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Islamic Ideology (22 Aug 2016 NewAgeIslam.Com)

The Concept of Slavery and Concubinage in Islam

By Amina Qureshi

21 August 2016

With the recent instances of ISIS holding women and children of the Yazidi community as sex slaves and advertising about their virginity and beauty, I found myself bereft of speech. This was the only question to which I did not have any answer whenever I got into a debate with an atheist or a non-believer. Seeking accurate and relevant information seemed to be the only solution as this is one of the controversies that are brought up to vilify the peaceful religion of Islam. Dr Khalid Zaheer, an Islamic scholar who is currently a Fellow of Al-Mawrid and member of adjunct faculty at University of Central Punjab (UCP) and Information Technology University (ITU), gave rational answers to all my concerns and helped me out in developing the right approach for studying the Holy Qur’an.

The tradition and custom of slavery has been recognised and accepted by both the Old and New Testament. Therefore, it is attested from the earliest written records of the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians and others. The Testaments frequently insist on the need to treat the slaves with humanity by repeatedly reminding the Jews that they too were slaves in Egypt. A verse in the Book of Job is often cited as an argument against slavery: “Did not He that made me in the womb make him [the slave]? And did not One fashion us both?” (Job 31:15). Even then, time distorted and blurred the meanings behind these commandments and made the masters forgetful of the rights of their slaves.

Slavery was an economic institution of the Arabs in pre-Islamic era. Male and female slaves, and even children, were sold and bought in markets like animals, and they undoubtedly formed the most depressed class of the Arabian society. There existed native Arab slaves but, as it seems, the earliest salves were captives taken in warfare and those brought in by Arab caravans, and these were the ones generally sold among the nomad tribes. A large contribution to the increase in slave population resulted by kidnapping and sale of small children, child abandonment, and as a consequence of committing certain crimes. This deep-rooted practice categorised the slaves into the purchased and those born in the master’s home. Masters enjoyed complete ownership of the slaves born in their homes and often forced female slaves into prostitution for their personal and economic benefits. The historical accounts narrate the tales of brutal punishments that were inflicted upon the slaves by their masters, the worst being put to death.

We all agree that the then prevalent customs and state of affairs had to be changed. We are also aware of the two modes to bring about a change – evolution and revolution. From this point starts the unceasing wide debate as to which one is a better option. The two words closely resemble one another but are used antagonistically. Evolution is synonymous with gradual and continuous development in ideas and is thought of as an appropriate mode if it is the existing entity, system or process that needs to be changed. Revolution, however, is considered to be the antithesis of evolution and refers to changes somewhat sudden in their action that entail some type of catastrophe.

Replacing or displacing the aforementioned through pervasive transformation mostly results in disruption of the equilibrium of life, no matter how rotten and ugly. Evolution can be conveniently thought of as incorporating new customs and dropping the old ones simultaneously but gradually, while revolution may then be pictured as completely cutting off the roots and accepting the advancements suddenly and at once which definitely reduces the chances of the change’s survival.

If the above-mentioned concepts are applied to the problems of slavery and concubinage then the approach with which Islam dealt with these issues seems to be evolution. In order to determine why revolution would have been a better approach, we must first see why revolution was never a good idea.

There came the revolution. Slavery banned… Markets of slaves sealed… Warfare captives not to be sold anymore…All slaves set free. So what was next? I agree that slaves were deprived of their fundamental right to be considered humans, but their existence was what their masters needed, and for that they were fed, clothed and sheltered, let it be of the poorest quality. But after the sudden and abrupt change, from that moment on, every slave-turned-free person would be on his or her own. Slave men would have to helplessly beg to feed their mouths, while slave women would even have to resort to prostitution to earn bread. We know that the food and clothes they were given by their masters were not equal to what they chose for themselves, but at least there was something they called food and clothes. With the overnight change called revolution, they would have become below-nothing from just-nothing.

Some people would still argue that at least then they would be begging and prostituting for their economic benefit and not that of their masters. Let us be honest for just a moment. Keeping in view the arrogance and pride of the Arabs, had any single person given them alms or chosen any ex-slave girl to sleep with him? I think we all have our answers now. Some would still ponder and suggest the possibility of the society ‘eventually’ giving the newly free men and women their rights. My counter-argument is based on the fact that if time is the sole healer in this case, too, then why first make the slaves go through agonising torments and then give them recognition? Why do they have to first suffer at the hands of other people and then gain enough respect to be counted as equal humans? Such examples of abolition have been witnessed in South Africa and the United States of America, both resulting in large economic repercussions and the latter additionally kindling a civil war in 1860s.

So, what are we left with?


 Let us examine how evolution actually benefitted the slaves of that time. While the change was in the course of being fully implemented, the old ways were allowed. Furthermore, the prevalent practices were reformed in order to make the lives of slaves less vulnerable. The use of the phrase “Ma Malakat Aymanukum (that which your right hands own)” (4:3, 4:24, 4:25, 16:71, 23:5-6, 24:33, 24:58, 33:50) in the Holy Qur’an instead of ‘abd (slave)’ elevated their status, but the implications it had under Islamic law made them even more equal to their masters. Prisoner of wars were being enslaved, but Qur’an also prescribed the believers to free those in the shackles of slavery as a way of expiation from sins such killing by mistake (2:177) or breaking the oaths (5:89). Later, it was ordained to set free a slave if he asked for his freedom and also to help him in rehabilitation (24:33). Finally, the Qur’an abolished slavery by revealing the following ayah:

“So when you meet in the battle those who disbelieve [in battle], then strike [their] necks until, when you have inflicted slaughter upon overcome them, then secure their bonds, and either [confer] favour afterwards or let them ransom [themselves] until the war terminates…” (47:4).

Therefore, there are only two options: either set them free as a favour or let them pay themselves off (Muktaba or manumission). While the verse 24:33 makes it binding to free the existing slaves if they demand freedom, 47:4 disallows making new. This leaves no gates open for enslavement. In fact, Zakah expenditures have been stated as a way of freeing captives in Ayah 60 of Surah 9 in the Holy Qur’an so as to emancipate the existing ones.

Since this puts an end to men and women being slaves, the only question left is about having physical relationships with slave girls at that time. Why was it such a necessity? Because it was a norm of that society at that specific time, but was being practised in its crudest form: slave girls were be raped and exchanged among the masters with their children getting no inheritance from their fathers. Islam only improved the situation by putting limitations on forced sex, mentioning their existence right next to the status of wives (4:3, 23:6, 70:30), and giving her the title of “umm al-walad (mother of the child)” after which she is freed (Muwatta Malik, Book 40, Hadith 8), and declaring children borne from them legit having a prescribed share in inheritance. The following Hadith further elevated status of slave girls:

“Narrated by Abu Musa: Allah’s Apostle said, “He who has a salve-girl and educates and treats her nicely and then manumits and marries her, will get a double reward.”” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 46, Number 720).

Despite all this what really needs to be understood today, in Dr Khalid Zaheer’s words, is: “Every word of the Qur’an is God’s message for all times to come, but every injunction of the Qur’an is not applicable for all times. There are mentions in the Qur’an that were clearly applicable for the Prophet’s (PBUH) time alone, like for example the guidance that the Prophet’s (PBUH) wives cannot get married to anyone after his death is a stipulation that is not applicable to our times. Similar is the case with many of the mentions in the Qur’an on slavery. An objective reading of the Qur’an itself clarifies which injunctions of it are time-barred and which of them are eternal.”

So, how do we know that this injunction is not applicable anymore? First, enslavement of men and women has been banned by the revelation of Ayah 4 of Surah 47 in the Holy Qur’an (as mentioned before). Second, all Muslims are bound to fulfil all their contracts by Ayah 1 of Surah 5, and as all Muslim countries have signed the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, we would have to send them back to their homelands.

Almost all militant groups around the world emphasise on sex slavery as voraciously as they justify terrorism in the name of jihad. The need of the hour is to comprehend the meaning of the Qur’anic verses with reference to the context and time without which such issues would continue to arise.

Source: pakistantoday.com.pk/2016/08/21/comment/the-concept-of-slavery-and-concubinage-in-islam/

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-ideology/amina-qureshi/the-concept-of-slavery-and-concubinage-in-islam/d/108329


  • Naseersaab,

    Rapes committed by soldiers during war are war crimes. Prosecution of war crimes, except perhaps genocide, is notoriously poor. During the Iraq war, only about a dozen American soldiers were tried for rape and sentenced to prison. A lot of work needs to be done in this area.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 8/27/2016 1:09:40 AM

  • GM Sb,

    We agree that enslaving POW and allowing sex with female slave restricted to one master is unacceptable in today's world as in any case slavery is banned by the Geneva Convention to which all countries are signatory. We also agree that rapists being stoned to death as was practiced even when it was a soldier who raped a POW is inhumane and such laws must be scrapped.

    Can we therefore allow what goes on today, where every army without exception, gang rapes men and women?

    Certainly we cannot. We support the Geneva Convention on the humane treatment of prisoners of war and having said that with the utmost piety that we are capable of, we can all sleep peacefully!

    By Naseer Ahmed - 8/26/2016 8:28:18 PM

  • The Quran does not abolish slavery but we, as vicegerents of God on earth, can assert that Muslims cannot allow slavery to exist because of the Quran's insistence on the freedom and dignity of man.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 8/26/2016 2:05:37 PM

  • While the scholars are debating the comma and full stop of the holy Quran, I would rather have my quality time with Prisha. So Prisha, that's the way you like it!? 'Napumsak!' - no, you ought to be a woman. No man can touch this word with a barge pole, for fear of losing the benefit of doubt ! You have thrown the ultimate stri-baan which even the gods have failed to shield off! By the way I am an old man and an old hand at NAI. Keep writing and throwing challenges !
    By Manzurul Haque - 8/26/2016 11:51:37 AM

  • where I differ has also been made clear in my comment:

    "If the other party you are at war with enslaves the Prisoners of War, then you are at liberty to do the same."

    Therefore there were wars in which the captives were enslaved and wars in which no one was enslaved.

    Notably, no Meccan was enslaved even after the conquest of Mecca.

    The principle of reciprocity and of honouring all your covenants and treaties have been clearly established by several verses.

    In the absence of a specific treaty or understanding, the Muslims were guided by the law/practice of the other side.

    By Naseer Ahmed - 8/26/2016 6:52:17 AM

  • GM Sb, For a more detailed treatment of the subject, read my article:
    This article comprehensively covers the question that you are asking.
    My comments in this thread are limited to putting across what Amina is  saying in her article and not necessarily agreeing with what she says.

    By Naseer Ahmed - 8/26/2016 6:41:18 AM

  • Naseersaab,

    But all slavery was not war related. The article says, " the Qur’an abolished slavery by revealing the following ayah," referring to 47:4. But 47:4 does not say anything about abolishing slavery.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 8/26/2016 2:20:42 AM

  • GM Sb,  It is Surah 47, verse 4 which is definitely a command and only two choices are given in respect of those taken as prisoner. The main battles were against the Meccans and this command was obeyed in respect of the Meccans and as I have pointed out earlier, no Meccan man or woman captured in war was enslaved and this rule was obeyed on both sides.

    The rules are specific to the parties that you are at war with and existing treaties and understandings with them which is why once a country is a signatory to the Geneva conventions, it is bound by those laws.

    If the other party you are at war with enslaves the Prisoners of War, then you are at liberty to do the same.

    By Naseer Ahmed - 8/26/2016 1:40:38 AM

  • Prisha, Why did the characters in Mahabharata not even make any attempt to stop the dishonouring of Draupadi? These include Bhishma, Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Drona and several acharyas all of whom had sufficient moral authority over Duryodhana. Was it not because in that society a master had absolute authority over his slaves and no one had a right to interfere between a master and slave?

     Is it not a fact that the war would have been avoided if Duryodhana had agreed to share the throne with the Pandavas or at least allow them to rule just one village? The war was only over property rights and incidentally gave the Pandavas the opportunity to settle all their personal scores including the enslavement and the attempt to disrobe Draupadi.

     As far as I know, there is no updesh on who can be enslaved and on the treatment of slaves with the result that the society continued to treat slaves as before which means that the owners had absolute right over them. This does not sadden you but what saddens you is that the Quran ameliorated their condition and status and set in motion processes through which they could win their freedom besides restricting further enslavement only to the combatants captured in war.

    The ISIS does not represent Islam and they are the kafirs of our times against whom war is mandated.

    By Naseer Ahmed - 8/26/2016 1:27:02 AM

  • Ardhnarshwar was seek by Muslim kings in India, as they were not trustful to thier womens, after having so many wife this what happens.

    Muslims King were not fed up with this ardhnarshwar, so do recent Muslim should not afraid of it.

    Have one of it, if Muslim cannot trust their wife at home get inspiration from Muslim kings of India.

    By Aayina - 8/26/2016 1:10:56 AM

  • Ghulam saheb I hope some one knowledgable explains this surah
    By Prisha - 8/25/2016 10:17:46 PM

  • Mr/Miss haque going personal makes you feel better I urge you to feel better I have no problem with napumsaks so don't worry about it, I believe u have every right to comment.
    By Prisha - 8/25/2016 10:15:22 PM

  • Ayah 4 of Surah 47 says,

    "So when you meet those who disbelieve [in battle], strike [their] necks until, when you have inflicted slaughter upon them, then secure their bonds, and either [confer] favor afterwards or ransom [them] until the war lays down its burdens. That [is the command]."

    It refers to some of the options available for the treatment of prisoners of war, but is not clear to me that this Surah bans enslavement of men and women.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 8/25/2016 2:13:21 PM

  • A friend has told me that Prisha is a male name. To that extent I stand corrected. Fed up really with these ardhnareshwars.
    By Manzurul Haque - 8/25/2016 12:38:13 PM

  • Naseer, is it a joke you are comparing sexual slavery with draupadi. May be you have neither read Mahabharata nor understood it. Draupadi vastrapaharan is considered most heinous act and whole kaurava clan was slaughtered to avenge it. Never have any characters in Mahabharata forgotten this incident nor forgiven this incident. I think your knowledge about Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita stems from few of choicest preachers speeches on comparative religion. 

    ISIS made an institution of sexual slavery and gulf Arabs mock subcontinent Muslims everyday for selling their daughters as sexual slaves to them. In Syria women brigades run this instutional rapes and slavery of children as young as 6 years old. The sexual markets are flourishing in Syria, Libya and even among refugees in European countries where the pimps themselves belong same as the refugee populations. Countries like Sweden, Austria, Germany, France are aghast with the atrocities. 
    Muslim women might be very smart as they would have learned to skirt the difficulties over centuries. Survival mode can make you very smart and very fast learner. I am very glad you treat your women well, it must be a blessing for them.

    By Prisha - 8/25/2016 11:32:02 AM

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