by Wasan Abu-Baker
Celebrating Black History Month is a great opportunity to learn about the struggles and importance of the achievements of African Americans in the US.
The Holy Quran says: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”
According to studies by the Pew Research Center and Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) in 2017, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the US and most of the people who embrace Islam are African American.
Slavery was a common phenomenon in many ancient civilizations such as Babylon, Egypt, and China. Most slaves were prisoners of war, kidnapped, or forced to pay for their debt. Slaves belonged to the master with little or no rights. The strong had power over the weak, violating the rights of the people who do not have enough power to stand up. Slavery is the story of a clash of civilizations, the struggle for power, the struggle to survive, political conflict, and the struggle of generations throughout history.
The three Abrahamic faiths and ancient civilizations dealt with slavery in various ways. Some had laws to regulate slavery such as the Babylonian Law of Hammurabi. Each civilization dealt with slavery in a way appropriate with the norms of that society. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not end slavery at the beginning. By the order of God, he abolished it gradually.
Slavery in Islam
Because Islam views all humankind in an equal way and only differentiates people based on their good deeds, it gradually ended it in the Arabian Peninsula. Because an immediate change in culture is difficult, Islam initially called for an improvement in the treatment towards slaves. Then Islam encouraged the liberation of slaves all in a matter of years. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also ordered Muslims to treat slaves and servants as brothers and sisters, and to give them from what they eat and what they wear. He also ordered that the slave not be given any work beyond his power, and in such situations, the master had to assist him. Slaves kept their humanity and moral dignity and became members of their master’s family. Moreover, slaves also had the right to maintain their religion and to have a family, to earn money, and to own property.
Islam gradually established that freeing slaves is one of the highest virtues. To liberate a slave is equivalent to saving your own soul on the day of judgement. This started a trend where wealthy Muslims started to compete by freeing their own slaves and buying the freedom of slaves owned by others. Former slaves rose to be leaders in the early Muslim community. Most notably Bilal Ibn Rabah, an Ethiopian slave living in Mecca, was a freed slave chosen to be the man who performed Azan (a call for prayer).
Despite the efforts of religious organizations, human rights organizations, and the abolition of slavery, it still exists in the twenty-first century in a number of forms. According to Omar Suliman, a US scholar and founder of Yaqeen institute, slavery manifests itself in the form of human trafficking, child labor, poor labor conditions, and prostitution. It is the less fortunate in our society that are targeted because of their desperation and poor living conditions.
Slavery can be prevented by ending poverty. Poverty makes a child or any person highly vulnerable to all forms of exploitation. Meeting people’s basic needs for education, proper nutrition, and health care will stop this exploitation. Voices who have led the fight to end slavery include: abolitionists, activists, educators, religious leaders, policy makers, and academics. Raising awareness and putting pressure on political leaders is also needed.