A significant sub-theme of the recent ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests was the emphasis on ‘cleansing’ public spaces from any taint of an association with the historical slave trade. This was perhaps nowhere more graphically illustrated than in the city of Bristol where a statue of the slave-trader Edward Colston was toppled and dumped in the river.
One historical manifestation that is receiving a huge ‘free pass’ in the current furore is Islam and its role in launching and sustaining a massive slave trade over more than a millenium. Instead of coming to terms with Islam’s complicity in motivating slavery, it is pushed as an enlightened alternative to Western values by people who are essentially clueless about its regressive teachings.
Nowhere is this trend more evident than in the disconnect between the idea that Islam stands for human rights and its attitude towards slavery.
Even a cursory examination of the Qur’an and hadiths will quickly reveal that Muhammad enthusiastically participated in the buying and selling of fellow human beings. The following is a brief selection of texts confirming this:
“O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those (slaves) whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee” (Qur’an 33:50) This is one of the many convenient revelations that Muhammad received. In this case, he is allowed as many sexual partners as he desires from among his female slaves. This verse would presumably not have been ‘revealed’ if Muhammad did not possess any female slaves.
“Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) reported: 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” (Sahih Muslim 10:3901) Here we see the prophet of Islam actually involved in the trading of slaves (selling two black slaves in exchange for a Muslim slave). Note that there is no record whatsoever of Muhammad immediately setting the Muslim slave free. Even if he did set him free it would have been better to pay in cash rather than with the black slaves. By ‘paying in slaves’ he ensured that the freedom of the Muslim slave (if he was indeed freed) was bought at the terrible price of the continued enslavement of the two black slaves.
“Narrated Anas bin Malik: Allah’s Apostle was on a journey and he had a black slave called Anjasha, and he was driving the camels (very fast, and there were women riding on those camels). Allah’s Apostle said, “Waihaka (May Allah be merciful to you), O Anjasha! Drive slowly (the camels) with the glass vessels (women)!” (Sahih Bukhari 8:73:182) This is just one of the many examples of Muhammad interacting with his slaves. Interestingly the hadiths often stress the fact that many of Muhammad’s slaves were black.
“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.” (Sahih Bukhari 3:47:743) This hadith does not deal with a slave directly owned by Muhammad, but it does show that he had no problem commanding his followers to order their slaves to work on his behalf. It is a staggering fact that the very pulpit that he used to preach Islam from was constructed with slave labor.
Not quite ‘Let Freedom Ring’ is it? In fact, on the basis of the prophet’s teaching and example a centuries long slave trade that terrorised Europe and Africa for centuries was launched. So, will the campaign of ‘disassociation’ reach him anytime soon? Will we soon se #MuhammadMustFall hashtags?
Somehow I’m not holding my breath!
For a fuller discussion of the incompatibility of Islam with Western values see my book ‘Questioning Islam – Tough Questions and Honest Answers About the Muslim Religion’