Islam and the Emancipatory Ethic

By Dr. Haroon Bashir, Lecturer, Markfield Institute

MIHE’s Head of Islamic Studies, Dr. Haroon Bashir delivered a discursive online opening lecture of the 2021 MIHE Public Lecture Series on 14 April 2021. The discussion focused on the emancipatory ethos fundamental to core Islamic ethics. The centrality of freedom within Islam set in a historical context of pre-existing slavery elicited Islamic ethical responses which, in turn, produced surprising revelations.

Some of the fascinating findings and insights uncovered by Dr. Haroon’s groundbreaking research revealed a long tradition of aversion to slavery in Islamic ethical codes and practice where Islam became a tool for liberation - coupled with active abolitionist measures which both sought to mitigate the harmful effects and ultimately strove to dismantle such abhorrent injustice.

One example detailed how scholars such as al-Sarakhsī addressed the concept of emancipation: Where paternity was disputed between an enslaved Muslim and a free dhimmi (a non-Muslim receiving legal protection when residing in a state under Islamic governance) the ruling favoured the dhimmi, as freedom took precedence over all other factors, including faith – here the freedom of the child was accorded the highest regard. A case of a slave murdering her master to attain freedom was also highlighted, set in the context of usual legal rulings.

Fascinating insights drawn from the archives of Timbuktu, the major slave revolts of Brazil, key 19th Century abolition movements, and the more recent work of Orientalists, such as Bernard Lewis whose attempts to denigrate Islam through revisionist historical distortion were also expounded. Contemporary slavery in its many shape-shifting guises completed the analysis when Dr Haroon drew specific attention to the forms of slavery reintroduced by ISIS which strongly correlated to current criminal activity and gangland exploitation strongly divorced from Islamic principles and practice. The session concluded with a range of robust questions including concerns centred on at what point slavery can be deduced as such, when opposed to exploitative employment practice, citing examples from the Gulf region.