does islam accept slavery?
sometimes people ask why islam did not abolish slavery. they tend to forget that other religions did not do so either; in fact, there are several passages in the bible that order slaves to serve their masters well. it is well known that when europe made contact with africa, the black people of that continent were faced with a major calamity of human misery that lasted more than five centuries. slavery was not abolished worldwide until the year 1953, through a resolution issued by the united nations.
at the time of the qur'an's revelation, slavery was a universal institution upon which the economies of every civilization were dependent. there were many ways by which a slave could be obtained, such as poverty (forcing one to sell himself or his children into slavery), debt (when a debtor could not pay off his debt, he became a slave), kidnapping and raids. islam limited the sources that existed previously to one: the capture of enemy prisoners during war, and all others were prohibited.
actually, islam is unique in its concern for the peaceful elimination of this practice. due to his perfect knowledge and wisdom, god did not order slavery abolished outright. since the economy of every civilization on earth was based and dependent upon this system, not only would the muslim community have been put at great disadvantage by the immediate emancipation of all slaves, but the slaves themselves would have been unprepared for release into society without homes or means of support.
mercifully, god made the freeing of slaves within islam a gradual transition. manumission by the state and by individual muslims was encouraged as a righteous deed greatly rewarded in the hereafter. the qur'an stated that obligatory zakah and charity funds could be used for the purchase of slaves to be freed, and freeing a slave is cited therein as expiation for breaking an oath and for the commission of particular kinds of sins and errors. moreover, a slave could enter into a contract with his master to earn his freedom. thousands of slaves requested and were granted contracts of emancipation by their muslim owners.
prophet muhammad repeatedly emphasized good treatment of the slaves who remained, severely rebuking those owners who transgressed. under islam slaves were to be given the same quality of food and clothing as their masters, they were not lo be overworked, their dignity was to be preserved, and they were to be treated with justice and kindness. often, slaves became members of muslim families and refused freedom. only under islam did the slave enjoy a unique position as a member of the household and community worthy of respect.
in many cases, a slave would become a close friend and adviser of his master; or the master would even regard him as a son. it was not uncommon for slaves to be given precedence over free men regarding religious or worldly matters in which one of them excelled. for example, a slave well versed in the qur'an could lead the prayer, and muslims were ordered to obey if a slave should be appointed in charge of their affairs.
islam has always encouraged the emancipation of slaves with the objection of gradually diminishing their numbers and integrating them into society. as a result of islamic teachings, slavery was almost completely eradicated from many areas of muslim world, peacefully and without bloodshed. can any other religion or civilization make such a claim?
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