Muhammad owned slaves, and the Qur'an takes the existence of slavery for granted, even as it enjoins the freeing of slaves under certain circumstances, such as the breaking of an oath: “Allah will not call you to account for what is futile in your oaths, but He will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom” (5:89).
While the freeing of a few slaves here and there is encouraged, however, the institution itself is never questioned. Slavery was taken for granted throughout Islamic history, as it was, of course, in the West up until relatively recent times. Yet the impetus to end slavery moved from Christendom into Islam, not the other way around. Because the Qur'anic word cannot be questioned, and the book does not contain the Biblical principles that led to the abolition of slavery in the West, there has never been a Muslim abolitionist movement. Slavery ended in Islamic lands under pressure from the West.
In fact, when the British government began pressuring other regimes to abolish slavery in the nineteenth century, the Sultan of Morocco was incredulous. “The traffic in slaves,” he noted, “is a matter on which all sects and nations have agreed from the time of the sons of Adam...up to this day.” He said that he was “not aware of its being prohibited by the laws of any sect” and that the very idea that anyone would question its morality was absurd: “No one need ask this question, the same being manifest to both high and low and requires no more demonstration than the light of day.”
Sadiq al-Mahdi, former prime minister of Sudan, would agree. On March 24, 1999, he wrote to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, that “the traditional concept of JIHAD does allow slavery as a by-product.” And so slavery persists in some areas of the Islamic world. The BBC reported in December 2008 that “strong evidence has emerged of children and adults being used as slaves in Sudan’s Darfur region.”
Mauritanian human rights crusader Boubakar Messaoud asserted that in that country, people are born and bred as slaves: “A Mauritanian slave, whose parents and grandparents before him were slaves, doesn’t need chains. He has been brought up as a domesticated animal.” Three years later, nothing had changed. Messaoud explained in March 2007: “It’s like having sheep or goats. If a woman is a slave, her descendants are slaves.” Likewise in Niger, which formally abolished slavery only in 2003, slavery is a long-standing practice. Journalist and anti-slavery activist Souleymane Cisse explained that even Western colonial governments did nothing to halt the practice: “The colonial rulers preferred to ignore it because they wanted to co-operate with the aristocracy who kept these slaves.”
Islamic slavery has not been unknown even in the United States. When the Saudi national Homaidan Al-Turki was imprisoned for holding a woman as a slave in Colorado, he complained that “the state has criminalized these basic Muslim behaviors. Attacking traditional Muslim behaviors was the focal point of the prosecution.” Where did he get the idea that slavery was a “traditional Muslim behavior”? From the Qur'an.
"Saudi princess arrested in California human trafficking probe," from the Associated Press, July 11 (thanks to all who sent this in):
SANTA ANA, Calif. – A Saudi princess was charged Wednesday with human trafficking for allegedly holding a domestic worker against her will and forcing her to work at an Orange County condominium, prosecutors said.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas identified 42-year-old Meshael Alayban as a Saudi princess who was charged with one count of human trafficking. If convicted, she faces up to 12 years in prison.
Alayban was arrested after a Kenyan woman carrying a suitcase flagged down a bus Tuesday and told a passenger she believed she was a human trafficking victim. The passenger helped her contact police, who searched the Irvine condo where Alayban and her family were staying, authorities said.
The 30-year-old woman told authorities she was hired in Kenya in 2012 and her passport was taken from her on arrival in Saudi Arabia. She was forced to work excessive hours and was paid less than she was promised and not allowed to leave, authorities said.
"This is not a contract dispute," Rackauckas told the court during a bail hearing Wednesday afternoon, likening the case to slavery. "This is holding someone captive against their will."
An Orange County judge set bail at $5 million for Alayban and required her to submit to GPS monitoring. He also banned her from leaving the county without prior authorization.
Alayban did not appear in court in Santa Ana. Her attorney, Paul Meyer, said the case was a contractual dispute and argued his client shouldn't be assigned a ransomlike bail solely because she was rich. He said she had been traveling to the U.S. since she was a child, owned properties here and had given her word she would address the allegations.
"This is a domestic work hours dispute," he said.
Rackauckas had asked the judge to deny bail for Alayban or set it at $20 million, saying it was unlikely any amount would guarantee a Saudi princess would show up in court. He said the Saudi consulate had already offered to cover $1 million in bail initially set after her arrest.
Police say Alayban's family traveled to the U.S. in May with the victim and four women from the Philippines.
The victim had signed a two-year contract with an employment agency guaranteeing she would be paid $1,600 a month to work eight hours a day, five days a week. But starting in March 2012, she was forced to cook, clean and do other household chores for 16 hours a day, seven days a week, and was paid only $220, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors say the victim's passport was taken from her, and she wasn't allowed to return to Kenya. In May, she was brought to the U.S. and given her passport only to pass through customs, the district attorney's office said.
Once here, she was forced to tend to at least eight people in four apartments in the same Irvine complex, washing dishes, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and ironing, the office said.
The other four women left the home voluntarily with police once authorities arrived. They told police they were interested in being free, said Irvine police chief David Maggard Jr.
No charges have been filed in connection with their circumstances.
Police said there are no indications of physical abuse.
It is the first forced labor case brought in Orange County under a human trafficking ballot initiative passed last year by California voters, and it is being investigated by local police and federal immigration authorities.
Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's homeland security investigations in Los Angeles, said he hoped the case would encourage other trafficking victims to trust in law enforcement.
Alayban is set to be arraigned in court Thursday. She is one of the wives of Saudi Prince Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the district attorney's office said.