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Slaves' Children: Imams and Caliphs

From its advent until the rise of the Umayyads, Islam had achieved a marked degree of success in its benign war against slavery. Slaves were no longer sub-human animals, but men and women of dignity and respect. Many a freed slave rose to high ranks. The descendants of the Prophet and their followers continued the Islamic attitude towards slavery. A number of Imams married slave-women who became mothers of Imams. The Kaysaniyyah sect believed Muhammad al-Hanafiyyah (a son of Imam 'Ali) to be the Imam after Imam Husayn. Muhammad al-Hanafiyyah's mother Khawla bint Ja'far bin Qays was a captive whom 'Ali married. But nobody ever suggested that being born of a captive girl was a snag in the belief of the Kaysaniyyah. Likewise, Zaydiyyah sect believes that the Imam, after Imam Zaynul 'Abidin, was his son Zayd who was born of a Sindhi slave-girl, named Huriya. Even Shahr Banu, daughter of Yazd Jurd (the last emperor of Iran) who was married to Imam Husayn and was mother of Imam Zaynul 'Abidin, had come to Arabia as a captive. Still her personal virtues earned her the title of "chief of the ladies". Hamidah Khatun, mother of Imam Musa al-Kazim was a slave-girl from Berber. She is renowned for her knowledge and piety. She was called Hamidah the Pure. Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq used to send the women to learn the tenets of religion from her and used to say that "Hamidah is pure from every impurity like the ingot of pure gold." The mother of Imam 'Ali al-Riza also was a slave-girl from Maghrib (North-West Africa). Her name was Taktum (or Najma) and she was known as Tahirah, the purified one. She was renowned for her piety and knowledge. Imam Muhammad al-Taqi was son of Sabikah, commonly known as Khayzuran, a slave-girl from Nuba. Imam Musa al-Kazim had told Yazid bin Sabt to convey his salams to Sabikah. She is referred to in the traditions as Tayyibah. Imam 'Ali al-Naqi's mother, Sammanah, of Maghrib, was a slave, but she was called "Sayyidah" (chief of the ladies). She had no equal in piety, and love and fear of Allah. She fasted nearly the whole year. Imam 'Ali al-Naqi told her that she was protected by Allah and was foremost amongst the mothers of siddiqin and salihin - the truthful and virtuous people.

Imam Hasan al-'Askari was also born of a slave-girl, Hudayth (or Salil). To show her high prestige among the Shi' ahs, it is enough to say that after the death of Imam Hasan al-'Askari she was the central figure of Shi'ism around whom the whole community gathered and she guided them in the best possible way. The Shi'ahs referred to her as "Jaddah", the grandmother. Narjis Khatun, the mother of our 12th and present Imam, was a princess of the Byzantine empire. But she also had reached to Imam Hasan al-'Askari as a slave.

This much will suffice on the spiritual side. Coming to the politics, we see countless slaves in highest responsible posts, including the command of armies, governorship and judgeship. Not only in administration, we find theologians, commentators of the Qur'an, traditionists, jurists and authors who either were slaves or the children of the slaves or ex-slaves. Except for the first, third, fourth and fifth caliphs, all the 'Abbasid caliphs were born from slave women, the famous al-Mansur (the 2nd caliph) being the first of them whose mother, Salamah, was a slave from Berber. Then beginning from Ma'mun al-Rashid (the 6th caliph) up to the last all were sons of slave-girls.

Here are the names of those caliphs and of their slave mothers:-

Ma'mun al-Rashid: Murajil, a black slave-girl.
Mu'tasim Billah: a slave-girl from Kufah, named Maridah.
Wathiq Billah: a Roman named Qaratis.
Mutawakkil 'Allallah: son of Shuja.
Muntasir Billah: a Roman named Habashiyyah.
Musta'in Billah: Mukhariq.
Mu'tazz Billah: a Roman named Qabihah.
Muhtadi Billah: Wards, or Qurb.
Mu'tamid 'Alallah: a Roman named Fityan.
Mu'tazid Billah: Sawab (or Hirz or Dhirar).
Muktafi Billah: a Turkish slave-girl named Jijaq or Khudi.
Muqtadir Billah: a Roman or Turkish slave-girl called Gharib or Shaghab.
Qahir Billah: Fitnah.
Radhi Billah: a Roman, Zalum.
Muttaqi Lillah: Khalub or Zuhra.
Mustakfi Billah: Awjahun Naa or Ghusn.
Muti' Lillah: Mash'alah.
Atta'i Lillah: Hazar or Atab.
Qadir Billah: Dumanah or Tamanni.
Qa'im Billah: an Armenian called Badrudduja or Qatrunnada.
Muqtadi Bi Amrillah: Arjwan.
Mustazhir Billah: a slave (name not recorded).
Mustarshid Billah: a slave (name not recorded).
Rashid Billah: a slave (name not recorded).
Muqtafi Li Amrillah: an Ethiopian slave-girl.
Mustanjid Billah: a Karjiyya slave named Ta'us.
Mustadi' Bi Amrillah: an Armenian named Ghaddha.
Nasir Li Dinillah: a Turkish slave, Zamurrad.
Zahir Bi Amrillah~: Name not recorded.
Munstansir Billah: a Turkish slave (name not recorded).

Musta'sim Billah: Hajir.70
Even as late as the Ottoman Turkish Empire, the royal family may rightly be included in the slave-family because the mothers of the Sultan's children were slaves. The Sultan himself was a son of a slave. Long before Sulayman's time, the Sultan had practically ceased either to obtain a bride of royal ranks or give title of wife to the mothers of their children. The Ottoman system deliberately took slaves and made them ministers of state. It took boys from the sheep-run and the plough tail and made them courtiers and the husbands of princesses, it took young men of land whose ancestors had borne the christian names for centuries, and made them rulers in the greatest of Muslim states. Throughout the Muslim history, we find slaves rising not only to administrative posts but to the kingship as well. In the words of Will Durant, "It is astonishing how many sons of slaves rose to high place in the intellectual and political world of Islam, how many, like Mahmud and the early Mameluks, became kings."71 Subuktagin of Ghazni and his son, Mahmud (the famous warrior king who attacked India seventeen times), were slaves and son of slave respectively. The first Muslim dynasty of India was also found by slaves, and is still known as the slave dynasty.

Before closing this chapter, I must emphasise one point: All those slaves or children of slaves who reached the height of prestige spiritually or politically - did so neither because of nor in spite of being slaves or children of slaves; they reached there because they were Muslims who had abilities. Their status of slavery or ex-slavery neither enhanced nor decreased the chances of their success; it neither facilitated nor hindered their pursuit to reach their goal of life. Muslim society, thanks to the strict injunctions of Islam and Prophet Muhammad, was colour-blind and status-blind. The only thing that mattered was the ability which a man or woman had. This achievement, effected 1400 years ago, is a far cry from the blatant failure of Christianity in this 1960's where, in Christian U.S.A. if a Negro becomes a mayor it is considered a big news; and where in 1971 the Government planned to promote its first black admiral, a certain Captain Samual Lee Gravely. You see the implication of this news. Someone from the Negroes is to be selected on political grounds because he is a Negro. Had it been solely on his personal records, the name would not have been a matter of speculation! Such kind of racialism and snobbery was, and still is, unthinkable in Islam. Thus, it is clear that Islam succeeded where every other religion and system has failed so far. Islam absorbed the slaves in Muslim society without any regard of their colour or origin. Judging on its own records, we cannot but admire the tremendous success of Islam in this field.
70. See relevant chapters of Muhammad Khawind Shah's Rawdatu 's-Safa; also Ibn 'Abd Rabbih al-Undulusi, al-'Iqdu'l-Farid, vol. 5 (Beirut: 1983) pp. 113-131.

71. Durant, W., The Story of Civilization, vol. 4, p. 209.

Adapted from the book: "Slavery; From Islamic and Christian Perspectives" by: "Sayyid Sa'eed Akhtar Rizvi"

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