Issue of Slavery from the Perspective of a Muslim
The issue of slavery from a perspective of Muslim . The “common” explanation is that cultures were different “back then” and were patriarchal, even in the Christian scriptures, slavery was ok. I suppose God simply could not change any of that through the Holy Folks on any level. I mean, in all of Paul’s “revelations”, I guess Jesus forgot about the immorality of slavery? Makes one wonder. I won’t even mention some of the “revelations” that Mohammad had, no way I could say it in such a way as not to make it sound offensive to someone who follows Islam.I assume I am not offending any Christians here but, while I mean none, I suppose I should expect any angry tirade from someone?
I just wanted to give my input in this interesting discussion on the issue of slavery from the perspective of a Muslim.
I am not too sure what God did about slavery before Muhammed, but the Quran does deal with the issue in some detail. We Muslims believe that Muhammed was the last messenger and the Quran God’s last book, call it the Final Testament. It was therefore necessary that if God had to make a pronouncement about slavery it ought to have been done in His last direct address to mankind.
The way slavery was dealt with in the Quran can be briefly described thus: Right from day one slavery was described undesirable when the expression ‘freeing of necks’ was used for the emancipation of slaves and the act was considered as carrying great value in the eyes of God. The status of slaves was enhanced by assigning more dignified titles to them and encouraging free individuals to get married to them. Muslims were suggested freeing slaves as a way of expiating the ill-effects of certain offences like accidental killing etc
The most significant step taken by God to emancipate slaves was when a two-pronged attack against slavery was launched: The Quran made it binding on Muslim masters to free their slaves/slave girls if the latter approached them for that purpose. The only reason why they were not to be allowed freedom was in case the masters feared that they will cause harm to the society (by resorting to beggary or prostitution for example). In return, the masters were eligible to receive the value of their slaves’ prices. The society was encouraged to contribute in the instalment payments of the amount. As a consequence of this measure only such people were to remain slaves who voluntarily chose that status for themselves. It is quite likely that due to old age or other considerations an individual might prefer the protection of a family as a slave over the difficulties of free life.
The other anti-slavery measure was taken when the Quran declared that prisoners of war shall either be freed without demanding ransom or with it. The third contemporary possibility of keeping POWs as slaves was omitted from being mentioned. Thus the very source from where slaves used to originate was blocked.
The Quran thus allowed all willing slaves to get freed on the one hand and disallowed the making of new ones on the other. However, while it was all happening, there were a good number of slaves already in existence. The existing law and custom regarding slves was improved to make their lives better even as slaves. It were the latter, temporary meausres whose mention caused misunderstanding in the minds of many people that the Quran had condoned slavery.
Had slavery been outlawed overnight forcibly, it would have caused more harm than good for the slaves. There wasn’t any institutional support at that time to take care of of them. Even today the Pakistani government is finding difficulty in taking care of its Internally Displaced Persons despite its vast resources. The best solution was the gradual elimination of slavery which is what the Quran did.