A short primer on the role of African slavery in Islam
Bernard Lewis writes on Race and Slavery in the Middle East.
Islam, Kafirs and Slavery
We received an interesting comment about our work from a Muslim.
“And another thing about slaves, yes, they are kafir, but that is because they were not Muslims yet. And before the arrival of Islam, the kafir had slave-girls, who were kafirs. Basically, you’re attacking Islam without telling people of the underlying behavior of the kafir.”
This is just one of the paragraphs, but it is very revealing.
“they are kafir, but that is because they were not Muslims yet” The word “yet” means that he agrees that one of the desired effects of slavery is the submission of the slave to Islam. The word “agrees” is used since it is Sunna to only take kafirs as slaves. Since the taking of slaves is always done with deadly violence, i.e. slaves are taken after the protectors are killed, then violence is again part of making the kafir submit to Islam. Slavery has always been part of jihad.
It is true that before Islam, kafirs held slaves and even held slaves after Islam. This simple statement is absolutely true. We do not find a single culture that did not at one time use slaves. Whites, blacks, Asians, aboriginal Americans, everyone used slaves.
The difference between kafir slavery and Islamic slavery is that kafir slavery could be stopped, by force if necessary, and also by doctrine. There is no kafir culture that has a doctrine that supports slavery today. Islamic culture can never eliminate slavery from its doctrine because both the Koran and the Sunna are eternal, universal, complete and perfect.
Mohammed is the perfect model for slave traders and slaveholders. Mohammed was involved in every single aspect of slavery. He had kafir men killed so their women and children could be made slaves. He gave slaves away for gifts. He owned many slaves, some of them black. He passed around slaves for the purpose of sex to his companions, men who were his chief lieutenants. He stood by while others beat slaves. He shared the pleasure of forced sex with women slaves after conquest. He captured slaves and wholesaled them to raise money for jihad. One of his favorite sexual partners was a slave, who bore him a son. He received slaves as gifts from other rulers. The very pulpit he preached from was made by a slave. He ate food prepared by slaves. He was treated medically by a slave. He had a slave tailor. He declared that a slave who ran away from his master would not have his prayers answered. And he approved an owner’s having sex with his slaves.
There is no one in history who was more involved in slavery than Mohammed. It is Sunna.
This case illustrates the difference between the ethics of the Golden Rule and the ethics of Islam. No one volunteers to be a slave. That is the reason that the Golden Rule prohibits slavery-hence the kafir prohibition of slavery. But Islam has one set of rules for the Muslim and another set of rules for the kafir, ethical dualism. Islam denies the truth of the Golden Rule. One of the ethical rules of Islam is that kafirs can be enslaved–hence, Islamic slavery.
One defense of Islamic slavery is that “kafirs did it too”, which is the argument by the Muslim gentleman here. The other version of the defense of Islamic slavery is to say that slavery was prevalent in Mohammed’s day and it the reason that he did it. But this is a total misunderstanding of Sunna. Nothing that Mohammed did was by historical accident. No, he was guided by Allah, not history. If it were just an historical accident then Mohammed could be excused.
Think of what would happen if you could annul Mohammed’s slavery or the slavery rules in the Koran. If you delete it–because you don’t like it–what else from the Sunna and Koran can you ignore? Prayer? Charity? The Sunna and the Koran are perfect, eternal, complete and universal. You don’t get to pick and choose.
According to Islam, there is no good in kafirs or their culture. Kafir culture is jahiliya (ignorance). Good only comes from Allah and so Islam is pure goodness and wisdom. How can anything about Islam be justified by kafirs? Goodness can never be based on evil and wisdom can never be based upon ignorance. Islam stands alone and no comparison to kafir culture is valid. In short, Islam is independent from kafir culture. To say that Islam does something because kafirs do it is to deny the origins of Islam in Allah and Mohammed.
Slavery is pure Islam. It is the power of the kafirs that keeps Islam from having full-blown slavery, instead of only in a few places in the world today.
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1. A. Guillaume, The Life of Mohammed, London: Oxford University Press, 1982, pg. 466
Then the apostle divided the property, wives, and children of B. Qurayza among the Muslims, and he made known on that day the shares of horse and men, and took out the fifth. A horseman got three shares, two for the horse and one for his rider. A man without a horse got one share. On the day of B. Qurayza there were thirty-six horses. It was the first booty on which lots were cast and the fifth was taken. According to its precedent and what the apostle did the divisions were made, and it remained the custom for raids.
2. A. Guillaume, The Life of Mohammed, London: Oxford University Press, 1982, pg. 499
The same informant told me that the apostle gave him in compensation Bir Ha, today the castle of B. Hudayla in Medina. It was a property belonging to Abu Taiha b. Sahl which he had given as aims to the apostle who gave it to Hassan for his blow. He also gave him Sirin, a Copt slave girl, and she bare him ‘Abdu’l-Rahman. ”
3. A. Guillaume, The Life of Mohammed, London: Oxford University Press, 1982, pg. 516
. The apostle had a slave which Rifa’a b. Zayd al-Judhami, of the clan alDubaybi, had given him (763). He was laying down the apostle’s saddle when suddenly a random arrow hit him and killed him. We congratulated him on paradise, but the apostle said, ‘Certainly not. His cloak is even now burning on him in Hell. He had surreptitiously stolen it on the day of Khaybar from the spoil of the Muslims.’ One of his companions heard this and came to him saying, ‘I took two sandal thongs.’ He said, ‘Two thongs of fire will be cut for you like them.’
4 A. Guillaume, The Life of Mohammed, London: Oxford University Press, 1982, pg 593
Abu Wajza Yazid b. ‘Ubayd al-Sa’di told me that the apostle gave ‘Ali a girl called Rayta d. Hilal b. Hayyan b. ‘Umayra b. Hilal b. Nasira b. Qusayya b. Nasr b. Sa’d b. Bakr; and he gave ‘Uthman a girl called Zaynab d. Hayyan; and he gave ‘Umar a girl whom ‘Umar gave to his son ‘Abdullah.
5 A. Guillaume, The Life of Mohammed, London: Oxford University Press, 1982, pg 295
the apostle was standing praying. They said, ‘We are the watermen of Quraysh; they sent us to get them water. ‘The people were displeased ,at their report, for they had hoped that they would belong to Abu Sufyan, so they beat them, and when they had beaten them soundly, the two men said, ‘We belong to Abu Sufyan,’ so they let them go. The apostle bowed and prostrated himself twice, and said, ‘When they told you the truth you beat them; and when they lied you let them alone. They told the truth; they do belong to Quraysh. Tell me, you two, about the Quraysh.’1 They replied, ‘They are behind this hill which you see on the farthest side.’ (The hill was al-‘Aqanqal.) The apostle asked them how many they were, and when they said, ‘Many,’ he asked for the number, but they did not know; so he asked them how many beasts they slaughtered every day, and when they said nine or ten, he said, ‘The people are between nine hundred and a thousand.’ Then he asked how many nobles of Quraysh were among them. They said: “Utba, Shayba, Abu’l-Bakhtari, Hakim, Naufal, al-Harith b. ‘Amir, Tu’ayma, al-Nadr, Zama’a, Abu Jahl, Umayya, Nabih, Munabbih, Suhayl, ‘Amr b. ‘Abdu Wudd.’ The apostle went to the people and said, ‘This Mecca has thrown to you the pieces of its liver!’2
6 A. Guillaume, The Life of Mohammed, London: Oxford University Press, 1982, pg 511
The apostle seized the property piece by piece and conquered the forts one by one as he came to them. The first to fall was the fort of Na’im; there Mahmud b. Maslama was killed by a millstone which was thrown on him from it; then al-Qamus the fort of B. Abu’l-Huqayq. The apostle took captives from them among whom was Safiya d. Huyayy b. Akhtab who had been the wife of Kinana b. al-Rabi’ b. Abu’l-Huqayq, and two cousins of hers. The apostle chose Safiya for himself.
7. A. Guillaume, The Life of Mohammed, London: Oxford University Press, 1982, pg 466.
Then the apostle sent Sa’d b. Zayd al-Ansari brother of b. ‘Abdu’l Ashhal with some of the captive women of B. Qurayza to Najd and he sold them for horses and weapons.
8 William Muir, The Life of Mohammed, AMS Press, pg. 425.
9 William Muir, The Life of Mohammed, AMS Press, pg. 425.
10 Bukhari Volume 1, Book 8, Number 440:
Narrated Jabir: A woman said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Shall I get something constructed for you to sit on as I have a slave who is a carpenter?” He replied, “Yes, if you like.” So she had that pulpit constructed.
11 Bukhari Volume 3, Book 34, Number 295:
Narrated Abu Mas’ud:
An Ansari man, called Abu Shu’aib, came and told his butcher slave, “Prepare meals sufficient for five persons, for I want to invite the Prophet along with four other persons as I saw signs of hunger on his face.” Abu Shu’aib invited them and another person came along with them. The Prophet said (to Abu Shu’aib), This man followed us, so if you allow him, he will join us, and if you want him to return, he will go back.” Abu Shu’aib said, “No, I have allowed him (i.e. he, too, is welcomed to the meal).”
12 Bukhari Volume 3, Book 36, Number 481:
Narrated Anas bin Malik:
The Prophet sent for a slave who had the profession of cupping, and he cupped him. The Prophet ordered that he be paid one or two Sas, or one or two Mudds of foodstuff, and appealed to his masters to reduce his taxes:
13 Bukhari Volume 7, Book 65, Number 344:
Allah’s Apostle went to (the house of) his slave tailor, and he was offered (a dish of) gourd of which he started eating. I have loved to eat gourd since I saw Allah’s Apostle eating it.
14 Abu Muslim Book 001, Number 0131:
Jarir b. Abdullah reported it from the Holy Prophet: When the slave runs away from his master, his prayer is not accepted.
15.Abu Muslim Book 008, Number 3383:
Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) reported that a man came to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: I have a slave-girl who is our servant and she carries water for us and I have intercourse with her, but I do not want her to conceive. He said: Practise ‘azl, if you so like, but what is decreed for her will come to her. The person stayed back (for some time) and then came and said: The girl has become pregnant, whereupon he said: I told you what was decreed for her would come to her.