The Holy Qur’an does not even once use the words ‘Sab-i’ or ‘Riqq’ (Arabic for slavery). Instead, it uses derivatives of the word ‘asr’ which means taking someone captive. The Qur’an never says that the captives could be kept for ever as slaves (33:26, 76:8, 8:67, 8:70 and 2:85). In one of these verses, it offers solace to the captive by saying that God willing his condition will change for the better (8:70). In another verse, the Quran says that believers are those who though themselves hungry feed captives (76:8).
Various derivatives of the other word for slave (‘abd) have been used 275 times in the Qur’an but never in the context of ordering Muslims to enslave others. It is almost always used in the context of prayers or emphasizing that the faithfuls are slaves or servants of God.
It is correct that the Islamic Shariah (law) allows slavery but the only way someone may lose his/her natural freedom is if he is captured while physically and actually fighting in a battle against a Muslim army – in other words, he is a prisoner of war (PoW). There is no other way to deprive someone of his natural state of freedom. There is no instance where the Prophet (pbuh) or his immediate successors ever enslaved ordinary people who were not actually fighting a Muslim army. The Prophet used to give his armies clear instructions not to touch children, elderly men and women and people who are not involved in fighting.
While enslaving a person has been made extremely difficult in Islam, freeing a slave has been made extremely easy and is an act of piety. Once a non-Muslim combatant is taken captive, there are many ways in which he could secure his freedom. During the time of the Prophet (pbuh) one finds that such persons (always males) could be ransomed by their families or tribes or they themselves could secure their own freedom by teaching Muslims how to write or some other craft or by paying their masters an agreed amount of money. Islam has expressly forbidden taking free men as slaves.
While Islam makes it extremely difficult for someone to be enslaved, the door is wide open for faithfuls to free slaves. For example, a slave is to be freed as penance (kaffara) for some serious sins. Also, freeing slaves has been termed in Islam as one of the best deeds that please God.
We should keep in mind here that Islam allowed only a limited form of slavery to solve the issue of prisoners of wars. This took place during those pre-Medieval times when there was no international law and no UN or international treaties. In fact, even in those times, Islam followed reciprocity in such matters of international relations — i.e., if a non-Muslim nation followed a certain rule or norm in treatment of the residents of a Muslim country, its residents too were treated in the same way.
Today, in the presence of universally-accepted international laws and treaties, such laws will take precedence in international issues and in relations with foreign countries. And this is exactly what the 58 members-countries of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) are doing today.
As such, ISIS by capturing ordinary residents of the territories it has overrun in Iraq and Syria is not only disobeying Islam, it is also violating the Islamic rule of reciprocity and respect of international laws. By flouting these clear norms, ISIS or any such group of thugs and self-proclaimed fighters will never be accepted in the comity of nations and will live their limited and short lives as pariahs and outcasts.
Zafarul-Islam Khan, senior Muslim scholar, who is an alumnus of Al-Azhar and Cairo universities and holds a PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Manchester, said it is a lie to claim that Islam allows enslavement of ordinary men and women of conquered lands.
The Indian scholar, who is the head of the Delhi-based Institute of Islamic & Arab Studies and a core member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, said this lie has been concocted by ISIS propagandists whose knowledge of Islam is highly doubtful. Dr Khan is the current president of the Indian Muslims apex body, the All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat.