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The Religion of Peace

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Myths of Islam

 Islam is
Opposed to Slavery


The Myth:

Islam is intolerant of enslaving human beings.  The religion eradicated the institution of slavery thanks to the principles set in motion by Muhammad, who was an abolitionist.

The Truth:

Muhammad captured, owned and sold slaves.  The Quran explicitly gives slave-owners the freedom to sexually exploit their slaves – not just in one place, but in at least four separate Suras.  Islamic law is littered with rules concerning the treatment of slaves, some of which are relatively humane, but none that prohibit the actual practice by any stretch.

The very presence of these rules condones and legitimizes the institution of slavery.  Adding to this is the fact that Muhammad was an avid slave trader.  After providing ample evidence of his activities according to the most reliable Muslim biographers, the Center of the Study of Political Islam summarizes its findings as such:
Muhammad captured slaves, sold slaves, bought slaves as gifts of pleasure, received slaves as gifts, and used slaves for work.  The Sira is exquisitely clear on the issue of slavery. (Muhammad and the Unbelievers: a Political Life)
Even the very pulpit from which Muhammad preached Islam was built by slave labor at his directive!

The Quran tells Muslims to emulate the example of Muhammad, who has the most "exalted character".  As such, the deeply dehumanizing horror of slavery has been a ubiquitous tradition of Islam for 14 centuries, including the modern plight of non-Muslim slaves in the Sudan, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and other parts of the Muslim world.

There has never been an abolitionary movement within Islam (just as the religion produces no organized resistance to present-day enslavement).  The abolition of slavery was imposed on the Islamic world by European countries, along with other political pressures that were entirely unrelated to Islamic law.

Although horrible abuses of slaves in the Muslim world were recorded, there has been little inclination toward the documentation and earnest contrition that one finds in the West.  The absence of a guilty Muslim conscience often leads to the mistaken impression that slavery was not as bad under Islam - when it is actually indicative of the explicit tolerance the religion has for the practice

So narcissistic is the effect of Islam on the devoted, that to this day many Muslims believe in their hearts that the women and children carried off in battle, along with their surviving men folk, were actually done a favor by the Muslim warriors who, in fact, plucked them from their fields and homes and relegated them to lives of demeaning servitude. 

Shame and apology, no matter how appropriate, are almost never to be found in Dar al-Islam.  Caliphs, the religious equivalent of popes, maintained harems of hundreds, sometimes thousands of young girls and women captured from lands as far away as Europe and consigned to sexual slavery.  Hungarians were hunted like animals by the Turks, who carried 3 million into slavery over a 150 year period in the 1500-1600's.  In India, 200,000 Hindus were captured and transported to Iranian slave markets in just a two year span (1619-1620) by one of the kinder Muslim rulers.

African slaves were often castrated by their Muslim masters.  Few survived to reproduce, which is why there are not many people of African descent living in the Middle East, even though more slaves were taken out of Africa in the 1300 years of Arab slave trading than in the 300 years of European slavery.  The 400,000 slaves brought to America, for example, have now become a community of 30 million, with a much higher standard of living than their African peers.

There is no William Wilberforce or Bartoleme de las Casas in Islamic history as there is in Christianity.  When asked to produce the name of a Muslim abolitionist, apologists sometimes meekly suggest Muhammad himself.  But, if a slave owner and trader, who commanded the capture and sexual exploitation of slaves, and left a 13-century legacy of divinely-sanctioned slavery, is the best that Islam can offer in the way of an abolitionist, then no amount of sophistry will be enough to convince any but the most ignorant.

Further Reading

Slavery in Islam (TROP)
Slavery in Islam (Answering Islam site)

Myths of Islam Index

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