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Human Rights: Role of Islam in Librating the Slaves

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“Since when did you enslave the people though they were born from their mothers in freedom?” By the Second Caliph of Islam.

(islam-hinduism.com)

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) declared his Prophethood in an era when human rights were extremely breached. All categories of people were suffering from a lot of violations in women’s rights, children’s rights, the rights of the neighbors, the rights of the slave, the rights of the poor and the needy and the parental rights.  In some societies of the world, these violations were practiced under the cover of religion and law. The widows were burnt with her dead husband’s pyre in Indian community. We present here some examples of Islamic principles and particle instances that show how Islam liberated the salves and honored them and safeguarded their humanity. There are many principles in Islamic Shari`ah that highlight the care of Islam for slaves and how it tried by all ways and means to liberate the slaves. Islam in its early days laid down a rule that if an educated salve teaches an uneducated person writing and reading, he will be freed in lieu of his teaching. Islam allocated a share from Zakat to be spent in freeing the slaves, and made freeing slaves as expiation for some sins, such as in the case of murdering a person by mistake and in the case of zihar (It is a sort of swear by a husband to abandon his wife). Also, many Muslims were usually interested in freeing slaves seeking the pleasure of Allah (Glory be to Him).

The slaves and servants in general were treated badly before Islam. They were regarded as trading goods that were bought and purchased same as animals. When Islam was manifested it gave them honor and respect and tried to free them from the slavery by all possible means.

One of the examples is the Abyssinian slave, Bilal, who was honored with the position of announcing Adhan (call for prayer). He was appointed for this exalted duty by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself.

Prophet Muhammad and the Slaves

In addition to that, it was narrated by Ibn `Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them) that the Prophet (peace of be upon him) once saw a cloth seller and he bought a shirt from him by four dirham, then he went to the people while he was wearing it. On his way, he came to meet a man from Al-Ansar who asked him this shirt and said: “O Prophet of Allah! Give me the shirt, may Allah cover you with a garment of Paradise!” The Prophet (peace be upon him) took off his shirt and gave it to him immediately. Then, he came back to the cloth merchant and purchased another one by four dirhams, and two dirham remained with him. Then, he passed by a slave girl who was crying, he asked: “What made you cry?” She answered: “O prophet of Allah! My owner gave me two dirhams to purchase some food but the dirhams were lost by me.” He gave her the remaining two dirhams and took his way, but when he returned again he found her weeping. The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked her: “What made you cry again? You have taken two dirhams.” She answered: “It is true! But I am so late and I fear of their beating.” So, the Prophet (peace be upon him) accompanied her and went to her owner and greeted them with the greeting of Islam, they recognized him by his voice and asked: “What has brought you here? O Prophet of Allah! My father and my mother are sacrificed for your sake!” He answered: “This girl was afraid of your beating.”

The ownersaid: “She is free for the sake of Allah because you have accompanied her.” Then, the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him) gave them glad tidings of Paradise. Furthermore, the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “Indeed Allah (Glory be to Him) has blessed those ten dirhams as Allah has clothed His Prophet a shirt and a man from Al-Ansar a shirt and He (Glory be to Him) helped me to free a slave. Thanks to Allah for this favor; He is the Merciful who has bestowed upon me by His might.” (1)

Furthermore, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was always keen to liberate the slaves, the following narration confirms this fact.

It was narrated by Mu`awiyah ibn Suwayd who stated that: “We -the sons of Maqran- did not possess anything except a slave girl. This happened at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace of be upon him). One of us slapped her and when the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him) was informed about this harsh act he instructed us saying: “Let her free.” Then, we apologized and said: “we have none except her.” Then the Prophet (peace be upon him) instructed him saying: “Then, keep her, but whenever you would not need her, free her very soon.” (Reported by Muslim)

The Second Caliph of Islam and His Servant

There is also a well-known narration in Islamic history regarding the second caliph of Islam `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), who honored his servant in a unique style that would be regarded a distinctive example of the observance of slave’s right. There is no such example in the history of the kings and rulers. It was narrated that the second Caliph of Islam, `Umar (May Allah be pleased with him), rode a camel by turn with his servant while they were traveling to Syria. When they came near to Syria, the turn was of the servant to ride the camel. `Umar ordered him to ride and he himself came down of the camel. The servant apologized as it was unacceptable to him to ride while the Caliph of Muslims was walking on his foot in front of people. But, `Umar remained insistent until the servant rode. Thus, they entered Syria with the caliph walking and his servant riding the camel. When the people of Syria saw them they were extremely surprised. (2)

It is also interesting that once `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) came to a fountain of Ibn Harithah where he met Muhammad ibn Maslamah, `Umar asked him: “How do you see me? O Muhammad!” Muhammad answered saying: “By Allah! I see you as I like to see, and as your well-wisher likes to see, I see you strong in collecting the due money, uninterested in taking anything from it, just in its distribution. However, if you deviate I shall straighten you as an arrow is straightened in the straightening mould.” `Umar said: “Hurrah! If I deviate you will straighten me as an arrow is straightened in the straightening mould.” And thanked Allah the Almighty saying: “All praise is to Allah Who has made me in a nation who dare to set me upright when I deviate.”(3)

Indeed, it is equality, freedom and freedom of expression. This is a practical example by the Second Caliph `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him).

There is another inspiring narration on the human rights. Once the Muslims gained some booty (Yemenite cloths) when it was distributed among the people by `Umar, `Abdullah ibn `Umar got a piece of that cloth and gifted his share to his father `Umar. `Umar made a robe with both pieces of the cloth and put on his dress and stood among people to address them. He said in his speech: “O my people, listen and obey!” Then a man named Salman (may Allah be pleased with him) stood and said: “No listening and obedience for you.” `Umar asked him: why have you said so? The man answered: “How did you get this loose robe? You are a tall man and your share was like others, only one cloth?” `Umar called on his son `Abdullah, who was present there and said: “O commander of Muslims! I am here.” `Umar said: “I swear you by Allah! Tell us is not it your cloth that you gifted me?” Ibn `Umar answered: “Of course! It was mine that I have gifted you.” Then, Salman said: “Now order us, we shall listen and obey your order.”(4)

There is no wonder if we imagine the modesty, justice and mercy of `Umar upon his nation, and followers. In fact, it was the result of the influence of the Prophet’s teachings upon him.

Hinduism and the Untouchables

On the other hand, we find the Hindu religion based on the caste system and the sanctification of the injustice and abuse with the untouchables and the lower castes; Shudra, Chamar, Dalits and other communities of human beings. They are not allowed to practice religious rites in the temple of upper castes. They cannot read Veda or sacred Hindu scriptures. It is not permissible for them to sit in an equal place with individuals of the upper castes. Indeed, these are blatant violations of human rights in the name of religion and faith. When Indian people came to know the message of Islam they found its principles and rules a sort of escape and salvation from slavery and embraced Islam voluntarily and opened their hearts and minds for the message of Islam after they have suffered from injustice and abuse and ethnic discrimination for a log time. They were thirsty for the message of Islam desiring the justice of Islam and its equality, and escaping from the racial oppression. They accepted Islam when they saw its care for the human rights. This refutes the lie of some Hindu brothers who spread and propagate that Islam was spread by force. The fact is that they converted to Islam aspiring to the justice of Islam in this world and the Hereafter.

The slaves never got their rights, honors and respect as they enjoyed them in the shade of Islam.

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(1) `Ali ibn Abu Bakr Al-Haythami, Majm`a Az-Zawa’id Wa Manb`a Al-Fawa’id, Book of the Signs of Prophethood, Chapter on the Generosity of the Prophet (peace be upon him), Maktabah Al-Qudsi 1994, vol.9,p.14.

(2) Akbar Shah Khan Najibabadi, A’inah Haqiqat Numa, Hamdard Press, India, 1931, p.42.

(3) Adh-Dhahabi, Siyar A`alam An-Nubala’, Ar-Risalah, vol.2, p.372.

(4) Ibn Al-Qayyim, I`alam Al-Muwaqqi`in `An Rabbil-`Aalamin, Darul-Kutub Al-`Ilmiyyah 1991, vol.2, p.124.

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