Human trafficking is a worldwide problem. There are an estimated 27 million slaves worldwide, according to an Al-Jazeera series on slavery. Trafficking is defined as “the movement of these persons from their place of origin to elsewhere in their communities, provinces, regions, or across countries and continents, to destinations where they are ultimately exploited.” While all countries in the world prohibit slavery, human trafficking, many times referred to as modern-day slavery, continues to be a problem and affects countries all over the world, including some Muslim majority countries. While Muslims in these countries may engage in the crime of trafficking, Islam’s position on this topic is clear. Even though human trafficking is not explicitly prohibited in Islam, there are many aspects of it that are clearly forbidden in the faith.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, slavery was an established practice, one that Islam aimed to eradicate gradually. Muslims were told that there was great reward in manumitting a slave. Verse 177 in chapter 2 of the Qur’an underscores the meritorious act of freeing a slave:
[B]ut righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets; and giveth wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the God-fearing.
In addition to encouraging manumission and a move away from the social practice of slavery, Islam is clear about the treatment of slaves. A hadith of the Prophet Muhammad instructs those who still had slaves how to treat them.
Your slaves are your brothers. Allah has placed them under your authority. He who has his brother under him, should feed him from whatever he eats, and dress him with whatever he wears, and do not burden them (assign burdensome task to them) beyond their capacity; and if you burden them then help them.
The treatment described in this hadith is unlike what is typically associated with slavery and human trafficking where their is a hierarchical relationship. Slavery, therefore, in any form is considered a social ill that should be eradicated and once it has been, as has been the case in modern societies, it should be prohibited.
In addition to Islam’s position on slavery, a central Islamic tenet is that any form of exploitation is forbidden. Muslims are repeatedly warned against oppressing other human beings. Both verse 75 in chapter 4 and verse 33 in chapter 7 demonstrate the prohibition against oppression:
And what is wrong with you that you fight not in the Cause of Allâh, and for those weak, ill-treated and oppressed among men, women, and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from You one who will protect, and raise for us from You one who will help.
Say: My Lord forbiddeth only indecencies, such of them as are apparent and such as are within, and sin and wrongful oppression, and that ye associate with Allah that for which no warrant hath been revealed, and that ye tell concerning Allah that which ye know not.
In both verses, oppression in a general sense is warned against and forbidden. Also, there are grave warnings against those who abuse the vulnerable in society, for example, orphans. Verse 10 in chapter 4 illustrates this point in graphic terms:
Those who unjustly eat up the property of orphans, eat up a Fire into their own bodies: they will soon be enduring a blazing Fire!
So the fact that trafficking is built on oppression of human beings, makes it contradictory to Islamic principles.
Islam is also very respectful of the rights of workers. Contracts between employer and employee must be clearly articulated and respected. Breaching the contract in any way is considered a serious offense. Verse 85 in chapter 7 illustrates the point that human beings are commanded by God to give each other their dues and not to withhold each others’ rights:
O my people! Worship Allah; Ye have no other god but Him. Now hath come unto you a clear (sign) from your Lord! Give just measure and weight, nor withhold from the people the things that are their due; and do no mischief on the earth after it has been set in order: that will be best for you, if ye have Faith.
In another hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims are commanded to pay for work immediately, preventing any undue hardship on the person providing the labor and room for abuse:
Give the hired man his wages before his sweat dries.
The fact that trafficking exploits the labor of those taken as slaves makes it contradictory to Islam.
Finally, human trafficking often involves sexual exploitation. Of the 27 million mentioned in the report above, 1.4 million are sex slaves. Islam strictly prohibits any sexual relation outside of marriage. Furthermore, prostitution is forbidden. Verse 33 in chapter 24 illustrates this point.
But force not your maids to prostitution when they desire chastity, in order that ye may make a gain in the goods of this life. But if anyone compels them, yet after such compulsion, is Allah Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful (to them).
This verse maintains if someone is forced into prostitution by another that God will be Merciful toward the women not to the person who forced them. If the sexual exploitation involves forced marriage, it is also prohibited in Islam where consent of all parties must be given for any marriage to occur.
With all these points in mind, it is clear that Islam prohibits human trafficking.
What do other faith traditions say about trafficking? Are religious arguments effective when used to combat trafficking? Please leave your comments below.