To start with, we’d like to stress that when we look at the personality of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), we should look at him from different angles. One ought to study how the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) received the revelation, undertook da`wah, his way in refining his companions’ souls, his care of all Muslims, and his outstanding qualities such as: trustworthiness, truthfulness, modesty, patience, generosity.
One also ought to study how the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) built the new Muslim state and Ummah and the afflictions he faced in this regard and his practicing acts of worship. For example, Allah Almighty instructed him to pray as mentioned in the Glorious Quran: “O you wrapped up in your cloths! Stand all night in prayer except a little -. Pray half the night, or a little less. Or add (a little) more – and recite the Qur’an in a measured way” (Al-Muzzammil: 1-4). Such duty was obligated on him until he died (peace and blessings be upon him). Also, it has been reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to fast most of Muharram, Rajab, Sha`ban, every Monday and Thursday from each week, and three days from each Hijri month (the 13th, 14th, and 15th).
Not only, the aspects of worship and manner, but one must also study the Prophet’s engagement in the public life. He used to spend time teaching Muslims, answering all their questions, taking care of their needs, and solving their problems. He also used to direct the armies, and many times he would participate with them, otherwise he would be following up on their news minute by minute. He also used to administer the Muslim nation in Madina, which requires vast amount of time and energy.
Furthermore, if we study the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) family life, we would learn about his mercifulness, forgiveness, affection towards family members, and how he used to participate in carrying out the daily chores of his household. We would also learn that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was married to one wife – Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her), who was older than him – until he (peace and blessings be upon him) reached fifty years-old. She lived with him during the times of difficulty and through the first days of receiving revelation, the great harm he faced along with his Companions and followers from the polytheists and pagans during the early stages of his call. They lived with him under siege – made by the polytheists – suffering from shortage of water and food supplies. It was only after the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) turned fifty-five years-old – the age of weakness – that he married more than one wife. Allah Almighty describes this age as He says: “… then, after strength, appointed weakness and grey hair.” (Ar-Rum: 54)
Now, as for slavery, it is important to note that slavery was permissible in certain conditions only. For details, the following fatwas may be reviewed:
Islam and Slavery
Can a Muslim Have a concubine?
What is “a captive that your right hands possess”?!
It is noteworthy that none of the Arabs or non-Arabs during the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) ever condemned that he (peace and blessings be upon him) had slave women. In fact, he (peace and blessings be upon him) was given Mariyyah as a gift from the King of Egypt, who later delivered the Prophet’s son Ibrahim, and was set free. In addition, no one believed that to have concubines is greediness, and by the consensus of all historians the Prophet’s companions (may Allah be pleased with him) were pious, virtuous, righteous, religiously devoted, and secluded themselves from the extravagant materials of this world. It was never taken on them that they had women slaves, nor that their wives ever complained about it either. Therefore, one must understand the culture in which these actions were taking place, before making judgments based on the contemporary cultures.
Finally, Islam recognized slavery as a social problem that required gradual change. Islam took measures that encouraged the gradual abolishment of slavery without making extreme social shifts that people would not be able to adjust quickly. In matter of fact, there were people present during the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) who rejected Islam’s position towards slavery. They wanted the governing rules of slavery to remain the same; a slave woman who delivers a baby
was never set free, and her son was not considered a free man either. Thus, keeping concubines but giving them more rights was a way to initiate the abolishment of slavery by Islam. The prominent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states:
“Islam also took into account the effectiveness of gradualism when it did not suddenly abolish slavery, which was prevalent in the whole world on the advent of Islam.
Abolishing slavery then would have led to economic and social uprising, so, it was wise then to deal with such a problem in an indirect way (by, for instance, regarding setting a slave free as a good deed and making it an expiation for some sins). This implied a gradual abolishing of slavery.”