NEWS UPDATE: Proposed ‘Reforms’ in the Persian Gulf May Be a Facade…
Modern slavery is herein defined as conditions involving the legal ownership of one human being by another and the buying and selling of those human beings (“Classical Slavery”) and conditions that are the equivalent of classical slavery, to wit:
Of the 40 million people worldwide living in slavery today, almost 15 million live in Muslim-majority countries or countries with large Muslim minorities. In some of the Muslim-majority countries, where Islamic law is enforced, it is still possible to legally own another human being, especially young women living in a state of concubinage. In most of the other Muslim-majority countries and in countries with large Muslim minorities, although slavery is abolished by secular law or governmental edict, conditions equivalent to classical slavery or even worse than those endured under classical slavery still exist. Human beings are bought, sold, traded, gifted, inherited, sexually abused, forced or tricked into prostitution, massively exploited for labor and other purposes, held in bondage for debt, forced into marriage, and made the victims of organ trafficking by deceit, artifice and fraud.
Islamic law unequivocally condemns all of these circumstances and practices but no recognition of a consensus of the Islamic scholars condemning such practices has ever been made. Recognition of the existence of such a consensus, called an ijmāʿ in Islamic jurisprudence, would greatly aid efforts to stamp out such reprehensible and harm-causing practices among Muslims. This website seeks to collect opinions of competent Islamic scholars on this problem and, should there be unanimous agreement among such scholars, it seeks to enable these scholars to issue a statement recognizing an ijmāʿ and declaring that slavery and slave trading are illegal under Islamic law and therefore abolished. It will then seek to disseminate the fact of the ijmāʿ worldwide.
Islamic jurisprudence recognizes four sources of law. The first two sources, Qur’ān and Sunnah, are primary sources. The second two sources, ijmāʿ and qiyās in the Sunni jurisprudence, and ijmāʿ and ‘aql in the Shi’a jurisprudence, are secondary and should only be consulted when the two primary sources, Qur’ān and Sunnah, do not provide a definitive answer. Both Sunni jurists and Shi’a jurists agree that the third source, ijmā’, defined as “the unanimous agreement of the scholars of the Muslim community (the mujtahidūn), during a particular period or age, on a juridical or religious matter,” can supply a rule of law that must be obeyed by all members of the umma. Some scholars expand the definition of the reach of ijmāʿ to include “any matter” but all agree that an ijmāʿ can govern decision-making on any juridical or religious matter, which would include slavery. An ijmāʿ always contains several essential elements and can only be reached if there is unanimous agreement of all the mujtahidūn in the world, or unanimous agreement by those who speak and agreement, as evidenced by the silence of those who don’t speak, on an issue that is the proper subject of an ijmāʿ. This website inquires whether there is now an ijmāʿ on the illegality of slavery and slave trading by Muslims and whether it is appropriate to declare that slavery and slave trading have been abolished under the aegis of Islamic law.
The second purpose of this website is to advocate for, and to bring about a declaration of an ijmāʿ (scholarly consensus), agreed to by all competent Sunni and Shi’a scholars of jurisprudence in the world, concluding that slavery and slave trading are illegal under the Islamic law. To this end, the website will function as the host and depository for substantial written contributions by these scholars on the issue of the legality of slavery and slave trading under Islamic law. These contributions will consider whether an ijmāʿ on slavery currently exists and, if it does exist, when that ijmāʿ first became extant, and whether and how a declaration of the ijmāʿ might be accomplished. Should scholars agree that the time has come for a declaration of an ijmāʿ on slavery and slave trading, this website would be a facilitator for the organization of a subsequent conference or scholarly meeting on the topic.
The third purpose of this website will be to serve as a vehicle for education and dissemination of information on the topic of slavery in the Muslim world, including the publication of papers and books on the topic both before and after the proposed conference has occurred.
For example, reforms enacted in Qatar “will allow all migrant workers to change jobs before the end of their contracts without first obtaining their employer’s consent.” Qatar has also implemented a universal minimum wage regulation, raising migrant worker salaries by 33% and it has now extended the right to leave the country without employer permission to most migrant workers. Activists assert that these reforms, while important, do not remove key elements of the kafala system and its wide range of abuses, including passport confiscation, delayed or non-existent payment of wages, and widespread use of forced labor, controlled and facilitated by sponsors and the government, each working with the other. They argue that whether the reforms will make any difference will depend on how vigorously Qatar enforces them and whether it begins to attack the other abusive and exploitative aspects of its migrant labor system.¹ There are reports that a backlash against the reforms has emerged in Qatar and workers continue to be trapped in an exploitative system and subject to widespread abuse.²
Reforms have also been enacted in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain. The Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development has announced the enactment of “new job mobility reforms that aim to improve the Kafala sponsorship system.” According to a Ministry statement, “…to benefit from the reforms, the expatriate worker must have completed one year with their current employer from when they first entered the Kingdom.” The Ministry has imposed a number of other administrative regulations that, while making the mobility of workers a more likely possibility, also increase the onerous controls that the government and sponsors exercise over the lives of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.³ Similar reforms have been enacted in the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait. Many of these recent reforms seem to be enacted as an effort to improve the worldwide image of Gulf societies and NOT to substantially improve the lot of the migrant laborer. In some cases, the reforms may therefore be described as elaborately constructed facades. In our view, a detailed analysis of the new regulations, with evidence from workers involved, is urgently required. We invite submission of such a detailed analysis on this website. Only time and experience will tell us whether the recently enacted reforms will have a real impact on conditions that up until now are the equivalent of slavery.
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Bernard K. Freamon is professor of law emeritus at Seton Hall Law School and an adjunct professor of law at New York University School of Law. He possesses a B.A. degree in anthropology from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut (1970), a J.D. degree from Rutgers University School of Law in Newark, New Jersey (1974), an LL.M degree From Columbia University in the City of New York (2002), and a J.S.D. degree in Islamic Legal History from Columbia University in The City of New York (2007).
Professor Freamon is the author of several articles, book chapters, and books, including:
Surah Al-Balad: Qur’anic Ethical Advice on Slavery
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