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Slavery is acknowledged as lawful in fiqh. However, there seem to be certain limits of what the owner can do to his slave. I haven't seen a description of what the legal rights of an owner over his slaves (apart from possibly a right of the owner to have sex with his unmarried female slaves) are. In particular:

What are the limits on the use of force to make a slave compliant, and what are the legal consequences for transgressing them?

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  • "apart from possibly a right of the owner to have sex with his unmarried female slaves" reference please
    – Casanova
    Mar 31, 2017 at 17:27
  • And can you define slaves please?
    – Casanova
    Mar 31, 2017 at 17:27
  • @Casanova The linked answer contains references for the first request, and I mean "slave" in the same sense everyone means the word (including every question on here with regard to slavery, in particular the thread referenced in the question).
    – G. Bach
    Mar 31, 2017 at 17:31

1 Answer 1

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It is permissible to force compliance from slaves in lawful matters such as the rights of Allah or rights of the people - including the rights of the owner. It is similar to forcing compliance from a free person in ta'zir and hisbah or forcing compliance from one's wives or children.

An owner can discipline a slave by soft advice, scolding, warning, using force, imprisonment or inflicting corporal punishment etc. Whatever minimum action is necessary to correct their actions.

The evidence for it is the same as the evidence for disciplining one's wives or children as the case of slaves is analogous to them as a person is also a guardian over their slaves:

واللاتي تخافون نشوزهن فعظوهن واهجروهن في المضاجع واضربوهن فإن أطعنكم فلا تبغوا عليهن سبيلا

But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them.

Quran 4:34

‏ مروا أولادكم بالصلاة وهم أبناء سبع سنين واضربوهم عليها وهم أبناء عشر سنين

Command your children to pray when they become seven years old, and beat them for it when they become ten years old

Abu Dawud

عن عائشة، قالت جاء أبو بكر ...‏ فعاتبني، وجعل يطعن بيده في خاصرتي

Narrated Aisha: ... Abu Bakr came to me ... admonished me and struck my flanks with his hand

Bukhari

Similarly the texts allowing for ta'zeer punishments and use of force to correct wrongdoing also extend to slaves:

لا تجلدوا فوق عشرة أسواط إلا في حد من حدود الله

Do not flog anyone more than ten stripes except if he is involved in a crime necessitating Allah's prescribed punishments.

Bukhari

‏ لى الواجد يحل عرضه وعقوبته

Delay in payment on the part of one who possesses means makes it lawful to dishonour and punish him.

Abu Dawud

من رأى منكم منكرا فليغيره بيده فإن لم يستطع فبلسانه

Whoever among you sees a wrongdoing, let him change it with his hand; if he cannot, then with his tongue

Muslim

The owners are the ones who are responsible for educating and disciplining their slaves:

أقيموا على أرقائكم الحد

Impose the prescribed punishment upon your slaves

Muslim, Abu Dawud

إذا زنت أمة أحدكم فتبين زناها فليجلدها الحد

When the slave woman of any of you commits fornication and the matter is clear, he should give her the appropriate beating.

Bukhari and Muslim

إذا ضرب أحدكم خادمه فليجتنب الوجه‏

When one of you strikes his servant, let him avoid his face.

Al-Adab Al-Mufrad

رجل كانت له أمة فأدبها فأحسن أدبها وعلمها فأحسن تعليمها ثم أعتقها وتزوجها

A man who has a slave woman whom he disciplines and disciplines her well, and teaches and teaches her well, then he manumits her and marries her (will have double reward).

Nasai, Bukhari

Jurists have stated that:

للسيد حق تأديب عبده ومعاقبته على ترك ما أوجبه الله عليه، أو فعل ما حرمه الله تعالى، أو مخالفة السيد، أو إساءة الأدب، أو غير ذلك باللوم أو الضرب، كما يؤدب ولده وزوجته الناشز.واختلفوا في إقامة السيد الحد والقصاص على عبده. وسيأتي بيان ذلك إن شاء الله. ومن جملة العقوبة التي يملكها السيد أن يضربه على ترك الصلاة إذا كان مميزا وبلغ عشر سنين، وذلك لتمرينه عليها حتى يألفها ويعتادها لحديث: واضربوهم عليها وهم أبناء عشر. قال الحجاوي والبهوتي: وللسيد أن يزيد في ضرب الرقيق، تأديبا على ضرب الولد والزوجة، لقول النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم: لا تضرب ظعينتك كضرب أميتك وقوله: لا يجلد أحدكم امرأته جلد العبد ثم يجامعها في آخر اليوم. وللسيد أن يقيد عبده إذا خاف عليه الإباق

The owner has the right to discipline his slave and to punish him on abandoning what is made obligatory on him by Allah, or on doing an act which Allah has forbidden the slave from doing, or on opposing the owner, or on misbehavior etc. by verbal reprimand or beating, in the same way as he can discipline his child or disobedient wife.

And there is disagreement on the master enforcing hudud and qisas on his slave, its detail will be mentioned shortly Inshallah.

And one among the punishments which the owner has power over is beating for abandoning prayer if the slave has the ability of discernment and has reached ten years of age. That is so that the slave will be trained and adopt it as a habit. As the hadith says:

Beat them for it when they become ten years old

Abu Dawud

Al-Hajaawi and Al-Bahooti said: And the master can beat a slave more severely than his wife or child because of the saying of the Prophet ﷺ:

Do not beat your wife as you beat your slave-girl.

Abu Dawud

And his saying:

None of you should flog his wife as he flogs a slave and then have sexual intercourse with her in the last part of the day.

Bukhari

And the master can imprison his slave if he fears that he will run away.

Mawsoo’ah al-Fiqhiyyah

As for the limits to it: The slave must have actually done something wrong without an excuse. Punishing a slave without a valid reason is oppression. Verbal reprimand must not involve insulting their parents etc. Further beating must not target the face and it is not permitted to give a severe beating except in the case of a major sin. Owners are also not permitted to burn or mutilate their slaves such as by cutting off parts of their bodies or causing a loss of the faculties of the body such as by castrating them, nor are they permitted to kill their slaves. They can however carry out hudud punishments according to some madhabs, see Can Hadd punishments be given to slaves by the owner, without the ruler's permission?.

As for the legal consequences for transgression of the above by the owners, according to some madhabs some offenses make it obligatory to free the slave and the state will enforce it if the owner refuses.

من ضرب غلاما له حدا لم يأته أو لطمه فإن كفارته أن يعتقه

Whoever beats a slave without him having done anything to deserve it, or slaps him, his expiation is to manumit him.

Muslim

Further the state may enforce ta'zeer punishments on the owners for violations, just as they can enforce punishment for any other sins.

أجمع العلماء على أن التعزير مشروع في كل معصية لا حد فيها ولا كفارة

The scholars have a consensus that Ta'zir is prescribed for every sin for which there is no Hadd or Kaffarah.

Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa

على السلطان رعاية الرقيق، ومن ذلك إذا كان السيد يلزم رقيقه بخراج لا يطيقه، منعه السلطان . وكذلك إن كان يكلفه بعمل لا يطيقه.وقد تقدم النقل عن عمر رضي الله عنه أنه كان يخرج كل سبت إلى العوالي فإذا وجد عبدا في عمل لا يطيقه وضع عنه.ومن ذلك إذا عذب السيد رقيقه، أو ارتكب في حقه ما لا يحل له من مثلة، أو جرح أو قطع، ألزمه بتحريره فيما يستحق فيه التحرير، أو دعاه إلى ذلك إن لم يكن التحرير واجبا، كما تقدم في مواضع من فعل النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ذلك.وللسلطان تعزير السيد في تلك الحال بقول أو فعل، على القاعدة في التعزير.

It is the duty of the ruler to look after the interests of the slaves. Among them is that if an owner imposes a tax on his slave which is beyond his capacity to earn then the ruler will stop the owner. In the same way if an owner gives him a task which he does not have the strength to do then the ruler will intervene.

And it has been previously mentioned that Umar (the second caliph) used to go out every Saturday and if he found a slave tasked with something which he did not have the strength to do then he would relieve him of it.

And part of this is that if an owner tortures his slave or does something to him which is not lawful such as mutilation, injury or amputation then the ruler will force the owner to free the slave if it is something in which manumission becomes obligatory, otherwise he will invite the owner to free the slave voluntarily if manumission is not obligatory, as has been previously mentioned regarding the actions of the Prophet ﷺ.

And the ruler may impose a Ta'zir punishment on the owner in this situation by his words or actions, according to the principles of Ta'zir.

Mawsoo’ah al-Fiqhiyyah

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  • Thanks, those are good pointers! Could you say something about corporal chastisement, and what happens to a transgressing owner?
    – G. Bach
    Mar 31, 2017 at 21:35

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