What does he who is not suitable for you mean?

The Details of the Question

- Will you please give a detailed interpretation of this hadith?
 --- What do we mean by ‘he who is not suitable for you’?
The following was reported from Abu Dharr: The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said:
 مَنْ لَاءَمَكُمْ مِنْ مَمْلُوكِيكُمْ فَأَطْعِمُوهُ مِمَّا تَأْكُلُونَ وَاَكْسُوهُ مِمَّا تَلْبَسُونَ وَمَنْ لَمْ يُلَائِمْكُمْ مِنْهُمْ فَبِيعُوهُ وَلَا تُعَذِّبُوا خَلْقَ اللَّهِ / Feed those of your slaves who are suitable for you from what you eat and clothe them with what you clothe yourselves, but sell those who are not suitable for you and do not punish Allah’s creatures. Reference: Sunan Abu Dawud 5161

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

First of all, we should state that at the time when Islam emerged, social and economic life was based on slavery; if Islam had abolished it all of a sudden, society would have been in crisis and it would have been difficult for people to convert to Islam, and slaves would have been left unattended and would have been miserable. In the first stage, their situation was improved, and in the second stage, measures were taken to abolish slavery over time.

Therefore, the decrees on slavery are related to the periods when slavery existed.

As for your question:

The phrase “who is not suitable for you” in the hadith means the one that does not act according to your demands and does not obey you. In that case, since it is a sin to torture and force a slave, one can either free him or transfer him to someone else.

The hadith mentioned in the question is as follows:

“Feed those of your slaves who are suitable for you (who fulfil your orders) from what you eat and clothe them with what you clothe yourselves, but sell those who are not suitable for you (who do not fulfil your orders) and do not punish Allah’s creatures.” (1)

In the hadiths, beating or torturing slaves is forbidden, and it is stated that unfair treatment of slaves will lead people to Hell. (2)

By stating that they are our brothers and sisters, the hadith reminds us that some of the means that Allah has given to slave owners are entrusted to them temporarily, and they are ordered not to use those blessings against slaves, and that the master should feed his slave from what he eats and clothe him with what he wears. (3)

In addition, it is stated that if slaves fulfill the legitimate orders of their masters, they need to be treated in this way but that if they start to disobey the orders, they should be sold without being tortured and beaten. (4)

It is rendered haram to burden them with what they cannot bear, and it is stated that if such a burden is imposed on them, it is necessary to help them. (5)

Accordingly, in times of slavery, the slave, and at all times, the apprentice, the shepherd, the servant, etc... should be fed and clothed in the same way as their masters, managers, etc., be treated kindly, not be offered work that they cannot do, and their hearts should not be broken.

The servant who cooks the food in a house will definitely smell it; and it is considered one of the best deeds to make him eat the food he cooks, and not to exclude him by not inviting him to the table, which is the meaning expressed by those hadiths.

References:

1) Abu Dawud, Adab, 123, no: 5161.
2) Muslim, Ayman 35; Tirmidhi, Birr 30.
3) Bukhari, Iman 22, Adab 44; Muslim, Ayman 38,40: Tirmidhi, Birr 29.
4) Abu Dawud, Adab, 123, no: 5157.
5) Bukhari, Iman 22, Adab 44; Muslim, Ayman 38, 40.

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