From the Holy Quran 16:75:

Allah sets forth a parable: There is one who is a slave and is owned by another and has no power over anything; and there is one whom We have granted good provision Ourselves, of which he spends both secretly and openly. Can they be equal? All praise be to Allah. But most of them do not even know (this simple fact).

My reaction to the question was yes, they are both humans with souls: in what truly matters, they are equal. The Islamic Studies webpage suggests otherwise:

When the question was posed, obviously the mushriks could not say that the two men were equal. So some of them would have admitted that they were not equal, while the others would have kept quiet for fear that in case of admission, they would have to abide by its logical conclusion, that is, the admission of refutation of the doctrine of shirk.

I get the feeling I'm missing something important here.

Question: Are the slave and the slave owner equal?


Please note first that this Verse must be read in it's context, as it is a response of the two Verses (16:73-74) whom describe the believe of the Mushrikeen and the fact that they set Allah equal to their Idols. A second response would be the next verse (16:76).

So the example of the slave here should be understood as follows:

For the polytheists a slave could never be equal to his master. This is set as an allegory to the fact that they worship idols which also are not equal to Allah, as they don't posses any provision for them as slave -on the other hand- don't have any possession. So the question addressed to them via this verse: was how can those Idols have any kind of likeness to Allah in his divinity?

The same situation is in the Verse (16:76) the dumb is an allegory to the Idols while the one who commands with Justice refers to Allah.

I haven't added any references as you may read this from the tafsir of ibn Kathir which is quoted by GreatBigBore.

Just to answer your reaction:
From a shari'a perspective the slave and the slave owner are equal to some extent and different to some extent: As the slave is clearly considered as a human being with all his needs, soul and as you said anything which truely matters, but on the other hand he has some kind of restrictions when it comes to rights, for example not any kind of possession is allowed to him and some scholars even say that marrying and divorcing is in the hand of his owner...

And Allah knows best!


Tafsir Ibn Kathir takes verses 73-76 as God's commentary on the obvious foolishness of worshiping idols, namely, idols are manifestly inferior. God is equating the slave/master comparison to the idol/God comparison. After the question "Can [slaves] be equal?" Ibn Kathir inserts "(By no means)".

After Muhammad died, Abu Bakr decreed that all Arab slaves (not only Muslims) be freed. -- "The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, And Fall", Sir William Muir

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