before islam, servants and slaves had no rights and no honour. but when allah the almighty favoured the world with the message of islam, the prophet peace be upon him relieved them of injustice, established rights for them and threatened those who oppressed, belittled or cursed them with painful punishment in the hereafter. al-ma`rur ibn suwayd said, "i saw abu dharr may allah be pleased with him wearing an ornament and his servant boy wearing a similar one. i asked him about it, and he mentioned that he had once insulted a man during the time of the prophet, demeaning him through his mother. the man went to the messenger of allah peace be upon him and told him about that. the prophetpeace be upon him said,
"you are a person retaining some traits of the days of ignorance. servants are your brothers whom allah has put under your authority. so whoever has his brother under his authority should feed him from what he eats and clothe him from what he wears. and do not charge them with work that is too much for them, and if you charge them, then assist them with it." (al-bukhari and muslim)
notice how the prophet peace be upon him put the servant in the position of a brother in order to affirm in the muslim's heart that when he wrongs that servant, treats him badly or deprives him of what is due to him, it is as if he did it to his brother. the prophet peace be upon him ordered good treatment and kindness to them, and to accord them the same dignity, food and clothing as those they serve. this is why abu dharr may allah be pleased with him would give his servant an ornament similar to his own. in this hadith, the prophet peace be upon him also prohibited giving servants more work than they can bear, which includes relieving them and giving them enough time to rest.
abu mas`ud al-ansari may allah be pleased with him-reported: "i used to beat a slave boy of mine with a whip. then i heard a voice behind me saying, 'know, abu mas`ud!' but due to my anger i did not understand the voice. when he approached me i saw it was the messenger of allah peace be upon him and he was saying,
'know, abu mas`ud!'
so i dropped the whip from my hand.
he peace be upon him said, 'know, abu mas`ud, that allah, the exalted, has more power over you than you have over this boy.'
i said, 'i will never beat a slave after this.' "in another narration, he is quoted as saying, "o messenger of allah peace be upon him, he is free for the sake of allah." the prophet peace be upon him said,
"if you had not done it you would have been afflicted by the hellfire." (muslim)
and the prophet peace be upon him said, "when someone slaps or beats his slave, its expiation is to free him." (abu dawud – graded saheeh by al-albani)
the prophet himself was one who saved the oppressed, freed slaves and stood up for the rights of servants and those who were humiliated. he would console them and revitalize their hearts.
mu`awiyah ibn suwayd ibn muqrin may allah be pleased with him reported: "i slapped one of our servants, so my father called him and called me. he told him, 'take retribution from him. for indeed, we of bani muqrin were seven people at the time of the messenger of allah peace be upon him, and we had only one servant. one of us slapped her, and the messenger of allah peace be upon him said, "set her free." they said, "but she is the only servant we have."
so, he said, "then she may serve you until you are no longer in need, and when you are no longer in need, free her." (muslim)
that was muhammad peace be upon him, and that was how he dealt with servants and slaves; so how do those who call for human rights today compare with such conduct?
consider the practical example of how the prophet treated his own servant. anas ibn malik may allah be pleased with him said, "i served the messenger of allah peace be upon him for ten years. by allah, he never even said to me 'uff,'1 and he never said about anything i did, 'why did you do it?' or about something i did not do, 'why did you not do it?' " (al-bukhari and muslim) and in another narration anas may allah be pleased with him said, "and he never found fault with anything i did." (muslim)
and the messenger of allah peace be upon him would say to a servant, "do you need anything?" (ahmad – graded saheeh by al-albani) anas ibn malik may allah be pleased with him reported that a slave woman of madinah would take the hand of allah's messenger peace be upon him, and he would not remove his hand from hers until she had taken him wherever she wanted in the city to show him what she needed. (ibn majah – graded saheeh by al-albani)