Does Islam allow Slavery?


    Question: I am a Captain in the Pakistan army and would like to know if can we have sexual relations with the women we are able to capture in wars? I have heard that in one of the wars during the time of the Prophet (sws), the whole Muslim army raped slave women offered to them provided that they practiced ‘Azal (coitus interruptus).
    Answer: Well I am afraid you cannot do so. Since the question you have raised is an important one. I’ll give you a detailed answer:
In my opinion, among many other misconceptions about Islam is the notion that it gives sanction to slavery and permits its followers to enslave prisoners of war, particularly women and establish extra-marital relations with them. Islam, I must strongly affirm, has not the slightest link with slavery and concubinage. On the contrary, it completely forbids these practices. It is quite outrageous to associate such barbarities with a religion revealed to upgrade humanity.
    The point which needs to be appreciated and which, perhaps, is the real cause of the misconception is that Islam had adopted a gradual process to abolish the institution of slavery because of the social conditions prevalent in Arabia at that time. It must be kept in mind that slavery was an integral part of the pre-Islamic Arab society. There were scores of slave men and women in almost every house. This was largely due to two reasons: First, during those times, the standard practice of dispensing with prisoners of war was to distribute them among the army who captured them. Second, there were extensive slave markets in Arabia in that period where free as well as men and women of all ages were sold like animals.
    In these circumstances, in which slavery had become an essential constituent of the Arab society, Islam adopted a gradual way to eliminate it. An immediate order of prohibition would have created immense social and economic problems. It would have become impossible for the society to cater for the needs of a large army of slaves, who were, otherwise, dependent on various families. Also, the national treasury was in no position to provide them all on a permanent basis. A large number among them were old and incapable of supporting themselves. The only alternative left for them, if they were instantly freed, would have been to turn to beggary and become an economic burden for the society. The question of slave girls and women was even more critical, keeping in view their own low moral standards. Freeing them, all of a sudden, would have only resulted in a tremendous increase in brothels.
Perhaps, the reason behind this gradual eradication can be understood better if one considers the position which interest occupies in the economy of Pakistan today. No one can refute Pakistan’s national economic structure is interest oriented. How the parasite of interest has crippled the national economy is apparent to every keen eye. However, there is no denying the fact that without it our present economic system cannot sustain itself. Every reasonable person will acknowledge that today if a government wishes to rid the economy from this menace then, in spite of its utter prohibition in Islam, it will have to adopt a gradual methodology. During this interim period interest oriented deals will have to be tolerated and temporary laws will have to be enacted to handle them, just as the Qur’an had given certain provisional directives about slaves during the interim period of their gradual eradication. An alternative economic framework will have to be steadily incorporated in place of the existing one. A sudden abolition, without another parallel base, will only hasten the total collapse of the economic system, which, of course, will be disastrous for the country.
    To avert a similar disaster and to ward off a similar catastrophe, Islam had adopted a progressive and a gradual scheme, fourteen hundred years ago, to do away with the inhuman institution of slavery. Following are some of the measures it took in this regard:
    1. In the early Makkan period, it pronounced that slave emancipation was a great deed of piety. The very initial Makkan surahs appealed to the Muslims to liberate as many slaves as they could.
    2. The Prophet (sws), unequivocally, directed the Muslims to raise the standard of living of the slaves and bring it equal to their own standard. This, of course, was meant to discourage people from persisting with them.
    3. For the atonement of many sins manumission of slaves was divinely ordained.
    4. All slave men and women who could support themselves in the society were directed to marry one another, in order to raise their moral and social status.
    5. A permanent head in the public treasury was fixed to set free slave men and women.
    6. Prostitution, which was largely carried out through slave women, who were mostly forced by their masters do so, was totally prohibited.
    7. The affronting names of ‘abd (slave-man) and amah (slave-woman) by which slave men and women were called, were abrogated so that people should stop regarding them as slaves. In their place, the words fata (boy) and fatat (girl) were introduced.
    8. Finally, the law of mukatibat provided very easy access for the slaves to the gateway to freedom. Every slave who was capable of supporting himself was allowed by law to free himself, provided that he either gave a certain monetary amount to his master or carried out certain errands for him. After this, he could live as a free man. A special head in the treasury was fixed for this purpose; also, wealthy people were urged to help the slaves in this regard. The net result of this law was that only handicapped and old slaves were left to be provided for by their masters, which not only went in their own favour but also prevented them from becoming an economic burden on the society.
    As far as the war you have referred to, let me correct you on your information.
    In the battle of Bani Mustaliq, the prisoners captured were either freed in the battlefield as a favour while some others were freed on ransom. The Prophet (sws) brought the remaining prisoners to Madinah and while waiting for their families to procure them, gave them into the temporary custody of his Companions (rta). Since at that time, the prohibition of slavery was passing through the interim period when it was still intact for reasons stated earlier, the Prophet (sws) accepted the right of masters to have sexual intercourse with the slave women as was the international law at that time but set about taking steps that could prevent this from actually happening. Let me explain the most important measure he adopted:
    Among the prisoners of this battle was Sayyidah Jawayriyyah as well. Her father arrived with some camels as ransom. The Prophet (sws) inquired about the two well-bred camels he had hid behind. This astounded him so much – for he knew that there could be no way that the Prophet (sws) could have had knowledge of them – that he accepted faith. At this, Sayyidah Jawayriyyah also accepted faith. The Prophet (sws) proposed for her to which her father consented. Upon this, the marriage was solemnized. The result of this marriage was that all the remaining prisoners of war were set free by the Muslim soldiers, since they thought that it was not appropriate to keep the Prophet’s in-laws in captivity.
    So actually no such instance of sexual intercourse with the slave women took place. It is totally wrong that they were raped. Also today as far as prisoners of was are concerned, they cannot be taken to be slaves and sexually benefited from. After the abolition of slavery that took place in the time of the Prophet (sws) as described above, no one dare maltreat a p.o.w. let alone sexually harass them.