This category includes two kinds of slaves: contracted slaves (rnukazabun) and regular slaves. Both categories were aided with sadaqah to obtain their freedom. Al-Bara’ reported: “A man came to the Prophet, upon whom be peace, and said to him: ‘Guide me to a deed that makes me close to Heaven and far from Hell.’ The Prophet, upon whom be peace, said: ‘Free a person and redeem a slave.'” Then al-Bara’ asked: “O Messenger of Allah. Are not the two the same?” He answered: “No. Freeing a person is to grant him freedom [by redeeming him from his bondage], but the redeeming of the neck means buying him his freedom.” This is related by Ahmad and ad-Daraqutni and their report is trustworthy.
Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said: “Three persons have the right to be helped by Allah: the warrior (ghazi) who fights for Allah, the contracted slave who longs to buy his freedom, and one who wishes to get married for the sake of chastity.” This is related by Ahmad and the ashab as-Sunan. At-Tirmizhi grades this report as good and sound.
As to the meaning of free captives (wa fi ar-riqab), ash-Shaukani says that scholars differ over it. ‘Ali ibn Abu Talib, Sa’id ibn Jubair, al-Layth, ath-Thauri, al-‘Itrah, the Hanafiyyah, the Shaf’iyyah, and the majority of scholars are reported to believe that it refers to contracted slaves (rnukatabdn) whose freedom is secured through payment from zakah. According to Ibn ‘Abbas, al-Hasan al-Basri, Malik, Ahrnad ibn Hanbal, Abu Thaur, and Abu ‘Ubaid, it means using zakah in the release of any kind of slave. Al-Bukhari and Ibn al-Munzhir are also supportive of this view. Their rationale is that the expression wa fi ar-riqab cannot be confined to the kind of slavery arising from a contract because, if that had been the case, then it would have fallen under the category of those in debt (gharimln), for theirs is an obvious case of debt. As such, freeing a slave from bondage is better than helping a contracted slave. He could be aided or helped, but not freed, for the contracted slave is a slave as long as he owes even one dirham. At the same time, freeing a slave is possible at any time, in contrast to the situation of a contracted slave.
Commenting on the subject, az-Zuhri says that the preceding position entails two possibilities. The Qur’anic ‘ayah on the subject alludes to these two possibilities, which have been pointed out by ashShaukani in his Muntaqa al-Akhbar. In the hadith narrated by alBara’, evidence suggests that redeeming necks is not the same as freeing them. Nor is the deed of freeing slaves the same as helping contracted ones with money to pay off the contract. Both of these bring the individual closer to Heaven and distance him from Hell.