Csaba Okvath and Basit Kareem Iqbal

A person captured or forcibly confined, especially during wartime or in military maneuvers. This entry comprises the following sections:

Definitions and Usage

Historically, being a captive (asīr, lit. “bound”) meant that hands were “bound with fetters” (al-asr al-shadd bil-qayd) (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub ʾ-s-r). The linguist Ibn Fāris (d. 395/1004) defines the stem ʾ-s-r as “confinement” (abs) or “detention” (imsāk), explaining that “they usually bound [the captive] with fetters”; hence any person taken prisoner in war (akhīdh) was called “bound” (asīr) (Maqāyīs), even if he was not physically bound (Jawharī, iā). The verbal stem asara/yaʾsiru/asran and isāratan yields the nominal form asīr, with plural forms asrā, asārā, and usārā (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān). The lexicographer al-Zabīdī (1145-1205/1732-1790) adds, “the nominal form asīr (“bound”) is in the sense of al-maʾsūr (“captured”) and also al-marbū bil-isār (“tied up with straps”); [and takes the plural form] usarāʾ” (Tāj).

Explicit references to captives appear in five verses (Q 2:85; 8:67, 70; 33:26; 76:8).  Indirect references include the imperative bind the bond [on them] (fa-shaddū l-wathāqa), that is, “take [the disbelievers] captive” (Q 47:4), and the word “neck” (sing. raqaba, pl. riqāb) acting as a synecdoche for captives, whether slaves or prisoners, in five instances: Righteous is the one who…gives wealth…in freeing slaves (fī-l-riqāb) (Q 2:177); alms (here meaning: zakāt) are only for…and freeing slaves (wa fī-l-riqāb) (Q 9:60); freeing a slave (tarīru raqabatin) is an expiation (q.v.) for manslaughter (Q 4:92: freeing a believing slave), and oath-breaking (Q 5:89), and for rescinding a ihār divorce (Q 58:3): and And what will have you perceive the steep ascent? [It is] to free a slave (fakku raqabatin) (Q 90:12-13). A general reference permitting the capture of prisoners of war appears in the Madinan Sūrat al-Tawba: And when the Sacred Months have passed, then kill the polytheists (al-mushrikīna) wherever you find them and capture them (khudhūhum, lit. “take them”) and besiege them (Q 9:5). Finally, an indirect reference to the Prophet Yūsuf’s captivity appears in the verse they concealed him as a treasure (wa asarrūhu biāʿatan) (Q 12:19), meaning, “they included him in their merchandise and sold him for a paltry price.”

Prisoners of War

Muslims first faced the question of what to do with the war captives on the Day of Badr—the Day of the Criterion and the Day the Two Throngs Met (Q 8:41)—when they fought the first of the three major battles against the Makkan polytheistson Ramadan 2/March 624 (see Badr). Despite numerical strength, the Makkans lost the Battle, seventy were killed, and as many were taken prisoner (Ibn Hishām, Ibn Hishām, Sīra, GhazwaBadr al-kubrā, dhikr al-fayʾ bi-Badr wa-l-usārā, 1:641;Maghāzī of al-Zuhrī p. 62 and Ibn Abī Shayba p. 192-193 §153). Since there was no precedent, a question arose about the fate of the captives. Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688), Allah be well-pleased with him, relates:

When the captives were taken, the Messenger of Allah upon him blessings and peace, asked Abū Bakr and ʿUmar, “What do you think should be done to these captives?” Abū Bakr said, “Prophet of Allah, they are the sons of [our] paternal uncle and belong to our closest relatives (al-ʿashīra). I say you should take ransom (fidya) for them; this will give us strength against the disbelievers, and perhaps Allah may guide them to Islam.” Allah’s Messenger, upon him blessings and peace, then asked, “What is your opinion, Ibn al-Khaṭṭāb?” I [ʿUmar] said, “No! By Allah, O Messenger of Allah, I do not agree with Abū Bakr. In my viewyou hand them over to us, so we may execute them. You put ʿAlī in charge of ʿAqīl so that he kills him. Put me in charge of someone and I shall kill him. These people are leaders and representatives of unbelief.” Allah’s Messenger, upon him blessings and peace, preferred the opinion of Abū Bakr to that of ʿUmar. (Muslim, Jihād wal-siyar, al-imdādbil-malāʾika fī ghazwaBadr)

In a more detailed narration related by ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd (d. 32/ca.652), Allah be well-pleased with him, the Prophet responded:

Truly Allah will soften men’s hearts in this matter and their hearts will be gentler than milk. And truly Allah will harden men’s hearts in this matter and they will be harder than stones. Verily, your [view], Abū Bakr, resemble the words of Ibrāhīm, who said So whoever follows me, he is of me; and whoever disobeys me, truly You are Forgiving and Merciful (Q 14:36) and the words of ʿĪsā, If You punish them, they are Your servants; but if You forgive them, You are the Exalted the All-Wise (Q 5:118). And your [view], ʿUmar, resembles the words of Nūḥ, who said O my Lord, leave not a single inhabitant on the earth from the disbelievers (Q 71:26) and also the words of Mūsā, who said Harden their hearts, so that they shall not believe until they see the painful punishment (Q 10:88). Now, you are in need and none of them should escape unless by being ransomed or by being killed.” (Aḥmad, Musnad, Musnad al-Mukthirīn, musnad ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd; No. 3632; Ibn Abī Ḥatim, Tafsīr, sub Q 8:67)

Finally, the Prophet instructed his Companions not to kill the captives, saying, ‘Verily, I know that some people from BanūHāshim and from other [tribes] were forced to march out; but these men did not want to fight against us. Whoever of you encounters someone from BanūHāshim should not kill him. And whoever of you encounters Abū al-Bakhtarī b. Hishām b. al-Ḥārith b. Asad should not kill him, since he was coerced into marching out’” (cf. Ibn Hishām, Sīra, GhazwaBadr al-kubrā, nahy al-Nabiyyaṣḥābahʿanqatl nās min al-mushrikīn).

Two captives were, however, killed: al-Naḍr b. al-Ḥārith and ʿUqba b. Abī Muʿayṭ (Ibn Qudāma, al-Kāfī, al-Jihād). The former had said, “What does Muḥammad say? I see the movements of his lips but he pronounces only the tales of the ancients” (Māwardī, Nukat; Qurṭubī; Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs, sub Q 6:25-26). Most commentators hold that Q 6:25-26 (And when Our verses are recited unto them, they say: We have heard. If we willed we could say [something] similar. Verily, this is nothing but tales of the ancients) was revealed about him. For his part, ʿUqba b. Abī Muʿayṭ was one of the most hostile enemies of Muslims and he had cast camel offal onto the Prophet while he was prostrating (Bukhārī, Jizya, ṭarḥjiyaflil-mushrikīna fī-l-biʾr).

The Prophet fixed the ransom of the Badr captives at 400 ūqiyya (approximately seven mithqāl or forty dirhams; Ibn Manẓūr Lisān, subw-q-y, see Weights and Measures) (Abū Dāwūd, Sunan, Fī fidāʾ al-asīrbil-māl). The uncle of the Prophet, Al-ʿAbbās, had to pay the greatest amount for his own ransom (80 ūqiyya) and he also had to pay 80 ūqiyyaeach for his nephews. During the Battle, 20 ūqiyya were captured as booty from al-ʿAbbās, who had been one of ten men charged with provisioning the warriors over the course of the campaign (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 8:70).

Q 47:4 gives a third option of setting the captives free graciously: When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks, then, when you have inflicted slaughter upon them, tie fast the bonds. Then free them graciously or hold them for ransom, till the war lays down its burdens. So it shall be; and if Allah had willed, He would have avenged Himself upon them; but that He may try some of you by means of others. And as for those who are slain in the way of Allah, He will by no means allow their deeds to perish.

In their explanations of these choices, the exegetes discuss whether any of the verses mentioning captives was abrogatedby another (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī; Qurṭubī; also see Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb, sub Q 3:7; Suyūṭī, Itqān, Type 43, Fī-l-muḥkam wal-mutashābih; see Abrogation). One of the earliest discussions is by the eminent early jurist, hadith master, and linguist Abū ʿUbayd al-Qāsim b. Sallām b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Harawī (150-224/767-838) in his treatise on abrogation and the abrogated in the Qurʾān. He quotes the opinion of Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688) who considered Q 47:4 as giving choices to Prophet and the Believers, Ibn Jurayj (80-150/699-767) and al-Suddī (d. 127/744), however,said Q 47:4 was abrogated by Q 9:5. When al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (d. 110/728) was asked about the prisoners of war, he said, “treat them as the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, treated the prisoners of Badr, that is, gracious bestowal [freeing them], or holding them for ransom (yumannu ʿalayh aw yufādā).” Abū ʿUbayd al-Harawī clarifies:

We see that scholars have differed over interpretation of the verses regarding captives… Our own opinion is that all of these verses are muḥkamāt[“definitive”], there being none abrogated among them. This is supported by the rulings of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace: he acted upon all [the options mentioned in] these verses—killing, ransom, pardon—until Allah took him unto Him. We know of no abrogation in this respect. His first decision regarding [captives] was on the Day of Badr, when he exercised all these options; beginning with the execution of ʿUqba b. Abī Muʿayṭ and al-Naḍr b. al-Ḥārith. Later, after returning to Madina, he decided to liberate or forgive the rest of the captives… [Still] later, [in the case of] BanūQurayẓa, [he] besieged them…[and in their case his] decision was to execute the fighters and to capture the dependents. (…) Then, after the Campaign of al-Muraysiʿ, he captured them but spared the lives of the captives and set them all free; no one was killed. (...)We accept this view about captives: none of these rulings were abrogated. The leader [of the Muslims] may choose from a number of possibilities regarding mature, legally responsible males: execution, enslavement, ransom, or pardon. No emotional preference (mayl bi-hawā) shall influence his decision between forgiveness and revenge (ṭalab al-dhaḥl) in punishment; it must rather be based on the interest of Islam and its people. (Nāsikh, Bāb al-Asārā; also seeTafsīrs of Ṭabarī; Qurṭubī, sub Q 47:4)

Makkī b. Abī Ṭālib al-Qaysī (d. 437/1045), cites the opinion of Ibn Zayd, who said “both verses are well-established and universally accepted, neither of them abrogated. The leader (imām) of the Muslim community can decide about the [fate of the] captives according keeping in view the interests of the Muslims” (Makkī, Īḍāḥ, sub Q 9:5).Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Ḥaqq b. Ghālib Ibn ʿAṭiyya (481-541/1088-1147) agrees with this position on the authority of ʿAṭāʾ b. Abī Rabāḥ al-Qurashī (d. 114/733; on whom see Dhahabī, Siyar, vol. 5, no. 29), who held that Q 9:5 was prescriptive and that both emancipation and ransoming were established (thābit), based on the practice of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, with the pardoning of Thumāma b. Uthāl and ransoming of the captives of Badr (Muḥarrar, sub Q 47:4-9). Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī (600-671/1204-1273) also concurs with the above-stated opinion of Ibn Zayd: “This is the correct position, for generous [emancipation] (mann), killing (qatl) and ransoming (fidāʾ) were always amongst the judgments that the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, made on them, from the first war he launched against [the polytheists], namely the Battle of Badr. And His words and take them [in Q 9:5] refer to this meaning. Taking (al-akhdh) means capturing (al-asr); and captivity may end either in killing, in ransom, or in generous emancipation, depending on the decision of the leader” (Tafsīr, sub Q 9:5).

Islamic juridical literature distinguishes three categories of prisoners of war: (i) women and children, who (by scholarly consensus, based on explicit Prophetic prohibition) cannot be executed; (ii) men from communities who pay the jizya tax (whether People of the Book or others, such as Zoroastrians), for whom it is left to the discretion of the leader of the Muslims as to whether they are executed, set free (Imam Mālik disputing its permissibility), ransomed, or enslaved; and (iii) men who come under the category exempt from jizya, who may be executed, set free, or ransomed. The leader’s decision should be guided by consideration of greater communal benefit. If such captives represent a real threat to Islam, they should be executed; the wealthy among them should be ransomed; and those open to Islam or aiding Muslims should be released without ransom (Ibn Qudāma, al-Sharḥ al-kabīr, Jihād, masʾala 1402; also see Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Kāfī, Bāb ḥukm al-asārā).

Taking Captives: Banū Qurayẓa

By exegetical consensus (claimed by Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar), Q 33:26 refers to the Jewish Madinan tribe of Banū Qurayza: And He brought those of the People of the Book who supported them down from their fortresses and cast terror in their hearts; then you killed one group [of them] and captured [another] group.The twenty-five day Muslim siege of Banū Qurayẓabegan after theybreached their treaty with the Prophet (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Ghazwa Banī Qurayẓasanatakhams) during a very testing time for the Muslims when they were surrounded by the Makkan army during the Battle of the Trench (5/627).Ḥuyayy b. Akhṭab al-Naḍrī, the leader of the exiled Banū-l-Naḍīr (another Jewish tribe of Madina), incited the leader of Banū Qurayẓa, Kaʿb b. Asad, to join the Makkan Confederates against the Muslims. When the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, heard of this treachery, he sent Saʿd b. Muʿādh b. al-Nuʿmān (chief of the Banū Aws), Saʿd b. ʿUbāda b. Dulaym (chief of BanūKhazraj), ʿAbd Allāh b. Rawāḥa, and Khawwāt b. Jubayr to determine what had happened (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, taḥarrī al-Rasūl ʿannaqḍKaʿb li-l-ʿahd). After the Battle of the Trench was over, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, laid down his arms, but

As he was washing off the troubles of this campaign in the house of Umm Salama, Jibrīl came to him wearing a turban made of brocade and riding on a mule with a silk covering (qaṭīfa min dībāj), and said, “Messenger of Allah, have you put aside your arms (a-waḍaʿta al-silāḥ)?” He answered, “Yes.” Jibrīl said, “But the angels have not yet set aside their arms.” Jibrīl continued with these words, “Allah orders you to wage war upon Banū Qurayẓa.” Hearing this, the Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him, gave his warriors orders for military preparations after the midday prayer and said, “Let none of you pray the afternoon prayer but in [the territory of] Banū Qurayẓa.” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr)

As the siege went on, the leaders of Banū Qurayẓa sought the advice of the Companion Abū Lubāba b. ʿAbd al-Mundhir, of the Banū ʿAmr b. ʿAwf, a longstanding ally of al-Aws. In the famous incident, Abū Lubāba felt pity at their tears and simultaneously advised them to accept the decision of the Prophet but also indicated that this might mean a massacre (for his penitence and the subsequent revelation of Q 9:102, see Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar; Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Qiṣṣat Abī Lubāba; Ṭabarī, Tārīkh, Ghazwa Banī Qurayẓa; Bayhaqī, Dalāʾil).

The siege came to an end with the unconditional surrender of Banū Qurayẓa, who agreed to accept the decision of the Muslims. The Prophet assigned the judgment over their treason to Saʿd b. Muʿādh (on whom see Dhahabī, Siyar, vol. 1, no. 56, Ibn Hishām, Sīra, nuzūl Banī Qurayẓa ʿalā ḥukmal-Rasūl wa taḥkīm Saʿd). Jābir reported, “Allāh’s Messenger, upon Him blessings and peace, sent for him and he took this decision: ‘Their men (Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar: their warriors; cf. Suyūṭī, Durr) should be killed and their women and young children shall be made captives. This can help the Muslims.’ Allah’s Messenger, upon him blessings and peace, said to Saʿd: ‘You have it upon the ruling of Allah (aṣabtaḥukm Allāh)” (Bayhaqī, Dalāʾil, Duʿāʾ Saʿd b. Muʿādhraḍiya Allāh ʿanh fī jirāḥatih). He also said, “You have made judgment concerning them according to the judgment of Allah from the seven heavens” (Ṭabarī, Tārīkh, Ghazwa Banī Qurayẓa). ʿAṭiyya al-Quraẓī relates, “We all were arraigned before the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, on the Day of Qurayẓa. Whoever was bearded (i.e. mature) was executed and whoever was unbearded was released. I was one of those who had no beard, and I was set free” (Tirmidhī, Sunan, Siyar, mājāʾafīl-nuzūl ʿalā al-ḥukm; hadith graded ḥasanṣaḥīḥ). Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī (849-911/1445-ca.1505) cites Qatāda as relating that there were about seven hundred captives (Durr).

Q 8:56 (Those of them with whom you made a treaty, and who then break it every time; and who do not fear Allah) also pertains to this event. Al-Qurṭubī adds, “The treaty was concluded with their notables, who then violated it. These notables were from the Qurayẓa and Naḍīr tribes, according to Mujāhid and others. They infringed the treaty and helped the polytheists of Makka with arms. Their excuse was: ‘We forgot [the treaty]. He, upon him blessings and peace, contracted a second treaty with them, but they violated it on the day of [the Battle of] the Trench” (Tafsīr).

Treatment of Captives

Q 76:8 commends those who provide for captives: And they give food, in spite of their love for it (or: due to their love for Him) to the needy, the orphan, and the captive. Al-Qurṭubī (Tafsīr) cites the Prophet’s comments on this verse via Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Thaʿlabī (d. 427/1036), on the authority of Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī: “The needy means the poor; the orphan means he who has no father; and the captive means the slave (al-mamlūk) and the imprisoned (al-maḥbūs).” (cf. Thaʿlabī, Kashf where instead of al-maḥbūs, the noun “al-masjūn-imprisoned” appears). Ibn Kathīr provides varying referents for this verse (Tafsīr):

According to Saʿīd b. Jubayr (d. 95/714), al-Ḥasan [al-Baṣrī (21-110/642-728)], and al-Ḍaḥḥāk (d. ca. 102/721), the captives referred to are the people of the qibla (i.e. Muslims). Ibn ʿAbbās said that the captives in those days were polytheists, as is attested by the fact that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, ordered his Companions on the Day of Badr to treat captives kindly, whereupon they gave preference to the captives even in their meals. Finally, ʿIkrima said the word means captives and slaves (al-ʿabīd), whether Muslim or polytheist, due to the general import of the verse.

Commentators observe that this verse mentions a fundamental right of captives, namely their victuals; even idolatrous captives are entitled to provisions, and feeding them is a pious act for the sake of Allah (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). In context of the verse, notes al-Rāzī (Tafsīr), it is the pious believers (Q 76:5) who feed captives either in order to obtain the pleasure of Allah (Q 76:9: We feed you seeking only the Faceof Allah) or to avert the fearful events of the Day of Resurrection (Q 76:10: Verily, we fear from our Lord a Day, hard and distressful). In addition to the Qurʾānic affirmation that captives must be fed, the example set by the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, is also instructive, for he provided clothing for captives. Jābir b. ʿAbd Allāh narrates, “On the day of Badr, al-ʿAbbās was among them (the captives brought forth), and there was no robe upon him. The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, looked for a shirt for him. They all found that the shirt of ʿAbd Allāh b. Ubayy would fit him, so the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, had him wear it. This is the reason why the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, took off and gave his own shirt to (ʿAbd Allāh). Ibn ʿUyayna added: He (ʿAbd Allāh) had done the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, a favor for which he wished to repay him” (Bukhārī, Kiswalil-usārā).

Ahadith related by Anas b. Mālik (d. 93/712) describes how to treat captives in wartime: “Allāhʾs Messenger, upon him blessings and peace, said: Depart in the name of Allah, by Allah, and on the way (milla) of Allah’s Messenger. Do not kill an aged man, a child, an infant, or a woman. Do not exceed the bounds (lā taghullū). Take your booty. Seek reconciliation. And do good; truly Allah loves those who do good” (Abū Dāwūd, Sunan, Jihād, fī duʿāʾ al-mushrikīn).

Emancipating Prisoners and Slaves

The two synonymous Qurʾānic expressions taḥrīruraqabatin and fakkuraqabatin refer to emancipating someone (lit. “freeing a neck”), whether a slave or prisoner. According to al-Rāghib al-Aṣfahānī (d. ca.502/1108), the phrase taḥrīr-u-raqabatin means “setting a human free” (jaʿlu-l-insānḥurran), since freedom means being freed from constraints. Fakk-u-raqabatin is used for liberating a captive, meaning his manumission (ʿitquhā), “and some define it as manumitting a slave (ʿitq al-mamlūk)” (Mufradāt, sub ḥ-r-r and f-k-k). Al-Zabīdī (1145-1205/1732-1790) comments, “taḥrīru-raqabatinmeans manumission (iʿtāquhā) and a freedman (al-muḥarrar) is one who has been made free (juʿilaḥurran) after being a slave.” He also quotes a Tradition on the authority of Abū al-Dardāʾ, “The worst among you are those whose manumitted men are not set free”—that is, those who continue to make use of those they have ostensibly manumitted and whose slavery they effectively maintain, if slaves seek to take their leave (Tāj, subḥ-r-r; cf. Ibn al-Athīr, Nihāya). Abū Mūsā, Allah be well-pleased with him, said, Allah’s Messenger, upon him blessings and peace, said “Manumit the captive (al-ʿānī), feed the hungry, and visit the sick” (Bukhārī, Jihād, fakāk al-asīr).

Q 90:12 asks a question (And what will apprise you of the steep ascent?) which the next verse answers through an apposition (tabyīn al-ʿaqaba): to free a slave (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr). The majority of Qurʾān Readers—Nāfiʿ (70-169/689-785), Ibn ʿĀmir (8-118/629-736), ʿĀṣim (d. 127/ 744), Ḥamza (80-156/699-772), Abū Jaʿfar (d. ca. 127/744), Yaʿqūb and Khalaf (d. 229/843)—vocalize this phrase fakkuraqabatin, while a minority—Ibn Kathīr, Abū ʿAmr (68-154/687-770), al-Kisāʾī (119-189 /737-804), and Ibn Muḥaysin—vocalize it with a verbal form fakkaraqabatan (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr; ʿUmar and ʿAbd al-ʿĀlīSālim, Muʿjam al-qirāʾāt). Al-Qurṭubī explains the phrase:

Of the expression fakkuraqabatin, fakk means ‘his deliverance from captivity’; according to others it means ‘from slavery’ (min al-riqq)… the word al-fakku means ‘unchaining’. An enslaved person is called ‘a neck’ since he is in a state of slavery like a captive whose neck is shackled; [when freed,] his neck is called ‘liberated’ like the freeing of a captive from captivity. (Tafsīr)

Al-Rāzī says, “fakkuraqabatin may mean either that a man manumits a freedman from slavery or by giving a slave who has contracted his freedom (mukātab) the possibility of manumitting himself” (Tafsīr). Muḥammad al-ṬāhirIbn ʿĀshūr (1296-1393/1879-1972) says , the word raqaba (neck) in the phrase fakkuraqabatin (Q 90:13) metonymically refers to the person (the captive or the slave), while fakk expresses the act of setting free someone taken in captivity (Tafsīr).

The mukātab, namely, a slave who has contracted his freedom, is referred to in Q 24:33: …And such of your slaves who seek emancipation, contract with them accordingly, if you know some good in them…. The contract (mukātaba) of manumission between the owner and slave requires the slave to pay a specified amount of money to achieve freedom, making this “manumission subject to a condition” (iʿtāqmuʿallaq ʿalā sharṭ; see Ibn Qudāma, al-Kāfī, Kitāb al-ʿitq, bāb al-kitāba).

The fundamental difference between the words taḥrīr and fakk is explained by Aḥmad b. ʿAlī Ibn Ḥajar (773-852/1371-1449): “No marfūʿ hadith (lit. “elevated”, a hadith directly traced back the Prophet) is cited regarding Sūrat al-Balad, but the Tradition of al-Barāʾ [b. ʿĀzib] can be quoted here: A Bedouin came and said: ‘Messenger of Allāh, teach me any kind of work that would enter me into Paradise….’ He said: ‘Manumit someone (aʿtiq al-nasama) or liberate the enslaved (fukk al-raqaba).’ He asked: ‘Are not these two the same?’ He answered: ‘No. aʿtiq al-nasama means that you alone manumit him and fukk al-raqaba means that you aid in his being set free’” (Fatḥ al-bārī, subqawluhBi-smi-Llāh al-Raḥmān al-Raḥīm fī-l-ʿitq wa faḍlih).

On another occasion, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, ordered that a slave be freed, as related by Muʿāwiya b. al-Ḥakam al-Sulamī: “A black slave girl came and Allah’s Messenger, upon him blessings and peace, asked her, ‘Where is Allah?’ She answered, ‘In heaven (fī-l-samāʾ).’ He said, ‘Who am I?’ She said, ‘You are the Messenger of Allah.’ He then said, ‘Manumit her, for she is a believer’” (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr,sub Q 4:92).

Muslims are encouraged to liberate slaves (see Q 76:8-9). Abū Burda b. Abī Mūsā reported from his father that: “Allah’s Messenger, upon him blessings and peace, said: There are three [kinds of people] who will receive their rewards twice over… [One is] a man who possesses a pure slave girl (jāriyawaḍīʾa) and who educates her and teaches her proper manners, then emancipates her and then marries her, desiring by this the pleasure of Allah. [Such a man] will receive double reward (one each for her education and manumission)” (Tirmidhī, Sunan, Nikāḥ, mājāʾa fī faḍldhālik 2:409). The merit of emancipating slaves is also described in another Tradition, transmitted by Abū Hurayra (d. 58/678), Allah be well-pleased with him: “The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said: Whoever frees a Muslim slave, Allah will save all the parts of his body from Hellfire by the body-parts of the slave whom he liberated” (Bukhārī, ʿItq, fī-l-ʿitq wa faḍlih).


Q 9:60 includes emancipating captives among the ways one may pay zakāt: Alms (al-ṣadaqāt) are only for the poor and the needy and those who collect them and those whose hearts are to be reconciled and to set captives free (wa fī-l-riqāb) and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and [for] the wayfarer; an obligation [imposed] by Allah. And Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad b. al-Sirrī al-Zajjāj (d. 311/923) explains it as “helping mukātabs (captives) to free themselves” (Maʿānī). A hadith reported by Abū Hurayra attests to this: “There are three groups [of men] for whom Allah’s help is due [through zakāt]: al-mukātab who wishes to fulfill [his debt]; a man who is getting married, desiring virtue; and a fighter in the Way of Allah” (Nasāʾī, Sunan, Nikāḥ, maʿūnat Allāh). Ibn ʿAṭiyya al-Andalusī (d. 481-541/1088-1147) comments on the categories given in the verse:

These categories can be given either for the benefit of the Muslims or in case of necessity…and the mukātab is of the needy. Al-Zuhrī held that the share of the captives is divided into two portions: one portion is for mukātabs and the other is used to liberate Muslim captives (riqāb) who have prayed; or Muslim captives (usārā) can be ransomed with this amount. (Muḥarrar)

Al-Qurṭubī observes (Tafsīr), “The expression wa fī-l-riqāb means ‘for manumitting slaves’ … The leader may buy slaves from zakāt funds and liberate them on behalf of the Muslims, in such a way that their clientage becomes the property of all Muslims; but it is also permitted that someone paying zakāt buy them and set them free [directly].” Mālikb. Anas (93-179/712-795) mentions a hadith transmitted by ʿĀʾisha (d. 58/678), Allah be well-pleased with her: “Clientage belongs to him who manumits” (Muwaṭṭaʾ, Maṣīr al-walāʾ). The legal status of this clientage is regulated by the hadith, “Clientage is the same kinship as the kinship of lineage; it cannot be sold, and it cannot be donated” (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr) (see Clients and Patrons; Kindred). Ibn Kathīr (700-774/1300-1373) comments on the verse:

As regards the captives [mentioned here], it is transmitted from al-Hasan al-Baṣrī, Muqātil b. Ḥayyān, Saʿīd b. Jubayr, al-Nakhaʿī, al-Zuhrī and Ibn Zayd that they are mukātabs; al-Shāfiʿī and al-Layth were of the same view. Ibn ʿAbbās and al-Ḥasan [al-Baṣrī] said: ‘It is permitted (lā baʾs) to liberate a captive out of zakāt’; this is [also] the view of Aḥmad [b. Ḥanbal] and Mālik. The noun riqāb is a general term that may include the mukātab. (Tafsīr)

Captivity of Prophet Yūsuf, upon him peace

The Qurʾān recounts (Q 12:19-21) the captivity of Prophet Yūsuf, first in his enslavement and sale to an Egyptian official and then in his imprisonment after his attempted seduction by the latter’s wife. In the first episode, his own brothers cast him into a pit, saying “He is a slave to us” (Rāzī, Tafsīr), and sold him to a caravan from Madyan heading to Egypt (Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb):

And there came a caravan, and they sent their water-drawer. He sent his pail [down into the pit]. He said: Good news! Here is a youth. They hid him as a treasure, and Allah was aware of what they did. And they sold him for a low price, for a few dirhams; and they attached no value to him. And he of Egypt who purchased him said unto his wife: Receive him honorably. Perhaps he may prove useful to us or we may adopt him as a son. Thus We established Yūsuf in the land, that We might teach him the interpretation of events. And Allah was predominant in His career, but most of mankind know not. (Q 12:19-21)

The Egyptian court official who bought Yūsuf is identified by exegetes as Qiṭfīr (Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb) or Quṭfīr (Tabarī, Tafsīr) (Potiphar). The circumstances of his second imprisonment are described by the official’s wife while displaying Yūsuf to an assembly of other women:

She said, “That is the one about whom you blamed me. And I certainly sought to seduce him, but he firmly refused; and if he will not do what I order him, he will surely be imprisoned and will be of those humbled.” He said: “O my Lord! Prison is dearerto me than that to which they urge me, and if You do not turn their scheming away from me, I shall incline toward them and be among the ignorant.” So his Lord responded to him and averted from him their scheme. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Knowing. Then it occurred to them, after they had seen the signs, that they should imprison him for a while. (Q 12:32-35)

Even in captivity, Yūsuf's good character was exemplary, for he was known for his generosity, trustworthiness, truthfulness, profuse devotions, knowledge of dream interpretation, and comportment in dealing with other prisoners (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 12:36).Dream interpretation is a kind of knowledge of the Unseen (ʿilm al-ghayb; see Manifest and Hidden), and it was imparted to Yūsuf because he avoided the idolatry of the unbelievers (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). Allah made that knowledge a means of Yūsuf’s release from prison, when he interpreted the king’s dreams (Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb, sub Q 12:43). Al-Rāzī comments, “The knowledge inspired in Yūsuf is a clear proof of the excellence (faḍīla) of knowledge, for Allah made his knowledge the means of his release from worldly tribulation” (Tafsīr). Yet Yūsuf, upon him peace, refused to leave prison until his innocence had become evident (Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb): “But I absolve not my own self. Verily, the soul (nafs)incites to evil, except when my Lord bestows His Mercy. Truly my Lord is Forgiving, Merciful” (Q 12:53).


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See also

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