Can Slavery in the Islamic World be justified by the Quran?

By Kelsey Bischot

As Lovejoy and Acemoglu and Robinson have made apparent in their works, slavery didn’t truly end in the 19th century with the abolition. Modern slavery still persists today in the form of child slavery, forced marriage, trafficking, bonded labor and more. I will briefly try to uncover why the institution of slavery continues to gain strength and power across the Islamic World.

When the Islamic world became the heir of slavery, it was a means of converting non-Muslims (Lovejoy). This institution has now distorted into ISIS enslaving thousands of innocent people, especially Yazidi women and children. ISIS claims that rape and sex slavery is admissible because the Yazidis are not Muslim. They blame this on the fact that the Quran accepted the existence of chattel slavery as a fact of life at the time of its revelation (CNN). ISIS uses many of the Quran’s verses to justify its violence and celebrate sexual assault and enslavement. Koran 23:5-6 says: Allah the almighty said: '[Successful are the believers] who guard their chastity, except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame (Memrijttm). ISIS interprets this to able to rape innocent women as a prayer to God in accordance with Halal.

The institution has gained more followers as ISIS has started using the institution as a recruitment tool to lure men from conservative Muslim societies where casual sex and dating is forbidden (New York Times).

As the institution of slavery continues to gain ground in Islam with the power of ISIS, it is important to realize that the Quran does not actually justify slavery and instead exhorts believers to free their slaves as an exemplification of their piety and belief in God (CNN). Studying history has revealed that the institution justifies its acts based on its initial intent of converting non-Muslims, but has changed in its role from production to the exploitation of women.