Can You Explain the Concept of Slavery and the Status of Mut’a Practice in Islam?

Answered by Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat

Question

I am apprehensive about a friend moving away from Islam. He has many questions and says nobody can answer them, and whenever he asks a question, people say he is out of Islam. That is discouraging for him as he feels terrible inside but cannot answer the endless, frustrating questions.

What is the concept of enslaved women in Islam? Were Muslims intimate with them without nikkah? Why didn’t they set non-Muslim women free? Why was there a need for enslaved women?

Why does Islam allow killing? They killed Banu Qurayza’s men after the battle of Khandaq. Why didn’t they forgive them? Muslims say the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) never took revenge.

Why was temporary marriage (nikkah mut’a)  allowed in the era of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). ?

What is the proof that Allah is the creator of this entire universe? How can one satisfy his inner self without blindly following ancestors?

Answer

Your friend needs to sit with a scholar and discuss the matters which trouble him. We have many courses where he can have his questions answered systematically, starting with those on Theology.

Any question he has about Islam will have answers that any fair-minded person can accept. Tell him not to panic. The answers are available. There is no need to rush into anything seriously consequential like apostasy. Let’s look at the questions, starting with asking Allah’s help and asking Him to clarify matters for us.

Enslaved people in Islam

When Islam was revealed to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), slavery was an accepted system worldwide. People had slaves, and they were property which people invested money into.

Without going into every situation, it is clear from a cursory look at the Shari’a of Islam that the long-term goal was to abolish slavery. There are many verses and hadith which encourage this.

For example, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) told the Companion, Bara’ Ibn’ Azib, “Free a soul [from slavery] and [help remove someone from bondage.” Bara asked, “Are they not the same?” “No, “the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) replied. “The former is for you yourself to free someone, and the latter is to help another in doing so.” [Ahmad]

There are many more. Freeing an enslaved person was also a form of expiation from certain sins, like breaking an oath. Arabs were prone to swearing oaths in the heat of the moment, so if someone regretted swearing a promise and broke it, he had to free an enslaved person. The list goes on.

Why Were People Enslaved?

Firstly, to understand any topics we will discuss, it must be clear that these things happened in the pre-modern world. Those times were different, and people’s outlooks were different. Judging them based on modern society will always lead to problematic conclusions. Instead, they must be judged according to their historical context.

People were enslaved for many reasons. Sometimes enslaved people were prisoners of war. If defeated, an army that came to attack you would only regroup and return. There were too Geneva Conventions to govern the matter. In such situations, they were either put to death by all powers at the time or enslaved.

In Islam, enslaving them was a means of protecting one’s society, saving lives, rehabilitating the enslaved people who would be spread across the population, and showing them the kindness and good character Islam embodies. Many people changed and gained everlasting bliss in Paradise by accepting faith in this way.

‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be well pleased with both) freed thousands of slaves, usually when he noticed they were becoming righteous. Naturally, the slaves caught on and would ensure they were in the front row at the mosque when he walked in, hoping to be freed. Someone told Ibn’ Umar (may Allah be well pleased with both) about this and he said, “Whoever dupes us through Allah, we will willingly be duped.” [Taqi Usmani, Fath al Mulhim]

Female Slaves

With the above context in mind, we can see that sometimes freeing a person unable to return home is not the best course of action, nor is it always possible. Some were born into slavery. Where would they go? Remember, slavery was an accepted practice worldwide.

Slavery provided them with protection, accommodation, food, and other needs. Sometimes people need intimacy and closeness with another human. Their masters could either allow them to marry or they could provide them with that intimacy themselves—one or the other, not both.

In Islam, the Nikah is a contract approved by Allah, allowing a couple to have intimacy. In the same way, purchasing a female slave is a contract that includes the above constraint implicitly. It allowed a halal outlet for many people, including the slaves, which they would find difficulty without.

With that came other benefits, such as her guaranteed freedom upon the death of the master if she gave birth to a child. We have cases where rulers had children with their slaves, and those children later became the rulers!

Why Not Just Free Them All?

Freeing everyone was not practical. As I said, people invested money in them, so a gradual method was employed to make society less dependent on them by promising great rewards for freeing them.

Also, the government could not impose such a thing without much harm to the populace. Imagine all the world governments mandating that everyone must get rid of their smartphones and go back to using basic phones. There would be a lot of problems. Some people invest thousands in their devices.

The same can be said of enslaved people. I hope that clarifies matters.

Killing In Islam

Every system of belief and politics in the world allows killing within specific contexts, so questions must always be asked regarding a specific context. As I said earlier, the events you are asking about happened in the pre-modern world when things were different.

Banu Qurayza

Banu Qurayza was a Jewish tribe settled in Medina. They allied with the Muslims, pledging to support the Muslims should anyone come to attack them in Medina. When Quraysh and their allies came in the fourth year after the hijra at the Trench Battle, Banu Qurayza conspired to betray and kill the Muslims during the battle. This was treason.

Treason is a hazardous thing, especially in a situation like that. Everyone recognizes this. In British law, a person can be hanged for treason during a time of war.

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) did forgive people who made attempts on his life, but that was his prerogative in those situations. In this situation, the betrayal of Banu Qurayza could have cost the life of every Muslim man, woman, and child. This was a situation where steps were required to protect the populace.

The Torah, which the sacred text Banu Qurayza believed in, dictated that someone who did what they did should be put to death. Also, they were given a choice to select someone from Medina to choose what would be done to them. They chose Sa’d Ibn Mu’adh (May Allah be well pleased with Him), who was an old ally of theirs. He decided for their punishment what was in their scripture!

So this wasn’t an act of revenge. Instead, it was an act of self-defense that any country or ruler would choose. Most would not allow the perpetrators to be judged according to their law. Therefore, this ruling is a particular case that had to be dealt with based on its merits.

The Temporary Permissibility of Mut’a

Mut’a is a temporary marriage. A specific term is stipulated within the contract. As a practice, it is considered haram and invalid according to the majority of Muslims. Some sects claim it is valid, despite the evidence pointing to the opposite.

Was this allowed at some point? Yes. You have to realize that the Shari’a was being revealed gradually, and the Arabs came from a culture with strong social norms. Asking them to leave it all immediately would have been too much for them, as sayyida’ Aisha noted. [Bukhari]

In this case, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was on a military expedition with some Companions. Specific individuals amongst them were feeling the absence of their spouses, and, not wanting to leave the campaign, they considered castrating themselves.

The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) did not want them to harm themselves in such a way, so he permitted mut’a for them. This ruling was later abolished, and only the permanent marriage we know of was legislated.

Permissibility was a temporary ruling for a particular group for a specific scenario. When things changed, the ruling was also permanently changed.

Proof of Allah Being the Creator

The proofs for this are many. I’ll mention a simple yet profound one. The Qur’an states that it is a book from Allah. To prove this, the Quran vividly describes the stages of the development of the human embryo. Such detail is only known to someone who can monitor its development through a powerful microscope. Yes, a text revealed over a thousand years ago gives us this information in detail. This is one of the proofs that it is from Allah.

The Quran Then States That Allah Created Everything

Is that sufficient proof? It should be. It was enough for Dr. Maurice Bucaille (may Allah have mercy on him), a French embryologist who was so astounded by the above facts in the Qur’an that he accepted Islam. He knew that no one from humanity could see that information over a thousand years ago.

Support Your Friend

Your friend seems to be in a vulnerable position right now. Please support and encourage him to connect with scholars and take some of our courses to quell his doubts. Please start with the theology course I linked above.

In my experience, people usually leave Islam due to being ill-informed about Islam and personal trauma, the blame of which is projected onto Islam. If your friend has had such experiences, please explain that Islam is not the people who did those things. Humans are prone to faults and mistakes, and we must align ourselves with what Allah has revealed.

Sometimes, people don’t live up to the standards of Islam and have bad actions. This is not a reflection of Islam. Instead, it is a reflection of them.

May Allah give us absolute clarity regarding the realities of faith and allow us to meet Him with that certainty. Amin.

[Shaykh] Abdul-Rahim Reasat
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat began his studies in Arabic Grammar and Morphology in 2005. After graduating with a degree in English and History he moved to Damascus in 2007 where, for 18 months, he studied with many erudite scholars. In late 2008 he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continued his studies for the next six years in Sacred Law (fiqh), legal theory (Usul al-fiqh), theology, hadith methodology, hadith commentary, and Logic. He was also given licenses of mastery in the science of Quranic recital and he was able to study an extensive curriculum of Quranic sciences, tafsir, Arabic grammar, and Arabic eloquence.