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Asking from a non-muslim's viewpoint, If Islam preaches equality, then why does it permit slavery?

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TLDR: it was the status quo at the time and place Islam came down. Islam added humanity to an inhumane system. Detailed answer coming soon inshaAllah. –  ashes999 Jun 20 '12 at 19:53
(non-Muslim questions) is not an appropriate tag. If you edit more, your question will go CW. –  Gigili Jun 20 '12 at 21:24
Does Islam permit slavery? Quran always encourages to find and free slaves if there are any. Muhammad (pbuh) clearly forbid slavery. –  hkBattousai Jun 21 '12 at 14:39

3 Answers 3

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Even though our Imams and Prophets has accepted slave system, but Islam had a plan to free slaves gradually. What people don't normally pay attention to is that if a wrong system has entered a society, removing it needs time and scheduling. If you do something without considering all aspects, it'll have opposite results. It's like something infected with a dangerous virus, or an addicted person who cannot just stop using drugs all of a sudden.

Now if Islam had ordered to free slaves, some of them could got perished when they were an important group in the society. Or a large group of people could became jobless without a place to live in.

Islam consider freeing slaves an "Ibadat", all Prophets and Imam tended to free slaves so simply to give other people a lesson on how it's done.

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said:

«شَرُّ النَّاسِ مَنْ بَاعَ النَّاسَ » Reference

The worst people are the ones who sell humans.

This is a quite popular Hadith among Shi'as.

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Islam permits slavery for those who come to fight against muslims and Islam. Slavery is a kind of blessing for those who are slaves.
To understand this let me explain. Whenever someone is arrested obviously he is an enemy so should be killed straight away because he is enemy but Islam restricts the owner of slaves to keep slave at their homes , provide them as much and good food to them as they have for themselves. Provide them as good clothes as they own have. Let them walk around , let them get education.
These are all benefits he gets. Islam says they should be kept at home because if there were so many prisons it would be a burden to keep them there. Government(Khilafat) would have to provide everything to them. Instead the way I mentioned above is followed so that they (slaves) see how muslims live and how good their morals and habits are. This means Islam is giving them an opportunity to observe Islam closely.
In the eyes of Islam those who are not muslims are going to hell so slavery is giving them chance to save themselves from fire of hell and see how good Islam is.
In the end those who observe Islam closely embrace Islam. Also Prophet SAW has already told too many fazail(benefits) for releasing slaves. Therefore in the past we see many top scholors after the Era of Prophet SAW who used to be slaves, people(muslims) followed them because they became muslims and able to lead them.
Sorry I couldn't give any reference here because these are all logical things. References can be seen in other answers.

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Islam does not permit slavery to muslims. In fact one of the requirements of being a muslim is to not enslave one another (3:64).

But Islam does not force other adherers to other ideology to conform to Islam's belief system (15:3,23:54,43:84,52:45,70:42) even at the expense of death to uphold their beliefs(6:112) at one extreme.

So if there is a citizen (a mushrik/polytheist or kaafir/rejecter of the concept of Prime Creator) amongst the nation and he has a slave who is a muslim, the nation has no right to take away from the citizen his muslim slave, because it's part of the belief of this citizen to own a slave, and the nation has no right to take it away from him. Otherwise there would be bloodshed amongst muslim and non-muslim to fight for an ideological point of view, which Islam does not want. This is what is meant in the verse 24:32.

وَأَنكِحُوا الْأَيَامَىٰ مِنكُمْ وَالصَّالِحِينَ مِنْ عِبَادِكُمْ وَإِمَائِكُمْ ۚ إِن يَكُونُوا فُقَرَ‌اءَ يُغْنِهِمُ اللَّـهُ مِن فَضْلِهِ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ ﴿٣٢﴾

And marry those unmarried amongst you and the righteous amongst your male and female slaves...(24:32)

that is amongst your male and female citizens that are being enslaved. If we take it that islam allows slavery amongst the muslims, it would be contradicting verse 3:64.

so in this verse Allah SWT is talking to us as a nation (with muslim and non-muslim citizens) and not as a group of muslims.

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