“You have resuscitated something that Shari’ah has worked tirelessly to undo and has been considered forbidden by consensus for over a century.”
An open letter signed Sept. 19 by 126 Muslim scholars worldwide to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared Caliph of the Islamic State (IS) group, denounced the practice of slavery, following news that the group had begun a campaign of enslavement against Iraqi Yazidis. The letter added that one of Islam’s aims is to abolish slavery, evidenced by the Prophet Mohamed’s freeing of all slaves in his possession.
In the fourth issue of Dabiq, an Islamic State publication in English that circulated Sunday on social media, the group offers a lengthy and academic explanation and justification of slavery, stating that “slavery is an established aspect of Islam.”
“Islam did not found slavery; it was deeply rooted in all the empires that preceded Islam, like the Roman and Persian empires. Rather, Islam created so many venues to calmly end the readily entrenched slavery and free slaves, and indeed, it has succeeded,” Al-Azhar Professor of Religion and Philosophy Amena Nosseir told The Cairo Post Tuesday.
“The Quranic verses used by IS to reinvent slavery originally were aimed at regulating the then-existing personal affairs of people,” she said.
“The Quran urges Muslims in several verses to free slaves and to legally marry them, both male and female, and sets the condition of freeing slaves to seek divine forgiveness of several sins.”
Dabiq and IS’s holy war
The first issue of the magazine said its namesake is the Syrian city of Dabiq, north of Aleppo, because it was referenced in a hadith (saying of the Prophet) reported by Muslim Ibn al-Hajjaj. The hadith in question discussed a coming judgment day.
Dabiq’s section titled “The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour,” sets about “proving” that the Yazidi minority is an “originally polytheistic group,” rather than an apostate offshoot of Islam. According to IS, this legitimizes their enslavement.
IS also implied that it is the Islamic army that will purportedly carry out a series of “holy wars” against their enemies in and around Dabiq, as prophesized in the hadith.
“…as we approach the greatest battle before The Hour (judgment day)—whenever its time comes by Allah’s decree—it is interesting to note that slavery has been mentioned as one of the signs of the Hour as well as one of the causes behind [the holy wars],” reads the Dabiq article.
Dabiq considered this hadith as permission for Muslims to enslave Yazidis, and “proof” that the reoccurrence of enslavement means that IS is the said Islamic army waging holy wars before the end times.
Human Rights Watch reported Sunday testimonies from Yazidi girls as young as 14 and 15 who were sold to Islamic State fighters for approximately $1,000. Other displaced Yazidis gave Human Rights Watch a list of more than 3,000 names of those it said were being held or had been killed by the jihadist group. In a report documenting the situation in Iraq from July 6-Sept. 10, the United Nations estimated 2,500 persons had been abducted by the Islamic State group.
IS and Dar al-Ifta
Although it has publicly executed many Iraqis and Syrians, the Islamic State group has gained significant media attention in the West for its recorded executions of Western journalists and aid workers, in which an English-speaking IS fighter addresses the camera.
In response to the murders, the Egyptian government’s Dar Al-Ifta released a statement in early September saying such acts “tarnish the image of Islam and Muslims.” In late August, Dar Al-Ifta also requested that the group be referred to in the media as “QSIS,” or “Al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria,” to differentiate from the Islamic state that was established at the time of the Prophet Mohamed. The scholars’ open letter also accused IS of “oversimplifying” Shari’ah.
IS fighters claim to replicate the lifestyle of the Prophet Mohamed and his companions over 13 centuries ago, and thus embrace interpretations adopted by scholars who lived centuries ago.
Another hadith reported by ninth century scholar Mohamed al-Bukhari, on which IS heavily relies on to religiously justify slavery, says another minor sign of the coming judgment day is that “a slave woman will give birth to her master.”
Dabiq argues that slavery will proliferate due to increased conquests of the lands of non-Muslims. In these interpretations, enslaved women treated as concubines would give birth to free children because they would be born to free Muslim men, therefore the masters of their mothers.
Ibn Hajar, however, a widely respected Muslim scholar who died in 1449, said that this interpretation of slavery as a means to the end times “is not plausible” because prophesy states that the signs would be unprecedented, therefore extant slavery negated its value as a sign.
The majority of Sunni scholars, including those at Al-Azhar, believe that the thousands of hadiths mentioned in Bukhari and Ibn al-Hajjaj’s collections are “undoubtedly authentic,” and were uttered by the Prophet Mohamed. Most also agreed that Bukhari’s collection is “more accurate” than Ibn al-Hajjaj’s.
However, some Islamic scholars disagree. Palestinian-Norwegian Adnan Ibrahim, the head of the Vienna-based Meeting of Cultures Society, says that since Bukhari and Ibn al-Hajjaj’s work is a human effort, it can “bear mistakes.” Some of the hadiths they collected are “myths” that were “never said” by the Prophet, and would “cast doubts on the whole Sunnah” if believed, according to Ibrahim.
In an April 2012 sermon delivered at the Shura Mosque in Vienna, Ibrahim said, “You accuse those who use their minds of apostasy, and even those who consult and refer back to the book of God the Almighty, because you put narrations, hadiths and statements ahead of the book of God.”
Ibrahim has been severely criticized by Salafi preachers for his “controversial” ideas.
“People have minds, hearts and love for their Prophet and book. Do not make them doubt their religion for the sake of Bukhari and Muslim [Ibn al-Hajjaj],” he said.
The sophisticated social media propaganda of IS, a large part of which is in the English language, seems to target English-speaking Muslims and has caught the attention of Al-Azhar.
“The recent news of European Muslims being recruited by the terrorist group QSIS is not only alarming but also appalling… These young men are lured by a number of factors which contribute to their miserable decision to join this terrorist group,” Al-Azhar’s Dar Al-Ifta said in an Aug. 29 statement.
Al-Azhar has announced programs and projects conducted in English in efforts to counter extremists’ impact on Muslims in the West.
“One of the main reasons is their lack of authentic Islamic education through which they would have learned the true meanings of Islam and what construct the Muslim identity,” Dar Al-Ifta stated in August.