Treat Your Slave Well
Sirat Rasulallah, The earliest biography of Muhammad, by ibn Ishaq p496 “Ali, who was Muhammad’s son-in-law, whipped Aisha’s slave in front of Muhammad to make her talk about the adultery charges against Aisha. Muhammad did not say a word to Ali about beating the female slave.”
Muhammad does try to assume the moral high ground in several Quranic verses instructing Muslim men to treat their female slaves properly. He narrated Quranic verses that instruct Muslims not to force their female slaves into prostitution. 1Muslims use this verse tirelessly as proof that Muhammad was a nice person who believed Masters should treat female slaves well. Common sense dictates that if Muslims wanted to treat their slaves well, and do the morally right thing they would just set them all free. Better yet – do not take any slaves from the very start. Obviously, this is a common theme repeated in this essay. It is interesting how Muhammad, the Quran, and Muslims feel the need to make the issue more complicated than what it needs to be. When Muslims uses Quranic verses about female slaves and prostitution, they are missing sight of an important fault. According to Islam, Muslim masters may have sex with female slaves. The Quran does not acknowledge that raping a slave is rape. As a slave, she does not have the right to say no to sex. Numerous Hadiths about slaves, sex, and sex with slaves illustrate this point. Raping one’s female slaves is just as morally wrong, as charging other men money to rape your slaves. Exchanging money for sex does not change the circumstances for the victim. The victim is still being raped, regardless if her master profits from that rape or not. The exchange of money does not make the crime any more or less immoral.
They will talk about how perfect the Quran is because Allah allows Muslims to marry slaves if they so desire. Some Masters did marry their slaves. Some Masters did not marry their slaves. Islam permits men to have up to four wives and as many concubines/slaves as they want. Muslim masters may have sex with their slaves, as Muhammad did, therefore there is no point marrying someone he can have sex with anytime he wants. As the saying goes, why buy milk when you have a cow at home?
When Muslims talk about how great Muhammad was, think carefully about this brand of morality they are promoting. Muhammad is the kind of person who says that it is okay to rape slaves. He is the kind of man who says that it is not okay to profit from the rape. Muhammad is not the kind of person who would even acknowledge the existence of slave-rape or spousal-rape. Muhammad would not even be able to wrap his mind around the idea that a female slave or a wife has the right to say no to sex. Slaves and wives do not have the right to say ‘no’ to sex. In their minds, spousal rape and slave rape do not even exist.
“If anyone possesses these three characteristics Allah will give him an easy death and bring him into His Paradise: gentleness towards the weak, affection towards parents, and kindness to slaves.” [Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 981]
Praising Muhammad for encouraging slave owners to free slaves, treat slaves with kindness, and marry slaves is a very strange thing for a person to do. This essay debunked Islam’s argument from cultural relativism. Therefore, to defend Muhammad is as logical at this point as praising a car thief for returning the stolen car, ignoring the fact that the person commits a wrong act in the first place. A person can never be a moral human being and believe slavery, under any circumstances, is morally justified. This should be more than enough evidence for any reasonably intelligent person to see that Islam is far from being a perfect religion.
Islamic Slavery vs. American Slavery
For the purpose of historical accuracy and fairness, we should compare and contrast Islamic slavery against American slavery. Every verse in the Quran and Hadiths condoning slavery’s existence is just as morally wrong as American slave owners who said or wrote things condoning slavery. The vital difference is when people are able to recognize that American slave owners were ignorant to something very morally wrong, yet cannot say the same thing about Muhammad. The reality is that Muhammad too owned slaves, raped them, and condoned slavery because he was ignorant to something very evil and very wrong.
Slave owners in the southern states of the United States of America are not any different from Muhammad. They too owned slaves because it was legal, permissible and profitable. Like Muhammad, American slave owners were ignorant to something that was very morally wrong. They too claim that they treated their African slaves very well. They treated them so well they forced them to pick cotton every day. Just like Muhammad, American slave owners often raped their female slaves. This is why African American’s skin color is slightly lighter than West Africans are–they have a little bit of European ancestry in their blood. Like Muhammad, American slave owners did not acknowledge the females right to say ‘no’ or have any voice. Moreover, when slaves speak they are so worthless it is as if they did not say anything at all.
There are economical factors that made American slave owners different from Muhammad and his companions. American slave owners had slaves because slavery was hugely profitable. Americans owned massive plantations and virgin soils in the American States, Caribbean and South America. Under American capitalism, the planter class had a high propensity to consume goods. A significant portion of their profits went back into production. Slaves picked tobacco, sugar cane, cotton, fruit and other agriculture products. Southerners sold their goods around the world. The profits went right back into the goods needed to continue production. Slavery was the bloodline to southern economy. The South needed slavery for economic survival. Slavery in the Arabian Peninsula in contrast was not vital to the economic survival. Muhammad did not own slaves to pick acres of cotton. He did not own slaves because the entire economy of the Arabian Peninsula depended on them. Muhammad was not caught up in a vicious economic cycle of consuming goods, exploiting unskilled slave labor, selling goods, and then consuming them again.
Muhammad economic exploitation of slaves took a different form. Currency is not only dollars, cents, gold or silver. Currency can take many different forms. Muhammad used slaves to fight in his standing army. This is a form of currency because he did not have to pay soldiers. Beautiful virgin slave girls were an especially valuable currency for Muhammad. The most beautiful ones, like Safiya, he kept for himself. Muhammad rewarded solders with stolen goods, booty and slaves. Beautiful young female slaves were valuable as concubines. Even though the Quran does not permit Muslim men from prostituting their female slaves, the female slaves were still an important currency for Muhammad. Beautiful virgin slaves certainly were more valuable to Muhammad than old ugly women were. In this sense, it is important to understand that even though the Quran forbids prostituting slaves, Muhammad did prostitute the slaves. Muhammad slaughtered the men, kidnapped the women, and then gave the women to his soldiers. There is a word for what Muhammad did to these women; it is human trafficking. As horrific as human trafficking is, do not be surprised if Muslims will try to pull the old ‘but it was normal back then’ argument out of their hats. It doesn’t work.
Typical Arabian slaves worked in the home, incense fields and provided manual labor to households. Slaves had to do whatever their master told them to do. Slavery did not create great wealth for a family; they only made their lives more luxurious and easier. Slaves were a luxury, not an economic necessity. Arabian slaves did not create huge amounts of wealth for the tribe in terms of dollars and cents. 2 Owning slaves simply meant that a person had social status. Arabian economy did not even need slaves for survival. Arabian tenants, sharecroppers, artisans and most importantly the journeymen responsible for trading with distant neighbors were responsible for economic growth. American slave owners however needed their slaves purely for economical reasons. 3 This does not make American plantation owners less culpable for their crimes against humanity. They are still guilty of doing something very evil, and very horrible. I am only illustrating a difference between American slavery and Islamic slavery. In both societies, slaves had economic value, but the way in which this currency was used was different. The motives were not the same. The rewards were not exactly the same. American slave owners did not hold slaves for the bragging rights. Unlike Arabian society, American slavery was not a ‘keeping up with the Jones’ situation. What Muhammad did to slaves had an entirely different meaning and dimension to it. All slavery is wrong, regardless if we are talking about Southern slavery or Islamic slavery. Keeping slaves because it is a luxury or an economical necessity does not change the immorality of slavery.
1. Quran (24:34) (4:24) (4:92, 5:89, 58:3) Muhammad encouraged Masters to treat slaves well, but always let the Master determine the slaves life.
2. Lewis, Bernard: Race and slavery in the Middle East: an historical enquiry. This book details the economic situation in the Arabian Peninsula during Muhammad’s time. He proves that Arabs used slaves for social status, not for economic survival.
3. Genovese, Eugene: The political economy of slavery: studies in the economy & society of the slave South Published By Weslayan University Press. Middletown CT. Part II of this book goes into great detail about slave economy, particularly referring to agriculture, livestock and trade.