Monday, June 6, 2011

Slavery and Islam: A topic that should have been settled 1500 years ago, but it did not

There is a tremendous amount of Islamophobia out there.  A lot of it is a result of genuine racism, vicious xenophobia, political posturing and regular good-old mean spirited people. But some of it is also avoidable if some Muslims do not carry on living like extreme idiots in some cases, and like racist bigoted hateful people who just use Islam to cover up for their evil spirits with a facade that tricks simple-minded Muslims as much as it confuses many non-Muslims in a way that make islamophobia more tolerated.
Being reasonably educated in my own Islamic faith, I am not confused by that group of hateful, opportunist or plainly ignorant Muslims I mentioned.  They just make me angry.  And I can even empathize with non-Muslims and many Muslims that are scared of Salafi Muslims and Muslim Brotherhood and even extend their fear to traditional Muslims in General.

If those groups frequently make me angry and mad, how would I blame non-Muslims and less informed Muslims for fearing Salafis and traditionalist like they fear the plague?

I do not intend here to do any 'theological/religious' critiquing of their thought process - though I have major disagreement with it - but I will give some examples of the 'scary' things some of their high ranking people say, and I then will focus on a strange topic: Slavery in Islam.  That is because that a couple of odd ball voices in the conservative scene who, for no obvious reason, brought up from the dead.

For example, a well known figure in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) group came out to suggest that MB men should not consider marrying outside the MB, even if they marry religious Muslim women.  He also had the audacity to quote a verse from the Quran that he used in a totally misleading sense, making it look like it is the 'religious obligation' of MB members to marry 'within the tribe'.  Needless to say, that caused a lot of fury in Egypt, both within and outside the MB.  Many accused him, and the MB by association, of having supremacist 'holier-than-thou' view of themselves towards other Muslim who are not MB members and very likely similar attitude against non-Muslims as well.

This came in the heels of an arrogant supremacist and chauvinistic statement by a male leader of the Salafi movement  (and specifying 'male' is redundant if you know the group - they all all males) in Egypt.  That so-called clergy was taped in the past stating that going back to initiating war to capture slaves and use them for economic and trade purposes is 'good for economic growth' [conveniently ignoring a very explicit Quranic prohibition of war for economic gains - Chapter 4:94].  And that it can solve 'immorality issues' as men who 'want women' can go out an 'buy one or 2 women' to use them for sexual pleasure that, in that person's opinion, does not count as adultery.  The half-brained 'leader' came out to say that he was misquoted and it was a very old tape, and then carried on to 'explain' his statements by basically repeating them!!! 

That kind of idiocy infuriated many people and you can read the readers comments and sense that. But less that 2 weeks after that - and of all people - a Kuwaiti woman activist went on record to advocate restarting the slave concubine system as a way to social problems and restore morality to her society. She was even more specific by suggesting the structure of the 'concubine service office fees, and the nationality of the concubines in the initial phase.  She suggested Russian women in particular as a good starting point.

Yest, RUSSIANs: the super power that can wipe that woman's tiny corrupt racist state of Kuwait off the face of the planet in 2 minute.

If you try to find the logic there, good luck trying.  And if you dispute my description of Kuwait, read about it before you accuse me of 'insulting a democratic egalitarian state that we saved in 1990's. They still have multi-tier citizenship class system, and a many of their own people are not even granted citizenship, rights to get birth certificate or education.  And they granted women the right to vote within the last 2 decades.

I came across that stupid article on Al-Arabeya and I did not know what to do with it. So I decided to share it with Arab speaking friends.  I did not want to end up the only one that suffers in silence reading that trash.
Apart from the 'shock factor' in this and similar articles that popped up these days, there is another level of complexity that bothers me even more.

It is how Islam (or I would be more correct to say, Muslims) handled the issue of slavery over the years.  Slavery and how 'the owner' of another human being should handle their 'property' is a subject that filled extensive portions of older fiqh (i.e., Islamic Jurisprudence) books.  And I cannot get myself to reconcile what is mentioned in the Quran about slavery, with what Muslims have done early on, or what they continued to do over the centuries.

I am fully aware of the historic literature about the practice of slavery at the time of the Prophet, PBUH, but I still see that literature as a reflection of  'a worldly non-religious economic matter' that Islam neither initiated nor endorsed, and that the Quran only tried to regulate it without messing up the social/economic structure of that particular time. The Quran only endorsed and commanded ways out of a slave-based economy, but no ways into it under any pretense. I cannot imagine that it was meant to be an ongoing part of an 'Islamic' economic structure or an Islamic social pattern that would be condoned over the centuries.  Unfortunately. that is the way it turned out to be.

It was meant to die gradually as the society matured.  But Muslims managed to make it part of their daily life for centuries (for economic and social purposes as much as other non-Muslim societies did.  They did that without feeling any qualms about owning, buying and selling human beings, since they successfully managed to make it part of their faith-accepted practices.  Their actions seem, to me, inconsistent with the spirit of the Quran, and to violate many of the explicit statements of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

In my heart, I cannot see that initiating slavery is anything but Haram (حرام), or Religiously prohibited.  I cannot even accept these days the popular statement that initiating it is legitimate only if limited to captives of wars against non-Muslims who enslave Muslims.  The explicit and repeated statements of the Quran are in line with "each of us is responsible for their OWN deeds - ولا تزر وازرة وزر أخرى " (e.g., see 6:164, and near identically-worded 5 other verses) , I cannot accept punishing subjects of another country or society for the deeds of their own leaders (i.e., enslaving Muslims in this case).  [See also Quran 5:8]
Who of us wants to be accountable of the deeds of the Mubarak's, the Netanyahu's or even the Obama's of the world.  So, why would we, as conquering Muslims - if that ever happens, accept to punish men and women of the conquered group by enslaving them?
It is about time we clean up our 'religious' books and 'religious' culture from the notion that slavery is acceptable, no matter how nicely slaves are suppose to be treated. It is still unacceptable no matter how badly others treat Muslims (Quran 5:8).

It is a violation of the Quran and of the spirit of the Prophet's teachingsWe need to say explicitly that is it HARAM in any form or shape. That Kuwaiti woman, like the Salafi Egyptian clergy, are endorsing evil deeds, including adultery - plain and simple, no matter what religious facade they tried to use.


Links (Sorry - all in Arabic):
This is a simple collection of some of the Verses and Hadith that  present the more reasonable point of view
 If any reader knows of an English language link to reasonable views, please include it in you comments.  I will review it and convert it to a direct link.  Thanks.

Some of the Quranic verses used:
Quran Chapter 53 verse 38:
"أَلَّا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَى"
" that no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another's burden;"

Quran Chapter 4 verse 94:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ إِذَا ضَرَبْتُمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ فَتَبَيَّنُواْ وَلاَ تَقُولُواْ لِمَنْ أَلْقَى إِلَيْكُمُ السَّلاَمَ لَسْتَ مُؤْمِنًا تَبْتَغُونَ عَرَضَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا فَعِندَ اللّهِ مَغَانِمُ كَثِيرَةٌ كَذَلِكَ كُنتُم مِّن قَبْلُ فَمَنَّ اللّهُ عَلَيْكُمْ
" [Hence,] O you who have attained to faith, when you go forth [to war] in God's cause, use your discernment, and do not - out of a desire for the fleeting gains of this worldly life - say unto anyone who offers you the greeting of peace, "Thou art not a believer" for with God there are gains abundant. You, too, were once in the same condition - but God has been gracious unto you..."

Quran Chapter 5 verse 8:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُونُواْ قَوَّامِينَ لِلّهِ شُهَدَاء بِالْقِسْطِ وَلاَ يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَى أَلاَّ تَعْدِلُواْ اعْدِلُواْ هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَى وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ إِنَّ اللّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
" O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious. And remain conscious of God: verily, God is aware of all that you do."


  1. I agree with you. In the Qu'an there is no mention of Jariya or Jawari. There is the mention of "ma malakat aymanuhum." Despite the abundance of views to the contrary in the classical/neo-classical books of fiqh, "ma malakat aymanukum/hum" does not necessarily mean concubine. On the contrary, it could mean what you have entitled to--by marriage. One of the Ma malakat aymanukum/hum is mentioned in a makki sura where there was no war conditions to initiate this type of permission. Prophet had no concubines--the two he had (Rayhana and Maria) were actually not Jawari, but wifes as we know. So the matter really b oils down to a through investigation of the phrase "wa ma malakat aymanuhum." All the rest is history (regardless whether it was appropriate or inappropriate for Muslims to practice concubinage in the particular circumstances they had) and legally it does not bind anyone.

    So it is a subject worth of further investigation. I summarized this from an article by a turkish scholar of the qur'an and fiqh who knows the sources and shares a similar line of thought with you. According to him too the traditional fiqh's explanation is no longer valid at this point even if it was well intended (which he thinks mostly it was not) at the time.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Would it be possible to post the name of the scholar and the publication?

  3. Hello Khalid,
    I read this when you first posted, and decided not to comment because I wouldn’t be rational. Still until now I do not know how to deal with these ideas. I am not going to deal with slavery. You see, for the Salafi movement as I understand them there are gaps in history. Allow me to expand, the Salafis want to follow the teachings of the prophet (PBUH) and his companions, but ignore the fact that the prophet lived 1422 years ago. In fact, as you know they base many of their fatwas (Islamic Legal Opinion) on the writings of Ibn-Taimiah and Ibn-Jawzi which could be fine if we lived with them circa 1300 AD, to these movements Islam has been in abeyance from that time until they came along to rediscover the ”True Islam.” I do not debate the scholarly work of of Ibn-Taimiah and Ibn-Jawzi but they were a product of their time and the context in Islamic thought matters. Which brings me to the issue of Urf (social norms in Islamic thought),is an important source of Islamic jurisprudence, and I think they are trying to establish a new set of norms based on their skewed (I am trying to be polite) interpretation of Islam.
    The MB is a much harder case because they are moderately conservative (which is fine) and are mainly technocrats but every once in a while we hear weird noises from elements in that movement that sends chills through the spine of every Arab in the Middle East. The underlying question when I see this: Is this what they have planned for all along?!
    The setting of new social norms is the responsibility of every one of us, and if we let them set the agenda we have to live with the consequence of our failure to make our voices heard. Thank you for this blog.