Islam and Slavery

Slavery and Islam Part 1 – Context

Slavery Part 1: Context

Islam’s Position on Slavery and taking Slaves

  • The honourable shaykh and mujtahid Imam Taqi al-Din al-Nabhani (d.1977) writes in his masterpiece al-Shakhsiyya al-Islamiyya (‘The Islamic Personality’):

Islam came when slavery was already in existence all over the world. The system of slavery was widespread in all parts of the world and all societies. No known part of the world was free from trading slaves or taking free persons as slaves.[1] No known society was without slavery. Islam looked at this problem as being connected to two aspects: One aspect is related to persons being taken as slaves by force (alladhi istaraqqu bi ’l-fi`l) and deemed inferior in status then their free counterparts. They were also considered commodities (sil`a) to be bought and sold like other commodities. Hence it was necessary to solve this issue in a way that led to the emancipation of these slaves, i.e. to free them. As for the second aspect, it is related to taking others as slaves (istirqaq) and the solution was one that delineated limits on the process of taking others as slaves. For this reason there are many verses of the Qur’an as well as ahadith that solve these two aspects in a way where the solution benefits human beings and is based on both the reality of human beings and the relationships that govern their individuals and societies.[2]



  • There is a legal culture of slavery abolition in Islam (discussed in part 2).
  • Islam came to regulate a form of prevailing slavery in Arabia and the wider world.
  • Discriminatory and race-slavery was an issue Islam came to solve by legally prescribed emancipatory routes.
  • The rulings regarding slavery were legislated to address prevailing realities.


London, 2010.

[1] See R. Watkins, Slavery: Bondage Throughout History, pp.3-26 and D. C. Snell, “Slavery in the Ancient Near East”, pp.4-21 and D. J. Thompson, “Slavery in the Hellenistic World”, pp.194-121 both in The Cambridge History of World Slavery Vol 1, ed. by K. Bradley et al.

[2] al-Nabhani, al-Shakhsiyya al-Islamiyya, vol.2, p.271.


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