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Verses from Surah Al-Noor [32 – 34]

  1. The words in parenthesis reflect Zamakhshari’s suggestion (Au.).
  1. Literally “kitab” is for writing, meaning here, a written agreement (Zamakhshari and others). Asad comments: “The noun kitab is, in this context, an equivalent of kitabah or mukaatabah (lit., “Mutual agreement in writing), a juridical term signifying a “deed of freedom” or “of manumission.”
  1. The injunction refers to a written agreement between a slave and his master which, in the words of Majid, “obliges the master to set his slave at liberty on receiving a certain sum of money which the latter collects either by his labour or by receiving free gifts from well-to-do Muslims.” Asad adds, “(an agreement: Au.) ..to the effect that the slave undertakes to purchase his or her freedom for an equitable sum of money payable in installments before or after the manumission, or, alternatively, by rendering a clearly specified service or services to his or her owner. With this end in view, the slave is legally entitled to engage in any legitimate, gainful work or to obtain the necessary sum of money by any other lawful means (e.g., through a loan or a gift from a third person).”

Now, what is the rule? Is it necessary for a master that if his slave wishes to enter into a deal by which he would pay a sum and win his freedom that he should accept the proposal? The answer according to `Umar, Ibn `Abbas and `Ata’ is that it is obligatory (wajib); while a few others maintained that it is not wajib, but is entirely to the discretion of the master. The earlier opinion, adds Ibn Jarir, seems to be the correct one. Hence a report by Anas b. Malik: “Seereen asked me for release on an amount but I refused. He complained to `Umar. He raised his whip over me and said, ‘Make the contract’ and recited this verse. (Ibn Kathir treated this report as trustworthy: Shawkani).

Ibn Kathir however reports that according to Imam Shafe`i, Malik and Abu Haneefah, it is not obligatory since a hadith of the Prophet says that a Muslim cannot be forced to expend his wealth except willingly.

Asad presents perhaps the generally acceptable position: In view of the imperative form of the verb katibuhum (“write it out for them”), the deed of manumission cannot be refused by the owner, the only precondition being an evidence – to be established, if necessary, by an unbiased arbiter or arbiters – of the slave’s good character and ability to fulfill his or her contractual obligations. The stipulation that such a deed of manumission may not be refused, and the establishment of precise juridical directives to this end, clearly indicates that Islamic Law has from its very beginning aimed at abolition of slavery as a social institution, and that its prohibition in modern times constitutes no more than a final implementation of the aim.

  1. How is this “good” to be evaluated? What are the parameters? According to Ibn `Umar, Ibn `Abbas and Malik bin Anas, it is the ability to earn their livelihood, so that they do not become a burden on the state. But Hasan, Mujahid, Ta’oos, Abu Saleh, and others said that it is moral qualities such as truthfulness, integrity, etc., that must be checked before the deal is made. But it seems it is the combination of the two that is meant (Ibn Jarir).

“Thus,” writes Sayyid, “the master must ensure that the man to be freed should have the ability to live on his own, and earn his own livelihood. He should not be let loose to be a burden on the society.. Islam is a practical system and not an ideal one which would say, ‘Let all the slaves be freed, at once, and all else is secondary.’ No. Islam deals with the real situation in a practical manner. If the freed slave is incapable of earning his or her own livelihood, then he is likely to find himself enslaved again. He is not free in truth. He might be forced into meanly ways in order to survive, and end up polluting the society. After all, he was freed to cleanse the society, and not to pollute it anew.”

  1. There are two opinions about who is alluded to: the master, or wealthy persons of the society? The first addressee seems to be the masters, and then those who can afford to help in the matter. The practice of the Salaf was that when a slave brought up the amount agreed upon, they would keep a part and return a part which in most cases happened to be about twenty-five percent. However, that, only when the slave had brought in the money he had agreed upon. That is, the entire amount. They would take the whole amount from him and then return a part as their contribution. So, this is how they understood this Qur’anic injunction.

Ibn Jarir thinks it is the men of means who are addressed, in which case, obviously, the first would be the master himself if he happens to be rich. He and Ibn Kathir have the same kind of reports to present to substantiate their opinions.

Asad comments: “According to all authorities, this relates (a) to a moral obligation on the part of the owner to promote the slave’s efforts to obtain the necessary revenues by helping him or her to achieve an independent economic status and/or by remitting a part of the agreed-upon compensation, and (b) to the obligation of the state treasury (bayt al-mal) to finance the freeing of slaves in accordance with Islamic principles – enunciated in 9: 60 – that the revenues obtained through the obligatory .. Zakah are to be utilized, among other purposes, ‘for the freeing of human beings from bondage (fi riqab).’ Hence, Zamakhshari holds that the above clause is addressed not merely to persons owning slaves but to the community as a whole.”

Sayyid further elaborates on state help. He writes: “Herewith, it is the community that is addressed. They are to marry off the spouseless. The majority of scholars believe that the statement is not imperative, but only suggestive. Their proof is in the fact that the Muslim society at the time of the Prophet was not without unmarried persons .. However, in our opinion the address is of imperative nature, not in the sense of the unmarried being forced to marry, but in the sense of the fortunate ones helping off the less fortunate ones wanting to get married, with the view to safeguarding their chastity. It would be a means of protection, and of cleansing the Islamic polity of moral perversion. This is something that is obligatory on the community, and what leads to the completion of an obligation, is itself an obligation.

“We might also straighten up the account by saying that Islam – as a complete and comprehensive system – solves the economic problems at its roots. It places the responsibility of earning livelihood on the individuals themselves: those who are capable of it and do not need the help of the governmental treasury. However, in exceptional cases it declares the treasury responsible for certain kinds of help.. This, as said, is the exceptional case, and not the norm. Islamic economic system is not based on exceptional situations, but on the norms of every individual making his or her own effort to earn the needs of life.

“However, if the Islamic society finds – after the efforts of the individuals – poor men and women, whose own earnings are not enough for them to get married, then it is the community which has to come out in support. Allah ordered its rich to rise up to the need.”

  1. Why did Allah add, “If they desire chastity?” Zamakhshari answers that it is because it is only those who desire chastity that can be forced.

Others have explained that in pre-Islamic times the slave-girls freely indulged in it which did not win them respect. When Islam came, some of them resisted when asked to comply. So their masters are being taunted: will you now (who used to disdain it earlier) make them do it, while they have changed and are resisting it?

Sabuni writes: The masters are being taunted: Look! You are supposed to guard the chastity of the slave-girls that you own. Will you stoop so low as to put to prostitution those, who, although not expected to be very mindful of chastity, are now unwilling? (Rawae`)

  1. It is widely reported that it is `Abdullah ibn Ubayy b. Sallul who occasioned the revelation of this verse. He had a slave-girl called Musayka. (In fact, according to Muslim two, Musayka and Umaymah, both of whom he tried to force to prostitution: Shawkani). She came to some of theAnsar and complained that her master was forcing her to prostitution. Some other reports say she went to Abu Bakr. He reported to the Prophet. The Prophet instructed him to hold back the slave-girl, and Ibn Ubayy shouted in frustration: “Who will save us from Muhammad? He is snatching away our slaves too.” So Allah revealed this verse. (Report about Musayka is in Nasa’i: Ibn Kathir).

Another report says that `Abdullah ibn Ubayy had a Qurayshi prisoner he had taken at Badr. And he had a slave-girl called Mu`adha. The prisoner sought her. But the slave-girl was not willing. Now, Ibn Ubayy wished her to lie with him hoping she would get pregnant by him, bring a child, and for whom also Ibn Ubayy could demand and collect ransom. So, he would beat her for refusing, and she complained to the Ansar(Ibn Jarir). Qurtubi adds, “Those days, a man would pay 100 camels to retrieve his son born through a slave-girl owned by another.”

The report about Mu`adha is in Abdul Razzaq’s collection (Ibn Kathir). Actually, it is reported that Abdullah ibn Ubayy had six slave-girls, two of whom complained against his coercion (Zamakhshari).

At all events, the Prophet declared it unlawful, as in a well-known hadith in Muslim, which includes, “The worst of earning is the earning through prostitution, the price of a dog, and those of a soothsayer” (Ibn Kathir, Shawkani).

  1. That is, Allah will forgive a slave-girl’s adultery if she is forced into it. The sin will be entirely upon the one who forced her (Ibn `Abbas, Sa`id b. Jubayr and others: Tabari).

Yusuf Ali points to a perennial problem: “Where slavery was legal, what is now called the ‘white slave traffic,’ it was carried on by wicked people like Abdullah ibn Ubai, the Hypocrite leader at Madinah. This is absolutely condemned. While modern nations have abolished ordinary slavery, the ‘White Slave Traffic’ is still a big social problem in individual States. Here it is absolutely condemned. No more despicable trade can be imagined.‏”

The individual states of Yusuf Ali’s mention, now cover whole continents. Sexual exploitation of women, highest ever at present in the West, where every fourth woman has, admittedly, shown sexual favors to the superiors in employment, is actually more rampant than the voluntary admittance to the surveyors (Au.).

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