From WikiAhmadiyya, the free encyclopedia on Islam and Ahmadiyyat

Slavery is a legal or economic system in which people are treated as property. The practice was rampant in pre-Islamic Arabia, but the advent of the faith sought to wipe out the practice. 

Muhammad'ssa efforts to free slaves

Prior to the advent of Islam, slavery was rampant across Arabia. However, Muhammadsa not only treated slaves kindly but advocated for their freedom and rights:

The Prophetsa said: Allah said: "I will be an opponent to three types of people on the Day of Resurrection: 1- One who makes a covenant in My Name, but proves treacherous. 2- One who sells a free person and eats his price and 3- One who employs a laborer and takes full work from him but does not pay him for his labour."

- Bukhari

Abu Masud Al-Badrira said: "I was beating my slave with a whip when I heard a voice behind me which said: '...Abu Masud! Bear in mind that Allah has more dominance upon you than you have upon your slave."...I said: "He is free for the sake of Allah." Hesa said, "If you had not done this, you would have been singed by the Fire [of Hell]."

- Muslim

For this reason, many of the earliest adherents of Islam were slaves while many of the earliest and fiercest opponents of Islam were slave owners. Muhammadsa freed every single slave who came into his possession within his lifetime and was able to personally free 63 slaves. Meanwhile the early Muslims were able to free well over 30,000 slaves.

Not only were the slaves freed but Muhammadsa took special care to ensure the social standing of the slaves was improved and that any stigma associated with their former slavery was removed. For example, Muhammadsa not only personally freed Zaid bin Harithah, but later appointed him as a chief of the city of Medina and as a commander of the Muslim army. Zaid's son Usama was also given similar roles of responsibility. Moreover, Muhammadsa arranged Zaid's marriage to his own cousin, Zainab bint Jahash. For a former slave to marry a noble woman in Arabia at that time would have been considered highly abnormal. Muhammad'ssa kind treatment of the former slave was so great that Zaid said he loved Muhammadsa more than his own father.

In another instance, Muhammadsa encouraged his companion Abu Bakr to buy the slave Bilal from his cruel owner, for the purpose of freeing Bilal. Abu Bakr freed Bilal, administered medical treatment to heal his injuries, taught him how to read and write and employed him as his store keeper. Bilal was not only a slave but was of African descent, meaning - unlike the fairer Arabs he lived among - he was black. Yet despite the stigma associated with slaves, Muhammadsa sought to end any form of racial prejudice. Muhammadsa appointed Bilal the first caller to prayer in Islamic history as well as numerous official roles including managing the state's treasury. The affection shown Bilal by Muhammadsa led to the former African slave often being revered more greatly than even the Arab chiefs by the early Muslims. Muhammad'ssa desire to raise the status of former slaves was so great that he would say:

Narrated Abdullah bin Amr: I heard the Prophetsa saying: "Learn the recitation of Quran from four persons: Ibn Masud, Salim, the freed slave of Abu Hudhaifa, Ubai and Muadh bin Jabal."

- Bukhari

The Prophetsa said, "The best among you are those who learn the Quran and teach it." 

- Bukhari

So Muhammadsa stated one of the greatest positions one could hold was as a teacher of the Quran and then subsequently appointed a former slave as one of the four official teachers and in so doing paid great compliment to his intellect and knowledge. 

Slavery in the Quran

We have pointed out to him the two highways of good and evil. But he attempted not the ascent courageously. And what should make thee know what the ascent is? It is the freeing of a slave.

- Quran 90:11-14

In many verses like the one above, the Quran teaches the freeing of slaves.   

Such as desire a deed of manumission in writing from among those whom your right hands possess, write it for them if you know any good in them; and give them out of the wealth of Allah which He has bestowed upon you. And force not your maids to unchaste life.

- Quran 24:34

Above, the Muslims are told to grant a 'deed of manumission', meaning freedom, to all those slaves who desire it. The proviso being that they should 'know any good in them'. This was reference to the slave having a skill or trade by which they could support themselves as freeing a slave in the deserts of Arabia who had no means of employment could perhaps have placed the former slave in great difficulty. Where slaves were unskilled, the Muslims would teach them. So when Abu Bakr freed Bilal, he taught him to read and write and then employed him in his store. The verse adds 'give them out of the wealth', meaning when the slaves were freed they were entitled to a monetary gift from those who freed them. Finally, we read 'force not your maids to unchaste life' which forbade sexual abuse of slaves

See also