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What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam What is This? A guide to a wide variety of general questions asked by those looking to learn more about Muslim culture and the Islamic world.

Society, Politics, and Economy >
What does Islam say about slavery?

Slavery, common in pre-Islamic Arabia, the Mediterranean, and African and Asian societies, was an accepted institution in Islam as it was in Judaism and Christianity. Islam did not abolish slavery but, like Judaism and Christianity before it, set about defining it legally and morally and moderating and mitigating the condition of slaves. Islamic law prohibited the enslavement of Muslims, non-Muslims (dhimmi), and orphans and foundlings who lived within the realm of Islam (dar al-Islam). Only those bought or captured outside Islamic territory or the children of slaves already in captivity were recognized as legal slaves.

Slaves were recognized as persons as well as property. The emancipation of one's slaves was regarded as a meritorious act to be encouraged. Although slaves as property could be bought and sold, Islamic law prescribed that they were to be treated fairly, justly, and kindly. They could not be killed; male slaves could not be made eunuchs, and female slaves could not be used as prostitutes. A concubine who had a child by her master would become free upon his death. Children born of a free man and a slave woman were regarded as free, not slaves. A slave mother could not be separated from her child. Slaves could marry, own property, and lead prayers.

The Abbasid Empire introduced the institution of slave soldiers (mamluks), which became a staple of many Muslim regimes; slave soldiers came to hold important positions in the military, becoming powerful generals and governors of provinces. In a number of important medieval Islamic states like the Mamluk sultanate in Egypt, the Delhi sultanate in India, and the Ghaznavid state in Central Asia, slave commanders became sultans or rulers. However, while some slaves became part of the social and political elite, others continued to live and labor under harsh conditions.

By the late nineteenth century, in part due to British efforts, the slave trade, especially of African slaves, declined. The Ottoman Empire officially ended slavery in 1887, although it continued to exist there and elsewhere. By the latter half of the twentieth century, slavery was abolished in Arabia and much of the Islamic world. Although slavery has been abolished officially in Islam, it can still be found in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, Sudan, and Mauritania.

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