(CNN)Slavery — turning human beings into property used up for profit — is a heinous offense repugnant to all faith communities.
This was captured beautifully in the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders, representing Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists. The Declaration calls modern slavery a crime against humanity.
The concepts of empathy for our fellow human beings, and the obligation to respect the rights and dignity of others, are themes found in all the world’s major faith traditions. Many of history’s great civil rights advancements have been started and nurtured by religious leaders and activists. This is also true of the anti-slavery movement. Ending slavery unites all faiths and no twisting of texts can obscure that fact. That is why faith leaders are at the forefront of the effort to eradicate modern slavery.
Shockingly, slavery persists at a massive scale. The most conservative estimate places the number of slaves at 21 million; there are estimates of as high as 36 million. And slavery is a big business — the International Labor Organization estimates that the profits from slavery are $150 billion a year.
About a fifth of slavery is sex slavery, but most slavery consists of forced labor in seemingly ordinary businesses — farms, mines, stone quarries, fishing boats, construction and brick kilns. The majority of slaves are women and girls; about a quarter of all slaves are children.
Slavery stems from vulnerability. Overwhelmingly, slaves come from the poorest, most stigmatized and most marginalized communities in the poorest countries in the world. Slavery exists in every country and traffickers unfailingly prey upon those who are the most defenseless.
Religious faith and the debasement of human beings cannot be reconciled. That is why people and communities of faith are mobilizing and must continue to lead a shared effort to end slavery once and for all. The following is a quick look at faith voices raised against slavery.
Christian abolitionism took root in the 17th century. In England, prominent Anglicans joined forces with Quakers, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists and other faith groups to form the world’s first anti-slavery movement. Together, they forged a moral consensus to ban the trans-Atlantic slave trade and then outlaw slavery itself throughout the British Empire. Today, Christians worldwide regard slavery as immoral and unjust. “Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society,” says Pope Francis. “It is a crime against humanity.”
· The epistles of St. Paul condemned slave traders and called for slaves to be treated as “brethren.”
· Quakers believed that everyone, including African-American slaves, was “equal in the sight of God.”
· Men and women of faith often led slave revolts on colonial plantations, and many revolts occurred during Christian festivals.
· In the 1800s Quakers and other religious groups assisted the Underground Railroad, helping thousands of slaves to escape southern states in the U.S.
Muslim voices have called for the abolition of slavery since ancient times. The Quran teaches that all people are equal, like the teeth in a comb. The Prophet Muhammad declared: “There are three categories of people against whom I shall myself be a plaintiff on the Day of Judgment. Of these three, one is he who enslave a free man, then sells him and eats this money.”
· Sura 90 in the Quran states that the righteous path involves “the freeing of slaves.”
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