c) Aspects of Islamic Slavery
(i) Recruitment of Slaves in Islam
We have already mentioned that newborn children could be recruited into Islamic slavery if the parents of the infant were slaves. But the most common method of getting slaves was capture (see Sura 33.50 given above). Sometimes this takes place on the battlefield, but as soldiers were usually men women could rarely be enslaved in this way. Thus in the Battle of Badr, the first of Muhammad's victories, all the captives were males. Some of these captives were released after a bounty was paid by their relatives others were freed if they converted and joined Muhammad's army
Males of mature age were not always desirable as slaves as the primary use of slaves in that pre-industrial society was to do domestic chores, and men did not excel in this. Thus Muslims always prized females not only because they could be used to do domestic work, but also because they could used to used to satisfy their carnal appetites of their owners and also be used as breeding stock to breed more slaves. Children were also prized because they could be converted into Islam by their captors without requiring their consent.
So in course of time the Prophet shifted his tactics and when an army was defeated the entire community which the army defended was enslaved. This ensured a supply of women and children the most prized of slaves. This was often combined with the wholesale slaughter of the men. The classic example of this is what the Prophet did after he defeated the Jewish tribe of Banu Quraiza. All 700 men left in the tribe were slaughtered in one day the unfortunates being forced to dig their own graves before their heads were struck off. So it was not simply a question of killing people in the heat of battle. All the women and children of the tribe were then enslaved.
Later on Muslims conducted organised raids into Africa to enslave Negroes. These were then sold in the slave bazaars of Mecca, Baghdad, Tripoli and other places in the Islamic world. This trade was only stopped by the European powers in the nineteenth century.
(ii) Muhammad as a Slave Owner
A stumbling block to those want to present Muhammad as a potential liberator of slaves is the he himself was a slave owner. We have already seen in Sura 33.50 that Allah says that he has given Muhammad slaves. Since the main route to servitude was capture in war Allah gives a fifth of the spoils of war to the Prophet to be used as he wishes:
8.41: And know that whatever thing you gain, a fifth of it is for Allah and for the Apostle and for the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, if you believe in Allah and in that which We revealed to Our servant, on the day of distinction, the day on which the two parties met; and Allah has power over all things
According to this Sura a fifth share of the booty was taken by Muhammad some of which was distributed to near kin, etc. as stipulated in the Sura. But this distribution was at Muhammad's discretion. The booty included the captives who were made slaves. After the first successful campaign, the Battle of Badr, Muhammad released the captives who were not ransomed by the Meccans. This clemency had been opposed by some Muslim leaders like Umar who wanted them executed. However in later battles the general rule was that the men who refused to convert were executed while women and children where taken into slavery.(15)
([b]iii) Position of Women Slaves
One of the worst aspects of Islamic slavery is the sexual exploitation of women slaves by their masters. Some Muslims try to deny this but as we have seen there are at least three Suras in the Koran which give the slave owner the power to cohabit with his female slaves at will. Even without the taint of slavery the plight of women was deplorable under Islam. If on top of this slavery is attached their plight is magnified manifold.
Amongst those who try to assert that concubinage with female slaves was not permitted in Islam is Maulana Muhammad Ali (The Religion of Islam, pp. 6667-670). His main argument is that Muhammad allows slave owners to marry female slaves (e.g. in Sura 24.32-33 which we have considered above)(16). But the fact that marriage is allowed does not mean that concubinage was not. In Islam a girl was given in marriage with the consent of her guardian (usually the father). But a slave has no guardian other than the slave-owner so the slave-owner marrying his own slave cannot be a free contract. A Muslim can have only four wives but he can keep an unlimited number of slave concubines; that is why marriage to one's slave was rather rare. Finally even Maulana Muhammad Ali is forced to admit that in the Islamic jurisprudence (the Fiqh) "we find the rule laid down that a master may have sexual relations with his slave girl simply because of the right of ownership which she has in her" (p. 670).
The sexual exploitation of women slaves has also existed in other countries, e.g. in the United States with respect to Negro slavery. But never so extensively and commonly as under Islam, and never under the sanction of divine command. The harems and seraglios of the richer Islamic potentiates became massive and they were replenished regularly by slave women. This is amply documented in the cases of the Moghul and Ottoman rulers as well as the smaller Arab sheiks.
Muhammad himself accumulated a small harem of women for each of whom he built an apartment around the Mosque at Medina. Most were wives, the number greatly exceeding the number of four which was allowed for ordinary Muslims(17). The extra wives were generally authorised by a special dispensation from God granted through the archangel Gabriel.
One of Muhammad's concubines, Mary the Copt, was a slave as she was a gift from the ruler of Abyssinia. Even though Mary refused to give up her Christian religion she became one of Muhammad's favorites (giving him one of his rare children) and was involved in one of the scandals in Muhammad's married life(18).
After the slaughter of the men of the Jewish tribe of Quraiza, and the enslavement of the women and children, Muhammad took Rihana, the wife of the chief of the Clan as a concubine. Of this incident Gairdner asks: "What of Rihana, the beautiful Jewess, taken to Muhammad's tent on the very night of the slaughter, she with a face yet wet for a husband massacred in cold blood, he with a soul newly stained by the blood of that husband?".(19) Rihana later tried to poison Muhammad.
(d) Apologetics for Islamic Slavery
In this section we review some representative opinions on the subject expressed by scholars and commentators usually involving some kind of defence of the institution of slavery in Islam. As we have mentioned earlier many writers on Islam ignore this question entirely(20). This could be described as the defence of Islamic slavery by silence. But it probably indicates that we are dealing with an obvious fact which needs no further elaboration. However silence can be misconstrued as absence of slavery and sometimes the silence may be deceptively used.
However many writers do refer to this institution, often in passing, but sometimes acknowledging its infamy but also trying to provide some justification of it. No one can be found who expressly states that Islam does not permit slavery for this is too obvious in almost every aspect of the religion. We cannot be exhaustive in a survey like this. We shall first look at a few books on Islam written by non-Muslims and then consider the defence of Islam on this question by Muslim writers.
Jacques Jomier's book How to Understand Islam(21) is partly critical partly apologetic. We are told "Islam accepted slavery as a social fact and no one felt the need to react against it immediately." Muhammad had no compunction in denouncing "social facts" that he did not agree with (e.g. infanticide, some arrangements relating to marriage and divorce) so the fact that he accepted the "social fact" of slavery must mean that he approved of it. And as to the lack of immediate reaction there is no evidence of any important Muslim reacting against it even several centuries later. The abolition of slavery was imposed on Muslim rulers by the Western colonial powers in the nineteenth century. Jomier writes:
But the question has been inflamed by an anti-Muslim apologetic which seeks to heap on Islam all the shame for a practice which has now been abolished. It may indeed have been the case that the raids of Muslim slavers were the last to take place when elsewhere this kind of traffic had already disappeared. However, it is for those whose ancestors have never practised slavery to cast the first stone.
Even if slavery is now abolished it does not prevent us from studying how it was treated by Muhammad, the apostle of God. It is not a matter of heaping shame because even modern Muslims try to device some kind of apologetic for this institution. As to Jomier's reference to casting stones, this is also an argument advanced by Jesus who said that "he who is without sin should cast the first stone". Bu this is a dubious argument. If taken seriously it would mean that many criminals will have to be allowed to go free because there may be no one who is "without sin". The modern judicial principle is to judge people on the evidence, not the morals of the judge, and it is this test that has to be applied to the Koran.
After saying that Christianity too had accepted slavery Jomier says: "The main difference between Christianity and Islam was that in Islam sexual relations with female slaves are officially permitted in addition to legitimate marriage; hence there was a supplementary traffic to supply the harems." Jomier also states: "... female slaves who gave a child to their masters were put in a separate legal category. They are called umm walad (mother of a child) and cannot be sold. They have to be freed on the death of their master".(22)
Another difference that is claimed was that Christian slavery was used for economic purposes while Islamic slavery was mainly domestic. While there is some truth in this it does not in any way mitigate the infamy of slavery. Also slaves had been used for economic purposes in Islamic countries, and there have been some noted slave revolts under Islam, e.g. the Zanj revolt in ninth century Iraq when slaves transported from East Africa to work plantations revolted. This is scarcely different to the transportation of Negro slaves to work in the plantations of the United States.
A more recent book put out by a leading academic publisher is David Waines' An Introduction to Islam (Cambridge University Press, 1995), which has a section on "dhimmis and slaves". It says very much less than what has been considered in this work. Waines says that "the slave, was not recognized by the law as fully responsible as a free Muslim" which is something of an understatement. He says: "A slave was either born to his or her station or was a non-Muslim who fell into captivity, most often as a consequence of war. Slaves were also purchased by Muslim rulers ..." Here he is on sound ground.
John Espisoto's Islam the Straight Path, while mentioning slavery tries to minimise its import. Thus referring to the enslavement of the women and children of the Qurayza Jewish tribe he says: "... the motivation for this was political rather than racial or theological". This is wrong; it was religious to the extent that it fell under Muhammad's grand plan of ridding Arabia of all non-Muslims.
The opinion of D. S. Margoliouth on this subject is as follows: "How the doctrine of the equality of all Moslems was to the reconciled with this institution [slavery] was not obvious; for it might seem that a slave had merely to adopt Islam in order ipso facto to become free; and indeed the doctrine that no one already a Moslem may be enslaved seems to be orthodox. Omar is said to have advanced the that no Arab might be enslaved and in the main these living chattels came from other races" (Mohammedanism, pp 88-89). Clearly this refers to Muslims becoming slaves but as we have seen Muslims were indeed made slaves.
On the defense of slavery by Muslims we can quote two writers Maulana Mohammad Ali and Muhammad Qutb.
Maulana Mohammad Ali's The Religion of Islam (Lahore 1936) is a substantial scholarly volume which contains a section on slavery. He cannot however deny outright that Islam does not permit slavery. He writes:
"Slavery was an institution recognised by all people before Islam. To Islam lies the credit of laying down principles which if developed on the right lines, would have brought about its destruction" (pp 661-2)
Unfortunately for Maulana Islam did not try to destroy slavery but perpetuated it for a longer period than otherwise would have been the case. The principles it added were of the most obnoxious and vile kind.
The Muslim writer who has set out to provide the longest defence of Islam on the score of slavery that I am aware of is Muhammad Qutb. His book is entitled Islam the Misunderstood Religion(23). The longest chapter in this book (some 50 pages long) is entitled "Islam and Slavery". His arguments however are not too cogent but they deserve consideration. Much of the book is written as a diatribe against Communism as if all those who accuse Islam of slavery are Communists.
Qutb's line of argument is given by this quotation:
"Now as Islam came to the world at a time when the stage of slavery was coming to an end and that of feudalism just beginning, it brought with itself laws, creeds and a discipline of life all of which were in concord with the prevalent circumstances of economic existence. That is why it approved of slavery as well as permitted feudalism, for Islam could not anticipate the next stage of economic development nor give any system to the world for which the economic circumstances were not ripe..." (p. 64-5)
At least Qutb does not try to deny that Islam permitted slavery, as some of the more ignorant Muslims do. According to Qutb when Islam arose slavery was ending. Why then did it embrace a dying system and give it a new lease of life? Muhammad rejected many other economic institutions prevalent in his day, e.g. loans on interest, gambling, etc. So there was no reason for him to accept anything simply because it was there. In fact Muslims take pride in saying that Muhammad rejected some current practices like infanticide. So why did he not reject slavery? The plain fact is that he approved of it and indeed used it both for his personal benefit and that of the Muslim community.
Qutb's claim that Islam could not anticipate the next stage of economic development may be accepted if the official line is that the Koran is the work of Muhammad. But it is claimed that it is Allah's work. If so the alleged power of omniscience attributed to Allah would have enabled him to see all of the past and of the future. So the Koran's justification of the institution of slavery must be God's design. Qutb then goes into a long digression on how bad slavery was under the Romans and claiming that Islamic slavery was "better" than that of Rome, Persia, India, etc. This kind of argument of course is puerile. In any slave system one may be able to find slave owners who acted better than those in another system and some who are worse. Even if it were possible to compare evil systems, the degradation in Islamic slavery may well be amongst the worst. There is unanimous agreement that in respect of the carnal exploitation of slave women by their masters Islamic slavery was infinitely worse than any other system.
Qutb also claims that as slavery in Islam was domestic slavery while elsewhere slaves were used in industry or agriculture it was better. The domestic nature of slavery arose from the economic circumstance of Arabia; it was pre-industrial and the dessert nature of the country prevented large-scale agriculture. But when Islam moved to other areas it did employ slaves in plantations (e.g. the ninth century slave revolt in Iraq). Also domestic slavery leads to the odious institution of sexual exploitation of slaves. Thus Qutb's argument here is not sound.
Qutb then cites two aspects of Islamic slavery which he says "signified a great practical advancement achieved by Islam in the history of slavery" (p. 79). These institutions are: (1) Al Itq or the voluntary freeing of slaves and (2) Mukatabah or freedom by written agreement. The first of these is simply not enough. Slavery is a violent institution and it cannot be ended voluntarily, especially if it has divine sanction. The source cited for this is Sura 4.92 which we have examined earlier and shown not to be a voluntary freeing but the payment of a restitution for manslaughter. The second one is the "written agreement" we have discussed above in connection with Sura 24.33 where its limitations were exposed. Thus Qutb's "advancements" prove to be no advancements at all. The only advancement in slavery is to abolish the institution altogether and this Muhammad signally failed to do.
Qutb finds great difficulty in answering the question why Islam did not abolish slavery. His answer is that because slavery was deep rooted at the time "its abolition required a far longer period of time than the life of the Holy Prophet". But the brevity of his life did not prevent the Prophet from introducing other reforms of institutions equally deep-rooted. Besides there was not even a declaration of intention, and as we have seen the Prophet fully used the advantages of the institution both personally and communally for his group. Not only the prophet but none of his successors attempted to abolish slavery. Surely Qutb cannot argue that the many centuries of Muslim power was not long enough to abolish this institution. The sad fact is that slavery increased in its scope as the power of Muslim empires grew.
Qutb illustrates very well the futility of many Muslims in trying to justify an unjustifiable institution. Above all an institution which more than anything else condemns Islam.
3. The Infidel in Islam
(a) Literature on Islam and the Infidel
Books on Islam tend to be of three types. There are those by Muslims and they are frankly apologetic trying to justify the practices of Islam. At the opposite end we have books by those who have been its opponents or victims and are thus frankly critical in tone. Thirdly there are books by scholars of religion and Islam specialists. We would normally expect this third category of books to be objective. Unfortunately this is not the case. Many scholars become apologists for the religions they study. Also unlike other academics they are not interested in determining the accuracy of claims made in religious texts they study but confine themselves largely to describing those claims and practices based on them. There are, of course, a few scholars who are truly objective but this is altogether rather rare for Islam, and indeed for other religions as well.
The five books(24) on Islam considered here provide a sampling of these different approaches. The book by Muhammad Qutb is frankly apologetic. It was originally published in Arabic in Cairo and this translation has been published by the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs of Kuwait in order to "dispel the doubts cast against Islam by its enemies". It is thus useful in finding out what the official defence of the religion is. The books by Ghosh and Burns, who are not Muslims, provide an undisguised critique of Islam, but for the most part they tend to be as objective as possible. The books by Espisoto and Peters may be taken as representative of scholarly works, the former sympathetic to Islam and latter more objective.
(b) Umma, Dhimmi and Kaffir
In this article we do not seek to present an analysis of Islam as a whole, but to concentrate on a particular aspect, viz. the treatment of the Infidel in Islam. Islam divides mankind into three categories - the Muslims (umma), the people of the Book (ahl al-Kitab) and the unbelievers (kafir). The umma consists of all those who have made the profession of faith of Islam (the Sahada). This is the statement that "there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet". They come under the jurisdiction of Islamic law, and retreat from this is impossible, for in Islam apostasy is a capital offence. The people of the Book are Jews and Christians, who according to Islam, also received the revelation from God, but in an imperfect form and in any case they soon departed from its correct interpretation. Even though the Koranic revelation supercedes that of the "people of the Book" they are tolerated in Islamic countries and worship of their religions allowed (except in Arabia proper where the Muhammad decreed that only the worship of Islam be permitted).
Studies of Islam by Christians and Jews lack in objectivity as they cannot criticise the dogmas of Islam without exposing themselves also to the same charges as their beliefs are not too different. They also seem to revel in the special position accorded to them in Islam (though subject to a financial penalty) and Muslim rulers had usually employed them in high positions in the administration of conquered peoples. Christian and Jewish writers on Islam have generally ignored the position of the Kafir in Islam. Quite apart from the affinity they share with Islam their own attitude to "pagans" has been hardly different especially in the medieval period.
The historic conflict of Christian with Muslims best typified by the Crusades has been long forgotten. Recently the Pope has made overtures to Muslims and even praised them for the regularity with which they pray to God.
It must be remembered that humanists also belong to the category of Kafirs. This is because they do not believe in a revealed text, which is the defining characteristic of the people of the Book. There is no evidence that Muhammad encountered any atheists. Most of his fury was directed against "idolaters" by which he meant those who worshipped traditional divinities and goddesses. There is a category of people described in the Koran as "hypocrites" often taken to be the worst of the unbelievers. These would include atheists, humanists and freethinkers. As far as their ultimate fate is concerned there is very little difference between the kaffir and the hypocrite.
Muhammad initially hoped that the Jews would convert to Islam and only when they did not did he undertake his miliary actions against them either killing them or expelling them from Arabia.
Three of the books considered in this article deal exclusively with the topic of the kafir in Islam, the other two contain passing references.
Almost every page of the Koran is replete with imprecations against the Kafir and vivid descriptions are given of the terrible fate that awaits him. The post-death destination of a person begins as soon as he is buried (we shall assume a male even though a female is treated similarly). Two Angels (Monker and Nakir) interrogate him in the grave as to his beliefs. If he is an unbeliever he is beaten mercilessly then and there. His terrible cries are heard in all directions, but not upwards so that people on the ground do not hear them (how convenient!) How a cremated body is treated is not specifically detailed, but the Angels can resurrect it even from the minutest particle to administer the beating. Muhammad got this idea from Judaism where the newly buried is subjected to the Hibbût Hakkeber or "beating of the sepulchre".
But this is nothing compared to the fate that awaits the Infidel in the Islamic Hell. The torments in this hell, so vividly described in the Koran, are no different from those in the Jewish hell in which Jesus also believed. This notion of an eternal Hell, common to the three religions, is most destructive to the psychological well-being of people, especially children on whom this absurd notion is inculcated quite early by religionists. It is also one of the strongest fears binding the follower to the religion, often for life, however contrary it may be to common sense.
(c) War and Jihad in Islam
But the Hell of Islam, like its Paradise, only exists in the tortured minds of its believers. As against the fantasy the reality of what Muhammad and his successors have done to non-Moslems is what is of consequence in history.
That Muhammad felt justified in the use of force in the expansion of Islam cannot be doubted. There is the statement in the Koran which is often quoted by apologists: "There is no compulsion in religion" (Sura 2.256). The context does not explain what is meant by this statement and it does not recur again in the Koran or the Hadith. It comes from one of the early Suras, given in Mecca or just after the flight to Yathrib. At that time the Muslims were persecuted by the Meccan elite and an appeal for tolerance may appear reasonable. The situation changed when Muhammad triumphed in Medina, and finally conquered Mecca itself. Then the urge is to fight the non-believer becomes paramount, e.g. Sura 9 Verse 29:
9.29: Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.
9.73: O Prophet! strive hard [make war] against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding to them; and their abode is hell, and evil is the destination.
Qutb says of this that this refers to "non-Muslims who wage war against Islam", but this is a fanciful reading and refuted by what happened in the early history of Islamic expansion. In fact Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, is quite explicit on this. He is reported as saying in the Hadith: "I have been ordered to fight the people until they profess that there is no god but God and that Mohammad is the messenger of God" (Peters, p. 127). Once again the apologetic defence that "people" here means the pagan Arabs attacking the Muslims is without foundation. By Abu Bakr's time Islam was no longer on the defensive and the pagan Arabs had all converted either voluntarily or by fear.
The only exception to this was for Jews and Christians (called the dhimmis) who have to pay a special tax (the Jizya) "with willing submission and feel themselves subdued". This qualification is important for even in Arabia during Muhammad's rule the fate of the defeated dhimmis was inevitably death, enslavement or exile. A notorious incident was how Muhammad dealt with the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza where all the 700 men of the defeated tribe were slaughtered in one day in 627 CE and the women and children enslaved with the wife of the Chief recruited into Muhammad's harem. A similar slaughter took place two years later after the Jews lost the Battle of Khaybar.
The institution of the Jihad, or Holy War, underpinned the military basis of the expansion of Islam. There is no discussion of Jihad in Qutb's book but the subject is well treated by Rudolph Peters. There is a modern apologia, first used by the Sufis, that Jihad refers to the internal struggle against evil. As Peters shows this is not what it meant in classical Islam. He says: "In the books on Islamic law, the word [Jihad] means armed struggle against the unbelievers, which is also a common meaning in the Koran". This usage greatly exceeds its meaning as an internal striving, and is also the way in which the word is used in the modern context as when various Islamic groups declare Jihad against Western interests or Israel.
Another defence of Jihad interpreted as literal war, particularly advanced by modernists, is that it refers to "justified war". The notion of bellum justum is common to Judaism and Christianity as well. The attack on Iraq in 1998 is a good example of this as interpreted by the church-going Clinton and the mass-attending Blair. But this notion was already been well recognised in pre-Islamic Arabia. Islam's innovation is to introduce the notion of offensive war for Islam. The modernists quote such statements as "Fight them until there is no persecution and the religion is God's entirely" (Koran 8:39). But the second part of this statement is used by fundamentalists to justify offensive war in the cause of Islam.
The expansion of Islam out of Arabia took place during the early Caliphates mainly through Jihad. The initial thrust was Westward and the first important country in this direction was Egypt which at that time was largely Christian. Alexandria fell in 643. The conquered population was so large that the early solution of extermination was clearly impossible. The conversion of Egypt is well described by Robert Burns.
The Jizya was set at a level that it was impossible for the Christians to pay, and in addition the maintenance of churches was not allowed despite the theoretical freedom to practice their religion as an approved one in the Koran. In addition outright persecution was also practiced. It did not take long for Egypt to convert to Islam (except for the Copt minority).
The Islamic expansion westward from Egypt was temporarily stopped by the Berbers, but their resistance was overcome and Islam crossed over to the Iberian peninsula in 711 when Islam again encountered a Christianized population. It did not take long for the Moslems to conquer the country Toledo falling the following year. But the conquest of the province proceeded swiftly and it became the seat of one of later Islamic dynasties. The Westward advance of Islam was only stopped near Poitiers in France in 732, and a few years later the Muslims were pushed south of the Pyrenees.
Islam also advanced into Christendom through the Balkans. This was spearheaded by the Ottomans who had embraced Islam without much resistance. This advance too was stopped at the gates of Vienna, but it has left a legacy which is not without its modern consequences.
(d) Expansion into Asia
But it is in the Eastward expansion of Islam that the principles of Jihad were put into full operation. Here there were no "people of the Book" for whom some dispensation had been given in the Koran. The key link here was the conquest of Iran in 643, a non-Arabic people. The last Persian emperor was killed in 651, but the conversion of Iran was to have grave consequences for Islam later on as it produced the first schism in Islam.
But the expansion East of Iran through Afghanistan, Kabul falling in 664, south-east into India and north-east into Central Asia and China was clearly into Kaffir territory. If some restraint was shown in the Westward expansion into Christian territory now the gloves were well and truly off. The full rigour of what the Koran has to say on Jihad and the Infidel was about to unroll in history.
The infidels in the new territories were mainly Buddhists and Hindus. The Buddhists with their pacifist philosophy offered no resistance and were the first to go. The destruction of the monasteries, the killing of the monks and the rape of nuns is well-known even though there is still no book documenting this episode in all its horror. In particular the destruction of the Buddhist universities of Taxila and Nalanda are particularly heinous crimes. The burning of the Library of Nalanda ranks with the destruction of the Library of Alexandria as the two most notorious acts of vandalism in the course of Islamic expansion.
Ghosh's book gives many examples how these Islamic principles were carried out in succeeding centuries in India against the Hindus. Hinduism had a military tradition, cf. Khrishna's exhortation to Arjuna to fight given in the Bhagavat Gita. But Hindu warfare lacked the fanaticism of the Muslim and theirs was not to convert subject populations. Indeed Hinduism as an ethnic religion meant that people could not come within its confines except by birth. The Hindus were able to offer some resistance but not to the extent of preventing the establishment of Muslim rule over large parts of India.
The fate of Rajasthan was typical. Ghosh writes: "The Rajputs houses of worship were destroyed, their women raped and carried away, their children taken away as bonded labour, and all non-combatants murdered. The Rajputs soon came to know the ways of the Moslems. If it appeared that the battle could not be won, then they themselves killed their women and children, Masada style, and then went to fight the Moslems until death. In many cases the Rajput women took their own lives by taking poison and then jumping into a deep fiery pit (so that their bodies could not be desecrated)".
As with other areas under Islamic conquest sex was used not only to satisfy the carnal appetites of the conquerors but also as some sort of population policy. Ghosh writes: "The Arabs not only imposed their ruthless rule and totalitarian creed on the countries they conquered; they also populated these countries with a prolific progeny which they procreated on native women. Every Arab worth his race 'married' scores, sometimes hundreds of these helpless women after their menfolk had all been killed. Divorce of a wedded wife had been made very easy by the 'law' of Islam. A man could go on marrying and divorcing at the rate of several women during the span of a single day and night. What was more convenient, there was no restriction on the number of concubines a man could keep. The Arab conquerors used these male privileges in full measure." Ghosh sees this as the main cause why the population of territories conquered rapidly became within decades Moslem.
The most cruel treatment was reserved to the religious leaders of the Hindus who refused to convert. In 1645 the Sikh guru Tegh Bahadur was tortured for his resistance to the forcible conversion of the Hindus in Kashmir. His followers were killed before him and when this did not make him yield he was finally beheaded..
(e) A Final Word
Some would argue that modern Islam is quite changed from its historical record. This is a view propagated by the more sanitised views of Islam that appear in "scholarly" accounts. The book by John Espisoto, which we have taken as typical of modern scholarly works, is typical of this approach. Here Islam is considered purely internally in terms of what is meant to its adherents and even here only the "positive" sayings in the Koran are considered. Sas the author says the objective of the book is "to enable readers to understand the faith and practice of Muslims".
The first chapter "Muhammad and the Quran" gives a sanitized account of Muhammad as a holy man. There is no mention of his private life, his wives, his military campaigns, his robbery of caravans, etc. all of which are essential to a true evaluation of the Prophet. All these negative aspects are indirectly attributed to the practice of the times, ignoring the fact as God's chosen apostle he should be able to rise above the infirmities of his age.
Thus Espisoto's chapter on "The Muslim Community in History" does not deal with how this community impacted on the non-Muslim world, but on the internal history within the Muslim umma. A great deal of attention is paid to the genesis of the Sunni-Shia split, and the rivalries between the various caliphates. If any attention is paid to external groups it is only to the Christian-Muslim relationship. As we have seen this was not the true of the Islamic interaction with the kaffir. There is a great deal of apologia for the Crusades, for in this respect Christianity was no better than Islam.
Espisoto's chapters on modern interpretations of contemporary Islam focus on those reform movements during the phase of the decline of Islam when apologists realised that the high-handed reliance on the sword will not fit a period when the balance of power has effectively shifted away from Islam. But what it ignores is that the old classical notions have not be been supplanted and continue to lie dormant.
Today with the economic power of Islam restored by the oil wealth the situation is again changing. What is called the revival of fundamentalism is nothing more than an attempt to revert to the practices of classical Islam. The only difference is that while some of the more extreme Muslims are reviving the classical conflict with Judaism and Christianity others are seeking to forge closer relations with these "religions of the Book".
An indication of the former tendency is the increased resort to Sharia law in many Muslim countries. The latest to adopt the Sharia system is Pakistan (although the legislation has still to pass the second chamber). When one considers that Pakistan is the first Muslim country to produce the nuclear bomb the consequences are somber for the rest of the world, especially for the kaffir nations.
The two subjects considered in this booklet are fundamental for humanists. Islam helps to focus these issues better than most other religions. This is what gives special importance for a study of this subject in relation to Islam. But they are implicit in all theistic religion. The revival in theistic religion in modern times, even presenting it as something of an improvement, is thus a timely moment to remind ourselves what these principles have led to at a time when they were in full force.
On the question of censorship we cannot say that the problem has been resolved even to the extent that the slavery problem has been resolved. An insidious form of censorship introduced by the religiously inclined is to oppose the criticism on the ground that it would lead to "vilification". It is true that this is argued mostly in connection with ethnic groups. Racial vilification is an increasingly common feature as many countries in the world are becoming multi-ethnic and multi-racial. Whatever the merits of such a prohibition may be it should not be allowed to become a smoke-screen for the legitimate critique of religion.
There has not been a special demand to outlaw "vilification" of religion other than the blasphemy laws which adorn the statute books of many countries. These laws have been introduced at the instigation of religious groups and do not generally extend to other religions than the dominant religion. In the U.K. there has been a demand that the laws originally introduced to defend the Christian religion be extended to cover Islam as well. This arguments supportive of blasphemy laws have little validity. Their complete repeal has been demanded by many humanists.
We can hope that a study of Islam on the subjects of slavery and its treatment of non-believers will be of use and relevance to the current debate. One can only hope that scholars will devote more attention to this subject than has been the case so far.
1. Humanism is the philosophy that asserts the primacy of the human being over a supernatural entity like God, that asserts that reason should be the foundation of all beliefs, and which affirms that ethical precepts need not be grounded on religious dogmas. Humanist groups have agitated for the separation of church and state, for the defence of human rights, for the freedom of belief and opinion, for reproductive rights for women, for voluntary euthanasia, and many similar goals.
2. Paul rejected the notion that the Jewish Law should be followed by Christians but he did not reject the Old Testament as part of the divine revelation. Since Pauline Christianity is now the basis of most modern Christian denominations one can argue that slavery has ceased to be fundamental to it. However Negro slavery in the United States had been justified on Biblical grounds. It is, of course, Christian powers who took a leading part in suppressing Islamic slavery in the nineteenth century. 3. The Christian texts too have been presented as the word of God but this claim is now not as vigorously advocated as it has been in the past. Their human authorship is now freely admitted. But this has not happened with respect to the Koran. Here it is claimed that Muhamad was only a mouthpiece for a message that came from high.
4. The Koran was not actually written by Muhammad who is said to have recited its various sections (called Suras) at various times in his prophetic career. These were compiled by his successor Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, into a book. In course of time this too got corrupted with several versions circulating in various parts of the Islamic empire. A later Caliph issued an authoritative version burning all other copies.
5. Slaves are invariably referred to in the Koran as "possessions of the right hand". That this refers to slave is universally agreed by all interpreters of the Koran.
6. The Hadith consists of anecdotes of the sayings and doings of Muhammad (called matn) and were compiled several centuries after Muhammad's death. Each matn is authenticated by its pedigree (called its isnard ) going back to the person who originally heard or saw the event described. The most authentic of the hadiths are those ascribed to al-Bukhari and Muslim, both of whom lived in the ninth century CE.
It must be remembered that the Muslim fast is from dawn to dusk. Thus if the breakfast is taken before dawn breaks and the dinner after dusk has set in the person fasting misses only one meal!
A common method of execution was beheading, so "freeing a neck" might refer to not executing some one.
Muslim jurists are divided over the interpretation of this verse. Some regard it as requiring the whole face and head to be covered (except for the eyes) hence the chador (Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.) This may be the reasonable interpretation as it is said that the head covering must come all the way to the bosom. Others consider that only the top of the head need be covered (Malaysia, Pakistan, etc.) Some women completely disregard this verse, but then they may not be "believing" women!
12. There are other verses (e.g. Sura 2, verse 177) where it is stated that a righteous person will give away wealth "for (the emancipation of) the captives". As usual this is not an obligatory requirement but one that the pious may do.
13. This Sura was given to justify Muhammad's desire to wed Zainab the wife of this freed slave Zaid whom Muhammad had adopted as a son. On a visit to Zaid Muhammad had seen Zainab in a semi-dressed state and had coveted her. Zaid hearing this divorced her, but it was still contrary to Arab custom. Hence the need for a special Sura to justify it. Zaid has the distinction of being the only one of Muhammad's followers to be named individually in the Koran.
14. There are several Suras which are specific to particular individuals, usually to the Prophet himself.
15. This was validated by Allah in a convenient revelation (Sura 8, The Accessions): " It is not fit for a prophet that he should take captives unless he has fought and triumphed in the land" (Verse 67). Some translate the latter part of this as "made slaughter in the land".
16. He also interprets Sura 24.32 to mean that marriage was obligatory for a slave. As we have seen this Sura does not entail such an obligation.
17. After the death of his first wife Khadija Muhammad married in turn Sauda, Ayesha, Hafsa, Habiba, Salma, Safia, Moyumuna, Zainab bint Jahsh, Zainab bint Khuzaimah and Juwairya. At his death he left ten widows, none of whom were permitted to marry again by a special revelation he had laid down..
18. Muhammad had no quarters of his own and spent each night in one of the houses of his consorts. One day when it was Hafsa's "turn" he was discovered with Mary , to make matters worse, in Hafsa's own quarters. This violated Muhammad's own rule to treat each wife equally and led to some dissension amongst his household. Muhammad's favourite wife was Ayesha whom he married when she was nine and he was in his fifties....