Apart from many other misconceptions about Islam, slavery is regarded as a tradition sanctioned by Islam. Whereas, the truth is that Islam has always condemned slavery in all forms. It completely forbids women as slaves and the establishment of extra marital relations with them. The real cause of misconception can be trailed back to the times of the Holy Prophet when the social conditions of Arabia were highly unstable, and the people were completely engrossed in all sorts of vices. At that time if the Prophet might have wanted to eradicate the evil of slavery the economic and social conditions might have worsened.
Therefore, Islam adopted a measured and gradual process for the abolition of slavery. At that time, slavery formed an integral part of the Arab society. There were numbers of slaves in all houses. The reason for the abundance of slave women and men was due to the casual practice of distributing prisoners of war among the capturing army. Secondly, there were extensive markets that sold men and women as slaves. In those circumstances, eliminating slavery all of a sudden would have caused social and economic upheaval. It would have been impossible for the national treasury to support and feed such huge numbers of men and women otherwise reliant on various families.
Some of the slaves were old and incapable of supporting themselves. If these slaves would have been freed instantly, they were bound to adapt easy ways of earning like beggary. The question of women as slaves was even more critical as their freedom would have increased brothels and low moral standards.
The implementation of gradual removal of slavery can be compared to the Pakistani economy, which is completely dependent on interest. If interest is eradicated from our country all of a sudden, then the economy is bound to collapse. Likewise, Islam also incorporated an alternative framework in place of the existing one gradually. A sudden elimination without another parallel strategy would have resulted in total collapse of the economic and social system.
In the beginning, the Qur’an made it quite clear that releasing the necks of the slaves was a great virtue and the action pleased God the most. Then Prophet Muhammad made it clear that until they free their slaves they should treat them with kindness. Slaves should given food that the masters’ ate and should not be given an errand beyond their power. In a tradition, it is told that a slave should be forgiven seventy times a day. People were given the permission to marry slave women with the consent of their masters. Women as slaves were used for fornication. After the arrival of Islam, such prostitution centers were closed and people running them hideously were given exemplary punishments.
Islam has uplifted the respect and esteem of women in all aspects of life whether it is the killing of daughters or the use of women as slaves. Slave women were subjected to all sorts of degradation and disrespect which ended after the arrival of Islam.