Characteristics of Modern Slavery from the Perspective of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

Characteristics of Modern Slavery from the Perspective of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

Though the traditional form of slavery was abolished, it has lived on in other more terrible and inhumane forms all throughout the world. When individual enslavement of human beings was outlawed, the corrupt world powers turned to mass enslavement of human beings, a modern form of slavery which is practiced to the day.‌

Characteristics of Modern Slavery

From the Viewpoint of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi


Table of Contents


Characteristics of Modern Slavery from the Perspective of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

Colonialism, a Substitute for Slavery

Hedonism, the Liberal-style Slavery

Globalization, an Outcome of Modern-day Slavery

The Destruction of Human Dignity by Turning Women into Sexual Slaves

Conclusion: Slavery in the Cyberspace



Characteristics of Modern Slavery from the Perspective of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi


Slavery has existed in human societies in different forms for a long time[1]. However, under the pressure of the public opinion and the campaigns of the slaves and the intellectuals of the world in the past two centuries it was finally abolished.[2]

Though the traditional form of slavery was abolished, it has lived on in other more terrible and inhumane forms all throughout the world[3]. When individual enslavement of human beings was outlawed, the corrupt world powers turned to mass enslavement of human beings, a modern form of slavery which is practiced to the day.[4]

Today, slavery is practiced in several different forms[5], turning human beings into sex slaves, economic slaves, and slaves to important positions. Each of these modern-day sorts of slavery will be separately examined and studied in this article.[6]

Colonialism, a Substitute for Slavery


Although the western powers were apparently the pioneers of fighting slavery, they did not actually abolish it completely. Right after the abolition of traditional slavery, it resurfaced in a more terrible and dangerous form: the colonization of various countries by world powers and the enslavement of entire nations instead of individuals.[7]

The colonialists first came to their colonies with the promise of helping them develop and advance in every way; however, what actually happened was that they kept those countries under their imperial powers in order to exploit their riches.[8]

Today, colonialism is known as the mass enslavement of a nation by another nation or state; it is a new, more terrible, kind of slavery which has replaced individual enslavement of a certain number of people.[9]

In traditional slavery, a single person or a group of people were forced to work for their owners without any wages; in modern-day slavery, however, entire nations are enslaved to work for another country or nation and all their riches and natural resources are also taken away without their consent.[10]

The fall of traditional slavery in the mid-1800s marked the onset of the age of colonialism, a time when powerful countries invaded and took control of underdeveloped countries, turning them into their colonies, plundering their riches and enslaving their nations. This was the customary practice of western nations for several decades and during those long years many countries all around the world were turned into colonies of western powers.[11]   

The atrocities and crimes committed by the imperial powers during this era were so massive and dreadful that they were incomparable to the crimes committed against slaves during the traditional slavery era. The history of colonialism is a dark and terrible one filled with the account of atrocities committed by the imperialists and colonialists in their colonies.[12]

A famous French writer has written the following regarding the relationship between the colonialists and their colonies:

“To the educated and civilized European people, the indigenous people of America and the Oceania were like rabbits for a hunter! This is why they have become extinct.[13]”

In short, slavery in its most apparent form was abolished but it has ever since been practiced in other forms such as colonialism, capitalism, and communism. Therefore, the abolition of slavery is just a baseless claim; slavery still lives in the modern world in different forms.[14]

Hedonism, the Liberal-style Slavery


Hedonism is a school of thought which holds that the pursuit of pleasure and the gratification of instincts are the primary goals of human life. This is a school which stems from the excessive importance placed on sensual and sexual aspects of human life. It also constitutes the foundation of modern liberalism, a political and moral philosophy which has led several generations of humans into the abyss of sins and has brought them under modern-day slavery.[15]

This is because the rebellious carnal soul of man constantly seeks to drag him into vice and sin by making vice and sin look beautiful in his sight.[16] By succumbing to carnal desires, man’s conscience is gradually weakened until it is completely subjugated by his whims and lusts.[17]

At this stage, man is turned into a slave of his carnal desires, something which is far more dangerous than what happened to man in the traditional form of slavery. One reason is that freeing oneself from the clasp of carnal desires is far more difficult than freeing oneself from that of a slaveholder.[18]

The people who are slaves to their carnal desires and are controlled by them cannot claim to be free human beings,[19] and this is the ultimate goal of liberalism: to make mankind a slave to his lusts in order to bring him under total control and treat him like a veritable slave.[20]

Unfortunately, hedonism has been promoted by liberalism to the extent where, today all kinds of transgressions and blasphemous acts are committed under the name of liberty and freedom.[21]

The proponents of liberalism aggressively pursue to give precedence to human desires over all things and, to that end, they have gone so far as to legalize gross indecencies such as homosexual relations. They have also allowed every kind of blasphemy be committed against monotheistic religions all in the name of freedom of speech and thought.[22]

The reason behind all these grave mistakes is that mankind has been sidetracked away from the teachings of divine religions and away from Allah (swt) for that matter. It is noteworthy that the theoretical backbone for liberalism has been humanism; clearly, humanism, in the sense of a total reliance on empiricism and the total abandonment of divinely-sent teachings, can entail nothing but the awful conditions in which man lives today. All the atrocities and crimes against humanity that are being committed today are the result of man seeking to take the place of Allah on the earth.[23]  

Obviously, when a certain group of people try to subjugate other people and rule over them like gods, they need to first break their defense; in today’s world, this is done by the promotion of the pleasure-seeking attitude as well as the legalization of indecent acts.

The result of this pursuit is now clear: the pursuit of wealth through all kinds of immoral ways, the spread of immorality, the rise of social disorders, a lack of mutual sympathy among human beings, and the destruction of the institution of marriage.[24]   

Indeed, in a society where unrestrained pleasure-seeking is promoted and practiced, piety, morality, altruism, and other human virtues have no place. Moreover, a society which is founded on hedonism, egotism, excessive pride, and wanton consumerism slavery takes on a new form; in such a society the people are slaves to money and lusts.[25]  

Henry Miller, the American writer, has written the following in this regard:

“When Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation we thought we ended slavery. But we created white slaves in addition to black slaves, the slaves of the machine age.[26]”

Globalization, an Outcome of Modern-day Slavery


Although in the 20th century, much of the colonies of the world powers were apparently liberated, they remained slaves to the same world powers in other ways. By the beginning of the 20th century, the imperial powers realized that they could no longer keep other countries under their direct control. Therefore, in order to protect their economic and cultural hegemony, they pursued their imperial agenda through globalization.[27]  

This new plan to enslave humanity was fed to the people of the world wrapped in beautiful words such as “economic development” and “globalization”. However, the nations which became part of the process of globalization never had a considerable share of true economic development. What globalization brought these nations was but the destruction of their economy, leaving them at the mercy of the imperial powers which were then ready to enslave them in new ways.[28]

The roots of this man-made crisis must be sought in the greed of the powerful countries which have engineered it. The corrupt world powers seek to keep other countries under their control so as to ensure a constant market for their consumer products.[29]

The world powers with their multinational corporations are using globalization to turn all the nations into their economic slaves and to exploit all their resources.[30]

The imperial powers are, in effect, sacrificing the interests of all the nations of the world for ensuring their own interests monopolizing production, distribution of products, and by creating exclusive markets for their corporations. Interestingly enough, all this is done under the name of “globalization” and “free trade policy”.

This way, the product prices are always fixed in favor of the producers, middlemen, and dealers, while taking for granted the interests of the consumers.[31]

Furthermore, the world powers have always resorted to strategies to create insatiable demands for their goods under the names of the freedom of production, advertisement, and free trade. This way, they have constantly fanned the flames of consumerism which is, in effect, the essence of the modern-day slavery.[32]

Today, when one travels to the Arab oil states, one is overwhelmed by the large amounts of imported consumer goods in them; this is the way the resources of the Muslim countries are being squandered away on useless consumer goods, with their profits going to the creators and proponents of the globalization theory.[33]

Today, however, capitalism is crumbling; recession has swept all over the west, major US and European banks are bankrupting, and economic decline has turned into a worldwide problem.[34] Despite all the efforts of the western countries to save their economy, the crisis has deepened and the stock indices have decreased.[35]

The deep crisis of the US economy has now spread to all the western countries, deeply affecting all the countries which depend on the US market. The most prominent economic experts in the US have referred to the crisis of the US financial markets as a failure of capitalism. These experts believe that this crisis will create a dramatic change in the direction of the capitalist financial system of the US.[36]

In spite of this evident failure of the western economic system, many developing countries are still seeking, rather blindly, to create a capitalist economic system in their counties. In so doing, these countries have delivered severe blows to the foundations of their economy due to their heavy dependence on the west.

These countries have neglected the fact that, economic dependence entails cultural and political dependence and a nation that is economically, culturally, and politically dependent on another country is, in effect, enslaved by it. This is the essence of today’s modern slavery which has plagued the world and turned many nations into slaves.[37]

The Destruction of Human Dignity by Turning Women into Sexual Slaves


Dignity is one of the greatest blessings bestowed upon mankind by Allah (swt).[38] No human is allowed to disgrace oneself by destroying this God-given blessing. It is important to protect people’s social personality and dignity in order to prevent them from being humiliated and debased.[39]

The sensitivity of all humans regarding their dignity indicates how important it is to them. Recognizing that they cannot easily strip them of their dignity, the corrupt world powers have always, rather duplicitously, called for the protection of human dignity. In practice, however, they have always sought to undermine all human virtues, and their pursuit of spreading hedonism in the world has robbed a large number of people of their dignity.[40]

The imperial powers have always claimed that they intend to protect human dignity by giving man total freedom; this, they have claimed, means the total equality of men and women in all aspects of life.[41]

It, however, is a great injustice done to both men and women. Justice dictates that different individuals must be given responsibilities which fit their capabilities; thus, when deciding what responsibilities are to be given to the people, their psychological, emotional, and physical stamina and abilities must be taken into accounts; clearly then, considering all human beings equal in every aspects will be sheer injustice.[42]

The concept of the “equality of men and women” has disfigured human families; today, the responsibility of caring for the house and the children is shared by the men and women and “family” in its traditional sense has been replaced by free extra-marital relations between men and women.

With regard to this issue, Toney Grant, a famous American psychologist, has made the following remarks:

“Under the current conditions, women are married to their jobs instead of a man they used to call their husband.[43] [44]

This issue has entailed numerous direct and indirect ethical and social problems. These include the undermining of the institution of marriage, the outbreak of violence and sexual assault, increased divorce rate, increased suicide attempts by women, an increase in the number individuals living alone, the repression of family-related human emotions, and most importantly, the terrible sexual exploitation of women in various eastern and western societies. The latter cause must be considered the most vivid example of modern-day slavery or neo-slavery.[45]

Undoubtedly, the exploitation of women and the rise of sex trade is the most sophisticated and modern sort of female slavery.[46] In this new world order, women are degraded to the level of mere sex toys used for the sexual gratification of others and for the advertisement of products produced in powerful industrial countries.[47]   

This is how woman was turned into a veritable commodity for the sexual gratification of a bunch of sinful individuals who live in the societies like wolves in sheep’s clothing.[48]

Today, the business of trafficking, selling, and buying sex slaves has turned into one of the most lucrative businesses in the so-called sex industry, and the victims as usual are young girls and women.[49]

The official statistics show a shockingly high number of girls and women being smuggled around the world for sexual exploitation. It is even said that the number of the sex slaves sold and bought in the first two decades of the 21st century equals the number of slaves sold and bought throughout the seventeenth century. Unfortunately, the modern day slaves, who amount to tens of millions in number, are mostly young girls and women who are sold and bought as prostitutes.[50]

A shocking report by the European Council’s body of experts indicates that the annual turnover of the illegal trafficking of women in the Eastern Europe as sex slaves in the third millennium has amounted to 13 billion dollars.[51] [52]

Similarly, the statistics published by the Rapeis Research Center indicates that every year, around four million women and children are sold, bought, and abused in this illegal business. The report indicates that the annual turnover of the sex-slave trade in the world is 52 billion dollars.[53] [54]

Some of the developing countries have made heavy investment in sex tourism and have turned it into the major part of their economy. Today, millions of homosexual and heterosexual sex tourists from various countries travel to these countries every year. Moreover, there are official statistics indicating that millions of women working as prostitutes in some East-Asian countries.[55]

Another disturbing fact regarding the sex industry reflected in the reports published by various authorities and media is that in addition to young girls and women, this dirty business has exploited small children and young boys as well.[56]

Now the question is raised as to how the proponents of humanism can claim that their philosophy has ensured the dignity and honor of women?![57] How can a women truly actualize her moral, social, add scientific potentials without being at least threatened to be dishonored in various ways?[58]

Now, women need to ask themselves the following questions: is prostitution really the preservation of the dignity of women? Are the brothels in various parts of the world not a place for human sex slaves where only women are enslaved?[59]

Conclusion: Slavery in the Cyberspace


In the end, it must be kept in mind that, if business is pursued with no regard to faith and ethics, it will yield catastrophic results which can lead to the destruction of human world entirely. One of such catastrophic results which is visible today is the unmonitored and unrestrained conditions of the cyberspace.[60]

The pornography industry is using the cyberspace as the medium of its business and is bringing about disastrous effects in all corners of the world.[61] However, since business, not ethics, is of prime importance in the liberal world, these businesses are free to do business in any way they can.

Official statistics indicate that the annual turnover of the pornography industry is hundreds of billions of dollars. However, no matter how dangerous this so-called industry is to human virtues, culture, and moral values, it is still being conducted with minimum legal obstacles. But it must be kept in mind that such a reckless lack of regard for the adverse consequences of the destruction of morality and human values will lead human societies closer to cultural slavery.[62]    

Therefore, we need to be alert and also to awaken the people around us to the fact that the cyberspace is an unsecure and unsafe space which must be used with extreme caution. It is a space created by world powers as a weapon to secure their interests and to further establish their hegemony in various parts of the world. [63]

Cyberspace, as we know it today, is a tool in the hands of the imperial powers to dominate the minds of the people. The cyberspace is accessible to all societies free of charge or with minimum charge, but with a good reason. This is to ensure that the other countries would not begin developing their own domestic cyberspace which is safe and secure and based on their own cultural and moral norms.[64]

Finally, it seems necessary to note, once more, that building a strong economy which is based on social justice and moral values requires a cultural foundation which must be laid in all aspects of a nation’s life.[65] Perhaps the most important place which this cultural foundation must be laid before letting it develop is the cyberspace which bears both potentials and dangers for every nation.[66]

Researched and edited by the news editorial of the website of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi’s office.


[1] Islam and the Emancipation of Slaves, p. 6.

[2] Kitāb al-Nikāḥ, vol. 7, p. 116.

[3] Islam and the Emancipation of Slaves, p. 7.

[4] Kitāb al-Nikāḥ, vol. 7, p. 116.

[5] Beautiful Parables of the Quran, vol. 1, p. 353.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Islam and the Emancipation of Slaves, p. 9.

[8] The Secrets Behind the Underdevelopment of the East, p. 103.

[9] Ibid, p. 105.

[10] Kitāb al-Nikāḥ, vol. 7, p. 116.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Islam and the Emancipation of Slaves, p. 8.

[13] For more information, refer to: The History of Islamic Civilization.

[14] Tafsīr-i Nemūneh, vol. 21, p. 415.

[15] How can We Gain Knowledge of Allah? P. 217.

[16] The Lexicon of Tafsīr-i Nemūneh, p. 593.

[17] The Great Oaths of the Quran, p. 377.

[18] Islamic Ethics as Reflected in Nahj Al Balāghah [based on the Muttaqīn sermon], vol. 2, p. 26.

[19] Ibid, p. 35.

[20] Ibid, p. 30.

[21] The Genesis of Religion, p. 134.

[22] The Story of the Companions: A Series of Commentaries on the Quran by Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi. P. 222.

[23] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 2, p. 57.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Mudarrisī Tabātabāī, S.M.A. The Materialistic Civilization of us the Westerners. P. 53.

[27] Tafsīr-i Nemūneh, vol. 21, p. 414.

[28] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 2, p. 19.

[29] The Guidelines of Islamic Economics, p. 40.

[30] Ibid, p. 30.

[31] Ibid, p. 40.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid, p. 41.

[34] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 2, p. 74.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid, p. 18.

[38] A Lexicon of Tafsīr-i Nemūneh, p. 577.

[39] Ethics in the Quran, vol. 2, p. 78.

[40] The Message of Imam Amir al-Mu’minīn (‘a), vol. 2, p. 440.

[41] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 1, p. 84.

[42] Religious Rulings for Women, p. 14.

[43] The Critique’s Book Quarterly, No. 29, p. 26.

[44] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 1, p. 84.

[45] Ibid, vol. 2, p. 367.

[46] Ibid, vol. 1, p. 86.

[47] A Selection of Tafsīr-i Nemūneh, vol. 2, p. 577.

[48] Ibid, vol. 3, p. 293.

[49] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 2, p. 267.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Zan-i Rūz Weekly, No. 2038.

[52] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 2, p. 367.

[53] The West Journey, No. 6, p. 39.

[54] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 2, p. 367.

[55] Ibid, vol. 1, p. 86.

[56] Ibid, vol. 2, p. 367.

[57] A Selection of Tafsīr-i Nemūneh, vol. 2, p. 577.

[58] Ibid, vol. 3, p. 293.

[59] Our Creed [Aṣl al-Shi’a], p. 239.

[60] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 2, p. 367.

[61] The speech of Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi in his meeting with the director and other authorities of the Imam al-Baqir (‘a) Cultural Foundation on 24.08.1397 Sh.

[62] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 2, p. 367.

[63] The remarks of Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi in his meeting with the deputy of the minister of Information and Communications Technology on 24.12.1396 Sh.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid.

[66] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Figh, vol. 2, p. 19.