Al-Khoei Foundation Memoranda to the Draft Modern Slavery Bill Joint Committee
Al-Khoei Foundation also known as Al-Khoei Benevolent Foundation is an international charity founded by His Late Eminence Grand Ayatullah Sayed Abulqasim Al-Khoei. The Foundation operates worldwide and is headquartered in the UK.
Late Grand Ayatullah Al-Khoei was the spiritual leader of much of the Shi'a-Muslim world until his demise in 1992. Al-Khoei Foundation was founded in 1989 and guided by the late Grand Ayatullah to look after the welfare and cater for the needs of the Muslim communities, and Shi'a-Muslims in specific, around the globe.Al-Khoei Foundation is a registered charity which runs Islamic centres, schools and universities, lobbies governments to protect the rights of the Muslim communities and acts as an advisor with regards to religious matters, publishes books and magazines, organises various educational and spiritual programmes for the communities and the youth, sponsors and takes part in both inter-faith and intra-faith conferences and caters for the religious and spiritual needs of the Muslim and non-Muslim prisoners in different countries. The Foundation is also the only Shi'a-Muslim organisation that holds a General Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the UN.
This paper sets out the views and opinions of Al-Khoei Foundation with regards to the Modern Slavery Bill. We feel it important that faith leaders and those working with faith communities offer their experiences and facilitate the voice of the communities they serve to be heard.
This submission will focus on a number of measures proposed by the Bill and how the Muslim community is either impacted by them or can engage and support them. We shall provide an overview of Islam’s position with regards to the concept of slavery. The paper will then look at the role of faith communities and the practices of Forced Labour, Forced Marriage, Sexual Exploitation and Domestic Servitude vis-à-vis the Muslim communities we work with and represent. We will also set out how engagement with the Muslim communities can support the role of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner and victims of slavery.
Islam was born in an era when slavery was both rife and universally accepted in both pre-Islamic Arabia and the wider Mediterranean world. It is clear that both Islam and the Prophet envisaged the gradual elimination of slavery. The overwhelming majority of scholars agree that slavery is “inconsistent with Quranic morality” and that the conditions which tolerated slavery in the 7th century could never apply to today’s world and circumstances.
Islamic jurisprudence considered slavery as an exceptional condition, with a presumption of freedom, al-ásl huwa l-hurriya – “The basic principle is liberty”. Furthermore, Prophet Muhammed encouraged Muslims to free slaves, even if one had to purchase them first. He personally freed 63 slaves and his household and companions freed 39,237 slaves in total.
The Quran urges kindness to slaves and for them to be freed by purchase or manumission. Slaves were not considered mere chattel but as human beings with rights. Chapter 90 of the Quran, verse 13 states that the act of freeing a slave is a virtuous act that will make the person ‘a Companion of the Right’, one of the blessed people in the hereafter.
For many in the Muslim world and Muslim human rights advocates globally, there has been a need for the gradual but strong development of human right concepts; language and practices that are seen to be authentic to the faith and cultural milieu of Muslims so that they can be used effectively to bring about a transformational impact on their lives, worldview and dignity. Muslims like many people across the world have suffered and endured human rights abuses that include slavery and restrictions on freedom which in some instances were carried out in the name of their religion and dearly held beliefs.
In 1990 The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, consisting of 57 member states that states “it is the voice of the Muslim world,” adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. Article 11 clearly states that:
“human beings are born free and no one has the right to enslave, humiliate, oppress or exploit them and there can be no subjugation but to God the Most High”.
This clearly provides a clear and strong message about the position of Islam in terms of slavery both historically and in the modern world. It is a resource, among many that can be used in the fight against modern day slavery and oppression of any kind.
The Role of Faith Communities
British society is host to a rich and diverse range of cultural, linguistic and religious communities that can and do have an overwhelmingly positive role to play. In the last decade there has been a mushrooming in the number of organisations, projects and initiatives that have come together to enable understanding, resolve conflict and work together on a variety of issues from combating poverty, climate change, working with the homeless, prisoners and engaging disenfranchised youth. Similarly, this collective good will can be effectively deployed to fight for the shared and universal principle of human dignity and liberty which is at the heart of all religious and faith groups.
Al-Khoei Foundation has already been working with a forum of diverse faith leaders in the UK, headed by the Church of England, to discuss and explore avenues of interfaith cooperation on realising the aims and aspirations of the Modern Slavery Bill. Al-Khoei Foundation firmly believes that coordinated engagement with faith groups can positively serve the cause of eradicating slavery in all its forms and by reaching as many sections of society as possible to raise awareness, aid in prevention and assistance in supporting victims and bringing perpetrators to justice.
Forced Labour and Domestic Servitude
Islam strongly advocates against the practise of forced labour. In fact, “Islam honours work and the worker and enjoins Muslims not only to treat the worker justly but also generously. He is not only to be paid his earned wages promptly, but is also entitled to adequate rest and leisure” Azzam 1998. Furthermore, under the right to social security, every person is entitled to food, shelter, clothing, education and medical care. Hence wages, working and living conditions should be sufficient to ensure the right to dignity.
The Cairo Declarations as other international instruments of human rights categorically rejects the phenomenon of forced labour and domestic servitude. Nonetheless, Muslim communities or rather members of the British Muslim communities find themselves both victims and perpetrators. Examples of this may include domestic servants specifically in diplomatic households, forced labour though criminal gangs and gang-masters who deceit economic migrants at countries of origin out of sizeable amounts of money and upon arrival individuals find themselves tied to debts that they can never hope to re-pay and will are tied to the gang-master or trafficker for a very long time. Many victims find themselves ‘working’ in the hospitality industry, as cleaners in plush offices in major British cities or in the farming, textile and sex industries. To add another layer of complexity to the this phenomenon, victims often find themselves confronted with forced marriage as well as sexual exploitation as well as being victims of forced labour. Furthermore, victims are at times used to recruit and coerce new victims.
A forced marriage is a marriage where one or both parties are forced into or have not given their consent to. It is also when consent has been obtained though coercion, emotional pressure or physical abuse. Forced marriage happens in many communities regardless of ethnicity, faith or economic status. Although it happens to both men and women, overwhelmingly the majority of cases women and girls are victims and in the context of trafficking this can be seen as a gendered crime and therefore the appropriate responses must be employed when dealing with the issue.
Currently, the issue of forced marriage is rarely understood in the context of trafficking or domestic servitude. Many of the people and in most cases, women are forced into marriage either as citizens of this country or as foreign nationals who have entered the UK through a trafficker or organised crime. Forced marriage is likely to be committed amongst a host of other violations and crimes such as rape, abduction, unlawful imprisonment and mental abuse.
With regards to the Islamic perspective on forced marriage, all schools of thought in Islam are in agreement as to the invalidity of forced marriage. Consent is integral to the legality of marriage and if it is absent the marriage cannot take place. Despite this forced marriage does take place in this country and is committed in the name of Islam. The actual figure of how many marriages are forced is not known as many of the victims do not seek help or report to the police. This is often due to shame, isolation, fear of retribution; inability to physically seek help (i.e. being imprisoned or having phones, computer taken away) and often all of the victims identity documents such as passport, driving licence, cash, credit cards etc. are taken away so that they are completely dependent on the perpetrator or trafficker.
Sexual exploitation of women and children is a hidden and as in the recent case of children in Oldham has illustrated some times willingly ignored. Under article 7 of Universal Islamic Human Rights declaration states “no person shall be subjected to torture in mind or body, or degraded, or threatened with injury either to himself or to anyone related or held dear by him, or forcibly made to confess to the commission of a crime, or forced to consent to an act which is injurious to his interests”. Azzam (1998). In addition, as mentioned above the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam both articles 10 to 15 are very clear in their rejection of the withholding of liberty, property and compulsion of any individual as their subjection to harm.
Islam is the religion of true unspoiled nature. It is prohibited to exercise any form of pressure on man or to exploit his poverty or ignorance in order to force him to change his religion to another religion or to atheism.
(a) Human beings are born free, and no one has the right to enslave, humiliate, oppress or exploit them, and there can be no subjugation but to Allah the Almighty.
(b) Colonialism of all types being one of the most evil forms of enslavement is totally prohibited. Peoples suffering from colonialism have the full right to freedom and self-determination. It is the duty of all States peoples to support the struggle of colonized peoples for the liquidation of all forms of and occupation, and all States and peoples have the right to preserve their independent identity and econtrol over their wealth and natural resources.
Every man shall have the right, within the framework of the Shari'ah, to free movement and to select his place of residence whether within or outside his country and if persecuted, is entitled to seek asylum in another country. The country of refuge shall be obliged to provide protection to the asylum-seeker until his safety has been attained, unless asylum is motivated by committing an act regarded by the Shari'ah as a crime.
Work is a right guaranteed by the State and the Society for each person with capability to work. Everyone shall be free to choose the work that suits him best and which serves his interests as well as those of the society. The employee shall have the right to enjoy safety and security as well as all other social guarantees. He may not be assigned work beyond his capacity nor shall he be subjected to compulsion or exploited or harmed in any way. He shall be entitled - without any discrimination between males and females - to fair wages for his work without delay, as well as to the holidays allowances and promotions which he deserves. On his part, he shall be required to be dedicated and meticulous in his work. Should workers and employers disagree on any matter, the State shall intervene to settle the dispute and have the grievances redressed, the rights confirmed and justice enforced without bias.
Everyone shall have the right to earn a legitimate living without monopolization, deceit or causing harm to oneself or to others. Usury (riba) is explicitly prohibited.
(a) Everyone shall have the right to own property acquired in a legitimate way, and shall be entitled to the rights of ownership without prejudice to oneself, others or the society in general. Expropriation is not permissible except for requirements of public interest and upon payment of prompt and fair compensation.
(b) Confiscation and seizure of property is prohibited except for a necessity dictated by law.
As in the case of forced marriage, sexual exploitation is a hidden crime as those involved have been forced and coerced into taking part and apart from the shame and stigma associated with coming forward as a victim of sexual exploitation, often the threats, and actual occurence of violence, further isolation and blackmail makes it very difficult for victims to seek help and support. The Muslim community as a whole, like other faith and ethnic communities has not been able to tackle this issue head on. This may be due to a number of factors, partly to do with the invisibility of this form of exploitation; the lack of resources, the taboo associated with it and the fear that the community will further be ostracized by the media and wider society as in the case of so many media articles and programmes examining the ‘cultural drivers’ of abusers and groomers who are identified as Pakistani or ‘Asian’.
Supporting the Role of Anti-Slavery Commissioner
As stated earlier, it is important for the post of Anti-Slavery Commissioner to engage fully and widely with faith communities. Al-Khoei Foundation has had a long and successful experience in engaging grassroots communities in dialogue and discussion with establishment figures and institutions from government to civil society, media and international bodies like the United Nations.
Al-Khoei Foundation is well networked and connected on a number of levels both to its immediate congregation and community but also in the intra and interfaith world. We would be happy and willing to work with the Commissioner to provide access to and guidance on community views, engagement and doctrinal guidance in relation to slavery, trafficking and exploitation.
We propose two methods of engagement for the role of Commissioner; one in the form of an advisory council or body that brings together different faith groups and organisations to meet with the Commissioner regularly and the other form is that of direct engagement with communities facilitated through community leaders, activists and the advisory council.
A useful project that the Commissioner’s office can embark on is the mapping of existent support and specialist workers in faith communities.
As much of modern slavery takes place in a community context, much thought needs to be given to appropriate response to ensure that communities are aware, able and equipped to:
Work towards preventing it
Support the victims
An awareness campaign engaging mosques, community centres, umbrella organisations and Muslim groups working with victims would go a long way in helping to educate the community about recognising exploitation, our shared duty to alleviate suffering and support vulnerable adults and children that are at risk or in need.
Posters, leaflets and credit card sized cut outs can contain information on the national helpline, statutory support and any local or specialist community organisation that understand faith or cultural sensitivities can be highlighted.
A safe and anonymous mechanism of reporting should be created or the use of the Crime stoppers number could be highlighted. There may be a way of engaging local and specialist community organisations, mosques or community centres in being referral or reporting centres.
Educating the community is an important and crucial way of supporting victims and raising awareness of the impact and blight of slavery on our society. Spiritual and faith education is a very useful way of ensuring commitment. It is also way of creating a common language that different faith groups can work together on the one issue. It is also a positive way of ensuring support and understanding to victims, particularly those of sexual exploitation and forced marriage.
A number of resources for faith groups already exist but perhaps engaging the advisory council in creating resources and toolkits that are unique to every religious tradition that lives in the UK will be more effective at the community level.
Al-Khoei Foundation believes that any educational material or resources produced must ensure the presence of victims’ voices and or their advocates. This is particularly so when educating communities about human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children especially. Victim-blaming, shame and stigmatisation are at the very heart of the abuse cycle that perpetuate and ensures the vulnerable are tied to their abusers. Communities can use the ample scriptural and prophetic traditions present in the Islamic faith as examples of how to deal with, support and engage vulnerable people and those at the margins of society, particularly if they have been through the trauma of being trafficked, abused and violated. A good way of ensuring this is carried out at the grassroots level is to work with Muslim umbarella organisations and membership associations on drawing up leaflets, guidance or resources that contain both the spiritual and religious material as well as expert and professional advice on issues such as forced marriage, child abuse, trafficking, domestic servitude and prostitution.