Modern day Slavery? Still a problem in the 21st century? Really? Even here in North America?
The truth is there are more slaves in North America today than there were 200 years ago, more slaves around the world today than there have ever been before, and the illegal trafficking of human beings -- the slave trade -- continues unabated, ongoing since the dawn of history.
As you read this, throughout the world, more than 30 million of our fellow human beings are living as the humiliated property of others, human beings who can be bought and sold as commodities like cattle, forced to work as child-soldiers, serfs, servants and sex-trade workers.
But the IMAM -- the International Muslim Abolitionist Movement -- believes that true compliance to Muhammad's example demands that slavery in all its evil forms must come to an end, and that Muslims serious about living their lives as God's servants should be striving to make that happen today.
But aren't religions part of the problem? Most of our faiths have been used to justify slavery in the past, so what's changed? And while we're at it why haven't religions condemned slavery since the very beginning of time?
The answer to all those questions is that slavery once had a purpose, serving as a slightly less evil alternative to death by starvation or execution, the two common ancient consequences to losing a war. That's why instead of condemning it outright, most religions merely regulated and moderated slavery's worst abuses.
However, it is long past time we moved beyond that dark chapter of human history, and long past time for all believers to take more of a stand. Because on this issue we can unquestionably stand together. In fact, slavery's evolving status throughout our world's religions actually confirms the consistent nature of God's progressive revelation, delivered through myriad messengers, speaking at different times to a diverse world.
For instance, Judaism began among those wrongly enslaved, when Joseph's brothers sold him into Egypt. Decades after he had been freed and had brought his family to live alongside him, when Egypt turned against their Hebrew brethren and enslaved them under the Pharaohs, Moses led them out of Egypt to become God's people instead.
So even though slavery had a place in the laws of Judaism and Christianity, God's guiding principle was implicit to the history of the Jews themselves: as the children of slaves, they knew there could be no difference in an individual's ultimate value whether slave or free before God or man.
Centuries later, Christianity's revelation came at a time when that important truth had not yet been given to Israel's Roman overlords. And again, rather than condemning the practice, Christianity merely confirmed Judaism's lesson to a wider audience, and eventually changed the Roman world as well.
But what do you do when you ARE the overlord? That's the piece of the puzzle Islam answers because, throughout human history, our human tendency has been to ignore all of our myriad faith's egalitarian leanings -- something you can find in each if you look for it -- and devalue and humiliate those following different faiths, or even following our own faith in what we think are different ways, whenever we've thought we could get away with it.
So what does the Quran say about slavery? Rather than promoting the taking of slaves, the Quran promoted their freedom and proclaimed their equal status to their masters under God. The Quran declared that slaves had rights and that masters had a responsibility to protect them, and it made freeing a slave worthy of eternal reward.
What did Muhammad say about slavery? That slave and free were brethren, and that female slaves in particular should be protected, respected, educated, and either married or freed outright.
How did the earliest Muslims treat slaves? Following Muhammad's example they helped, cared for and freed them, listened to, learned from and included them, respecting their contributions to the community of Islam.
Muhammad's immediate household personally freed almost 40,000 slaves alone.
What do Muslim scholars say about slavery? That the natural state of humanity is freedom, and that slavery is an abhorrent aberration. Rather than merely the gradual eradication of slavery, all scholars agree that Muslims should seek to eradicate the discriminatory injustice that is slavery's root cause as well.
So what does al-Shariah -- an Arabic phrase that means "the well trodden path to the waterhole" that has come to mean Islamic law as well -- say about slavery?
Well, it really depends which sharia you're talking about.
Because al-Shariah, the path Muhammad and his companions walked led toward a world without slavery, something every modern day scholar will happily confirm. But after they passed away, later Muslims who saw their slave-count dwindling decided they didn't like it. So they "tweaked" the rules just a little, just enough maintain their access to fresh slaves.
And whenever that happens, whenever Muslims put their own ambitions ahead of true fidelity to the path of Islam -- that leads us to serve God by serving His Creation, albeit in different roles -- and instead misdirect al-Shariah to serve their own dark desires instead, they turn their man-made so-called sharia laws into an abomination.
However, personally, I think the most important lesson al-Shariah teaches us is that the life of faith is a journey, and no matter how far down a path you've gone in the wrong direction, you can change it back into a righteous path just by turning yourself around.
And quite frankly, it's long past time for Muslims who honestly love Islam, sharia and Muhammad's legacy to fix those abuses and begin to take sharia back for Muhammad's exemplary Islam!
Because the message of the Quran, the Sunnah (the acts and words of Muhammad), Islam's wise scholars and the Salaf (early Islam's first three generations) is clear: Muslims should have ended slavery long ago.
So if you are a Muslim who loves Islam and strives to honor Muhammad's true legacy of justice, peace and freedom for all humankind, then please join the IMAM to say a prayer for freedom for the sake of all humankind on the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery (Friday, Dec. 2), and help us take a step toward ending slavery and oppression and injustice throughout the world today.