18.3 Slaves in Islam
Meccans society was based upon slave labor; as were most societies at the time. To liberate slaves "en masse" would have disrupted the economic system and ruined both masters and slaves, as too much labor in the labor market can be as injurious as its being too scarce. Islam approached the subject with compassionate wisdom. First Muslims were taught that their slaves were their brethren in religion. Then they were informed that to liberate a slave was an act most pleasing to Allah. The next step instructed them when and how to liberate slaves to prevent them being cast helpless upon society. A Muslim may liberate his slave or he may allow him to buy his freedom by paying a certain sum of money after he is established in business and gaining his own living. Not all slaves are fit to be liberated, however, but only those who can take care of themselves while those who are unable to do so are not to be cast as a burden upon society; their master has to take care of them.
Very many slaves were liberated by the Muslims in an attempt to please Allah. Such liberated slaves were called “Mawali” and since they were liberated in peace and without coercion, they felt very great regard for the man who had set them free and considered it an honor to belong to him and his tribe. It was quite normal among the Muslims to see a former master and mawla praying side by side, or fighting shoulder to shoulder to uphold the word of Allah. They were no longer master and slave, but brothers in Islam.