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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.

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