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Zakah: Connecting Humanity


 

Zakah, purges society of destructive afflictions and causes human and social virtues to grow ..

By: Dr. Ebrahim M. A. El-Khouly
IslamiCity* –

Zakah (Community Wealth Tax). The Muslim contribution to life is open, without limits: he gives of his effort, his mind, his knowledge, his status and his money. The Prophet (peace be on him) said, “Every Muslim must perform a charity.” They asked, “Messenger of God, what if a person cannot find anything to give?” He answered, “He should work with his hands to benefit himself and give in charity.” “And what if he could not find that?” they asked again. “He should assist an aggrieved person in need.” “And what if he could not do that?” “Then he should do good and refrain from evil – that would be his charity.” (related by al-Bukhari) 

Zakah regulates the wealth contribution in its minimum, making it a religious obligation from which the individual cannot free himself or take concessions, since it is the right of society to be devoted to the benefit of the needy and disabled individuals and classes. 

In its proper sense, zakah is a practical manifestation of the brotherhood between the faithful and establishes mutual solidarity between them by the firm bond it creates between rich and poor, in a way that strengthens the individualÕs sense of relation to the community and the communityÕs awareness of the value of the individual, and that it is strengthened by his strength and weakened by his weakness. 

An analysis of zakah in the Islamic system reveals its various functions in a Muslim society: 

(a) a religious function: In this respect zakah is a manifestation of the faith that affirms that God is the sole owner of everything in the universe, and what men hold is a trust in their hand over which God made them trustees to discharge it as He has laid down: “Believe in Allah and His Messenger and spend of that over which He made you trustees” (Quran 57:7). It is also an expression of gratitude towards the Bestower Who said: “If you give thanks, I will give you more.” (Quran 14:7) In this respect zakah is an act of devotion which, like prayer, brings the believer nearer to his Lord, and being one of the pillars of religion, avoidance of payment is a manifestation of shirk (serving other gods besides God). 

(b) an economic function: Its economic function is revealed in many ways: firstly, zakah gives a strong incentive for investing wealth for the benefit of society and makes us refrain from hoarding it. When the amount reaches the taxable minimum and has been possessed for a whole year, zakah falls due on it whether it has been invested or not. Those who do not invest their wealth expose it to continuous reduction of at least 2.5% annually. Gradually it will be removed from their possession to be used for the benefit of society.

Apart from this, zakah is a means of compulsory redistribution of wealth in a way that reduces differences between classes and groups, thus preventing the many social disorders from which Communist and Western societies alike suffer, no less than contemporary Muslim societies that have neglected zakah. Moreover, zakah is a means of establishing justice indirectly. It rectifies whatever wrongs, injustices or means of exploitation in trading and industrial relations that have arisen. This may explain the fact that it is called a “right” rather than “charity”, or an act of beneficence. Zakah also facilitates the proper direction of purchasing power in society. It transfers part of the power of consumption, which may be used extravagantly to fulfill a proper function in the lives of those who need it. 

(c) a social function: Zakah makes a fair contribution to social stability. By purging the soul of the rich of selfishness and the soul of the poor of envy and resentment against society, it stops up the channels leading to class hatred and makes it possible for the springs of brotherhood and solidarity to gush forth. Such stability is not merely based on the personal feelings of the rich: it stands on a firmly established right, which, if the rich denied it, would be exacted by force if necessary.

Zakah is not used merely to meet the present needs of the poor and needy, but serves other functions that deeply affect social life. As the Quran laid down, it solves the following problems: 

(i) The problem of freedom, by assisting slaves seeking their freedom to attain it (slavery was an established system in the world at the time the Quran was revealed). 

(ii) The problem of indebtedness which threatens an individual with bankruptcy, hardship, stress, humiliation or loss of good name, whether caused by the necessities of life or fluctuation in the market resulting in hardship to a good producer or an honest merchant. The Quran allots a portion of the zakah fund to solving such problems of indebtedness – a better solution than any contemporary system of insurance, as it is more positive and more in line with true cooperation and social solidarity. 

(iii) The problem of defense and security of Muslim land against external threat and such matters as may be related to struggle in the cause of God. 

(iv) The need of those who are away from their home seeking knowledge or a lawful livelihood and have not attained a settled life yet – the Quran devotes a portion of the zakah fund to meeting their need. 

All this is contained in the Quranic verse that specifies the items upon which zakah should be expended, and recipients of the fund: “The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those employed in collecting them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free the slaves and the debtors, and for the cause of Allah, and (for) the wayfarer, a duty enjoined by Allah; Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” (Quran 9:60) 

In its lexical definition zakah means “purity” and “growth”, in both of which we can perceive its religious connotations: it purges society of destructive afflictions and causes human and social virtues to grow, leading to sound social relations, peace and stability. 

In this light we can understand the position taken by Abu Bakr, the first Khalifa (may God be pleased with him) in the face of the first attempt to suspend payment of zakah by those who refused to pay it. He used the Muslim army to uphold this social right and compelled the recalcitrant faction to pay the community wealth tax, asserting a principle in which he was following the Prophet, “I swear by God, if they refuse to pay to me even a small piece of robe which they used to pay to the Messenger of God, I would fight them for it.” (related by al-Bukhari).

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2007 in Articles

 

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Sharing the Joy of Giving


 

What a great quality to instill in our children: the joy of giving. If we could share with our own children the joy that giving can bring, they can feel for themselves the spirit of sharing and distributing the blessings that Allah has bestowed on them.

By: Salma Sanwari
Al Jumah* – May 2007

“My children are so unappreciative! They have so much and yet all they ever do is want and want. They have the latest games and toys and they come home from school asking for more. They see things in the store and ask for it. They see things that others have and ask for it. They are so ungrateful! Help!” 

Does that sound familiar? For many moms, this is all too common. We hear our children tell us time and again that they want what their friends have and that ultimately they are not satisfied with what they already have. And we are stumped with how to teach them to be happy and content with what they have. How do we teach them to be pleased with what Allah has already blessed them with? How can we teach them to be satisfied with enough when it is never enough? 

It is human to want more and to want what we do not have.

And once we have acquired what we want, we move on to the next thing. This begins at a young age and progresses as we mature. And it seems never to stop. One way to combat this would be to realize 

that Allah has blessed us with whatever He has given us and we have to use His blessings in the best way possible. In other words, there are some people whom Allah has blessed with financial security. They have enough money for home and provisions and their children have what they need and most of what they want. In these situations, they see that their children are still asking for more and this is where they find that their children are becoming Ôgreedy’. These parents are worried that their children do not value what they have and will grow up to under-appreciate the true blessings that Allah has bestowed on them.’ 

SAYING ÔTHANK YOU’ SAYS SO MUCH 

One of the most elementary steps in gratitude is to simply say, “Thank you.” 

And this applies to us, as well. When our children see us saying “Thank you” to one another, to our own parents and friends and especially to our spouses, they will mimic that behavior. When we say “Thank you,” we are not just using good manners, we are showing gratitude to someone else and acknowledging that someone else did us a favor. In this regard, when we say “Thank you,” we realize that without that person, we could not have had that thing that this person gave to us. Saying “Thank you” is humbling. 

Therefore, when we say “Thank you,” we should do so aloud so that our children can hear us and copy us and learn from us. For example, there is no embarrassment in thanking our husbands for taking the family out to dinner. 

Regardless of who earns the money, who signs the check, we should be thanking one another often. If the family goes out to dinner, then mom or dad can thank one another for dinner and the children will follow suit. It does not matter who paid and who drove.

Also, we can say “Thank you,” for showing appreciation instead of gratitude, like when our children do something that we ask for. We need to be sure to reward good behavior with “Thank you’s.” When our children feel the joy that these two little words can spread, they might be more willing to spread joy themselves. When we appreciate a deed or an action or even a behavior, we can say “Thank you” as the simplest acknowledgement of that action. 

Furthermore, we have to remember that good habits are created, not born. Constancy and redundancy are key to good manners. We have to be consistent with our good manners if we want our children to remember them, as well. 

GRATITUDE AND APPRECIATION FOR ALLAH ABOVE ALL 

Above all, we have to remind ourselves and our children that we owe our gratitude to Allah for what He has blessed us with. We should explain to our children in a non-threatening way that what we have is from Allah and we should always thank Him for it. 

Depending on the age of our child, we do not want to instill an unnecessary fear in our child that our home and food and safety can be taken away at any time; however, as adults, we should bear this in mind and be constantly grateful for what we have. We should be saying “Alhumdulillah” regularly and our children should learn this. As adults, sometimes we too forget what we have and get caught up in our daily routines and forget to say Ôthanks’. It is no wonder the children are always wanting something new; usually, we as adults are always striving and saving up for some new gizmo or gadget anyway.

TEACHING HOW TO SHARE

When we do have our moments of sanity and good grace and come to appreciate what we have, some of us choose to share the wealth and spread the joy. Many people have this wonderful quality of sharing and giving. 

They feel the need to give to others and that makes them feel better than even receiving something. Most of us have heard the saying that “It’s better to give than receive.” For some, it really is. In fact, the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, encouraged us to give presents, for that promotes brotherhood and makes us closer to one another. Giving a gift to someone makes him or her feel good. 

And giving a gift for no reason at all makes one feel much better. 

Women in particular are “guilty” of this very kind attribute. In fact, just the other day, a friend of mine gave a group of friends a small but very beautiful gift. She told us that she saw them on sale and thought, “Who can I buy these for? They are just too cute!” So, she thought of her halaqah group and bought ten! She admitted that they were not expensive, but the point remains that the act of giving gave her such joy, and the joy that it gave us was another joy for her, as well. And those of us who share that joy of giving know that emotion and we nod our heads and think of that warm feeling that we get when we give someone a gift (however inexpensive) and they absolutely love it. Don’t we want our children to feel that happiness and elation? Don’t we want to teach them the joys that we can experience from doing something for someone else instead of wondering what others can do for us all the time? 

SHARE BY GIVING

What a great quality to instill in our children: the joy of giving. If we could share with our own children the joy that giving can bring, they can feel for themselves the spirit of sharing and distributing the blessings that Allah has bestowed on them. Following are some suggestions on what we can do to help our children experience this incredible feeling of joy that comes from doing something nice or kind or compassionate for someone else:

Pick Out Gifts

Whether it is for Eid or any other happy event, try to let your children come with you to the toy store and let them pick out the gift for the child for whom you are buying the gift. I know, taking a child to a toy store is tantamount to disaster, but after a few attempts, they will get the point that they are not buying for themselves. The resolve that we are testing, actually, is not theirs but ours. Stick it out and make sure not to get angry or weak. I tried this myself and it worked wonderfully the first time around. My children were both under five when I did this, and I warned them the entire drive to the store that we were not buying Eid gifts for them, rather, for underprivileged children. I took them to the clearance section from which they were allowed to choose toys. I rarely denied them their choices, and just as I suspected, their joy came from just being in the store and imagining the child that would get the toy that they chose. After a few minutes, it did not matter to them that they were not buying for themselves; they were still going through the same actions as if they were. In fact, they were even going home with the toys because we took them home and they helped wrap them. 

Also, when letting our children choose gifts, we should encourage them to choose items that they would love for themselves-these things would make the best gifts for their friends. This will explain to them the principle of brotherly love and wanting for your brother what you want for yourself and even putting your brother before yourself. Remind them that Allah rewards us for our good deeds and inshaAllah we will be rewarded for these acts of altruism.

Give for Goodwill

Periodically, we have to downsize our possessions because most of us accumulate new things often and do not eliminate older things often enough. We buy clothes regularly and keep adding to the closet rod, we buy shoes and add them to the pile, we buy books or movies or whatever other knick-knacks that we seem to collect, but we do not replace, we just accrue. And how many of us have more children’s toys than we can contain in our own homes? 

A good habit would be to replace, if not one for one, at least maybe every month or three or even every six months, some of the clothing or toys that seem to have accumulated and donate them to a charity or even to a friend or neighbor that might not need them but might just want them.

However, we have to get the children involved when we do this. Pick an amount or several items that we and the children would be willing to donate and then we can work with the children to select the items. They pick out older items that they are willing to let go of. They place them in a bag and the bag should go immediately into the trunk of the car or at least out of reach (so no sticky fingers can go snooping into the bag later to retrieve items once someone’s mind has changed). 

Note that the same can be done with money. If our children have their own money (Eid money, allowance, etc), they can donate a portion of it to whomever they would like. They may hesitate in the beginning, and we should never force them, but as they begin to give, they will develop a Ôtaste’ for it. 

Sometimes, at some department and grocery stores, they have signs that you can buy for as little as a $1 (for autism, cancer, etc) and you can write your name on it and they hang it up around the store for the month, accumulating as many of the signs as they can. If our children can donate towards something like this, they will not only feel the spirit of giving, but they will see it because their names will be showcased along with hundreds of others and they will feel a certain pride. This is okay since they are young; later we can teach them that there is really no room for pride in charity.

Again, as we give to any charity of choice, we can explain to our children that other children will be so happy to be able to play with the toys that have been so generously donated. Play up the generosity of your children and see their hearts swell. If they do this often enough, this generosity will follow them into adulthood and they may grow into very charitable adults.

Make Things for Others

Sometimes the greatest joy comes from giving a gift that costs nothing at all. A simple note written with care or a loaf of banana bread baked with love can speak volumes. We can show our children the hundreds of ways that they can make things for others and do things for others to cheer them up or just make them smile.

If we have a sick friend, we can work with our children to think up ways to cheer this friend up. Suggest making a card or drawing a picture. If we know of someone who just moved into the area, we can invite them over for a play-date. We simply have to ask our children, what they would want if they were that other person. “What do you think Aisha would like to do?” you can ask your daughter. 

Maybe next time we have to give a gift, we can give a Ôcoupon’ book. Many of us have seen this idea before: adults use this idea frequently. A new mom might receive a coupon for free babysitting from her friends; similarly, our children could make a coupon book for a friend that contains coupons for a play-date; a movie night; lunch or dinner over at each other’s house; a sleepover; whatever is pre-approved by you, the parent. The point is that not all gifts need to cost anything. They just require some thought and attention to detail.

Gifts such as the coupon book are examples of ways that we can show our children how to give to someone and experience the joy of giving because it is one of those gifts that the children can actually share with their friends. It is a good introduction to the joy of giving. 

There are many other ways that we can teach our children about the joys of giving and sharing. And as we begin to do so together, perhaps we can develop some new ways that work for our own families. We can work together to think up new ways to share with others and give to others. However, the sooner we begin to introduce our children to the joys of giving, the sooner they will begin to experience the wonder of sharing. Only then will they be able to appreciate what they themselves have. Sometimes, to appreciate what we have, we do not need to lose it but rather share it. Rather than depriving ourselves and sacrificing to learn gratitude, we can appreciate what we have by sharing it with others.

Sister Salma Sanwari is a contributing writer for Al Jumuah magazine and has written on topics including parenting in the West and many socio-cultural matters involving the Muslim American Community.

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2007 in Articles

 

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Islamic approach against slavery

 

1


 

Islam never approved of slavery in principle as it strove hard with all the different means at its disposal, to eliminate slavery once and for all ..

By: Muhammad Qutb
IslamiCity* –

Transatlantic Slave Trade

Many people question Islam’s nature due to their perceived ideas and knowledge about the religion’s outlook on the subject of slavery. Many ask, if Islam were suited to every period of human history, it would not, as it did, approve of slavery, which proves conclusively that Islam was but meant for a limited period of history only. It has fulfilled its mission and now stands outmoded and obsolete, for it was not designed to be a religion for all times and climes. 

Many sincere Muslims are haunted by similar doubts. Why did Islam permit slavery? This religion is no doubt revealed by God; there can be no doubt about that, and that it was revealed for the good of the whole of mankind for all times to come, but how is it that it allowed slavery? How did the religion based on the notion of perfect equality among men, stressing the common origin of them all and then successfully translating its concept of equality it in its social life recognize slavery as a part of its social system and as such made laws for it? Does God intend that human beings should forever remain divided as masters and slaves? Does He want that the human race should continue to have a group of people among them that is sold and bought as chattel as was the case with the slaves, when He Himself said of human beings: “And surely we have dignified the children of Adam,” and if God did not intend or like that, why did He not then explicitly forbid it in His Book and abolish it outright as He did for instance, abolish drinking, gambling, and usury, etc., the practices which He abhorred? In short, Muslims know that Islam is a true religion but like Abraham, they are perplexed and seem to be in a state of mind described in the Quranic verse:

“And when Abraham said, My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead, He said: What! And do you not believe? He said: Yes, but that my heart may be at ease.” – The Holy Quran (2:260)

When a modern man looks at the problem of slavery with his twentieth century background and in the light of the hideous crimes perpetrated during the slave trade and the abominably barbarous treatment that was meted out to slaves (especially in the Roman Empire) he discovers it as a most shocking and horrid crime. He is at a loss and finds it extremely difficult to understand as to how such a thing could be approved of by a religion or a system of life. He wonders: how could Islam allow slavery when all its other laws and principles point out towards the freedom of man from all types and forms of slavery! And overwhelmed by a sense of shame he desires: would that Islam had set our hearts and minds at ease by banning slavery in clear, explicit terms!

Islam’s advent heralded the restoration of human dignity to slaves. It told the masters as to their slaves: “You are (sprung) the one from the other.”1 The Prophet Muhammad said that: “He who kills his slave, we shall kill him; who mutilates his nose, we shall cut his nose; and who gelds our slave, we shall get him gelded in return.”2 Islam recognized a common descent, abode as well as return for all men, master and slave alike saying: “you are all sons of Adam and Adam was created from dust,”3 and stressed that there was no superiority for a master: whatever his superiority there was, it rested on piety: “There is no superiority for an Arab, nor for a black man over a red one, nor for a red one over a black man save due to piety.”4

Islam came and ordered the masters that they should be fair and good in their dealings with the slaves: “And be good to the parents and to the next of kin and the orphans and the needy and the neighbor of (your kin) and the alien neighbor and the companion in a journey and the wayfarer and those whom your right hand possesses; surely God does not love him who is proud, boastful.”5 It stressed the fact that the true relationship between the master and his slave was not one of slavery and overlordship, nor of subjection or objection but that of kinship and brotherhood. Thus the masters were permitted to marry the slave-girls they had in their possession: “… Let them marry from the believing maids whom your right hands possess. God knoweth best (concerning) your faith. Ye (proceed) one from another; so wed them by permission of their folk, and give unto them their portions in kindness.”6 

Thus the masters were described as brothers to their slaves: “Your slaves are your brothers… so he who has a brother under him should feed him and clothe him as he himself feeds and dresses; do not ask them do thing which are beyond their power and if you do ask them to do such things then help them.”7

With a mark of deference to the feelings of the slaves, the Holy Prophet added: “None of you should say: this is my slave and this is my slave-girl; he should rather say: This is my man and this is my maiden.”8 It was on this authority that Abu Huraira on seeing a man riding a horse and his slave trudging along after him, said to the man: “Get him seated on the horse behind you, for, surely he is your brother, and his soul is similar to yours.”

This was, however, not all that Islam did for the slaves, but before proceeding with our inquiry, we would first like to sum up the great advance that thanks to Islam came about in the position of the slave at this preliminary stage. 

The slave was no longer regarded as just a commodity – a merchandize – but was looked upon as a human being with a soul similar to that of his master, whereas in the past he was regarded as a being, quite different from his master and created to serve as a slave in every way fir to suffer humiliation. It was because of this notion that their consciences never twinged them when murdering, punishing, cauterizing or making their slaves perform loathsome and burdensome jobs. Islam raised them from this state of abject slavery to the exalted status of brotherhood with free men. These achievements of Islam were not mere professions but a fact to which history bears witness. Even the prejudiced writers of Europe too admit that in the early period of Islam the slave was exalted to such a noble state of humanity as never before was witnessed in any other part of the world. They won so dignified a status within the Muslim community as made the freed slaves abhor betraying their erstwhile masters although now they stood in no need or fear of them and were now as free as they. The reason for this lay in the fact that they considered themselves to be members of the family of their previous masters and linked to them with ties akin to those of blood. 

Also the slave now came to be regarded as a human being whose personal safety was guaranteed by law not permitting the commission of any transgression against him through word or act. As to the word, the Prophet forbade the Muslims to talk of their slaves as such and instead commanded them to address them in a manner that should make them think of themselves as members of their family, and blot out from their persons the stigma of slavery. With this in view he said: “Surely God has made you their masters; and if He had willed He would have likewise given you in their possession as slaves.”9 This means that it was the particular conditions and circumstances that had made them slaves, otherwise they were as good as their masters. In this way Islam deflated a little the swollen pride of the masters along with raising the status of slaves so as to connect them all in a purely human relationship. It brought them closer and fostered love among them telling them that love and nothing else should form the basis of all their mutual relationships. In the case of physical harm or injury for both of them a kindred punishment was explicitly laid down. “He who slays his slave we shall put him to death,” is a principle very clear in its vast implications, all of which go to show that a state of perfect equality prevailed between the slave and his master as between one man and another, besides guaranteeing to both of them the right to live as human beings. Thus Islam made it clear that the present situation – slavery – did not preclude them from their rights as human beings. These guarantees not only were quite sufficient to grant a slave his safety and security of life but they were so generous and noble that no other parallel in the whole history of slave laws exists at all either before or after the advent of Islam. In this respect Islam went to such an extent that it forbade the master to even slap his slave, except for purposes of correction (which has its won prescribed limits that may neither be passed by nor overlooked under any circumstances, the punishment given being however, similar to the punishment the master may award his own children on their mischief). This also provided a legal justification for setting the slaves at liberty. And with this we pass on to the next stage – the stage of actual enfranchisement. 

The Holy Prophet used to free a slave who would teach reading and writing to ten Muslims or render any other kindred service to the Muslim community. The Quran enjoined that atonement for some of the sins consisted in freeing of slaves as also the Holy Prophet encouraged it for the reparation of any other sin one might commit. This contributed more than anything to bring liberty to the greatest number of slaves, for, no man could hope to be wholly free from sin as the Holy Prophet said: “All sons of Adam are sinners.” It may be well to point out here one of the atonements prescribed by Islam for sins, as it in particular illustrates the standpoint of Islam with regard to slavery. Islam prescribed that redemption for the killing of a believer by mistake was the freeing of a believing slave and paying blood money to his people: “And whoever kills a believer by mistake, he should free a believing slave, and blood money should be paid to his people.”10 The murdered man killed by mistake, was a human being of whose services his people as well as the community was deprived without any legal justification, for which reason Islam prescribed that a compensation should be made to both parties, his people and the society: his people getting a just blood money and the society another man to serve it in his place, the newly-freed believing slave. Thus the freeing of a slave meant bringing back to life a human being as a compensation for the one who was lost due to his being killed by mistake. As is clear from this, Islam views slavery as death or a state very much similar to it notwithstanding all those securities that it did provide for a slave. That is why it eagerly snatched at every opportunity to resuscitate this wretched class of human beings by restoring them to their liberty. 

Islam never approved of slavery in principle as it strove hard with all the different means at its disposal, to eliminate slavery once and for all. It tolerated its existence for the time being just because it had no other alternative, for it concerned not only Muslims but those people as well who were not under its direct control. They held the Muslims in servitude making them suffer the worst possible forms of humiliation and miseries which drove the Muslims to adopt with respect to these people a course of like-treatment, at least in treating their prisoners of war as slaves though not in their actual transactions with these slaves afterwards. 

Islam could not effect the abolition of slavery so long as the world did not agree to put an end to the only source of slavery – enslavement of prisoners of war. So when that concord was achieved, Islam welcomed it as it formed the unalterable fundamental principle of its polity: liberty for all, equality for all.

Notes:

  1. The Holy Quran (4:25)
  2. Al-Hadith, narrated by both Bukhari & Muslim besides Abu Daud, Tirmidhi and Nisai. 
  3. Al-Hadith. Muslim & Abu Daud.
  4. Al-Hadith. Bukhari.
  5. The Holy Quran (4:36).
  6. The Holy Quran (4:25).
  7. Al-Hadith.
  8. Al-Hadith. Narrated by Abu Huraira.
  9. For reference, please see Ghazali’s Ihya-Uloom-I-Din, chapter on Rights of Slaves.
  10. The Holy Quran (4:92).

This article is an excerpt from “Islam the Misunderstood Religion” by Muhammad Qutb.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2007 in Articles

 

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Islamic approach against slavery

 

1


 

Islam never approved of slavery in principle as it strove hard with all the different means at its disposal, to eliminate slavery once and for all ..

By: Muhammad Qutb
IslamiCity* –

Transatlantic Slave Trade

Many people question Islam’s nature due to their perceived ideas and knowledge about the religion’s outlook on the subject of slavery. Many ask, if Islam were suited to every period of human history, it would not, as it did, approve of slavery, which proves conclusively that Islam was but meant for a limited period of history only. It has fulfilled its mission and now stands outmoded and obsolete, for it was not designed to be a religion for all times and climes. 

Many sincere Muslims are haunted by similar doubts. Why did Islam permit slavery? This religion is no doubt revealed by God; there can be no doubt about that, and that it was revealed for the good of the whole of mankind for all times to come, but how is it that it allowed slavery? How did the religion based on the notion of perfect equality among men, stressing the common origin of them all and then successfully translating its concept of equality it in its social life recognize slavery as a part of its social system and as such made laws for it? Does God intend that human beings should forever remain divided as masters and slaves? Does He want that the human race should continue to have a group of people among them that is sold and bought as chattel as was the case with the slaves, when He Himself said of human beings: “And surely we have dignified the children of Adam,” and if God did not intend or like that, why did He not then explicitly forbid it in His Book and abolish it outright as He did for instance, abolish drinking, gambling, and usury, etc., the practices which He abhorred? In short, Muslims know that Islam is a true religion but like Abraham, they are perplexed and seem to be in a state of mind described in the Quranic verse:

“And when Abraham said, My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead, He said: What! And do you not believe? He said: Yes, but that my heart may be at ease.” – The Holy Quran (2:260)

When a modern man looks at the problem of slavery with his twentieth century background and in the light of the hideous crimes perpetrated during the slave trade and the abominably barbarous treatment that was meted out to slaves (especially in the Roman Empire) he discovers it as a most shocking and horrid crime. He is at a loss and finds it extremely difficult to understand as to how such a thing could be approved of by a religion or a system of life. He wonders: how could Islam allow slavery when all its other laws and principles point out towards the freedom of man from all types and forms of slavery! And overwhelmed by a sense of shame he desires: would that Islam had set our hearts and minds at ease by banning slavery in clear, explicit terms!

Islam’s advent heralded the restoration of human dignity to slaves. It told the masters as to their slaves: “You are (sprung) the one from the other.”1 The Prophet Muhammad said that: “He who kills his slave, we shall kill him; who mutilates his nose, we shall cut his nose; and who gelds our slave, we shall get him gelded in return.”2 Islam recognized a common descent, abode as well as return for all men, master and slave alike saying: “you are all sons of Adam and Adam was created from dust,”3 and stressed that there was no superiority for a master: whatever his superiority there was, it rested on piety: “There is no superiority for an Arab, nor for a black man over a red one, nor for a red one over a black man save due to piety.”4

Islam came and ordered the masters that they should be fair and good in their dealings with the slaves: “And be good to the parents and to the next of kin and the orphans and the needy and the neighbor of (your kin) and the alien neighbor and the companion in a journey and the wayfarer and those whom your right hand possesses; surely God does not love him who is proud, boastful.”5 It stressed the fact that the true relationship between the master and his slave was not one of slavery and overlordship, nor of subjection or objection but that of kinship and brotherhood. Thus the masters were permitted to marry the slave-girls they had in their possession: “… Let them marry from the believing maids whom your right hands possess. God knoweth best (concerning) your faith. Ye (proceed) one from another; so wed them by permission of their folk, and give unto them their portions in kindness.”6 

Thus the masters were described as brothers to their slaves: “Your slaves are your brothers… so he who has a brother under him should feed him and clothe him as he himself feeds and dresses; do not ask them do thing which are beyond their power and if you do ask them to do such things then help them.”7

With a mark of deference to the feelings of the slaves, the Holy Prophet added: “None of you should say: this is my slave and this is my slave-girl; he should rather say: This is my man and this is my maiden.”8 It was on this authority that Abu Huraira on seeing a man riding a horse and his slave trudging along after him, said to the man: “Get him seated on the horse behind you, for, surely he is your brother, and his soul is similar to yours.”

This was, however, not all that Islam did for the slaves, but before proceeding with our inquiry, we would first like to sum up the great advance that thanks to Islam came about in the position of the slave at this preliminary stage. 

The slave was no longer regarded as just a commodity – a merchandize – but was looked upon as a human being with a soul similar to that of his master, whereas in the past he was regarded as a being, quite different from his master and created to serve as a slave in every way fir to suffer humiliation. It was because of this notion that their consciences never twinged them when murdering, punishing, cauterizing or making their slaves perform loathsome and burdensome jobs. Islam raised them from this state of abject slavery to the exalted status of brotherhood with free men. These achievements of Islam were not mere professions but a fact to which history bears witness. Even the prejudiced writers of Europe too admit that in the early period of Islam the slave was exalted to such a noble state of humanity as never before was witnessed in any other part of the world. They won so dignified a status within the Muslim community as made the freed slaves abhor betraying their erstwhile masters although now they stood in no need or fear of them and were now as free as they. The reason for this lay in the fact that they considered themselves to be members of the family of their previous masters and linked to them with ties akin to those of blood. 

Also the slave now came to be regarded as a human being whose personal safety was guaranteed by law not permitting the commission of any transgression against him through word or act. As to the word, the Prophet forbade the Muslims to talk of their slaves as such and instead commanded them to address them in a manner that should make them think of themselves as members of their family, and blot out from their persons the stigma of slavery. With this in view he said: “Surely God has made you their masters; and if He had willed He would have likewise given you in their possession as slaves.”9 This means that it was the particular conditions and circumstances that had made them slaves, otherwise they were as good as their masters. In this way Islam deflated a little the swollen pride of the masters along with raising the status of slaves so as to connect them all in a purely human relationship. It brought them closer and fostered love among them telling them that love and nothing else should form the basis of all their mutual relationships. In the case of physical harm or injury for both of them a kindred punishment was explicitly laid down. “He who slays his slave we shall put him to death,” is a principle very clear in its vast implications, all of which go to show that a state of perfect equality prevailed between the slave and his master as between one man and another, besides guaranteeing to both of them the right to live as human beings. Thus Islam made it clear that the present situation – slavery – did not preclude them from their rights as human beings. These guarantees not only were quite sufficient to grant a slave his safety and security of life but they were so generous and noble that no other parallel in the whole history of slave laws exists at all either before or after the advent of Islam. In this respect Islam went to such an extent that it forbade the master to even slap his slave, except for purposes of correction (which has its won prescribed limits that may neither be passed by nor overlooked under any circumstances, the punishment given being however, similar to the punishment the master may award his own children on their mischief). This also provided a legal justification for setting the slaves at liberty. And with this we pass on to the next stage – the stage of actual enfranchisement. 

The Holy Prophet used to free a slave who would teach reading and writing to ten Muslims or render any other kindred service to the Muslim community. The Quran enjoined that atonement for some of the sins consisted in freeing of slaves as also the Holy Prophet encouraged it for the reparation of any other sin one might commit. This contributed more than anything to bring liberty to the greatest number of slaves, for, no man could hope to be wholly free from sin as the Holy Prophet said: “All sons of Adam are sinners.” It may be well to point out here one of the atonements prescribed by Islam for sins, as it in particular illustrates the standpoint of Islam with regard to slavery. Islam prescribed that redemption for the killing of a believer by mistake was the freeing of a believing slave and paying blood money to his people: “And whoever kills a believer by mistake, he should free a believing slave, and blood money should be paid to his people.”10 The murdered man killed by mistake, was a human being of whose services his people as well as the community was deprived without any legal justification, for which reason Islam prescribed that a compensation should be made to both parties, his people and the society: his people getting a just blood money and the society another man to serve it in his place, the newly-freed believing slave. Thus the freeing of a slave meant bringing back to life a human being as a compensation for the one who was lost due to his being killed by mistake. As is clear from this, Islam views slavery as death or a state very much similar to it notwithstanding all those securities that it did provide for a slave. That is why it eagerly snatched at every opportunity to resuscitate this wretched class of human beings by restoring them to their liberty. 

Islam never approved of slavery in principle as it strove hard with all the different means at its disposal, to eliminate slavery once and for all. It tolerated its existence for the time being just because it had no other alternative, for it concerned not only Muslims but those people as well who were not under its direct control. They held the Muslims in servitude making them suffer the worst possible forms of humiliation and miseries which drove the Muslims to adopt with respect to these people a course of like-treatment, at least in treating their prisoners of war as slaves though not in their actual transactions with these slaves afterwards. 

Islam could not effect the abolition of slavery so long as the world did not agree to put an end to the only source of slavery – enslavement of prisoners of war. So when that concord was achieved, Islam welcomed it as it formed the unalterable fundamental principle of its polity: liberty for all, equality for all.

Notes:

  1. The Holy Quran (4:25)
  2. Al-Hadith, narrated by both Bukhari & Muslim besides Abu Daud, Tirmidhi and Nisai. 
  3. Al-Hadith. Muslim & Abu Daud.
  4. Al-Hadith. Bukhari.
  5. The Holy Quran (4:36).
  6. The Holy Quran (4:25).
  7. Al-Hadith.
  8. Al-Hadith. Narrated by Abu Huraira.
  9. For reference, please see Ghazali’s Ihya-Uloom-I-Din, chapter on Rights of Slaves.
  10. The Holy Quran (4:92).

This article is an excerpt from “Islam the Misunderstood Religion” by Muhammad Qutb.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2007 in Articles

 

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