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Slaves in the History of Islam

To give an idea of how Islam raised the status of slaves and treated them as human beings instead of brutes of burden (which was their common lot before Islam), the following tradition is of particular interest :

One day the Prophet was sitting with Salman, Bilal, 'Ammar, Suhayb, Khabbab [all ex-slaves] and a group of poor Muslims, when some unbelievers passed from there. When they saw these "unimportant" people with the Prophet, they said, "Have you chosen these persons from among your people? Do you want us to follow them? Has Allah bestowed His favour on them, that they have believed, and not us? You should better remove them from you; if you do so, then perhaps we would follow you." The Prophet did not agree to their demand, and Allah sent the following verse in this respect :

And do not drive away those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, they desire only His favour; neither are you answerable for any reckoning of theirs, nor are they answerable for any reckoning of yours, so that you should drive them away and thus be of the unjust. And thus do We try some of them by others so that they say: "Are these they upon whom Allah has conferred benefit from among us?" Does not Allah know the grateful? (And when those who believe in our signs come to you, say: "Peace be upon you, your Lord has ordained mercy on Himself") (6:52-54)

Salman, Bilal, 'Ammar and their companions say: "When Allah revealed these verses, the Prophet turned towards us, called us to come nearer to him, and said, 'Your lord has ordained mercy on Himself.' Then we used to sit with him, and when he wanted to stand up (and go from there), he did so. Then Allah revealed:-

And withhold yourself with those who call on their Lord in the morning and evening desiring His goodwill, and let not your eyes pass from them ... (18:28)

"When this was revealed, the Prophet used to make us sit so near him that our thighs almost touched his thighs; and he did not stand up before us. When we felt that the time had come for him to stand, we took his leave; and then he stood up after we had gone. And he used to say to us, 'I thank God who did not take me out of this world until He ordered me to keep patience with a group of my ummah. I shall spend my life with you, and, after death, shall remain with you.'"1

I propose to give here a short list of some of the slaves who occupy the highest spiritual and temporal status in Islam and in the Muslim society, from the very beginning of Islam.

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1. al-Majlisi, M.B., Hayatul Qulub, vol. II (Tehran: Kitabfurushi-e Islamia, 1371 AH), pp. 562-3; Abu Na'im Ahmad al-Isfahani, Hilyatul Awliya, vol. I (Beirut, 1967), pp. 146-7.

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