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ISIS says Islam justifies slavery – what does Islamic law say?


By Professor Bernard Freamon, CNN

In the past few months, the world has witnessed horrific accounts of the enslavement of thousands of innocent Yazidis and other religious minorities by ISIS partisans in Iraq and Syria.

In a recent article in its online English-language magazine, ISIS ideologues offered legal justifications for the enslavement of these non-Muslim non-combatants, stating that “enslaving the families of the kuffar [infidels] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah or Islamic law.”

The article argues, based on a variety of Shariah sources, that ISIS partisans have a religious duty to kill or enslave members of the Yazidi community as part of their struggle [jihad] against their enemies.

This argument is plainly wrong, hypocritical and astonishingly ahistorical, relying on male fantasies inspired by stories from the days of imperial Islam.

It is also an affront to right-thinking Muslims everywhere and a criminal perversion of Islamic law, particularly its primary source, the Glorious Quran.

Jurists around the world acknowledge that there is now a universal consensus recognizing an irrefutable human right to be free from slavery and slave-trading.

This right, like the rights to be free from genocide, torture, racial discrimination and piracy, has become a bedrock principle of human affairs. ISIS seeks to remove Islamic jurisprudence from this universal consensus by citing Quranic verses that recognize the existence of chattel slavery.

Citation to Quranic verses on chattel slavery at first blush seems to make this point because the Quran, like other religious texts, accepted the existence of chattel slavery as a fact of life at the time of its revelation.

It is also true, however, that the Quran established an entirely new ethic on the issue of slavery and ISIS’s selective use of certain Quranic texts to justify contemporary chattel slavery ignores this fact.

First, consistent with the new ethic, the emphasis in all of the revelations on slavery is on the emancipation of slaves, not on their capture or the continuation of the institution of slavery. (See, for example, verses 2:177, 4:25, 4:92, 5:89, 14:31, 24:33, 58:3, 90:1-12.)

There is not one single verse suggesting that the practice should continue. Further, the Quran makes no mention of slave-markets or slave-trading and it repeatedly exhorts believers to free their slaves as an exemplification of their piety and belief in God.

Perhaps the best example of this emancipatory ethic is chapter 90, which is explicitly addressed to the Prophet Muhammad. It posits that there are two roads one can take in life and that the “high road” is the one that leads the righteous human being to free slaves.

The Prophet followed this exhortation, exhibiting a great solicitude for the material and spiritual condition of the slaves in the society around him. His example inspired his companions to emancipate thousands of slaves and, in an oft-quoted statement, he remarked that he would meet the man who “sells a free man as a slave and devours his price” on Judgment Day.

This is an explicit condemnation of trafficking in free human beings.

It is true that there are reported examples from the Prophet’s life that describe him as giving and receiving slaves and he even used slavery as a tool of conquest in war.

He freed all of his individually owned slaves and the wartime circumstances in those reports were very unique, involving specific people who engaged in war or treachery against him.

There is only one Quranic verse, 47:4, that authorizes capture of prisoners of war and it does not permit slavery, ordering military commanders to either free the prisoners gratis or hold them for ransom.

Enslaving a prisoner of war is therefore arguably illegal and certainly enslaving a non-combatant is likewise an Islamic crime.

Many forget that, for hundreds of years, Muslim imperialists and slave-traders illegally raided non-combatant villages in Eastern Europe, West Africa, East Africa, India and Southeast Asia, plundering, pillaging and capturing and raping women and children with impunity under pretextual jihads.

It seems that the ISIS ideologues want to revive this shameful legacy.

Traditionalist interpreters conclude that slavery is lawful in Islam simply because there is Quranic legislation regulating it, suggesting an implied permission.

Even the traditionalists must acknowledge, however, that all of the Quranic verses on slavery arise in contexts that overwhelmingly encourage emancipation.

Why is this? It is because the Quranic intendment contemplated a gradual disappearance of chattel slavery.

This is exactly what has happened in history. ISIS refers to the disappearance of chattel slavery in the Muslim world as an “abandonment” of the Shariah.

This is wrong. Rather, the verses contemplate the advent of a slavery-free society through the vehicle of emancipation.

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  • Jekyll

    maybe you should blossom elsewhere to save internet clutter.

  • Razainc_aka_BigBoss

    Slavery happened in spite of Islamic Law and not only that but the Sharia was never enforced on slavery it was usually ignored. The “Islamic” concept of slavery was that of prisoner of war NOT for the purpose of spreading slavery rather it was the aim of Sharia was to limit the practice and raise the living standards of slaves and allow them to earn their freedom and slaves could eventualy become kings even in the classic Islamic an example is Malik Ambar. This not to excuse Islamic empires who perpetuated slavery because they did so agaisnt the sharia. And there is a consensus among the Islamic scholars that slavery now being illegal can NEVER be made legal again since the goal of Islam was to eliminate slavery.

    The text in Islam outlining the VIRTUES are too numerous but I will just use one that shows a path to paradise in contrast to a path to hell and guess what you do in the path to paradise (hint it involves freeing slaves).

    Surah Al-Balad

    Nay! I swear by this city.

    And you shall be made free from obligation in this city–

    And the begetter and whom he begot.

    Certainly We have created man to be in distress.

    Does he think that no one has power over him?

    He shall say: I have wasted much wealth.

    Does he think that no one sees him?

    Have We not given him two eyes,

    And a tongue and two lips,

    And pointed out to him the two conspicuous ways?

    But he would not attempt the uphill road,

    And what will make you comprehend what the uphill road is?

    (It is) the setting free of a slave,

    Or the giving of food in a day of hunger

    To an orphan, near of kin,

    Or to the poor man lying in the dust.

    Then he is of those who believe and charge one another to show patience, and charge one another to show compassion.

    These are the people of the right hand.

    And (as for) those who disbelieve in our communications, they are the people of the left hand.

    On them is fire closed over.

  • red

    if you do not care what non muslims think why are you on this website?????? leave muslim lands?? is that the lands that muslims slaughtered the inhabitants to take. if your a muslim then you really do not have a choice. you cannot leave it, you cannot challenge it and as far as i know there is no such person as a female iman, or is there??? if not why not????

  • Chhotu

    I think that the time has come for all countries of the world to come forward and enact a basic set of stricter laws concerning Human Rights. There has been International Court of Justice but it doesn’t have the power to enact or direct any laws to define Human Rights. Even after Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, Many countries who proclaim themselves to be champion of Human Rights comes a cropper when report after report mention them as the leading abuser of Human Rights. As we have seen many conferences and resolutions concerning environment, motions to stop war and enact peace, even intervention so why wouldn’t be asking for at least some international consensus to stop Human Rights abuses in the form of Slavery, human trafficking etc. We just need stricter and binding laws for implementation. Its need of hour was never felt that severe as of now..
    Source article:

  • MichaelElwood

    Whateva, man! I could’ve, and maybe should’ve, just said that. It’s more to the point. 🙂

  • MichaelElwood

    Solo Vero wrote: “Hence, the Quran is clear, polygamy is fine, whether wives or slaves. Even slaves captured as ‘booty’.”

    Uh, no. Polygamy is fine in some instances. But slavery isn’t fine in any instance according to Islam. Which is why the Quran makes the abolition of slavery a religious imperative:

    “It is not for a human that God would give him the book, the authority, and the prophethood, then he would say to the people: ‘Be servants to me rather than to God!’, rather: ‘Be devotees to what you have been taught of the book, and to what you studied.'” [Quran 3:79]

    “It was not for any prophet to take prisoners unless it was in battle. You desire the materials of this world, while God wants the Hereafter for you. God is Noble, Wise.” [Quran 8:67]

    “Charities shall go to the poor, the needy, the workers who collect them, the new converts, to free the slaves, to those burdened by sudden expenses, in the cause of GOD, and to the traveling alien. Such is GOD’s commandment. GOD is Omniscient, Most Wise.” [Quran 9:60]

    “He should choose the difficult path. Which one is the difficult path? The freeing of slaves.” [Quran 90:11-13]

    By the way, I pointed out in another post that the phrase ma malakat aymanukum isn’t referring to “slave girls”:

    Solo Vero wrote: “Hence, Mohammad and his merry men had no problem having sex with captive woman, also known as “booty” whether the captive woman had husbands or not.”

    Even some hadiths, many of which were manufactured to justify slavery, reflect the religious imperative to abolish slavery:

    Al-Bara’ said, “A bedouin came and said, ‘Prophet of Allah! Teach me an action which will enable me to enter the Garden.’ He said, “The question is a broad one, even though you have asked it in only a few words. Free someone. Set a slave free.’ He said, ‘Are they not the same thing?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘Freeing someone is setting someone free yourself. Setting a slave free is to contribute to the price of setting him free. Lend an animal for milking which has a lot of milk and treat your relatives kindly. If you cannot do that, then command the good and forbid the bad. If you cannot do that, then restrain your tongue from everything except what is good.”

    Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Book 2, Hadith 69

    Malik related to me that he had heard that Abdullah ibn Umar was asked whether a slave could be bought on the specific condition that it was to be used to fulfil the obligation of freeing a slave, and he said, “No.” Malik said, “That is the best of what I have heard on the obligation of freeing slaves. Someone who has to set a slave free because of an obligation on him, may not buy one on the condition that he sets it free because if he does that, whatever he buys is not completely a slave because he has reduced its price by the condition he has made of setting it free.” Malik added, “There is no harm, however, in someone buying a person expressly to set him free.” Malik said, “The best of what I have heard on the obligation of freeing slaves is that it is not permitted to free a christian or a jew to fulfil it, and one does not free a mukatab or a mudabbar or an umm walad or a slave to be freed after a certain number of years, or a blind person. There is no harm in freeing a christian, jew, or magian voluntarily, because Allah, the Blessed, the Exalted, said in His Book, ‘either as a favour then or by ransom,’ (Sura 47 ayat 4) The favour is setting free.” Malik said, “As for obligations of freeing slaves which Allah has mentioned in the Book, one only frees a mumin slave for them.” Malik said, “It is like that in feeding poor people for kaffara. One must only feed muslims and one does not feed anyone outside of the deen of Islam.”

    Muwatta Malik, Book 38, Hadith 12

    It was narrated that Ibn ‘Umar said: “The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Whoever sets free his share of a slave, and he has sufficient wealth to set him free completely by paying the price of the slave, then he should set him free with his own wealth.”‘

    Sunan an-Nasa’i, Vol. 5, Book 44, Hadith 4703

    Solo Vero wrote: “I actually embarrass easily however I know how to read and comprehend.”

    No, you don’t embarrass easily. You can read verses in your scripture like the ones below without batting an eyelash:

    “And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods. . . . And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?. . . . Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” [Numbers 31:9-18]

    “And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword: But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee.” [Deuteronomy 20:13-14]

    And you can also read verses in your scripture, like the ones I mentioned in a previous comment, justifying slavery without batting an eyelash:

    So why are you coming here feigning offense at non-existent justifications for slavery in the Islam?

  • Chhotu

    Seems you’re in some dangerous liaison with this guy called..”I”. You know, the best way to torment yourself is to get hooked on to this guy…”I”.
    Isn’t the Saudis giving aid themselves to others to sustain and spread Islam. Recently, they give whopping 3 billion $ as free money to Pakistan as aid, and in generosity Pakistan is providing free military presence in the form of thousands of Islamic Pakjabi soldiers to Saudia in order to contain the charitable entity of death, ISIS.
    So, you see this aid/support giving business is very complex, when you give aid, you expect nothing, when you get aid, you expect no lectures on this or that. However, in reality, really it must be some folly of the Devil that remarkable contrasting/contradictory things happens in the form of this so-called aid.
    And yes, I do get your message loud and clear, however, it’s another matter if that message is for the so-called…”I”…or the minions like me.

  • Tanveer ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Khan
  • MichaelElwood

    Hilary Scott wrote: “Religion. Religion. Religion.”

    Secularism. Secularism. Secularism.

    Hilary Scott wrote: “Slavery was abolished in the Ottoman caliphate because of external pressure, not because of the Quran.”

    Abolitionists in the muslim world at that time like Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Chiragh Ali, etc., were largely influenced by the Quran.

    Hilary Scott wrote: “1300 years to abolish slavery – 1300 years under a system supposedly guided by the clear and unaltered verbatim word of God.”

    Slavery was abolished in Islam over 1400 years ago. Some of the earliest converts to Islam, and some of the most well-known muslims like Umm Ayman, Zayd ibn Haritha, Bilal ibn Rabah and Salman al-Farsi, were former slaves.To the extent slavery existed in the “Islamic World,” it was in spite of Islam not because of it.

    Hilary Scott wrote: “What took the West so long? Not sure. But at least some rationalist thinkers of the Enlightenment championed abolitionism.”

    Why do you credit secularism for having “some” thinkers who championed abolitionism, but don’t credit Islam for having some thinkers who championed abolitionism during the same period? By the way, could you name some of those atheist thinkers? Could you name a *single* atheist abolitionist? The reason I ask is because, while christians were busy providing religious justification for slavery (as I pointed out in a previous comment: ), atheists were busy providing secular (or “scientific”) justifications for slavery:

    “The Enlightenment’s ‘Race’ Problem, and Ours”

    “A review of The Science and Politics of Racial Research by William H. Tucker (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994)”

    For example, that secular Enlightenment thinker, Thomas Jefferson, wasn’t exactly an abolitionist. He outlined his rationalization for slavery in his book “Notes on the State of Virginia”. And when France abolished slavery in 1794, it was reinstated in 1802 by Napoleon, that paragon of Enlightenment Europe.

    Hilary Scott wrote: “Am I trying to prove Islam is evil? No. I am merely showing that ISIS has every right to re-introduce slavery. ISIS operates under the banner of Islam & Islamic texts *unfortunately* made slavery halal for all time – over 1000 years of caliphate slavery proves this.”

    I don’t know what you’re trying to prove. Like so many self-congratulatory atheists, your comment seems to serve no other function but to pat yourself on the back for the imaginary accomplishment of abolishing slavery and comparing Islam unfavorably to secularism.

  • Tanveer ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Khan

    Baking seems quicker and easier.

  • Omar_the_Egyptian

    oh lovely are you going grill them or bake them in an oven?

  • Tanveer ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Khan
  • Omar_the_Egyptian


  • Tanveer ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Khan

    I know. XD

  • Omar_the_Egyptian

    no 🙂 just referring to aforementioned Mameluke’s nation of origin or more accurately base of operations. Forgot an s sorry 🙂

  • Tanveer ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Khan

    Are you a Mameluke? o_0

  • Omar_the_Egyptian

    Egyptian Mameluke 🙂

  • UberAlles, black leather

    not true, muhammed enslaved and kept slaves

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