In Islam, No human being has the right to restrict to prevent someone's freedom unlawfully. If he does, then he is an oppressor. But, yes, Islam permits slavery and it is a means to protect the war prisoners from other evil and not to oppress them. We should examine with fairness.
When Islam came, there were many causes of slavery, such as warfare,
debt (where if the debtor could not pay off his debt, he became a
slave), kidnapping and raids, and poverty and need.
Slavery did not spread in this appalling manner throughout all
continents except by means of kidnapping; rather the main source of
slaves in Europe and America in later centuries was this method.
The texts of Islam took a strong stance against this. It says in a
hadeeth qudsi: “Allaah, may He be exalted, said: ‘There are three
whose opponent I will be on the Day of Resurrection, and whomever I
oppose, I will defeat … A man who sold a free man and consumed his
price.’” Narrated by al-Bukhaari (2227).
It is worth pointing out that you do not find any text in the Qur’aan
or Sunnah which enjoins taking others as slaves, whereas there are
dozens of texts in the Qur’aan and the ahaadeeth of the Messenger
(peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) which call for manumitting
slaves and freeing them.
There were many sources of slaves at the time of the advent of Islam,
whereas the means of manumitting them were virtually nil. Islam
changed the way in which slavery was dealt with; it created many new
ways of liberating slaves, blocked many ways of enslaving people, and
established guidelines which blocked these means.
Islam limited the sources of slaves that existed before the beginning
of the Prophet’s mission to one way only: enslavement through war
which was imposed on kaafir (disbeliever) prisoners-of-war and on their womenfolk
Shaykh al-Shanqeeti (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: The reason
for slavery is kufr (disbelief) and fighting against Allaah and His Messenger.
When Allaah enables the Muslim mujaahideen who are offering their
souls and their wealth, and fighting with all their strength and with
what Allaah has given them to make the word of Allaah supreme over the
kuffaar, then He makes them their property by means of slavery unless
the ruler chooses to free them for nothing or for a ransom, if that
serves the interests of the Muslims. from Adwa’ al-Bayaan (3/387).
He also said:
If it is said: If the slave becomes Muslim then why keep him as a
slave, when the reason for slavery is kufr (disbelief) and fighting
against Allaah and His Messenger, so this reason no longer applies?
The answer is that the well known principle among the scholars and all
wise people, which is that the previously established right cannot be
erased by a right that is established later, and that what came first
takes precedence, is obvious.
When the Muslims captured kuffaar (disbelievers), their right to
possession was affirmed by the law of the Creator of all, Who is All
Wise and All Knowing. So this right is confirmed and established. Then
if the slave became Muslim after that, his right to escape slavery by
embracing Islam was superseded by the mujaahid’s (Muslim who does
Jihad) prior right to take possession of him before he became Muslim,
and it would be unjust and unfair to annul the prior right because of
a subsequent right, as is well known to all wise people.
Yes, it is good for the master to free the slave if he becomes Muslim.
The Lawgiver enjoined and encouraged that, and opened many doors to
it. Glory be to the Most Wise, the All Knowing. “And the Word of your
Lord has been fulfilled in truth and in justice. None can change His
Words. And He is the All‑Hearer, the All‑Knower” [al-An’aam 6:115].
“in truth” means in what He tells us, and “in justice” means in His
Undoubtedly this justice refers to owning slaves and other rulings of
How many people criticize something sound when their problem is their
own misunderstanding. from Adwa’ al-Bayaan (3/389).
Capture of prisoners during war was the most common way of acquiring
slaves. Prisoners would inevitably be captured during any war, and the
prevalent custom at that time was that prisoners had no protection or
rights; they would either be killed or enslaved. But Islam brought two
more options: unconditional release or ransom. Allaah says
(interpretation of the meaning): “Thereafter (is the time) either for
generosity (i.e. free them without ransom), or ransom (according to
what benefits Islam)” [Muhammad 47:4]. During the battle of Badr the
Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) accepted ransoms
from the mushrik prisoners of war and let them go, and the Messenger
(peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) let many of the prisoners
go for free, releasing them with no ransom. During the conquest of
Makkah it was said to the people of Makkah: “Go, for you are free.”
During the campaign of Banu’l-Mustaliq, the Messenger (peace and
blessings of Allaah be upon him) married a female prisoner from the
defeated tribe so as to raise her status, as she was the daughter of
one of their leaders, namely the Mother of the Believers Juwayriyah
bint al-Haarith (may Allaah be pleased with her). Then the Muslims let
all of these prisoners go.
Islam is not thirsty for the blood of prisoners, nor is it eager to
Thus we may understand the limited ways that can lead to slavery.
Islam did not abolish it altogether, because the kaafir (disbeliever)
prisoner who was opposed to truth and justice was a wrongdoer, or was
a supporter of wrongdoing or was a tool in the execution or approval
of wrongdoing. Letting him go free would give him the opportunity to
spread wrongdoing and aggression against others and to oppose the
truth and prevent it reaching people.
Freedom is a basic human right which cannot be taken away from a
person except for a reason. When Islam accepted slavery within the
limits that we have described, it put restrictions on the man who
exploits his freedom in the worst possible way. If he was taken
prisoner in a war of aggression in which he was defeated, then the
proper conduct is to keep him in reasonable conditions throughout his
Despite all that, Islam offers many opportunities to restore freedom
to him and people like him.
The principle of dealing with slaves in Islam is a combination of
justice, kindness and compassion.
One of the means of liberating slaves is allocating a portion of
zakaah (charity) funds to freeing slaves; the expiation for accidental
killing, zihaar (a jaahili (ignorant) form of divorce that is
forbidden), breaking vows and having intercourse during the day in
Ramadaan, is to free a slave. In addition to that, Muslims are also
encouraged in general terms to free slaves for the sake of Allaah.
This is a brief summary of some of the principles of dealing with
slaves in a just and kind manner:
1 – Guaranteeing them food and clothing like that of their masters.
It was narrated that Abu Dharr (may Allaah be pleased with him) said:
The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him)
said: “They are your brothers whom Allaah has put under your
authority, so if Allaah has put a person’s brother under his
authority, let him feed him from what he eats and clothe him from what
he wears, and let him not overburden him with work, and if he does
overburden him with work, then let him help him.” Narrated by
2 – Preserving their dignity
It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him)
said: I heard Abu’l-Qaasim (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him)
say: “Whoever accuses his slave when he is innocent of what he says
will be flogged on the Day of Resurrection, unless he is as he said.”
Narrated by al-Bukhaari (6858).
Ibn ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) manumitted a slave of his,
then he picked up a stick or something from the ground and said: There
is no more reward in it than the equivalent of this, but I heard the
Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say:
“Whoever slaps his slave or beats him, his expiation is to manumit
him.” Narrated by Muslim (1657).
3 – Being fair towards slaves and treating them kindly
It was narrated that ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Affaan tweaked the ear of a slave
of his when he did something wrong, then he said to him after that:
Come and tweak my ear in retaliation. The slave refused but he
insisted, so he started to tweak it slightly, and he said to him: Do
it strongly, for I cannot bear the punishment on the Day of
Resurrection. The slave said: Like that, O my master? The Day that you
fear I fear also.
When ‘Abd al-Rahmaan ibn ‘Awf (may Allaah be pleased with him) walked
among his slaves, no one could tell him apart from them, because he
did not walk ahead of them, and he did not wear anything different
from what they wore.
One day ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab passed by and saw some slaves standing
and not eating with their master. He got angry and said to their
master: What is wrong with people who are selfish towards their
servants? Then he called the servants and they ate with them.
A man entered upon Salmaan (may Allaah be pleased with him) and found
him making dough – and he was a governor. He said to him: O Abu
‘Abd-Allaah, what is this? He said: We have sent our servant on an
errand and we do not want to give him two jobs at once.
4 – There is nothing wrong with slaves having precedence over free men
in some matters
- with regard to any religious or worldly matters in which he excels over him. For example, it is valid for a slave to lead the prayer.
‘Aa’ishah the Mother of the Believers had a slave who would lead her
in prayer. Indeed the Muslims have been commanded to hear and obey
even if a slave is appointed in charge of their affairs.
5 – A slave may buy himself from his master and be free.
If a person is enslaved for some reason but then it becomes apparent
that he has given up his wrongdoing and forgotten his past, and he has
become a man who shuns evil and seeks to do good, is it permissible to
respond to his request to let him go free? Islam says yes, and there
are some fuqaha’ who say that this is obligatory and some who say that
it is mustahabb.
This is what is called a mukaatabah or contract of manumission between
the slave and his master. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“And such of your slaves as seek a writing (of emancipation), give
them such writing, if you find that there is good and honesty in them.
And give them something (yourselves) out of the wealth of Allaah which
He has bestowed upon you”
This is how Islam treats slaves justly and kindly.
One of the results of these guidelines is that in many cases, the
slave would become a friend of his master; in some cases the master
would regard him as a son. Sa’d ibn Haashim al-Khaalidi said,
describing a slave of his:
He is not a slave, rather he is a son whom [Allaah] has put under my
He has supported me with his good service; he is my hands and my arms.
Another result of the Muslims treating slaves in this manner is that
the slaves became part of Muslim families as if they were also family
Gustave le Bon says in Hadaarat al-‘Arab (Arab Civilization) (p.
459-460): What I sincerely believe is that slavery among the Muslims
is better than slavery among any other people, and that the situation
of slaves in the east is better than that of servants in Europe, and
that slaves in the east are part of the family. Slaves who wanted to
be free could attain freedom by expressing their wish. But despite
that, they did not resort to exercising this right.
So, in reality, slavery in Islam is not the same as the Western definition. Slavery comes as a protection to the war prisoners.