The Shackles of Slavery

There is no shortage of misconceptions about Islam that both critics and extremists are quick to claim as uncontested religious practices. A prime example is Islam’s “endorsement” of slavery. The Islamic State (IS) religiously justifies slavery, most notably as it applies to Yazidis, by citing a prophecy and several theological references, including two ahadith[i], “You are the best people for people. You bring them with chains around their necks, until they enter Islam” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, Hadith No. 80) and “Allah marvels at people who enter Jannah [heaven] in chains” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, Hadith No. 254).

Extremist Interpretation

The fourth issue of IS’s English-language magazine, Dabiq, released October 2014, features an article titled “The Revival of Slavery Before The Hour,” that justifies enslaving Yazidis. The group reminds its readers that “enslaving the families of the kufar [non-believers] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shari’ah [Islamic law] that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Qur’an…and thereby apostatizing from Islam,” (emphasis added). Have no doubt that this article will, in fact, deny and mock IS’s attempts to justify slavery in Islam.

Historical Context

Islam did not introduce and does not endorse slavery; the practice predated the religion. The Qur’an did however introduce measures to regulate the treatment of slaves and elevate their status to lead to their eventual freedom and the gradual elimination of slavery altogether. Islam also highly encourages manumission, emancipating slaves, considering it a virtuous act and a representation of one’s piety and belief in God. All Muslim-majority countries made slavery illegal in the twentieth century and considered it a closed matter. In fact, most Muslim scholars concluded that slavery is inconsistent with Qur’anic morality and the ethical objective of Islam.[ii]

 The Breakdown

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The two ahadith IS cites mention chains, which is not a reference to slaves but instead prisoners of war that Muslims captured during battle who, after being exposed to Islam, voluntarily converted. Speaking of prisoners of war, and contrary to what IS desperately desires, there is only one verse in the Qur’an (47:4) that allows capturing prisoners of war and it does not permit Muslims to make them slaves.[iii] The ahadith highlight that the prisoners’ chains freed them from punishment in hell and became their entry into heaven.

Final Thoughts

If you still have doubts, then consider this: there is not a single verse in the Qur’an encouraging the capture of slaves or the continuation of slavery, and there is similarly no mention of slave trading or slave markets. In essence, the efforts of the Islamic State and other extremists to justify bringing back slavery are thinly (or maybe not so thinly) veiled attempts to sexually exploit women under the guise of Islam. Slavery has no place in Islam and neither do the groups who espouse it.

References

[i] Ahadith is the plural form of hadith. Hadith is the collection of sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad. 

[ii] Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. Harper One, 2005

[iii] Bernard Freamon, “ISIS says Islam Justifies Slavery: What Does Islamic Law Say?” The CNN Freedom Project, 5 November 2014