- Freedom to choose religion
One of the fundamental rights in Islam is that everyone has the right to choose the religion he wants to embrace.
“There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong.” (Qur’an2:256)
- Fighting Slavery
In the pre-Islamic days Slaves were commercial goods, and slavery was an established system. It was a source of sustenance for thousands. To the aristocracy, the number of slaves in the household was a symbol of status. Islam could have used force which may be able to achieve submission but it without doubt will cause animosity. Islam’s war against slavery aimed at changing the attitude and mentality of the whole society, so that after emancipation, slaves would become its full-fledged members, without any need of demonstrations, strikes, civil disobedience and racial revolts, to say that Islam waged a war against slavery in which neither sword was resorted to, nor blood was spilled. Islam aimed at striking at the roots of its foe and created allies by arousing the finer instincts of its followers.
Before Islam, slavery was without restrictions. Those who could not repay debts became slaves; war captives were either killed or made slaves. Runaway slaves were hunted like animals, killed or captured. Islam forbade its followers to enslave people on any case.
The source of Slaves before Islam were the following:
- The invader could do with the vanquished enemy whatever he liked. He could put the arrested soldiers to death, condemn them to slavery or otherwise keep them under his authority or clutch.
- A chief or ruler could enslave, depending on his unchallenged wish, anyone residing under his domain.
- A father or grandfather had absolute authority over his offspring. He could sell or gift them away; loan them to someone else, or exchange them with another’s son or daughter.
Islam dried up the last two sources completely. No ruler was allowed to treat his subjects or offspring as his slaves. Every individual was bestowed with well-defined rights; the ruler and the ruled, the progenitor and the offspring had to live within the limits prescribed by religion; no one could transgress those limits.
And it restricted the first source, i.e., war, by allowing enslavement only in a war fought against unbelieving enemy. At the same time, Islam raised the status of a slave to that of a free man; and opened many ways for the emancipation of slaves.
Before slave trade was started on a large scale by the West (when colonization began), wars were the main source of slaves. Islam did not permit wars of aggression. All the battles fought during the life-time of Prophet Muhammad were defensive battles.
In the battles forced upon the Muslims, Prophet Muhammad ordered kind treatment of the prisoners. They could get their freedom if they paid a small ransom, and some with no ransom (some taught Muslim children to read and write as ransom). Strict conditions applied: no mother was to be separated from her child, nor a brother from neither a brother nor a husband from his wife.
After that Islam started an active campaign to liberate the slaves, making the liberation of slaves a way of expiation for many sins. If a man failed to fast without any excuse during the month of Ramadan for example, he had to free a slave for each day, in addition to making up the fast. In addition a slave had to be freed for every breach of vows, an accidental homicide, for unintentionally killing a Muslim and for many other trespasses.
Islam’s objective was to create a society free from this abhorrent system. Thus, any slave woman who bore a child by her master could not be sold and after her master’s death, she automatically becomes a free woman. In contrast to all previous customs, Islam ordained that the child born to a slave woman by her master should follow the status of the father. Slaves were given a right to ransom themselves either on payment of an agreed sum or on completion of service for an agreed period.
“…, and those who seek a contract [for eventual emancipation] from among whom your right hands possess – then make a contract with them if you know there is within them goodness and give them from the wealth of God which He has given you…” (Qur’an 24:33)
When a slave wants to get a mutual written contract, the master should accept it. God has made it incumbent upon Muslims to help the slaves achieve liberty.
Islam also ordains that slaves seeking freedom should be helped from the public treasury. Prophet Muhammad and his companions provided ransom for the slaves out of state coffers. The Qur’an recognizes the liberation of slaves as one of the permissible expenditures of alms and charity. When a slave wants freedom, the master has to agree and is directed to help the slave from his own wealth. Slaves should live a respectable life after earning their freedom. Thus, despite a culture based on slavery, Islam laid down the path and legislated the most effective way to end this abhorrent practice.