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The Efforts of Prophet Muhammad against Slavery and Human Trafficking

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12068 2008/07/17 2024/04/19
Article translated to : العربية


the efforts of the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) against slavery and human trafficking

the call of prophet muhammad (pbuh) is the call to liberate man. it is to eliminate slavery, namely when a human is subjugated to another human. human freedom is affirmed by the call of islam, it is a sign of the humans' honor given by the creator to all humans. islam gives special attention to slavery, the prophet muhammad (pbuh) narrowed chances of enslaving people and increased opportunities for freeing them from slavery. he encouraged people to free slaves by informing them that whoever frees a muslim slave, allah will save all the parts of his body from the hellfire, as he has freed the body parts of the slave.1

the german orientalist adam metz clarified that emancipation of slaves is one of the principals of islam. metz said: ''there was a ruling in islam in favor for slaves; any of them can buy his freedom by paying a sum of money. the male or female slaves had the right to work an independent work if they wish. also, people followed good traditions as they used to behest their heirs to free their slaves when they die.''2 the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) raised the status of slaves by making them equal to masters, as the christian thinker nazmi luka said, ''slaves and ethiopian slaves were made an equal to kings of quraysh!''3

the call to liberate slaves was an important foundation of islam which aristocratic quraysh challenged and fought islam because of it. it is the call to equality between slaves and masters. the leaders of quraysh tried to have a bargain with the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) by expelling slaves and in return they will acknowledge and embrace islam. almighty allah warned the prophet muhammad (pbuh) in the noble qur'an against abandoning the slaves or dismissing them in favor of the masters. they are the ones who exerted efforts and sacrificed their souls for islam. they call on their lord at mornings and evenings only for the sake of him, not to be thanked, not to get a position, sovereignty or dominion as the leaders of the tribe. allah says about them in the qur'an (what means): ''and (suffer) yourself to (endure) patiently with the ones who invoke their lord in the early morning and nightfall, willing to seek his face, and do not let your eyes go past them, (i.e., overlook them) willing (to gain) the adornment of the present life; (literally: the lowly life, i.e., the life of this world) and do not obey him whose heart we have made heedless of our remembrance, and who closely follows his own prejudices, and to whom the command (i.e., the command of allah to him, or: his affair) has been all excess (i.e., he has been most disbelieving).'' (al-kahf: 28) these slaves, according to islamic sharia, are purer, higher in value, softer in heart and more merciful than those arrogant heartless leaders that enslave, violate and assault people without any right. for these slaves, the prophet (peace be upon him) received a heavenly order from the creator of the heavens and earth to take care of them and be kind to them. almighty allah sent a warning to his prophet (pbuh) to adhere to these slaves and never to seek the ornament of the present life or the temptations offered by disbelievers to the prophet (pbuh). it told him not to overlook slaves to obey the tyrant masters.

as for slaves, they found dignity and freedom in the reforming teachings of islam. it was their lifeline to escape poverty and degradation and to get rid of the worship of idols and abuse of masters. it made them masters of muslims. omar ibnul-khattab (ra)4 commented on the incident when abu-bakr (ra) bought bilal bin rabah (ra) to liberate him saying, ''he is our master and he liberated our master''.

prophetic teachings to improve the situation of slaves

if we contemplate over the prophetic teachings, we will notice the many efforts exerted by the prophet of humanity muhammad (peace be upon him) to improve the situation of male and female slaves. by looking through his teachings, we will find how slaves were raised in status under the umbrella of islam. some of these prophetic teachings are:

first: the prophet's will to treat male and female slaves well

during his last illness, just before he passed away, the prophet (peace be upon him) emphasized observing prayer and the good treatment of slaves and servants, saying: ''fear allah, fear allah, with regard to your prayer and your slaves.''5. allah's apostle (peace be upon him) also said: ''the one who treats his slave badly will not enter the garden'' (abu dawood). he (pbuh) commands muslims to treat salves well, even when he was dying. he is the one who embraced and protected them alive, and on his deathbed he directs others to be good to them. he was the best teacher to them, the best father and the best liberator.

second: warning against harming male and female slaves

the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) raged when he heard about beating slaves or assaulting them. abu mas'ud al-badri (ra) said: i was beating my slave with a whip when i heard a voice behind me which said: "abu mas'ud! bear in mind...'' i did not recognize the voice for the intense anger i was in. abu mas'ud added: as he came near me, i found that he was the messenger of allah (pbuh) who was saying, "abu mas'ud! bear in mind that allah has more dominance upon you than you have upon your slave.'' then i said: "he is free for the sake of allah.'' he (pbuh) said, "if you had not done this, you would have been singed by the fire.''6 this is how the prophet (pbuh) educated his companions and muslims in general, he directed them towards respecting humanity and rights of people specially the weak and vulnerable such as slaves, servants and humble wage-earners. this call is addressed not only to the people at the time of the prophet (peace be upon him), it is for all muslim rulers at every time and everywhere. they are obliged and ordered to protect slaves from torture and persecution, in addition to exerting true efforts to liberate them.


third: directing people to kindness and benevolence towards slaves:


the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) was the kindest and most forbearant person to slaves. narrated anas ibn malik: ''the prophet (peace be upon him) was the kindest of people. by allah he never said no to a slave or servant when they brought water to him, even in cold weather he would wash his face and arms. anyone who asked him for a matter, he (pbuh) would listen to him and never leave him till the other person leaves. anyone who took his hand, he would give it to him and never take it till the other person removes it first.''7


the same narrator, anas ibn malik, talked about his experience as a servant to the prophet (peace be upon him). he said: ''i served him for ten years but i know not that he ever chastised 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.''

narrated al marur bin suwaid: i saw abu dharr al-ghifari wearing a cloak, and his slave, too, was wearing a cloak. i asked him about that (i.e. how both were wearing similar cloaks). he replied, "once i insulted a man by slighting his mother [he said to a slave: you son of a black woman] so he complained of me to the prophet. the prophet (peace be upon him) asked me, 'o abu dharr, did you insult him by slighting his mother? you are a man who still has aspects of jahiliyah (ignorance) in him' he added, 'your slaves are your brethren upon whom allah has given you authority. so, if one has one's brethren under one's control, one should feed them with the like of what one eats and clothe them with the like of what one wears. you should not overburden them with what they cannot bear, and if you do so, help them (in their hard job).' "8

he banned mocking or insulting slaves about their colors or lineage. he also banned overworking slaves and helping them if the work is more than they can handle. scholars of islam warned against making slaves work day and night. they said: if the master occupies him with work at mornings, he should let him rest at night and vice versa. they also said: masters should give slaves a break during naptime to sleep and time to pray as well. if they travel, the master should let his slave ride with him, or they can share or exchange the animal they ride or any mean they use to travel with. scholars said: if the slave is a non-muslim such as the people of the book, he should not be banned from going to the church, drinking alcohol or eating ham because his religion permits him. [narrated by al banani from malik in al modawana]9

review with me the saying of the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) to the one who insulted the slave: 'you are a man who still has aspects of jahiliyah (ignorance) in him'. it shows that the people who insult slaves by abusing them with word and deed are characterized with ignorance, he (pbuh) described them of having traces from time of ignorance or what is called in islam as jaahiliyyah.10

fourth: mobilizing national and collective efforts to fight slavery:

salman al-farsi was bound to slavery for a period of time. he was the slave of one of the wealthy people in madinah, this is why he could not fight with the prophet (peace be upon him) at important battles such as badr and uhud. he went to the prophet (pbuh) who advised him to have an agreement with his master to set him free in exchange for money. he went to his master who agreed to give salman his freedom in return for planting three hundred palm trees and giving him forty ounces of gold. other muslims shared in helping salman to fulfill this agreement. they brought the palm shoots to him, they dig the soil to plant them, and the prophet came and planted them with his hands so salman was set free. the first battle salman witnessed was the battle of the trench. the idea of digging a trench around madinah was salman’s idea to fortify it against invaders. when his idea succeeded and achieved the aim, people had more regard for salman because of his intelligence and efforts to serve the islamic nation by suggesting digging the trench. al ansar11 said: salman belongs to us! and al muhajirun12 said: salman belongs to us! so the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "salman is from us, ahlul bayt (the family of the prophet)."13

this shows us how the status of slaves was elevated in the islamic nation, through their efforts in serving the society. being slaves did not stain or belittle them among other free muslims. in the story of salman, we can see the practical example of helping a slave to get his freedom. the prophet (pbuh) gathered all efforts of his citizens to help liberate a slave. this obligates society to mobilize all national and collective efforts to emancipate slaves and liberate them of such social disease.

fifth: setting the rule: ''the atonement of hitting a slave is to liberate him''

islam increased chances of liberating slaves by setting the rule “the atonement of hitting a slave is to liberate him.” this rule was not at the times of jahiliyah, in fact many slaves were abused before islam. islam gives the freedom to the slave, if his master hits him. abu saleh dhakwan narrated from zadan who said: i came to ibn omar after he liberated a slave of his. ibn omar took a small stick or something small from the floor and said, “i have no reward in liberating him worth of this small thing. i heard the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) saying, ''the expiation of whom he slaps or hits his slave is to liberate him.''14

sixth: sponsoring the disabled and sick slaves by the islamic country

zanba' abu rawh had a slave named sandar ibn sandar, he found him kissing a female slave. zanba' punished him by amputating his penis and mutilating his nose. the slave came to the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) and told him what happened. the prophet (pbuh) said to zanba', 'why did you do that?' zanba' said, 'he did such and such.' he told the prophet what sandar did to the female slave. the prophet said to the slave, 'go, you are free.' the slave asked the prophet (pbuh), 'who is my sponsor?' he (pbuh) said, 'allah and his apostle.' the prophet (pbuh) entrusted muslims to take care of him. when the prophet (peace be upon him) died, sandar went to abu-bakr (ra) and said to him, 'the behest of allah's apostle (pbuh).' abu-bakr said, 'yes you will be financially supported and your children.' he was sponsored till abu-bakr died, so he went to omar (ra) and said to him, 'the behest of allah's apostle (pbuh).' omar said, 'yes, where would you like to go.' sandar said, 'egypt'. omar wrote to the ruler of egypt and ordered him to give him a piece of land to support him.15 thus, according to sharia and islamic jurisdiction, the country has to sponsor the disabled slaves, as much as it sponsors free citizens. it also has to provide them with a regular payment to protect them against begging or asking others for help.

the slander of enacting slavery!

despite the efforts of our beloved prophet muhammad (pbuh) to liberate slaves and end slavery, yet some spiteful people claimed that he enacted slavery or promoted for it! we will let orientalist dr. g.w. leitner answer these false claims saying: “we can see some stupid christians accuse islam as if it is the religion that enacted slavery, even though muhammad prompted muslims to liberate slaves. this is the noblest actual method to erase such practice.”16

the french writer vincent montier also speaks about this issue. he denounced this falsehood by saying: ''they accuse islam of slavery which was founded before islam and not after. when islam's teachings were spread and applied, they aimed for erasing slavery. this is obvious in the expiations of some sins, namely liberating slaves that islam considers an act of nearness and obedience to allah.''17 the british thinker william henry quilliam, later abdullah quilliam, talks about these made-up claims launched by hatters of islam that prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) established slavery and slave trade. quilliam said:

''these claims are baseless and totally untrue. they cannot be imagined or visualized.''18 he proved his words by the fact that muhammad (peace be upon him) is credited with ending slave trade in the arabian peninsula. he gives an example in east and central africa where slave trade prevailed, he said the reason for that is because islam did not enter these communities. he demonstrated that one of the features of islam is ending the slave trade totally.19 edouard perroy said: ''they were europeans.''20 this is why “the movement of development stopped in these african countries because of the chaos that happened due to the practices of european slave traders.”21

if it was said: but islam did not give a total end of slavery and slave trade despite all the prophet's efforts to eliminate slavery. the answer to that is the islamic country cannot eliminate slave trade and human trafficking alone, for several logic reasons:

first reason: aspects of slavery and human trafficking were deeply rooted in human communities whether arabic or no-arabic, since a long time ago. the islamic sharia had to take the graduation method to erase immoralities and corrupt practices, this is why instead of issuing a rule that is impossible to be applied at once, it broadened the chances of liberation and emancipation of slaves and narrowed chances of enslaving and human trafficking.

second reason: these customs before the emergence of islam were a sort of international norms and laws. all countries and empires, with no exception, practiced slavery and human trafficking, this is why eliminating such penetrated habit needs an international treaty to obligate every country to ban slavery and human trafficking. the islamic country at the time of the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) was not strong and dominant enough to totally ban such trade.

third reason: people were new to islam, if the country issue a law banning slavery, people will be in a difficult situation as their trades and business rely on slaves. this is why islam had to take the progression method in banning slavery and human trafficking.

fourth reason: the islamic country did not own the economic and financial potentials to sponsor all slaves after emancipating them or provide work opportunities for all of them. it was known that slaves were supported by their masters; they were fed at the expense of their masters in return for working in the masters' businesses.

banning human trafficking

one of the proofs of fighting slavery by the islamic sharia is banning all types and aspects of human trafficking especially of free women and children. narrated abu huraira that the prophet (peace be upon him) said, ''allah almighty said (what means): 'i will be an opponent to three types of people on the day of resurrection: one who makes a covenant in my name, but proves treacherous; one who sells a free person and eats his price and one who employs a laborer and takes full work from him, but does not pay him for his labor.' ''22

so, islam has made human trafficking a sort of treachery, oppression and perfidy. almighty allah is the opponent of all treacherous people, but he (swt)23 wants to highlight these types of people. they all committed human crimes, one of them betrayed his fellow human by having a covenant with his brother and swore by allah (the most exalted) then he violated the covenant. the second type is a person who sells a free person and makes him a slave. the third stole the laborer's money by hiring him then he did not pay in return for his services. it is a sort of human trafficking because he used his services without paying him so he breached the prophetic order: “give the laborer his wages before his sweat dries away.”24

human trafficking is a crime banned by islamic sharia, it is disguised into many ways practiced by ignorant communities whether at the old ages or modern ones. arabian tribes, persians and romans practiced such trade before the time of the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him). brigands used to block the roads and attack free people to steal their money and then turn them into slaves by selling them in slavery markets. at modern times, americans followed the same barbaric method of capturing free black africans and selling them as slaves. there were authorities to sell and buy free people as slaves. they also practiced the worst form of segregation against them. groups of trading in women and children were founded to use them as sexual targets. these groups use catastrophes and natural disasters to broaden their trade. the best and strongest example is the calamity of tsunami in asia; the newspapers reported frightening facts of huge number of women and children being trafficked as slaves by some groups. the same thing happened to the muslim people of bosnia and herzegovina after many of them were brutally slaughtered, thousand of girls and children were sold before the eyes and ears of the (civilized) world. european countries and the united states turned into big commercial centers for human trafficking in addition to organized gangs that earn between usd 8 and 10 billion dollars from trafficking women and children. these numbers are according to the statistics of the united states department of justice. if we look back to the islamic legislations, it bans selling free people, fights the human trafficking and prohibits forcing girls to practice prostitution. almighty allah says in the qur'an (what means): “and do not compel your handmaids to prostitution, in case they are willing to be chaste, (literally: to be in wedlock) that you may inequitably seek the advantages of the present life; (literally: the lowly life, i.e., the life of this world) and whoever compels them, then surely allah, even after their being compelled, is ever-forgiving, ever-merciful.” (surat an-nour: 33)

in addition to human trafficking there is also the crime of violating humans' right of freedom, and violating children and women's rights of living in a safe environment. they are taken from their parents and families into the hell of sexual abuse, conscription, forced labor, emotional and physical torture. these are aspects banned by islam and the prophet of islam (peace be upon him). this is the prophet's methodology to cure the disease of society such as slavery and human trafficking. let this be written down before almighty allah and before history! the islamic system is the first system in humanity to fight slavery and human trafficking.


(1) narrated by abu hurira in sahih muslim, bab fadhl al-itq (reward of setting slaves free). the prophet said, "whoever frees a muslim slave, allah will save all the parts of his body from the (hell) fire as he has freed the body-parts of the slave."

(2) adam metz: islamic civilization in the fourth hijri century 1/290.

(3) nazmi luka: muhammad the messenger and the message.

(4) ra: radya allah anhu/anha [may allah be pleased with him/her].

(5) sahih abu dawoud, hadith no. 5156, musnad ahmed, hadith no. 585.

(6) sahih abu dawoud, bab haq al-mamlouk (rights of slaves), hadith no. 4492.

(7) sahih abu na'em al-asbahani, fi dala'el al-nibowah (116), musnad abu hanifah (40), musnad al harith (939), mentioned by ibn hajar al-asqalany in al-matalib al-alayah (3931).

(8) sahih bukhari, kitab al-iman (book of faith), no. 30, sahih muslim, kitab al-iman wal nodhor (book of faith and vows), bab: it'am al-mamlouk mema ya'kol (feeding slaves of what you eat), no. 1661

(9) from al-mawsoua al-fiqhya (jurisprudence encyclopedia), ministry of awqaf and islamic affairs in the state of kuwait, bab riq (chapter of slavery)

(10) jahiliyah: in islam, the period preceding the revelation of the qur'an to the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him).

(11) al ansar: is an islamic term that literally means "helpers" and denotes the madinah citizens that helped the prophet muhammad (pbuh) and the muhajirun on the arrival to the city after the migration to madinah. they belonged to two main tribes, the banu khazraj and the banu aws.

(12) muhajirun: is an islamic term that literally means "immigrants" and denotes the early, initial muslims who followed the prophet muhammad (pbuh) on his hijra (immigration) from makkah to madinah.

(13) narrated by al-hakim in al-mustadrak, hadith no. 6541, al-tabarani in al-mujam al-kabir, hadith no. 6040, the story is mentioned in the books of sirah in the incidents of the trench battle.

(14) sahih sunan abi dawoud, hadith no. 4500.

(15) hassan – ahmed (2/182), abou dawoud (4519), ibn majah (2680)

(16) dr. g.w. leitner: the religion of islam, page 7.

(17) arafat kamel al-ashay: rijal wanesa' aslamou (men and women embraced islam), page 231.

(18) abdullah quilliam: islamic faith, page 26.

(19) abdullah quilliam: islamic faith.

(20) edouard perroy: histoire générale des civilizations (general history of civilizations), 1965, collab.

(21) edouard perroy: histoire générale des civilizations (general history of civilizations), 1965, collab.

(22) sahih bukhari, kitab al-beyou, bab ithm man ba' horan, hadith no. 2075.

(23) swt = suhanahu wa ta'ala [glorified and exalted be he].

(24) hassan – al baihaqi, hadith no. (11439), narrated by abu huraira.

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