Slavery and its abolition in the light of the Quran

It's a widespread misconception with persons having scant knowledge of history and a cursory reading of the Quran that slavery is a Quranic dictate or that islam introduced slavery or was complacent about it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Freeing a slave is one of the penalties mentioned in the Noble Quran for various offences. It's about culture and society, not religion. Also, it's time related not race related. Islam disapproved of idol worship, and it disapproved of slavery too. Both idolatry and slavery had to be abolished but with different apporaches. The object of the Quran was not to bring about a bloody revolution in society. Therefore it did not encourage an overnight abolition of slavery in a society where this system had been rife for centuries as that could carry grave risks of lawlessness, insecurity and revenge with people going on a rampage with their newly found freedom, and being eventually pushed away into ghettos. Therefore, Islam strongly encouraged teaching and educating slaves, and whenever the master / mistress were confident that their slaves were ready to lead independent lives, he or she must set them free by giving them a sum of money to start their lives.

And such of your slaves as seek a writing (of emancipation), write it for them if ye are aware of aught of good in them, and bestow upon them of the wealth of Allah which He hath bestowed upon you. (24:33)

The Prophet never had a single slave in his household. Though several of his companions were former slaves in Makkah, they were all freed as Muslims when they came to Medina. The Prophet became the guardian of Zaid who was a slave, freed him right away and arranged his marriage with his own first cousin. He also paid a heavy dowry for Zaid so that he would experience no social discriminations. Unfortunately this marriage didn't last for more than a few years because of the couple's incompatibility.

As we know, it took 23 years to abolish idol worship from the Arabian peninsula. It also took a lot of hard work, patience and perseverance on the part of the Prophet (SAAW) and his small band of followers. By that time slavery also became much less rampant in that society compared to 20 years earlier. Those slaves who were freed during these 23 years (and there were many who were freed) led decent lives because of the education and money that were provided to them by their former masters to begin their new lives. This system of freeing slaves promoted a peaceful transition, avoiding any risks of anarchy and revenge.

Also, as the Quran has highlighted in various chapters, there were many stringent rules imposed on the masters for taking care of their slaves during this transitional period. Prior to this, in Arabia and everywhere else, slaves were no different than a piece of property .. of course we all know this. And definitely no one ever thought of educating their slaves, much less treating them like equals with the view of emacipating them in future. Even such a concept never existed outside the sphere of Islam.

As the culture of slavery has now been officially abolished from the world which was one of the goals of Islam, everything about slaves as mentioned in the Quran would no longer be applicable in the light of the Quranic laws. This is because whatever the Quran mentions on slavery is within the social context of that period when it was in the process of being abolished. That has now been achieved. We are not re-introduce it.