Treatment of Slaves And Servants
General teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
Slavery was a common practice in Arabia, and almost all over the world, before the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Victorious nations of the time considered the people captured by them, in battle, as a "commodity" - not as human beings - and used them mercilessly for their own advantage.
The beloved Prophet of Islam (PBUH) urged and encouraged the people to free the slaves, by declaring the freeing of slaves an act of highest virtue and an act by which sins are forgiven. On the other hand he enjoined on all not to drive them like animals. He explained that their basic needs, like food and clothing should be taken care of in a deserving manner.
He, in fact, constantly warned the Muslims that they will be called to account, in the hereafter, if they failed in their duty to be just and merciful to the slaves and servants. He emphasized this to such an extent that it is reported by Ali (R.A.) that the last words, spoken by the Holy Prophet (PBUH), (at the time of his death) were,
"Observe Salaah (the prayers), Observe Salaah And fear Allah with regards to your slaves and servants."
This shows the importance that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) attached to their rights - that he even stressed its significance upon his followers at the time of his departure from this world.
History tells that the entire course of the lives of slaves and servants was transformed, as a result of these teachings, and their human dignity was restored to them. Many of them rose to be great scholars and leaders holding high posts of office. Eventually the whole world was influenced by this guidance and slavery became a thing of the past.
Kind and Merciful treatment
It is related by Abu Hurairah (R.A.) that Rasulullah (PBUH) said,
"Food and dress are the right of the slave and he should not be assigned to task which may be beyond his capacity."
These points constitute the fundamental rights of slaves and servants - that one should fulfill their basic need for food and clothing in kindness and should be merciful in assigning any work to them.
In another Hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said,
"They are your brothers (the slaves and servants). Allah has placed them under your authority. So he who has a brother under him should feed him and clothe him as he himself does, and should not take from him any work that is beyond his power. If he does tell him to do such work then he should also join in it - (and help him)."
Here the slaves and servants have been declared to be the brothers of their masters, and therefore deserve treatment like brothers - are not both of them, servant and master, the children of Adam, after all!
In yet another striking Hadith, Prophet (PBUH) said,
"When your slave or servant prepares food for you and lays it for you - while he has suffered the inconvenience of heat and smoke when cooking - you should ask him to sit down and share the meal. If the food is in a small quantity (and cannot suffice) at least give him a morsel or two there from (at least a little)."
Policy of Forgiveness
Furthermore, Rasulullah (PBUH) constantly emphasized the need to adopt a policy of forgiveness with servants - This is very clear from the Hadith narrated by Abdullah Ibn Umar (R.A.) that once a person came to the Prophet of Allah (PBUH) and asked "O Prophet of Allah! To what extent should we forgive the mistakes and faults of our slaves and servants?"
The Prophet (PBUH) remained silent whereupon the man repeated this question. The Prophet (PBUH) again, remained silent and when the man asked for a third time, he replied "Seventy times a day."
Evidently the figure, seventy, does not denote the exact number here but a servant should be forgiven even if he makes a mistakes often. "Forgiving" in this Hadith means that the punishment should not be inflicted on servants in a spirit of vengeance. But there is no harm, however, if they are taken to task with politeness in view of their correction - which would actually be for their own good.
Revenge and Account for Bad Treatment
Abu Hurairah (R.A.) relates that he heard the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) say
"Whoever beats the slave or Servant unjustly, revenge will be taken from him on the Day of Judgment."
Abu Mas'ood (R.A.) narrates that "Once I was beating my slave when I heard a voice behind -(saying)" Oh Abu Mas'ood! Remember that Allah has a greater power and authority over you than you have over the poor slave."
I turned around and saw that it was the Prophet of Allah (PBUH) whereupon I said "Oh Prophet of Allah - he is now free for the sake of Allah (I have set him free)." The Prophet (PBUH) observed that "Be informed that had you not done so (i.e. set him free) you would be consumed in the fire of Hell!"
Loyalty of Slaves and Servants to their Masters
Whilst enjoining the masters to be fair and generous in their treatment of the slaves and servants, The Holy Prophet (PBUH) also emphasized upon the slaves and servants their duty to remain faithful to their masters.
The Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said,
"It is a matter of great success and good fortune for a slave or servant that Allah raises him from this world (gives him death) in a state that he is a worshipper of the Creator and he is loyal to his master."
In another Hadith related by Abdullah ibn Umar (R.A.), the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, "When a slave or servant is faithful to his master and also worships his Creator, he is deserving of a double reward (in the hereafter).
The principal feature of The Holy Prophet's teachings is that he urges each class and individual to fulfill the rights of others with a full sense of responsibility and consider it a source of good fortune in both the worlds. He, thus, enjoins upon the masters to fear Allah in respect of their slaves and servants, (by treating them fairly and kindly) and he enjoins upon the slaves and servants to be loyal and sincere to their masters.
Article Contributed by: itsIslam Staff