Slaves in the History of Islam 1

Slaves in the History of Islam 1

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”)(1)

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..(2)

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.'(3)

I propose to give her 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.

1. Salman, the Persian

First and foremost, of course, is Salman al-Farsi (the Persian). He was the son of a Zoroastrian priest in the province of Fars. From the very beginning, he was aspiring to find and follow a religion free from the embellishes of human interpolations. This was long before the advent of Islam. He was converted to Christianity, and served one distinguished priest after another in quest of divine knowledge.

After long lasting hardships and troubles, he attached himself to a monk in Antioch, who at the time of his death advised him that the time was ripe for the emergence of the last Prophet in the world. He told him to make his way towards Hijaz, the Arabian province which has Mecca and Medina in it. In the way, he was taken as a captive by a gang of warriors and was sold from one master to another, till he changed ten masters.

Lastly, he was purchased by a Jewess in Medina. It is not possible to give the details of the tortures meted out to him during his long-lasting captivity. Still it seems that fate was bringing him nearer to his goal, because it was in Medina that he met the Holy Prophet of Islam. After some subtle tests Salman recognised in him the long-awaited that Prophet of the New Testament.(4) He accepted Islam.(5)

The Holy Prophet of Islam purchased him from his Jewess mistress and set him free. It was after the battle of Badr, the first battle of Islam, and before the battle of Uhud.(6)

Salman's faith, knowledge, piety and his unparalleled spiritual achievements put him above all the companions of the Holy Prophet. He is one of the four pillars of true Muslim faith (together with Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, Miqdad and 'Ammar). He has the unique distinction of being included in the Ahlul Bayt (the family of the Prophet) by virtue of his faith and piety. The traditions showing his superiority and virtues cannot be narrated in this short booklet. Nevertheless, I am quoting some of them to give the readers a glimpse of his status in the eyes of the Prophet and his successors.

Though he had already accepted Islam, Salman did not participate in the battle of Badr because of his captivity at that time. After Badr, he took active part in all the battles fought to defend Islam and the Muslims. When the Qurayshites of Mecca together with many other tribes including the Jews of Medina, besieged Medina, it was Salman who advised the Prophet to dig a moat around Medina in order to prevent the enemy from attacking the weak points of the city. And it is for this reason that this battle is called the Battle of Moat (khandaq).(7)

It was at this battle that a friendly argument began between the emigrants of Mecca (the muhajirun) and the natives of Medina (the ansar). The subject: Was Salman a muhajir or an ansar? The ansar claimed that as Salman came to the Prophet in Medina, he belonged to the ansar group; the muhajirun claimed that as Salman had left his home and family, he was a muhajir.

This friendly dispute also shows how great had become the status of Salman within a short period of three years that every group wanted to claim him as their own. Anyhow, the dispute was referred to the highest authority - the Prophet, who decided that Salman was from neither of the two groups; he said' Salman minna Ahl al-Bayt -Salman is from us, the family [of the Prophet].(8) It was such a great honour which has continuously been mentioned in traditions and poems.

A poet says:

The devotion of Salman was his pedigree, while there was no relationship between Noah and his son.

Continue in the next article: ( Slaves in the History of Islam 2 )



1. (The Quran 6:52-54)

2. (The Quran 18:28)

3. 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.

4. (John 1:19-25)

5. Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol. IV:1, p. 58.

6. al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar; vol. 22 (Tehran, n.d.), p. 355; Abu Na'im, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 193-5; Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani, al-Isabah fi Tamyiz's-Sahabah, vol. 3 (Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1853-88), p. 224.

7. Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol. II:1, p.47.

8. al-Majlisi, Bihar, vol. 20, pp. 189, 198; Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol. IV:1, p. 59, vol. VII:2, p. 65.