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Rights of slaves and workers in Islamic civilization

Article translated to : العربية Español

examples of rights of slaves and workers in islam

islam honored and cared for slaves and workers and recognized their rights for the first time in history - after work in some old laws meant slavery and dependence, while in others meant humiliation and degradation - aiming to administer social justice and provide a decent life for them. the biography of the prophet (peace be upon him) is the best evidence for the greatness of the islamic civilization's look to slaves and workers, as he (peace be upon him) recognized their rights.

the prophet (peace be upon him) urged employers to treat their slaves humanely and decently. he also urged them to have pity on them, be kind with them and not to assign them a work that they can not bear. the prophet (peace be upon him) said: "your slaves are your brothers and allah has put them under your command. so, whoever has a brother under his command should feed him of what he eats and dress him of what he wears. do not ask them (slaves) to do things beyond their capacity (power) and if you do so, then help them."[1]so, the prophet's declaration "your slaves are your brothers" came to elevate the level of a slave to that of a brother, something which has never happened in any civilization.

the prophet (peace be upon him) also obligated employers to pay their workers and slaves for their efforts without injustice or procrastination. he (peace be upon him) said: "give a servant his fee before his sweat dries"[2].

islam warned against doing workers an injustice. the prophet (peace be upon him) quoted allah, the lord of glory (be he exalted) as saying: "allah says, 'i will be against three persons on the day of resurrection… and one who employs a laborer and gets the full work done by him but does not pay him his wages.'"[3]so, anyone who treats a worker or a slave unjustly should know that allah observes him and will be his litigant on the day of resurrection.

an employer should not place on workers a burden that is detrimental to their health and that makes them unable to work. in this regard, the prophet (peace be upon him) said: "if you reduce your slave's tasks, a reward will be added to your book of deeds in the day of resurrection."[4]the slave's right to be treated with humility is a landmark in the islamic law. in this regard, the prophet (peace be upon him) urges his nation saying: "someone who eats with his servant, rides a donkey in the markets, and ties up his sheep and milks it is not proud."[5]

as the prophet's life was application of all his sayings, 'aisha (may allah be pleased with her) reported that "allah's messenger (peace be upon him) never beat anyone with his hand, neither a woman nor a servant…"[6]

abu mas'ud al-ansari reported: when i was beating my servant, i heard a voice behind me (saying): "abu mas'ud, bear in mind allah has more dominance over you than you have upon him".i turned and (found him) to be allah's messenger (peace be upon him). i said: allah's messenger, i set him free for the sake of allah. thereupon, he said: "had you not done that, (the gates of) hell would have opened for you, or the fire would have burnt you."[7]

beating, slapping or kicking is an affront to slaves that is rejected by allah and his messenger. so, the best punishment for a cruel master is to be deprived immediately of his ownership of slaves, and this is the greatness of islam and islamic civilization.

giving a true testimony, the prophet's slave anas ibn malik reported: allah's messenger (peace be upon him) had the best disposition amongst people. he sent me on an errand one day, and i said: by allah, i would not go. i had, however, this idea in my mind that i would do as allah's messenger (peace be upon him) had commanded me to do. i went out until i happened to come across children who had been playing in the street. in the meanwhile, allah's messenger (peace be upon him) came there and he caught me by the back of my neck from behind me. as i looked towards him i found him smiling and he said: "unays, did you go where i commanded you to go?"i said: allah's messenger, yes, i am going. anas further said: i served him for seven or nine years but i know not that he ever said to me about a thing which i had done why i did that, or about a thing i had left as to why i had not done that.[8]

moreover, the prophet (peace be upon him) was interested in caring for his servants to the extent that he urged them to get married, rabi'ah ibn ka'b al-aslami reported: when i was serving the prophet (peace be upon him), he called me and asked: "don't you want to get married, rabi'ah?"i said: i do not want anything to distract me from your service. moreover, i don't have anything to give as dowry to a wife nor any place where i can accommodate a wife. the prophet remained silent. when he saw me again he asked: "don't you want to get married, rabi'ah?"i gave him the same reply as before. left to myself again, i regretted what i had said and chided myself: 'woe to you, rabi'ah. by allah, the prophet knows better than you what is good for you in this world and the next and he also knows better than you what you possess. by allah, if the prophet (peace be on him) should ask me again to marry, i would reply positively.' before long, the prophet asked me again: "don't you want to get married 'rabi'ah?"'oh yes, messenger of allah,' i replied, 'but who will marry me when i am in the state you know.' then he said: "go to the family of so-and-so from al-ansar…"[9]

the greatness of islamic civilization in treating slaves and workers becomes so clear when we see that the prophet's (peace be upon him) mercy included nonbelievers. a young jewish boy used to serve the prophet (peace be upon him) and he became sick. so the prophet went to visit him. he sat near his head and asked him to embrace islam. the boy looked at his father, who was sitting there; the latter told him: obey abu-al-qasim and the boy embraced islam. the prophet (peace be upon him) came out saying: "praises be to allah who saved the boy from the hell-fire."[10]

these are some of the rights of slaves and workers that were consolidated by islam and were applied by the prophet of islam (peace be upon him) in word and deed at a time that knew nothing but injustice, oppression and tyranny. this reflects truly the highness

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[1] narrated by al-bukhari, chapter of al-iman (faith) (30), and muslim, chapter of al-iyman wa al-nuzur (oath) (1661).

[2] narrated by ibn majah on the authority of abdullah ibn umar (2443). al-albani said: correct; see: mishkat al-masabih (2987).

[3] narrated by al-bukhari on the authority of abu-hurayrah, chapter of al-byu' (sales) (2114), ibn majah (2442), and abu-ya'la (6436).

[4] narrated by ibn hibban on the authority of amr ibn hurayth (4314), and abu-ya'la (1472). husayn salim asad said its transmitters are confident.

[5] narrated by al-bukhari: al-adab al-mufrad 2/321 (568), and al-bayhaqi: shu'ab al-iman (8188). al-albani said: correct; see: sahih al-jami' (5527).

[6] narrated by muslim, chapter of al-fada'il (good qualities) (2328), abu-dawud (4786), and ibn majah (1984).

[7] narrated by muslim, chapter of al-iman (1659), abu-dawud (5159), al-tirmizi (1948), ahmad (22404), al-bukhari: al-adab al-mufrad 1/264 (173), and al-tabarani: al-mu'jam al-kabir (683).

[8] narrated by muslim, chapter of al-fada'il (2310), and abu-dawud (4773).

[9] narrated by ahmad (16627); al-hakim (2718) who said: this is a correct hadith on the condition of muslim; and al-tayalisi (1173).

([10]) narrated by al-bukhari on the authority of anas ibn malik: chapter of al-jana'iz (funerals) (1290).

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