Let’s listen to this story narrated by Abu Mas’ood Al-Badri, a Companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): I was beating a slave of mine with a whip, then I heard a voice behind me saying, “Remember, Abu Mas’ood!” I did not recognize the voice because I was so angry, but when he drew close to me I saw that it was the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), and he was saying, “Remember, Abu Mas’ood; remember, Abu Mas’ood!” I threw the whip aside and he said, “Remember, Abu Mas’ood, that Allah has more power over you than you have over this slave.”
I said, “I will never beat another slave again.” And saying this, he set the slave free for the sake of Allah. At this, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “If you had not done so, you would have been touched by the Fire.” (Sahih Muslim)
My eyes were pricked with tears when I read this Hadith. No less marvelous than the soft, yet effective admonition of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is the soft-heartedness and sincerity of the Companion. Subhan Allah! He narrated this incident in spite of the fact that it showed him in a bad light so that future generations would record the teachings of the Prophet (peace be upon him), learn from his mistake, and remember to be mindful of their Lord in similar situations.
Yet, little do we remember!
Horrific incidents of the physical abuse of maids surface with depressing regularity in national newspapers and are featured in the international media, evoking widespread outrage and dismay, and in certain cases, play right into the hands of biased media outlets trying to tar Islam and Muslims with the brush of ‘barbarism’.
The fact is, the Prophet (peace be upon him) not only taught us to honor the rights of servants through the verses of the Qur’an and his personal actions and words during his lifetime, he strenuously urged Muslims to do so even with his last breath! He emphasized the kind treatment of servants to such an extent that it is reported by Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) that the last words spoken by the Prophet at the time of his death were, “The prayer! The prayer! Fear Allah concerning your slaves and servants!” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad Al-Bukhari)
The early Muslims took these words to heart and followed them to a T. Thus, we have records like that of Al-Ma’roor Bin Suwayd, who said, “I saw Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) wearing a hullah (a suit of two garments) and his slave was wearing something similar. I asked him about that and he said that he had insulted a man in the time of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) by saying disparaging words about his mother. The man went to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and told him about that, and the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “You are a man who still has something of Jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic period of Ignorance) in you. They are your brothers and servants whom Allah has placed under your authority. Anyone who has his brother under his authority, let him feed him the same food as he eats and dresses him in the same clothes as he wears, do not overwhelm them with work and if you give them work to do, then help them with it.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
In his exegesis in the book ‘Fath Al-Bari’, Al-Hafiz ibn Hajar said, “This Hadith shows that it is forbidden to insult slaves or speak disparagingly of those who bore them. We are enjoined to treat them well and be kind to them. Although it speaks of slaves, this includes employees and other workers. It also shows that we should not feel superior to another Muslim or look down on him.”
Yet, little do we remember!
Similarly, the successors of the early Muslims were mindful of these rights. There is an account of the righteous Caliph Umar Bin Abdul Aziz who was attended to by a slave, who fanned him as he slept. After a while, the slave was overcome by sleep and dozed off. When the Caliph awoke and realized that she was sleeping, he took the fan from her hand and fanned her so she would feel cool. When she awoke, she saw that he had the fan and was taken aback and expressed surprise at his action. He said, “You are a human-like me, and the heat affects you just as it affects me.”
Another of the early Muslims once became severely angry with his slave and was about to punish him when the slave said, quoting a verse from the Qur’an: “[Allah has praised] those who repress their anger.” The man said: “I have repressed my anger.” The slave said: “[Allah has praised] those who pardon others.” The man said, “I have pardoned you.” The servant said, “Allah loves those who do Ihsan (excellent deeds).” Thereupon the man said, “You can go now, you are free for the sake of Allah.”
It is a sorry reflection of the state of our faith and the hardness of our hearts that in spite of regularly receiving admonitions in this regard, and even warnings of the awful retribution of neglecting these obligations, we continue unabated. Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Allah says: ‘There are three whose opponent I will be on the Day of Resurrection: a man who makes a promise in My name then breaks his word, a man who sells a free man and consumes his price, and a man who employs another and benefits from him (his labor), then does not give him his wages.’”
Yet, little do we remember!
Food and dress similar to what one wears, payment of agreed-upon wages before “the sweat of his efforts dries” , not being taxed with work beyond capacity and most of all – forgiveness and leniency with their mistakes and kind treatment – are the fundamental rights of servants in Islam, enjoined upon the Muslims in numerous well-known narrations of the Prophet.
. “Food and dress are the right of the slave and he should not be assigned to the task which may be beyond his capacity.”
. “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).”
. “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 therefrom (at least a little).”
. Once a person came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and asked, “O Prophet of Allah! To what extent should we forgive the mistakes and faults of our slaves and servants?” The Prophet (peace be upon him) remained silent whereupon the man repeated this question. The Prophet (peace be upon him) again remained silent and when the man asked for the third time, he replied “Seventy times a day.”
. “Whoever beats a slave or servant unjustly, revenge will be taken from him on the Day of Judgment.”
When we send salutations upon the Prophet (peace be upon him), we testify that he conveyed the message, fulfilled the trust, advised the Ummah (Muslim nation) sincerely, and strove in (the religion of) Allah as much as is due.
Now, the onus is on us to follow suit.
– By Rahla KhanI