"Islamic version of the Dred Scott Problem" - panel presentation at ASCL conference on Oct. 22

Havva Guney-Ruebenacker's picture

A panel announcement on slavery in Islamic law at the upcoming American Society of Comparative Law conference.


An Islamic Version of The Dred Scott Problem: Has Slavery Always Been an Evil in Islamic Law or Have Juristic Sentiments Evolved?

Panel: Bernard Freamon, Jonathan Brown, Haider Ala Hamoudi, Mohammad Fadel, Asifa Quraishi, Havva Guney-Ruebenacker


American Society of Comparative Law Annual Meeting (Virtual Conference hosted by University of Wisconsin Law School)

Oct 22, 2021, 3:00pm-4:45pm Central Time (i.e. UW-Madison time)


Conference website:




The registration is free and the deadline to register is October 10, 2021.


Registration link:



The problem of slavery was the first and is the most serious modern legal challenge and moral dilemma that Muslim jurists have had to face since the nineteenth century. Slavery is now prohibited by secular edicts throughout the Islamic world but it has not been abolished by any Sharī‘a-grounded edict (fatwa) and whether there is now a scholarly consensus (an ijmā‘) on the issue is an open and vexing question. This failure of Muslim jurists to deal with the question of abolition came about because no serious internal discussion on slavery among those jurists ever occurred, and slavery became for the Muslim public a very distant and often unknown or misdescribed relic of the past. This state of affairs changed when the terrorist organization ISIS shocked the whole world and many Muslims with its forthright revival of slavery and slave trading. These events caused scholars to realize that there was a very large elephant in one of the rooms in the house of Islamic law. In a way that is comparable to the discussions surrounding the Dred Scott case in American legal thought and legal history, Muslim jurists and legal historians now face very difficult questions: Was slavery “wrong when it was decided” under Islamic law and was thus illegitimate throughout its existence in Islamic history, or has it become so only in modern times due to massive changes in circumstances? If slavery has become wrong only in modern times due to these changes in circumstances, can it be legitimately revived in certain times and places as a result of other changes in circumstances? And if slavery is inherently wrong and immoral, then how should its existence be viewed in Islamic history? On what legal and moral bases can slavery be universally abolished under the contemporary aegis of Islamic law? What would be the possible implications of this legal change for other challenging problems in Islamic law, such as women’s equality, freedom of expression and the administration of the criminal law?  This panel will address these and related pressing questions, joining and adding to the long overdue internal discussion on slavery and abolition in Islamic law.