SLAVERY AND THE INFIDEL IN ISLAM
Essays on Islamic Theory and Practice
considered from a Humanist Perspective
by Victor A. Gunasekara
Islam and Slavery
(a) Sources on Islamic Slavery
(b) Slavery in the Koran
(c) Aspects of Islamic Slavery
(d) Apologetics for Islamic Slavery
Islam and the Infidel
(a) Literature on Islam and the Infidel
(b) Umma, Dhimmi and Kaffir
(c) War and Jihad in Islam
(d) Islamic Expansion into Asia
(e) Final Comments
The essays collected in this booklet derive from different sources. That on slavery has not been published before. It originated as a reply to a criticism of a claim by the author that the Koran "permits slavery".
That on the Infidel is a reprint of an article that appeared in the Queensland Humanist Vol 33:1 January 1999. It has the form of a review article surveying some books written on this subject. It has been slightly amended by the author.
These two essays, despite their different origins, share a common theme. This is explained in the introductory section to this work. The conclusion gives some additional comments.
This work deals with the treatment of two important issues by a major world religion. It is written primarily from the standpoint of humanism(1). The religion concerned is Islam and the issues are slavery and the treatment of non-believers. Both issues are very important for humanists. They deal with two kinds of freedom, in one case the freedom of the human person himself or herself and in the other the freedom of belief. Slavery is the worst kind of denial of human freedom and human rights essentially making one individual the property of another. It is now regarded with the greatest horror but this has not always been the case. The denial of the freedom of belief is only slightly less important. Here too the traditional practice in many countries has been to deny this freedom, especially in the area of religion or belief. Here what is important is not only the freedom to believe in a religion of one's choice but also the freedom to be free of religious belief.
Humanists have been in the forefront in the fight against slavery and servitude of all forms, and in the fight for freedom of belief and opinion. Both are now considered as important aspects of human rights. The denial of such rights has historically come from many sources. In the immediate context it is the State which determines the rights and liberties of its inhabitants. But in the formulation of state policy religion has played an important part. In theocratic states religion is the basis of jurisprudence and state policy and so is directly responsible for the freedoms, or lack of them, of its citizens. The rise of secularism in many countries has reduced but not completely eliminated the power of religion..
This work deals with Islam. This is not because Islam is the worst offender in the denial of these freedoms (even though it could well be) but because it provides a classic example of civil law based on religious jurisprudence. In a fully Islamic state there is no possibility of the separation of religion and the state. Thus an examination of the Islamic attitude to these questions can provide a classic instance of how religious principles could be used to influence basic human rights in these, and several other, areas. It can also provide useful conclusion to apply to states which are not completely theocratic but in the past have been theocratic whose traces still linger.
Islam arose in the seventh century CE, more precisely in 632 CE, in Mecca, the principal city of Arabia, when a trader called Muhammad received a "revelation" which he claimed to be from God. He communicated this revelation first to his wife and then other members of his family. From this humble beginning Islam was able, within a few centuries after Muhammad's death, to carve out an empire extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian subcontinent. From there it spread to South-East Asia, Central Asia and Africa and thus becoming a world religion. With the rise of European colonialism Islam went into decline. More recently with the demise of colonialism there has been a resurgence of Islam. This has been enhanced by the economic wealth going to many Muslim countries as a result of the exploitation of their oil wealth.
From its beginning slavery was an integral part of Islam. It was inherited from the Arabs who like other ancient peoples practiced it. But Islam sanctioned it in the Koran which is the basic religious text of Islam. However it is not the only religious text to sanction it. It is also sanctioned in the Old Testament and also by implication in the New Testament because of Jesus' statement that the "law" as set out in the O.T. should be honoured by his followers(2). Hinduism too sanctions various kinds of servitude including slavery. Of the major religions it is only Buddhism which denounces this practice. The Buddha included trade in humans as a Wrong Livelihood, and of course without this commerce there would be no slavery.
The second theme discussed in this work is the position of the non-believer in Islam. In this area too Islam more than most other religions took a firm position. Islam made a distinction between people on the basis of their religious belief with non-Muslims being subjected to various penalties. This subject is taken up in the third section of this work. Once again it is not only Islam that has been guilty of this. The record of Christianity on this question has been hardly better. The numbers of people who have been killed, burned, tortured, imprisoned or otherwise punished for heresy by the various Christian sects is legion. From the conversion of Constantine to Christianity until the Nineteenth Century Europe was virtually closed for all non-Christians. The only other religious group permitted was the Jews and they were subjected to severe discrimination.
It may be argued that the issue of slavery is now dead. This is of course not strictly true as the Anti-Slavery Society will easily testify. Most of the instances they have documented in recent years have come from Islamic countries even though there have been other examples as well.
It is shown in the second section of this work that slavery is sanctioned in the Koran which is the principal religious text of Islam. Moreover this religious text is still held to be literally correct. It is not just any religious text but one said to be inscribed for all time in a tablet preserved in Paradise. Besides it is supposed to be the word of an omniscient and omnipotent being. So it enshrines what the believers of this text would consider an eternal principle(3).
There is an increasing tendency for Muslim countries to go back to Islamic fundamentals. Not only is Islam the official dogma in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran but it is increasingly adopted by other Muslim countries like Pakistan (which under British rule had abolished it). Even so-called moderate Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia are increasingly coming under the sway of extreme Muslim groups. Thus we cannot write off slavery as belonging to a forgotten period in human history.
The denial of the freedom of opinion, the other theme of this booklet, is of course an all too familiar story. Today this denial ranges from censorship of political opinion imposed by dictators to the policies of religious hierarchies not only in suppressing dissent within their own jurisdictions but also by abetting Governments to maintain such laws such as anti-blasphemy legislation on the Statute book. Hardly a day passes without some group demanding some form of censorship to protect its own privileges, or errors. This is an area where eternal vigilance is truly needed.
Thus the subjects dealt with in this work are not mere matters of historical interest but are also issues of current concern especially to humanists.
2. Islam and Slavery
(a) Sources on Islam and Slavery
The primary source of Islam is the Koran. This document is said to have been communicated to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel from a copy created in heaven by God himself(4). It refers to slavery quite openly in several places without any attempt to conceal what it means(5). These matter-of-fact references indicate that Muhammad did not find anything unusual in this institution. We shall examine ten of the principal references to slavery in the next section of this chapter. There is also a second layer of Islamic jurisprudence. These related to the deeds and words on Muhammad when he was not making the prophetic utterances recorded in the Koran. They too have been compiled into a series of Books called the Hadith(6). In the Hadith, which are regarded almost as important as the Koran, there is quite unabashed reference to Muhammad as a slave owner. He is even held as an exemplar in this regard. Both the Koran and the Hadith are treated extremely reverentially by Muslims and there is always the cry of "Back to the Koran and Hadith" whenever enterprising theologians try to give an altered meaning. That is why we have to look at the attitude to slavery as shown in these two primary sources of Islam.
A third source lies in the interpretation and expansion of the sayings in the Koran and the Hadith by a number of Islamic jurists and scholars. They too deal with subjects of slavery and the treatment of non-Muslim people in the areas ruled by Muslims. However there is no new insight that is added, indeed it is not possible to add such new insights to a revelation that is considered closed. It is this codification that is now referred to as the Sharia law. Today there is a clamor for the re-institution of the Sharia Law in Muslim countries as many of them under modern influences have departed from the strict Sharia law. This has not so far led to a call to revive the institution of slavery, perhaps because of the extreme disgust with which this practice is now regarded by civilised society. But it is not inconceivable that it could happen if Islam secures the military means to expand its conquests as it did in its heyday. On the other aspects, denial of freedom of belief to non-Muslims in Muslim countries (except for the limited freedom given to the "People of the Book") there has been only a little relaxation.
A large number of books have been published on Islam by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. But very few of them deal with the subjects of slavery and the denial of freedom of belief. This is true of both modern Islamic writers as well as of Western scholars. This is surprising because such reticence is not seen in the classic writings of Islam. The reluctance of modern authors to deal with this question can be easily explained. The institution of slavery is now seen as one of most detestable institutions ever devised by man. To claim that this institution is sanctioned in sacred scriptures said to represent the word of God is highly embarrassing to those advancing these scriptures as a kind of divine revelation coming from an omniscient, omnipotent and totally benevolent source. It must be pointed that slavery is permitted not only in the Koran but also in the Bible(7). This latter fact may explain the reluctance of modern Christian critics to deal with the subject of Islamic slavery. But at one time Christian writers were quite open in their criticism of what they regarded as wrong in Islam. This included the great prominence given to slavery in the Koran. But this was the time when Christian countries were dominant and had colonised most of the non-Western world. They were also engaged in an anti-slavery campaign. Modern Christian writers have departed from this practice. This is not however a concession to a greater sense of tolerance. It has more to do with the fact that they themselves are guilty of the things they accuse the Muslims of. It is simply a matter of people in glass houses not throwing stones. Also the economic power of Muslim countries has greatly increased and many Western countries are dependent on them for raw materials like oil which is critically important for their economies. So they feel that they should not antagonize the Muslims too much. This matter will be dealt at greater length in the section on apologetics for Islamic slavery
(b) Slavery in the Koran
It is to the Koran that we have to go to find Muhammad's attitude to slavery. The subject is treated at many places in the Koran. We shall consider some of these statements in the order that they appear in the Koran, quoting the relevant part of the verse concerned(8).
(i) Sura 2 (The Cow) Verse 178
2.178: O you who believe! retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the slain, the free for the free, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female, but if any remission is made to any one by his (aggrieved) brother, then prosecution (for the bloodwit) should be made according to usage, and payment should be made to him in a good manner; this is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy; so whoever exceeds the limit after this he shall have a painful chastisement.
Retaliation for murder and other crimes was sanctioned by Arabian usage and accepted by Muhammad. Here it is said that a free(man) could be killed for the murder of a free(man) and similarly for a (free) woman and a slave. The mention of these three categories quite casually indicates that slavery is accepted along with the other two categories as an acceptable state for a human being. What is not clear is whether the person put to death is the person responsible for the killing. While this may be true of free persons this is not necessarily true of slaves. Thus if a slave is killed then it is not the killer of the slave that has to be killed but a slave of the killer! What this shows is that slaves are treated as pure merchandise of the slave owner. If a slave is killed then it is a loss to its owner and the retaliation for this is the killing of a slave belonging to the offender. Of course the slave killed may be quite innocent.
Of course it may be argued that the free people may have been responsible for the crime but to a kill an innocent slave for the crime of his master is truly a perversion of justice. The casual way in which slaves as a category of humans are mentioned along with free men and women in the application of this law shows that Muhammad completely accepted the slave status of humans to be a perfectly normal status.
(ii) Sura 4 (The Women), Verse 92.
4.92: And it does not behoove a believer to kill a believer except by mistake, and whoever kills a believer by mistake, he should free a believing slave, and blood-money should be paid to his people unless they remit it as alms; but if he be from a tribe hostile to you and he is a believer, the freeing of a believing slave (suffices), and if he is from a tribe between whom and you there is a covenant, the blood-money should be paid to his people along with the freeing of a believing slave; but he who cannot find (a slave) should fast for two months successively:
This verse has been adduced by Muslim apologists who claim that Muhammad urged the general freeing of slaves. This is certainly not the case. What this verse tells is that manslaughter (killing by mistake) of a Muslim (presumably by another Muslim) could be paid for by freeing one slave for each act of manslaughter. The freeing of the slave is a kind of penalty imposed on the offending Muslim for his act of manslaughter. It could be compared to imposing a fine on the person. Slaves are seen as a kind of legal tender - instead of being fined for the misdemeanor the offender is forced to free a slave. Surely this is a far cry from a requirement that slaves should be freed as a general principle.
To free a slave the person concerned must own slaves; this Sura therefore assumed implicitly that slavery is permitted in the Koran. There are some peculiarities that deserve notice. It is only a "believing slave" (i.e a slave who is a Muslim) that can be freed. A non-Muslim slave does not have even this route of escape from slavery. This verse is laying down penalties for killing, not trying to free slaves.
The verse also says that if a slave cannot be found the punishment is a two month fast(9). This is perhaps a case of extending the fast at Ramadan from one to two months. It gives some idea of the value attached to a slave in Islam.
(iii) Sura 5 (The Dinner Table), Verse 89
5.89: Allah does not call you to account for what is vain in your oaths, but He calls you to account for the making of deliberate oaths; so its expiation is the feeding of ten poor men out of the middling (food) you feed your families with, or their clothing, or the freeing of a neck; but whosoever cannot find (means) then fasting for three days; this is the expiation of your oaths when you swear; and guard your oaths. Thus does Allah make clear to you His communications, that you may be Fateful.
The expression "freeing of a neck" in this verse has been cited by some Muslim apologists as showing that Muhammad urges slave-owners to free their slaves. This does nothing of the sort. In the first place it is not clear whether the phrase in question refers to slavery at all. It could refer to the freeing of a man condemned to capital punishment,(10) because under Islam the relatives if the dead man can waive the execution of the murderer for a sum of money. Even if considered as freeing a slave it is another penalty for a transgression (the making of a deliberate oath), As in Sura 4.92 we are looking at penalties for various infringements (manslaughter, oaths) and the setting-free of a slave is used as a kind of payment or retribution for offence dealt with.
This kind of penalty can be prescribed only if slavery is permitted as a legal institution, which it is in Islam. This kind of penalty can even be considered as encouraging slavery as people might think it prudent to have a stock of slaves so that they can be used to pay off various penalties.
(iv) Sura 12 (Yusuf), Verses 29-30
12.29: O Yusuf! turn aside from this; and (O my wife)! ask forgiveness for your fault, surely you are one of the wrong-doers.
12.30: And women in the city said: The chief's wife seeks her slave to yield himself (to her), surely he has affected her deeply with (his) love; most surely we see her in manifest error.
This is the story of the slave Joseph who was bought by a person simply described as an Egyptian. The Egyptian's wife tried to induce the slave to have sexual relations with her, which though tempted Joseph resisted. The Egyptian believed the slave and asked the wife to apologize. This is only important as highlighting the complex relations that developed between slaves and their owners. In Islam male owners of slaves were entitled to have sexual relations with their slave women whether the women liked it or not, but this incident shows that the reverse was not necessarily true. It is perhaps another example of the discriminatory treatment of women as against men.
(v) Sura 16 (The Bee), verse 71
16.71: And Allah has made some of you excel others in the means of subsistence, so those who are made to excel do not give away their sustenance to those whom their right hands possess so that they should be equal therein; is it then the favor of Allah which they deny?
This requires that those Muslims who are better off should share some of their "subsistence" with their slaves. While this is a good maxim it presupposes that the ownership of slaves is a normal state of affairs.
(vi) Sura 16 (The Bee), verse 75
16.75 Allah sets forth a parable: (consider) a slave, the property of another, (who) has no power over anything, and one whom We have granted from Ourselves a goodly sustenance so he spends from it secretly and openly; are the two alike? (All) praise is due to Allah!
This is one of the clearest instances where the institution of slavery is justified in the Koran as a divine dispensation. It deserves close scrutiny. This "parable" contrasts two people a slave who is owned by another and is completely powerless and a freeman on whom Allah has granted "a goodly sustenance" which he can spend openly or secretly as he pleases (perhaps acquiring slaves for himself). Since Allah claims for himself the position of the granter of all benefits (or lack of them) both the freeman's fortune and the slave's misfortune are ultimately determined by Allah. By his rhetorical question "Are the two alike?" Muhammad is actually justifying the inequality between the slave and the freeman as if it was a natural thing. Thus a Muslim will have no compunctions or qualms in employing and exploiting slaves (subject only to any conditions that Muhammad may have imposed) because it is what Allah has ordained and "all praise is due to Allah".
Sura 23 (The Believers), Verses 1-6
23.1-6: Successful indeed are the believers, Who are humble in their prayers, And who keep aloof from what is vain, And who are givers of poor-rate, And who guard their private parts, Except before their mates or those whom their right hands possess, for they surely are not blameable.
This is the Sura which gives the slave owner the right of sexual access to u\his female slaves. The term "guarding the private parts" is a synonym for sexual intercourse, and it is said that this is not blameable if indulges with wives and slaves.
(viii) Sura 24 (The Light), Verse 31
24.31: And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants not having need (of women), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known; and turn to Allah all of you, O believers! so that you may be successful.
This is the famous Sura enjoining the veiling of women.(11) Amongst those before whom the women need not be covered are slaves (who under included in those that "the right hand possess" a term that is used throughout in the Koran as a synonym for slaves). This is probably because slaves were such a common occurrence in Muslim households that they are taken for granted and women need not use the dress code prescribed for outside wear while they are at home even in front of their slaves.
(ix) Sura 24 (The Light), Verse 32
24.32: And marry those among you who are single and those who are fit among your male slaves and your female slaves; if they are needy, Allah will make them free from want out of His grace; and Allah is Ample-giving, Knowing.
This is said to sanction marriages of slaves with slaves and slaves with free persons (including the owner). Owners did not usually marry slaves as they could use them for sexual purposes at will. This dispensation has been used to make slaves marry other slaves. In Islam a child born to a slave couple also is a slave from birth, so this verse gives a great incentive to slave owners to breed slaves. This is another obnoxious aspect of Islamic slavery. Whatever be the other circumstances in which people are made into slaves to make a new-born infant a slave is one of the most cruel and callous. Ye this did not evoke a protest from the Prophet and has been extensively resorted to by Muslims.
(x) Sura 24 (The Light), Verse 33
24.33: And let those who do not find the means to marry keep chaste until Allah makes them free from want out of His grace. And (as for) those who ask for a writing from among those [slaves] whom your right hands possess, give them the writing if you know any good in them, and give them of the wealth of Allah which He has given you; and do not compel your slave girls to prostitution, when they desire to keep chaste, in order to seek the frail good of this world's life; and whoever compels them, then surely after their compulsion Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
This is another verse often quoted by apologists for the Prophet. There are two references to slaves here. One is that a "good" slave could be freed by the slave owner.(12) However it is not a simple ex gratia freedom that is meant but one subject to a formal agreement ("writing"). This document lays down the conditions attached to the freeing of the slave, and usually involves the payment of a sum of money by the slave who is to be freed. Since a slave would not normally have a lot of money, someone else (perhaps a relative of the slave) has to put up the money, or the slave himself agrees to pay the money out of future income. What really happens is that the slave becomes an indentured worker for the former owner. How this can be described as complete freedom for the slave is difficult to see. It is simply a monetary transaction with the slave buying his own freedom, or somebody else doing it for him. It may actually be to the advantage of the slave-owner depending on the actual terms of the contract.
Even if no conditions are attached what this Sura says is that owners can free slaves who have been good slaves and not given any trouble. But slaves being the absolute property of their masters can be disposed of at the master's will just as he can give away any other of his property. So this "dispensation" given in the Koran does not really amount to much; it cannot be seen as a move towards the elimination of slavery. There is no obligation for any slave owner to follow that is recommended in this Sura. There is also the question whether a "bad" slave can be freed even if the owner wants to free this slave subject to the stipulated conditions.
The verse also states that women slaves should not be used for prostitution. While we must be grateful to the Prophet for this tender mercy it must also be remembered that the Prophet did not restrict the master's access to his female slaves for his own sexual gratification! This is the implication of this prohibition against prostitution; if the Prophet wanted to protect female slaves from sexual exploitation by their owners he would have said so. Nowhere is this restriction put on slave owners and they have liberally used this to their advantage.
(xi) Sura 33 (The Clans), Verse 50
33.50: O Prophet! surely We have made lawful to you your wives whom you have given their dowries, and those [slaves] whom your right hand possesses out of those whom Allah has given to you as prisoners of war, and the daughters of your paternal uncles and the daughters of your paternal aunts, and the daughters of your maternal uncles and the daughters of your maternal aunts who fled with you; and a believing woman if she gave herself to the Prophet, if the Prophet desired to marry her -- specially for you, not for the (rest of) believers; We know what We have ordained for them concerning their wives and those whom their right hands possess in order that no blame may attach to you; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
Here, as elsewhere, the term "possessions of the right hand" mean slaves. It is expressly stated that Muhammad's slaves are given to him by Allah himself to be taken out of his share of the captives in war. It also records the special dispensation given to Muhammad, not available to other Muslims, in the number of wives(13).
(xii) Sura 39 (The Companions), Verses 29
39.29: Allah sets forth an example: There is a slave in whom are (several) partners differing with one another, and there is another slave wholly owned by one man. Are the two alike in condition? (All) praise is due to Allah. Nay! most of them do not know.
The example set out here compares joint ownership of a slave by many owners and the single ownership by one person. Muhammad asks rhetorically whether the two cases are the same. Of course they are not and it is clear that Muhammad prefers single ownership. In fact this is why he established the rule that after a military campaign the captives were allocated to each of his soldiers individually not collectively, with himself keeping a fifth of the captives as his personal slaves.
(xiii) Sura 70 (The Ways of Ascent) verses 29-35
70: 29-35 And those who guard their private parts, Except in the case of their wives or those whom their right hands possess -- for these surely are not to be blamed, But he who seeks to go beyond this, these it is that go beyond the limits -- And those who are faithful to their trusts and their covenant And those who are upright in their testimonies, And those who keep a guard on their prayer, Those shall be in gardens, honored.
These verses are similar to Sura 23.93-96 and gives the right to slave owners to have sexual relation with female slaves. The only difference is that the earlier reference may leave some doubt as to whether both males and female slaves are meant. These verses clearly show that it is only female slaves that are meant.
(xiv) Sura 90 (The City)
Sura 90. In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Nay! I swear by this city. And you shall be made free from obligation in this city -- And the begetter and whom he begot. Certainly We have created man to be in distress. Does he think that no one has power over him? He shall say: I have wasted much wealth. Does he think that no one sees him? Have We not given him two eyes, And a tongue and two lips, And pointed out to him the two conspicuous ways? But he would not attempt the uphill road, And what will make you comprehend what the uphill road is? (It is) the setting free of a slave, Or the giving of food in a day of hunger To an orphan, having relationship, Or to the poor man lying in the dust. Then he is of those who believe and charge one another to show patience, and charge one another to show compassion. These are the people of the right hand. And (as for) those who disbelieve in our communications, they are the people of the left hand. On them is fire closed over.
The meaning of this verse is very cryptic but has been made clearer by various commentators. The city is Mecca and this Sura is said to have been revealed after Muhammad's taking of that city. The "I" in line 1 is Allah and the "you" in line 2 is Muhammad but there is some debate as whom "he" in line 4 means. Some take it to be al Walid
Ebn al Mogheira, one of Muhammad's Meccan opponents, others as Abu'l
Calsa, another opponent. Whoever this opponent may have been it is clear that he has not understood "the uphill path" which involves doing the things mentioned, one of which is the freeing of a slave. So this is similar to verse 24.33 considered earlier. It is good to free a slave, just as it is good to give to charity, but having slaves is not prohibited just as having money is not prohibited.
This Sura applies to the specific individual referred to as "he" and therefore cannot be taken as a general rule applying to all Muslims(14).
(c) Aspects of Islamic Slavery
(i) Recruitment of Slaves in Islam
We have already mentioned that newborn children could be recruited into Islamic slavery if the parents of the infant were slaves. But the most common method of getting slaves was capture (see Sura 33.50 given above). Sometimes this takes place on the battlefield, but as soldiers were usually men women could rarely be enslaved in this way. Thus in the Battle of Badr, the first of Muhammad's victories, all the captives were males. Some of these captives were released after a bounty was paid by their relatives others were freed if they converted and joined Muhammad's army
Males of mature age were not always desirable as slaves as the primary use of slaves in that pre-industrial society was to do domestic chores, and men did not excel in this. Thus Muslims always prized females not only because they could be used to do domestic work, but also because they could used to used to satisfy their carnal appetites of their owners and also be used as breeding stock to breed more slaves. Children were also prized because they could be converted into Islam by their captors without requiring their consent.
So in course of time the Prophet shifted his tactics and when an army was defeated the entire community which the army defended was enslaved. This ensured a supply of women and children the most prized of slaves. This was often combined with the wholesale slaughter of the men. The classic example of this is what the Prophet did after he defeated the Jewish tribe of Banu
Quraiza. All 700 men left in the tribe were slaughtered in one day the unfortunates being forced to dig their own graves before their heads were struck off. So it was not simply a question of killing people in the heat of battle. All the women and children of the tribe were then enslaved.
Later on Muslims conducted organised raids into Africa to enslave Negroes. These were then sold in the slave bazaars of Mecca, Baghdad, Tripoli and other places in the Islamic world. This trade was only stopped by the European powers in the nineteenth century.
(ii) Muhammad as a Slave Owner
A stumbling block to those want to present Muhammad as a potential liberator of slaves is the he himself was a slave owner. We have already seen in Sura 33.50 that Allah says that he has given Muhammad slaves. Since the main route to servitude was capture in war Allah gives a fifth of the spoils of war to the Prophet to be used as he wishes:
8.41: And know that whatever thing you gain, a fifth of it is for Allah and for the Apostle and for the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, if you believe in Allah and in that which We revealed to Our servant, on the day of distinction, the day on which the two parties met; and Allah has power over all things
According to this Sura a fifth share of the booty was taken by Muhammad some of which was distributed to near kin, etc. as stipulated in the Sura. But this distribution was at Muhammad's discretion. The booty included the captives who were made slaves. After the first successful campaign, the Battle of Badr, Muhammad released the captives who were not ransomed by the Meccans. This clemency had been opposed by some Muslim leaders like Umar who wanted them executed. However in later battles the general rule was that the men who refused to convert were executed while women and children where taken into slavery.(15)
(iii) Position of Women Slaves
One of the worst aspects of Islamic slavery is the sexual exploitation of women slaves by their masters. Some Muslims try to deny this but as we have seen there are at least three Suras in the Koran which give the slave owner the power to cohabit with his female slaves at will. Even without the taint of slavery the plight of women was deplorable under Islam. If on top of this slavery is attached their plight is magnified manifold.
Amongst those who try to assert that concubinage with female slaves was not permitted in Islam is Maulana Muhammad Ali (The Religion of Islam, pp. 6667-670). His main argument is that Muhammad allows slave owners to marry female slaves (e.g. in Sura 24.32-33 which we have considered above)(16). But the fact that marriage is allowed does not mean that concubinage was not. In Islam a girl was given in marriage with the consent of her guardian (usually the father). But a slave has no guardian other than the slave-owner so the slave-owner marrying his own slave cannot be a free contract. A Muslim can have only four wives but he can keep an unlimited number of slave concubines; that is why marriage to one's slave was rather rare. Finally even Maulana Muhammad Ali is forced to admit that in the Islamic jurisprudence (the Fiqh) "we find the rule laid down that a master may have sexual relations with his slave girl simply because of the right of ownership which she has in her" (p. 670).
The sexual exploitation of women slaves has also existed in other countries, e.g. in the United States with respect to Negro slavery. But never so extensively and commonly as under Islam, and never under the sanction of divine command. The harems and seraglios of the richer Islamic potentiates became massive and they were replenished regularly by slave women. This is amply documented in the cases of the Moghul and Ottoman rulers as well as the smaller Arab sheiks.
Muhammad himself accumulated a small harem of women for each of whom he built an apartment around the Mosque at Medina. Most were wives, the number greatly exceeding the number of four which was allowed for ordinary Muslims(17). The extra wives were generally authorised by a special dispensation from God granted through the archangel Gabriel.
One of Muhammad's concubines, Mary the Copt, was a slave as she was a gift from the ruler of Abyssinia. Even though Mary refused to give up her Christian religion she became one of Muhammad's favorites (giving him one of his rare children) and was involved in one of the scandals in Muhammad's married life(18).
After the slaughter of the men of the Jewish tribe of Quraiza, and the enslavement of the women and children, Muhammad took Rihana, the wife of the chief of the Clan as a concubine. Of this incident Gairdner asks: "What of Rihana, the beautiful Jewess, taken to Muhammad's tent on the very night of the slaughter, she with a face yet wet for a husband massacred in cold blood, he with a soul newly stained by the blood of that husband?".(19)
Rihana later tried to poison Muhammad.
(d) Apologetics for Islamic Slavery
In this section we review some representative opinions on the subject expressed by scholars and commentators usually involving some kind of defence of the institution of slavery in Islam. As we have mentioned earlier many writers on Islam ignore this question entirely(20). This could be described as the defence of Islamic slavery by silence. But it probably indicates that we are dealing with an obvious fact which needs no further elaboration. However silence can be misconstrued as absence of slavery and sometimes the silence may be deceptively used.
However many writers do refer to this institution, often in passing, but sometimes acknowledging its infamy but also trying to provide some justification of it. No one can be found who expressly states that Islam does not permit slavery for this is too obvious in almost every aspect of the religion. We cannot be exhaustive in a survey like this. We shall first look at a few books on
Islam written by non-Muslims and then consider the defence of Islam on this question by Muslim writers.
Jacques Jomier's book How to Understand Islam(21) is partly critical partly apologetic. We are told "Islam accepted slavery as a social fact and no one felt the need to react against it immediately." Muhammad had no compunction in denouncing "social facts" that he did not agree with (e.g. infanticide, some arrangements relating to marriage and divorce) so the fact that he accepted the "social fact" of slavery must mean that he approved of it. And as to the lack of immediate reaction there is no evidence of any important Muslim reacting against it even several centuries later. The abolition of slavery was imposed on Muslim rulers by the Western colonial powers in the nineteenth century. Jomier writes:
But the question has been inflamed by an anti-Muslim apologetic which seeks to heap on Islam all the shame for a practice which has now been abolished. It may indeed have been the case that the raids of Muslim slavers were the last to take place when elsewhere this kind of traffic had already disappeared. However, it is for those whose ancestors have never practised slavery to cast the first stone.
Even if slavery is now abolished it does not prevent us from studying how it was treated by Muhammad, the apostle of God. It is not a matter of heaping shame because even modern Muslims try to device some kind of apologetic for this institution. As to Jomier's reference to casting stones, this is also an argument advanced by Jesus who said that "he who is without sin should cast the first stone". Bu this is a dubious argument. If taken seriously it would mean that many criminals will have to be allowed to go free because there may be no one who is "without sin". The modern judicial principle is to judge people on the evidence, not the morals of the judge, and it is this test that has to be applied to the Koran.
After saying that Christianity too had accepted slavery Jomier says: "The main difference between Christianity and Islam was that in Islam sexual relations with female slaves are officially permitted in addition to legitimate marriage; hence there was a supplementary traffic to supply the harems." Jomier also states: "... female slaves who gave a child to their masters were put in a separate legal category. They are called umm walad(mother of a child) and cannot be sold. They have to be freed on the death of their master".(22)
Another difference that is claimed was that Christian slavery was used for economic purposes while Islamic slavery was mainly domestic. While there is some truth in this it does not in any way mitigate the infamy of slavery. Also slaves had been used for economic purposes in Islamic countries, and there have been some noted slave revolts under Islam, e.g. the Zanj revolt in ninth century Iraq when slaves transported from East Africa to work plantations revolted. This is scarcely different to the transportation of Negro slaves to work in the plantations of the United States.
A more recent book put out by a leading academic publisher is David Waines' An Introduction to Islam (Cambridge University Press, 1995), which has a section on "dhimmis and slaves". It says very much less than what has been considered in this work. Waines says that "the slave, was not recognized by the law as fully responsible as a free Muslim" which is something of an understatement. He says: "A slave was either born to his or her station or was a non-Muslim who fell into captivity, most often as a consequence of war. Slaves were also purchased by Muslim rulers ..." Here he is on sound ground.
Islam the Straight Path, while mentioning slavery tries to minimise its import. Thus referring to the enslavement of the women and children of the Qurayza Jewish tribe he says: "... the motivation for this was political rather than racial or theological". This is wrong; it was religious to the extent that it fell under Muhammad's grand plan of ridding Arabia of all non-Muslims.
The opinion of D. S. Margoliouth on this subject is as follows: "How the doctrine of the equality of all Moslems was to the reconciled with this institution [slavery] was not obvious; for it might seem that a slave had merely to adopt Islam in order ipso facto to become free; and indeed the doctrine that no one already a Moslem may be enslaved seems to be orthodox. Omar is said to have advanced the that no Arab might be enslaved and in the main these living chattels came from other races" (Mohammedanism, pp 88-89). Clearly this refers to Muslims becoming slaves but as we have seen Muslims were indeed made slaves.
On the defense of slavery by Muslims we can quote two writers Maulana Mohammad Ali and Muhammad Qutb.
Maulana Mohammad Ali's The Religion of Islam (Lahore 1936) is a substantial scholarly volume which contains a section on slavery. He cannot however deny outright that Islam does not permit slavery. He writes:
"Slavery was an institution recognised by all people before Islam. To Islam lies the credit of laying down principles which if developed on the right lines, would have brought about its destruction" (pp 661-2)
Unfortunately for Maulana Islam did not try to destroy slavery but perpetuated it for a longer period than otherwise would have been the case. The principles it added were of the most obnoxious and vile kind.
The Muslim writer who has set out to provide the longest defence of Islam on the score of slavery that I am aware of is Muhammad Qutb. His book is entitled Islam the Misunderstood Religion(23). The longest chapter in this book (some 50 pages long) is entitled "Islam and Slavery". His arguments however are not too cogent but they deserve consideration. Much of the book is written as a diatribe against Communism as if all those who accuse Islam of slavery are Communists.
Qutb's line of argument is given by this quotation:
"Now as Islam came to the world at a time when the stage of slavery was coming to an end and that of feudalism just beginning, it brought with itself laws, creeds and a discipline of life all of which were in concord with the prevalent circumstances of economic existence. That is why it approved of slavery as well as permitted feudalism, for Islam could not anticipate the next stage of economic development nor give any system to the world for which the economic circumstances were not ripe..." (p. 64-5)
At least Qutb does not try to deny that Islam permitted slavery, as some of the more ignorant Muslims do. According to Qutb when Islam arose slavery was ending. Why then did it embrace a dying system and give it a new lease of life? Muhammad rejected many other economic institutions prevalent in his day, e.g. loans on interest, gambling, etc. So there was no reason for him to accept anything simply because it was there. In fact Muslims take pride in saying that Muhammad rejected some current practices like infanticide. So why did he not reject slavery? The plain fact is that he approved of it and indeed used it both for his personal benefit and that of the Muslim community.
Qutb's claim that Islam could not anticipate the next stage of economic development may be accepted if the official line is that the Koran is the work of Muhammad. But it is claimed that it is Allah's work. If so the alleged power of omniscience attributed to Allah would have enabled him to see all of the past and of the future. So the Koran's justification of the institution of slavery must be God's design. Qutb then goes into a long digression on how bad slavery was under the Romans and claiming that Islamic slavery was "better" than that of Rome, Persia, India, etc. This kind of argument of course is puerile. In any slave system one may be able to find slave owners who acted better than those in another system and some who are worse. Even if it were possible to compare evil systems, the degradation in Islamic slavery may well be amongst the worst. There is unanimous agreement that in respect of the carnal exploitation of slave women by their masters Islamic slavery was infinitely worse than any other system.
Qutb also claims that as slavery in Islam was domestic slavery while elsewhere slaves were used in industry or agriculture it was better. The domestic nature of slavery arose from the economic circumstance of Arabia; it was pre-industrial and the dessert nature of the country prevented large-scale agriculture. But when Islam moved to other areas it did employ slaves in plantations (e.g. the ninth century slave revolt in Iraq). Also domestic slavery leads to the odious institution of sexual exploitation of slaves. Thus Qutb's argument here is not sound.
Qutb then cites two aspects of Islamic slavery which he says "signified a great practical advancement achieved by Islam in the history of slavery" (p. 79). These institutions are: (1) Al Itq or the voluntary freeing of slaves and (2) Mukatabah or freedom by written agreement. The first of these is simply not enough. Slavery is a violent institution and it cannot be ended voluntarily, especially if it has divine sanction. The source cited for this is Sura 4.92 which we have examined earlier and shown not to be a voluntary freeing but the payment of a restitution for manslaughter. The second one is the "written agreement" we have discussed above in connection with Sura 24.33 where its limitations were exposed. Thus Qutb's "advancements" prove to be no advancements at all. The only advancement in slavery is to abolish the institution altogether and this Muhammad signally failed to do.
Qutb finds great difficulty in answering the question why Islam did not abolish slavery. His answer is that because slavery was deep rooted at the time "its abolition required a far longer period of time than the life of the Holy Prophet". But the brevity of his life did not prevent the Prophet from introducing other reforms of institutions equally deep-rooted. Besides there was not even a declaration of intention, and as we have seen the Prophet fully used the advantages of the institution both personally and communally for his group. Not only the prophet but none of his successors attempted to abolish slavery. Surely Qutb cannot argue that the many centuries of Muslim power was not long enough to abolish this institution. The sad fact is that slavery increased in its scope as the power of Muslim empires grew.
Qutb illustrates very well the futility of many Muslims in trying to justify an unjustifiable institution. Above all an institution which more than anything else condemns Islam.
3. The Infidel in Islam
(a) Literature on Islam and the Infidel
Books on Islam tend to be of three types. There are those by Muslims and they are frankly apologetic trying to justify the practices of Islam. At the opposite end we have books by those who have been its opponents or victims and are thus frankly critical in tone. Thirdly there are books by scholars of religion and Islam specialists. We would normally expect this third category of books to be objective. Unfortunately this is not the case. Many scholars become apologists for the religions they study. Also unlike other academics they are not interested in determining the accuracy of claims made in religious texts they study but confine themselves largely to describing those claims and practices based on them. There are, of course, a few scholars who are truly objective but this is altogether rather rare for Islam, and indeed for other religions as well.
The five books(24) on Islam considered here provide a sampling of these different approaches. The book by Muhammad Qutb is frankly apologetic. It was originally published in Arabic in Cairo and this translation has been published by the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs of Kuwait in order to "dispel the doubts cast against Islam by its enemies". It is thus useful in finding out what the official defence of the religion is. The books by Ghosh and Burns, who are not Muslims, provide an undisguised critique of Islam, but for the most part they tend to be as objective as possible. The books by Espisoto and Peters may be taken as representative of scholarly works, the former sympathetic to Islam and latter more objective.
(b) Umma, Dhimmi and Kaffir
In this article we do not seek to present an analysis of Islam as a whole, but to concentrate on a particular aspect, viz. the treatment of the Infidel in Islam. Islam divides mankind into three categories - the Muslims (umma), the people of the Book (ahl al-Kitab) and the unbelievers (kafir). The umma consists of all those who have made the profession of faith of Islam (the Sahada). This is the statement that "there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet". They come under the jurisdiction of Islamic law, and retreat from this is impossible, for in Islam apostasy is a capital offence. The people of the Book are Jews and Christians, who according to Islam, also received the revelation from God, but in an imperfect form and in any case they soon departed from its correct interpretation. Even though the Koranic revelation supercedes that of the "people of the Book" they are tolerated in Islamic countries and worship of their religions allowed (except in Arabia proper where the Muhammad decreed that only the worship of Islam be permitted).
Studies of Islam by Christians and Jews lack in objectivity as they cannot criticise the dogmas of Islam without exposing themselves also to the same charges as their beliefs are not too different. They also seem to revel in the special position accorded to them in Islam (though subject to a financial penalty) and Muslim rulers had usually employed them in high positions in the administration of conquered peoples. Christian and Jewish writers on Islam have generally ignored the position of the Kafir in Islam. Quite apart from the affinity they share with Islam their own attitude to "pagans" has been hardly different especially in the medieval period.
The historic conflict of Christian with Muslims best typified by the Crusades has been long forgotten. Recently the Pope has made overtures to Muslims and even praised them for the regularity with which they pray to God.
It must be remembered that humanists also belong to the category of Kafirs. This is because they do not believe in a revealed text, which is the defining characteristic of the people of the Book. There is no evidence that Muhammad encountered any atheists. Most of his fury was directed against "idolaters" by which he meant those who worshipped traditional divinities and goddesses. There is a category of people described in the Koran as "hypocrites" often taken to be the worst of the unbelievers. These would include atheists, humanists and freethinkers. As far as their ultimate fate is concerned there is very little difference between the kaffir and the hypocrite.
Muhammad initially hoped that the Jews would convert to Islam and only when they did not did he undertake his miliary actions against them either killing them or expelling them from Arabia.
Three of the books considered in this article deal exclusively with the topic of the kafir in Islam, the other two contain passing references.
Almost every page of the Koran is replete with imprecations against the Kafir and vivid descriptions are given of the terrible fate that awaits him. The post-death destination of a person begins as soon as he is buried (we shall assume a male even though a female is treated similarly). Two Angels (Monker and Nakir) interrogate him in the grave as to his beliefs. If he is an unbeliever he is beaten mercilessly then and there. His terrible cries are heard in all directions, but not upwards so that people on the ground do not hear them (how convenient!) How a cremated body is treated is not specifically detailed, but the Angels can resurrect it even from the minutest particle to administer the beating. Muhammad got this idea from Judaism where the newly buried is subjected to the
Hakkeber or "beating of the sepulchre".
But this is nothing compared to the fate that awaits the Infidel in the Islamic Hell. The torments in this hell, so vividly described in the Koran, are no different from those in the Jewish hell in which Jesus also believed. This notion of an eternal Hell, common to the three religions, is most destructive to the psychological well-being of people, especially children on whom this absurd notion is inculcated quite early by religionists. It is also one of the strongest fears binding the follower to the religion, often for life, however contrary it may be to common sense.
(c) War and Jihad in Islam
But the Hell of Islam, like its Paradise, only exists in the tortured minds of its believers. As against the fantasy the reality of what Muhammad and his successors have done to non-Moslems is what is of consequence in history.
That Muhammad felt justified in the use of force in the expansion of Islam cannot be doubted. There is the statement in the Koran which is often quoted by apologists: "There is no compulsion in religion" (Sura 2.256). The context does not explain what is meant by this statement and it does not recur again in the Koran or the Hadith. It comes from one of the early Suras, given in Mecca or just after the flight to Yathrib. At that time the Muslims were persecuted by the Meccan elite and an appeal for tolerance may appear reasonable. The situation changed when Muhammad triumphed in Medina, and finally conquered Mecca itself. Then the urge is to fight the non-believer becomes paramount, e.g. Sura 9 Verse 29:
9.29: Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.
9.73: O Prophet! strive hard [make war] against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding to them; and their abode is hell, and evil is the destination.
Qutb says of this that this refers to "non-Muslims who wage war against Islam", but this is a fanciful reading and refuted by what happened in the early history of Islamic expansion. In fact Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, is quite explicit on this. He is reported as saying in the Hadith: "I have been ordered to fight the people until they profess that there is no god but God and that Mohammad is the messenger of God" (Peters, p. 127). Once again the apologetic defence that "people" here means the pagan Arabs attacking the Muslims is without foundation. By Abu Bakr's time Islam was no longer on the defensive and the pagan Arabs had all converted either voluntarily or by fear.
The only exception to this was for Jews and Christians (called the dhimmis) who have to pay a special tax (the Jizya) "with willing submission and feel themselves subdued". This qualification is important for even in Arabia during Muhammad's rule the fate of the defeated dhimmis was inevitably death, enslavement or exile. A notorious incident was how Muhammad dealt with the Jewish tribe of Banu
Qurayza where all the 700 men of the defeated tribe were slaughtered in one day in 627 CE and the women and children enslaved with the wife of the Chief recruited into Muhammad's harem. A similar slaughter took place two years later after the Jews lost the Battle of Khaybar.
The institution of the Jihad, or Holy War, underpinned the military basis of the expansion of Islam. There is no discussion of Jihad in Qutb's book but the subject is well treated by Rudolph Peters. There is a modern apologia, first used by the Sufis, that Jihad refers to the internal struggle against evil. As Peters shows this is not what it meant in classical Islam. He says: "In the books on Islamic law, the word [Jihad] means armed struggle against the unbelievers, which is also a common meaning in the Koran". This usage greatly exceeds its meaning as an internal striving, and is also the way in which the word is used in the modern context as when various Islamic groups declare Jihad against Western interests or Israel.
Another defence of Jihad interpreted as literal war, particularly advanced by modernists, is that it refers to "justified war". The notion of bellum justum is common to Judaism and Christianity as well. The attack on Iraq in 1998 is a good example of this as interpreted by the church-going Clinton and the mass-attending Blair. But this notion was already been well recognised in pre-Islamic Arabia. Islam's innovation is to introduce the notion of offensive war for Islam. The modernists quote such statements as "Fight them until there is no persecution and the religion is God's entirely" (Koran 8:39). But the second part of this statement is used by fundamentalists to justify offensive war in the cause of Islam.
The expansion of Islam out of Arabia took place during the early Caliphates mainly through Jihad. The initial thrust was Westward and the first important country in this direction was Egypt which at that time was largely Christian. Alexandria fell in 643. The conquered population was so large that the early solution of extermination was clearly impossible. The conversion of Egypt is well described by Robert Burns.
The Jizya was set at a level that it was impossible for the Christians to pay, and in addition the maintenance of churches was not allowed despite the theoretical freedom to practice their religion as an approved one in the Koran. In addition outright persecution was also practiced. It did not take long for Egypt to convert to Islam (except for the Copt minority).
The Islamic expansion westward from Egypt was temporarily stopped by the Berbers, but their resistance was overcome and Islam crossed over to the Iberian peninsula in 711 when Islam again encountered a Christianized population. It did not take long for the Moslems to conquer the country Toledo falling the following year. But the conquest of the province proceeded swiftly and it became the seat of one of later Islamic dynasties. The Westward advance of Islam was only stopped near Poitiers in France in 732, and a few years later the Muslims were pushed south of the Pyrenees.
Islam also advanced into Christendom through the Balkans. This was spearheaded by the Ottomans who had embraced Islam without much resistance. This advance too was stopped at the gates of Vienna, but it has left a legacy which is not without its modern consequences.
(d) Expansion into Asia
But it is in the Eastward expansion of Islam that the principles of Jihad were put into full operation. Here there were no "people of the Book" for whom some dispensation had been given in the Koran. The key link here was the conquest of Iran in 643, a non-Arabic people. The last Persian emperor was killed in 651, but the conversion of Iran was to have grave consequences for Islam later on as it produced the first schism in Islam.
But the expansion East of Iran through Afghanistan, Kabul falling in 664, south-east into India and north-east into Central Asia and China was clearly into Kaffir territory. If some restraint was shown in the Westward expansion into Christian territory now the gloves were well and truly off. The full rigour of what the Koran has to say on Jihad and the Infidel was about to unroll in history.
The infidels in the new territories were mainly Buddhists and Hindus. The Buddhists with their pacifist philosophy offered no resistance and were the first to go. The destruction of the monasteries, the killing of the monks and the rape of nuns is well-known even though there is still no book documenting this episode in all its horror. In particular the destruction of the Buddhist universities of Taxila and Nalanda are particularly heinous crimes. The burning of the Library of Nalanda ranks with the destruction of the Library of Alexandria as the two most notorious acts of vandalism in the course of Islamic expansion.
Ghosh's book gives many examples how these Islamic principles were carried out in succeeding centuries in India against the Hindus. Hinduism had a military tradition, cf. Khrishna's exhortation to Arjuna to fight given in the Bhagavat
Gita. But Hindu warfare lacked the fanaticism of the Muslim and theirs was not to convert subject populations. Indeed Hinduism as an ethnic religion meant that people could not come within its confines except by birth. The Hindus were able to offer some resistance but not to the extent of preventing the establishment of Muslim rule over large parts of India.
The fate of Rajasthan was typical. Ghosh writes: "The Rajputs houses of worship were destroyed, their women raped and carried away, their children taken away as bonded labour, and all non-combatants murdered. The Rajputs soon came to know the ways of the Moslems. If it appeared that the battle could not be won, then they themselves killed their women and children, Masada style, and then went to fight the Moslems until death. In many cases the Rajput women took their own lives by taking poison and then jumping into a deep fiery pit (so that their bodies could not be desecrated)".
As with other areas under Islamic conquest sex was used not only to satisfy the carnal appetites of the conquerors but also as some sort of population policy. Ghosh writes: "The Arabs not only imposed their ruthless rule and totalitarian creed on the countries they conquered; they also populated these countries with a prolific progeny which they procreated on native women. Every Arab worth his race 'married' scores, sometimes hundreds of these helpless women after their menfolk had all been killed. Divorce of a wedded wife had been made very easy by the 'law' of Islam. A man could go on marrying and divorcing at the rate of several women during the span of a single day and night. What was more convenient, there was no restriction on the number of concubines a man could keep. The Arab conquerors used these male privileges in full measure." Ghosh sees this as the main cause why the population of territories conquered rapidly became within decades Moslem.
The most cruel treatment was reserved to the religious leaders of the Hindus who refused to convert. In 1645 the Sikh guru Tegh
Bahadur was tortured for his resistance to the forcible conversion of the Hindus in Kashmir. His followers were killed before him and when this did not make him yield he was finally beheaded..
(e) A Final Word
Some would argue that modern Islam is quite changed from its historical record. This is a view propagated by the more sanitised views of Islam that appear in "scholarly" accounts. The book by John Espisoto, which we have taken as typical of modern scholarly works, is typical of this approach. Here Islam is considered purely internally in terms of what is meant to its adherents and even here only the "positive" sayings in the Koran are considered. Sas the author says the objective of the book is "to enable readers to understand the faith and practice of Muslims".
The first chapter "Muhammad and the Quran" gives a sanitized account of Muhammad as a holy man. There is no mention of his private life, his wives, his military campaigns, his robbery of caravans, etc. all of which are essential to a true evaluation of the Prophet. All these negative aspects are indirectly attributed to the practice of the times, ignoring the fact as God's chosen apostle he should be able to rise above the infirmities of his age.
Thus Espisoto's chapter on "The Muslim Community in History" does not deal with how this community impacted on the non-Muslim world, but on the internal history within the Muslim umma. A great deal of attention is paid to the genesis of the Sunni-Shia split, and the rivalries between the various caliphates. If any attention is paid to external groups it is only to the Christian-Muslim relationship. As we have seen this was not the true of the Islamic interaction with the kaffir. There is a great deal of apologia for the Crusades, for in this respect Christianity was no better than Islam.
Espisoto's chapters on modern interpretations of contemporary Islam focus on those reform movements during the phase of the decline of Islam when apologists realised that the high-handed reliance on the sword will not fit a period when the balance of power has effectively shifted away from Islam. But what it ignores is that the old classical notions have not be been supplanted and continue to lie dormant.
Today with the economic power of Islam restored by the oil wealth the situation is again changing. What is called the revival of fundamentalism is nothing more than an attempt to revert to the practices of classical Islam. The only difference is that while some of the more extreme Muslims are reviving the classical conflict with Judaism and Christianity others are seeking to forge closer relations with these "religions of the Book".
An indication of the former tendency is the increased resort to Sharia law in many Muslim countries. The latest to adopt the Sharia system is Pakistan (although the legislation has still to pass the second chamber). When one considers that Pakistan is the first Muslim country to produce the nuclear bomb the consequences are somber for the rest of the world, especially for the kaffir nations.
The two subjects considered in this booklet are fundamental for humanists. Islam helps to focus these issues better than most other religions. This is what gives special importance for a study of this subject in relation to Islam. But they are implicit in all theistic religion. The revival in theistic religion in modern times, even presenting it as something of an improvement, is thus a timely moment to remind ourselves what these principles have led to at a time when they were in full force.
Today slavery is outlawed by international conventions like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But these covenants still lack the full force of international law. They are not ratified in many countries, and now there is a demand for their amendment. Of course there are many shortcoming in the present declaration. But the demand for the revision of the Declaration is not to strengthen it but to weake3n it. While open slavery may not exist except in isolated pockets other forms of servitude have arisen to replace it.
The question whether the most common method of payment for labour, viz. the wage system amounts to a system of slavery is a moot point. Karl Marx called it wage slavery to indicate that the worker has only a nominal choice. Fortunately labour institutions like trade unions have sprung up to increase the bargaining power of labour.
On the question of censorship we cannot say that the problem has been resolved even to the extent that the slavery problem has been resolved. An insidious form of censorship introduced by the religiously inclined is to oppose the criticism on the ground that it would lead to "vilification". It is true that this is argued mostly in connection with ethnic groups. Racial vilification is an increasingly common feature as many countries in the world are becoming multi-ethnic and multi-racial. Whatever the merits of such a prohibition may be it should not be allowed to become a smoke-screen for the legitimate critique of religion.
There has not been a special demand to outlaw "vilification" of religion other than the blasphemy laws which adorn the statute books of many countries. These laws have been introduced at the instigation of religious groups and do not generally extend to other religions than the dominant religion. In the U.K. there has been a demand that the laws originally introduced to defend the Christian religion be extended to cover Islam as well. This arguments supportive of blasphemy laws have little validity. Their complete repeal has been demanded by many humanists.
We can hope that a study of Islam on the subjects of slavery and its treatment of non-believers will be of use and relevance to the current debate. One can only hope that scholars will devote more attention to this subject than has been the case so far.
1. Humanism is the philosophy that asserts the primacy of the human being over a supernatural entity like God, that asserts that reason should be the foundation of all beliefs, and which affirms that ethical precepts need not be grounded on religious dogmas. Humanist groups have agitated for the separation of church and state, for the defence of human rights, for the freedom of belief and opinion, for reproductive rights for women, for voluntary euthanasia, and many similar goals.
2. Paul rejected the notion that the Jewish Law should be followed by Christians but he did not reject the Old Testament as part of the divine revelation. Since Pauline Christianity is now the basis of most modern Christian denominations one can argue that slavery has ceased to be fundamental to it. However Negro slavery in the United States had been justified on Biblical grounds. It is, of course, Christian powers who took a leading part in suppressing Islamic slavery in the nineteenth century.
3. The Christian texts too have been presented as the word of God but this claim is now not as vigorously advocated as it has been in the past. Their human authorship is now freely admitted. But this has not happened with respect to the Koran. Here it is claimed that Muhamad was only a mouthpiece for a message that came from high.
4. The Koran was not actually written by Muhammad who is said to have recited its various sections (called Suras) at various times in his prophetic career. These were compiled by his successor Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, into a book. In course of time this too got corrupted with several versions circulating in various parts of the Islamic empire. A later Caliph issued an authoritative version burning all other copies.
5. Slaves are invariably referred to in the Koran as "possessions of the right hand". That this refers to slave is universally agreed by all interpreters of the Koran.
6. The Hadith consists of anecdotes of the sayings and doings of Muhammad (called matn) and were compiled several centuries after Muhammad's death. Each matn is authenticated by its pedigree (called its isnard ) going back to the person who originally heard or saw the event described. The most authentic of the hadiths are those ascribed to al-Bukhari and Muslim, both of whom lived in the ninth century CE.
7. This work will not deal with slavery in the Jewish and the Christian traditions. It is hoped to rectify this in a later publication.
8. The translation of the Koran maintained in the Electronic
Center of the University of Virginia Library has been used throughout. This is by no means the best translation. Indeed it may be difficult to find a translation that could be described as the most accurate. However this version has the advantage that it is the most accessible and could be consulted on the Internet.
9. It must be remembered that the Muslim fast is from dawn to dusk. Thus if the breakfast is taken before dawn breaks and the dinner after dusk has set in the person fasting misses only one meal!
10. A common method of execution was beheading, so "freeing a neck" might refer to not executing some one.
11. Muslim jurists are divided over the interpretation of this verse. Some regard it as requiring the whole face and head to be covered (except for the eyes) hence the chador (Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.) This may be the reasonable interpretation as it is said that the head covering must come all the way to the bosom. Others consider that only the top of the head need be covered (Malaysia, Pakistan, etc.) Some women completely disregard this verse, but then they may not be "believing" women!
12. There are other verses (e.g. Sura 2, verse 177) where it is stated that a righteous person will give away wealth "for (the emancipation of) the captives". As usual this is not an obligatory requirement but one that the pious may do.
13. This Sura was given to justify Muhammad's desire to wed Zainab the wife of this freed slave Zaid whom Muhammad had adopted as a son. On a visit to Zaid Muhammad had seen Zainab in a semi-dressed state and had coveted her. Zaid hearing this divorced her, but it was still contrary to Arab custom. Hence the need for a special Sura to justify it.
Zaid has the distinction of being the only one of Muhammad's followers to be named individually in the Koran.
14. There are several Suras which are specific to particular individuals, usually to the Prophet himself.
15. This was validated by Allah in a convenient revelation (Sura 8, The Accessions): " It is not fit for a prophet that he should take captives unless he has fought and triumphed in the land" (Verse 67). Some translate the latter part of this as "made slaughter in the land".
16. He also interprets Sura 24.32 to mean that marriage was obligatory for a slave. As we have seen this Sura does not entail such an obligation.
17. After the death of his first wife Khadija Muhammad married in turn Sauda, Ayesha, Hafsa, Habiba, Salma, Safia, Moyumuna, Zainab
Khuzaimah and Juwairya. At his death he left ten widows, none of whom were permitted to marry again by a special revelation he had laid down..
18. Muhammad had no quarters of his own and spent each night in one of the houses of his consorts. One day when it was Hafsa's "turn" he was discovered with Mary , to make matters worse, in Hafsa's own quarters. This violated Muhammad's own rule to treat each wife equally and led to some dissension amongst his household. Muhammad's favourite wife was Ayesha whom he married when she was nine and he was in his fifties.
19. Reproach of Islam, p. 96-7.
20. We may cite such well-known and prolific writers on Islam like Montgomery Wyatt or the writers mentioned later in footnote .
21. (SCM Press, 1989). All references are to pp. 84-85 of this book which deals with this subject. The author is described as a "Dominican with long experience of Islam in many parts of the world".
22. While Jomier is technically correct here there was a way out for a slave-owner which Jomier does not mention. This was simply to deny paternity! Since under Islam the master's word alone counts, not that of the slave woman, he can evade the obligation of freeing the slave woman on whom he fathered the child.
23. This book was first published in Cairo in Arabic in 1964 and an English translation has been Dept of Islamic Affairs of the Government of Kuwait in January 1976. The book has been specifically written to "dispel the doubts cast against Islam by its enemies.
24. A. Ghosh. The Koran and the Kaffir: Islam and the Infidel. Houston, Texas: A.Ghosh, 1983; Robert E. Burns.
The Wrath of Allah.Houston, Texas: A.Ghosh, 1994; Mohammad Qutb. Islam the Misunderstood Religion.Kuwait: Ministry of Islamic Affairs, n.d.; John L. Esposito. Islam: the Straight Path. N.Y: Oxford
University Press, 1991; Rudolph Peters. Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam.Princeton: Markus Wiener, 1996