After a little research, I have seen a lot of Muslim critic targeting this hadith as a reference to Islam being racist. The hadith is as follows:

Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) reported: There came a slave and pledg- ed allegiance to Allah's Apostle ﷺ on migration; he (the Holy Prophet) did not know that he was a slave. Then there came his master and demanded him back, whereupon Allah's Apostle ﷺ said: Sell him to me. And he bought him for two black slaves, and he did not afterwards take allegiance from anyone until he had asked him whether he was a slave (or a free man)
(Sahih Muslim)

An argument of such a critic is "Muhammad not only trades in slaves, but he deems the life of one slave pledging himself to Islam as MORE worthy than two African non-converts."

What would be a general response to such an argument? As a matter of fact, an explanation of this hadith would be appreciated.

As an attempt to answering my own question, I was thinking of this:

So, by default our prophet has already made it clear in the last sermon that a white isn't superior to a black nor is a non-Arab superior to an Arab or vice versa. So when our prophet decided to sell 2 black individuals for an individual who has pledged allegiance to the prophet, it wasn't because of race or that the black slaves were expendable but maybe for a certain reason where assuming the 2 black slaves were more valued to the slave master, than anything such as money or animal. It's also possible that the slave who pledged allegiance to our prophet could have been black. Hence bought him for 2 black non-muslims.

At this point, I am only rationalizing on certain possibilities but not really getting anywhere. I just hope someone can have a better explanation than myself with proper evidence.


2 Answers 2


The hadith has nothing to do with racism.

It simply mentions that the Prophet (SAW) bought that one slave who accepted Islam in exchange of two other slaves who happened to be black.

There is no mention that the color of their skin was why he sold them or that the color of their skin had anything to do with the price of the purchase.

Simply speaking, the owner of the Muslim slave would not accept a price lower than two slaves so that's what was given to to him.

For reference the hadith can be found here: https://sunnah.com/muslim/22/152


Here's the meaning of the hadith based on the commentary of the contemporary scholar Musa Shaheen Laasheen موسى شاهين لاشين called Fath al-Mun'im فتح المنعم شرح صحيح مسلم:
In the following I'll translate from Arabic as these translations are of my own take them with the necessary care! Be aware that this may require some additional explanation which I tried to add and mark it as such.

... وهذا الحديث يصور قصة عبد أسلم، وسمع بالهجرة وبأجرها، فسافر من موطن سيده بدون علمه إلى المدينة، وطالب أن يبايع رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم على الهجرة، وظن الرسول الكريم أنه حر، فبايعه، فلما علم سيده بهجرته جاء إلى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يطلب رده.
And this hadith tells us the story of a slave who accepted Islam and heard of the hijrah (to join the Muslim community) and its rewards. So he traveled from the country of his master with his knowledge to Medina. And he required to pledge allegiance to the Prophet Allahs prayers and blessings be upon him for hijrah (moving to join the community) and the benevolent prophet thought he was a free man. And accepted his pledge. When the slave's master got to know of the migration of his slave he came to the prophet and asked him to give him back.

فاعتذر إلى سيده بأنه لم يكن يعلم أنه عبد، وإلا لما بايعه إلا بإذن سيده، وطلب أن يشتريه من سيده بعبدين أسودين، وقبل السيد ولم يعد صلى الله عليه وسلم يبايع أحدًا حتى يتحقق منه، أعبد هو فلا يبايعه، إلا بإذن سيده، أم حر فيبايعه. صلى الله عليه وسلم.
Then the prophet apologized to the master of the slave saying that he didn't know that this man was a slave. And informed him that if he had known this he wouldn't have accepted his pledge unless with the agreement of his master. And asked to buy him from his master for two slaves -who were black- in return. And the master accepted this. And from this event on the prophet Allahs prayers and blessings be upon him never accepted a pledge again until he clarified whether the person was free or slave, in the later case he didn't accept the pledge without the agreement of the master, while he would accept the pledge of a free man. (Source see here)

This hadith mainly shows the benevolence of the prophet () who unintentionally made a mistake by accepting the pledge of a person who was not free, but in order to satisfy all parties and not to turn the back to a believer -who happened to be a slave- after giving him hope bought him free in a business where quality and quantity of the "sold items" was not equal.
Another important conclusion of this hadith is that it is not allowed to sell a Muslim slave to a non-Muslim (the slave might have accepted Islam while being in a Muslim household).
Finally this hadith is mainly discussed in fiqh books in the topic of selling an item in return for items of a similar kind. Some scholars only allow such a business if there's a difference between both items otherwise this would be riba.

Note that Islam accepted slavery (but regulated it with specific rulings in order to make it more human and with the goal of step by step making an end to the sale of humans) and slaves where humans that could have been bought and sold as any item in fact early hadith commentators when discussing this hadith make clear that this kind of business or exchange is not riba, by even comparing it with the exchange of animals of the same kind see for example in the short commentary of imam an-Nawawi for example here or in the link before.

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