Q&As about Minorities and Slaves in Islamic Law


Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani

Q 1. For People of the Book, meaning those who belong to Judaism or Christianity, does Islamic law give them a firm unchanging right to practice the basics of their religion and have houses of worship – while not being allowed to seek to convert Muslims – or does the right to have practice of their religion and houses of worship simply an optional right that an Islamic government can give them but also choose not to give them?

A. The non-Muslims living in an Islamic state, who agree to remain peaceful and law abiding citizens, are termed in Islamic law as “Ahluz-zimmah.” An Islamic state is duty bound to give right to practice their religion peacefully. As for their places of worship that they had before the establishment of the Islamic state, the Islamic state is duty-bound to abide by the pact it had with non-Muslims at the time of its establishment in this regard, but if there is no such pact with them, the law does not obligate them to keep them intact, but the consistent practice of Islamic states throughout the history has been to protect them, as the famous Caliph Umar b. Abdul-Aziz had issued a directive to his governors not to demolish any church, synagogue or the pace of fire-worshippers, Ibn Qudamah, the famous jurist after citing this directive has declared that it has acquired the status of “Ijma’” (Consensus of Muslim Jurists to let them keep their worship places intact.) (Al-Mughni, v.19, p.610)

As for building new places of worship, Muslim jurists are unanimous that if there has been a pact with non-Muslims to allow them building new houses of worship, the Islamic state is obligated to allow them. If there is no such pact, they can build such houses in their rural areas. But the jurists have different opinions about the cities populated by Muslims. Some jurists are of the opinion that they cannot build new places in such cities (Bada’us-Sanai’, 7:114). But Maliki school allows them to do that, but at the discretion of the government according to expedience of the society. (Al-Khurashi, 3:148)

Practically, this view has prevailed in most of the Muslim countries.

Q 2. For those who are not people of the book, meaning those who believe in religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, does Islamic law give an Islamic government the option to give these people the right to practice their religions with houses of worship in an Islamic country, or does Islamic law completely forbid an Islamic government from giving them this right at all?

A. The rulings given in [Answer to Q 1] above are general for all Non-Muslims, including those who are not among the People of the Book, as the directive of Caliph Umar b. Abdul-Aziz is not  restricted to the People of the Book, but includes fire-worshippers.

Q 3. For Muslims who are not Sunnis, such as Shia, Ibadi, Ahmadiyya, what does Sunni Islamic law say for a Sunni Islamic government? Is it required to give these other Muslims groups houses of worship, required not to give them houses of worship, or the government is given the option to choose whether to give or not to give them houses of worship?

A. Those who are not Sunnis may be of two kinds. Those who claim to be Muslims, but are out of the pale of Islam according to all recognized schools, like the followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiyani, who call themselves Ahmadis, they are not Muslims according to all recognized schools including Shi’a school. Therefore, they will not be allowed to establish their places of worship in the name of masjids. The second kind comprises those schools who, as a whole, are not declared Non-Muslims. They may have their own masjids.

Q 4. What is the Islamic legal definition of caliphate and can there be such a thing as a valid authentic Sunni Islamic government that is not considered a caliphate?

A. Caliphate is a term applied to a true Islamic government that believes and declares that absolute sovereignty belongs to Allah alone, and the state is duty bound to run all its affairs within the limits prescribed by the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (ﷺ). Although this is the correct term for an Islamic state, but the important thing is not the nomenclature. If a state is established on the principle mentioned above, but does not name itself “caliphate” it will also be a valid Islamic state.

Q 5. Lastly, what is the authentic Islamic teaching about having sex slaves, and is there such a thing as having a sex slave?

A. When there was no international pact about the prisoners of war, the Islamic state had an option to enslave them like other nations did, subject to the comprehensive reforms introduced by Islam in the system of slavery. In those days a master of a slave girl might have sex with her on condition that she is either Muslim or from the People of the Book. But at the same time Islam has many teachings encouraging, and in some cases obligating, to free the slaves.  In our days, there is an international treaty about the Prisoners of War, which is according to the spirit of Islam regarding slavery, an Islamic state is bound by it. Therefore, there is no room for slavery any more.

– Usmani, Muhammad Taqi, “Answers to Your Questions”, Monthly Al-Balagh International, Karachi, Vol.26 No.06 April 2015, pp. 33-36

About the author

Waqar Akbar Cheema

1 comment

  • Assalamualaikum I found the following from Wikipedia on prostitution. The text below concerns prostitution of slave women.

    “…..Traditionally, prostitution in the Islamic world was historically practiced by way of the pimp temporarily selling his slave to her client, who then returned the ownership of the slave after intercourse. The Islamic Law formally prohibited prostitution. However, since Islamic Law allowed a man to have sexual intercourse with his slave concubine, prostitution was practiced by a pimp selling his female slave on the slave market to a client, who returned his ownership on the pretext of discontent after having had intercourse with her, which was a legal and accepted method for prostitution in the Islamic world.[81] This form of prostitution was practiced by for example Ibn Batuta, who acquired several female slaves during his travels.”

    Is the aforementioned case really true? Does Islamic law allow this kind of prostitution and what can we say regarding scholars like ibn Batutta who practiced it?