TheReligionofPeace.com
Guide to Understanding Islam

 

 

What does the
Religion of Peace
Teach About...

Slavery and Sex Slavery

 
 

Question
:

Does Islam condone slavery?  Does Islamic teaching allow Muslim men to keep women as sex slaves?


Summary Answer
:

Islam neither ignores nor condemns slavery.  In fact, a large part of the Sharia is dedicated to the practice.

Muslims are encouraged to live in the way of Muhammad, who was a slave owner and trader.  He captured slaves in battle.  He had sex with his slaves.  And he instructed his men to do the same.  The Qur'an actually devotes more verses to making sure that Muslim men know they can keep women as sex slaves (4) than it does to telling them to pray five times a day (0).


The Qur'an:

Qur'an (33:50) - "O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those (slaves) whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee"  This is one of several personal-sounding verses "from Allah" narrated by Muhammad - in this case allowing himself a virtually unlimited supply of sex partners.  Other Muslims are restrained to four wives, but, following the example of their prophet, may also have sex with any number of slaves, as the following verse make clear:

Qur'an (23:5-6) - "..who abstain from sex, except with those joined to them in the marriage bond, or (the captives) whom their right hands possess..."   This verse permits the slave-owner to have sex with his slaves.  See also Qur'an (70:29-30).  The Quran is a small book, so if Allah used valuable space to repeat the same point four times, then sex slavery must be very important to him.

Qur'an (4:24) - "And all married women (are forbidden unto you) save those (captives) whom your right hands possess."  Even sex with married slaves is permissible.

Qur'an (8:69) - "But (now) enjoy what ye took in war, lawful and good"  A reference to war booty, of which slaves were a part.  The Muslim slave master may enjoy his "catch" because (according to verse 71) "Allah gave you mastery over them."

Qur'an (24:32) - "And marry those among you who are single and those who are fit among your male slaves and your female slaves..."  Breeding slaves based on fitness.

Qur'an (2:178) - "O ye who believe! Retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the murdered; the freeman for the freeman, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female."  The message of this verse, which prescribes the rules of retaliation for murder, is that all humans are not created equal.  The human value of a slave is less than that of a free person (and a woman's worth is also distinguished from that of a man's).

Qur'an (16:75) - "Allah sets forth the Parable (of two men: one) a slave under the dominion of another; He has no power of any sort; and (the other) a man on whom We have bestowed goodly favours from Ourselves, and he spends thereof (freely), privately and publicly: are the two equal? (By no means;) praise be to Allah."  Yet another confirmation that the slave is is not equal to the master.  In this case it is plain that the slave owes his status to Allah's will.  (According to 16:71, the owner should be careful about insulting Allah by bestowing Allah's gifts on slaves - those whom the god of Islam has not favored).


From the Hadith:

 

Bukhari (80:753) - "The Prophet said, 'The freed slave belongs to the people who have freed him.'" 

 

Bukhari (52:255) - The slave who accepts Islam and continues serving his Muslim master will receive a double reward in heaven.

 

Bukhari (41.598) - Slaves are property.  They cannot be freed if an owner has outstanding debt, but can be used to pay off the debt.

 

Bukhari (62:137) - An account of women taken as slaves in battle by Muhammad's men after their husbands and fathers were killed.  The woman were raped with Muhammad's approval.

 

Bukhari (34:432) - Another account of females taken captive and raped with Muhammad's approval.  In this case it is evident that the Muslims intend on selling the women after raping them because they are concerned about devaluing their price by impregnating them.  Muhammad is asked about coitus interruptus.

 

Bukhari (47.765) - A woman is rebuked by Muhammad for freeing a slave girl.  The prophet tells her that she would have gotten a greater heavenly reward by giving her to a relative (as a slave).

 

Bukhari (34:351) - Muhammad sells a slave for money.  He was thus a slave trader.

 

Bukhari (72:734) - Some contemporary Muslims in the West, where slavery is believed to be a horrible crime, are reluctant to believe that Muhammad owned slaves.  This is just one of many places in the Hadith where a reference is made to a human being owned by Muhammad.  In this case, the slave is of African descent.

 

Muslim 3901 - Muhammad trades away two black slaves for one Muslim slave.

 

Muslim 4112 - A man freed six slaves on the event of his death, but Muhammad reversed the emancipation and kept four in slavery to himself.  He cast lots to determine which two to free.

 

Bukhari (47:743) - Muhammad's own pulpit - from which he preached Islam - was built with slave labor on his command.

 

Bukhari (59:637) - "The Prophet sent Ali to Khalid to bring the Khumus (of the booty) and I hated Ali, and Ali had taken a bath (after a sexual act with a slave-girl from the Khumus). I said to Khalid, 'Don't you see this (i.e. Ali)?' When we reached the Prophet I mentioned that to him. He said, 'O Buraida! Do you hate Ali?' I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'Do you hate him, for he deserves more than that from the Khumlus.'"  Muhammad approved of his men having sex with slaves, as this episode involving his son-in-law, Ali, clearly proves.  This hadith refutes the modern apologists who pretend that slaves were really "wives," since Muhammad had forbidden Ali from marrying another woman as long as Fatima (his favorite daughter) was living.

 

Abu Dawud (2150) - "The Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) sent a military expedition to Awtas on the occasion of the battle of Hunain. They met their enemy and fought with them. They defeated them and took them captives. Some of the Companions of the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) were reluctant to have intercourse with the female captives in the presence of their husbands who were unbelievers. So Allah, the Exalted, sent down the Qur’anic verse: (Qur'an 4:24) 'And all married women (are forbidden) unto you save those (captives) whom your right hands possess.'"  This is the background for verse 4:24 of the Qur'an.  Not only does Allah grant permission for women to be captured and raped, but allows it to even be done in front of their husbands.  (See also Muslim 3432 & Ibn Kathir/Abdul Rahman Part 5 Page 14)

 

Abu Dawud 1814 - "...[Abu Bakr] He then began to beat [his slave] him while the Apostle of Allah (pbuh) was smiling and saying: Look at this man who is in the sacred state (putting on ihram), what is he doing?"  The future first caliph of Islam is beating his slave for losing a camel while Muhammad looks on in apparent amusement.

 

Ibn Ishaq (734) - A slave girl is given a "violent beating" by Ali in the presence of Muhammad, who does nothing about it.

 

Abu Dawud 38:4458 - Narrated Ali ibn AbuTalib: “A slave-girl belonging to the house of the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) committed fornication. He (the Prophet) said: Rush up, Ali, and inflict the prescribed punishment on her. I then hurried up, and saw that blood was flowing from her, and did not stop. So I came to him and he said: Have you finished inflicting (punishment on her)? I said: I went to her while her blood was flowing. He said: Leave her alone till her bleeding stops; then inflict the prescribed punishment on her. And inflict the prescribed punishment on those whom your right hands possess (i.e. slaves)”.  A slave girl is ordered by Muhammad to be beaten until she bleeds, and then beaten again after the bleeding stops.  He indicates that this is prescribed treatment for slaves ("those whom your right hand possesses").

 

Ibn Ishaq (693) - "Then the apostle sent Sa-d b. Zayd al-Ansari, brother of Abdu'l-Ashal with some of the captive women of Banu Qurayza to Najd and he sold them for horses and weapons."  Muhammad trades away women captured from the Banu Qurayza tribe to non-Muslim slave traders for property.  (Their men had been executed after surrendering peacefully without a fight).

 

Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller) (o9.13) - According to Sharia, when a child or woman is taken captive by Muslims, they become slaves by the mere fact of their capture.  A captured woman's previous marriage is immediately annulled.

 


Additional Notes:

Slavery is deeply embedded in Islamic law and tradition.  Although a slave-owner is cautioned against treating slaves harshly, basic human rights are not obliged.  The very fact that only non-Muslims may be taken as slaves is evidence of Islam's supremacist doctrine.

 

Of the five references to freeing a slave in the Qur'an, three are prescribed as punitive measures against the slaveholder for unrelated sin, and limits the emancipation to just a single slave.  Another (24:33) appears to allow a slave to buy their own freedom if they are "good."  This is in keeping with the traditional Islamic practice of wealth-building through the taking and ransoming of hostages, which began under Muhammad.

 

A tiny verse in one of the earliest chapters, 90:13, does say that freeing a slave is good, however, this was "revealed" at a time when the Muslim community was miniscule and several of their new and potential recruits were either actual slaves or newly freed slaves.  Many of these same people, and Muhammad himself, later went on to become owners and traders of slaves, both male and female, as they acquired the power to do so (there is not record of Muhammad owning slaves prior to starting Islam).  The language of the Qur'an changed to accommodate slavery, which is why this early verse has had negligible impact on slavery in the Islamic world.

 

Contrary to popular belief, converting to Islam does not automatically earn a slave his freedom, although doing so is said to increase a slave master's heavenly reward (Muslim slaves are implied in Qur'an (4:92)).  As far as the Islamic courts are concerned, a master may treat his slaves however he chooses without fear of punishment.

 

By contrast, Christianity was a major impetus in the movement to abolish the age-old institution of slavery.  Yet, abolition had to be imposed on the Islamic world by the European West. 

 

Given that there have never been abolitionary movement within the Islamic world, it is astonishing to see contemporary Muslims write their religion into the history of abolition.  The lie - that the eradication of slavery had something to do with Islam - has been repeated so often that those who parrot are blissfully ignorant of its lack of factual foundation. 

 

There was no William Wilberforce or Bartoleme de las Casas in Islam.  As mentioned, Muhammad, the most revered figure in the religion, practiced and approved of slavery.  Even his own pulpit was built with slave labor.  Caliphs since have had harems of hundreds, sometimes thousands of young girls and women brought from Christian, Hindu and African lands to serve Islam's religious equivalent of the pope in the most demeaning fashion.

 

One of Muhammad's closest companions was Umar, who became the 2nd caliph only two years after Muhammad died.  It is fair to say that he would have known Islam better than any contemporary apologist - those who say that slaves can only be captured in war and wars can only be waged in self-defense.

 

Under Umar's authority, Arab armies in Egypt invaded Black Africa to the south and attempted to conquer the Christian Makurians who were living there peacefully.  Although the Muslims were held off, the Makurians had to sign a treaty to prevent recurring invasions.  The terms of the Baqt included an annual payment of 360 "high quality" African slaves.  The treaty stood for 700 years with no mention of the slightest opposition from generations of Muslim clerics and scholars.

 

Umar himself was stabbed to death by a slave whose liberty he refused to grant.  In this case, the slave was captured during the campaign against a Persia, one of many offensive wars waged by the Muslims against people who were not attacking them.

 

Modern day apologists, in defending slavery under Islam, generally ignore the basic fact that reducing people to property is dehumanizing.  Instead, they distract from this by comparing the theoretical treatment of slaves under Sharia with the worst examples of abuse from the era of European slavery. 

 

The first problem with this is that the actual practice of Muslim slavery was often remarkably at odds with the relatively humane treatment prescribed by Sharia.  For example, according to the Ghanan scholar John Azumah, nearly three times as many captured Africans died in harsh circumstances related to their transport to Muslim lands than were ever even enslaved by Europeans.

 

A more insurmountable problem for the Muslim apologist who insists that slavery is "different" under Islam is presented by the many examples of Muhammad and his companions selling captured slaves to non-Muslim traders for material goods.  The welfare of the slave was obviously of no consequence.

 

Another myth about Islamic slavery is that it was not race-based.  In fact it was.  Muhammad's father-in-law, Umar, in his role as caliph, declared that Arabs could not be taken as slaves and even had all Arab slaves freed on his deathbed.  This helped propel the vast Islamic campaign to capture slaves in Africa, Europe and Asia for importing into the Middle East.

 

The greatest slave rebellion in human history took place in Basra, Iraq beginning in 869.  A half-million African slaves staged a courageous uprising against their Arab-Islamic masters that lasted fifteen years before being brutally suppressed.  (See Zanj Rebellion)

 

Literally millions of Christians were captured into slavery during the many centuries of Jihad.  So pervasive were the incursions by the Turks into Eastern Europe, that the English word for slave is based on Slav.  Muslim slave raiders even operated as far north as England.  In 1631, a French cleric in Algiers observed the sale of nearly 300 men, women and children, taken from a peaceful English fishing village:

 

"It was a pitiful sight to see them exposed in the market…Women were separated from their husbands and the children from their fathers…on one side a husband was sold; on the other his wife; and her daughter was torn from her arms without the hope that they’d ever see each other again." (from the book, White Gold, which also details the story of English slave, Thomas Pellow, who was beaten, starved and tortured into embracing Islam).

 

The Indian and Persian people suffered mightily as well - as did Africans.  At least 17 million slaves (mostly black women and children) were brought out of Africa by Islamic traders - far more than the 11 million that were taken by the Europeans.  However, these were only the survivors.  As many as 85 million other Africans were thought to have died en route.

 

Most telling, perhaps, is that slavery is still practiced in the Sudan, Niger, Mauritania and a few other corners of the Muslim world - and you won't see any of those Muslim apologists (who shamelessly repeat the lie that Islam abolished slavery) doing or saying anything about it! 

 

In fact, a fatwa was recently issued from a mainstream Islamic source reminding Muslim males of their divine right to rape female slaves and "discipline" resisters in "whatever manner he thinks is appropriate".  Not one peep of protest from Islamic apologists was recorded.  In 2013, the same site prominently proclaimed that "there is no dispute (among the scholars) that it is permissible to take concubines and to have intercourse with one's slave woman, because Allah says so."

 

In 2011, what passes for a women's rights activist in Kuwait suggested that Russian women be taken captive in battle and turned into sex slaves in order to keep Muslim husbands from committing adultery.  (Other calls for turning non-Muslim women into sex slaves can be found here).

 

Since Muhammad was a slave owner and slavery is permitted by the Qur'an, the Muslim world has never apologized for this dehumanizing practice.  Even Muslims in the West will often try to justify slavery under Islam, since it is a part of the Qur'an.

 

See also: The Myths of Islam: Slavery

and Islamic Slavery and Denial

and Answering-Islam: Slavery

 

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