.e. take them as captives). 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.” (Muhammad 47:4).

What Islam says about treating the slave?

There was not much difference in the way that other nations and non-Muslim religions treated their slaves. According to their religion and the way of treatment, a slave was no more than a tool used in everything and for every purpose in addition he was deprived from basic needs of food and cloth. He was beaten and overburdened with no justification. Sometimes, he would be branded with fire and have his extremities cut off for the flimsiest excuse.

Islamic slavery should be treated in a way that suits the human honor and dignity. The true religion of Islam forbids beating and killing slaves and it forbids humiliating or insulting them. It commands and exhorts its adherents to treat their slaves with kindness. The following evidences confirm the dignity and honor of slaves in Islam:

  1. There is no difference between human except on the basis of piety, regardless of one’s color or race. There is no difference between white and black and between Arab and non-Arabs. Everyone should be treated equally in a way that suites his or her human dignity. Allah (SWT) says:

“O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa [i.e. one of the Muttaqun (pious).” (Al-Hujurat 49:13).

  1. The slaves should be treated kindly as one treats his beloved ones. Allah (SWT) says:

“Do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, Al-Masakin (the poor), the neighbour who is near of kin, the neighbour who is a stranger, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (you meet), and those (slaves) whom your right hands possess. (An-Nisa 36).

  1. Providing suitable food, clothes, accommodation and looking after the rights of a slave is obligatory and responsibility of his master. He should be helped and must not be burdened beyond his ability. The Prophet (PBUH) said concerning them:

“(Slaves are) your brothers who Allah has put under your control, so feed them with the same food that you eat, clothe them with the same clothes that you wear, and do not burden them with so much that they are overwhelmed; if you do burden them, then help them.” (Al-Bukhari 6050).

  1. A master should not abuse or beat his slave or servant. The Prophet (PBUH) said:

“If somebody slanders his slave (by accusing him of committing illegal sexual intercourse) and the slave is innocent from what he says, Allah will impose the punishment upon him on the Day of Resurrection, unless it is as he said about him.” (Al-Bukhari 6858).

  1. If master slaps or beats his slave he should free him. The Prophet (PBUH) said:

“Whoever slaps or beats his slave, the expiation for that is to set him free.” (Muslim 1658).

Freeing slaves in Islam:

Islam calls unto setting slaves free, encourages it and is one of the recommended act. Allah (SWT) says:

Freeing a neck (slave). (Al-Balad 90:13).

The Prophet (PBUH) said:

“Whoever frees a believing slave, then Allah frees a limb from the Fire for each of his limbs, such that he frees his private parts in lieu of his private parts.” (Muslim 1509).

The wisdom behind freeing slaves is to avoid the slaves from the yokes and harms of slavery, so that each and every human being will be the master of his own self and his own benefits.

Sex with Slaves in Islam:

It is allowed for a Muslim to have intercourse with his slave maid, whether he has a wife or wives or he is not married. Such maid is known as a sariyyah (concubine). The word sariyyah is derived from the word sirr, which itself means marriage in Islam.

This is mentioned both in the Holy Quran and in the Sunnah of beloved Prophet (PBUH). This was done by the Prophet Abraham (AS), our beloved Prophet (PBUH), the Companions of the Prophet and the righteous ancestors of this Ummah.


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