Sex with Slaves and Women’s Rights

Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad

Wa `alaykum as-Salam wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh:

The following is a response on the issues of female slaves in Islam in reply to two sets of questions.

The First Set of Questions

Is it permissible for a man to have sexual intercourse with his female slaves?

I came across tafseer of the beginning verses of Surat-Al-Mu’minoon (Al-Mawdudi), [The Yusuf Ali translation reads, "who abstain from sex, except with those joined in the marriage bond [spouses], or (the captives) whom their right hands possess,-for (in their case) they are free of blame.”] and I was kind of shocked and surprised that he states it is permissable for a man to have sexual intercourse with female slaves in his possession, in addition to his legal wives (v.5-6).

Answer:

Slavery is unlawful (1) in the absence of the Caliph of the Muslims AND (2) unless it results from captives following a lawful war. Even so, there was always the alternative to {let the captives go free, either with or without any ransom} (47:4). Furthermore, the Ottoman Caliphate had declared – long before the US Abolition – that it prohibited slavery in its realm. Further preliminary remarks before addressing the questions: It should be clear that Islam raised the status of slaves higher than that of free men in un-Islamic societies even by modern standards. The author of The House of Saud, an American journalist, recounts how the staff and management of the New York Waldorf-Astoria hotel were horrified that King Faysal in an early US visit had not only allowed his black servant into the state dining room but had seated him at his very table – a “white-only” table in a “white-only” room! They had no idea that even slaves in Islam had to be FED and CLOTHED with the same food and clothing as their owner as the Prophet upon him peace, had stipulated in his “last pilgrimage” speech: “And your slaves! see that you feed them such food as you eat yourselves and dress them with what you yourself wear. And if they commit a mistake which you are not inclined to forgive then sell them, for they are the servants of Allah and are not to be tormented!” In another hadith he said, upon him blessings and peace: “Be kind to slaves as to your own children…and those that say their prayers are your brethren.” A contemporary commentator said:

“The masters were obliged not to put slaves under hardship; slaves were not to be tortured, abused or treated unjustly. They could marry among themselves – with their master’s permission – or with free men or women! They could appear as witnesses and participate with free men in all affairs. Many of them were appointed as governors, commanders of army and administrators. In the eyes of Islam, a pious slave has precedence over an impious free man.” Al-Tabataba’i, Tafsir (16:338-358).

What ignorant times we live in, in which a nation that used a legally-enforceable concept of “white-only” since its inception and then went on to use it for two centuries, now crusades against Islam and the rest of the world over self-proclaimed civilizational values. Islam restored dignity to slaves and enhanced their social status both by ancient and modern standards. Islam made no distinction between a slave or a free man, all were treated with equality. It was this fact that attracted non-Muslim slaves to Islam in droves. As someone said, it is sad to see that those who never cease to be vociferous in their unjust criticism of Islam remain blind to this principle of equality when even in this age there are countries where laws are made that discriminate against the vast majority of population to keep them in practical servitude.

As for the allegations of slavery made by the US and UK against Islamic Sudan they are part of a joint missionary and government rogue propaganda campaign against an Islamic government which has always condemned and actively repressed instances of abuse in inter-tribal warfare, while there has never been anything remotely near a full-fledged slave trade, cf. the Sudan Foundation papers by David Hoile posted in full: http://www.sufo.demon.co.uk/politics.htm

Fiqhi rulings pertaining to the slave period

What follows concerns the Fiqhi rulings pertaining to the slave period even if the present tense is used. I’m far too ignorant to make judgments about the verse and that hukum taken from it, so I wanted to ask if you could explain the verse, if that opinion is generally accepted and why. Do these verses refer solely to men, or women Believers also?

These verses refer to the permissibility of a man for intercourse with his unmarried female slaves without having to marry them. Such an option was not available to women owners of male slaves nor to men owners of married female slaves.

Is this to fulfill desires?

Is it in order to fulfill his desires and avoid any unlawful fitna? (this is hard for me to understand, seeing as how taqwa, self-restraint, and other things are so emphasized in Islam)

His and her desires, yes, but within certain parameters including rights. This will be detailed insha Allah. However, it seems that intercourse with slaves was probably considered a method of contraceptive sexual enjoyment through coitus interruptus (`azl), since the slave owner could practice `azl without prior permission from his slave mate while he could not do so with his free wife without prior permission from her. And if the contraception intended by this `azl failed and the slave woman still bore a child from her master, her child was automatically freed and obtained a son or daughter’s rights including inheritance. In addition, the mother herself could no longer be sold and was freed upon the owner’s death.

From the slave’s perspective, the above scenario could have formed an accepted kind of lawful gamble from which she stood to gain much more than to lose. This could be problematized with the claim that “the cost of freedom is therefore rape” but such is just an inflammatory rephrasing of the truism that the cost of a war captive’s life is her imprisonment; emancipation from which is a dramatically enhanced possibility in the above scenario. Consider some more the dynamic of manumission in Islam. It took the French until the 1780′s and 1790′s through their “Revolution” and “Terror” to finally decide that any slave that steps into French territory automatically becomes free; but Islam had already said, 11 centuries earlier: a free parent’s newborn from a slave is free and that newborn inherits from his or her free parent. In addition, Islam gave all slaves the inalienable right to buy themselves out, either on payment of an agreed sum or on completion of service for an agreed period. The legal term for this is mukataba and the slave party to such a written contract was called a mukatab or mukataba.

{And those of your slaves that seek a writing (of emancipation), write it for them if you are aware of any goodness in them, and bestow upon them of the wealth of Allah that He has bestowed upon you} (24:33).

{Alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to *free the captives and the debtors,* and for the cause of Allah, and (for) the wayfarers; a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is knower, Wise} (9:60).

{Righteous is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the Prophets; and gives his wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free} (2:177).

Note that the above verses stipulate that when a slave wants emancipation the master not only has to agree to it but is also directed to help the slave from his own wealth and from alms, which includes the public treasury (bayt al-mal), the only provision being the satisfaction that the slave would live a respectable life after earning his or her freedom! In addition, if a non-Muslim slave accepted Islam before their masters, they would become free automatically. If the slave became blind or handicapped he would also become free. In addition to these compulsory ways of emancipation, voluntary emancipation of slaves was declared as the purest form of charity and included providing the freedmen with sufficient means to earn their livelihood respectably. Thus, Islam is the first and only religion that has prescribed liberation of slaves as a virtue and a condition of genuine faith.

How is intercourse permissible without a marriage contract binding them?

Because the contract in place is that of property which includes the right to sexual enjoyment but excludes the abuses used under all other historical forms of slavery such as mutilation, inhumane labor, or killing as was the rule in Egyptian, Greek, and Roman times, and the cruelest of all forms, unparalleled in human history, the United States Transatlantic slave trade.(*)

(*) Incidentally, many scholars estimate that over 20 percent of Africans brought in bondage to both American continents and the Caribbean were Muslim.

If the man later frees the slave-woman…would he need to marry her?

If the man then later frees the slave-woman, and perhaps she has a child, would the man need to marry her?Is he still liable for child-support? Does he still raise his children as a father? Is the man allowed to do this with slaves that are not Muslim? (if so, under what conditions?) and is this woman entitled to any inheritance from him? I was under the impression that a person can only inherit by either marriage or blood-ties. wouldn’t she be considered a “concubine”?

Yes, the word concubine literally means bed-mate and applies to any female slave that shares the bed of her master. The man is liable to support any child of his and whatever need of its mother that is related to that liability. He is not obliged to marry her but is definitely held to the responsibilities of a father including inheritability whether the mother is a Muslim or not, her child being Muslim. Nor is she entitled to any inheritance unless he decides to marry her AND she is Muslim. Allah knows best.

The Second Set of Questions

1- Is slavery allowed in Islam?

See the very first answer in this reply.

What is right-hand possession?

If not then what is the concept about female slaves that the right hand posseses? This phrase has been said in the Quraan a few times. Captives in a legitimate defensive war.

2- Why was sex with female slaves allowed?

There was no concept that it could or should not be. If a man is married and he has a slave then why is he having sex with her? Sex was part of the benefits to which the slave owner was entitled within the framework of rights already described.

Regarding the Prophet’s (s) female slave Mariah

I read that the Prophet had a male child from his slave (Mariah). Why should a married man have sex with a salve woman? arent there limitations to sexual desire?

Precisely, these limitations are those mentioned by the Qur’an.

Doesn’t the slave have any rights?

Of course the slave has rights as we have already mentioned. In addition, in Islam, the slave even has rights to bring his or her owner before a law-court. what happened to human rights in this whole scenario? As we mentioned already, slavery and ransom were the alternatives to killing in war, but the slaves had to be fed and clothed with the same food and clothing as their owner, they could not be burdened with inhumane tasks, they could buy their freedoms, sue for their rights, and had other human rights that place Islamic ethics in the context of slavery above anything comparable in the ancient and modern worlds. and when the slave gets pregnant there why doesnt the man have to marry her?

She and her child do obtain other rights as already mentioned but this is not one of them.

The Prophet (s) having more than 4 wives

3- Why did the Prophet have 11 wives when only 4 at one time was allowed? [...] the rules set by Allah are equal for everyone, right? so how was this possible?

Allah Most High set some rules only for the Prophet upon him peace. These are known as the Khasa’is al- Nabawiyya or “Exclusive Prophetic characteristics.” Some of those fall in the category of wajib; others in the mustahabb; others in the mubah; others in the makruh; and others in the haram.

An example of the Prophetic wajib is tahajjud or late night praying for most of the night. This was obligatory for him but is Sunna for the Umma. An example of the Prophetic haram is the eating of onion and garlic due to his intimate communication with the angel, while it is mubah/makruh for the Umma.

Another example of the Prophetic haram is the acceptance of sadaqa, while it is permitted for the Umma except true descendents of his. Another example is that Prophets are forbidden to leave any inheritance other than sadaqa while anything any Muslim leaves is obligatorily inheritance. An example of the Prophetic mubah is his having more than 4 wives while it is haram for the Umma. Another example is that he could marry any man’s widow while it is haram for the entire Umma to marry any of his widows after him because they are literally like our mothers, and some said, because his life in the Barzakh is literal.

An example of the Prophetic mustahabb is to show that certain inappropriate acts are permissible by being seen doing them at least one in his life, such as urinating or drinking while standing up, both of which are makruh for the Umma while they were acts of obedience for him. Another example was to leave certain meritorious acts such as congregational tarawih and i`tikaf to show they were not obligatory, while they are Sunna for us. Another example of the Prophetic mustahabb was fasting without breaking fast for longer than one day and night while such is haram or makruh for the Umma.

An example of the Prophetic makruh is to exert himself in learning the Qur’an while it is wajib for the Umma, or to avail himself of the niceties of this world while it is mubah for the Umma, or to eat types of food exotic to his native Hijaz which is also mubah for us.

There are other things that only the Prophet upon him peace, did such as going into battle on a mule when no one had the courage to use a mule but used either a horse or a camel. Or naming the objects in his property including his mirror and comb. Or his superlatively eloquent speech and knowledge of all the Arab dialects. And many, many other attributes. Among the most famous books on the Prophetic Khasa’is are al-Suyuti’s al-Khasa’is al-Kubra and Qadi `Iyad’s glorious masterpiece al-Shifa’.

Wives in heaven

4- It is said in the koran that when a man dies he can have up to 70 wives if he goes to heaven.Where does it say this? It says that he will have the wives in this life and HOORIAN. But for women they are only allowed one husband. why is this so?

We do not know with certainty that there will be such a restriction on women even if the reverse would hardly be mentionable to a decent woman. A woman in the traditional world would and does consider it a horrible thing to say to her that “You can have all the men you want”! The Qur’an would never use inappropriate language. However, the Qur’an does mention that for the inhabitants of Paradise – male and female – {There wait on them immortal youths} (56:17), {There serve them youths of everlasting youth, whom, when you see them, you would take for scattered pearls} (76:19). If this does not make a believing woman happy then, as Imam al-Shafi`i said to the one who is not moved by erotic poetry, “You have no feelings.” As for the believing men, as one of the Awliya said, some of them will need ghusl just for hearing the verse {Same-age young-bosomed girls} (78:33). As for us hard-hearted analphabets we may read it and read it without effect.

Why can’t women have more than one husband?

In this life we know that if a woman were allowed more than one husband. then there would be problems with the identity of the father if she should have a child. so this will create problems. and the father of the child will not be known. but in the after life, there will not be new births.

Correct.

So then why can’t women have men in the after life either?

It is not clear they cannot, short of an all-but-explicit orgiastic promise if that is what one wants.

Aren’t women supposed to have the same rights as men?

No. They have some rights men have, some rights men do not have, and men have some rights women do not have.

Do women have the same power as men in the Hereafter?

In the Quraan it says that men have a degree of power over women. ok fine. but even in the after life its like this? wont women ever have the same freedom that men enjoy? won’t they ever be able to have the same privileges that men have?? are women the lower cast? is this the way it is? and women should just accept it?

The so-called “degree of power” verse you mentioned is not about power but responsibility and accountability placed squarely on the shoulders of men.
The rest of the relevant questions have been answered insha Allah, and Allah knows best.

Hajj Gibril
GF Haddad

Thanks to Sunniforum

Peace and Blessings upon the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions


© 2012 As-Sunnah Foundation of America

Speak Your Mind

Switch to our mobile site