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Charbonnier
"I’d rather die standing up
than live on my knees."
Stephane Charbonnier
(1967-2015)


Myths of Muhammad

The Myth:

Muhammad was an Abolitionist
who Purchased the
Freedom of Slaves


"Our Prophet (peace be upon him) never approved of slavery. He once purchased the life of a slave who came to him, liberating him from his master!"

The Truth:

Here is the real story on which that excerpt is based:
There came a slave and pledged allegiance to Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) on migration; he (the Holy Prophet) did not know that he was a slave.  Then there came his master and demanded him back, whereupon Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Sell him to me.  And he bought him for two black slaves, and he did not afterwards take allegiance from anyone until he had asked him whether he was a slave (or a free man) (Sahih Muslim 3901).

Muhammad actually “purchased” the slave by trading two black slaves, which is hardly a shining example of emancipation.  Not only that, it establishes the fact that Muhammad owned and traded African slaves.  As a wealthy businessman, he certainly could have liberated all three slaves, but chose instead to sell the two Africans into an uncertain future.

It is also obvious from the passage that Muhammad felt he had been conned into liberating the slave who had come to him, since he was not told of his status as a slave.  Because, of this, Muhammad decided that he would not be duped again.  In the future, he would always ask first about whether a man was free or not before deciding whether to accept allegiance.

There is also no record of Muhammad “liberating” slaves captured in battle, unless there was something that he personally gained from the act.  In fact, he made slaves out of those who were previously free people, particularly if they were women and children.  Sometimes he used families as leverage to force their men into accepting Islam:

The apostle told them to tell Malik that if he came to him as a Muslim he would return his family and property to him and give him a hundred camels. (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 879)

Captured women were passed out like party favors to his men, some of whom were then passed along to others.  This passage tells of Muhammad giving women as sex slaves to the three men who would become his successors, the future caliphs Umar, Uthman and Ali:

The apostle gave Ali a girl called Rayta; and he gave Uthman a girl called Zaynab; and he gave Umar a girl whom Umar gave to his son Abdullah. (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 878)

Allah gave Muslim men a divine mandate to keep as many sex slaves as they wished (Quran 4:24, 33:52…).  Contemporary apologists sometimes pretend that this applies only to women captured in battle (see also Myth: Muhammad Would Never Approve of Rape), but the same privilege is granted to believing men in 70:30, a passage “revealed” to the Muslims in Mecca, when they had not fought in battle.

Much could be written about Muhammad’s prolific and well-documented relationship with slaves, but one of the most insightful examples comes from this hadith (which is repeated elsewhere):

The Prophet sent for a woman from the emigrants and she had a slave who was a carpenter.  The Prophet said to her "Order your slave to prepare the wood (pieces) for the pulpit."  So, she ordered her slave who went and cut the wood from the tamarisk and prepared the pulpit, for the Prophet.  When he finished the pulpit, the woman informed the Prophet that it had been finished.  The Prophet asked her to send that pulpit to him, so they brought it.  The Prophet lifted it and placed it at the place in which you see now. (Bukari 47:743)

According to this hadith, the very pulpit that Muhammad preached Islam from was constructed from slave labor on his command!  Now does this sound like Muhammad had a problem with slavery?
 

Further Reading:

The Myths of Islam: Islam is Opposed to Slavery
What Islam Teaches about Slavery

 

Myths of Muhammad Index

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