Sexual slavery in Islam

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Islamic law allows men to have sexual intercourse with their female slaves. [1] [2] Medieval Muslim literature and legal documents show that those female slaves whose main use was for sexual purposes were distinguished in markets from those whose primary use was for domestic duties. They were called "slaves for pleasure" or "slave-girls for sexual intercourse". Many female slaves became concubines to their owners and bore their children. Others were just used for sex before being transferred. The allowance for men to use contraception with female slaves assisted in thwarting unwanted pregnancies. [3]


Early sources indicate that sexual slavery of women was viewed as both a male privilege and a privilege for the victor over the defeated. [4] The Muslim military commander is allowed to choose between unconditionally releasing, ransoming or enslaving these war captives. [5] Men were permitted to have as many concubines as they could afford. Some men purchased female slaves, whereas Muslim soldiers in the early Islamic conquests were given female captives as a reward for military participation. As the slaves for pleasure were typically more expensive, they were a privilege for elite men. [4]

In traditional juristic understanding, it is the male's ownership of a woman's sexual organs which makes sex licit in Islam. Islamic jurists describe marriage as a kind of sale where the wife's private parts are purchased. However, there are some differences between the rights of a wife and female slave. [6] While a free Muslim woman was considered to be a man's honour, a slave-girl was merely property and not a man's honour. [7] The term suriyya (concubine) was used for female slaves with whom masters enjoyed sexual relations. It was not a secure status as the concubine could be traded as long as the master had not impregnated her. [8]

Islamic law and Sunni ulama recognise two categories of concubines: [1] [2]

War captives

These are originally free non-Muslims who are captured in battle. [1] [9] The entire population of a conquered territory can be enslaved, thus providing women who are otherwise rare on the battlefield. This paves the path for concubinage. [10] The Muslim military commander is allowed to choose between unconditionally releasing, ransoming or enslaving war captives. [5] If a person converted to Islam after being enslaved, their emancipation would be considered a pious act but not obligatory. [2] Islamic law does not allow enslavement of free-born Muslims. [11]

Islamic jurists permitted slave raiding and kidnapping of non-Muslims from Dar al Harb. [12] South Asian scholars ruled that jihad was not needed to seize non-Muslims nor was it necessary to invite them to Islam before seizing them. Raiders were free to take and enslave any non-Muslim. [13] However, Islamic jurists held that non-Muslims who lived in areas which had formal pacts with Muslims were to be protected from enslavement. [12]

Non-Muslim residents of an Islamic state who fail to pay jizya or break their contract with the state can also be enslaved. [14] [15] However, Muslim rebels cannot be enslaved. [16]

Slave-girls by descent

These are born to slave mothers. [1] [2] Owners who would marry off their female slaves to someone else, would also be the masters of any children born from that marriage. [17] Thus, Islamic law made slave-breeding possible. [18]

The concubines were owned by their masters. The owners could obtain the slave-girls through purchase, capture or receive them as a gift. [1] Islam permits men to have sexual intercourse with them and there is no limit on the number of concubines they could keep, unlike in polygamy where there is a limit of four wives. [19] The master could also sell her or gift her to someone else. The female slave was essentially a chattel. An owner's slave could also be inherited by an heir. [20] While she was under her master's control the slave girl could not have sex with anyone else. [21] Though the fate of a slave girl was controlled by her master, slave girls did have some protection. [22] No one could rape or attack slave girls. [23] Male slaves who raped female slaves were punished. [22] However, the punishment for their rape was less severe than for free women and their master received an amount equivalent to their loss in value. On the other hand, punishments for slaves were less severe than those for free people, in cases of adultery. [22]

Classical Islamic family law generally recognized marriage and the creation of a master–slave relationship as the two legal instruments rendering permissible sexual relations between people and classical Islamic jurists made an analogy between the marriage contract and sale of concubines. They state that the factor of male ownership in both is what makes sex lawful with both a wife and female slave. [6] [24] Responding to a query about whether a man can be forced to have intercourse or if it is obligatory for him to have intercourse with his wife or concubine, Imam Al-Shafiʽi stated "if he has only one wife or an additional concubine with whom he has intercourse, he is commanded to fear Allah Almighty and to not harm her in regards to intercourse, although nothing specific is obligated upon him. He is only obligated to provide what benefits her such as financial maintenance, residence, clothing, and spending the night with her. As for intercourse, its position is one of pleasure and no one can be forced into it." [25]

Hina Azam notes that in Islamic law "coercion within marriage or concubinage may be repugnant, but it remained fundamentally legal". [26] According to Kecia Ali, "Jurists define zina as vaginal intercourse between a man and a woman who is neither his wife nor his slave. Though seldom discussed, forced sex with one's wife might (or, depending on the circumstances, might not) be an ethical infraction, and conceivably even a legal one like assault if physical violence is involved. One might speculate that the same is true of forced sex with a slave. This scenario is never, however, illicit in the jurists' conceptual world". [27] The book Al Fiqh 'ala Al Madhahib Al Arba'ah (Islamic Jurisprudence According To The Four Sunni Schools) says that according to the followers of Imam Abu Hanifah, men own the right to sexual pleasure and are allowed to force the woman sexually. [28] Kecia Ali also states that the Hanafis allowed the husband to forcibly have sex with his wife if she did not have a legitimate reason to refuse sex. She says this particular Hanafi position was not prevalent in other schools of thought [27] who neither authorized forced sex in marriage nor penalized it. [29]

Another viewpoint is of Rabb Intisar, who argues that according to the Quran, sexual relations with a concubine are subject to both parties' consent. [30] Similarly Tamara Sonn, claims that consent of a concubine is necessary for sexual relations. [31] However, Kecia Ali calls such assertions "surprising" [32] and notes that such views are not found in any pre-modern classical Islamic legal text, as there is no discussion about the topic of consent. [32] Jonathan Brown argues that the modern conception of sexual consent only came about since the 1970s, so it makes little sense to project it backwards onto classical Islamic law. [33] Brown notes that premodern Muslim jurists rather applied the harm principle to judge sexual misconduct, including between a master and concubine. [34] He further states that historically, concubines could complain to judges if they were being sexually abused [35] and that scholars like al-Bahūtī require a master to set his concubine free if he injures her during sex. [35] However, Brown's assessment of the similarity of the harm principle in Islamic legal tradition and the notion of consent in modern law is not widely shared by his peers. Sadaf Jaffer criticized Brown and his questioning of "whether Muslim wives have recourse to the idea of sexual consent in their relationships with their husbands". [36] According to Jaffer, Brown's position also "does not address the issue of a concubine's lack of legal consent throughout much of Islamic history". [36]

According to Kecia Ali "Did a man who wanted to have sex with his own female slave need to obtain her consent for that relationship to be licit according to early Muslim jurists? Any argument must be largely from silence, as the sources simply do not discuss the issue. I recall no instance in any Maliki, Hanafi, Shafiʿi, or Hanbali text from the 8th to 10th centuries where anyone asserts that an owner must obtain his female slave's consent before having sex with her. Indeed, I am aware of no case where anyone asks whether her consent is necessary or even asserts that it is not required. The mere absence of discussion proves nothing, of course. Sometimes things escape mention because they are universally accepted. What jurists take for granted—particularly across madhhab boundaries—is often more telling than what they state explicitly. One could perhaps argue that slaves' consent to sexual relationships with their masters was such an obvious requirement that no one thought it necessary to mention". [37]

However, Kecia Ali also adds "It strains logic to suggest that an enslaved woman is subject to being married off without her consent or against her will to whomever her owner chooses but that he cannot have sex with her himself without her consent. It is even more of a stretch to accept that the need for consent within concubinage was so obviously a condition for its legitimacy that no one considered it necessary to say so, but that the absence of the need for a slave's consent to her marriage required explicit affirmation." [37]

Some modern Muslim writers seek to defend the notion, by claiming that Islam permits men to have sex with female captives as a way of integrating them into society. [38] But in the case of the women from the Banu Mustaliq tribe who were captured by the Companions, their captors wanted to practice coitus interruptus sex with them because if these women became pregnant their captors would not be able to return them in exchange for ransom. According to Kecia Ali, modern Muslim scholarship is silent on the implications of this episode and only considers the event in the context of discussing contraceptive practices. [39]

All four law schools also have a consensus that the master can marry off his female slave to someone else without her consent. [40] A master can also practice coitus interruptus during sex with his female slave without her permission. [40] A man having sex with someone else's female slave constitutes zina. [41] According to Imam Shafi'i, if someone other than the master coerces a slave-girl to have sex, the rapist will be required to pay compensation to her master. [42] If a man marries off his own female slave and has sex with her even though he is then no longer allowed to have sexual intercourse with her, that sex is still considered a lesser offence than zina and the jurists say he must not be punished. It is noteworthy that while formulating this ruling, it is the slave woman's marriage and not her consent which is an issue. [41]

Sexual enslavement, the concept of honour and humiliation

Enslavement was intended both as a debt and form of humiliation. The sexual relationship between a concubine and her master was viewed as a debt of humiliation upon the woman until she gave birth to her master's child and the master's later death. [43] Becoming a slave meant that the person was stripped of their honour. [44] The ulama asserted that slavery was a divine punishment for not being a Muslim. In the words of az-Aziz b.Ahmad al-Bukhari "servitude is a vestige of obstinacy in refusing to believe in one God". Al-Sharif al-Jurjani stated that slavery in Islamic law was a "penalty for unbelief". An Algerian scholar who lived in Morocco, Ahmad al-Wansharisi, described the purpose of slavery as a "humiliation" for previous or continuing disbelief. [10]

Umm Walad (mother of child)

Umm walad (mother of child) is a title given to a woman who gave birth to her master's child. [1] If a female slave gave birth to her master's child she still remained a slave. However, the master would no longer be allowed to sell her. She would also become free once he died. The Sunni law schools disagree on the concubine's entitlement to this status. Many Maliki jurists ruled that the concubine becomes entitled to the status of umm walad even if her master does not acknowledge that the child is his. However, Hanafi jurists state that the umm walad status is contingent on the master acknowledging paternity of the child. If he does not accept that he is the father of the child then both the mother and child remain slaves. [45]

Forced conversion for concubinage

Most traditional scholars require the conversion of a pagan slave-girl before sex, even through force if necessary. [46] The majority of jurists do not allow sexual intercourse with Zoroastrian or pagan female captives. They require a conversion of these women before sex can take place. Ibn Hanbal allowed sexual intercourse with pagan and Zoroastrian female captives if they are coerced to become Muslim. Many traditions state that the female captives should be coerced to accept Islam if they do not convert willingly. Hasan al-Basri narrates that Muslims would achieve this objective through various methods. They would order the Zoroastrian slave-girl to face the qiblah, utter the shahada and perform wudhu. Her captor would then have sex with her after one menstrual cycle. However, others add the condition that the slave-girl must be taught to pray and purify herself before the master can have sex with her. [47]

The scholars significantly lower the threshold of conversion for the girls so that the master may be able to have sex with her as soon as possible. Only a few early scholars permitted sex with pagan and Zoroastrian slaves girls without conversion. [48] Al-Mujahid and Safiid bin al-Musayyab say the master can still have sex with his Zoroastrian or pagan female slave even if she refuses to convert. [49]

Imam Shafi'i claims that the Companions of Muhammad did not have sexual intercourse with Arab captives until they converted to Islam. [50] But Ibn Qayyim argues that the Companions of the Prophet had sexual intercourse with Arab captives, such as the women of the Banu Mustaliq tribe, without making the sex conditional on the conversion of the women. He also asserted that no tradition required the conversion of a slave-girl before her master can have sex with her. [51]

Sexual slavery in pre-Islamic Arabia and early Islam

The pre-Islamic Arabs used to practice female infanticide. They would bury their daughters alive upon birth. One of the motivations for fathers burying their daughters alive was the fear that when they grew up an enemy tribe could take them captive and dishonour them. [52] [53] A study of the Arab genealogical text Nasab Quraysh records the maternity of 3,000 Quraishi tribesmen, most of whom lived in between 500 and 750 CE. [54] The data shows that there was a massive increase in the number of children born to concubines with the emergence of Islam. [54] An analysis of the information found that no children were born from concubines before the generation of Muhammad's grandfather. [55] There were a few cases of children being born from concubines before Muhammad but they were only in his father's and grandfather's generation. The analysis of the data thus showed that concubinage was not common before the time of Muhammad, but increased for men of his generation as a result of military conquests. [56]

Due to these conquests, a large number of female slaves were available to the conquerors. Although there were more births, the attitude towards children born from slaves still remained negative. [57] Some early Arab Muslims discriminated against those people who were born from non-Arab female slaves. However, there is no indication that these attitudes were ever acted upon. [58] One of the earliest surviving Christian texts from the Islamic period in Syria, dated by scholars to around 640 CE, describes the rise of Islam in this way:

They take the wife away from her husband and slay him like a sheep. They throw the babe from her mother and drive her into slavery; the child calls out from the ground and the mother hears, yet what is she to do? ... They separate the children from the mother like the soul from within the body, and she watches as they divide her loved ones from off her lap, two of them go to two masters, herself to another ... Her children cry out in lament, their eyes hot with tears. She turns to her loved ones, milk pouring forth from her breast: "Go in peace, my darlings, and may God accompany you."

However, according to the Hadith the sayings of the Prophet Muhammed, he disliked separating war captives from their relatives:

Abu Ayyub narrates: That he heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say: "Whoever separates between a mother and her child, then Allah will separate between him and his beloved on the Day of Judgement." [Abu 'Eisa said:] There is something on this topic from 'Ali. This is acted upon according to the people of knowledge among the Companions of the Prophet (ﷺ) and others. They dislike separating the captives, the mother and her child, the son and the father, and brothers. [60]

Concubinage was not a common practice among the civilizations of the Late Antique Near East. Its expansion under the Umayyad period was motivated mainly by the Umayyad tribal desire for sons rather than sanction for it in the Quran and Prophetic practice. [61] Concubinage was allowed among the Sassanian elites and the Mazdeans but the children from such unions were not necessarily regarded as legitimate. [62] The position of Jewish communities is unclear although slave concubinage is mentioned in Biblical texts. Apparently, the practice had declined long before Muhammad. Some Jewish scholars during Islamic rule would forbid Jews from having sex with their female slaves. [63] Leo III in his letter to Umar II accused Muslims of "debauchery" with their concubines who they would sell "like dumb cattle" after having tired of using them. [62]

Women of Hawazin

The Banu Thaqif and Banu Hawazin tribes decided to go to war against Muhammad under the leadership of Malik ibn Awf. [64] Malik had the unfortunate idea of bringing the women, children and livestock with his army. [65] He believed that by bringing their women and children with the army, all his soldiers would fight more courageously to defend them. [64] When Muhammad was informed that the Hawazin had brought their women, children and livestock with them, he smiled and said "Inshaa Allah, all these will become the booty of war for the Muslims." [66]

The Muslim army defeated the Hawazin and captured their women and children and the pagan soldiers fled. [67] The war booty which the Muslims obtained was 24,000 camels, more than 40,000 goats, 160,000 dirhams worth of silver and 6,000 women and children. [68] Muhammad waited ten days for the Hawazin to repent and reclaim their families and properties. However, none of them came. Finally, Muhammad distributed the war booty among the Muslim soldiers. [69] The Muslim soldiers initially hesitated to have sex with the married female captives, until a verse was revealed giving them permission to have sex with them: [70]

Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri said, "We captured some women from the area of Awtas who were already married, and we disliked having sexual relations with them because they already had husbands. So, we asked the Prophet about this matter, and this Ayah (verse) was revealed, Also (forbidden are) women already married, except those whom your right hands possess). Consequently, we had sexual relations with these women."

Muhammad gave a girl called Zaynab bint Hayyan (or Khannas) to Uthman ibn Affan and Uthman had sexual intercourse with her but later she chose to return to her husband and cousin. [71] A woman was given to Abdurrahman ibn Awf who resisted having sexual intercourse with her until her menses were over and then he had sex with her by virtue of her being his property. Jubayr bin Mu'tim also received a slave girl, who was not impregnated. Talha ibn Ubaydullah had sexual intercourse with the female captive given to him. Abu Ubaydah ibn Jarrah impregnated the slave girl he was given. [72]

A delegation from the Hawazin tribe came to Muhammad and converted to Islam. Once they had given allegiance to Muhammad they asked about their captured families and property. They said "Those who you have brought as captives are our mothers, sisters and aunts and they alone bring disgrace to peoples. O Prophet, we ask for your kindness and generosity. Free our women." Muhammad gave them a choice between reclaiming their property or their women and children. [73] The Hawazin tribesmen responded that if they had to choose between reclaiming their property or their honour, they would choose their honour (their womenfolk). [74]

Muhammad returned their women and children to them. [74] The girl who had been given to Abdurrahman ibn Awf was given a choice to stay with him or return to her family. She chose her family. Likewise, the girls given to Talha, Uthman, Ibn Umar and Safwan bin Umayya were also returned to their families. [75] Zaynab chose to return to her husband and cousin. [76] However, the girl who had been given to Saad ibn Abi Waqas chose to stay with him. Uyanya had taken an old woman. Her son approached him to ransom her for 100 camels. The old woman asked her son why would he pay 100 camels when Uyanya would leave her anyway without taking ransom. This angered Uyanya. [75] Uyaynah had earlier said at the Siege of Ta'if that he only came to fight for Muhammad so he could get a Thaqif girl and impregnate her so that she might bear him a son because Thaqif are clever (or fortunate) people. [77] [78] When Umar told Muhammad about Uyayna's comment, Muhammad smiled and said "[The man exhibits] an acceptable foolishness". [79] [78]

Overview of slave-concubines' experiences

Becoming a concubine for her master could translate to gaining security and standing and other material benefits. If she bore her master a child and if he accepted paternity she could obtain the position of an umm walad. If she became an umm walad her daily life would probably resemble that of a free wife, but with a lower position. There are many instances of slave concubines in Muslim history who rose to positions of great influence. However, this position did not lighten the suffering that the slaves experienced in their lives. Many of them had been forcibly taken from their homes and permanently separated from their families. They were displayed at slave markets and humiliated and subjected to forced labour, forced marriages and sex. [80] If someone bought a woman, he could not separate her child from her until the stipulated age, which according to Ibn Abi Zayd was when the child became six years old. [81]

Many slaves went through a period of distress, when they were first enslaved, which was typically a violent occasion. Between the 800s and 1200s, the four main ways to enslave a person were kidnapping, slave raids, piracy, and poverty. Islamic law only gave female slaves protection from sexual exploitation by anyone who was not their owner. The owner was obliged by Islamic law to provide his female slaves with food, clothing, and shelter. [80] The disciplinary hitting of the slave was considered to be for the master's own good. [82] A prophetic hadith permitted corporal punishment and Ibn al-Jawzi stated that both slaves and wives should put up with physical mistreatment. [83] The slave owner was also encouraged to not use excessive violence. While some idealise the lives of elite female slaves, many in practice suffered from abuse by both their owners and others. [80] Because bearing her master's child could lead to freedom for a slave-girl, some female slaves had a motive to have sex with their owners. This angered the master's wives who would often punish such slaves. [84] The most regular opposition to concubinage came from free wives. Early moral stories depicted wives as victims of concubinage. [85]

The female slaves were traded as chattel. [80] Because female slaves were traded among men and many of them had been owned by up to thirty men consecutively, they had a great deal of knowledge about sexual intercourse and were able to tutor elite adolescent males about sexual techniques. [84] Slave girls were seen as sexual commodities and were not allowed to cover themselves. [86] Before being bought many women's bodies were examined. The Hanafis allowed potential male buyers to uncover and touch a female slave's arms, breasts and legs. [87] Umar prohibited slave girls from resembling free women and forbade them from covering their hair. [88] Slave women did not veil and like prostitutes were exempt from a lot of the gender restrictions upon upper-class women. [89] While free women were regulated by higher standards of modesty, most Islamic jurists stated that female slaves were not required to cover their arms, hair or legs below the knees. Some did not require them to cover their chest either. [90] If a slave fornicated she also received less punishment than a respectable woman. [89]

The most fortunate female captives were women like Safiyya and Juwayriah who were freed from slavery and married Muhammad. In their regard, Levy notes that "Captive women might be treated with great regard and consideration during the prophet's time". [91] The lives of female captives depended on whether her tribe could ransom her or if her captor chose to marry her. If neither of the two happened such women suffered because their captors owned their bodies and lives. If they were unattractive the captors would keep them as servants and if they were beautiful the captors were allowed to keep them as their concubines. The captors were also allowed to sell her. Due to this some female captives committed suicide. [92] There is an account of a woman called Sakhra, who was a female captive from the Banu Amir tribe. She committed suicide by throwing herself to the ground from a camel. [93] According to Muslim sources, Muhammad was worried about such captive slave women due to which he reported "to treat them kindly and fear God in their dealings with them" in his farewell sermon. [94]

Socio-economic variations in historical concubinage

While Muslim cultures acknowledged concubinage, as well as polygamy, as a man's legal right, in reality, these were usually practiced only by the royalty and elite sections of society. [95] The most highly desired slave-concubines in the Muslim world were not African women, but white girls, typically of Circassian or Georgian origin. However, they were very expensive. [96] The large-scale availability of women for sexual slavery had a strong influence on Muslim thought, even though the "harem" culture of the elite was not mirrored by most of the Muslim population. [97]

Abbasid Caliphate

See also Abbasid harem

The royals and nobles during the Abbasid Caliphate kept large numbers of concubines. The Caliph Harun al-Rashid possessed hundreds of concubines in his harem. The Caliph al-Mutawakkil was reported to have owned four thousand concubines. [98] Slaves for pleasure were costly and were a luxury for wealthy men. In his sex manual, Ali ibn Nasr promoted experimental sex with female slaves on the basis that free wives were respectable and would feel humiliated by the use of the sex positions described in his book because they show low esteem and a lack of love from the man. [4] Women preferred that their husbands keep concubines instead of taking a second wife. This was because a co-wife represented a greater threat to their position. Owning many concubines was perhaps more common than having several wives. [99]


In Muslim society in general, monogamy was common because keeping multiple wives and concubines was not affordable for many households. [100] The practice of keeping concubines was common in the Muslim upper class. Muslim rulers preferred having children with concubines because it helped them avoid the social and political complexities arising from marriage and kept their lineages separate from the other lineages in society. [101] One Umayyad ruler, Abd al-Rahman III, was known to have possessed more than 6000 concubines. [98]

Ottoman Empire

See also Imperial harem

The Ottoman rulers would keep hundreds, even thousands, of concubines. Female war captives were often turned into concubines for the Ottoman rulers. Ambitious slave families associated with the palace would also frequently offer their daughters up as concubines. [102] Slave traders would abduct and sell Circassian girls. [103] The Circassian and Georgian women were systematically trafficked to eastern harems. This practice lasted into the 1890s. [102] Fynes Moryson noted that some Muslim men would keep their wives in various cities while others would keep them in a single house and would keep adding as many women as their lusts permitted. He wrote that "They buy free women to be their wives, or they buy 'conquered women' at a lesser price to be their concubines." [104] Ottoman society had provided avenues for men who wished to have extramarital sex. They could either marry more wives while wealthy men could possess slaves and use them for sex. [105]

Since the late 1300s Ottoman sultans would only permit heirs born from concubines to inherit their throne. Each concubine was only permitted to have one son. Once a concubine would bear a son she would spend the rest of her life plotting in favour of her son. If her son was to successfully become the next Sultan, she would become an unquestionable ruler. After the 1450s the Sultans stopped marrying altogether. Because of this there was great surprise when Sultan Sulayman fell in love with his concubine and married her. An Ottoman Sultan would have sexual relationships with only some women from his large collection of slave girls. This meant that a lot of the concubines were not given a family life if they were not desired by the Sultan. This effectively meant these women would have to spend the rest of their lives in virtual imprisonment. Some of these women would break the sharia by having homosexual relations. [98]

And if a man wants to take a concubine and his wife says to him "I will kill myself", he is not prohibited [from doing so], because it is a lawful act, but if he abstains to save her grief, he will be rewarded, because of the hadith "Whoever sympathises with my community, God will sympathise with him."

A 17th century Hanafi scholar, Imam Haskafi, writes in his jurisprudential work Al-Durr al-Mukhtar [106]

Research into Ottoman records show that polygamy was absent or rare in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. [107] Concubinage and polygamy were quite uncommon outside the elite. Goitein says that monogamy was a feature of the "progressive middle class" Muslims. [108] Elite men were required to leave their wives and concubines if they wished to marry an Ottoman princess. [109] The Mamluk governor of Baghdad, Umar Pasha, died childless because his wife prevented him from having a concubine. [85] Writing in the early 18th century, one visitor noted that from among the Ottoman courtiers, only the imperial treasurer kept female slaves for sex and others thought of him as a lustful person. [109] Edward Lane, who visited Egypt in the 1830s, noted that very few Egyptian men were polygamous and most of the men with only one wife did not keep concubines, usually for the sake of domestic peace. However, some kept Abyssinian slaves who were less costly than maintaining a wife. While white slave-girls would be in the keep of wealthy Turks, the concubines kept by upper and middle class Egyptians were usually Abyssinians. [110]

Indian subcontinent

Ovington, a voyager who wrote about his journey to Surat, stated that Muslim men had an "extraordinary liberty for women" and kept as many concubines as they could afford. [111] Akbar had a harem of at least 5000 women and Aurangzeb's harem was even larger. [112] The nobles in India could possess as many concubines as they wanted. [113] Ismail Quli Khan, a Mughal noble, possessed 1200 girls. Another nobleman, Said, had many wives and concubines from whom he fathered 60 sons in just four years. [114] Francisco Pelseart describes that noblemen would visit a different wife each night, who would welcome him along with the slave girls. If he felt attracted to any slave-girl he would call her to him for his enjoyment while the wife would not dare to show her anger. The wife would punish the slave-girl later. [115]

Lower class Muslims were generally monogamous. Since they hardly had any rivals, women of the lower and middle class sections of society fared better than upper-class women who had to contend with their husbands' other wives, slave-girls and concubines. [116] Shireen Moosvi has discovered Muslim marriage contracts from Surat, dating back to the 1650s. One stipulation in these marriage contracts was that the husband was not to marry a second wife. Another stipulation was that the husband would not take a slave girl. These stipulations were common among middle-class Muslims in Surat. If the husband took a second wife the first wife would gain an automatic right of divorce, thus indicating the preference for monogamy among the merchants of Surat. If the husband took a slave-girl the wife could sell, free or give away that slave-girl, thereby separating the female slave from her husband. [117]

There is no evidence that concubinage was practiced in Kashmir where, unlike the rest of the medieval Muslim world, slavery was abhorred and not widespread. Except for the Sultans, there is no evidence that the Kashmiri nobility or merchants kept slaves. [118] In medieval Punjab the Muslim peasants, artisans, small tradesmen, shopkeepers, clerks and minor officials could not afford concubines or slaves. [119] But the Muslim nobility of medieval Punjab, such as the Khans and Maliks, kept concubines and slaves. [120] Female slaves were used for concubinage in many wealthy Muslim households of Punjab. [121]

Colonial court cases from 19th century Punjab show that the courts recognised the legitimate status of children born to Muslim zamindars (landlords) from their concubines. [122] The Muslim rulers of Indian princely states, such as the Nawab of Junagadh, also kept slave girls. [123] The Nawab of Bahawalpur, according to a Pakistani journalist, kept 390 concubines. He only had sex with most of them once. [124] Marathas captured during their wars with the Mughals had been given to the soldiers of the Mughal Army from the Baloch Bugti tribe. The descendants of these captives became known as "Mrattas" and their women were traditionally used as concubines by the Bugtis. They became equal citizens of Pakistan in 1947. [125]

History of sexual enslavement

Sexual enslavement of non-Muslim women by Muslim men

Women and children together came to 8,000 and were quickly divided up among us, bringing a smile to Muslim faces at their lamentations. How many well-guarded women were profaned and women who had been kept hidden stripped of their modesty, and virgins dishonoured and proud women deflowered, and lovey women's red lips kissed, and happy ones made to weep. How many noblemen took them as concubines, how many ardent men blazed for one of them, and celibates were satisfied by them, and thirsty men sated by them and turbulent men able to give vent to their passion.

Saladin's secretary Imad al-Din gleefully recounts the capture, enslavement and rape of Christian women by Muslims after the Siege of Jerusalem [126] [127]

In Andalus the concubines of the Muslim elite were usually non-Muslim women from the Christian areas of the Iberian peninsula. Many of these had been captured in raids or wars and were then gifted to the elite Muslim soldiers as war booty or were sold as slaves in Muslim markets. [101] Most slaves in the Ottoman harem comprised women who had been kidnapped from Christian lands. Some had been abducted during raids by the Tatars while others had been captured by maritime pirates. [128] Berber pirates trafficked French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese women to North Africa. Christian females were enslaved more than any other religious demographic. [129] It is difficult to track down the experienced of European female slaves because they would have accounted for 5 percent of the slaves trafficked to North Africa and even fewer women were freed from slavery than men between the 16th and 19th centuries. During those centuries, at least 50,000 to 75,000 European girls were forcibly taken and most of them never returned home. [130] One male English slave narrated an account of a young English girl who was given as concubine to the Moroccan king, Mulley Ismail. She tried to resist his sexual advances. He then ordered his black slaves to whip and torture her until she gave in. [131]

Enslaved European men also narrated accounts of women who "apostasised". The life stories of these women were similar to Roxelana, who rose from being a Christian slave-girl into the chief advisor of her husband, Sultan Suleyman of the Ottoman Empire. There are several accounts of such women of humble birth who associated with powerful Muslim men. While the associations were initially forced, the captivity gave women a taste for access to power. Diplomats wrote with disappointment about apostate women who wielded political influence over their masters-turned-husbands. Christian male slaves also recorded the presence of authoritative convert women in Muslim families. Christian women who converted to Islam and then became politically assertive and tyrannical were regarded by Europeans as traitors to the faith. [132] Enslaved Christian women lost all hope of returning home through ransom once they entered a Muslim household. The women were forced to enter a life of sexual subjugation to their new husbands. There is also evidence that many "privileged" female captives wanted to escape if they were given the chance. There is an account of an Irish mother who attacked her Algerian male captors when she learnt that her enslavement meant that she was going to be separated from her children forever. She was later subdued. [133]

The Muslim Sultanates in India before the Mughal Empire captured large numbers of non-Muslims from the Deccan. The Muslim masters would impregnate their non-Muslim slaves and the children they fathered would be raised as Muslims. Non-Muslim girls were socially ostracised by their own communities for the sexual relationships Muslim soldiers and nobles would have with them, therefore, many of them preferred to convert to Islam [134] When Muslims would surround Rajput citadels, the Rajput women would commit jauhar (collective suicide) to save themselves from being dishonoured by their enemies. In 1296 approximately 16,000 women committed jauhar to save themselves from Alauddin Khalji's army. [135] Rajput women would commit it when they saw that defeat and enslavement was imminent for their people. [136] In 1533 in Chittorgarh nearly 13,000 women and children killed themselves instead of being taken captive by Bahadur Shah's army. [137] For them sexual intercourse was the worst form of humiliation. Rajputs practised jauhar mainly when their opponents were Muslims. [138]

The womenfolk of enemies were captured both to humiliate their men and to use the beautiful maidens for various purposes. [139] Beautiful female captives were mostly used for sex. [140] After the period of Akbar's rule enslavement of women continued to be used to punish their men. Jahangir explicitly ordered the destruction of the domain of the rebellious zamindar of Jaitpur and the capture of his women. Thus, his daughters and wives were captured and brought to the harem. [112] Aurangzeb would enslave rebellious peasants. [141] Manucci records that, during Mughal rule, when faujdars would enter rebellious villages they would take the most attractive girls and present them to the king. The rest would either be sold or kept for themselves. [112] Ahmad Shah Abdali's army captured Maratha women to fill Afghan harems. [142] The Sikhs attacked Abdali and rescued 2,2000 Maratha girls. [143]

Sexual enslavement of Muslim women by non-Muslim men

Of our women, you did not capture many. Whereas of yours, we have as many as the drops of rain. Indeed, counting them is an endless task. Like a man counting the pigeon's feathers. Your emperors' daughters we herded with our hands, As a hunter herds a desert's deer to his own field. Ask Heraclius about our deeds in your Lands. And other kings of yours who were made to yield. For they can tell you about our troops deployed. And the countless Byzantine women we have enjoyed.

Ibn Hazm wrote this poem in response to Nicephorus boasting about his capture and sexual enjoyment of Muslim women, including female descendants of Muhammad. (In Al Munajjid, Qasidat Imbratur al-Rum Naqfur Fuqas fi-Hijja al-Islam wa-l-Rad Alaih, 46) [144] [145]

Muslim historical sources see the capture and concubinage of non-Muslim women as legitimate violence against women. The capture and enslavement of non-Muslim women is described in a matter-of-fact way in the Muslim sources. However, the same practice was criticised when Christians captured Muslim women. In the eleventh century, Christians began an aggressive policy towards Muslims in Andalus. Christian military leaders captured Muslim women and included eight-year-old Muslim virgins as part of their war booty. [146] When Granada passed from Muslim rule to Christian rule, thousands of Moorish women were enslaved and trafficked to Europe. [129] Muslim families tried to ransom their daughters, mothers and wives who had been captured and enslaved. [147] Muslim women were kept as concubines by Christian men. [148]

For both Christians and Muslims, the capture of women from the other religion was a show of power, while the capture and sexual use of their own women by men of the other religion was a cause of shame. Many women would convert to their master's religion. [101] In one case an Algerian woman, Fatima, was captured and enslaved. She converted to Christianity and refused the ransom which the Turks had sent for her release. Other enslaved Muslim women had more "harrowing" experiences in being converted to Christianity. [149]

In India, the Hindu elites and rulers would take revenge by taking Muslim women into their own harems. [140] Rana Kumbha captured Muslim women. Under Medini Rai in Malwa, the Rajputs took Muslim and Sayyid women as slave girls. [150] According to Manucci, the Marathas and Sikhs would also capture Muslim women because "the Mahomedans had interfered with Hindu women". [140]

Sexual enslavement of Muslim women by Muslim men

Islamic jurists had completely forbidden the enslavement of Muslims. However, Muslims have still at times enslaved Muslims from other ethnic groups. [151] The Umayyad caliph Muhammad II of Córdoba gave orders that the Berber houses in Cordoba be looted and that Berber women be captured and sold in Dar-al Banat. [152] In another case, the Andalusian ruler of Malaga, Ibn Hassun, unsuccessfully attempted to kill his female relatives before the Berber Almohads could capture them. He committed suicide but his daughters survived. These girls were then sold and some of them were taken as concubines by Almohad military commanders. [153]

In India attitudes towards women ignored their religious background if they belonged to enemies or rebels. Ferishta narrates that Baban captured female supporters of the rebellious noble Tughral. The atrocities of Alauddin Khilji on women have been documented in Tabaqat-i-Akbari by Nizamuddin Ahmad. Khusrau Khan humiliated Sultan Qutb ud din Mubarak by marrying his widow and allowing Hindus to take away his other female relatives. Abu Fazl records atrocities by Kamran on the female relatives of Humayun's supporters. Sher Shah was reported to have sold the wives of rebellious zamindars. [154]

Kurds in the Ottoman–Persian frontier would enslave both Shias and Yazidis. The Ottoman jurist Ebu Su'ud upheld the permissibility of wars against the Shia but he forbade the taking of Shias as captives. In particular, he also declared that sexual intercourse with Shia female captives was unlawful. However, he endorsed enslavement of Shias in a later fatwa. [155] In 1786–87 an Ottoman general enslaved the wives and children of Mamluk emirs. In the region of modern-day Chad, Muslim women and children from Bagirmi were enslaved by the ruler of Wadai around 1800. [156]


Marriage was not the only legal way to have sex in Muslim societies prior to the end of slavery in the 19th and 20th centuries. [157] Colonial governments and independent Muslim states restricted slave raids and the slave trade in response to pressure from Western liberals and nascent Muslim abolitionist movements. Eliminating slavery was an even more difficult task. Many Muslim governments refused to sign the international treaties against slavery which the League of Nations was co-ordinating since 1926. This refusal was also an issue at the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and at the 1956 Anti-Slavery Convention. [158] It was mostly because of the pressure from European colonial powers and economic changes that slavery was abolished. While the institution was eventually abolished, there was no internally well-developed Islamic narrative against slave-ownership. [159]

There is an academic consensus that the Islamic legal sanction for slavery prevented the emergence of any anti-slavery movement in the Muslim world. But William Clarence-Smith has argued that "Islamic abolitionism" was indigenous and rooted in Islamic tradition. However, Ehud R. Toledano states that abolitionist views were very rare in Muslim societies [160] and that there was no indigenous abolitionist narrative in the Muslim world. [161] The scant evidence that exists of "Islamic abolitionism" shows that such discourse was extremely limited. The first anti-slavery views came from Syed Ahmad Khan in the subcontinent. The next anti-slavery texts are to be found, from the 1920s onwards, in the works of non-ulema who were writing outside the realm of Islamic tradition and Shariah. Amal Ghazal has shown that the modernist ulema in Egypt such as Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida were strongly opposed by the majority of Islamic jurists. [161] While Abduh took a stand in favour of abolition, he noted that only a gradualist approach, which encouraged manumission, would work because slavery itself was sanctioned in Islamic law. [162]

Female slavery, being a condition necessary to the legality of this coveted indulgence [concubinage], will never be put down, with a willing or hearty co-operation by any Mussalman community.

William Muir, Life of Mahomet. [163]

In the late 19th century some Indian Muslim modernists had rejected the legitimacy of slavery in Islam. [164] This reformist take on slavery was a part of regenerated Indian Muslim thinking in the 1860s and 1870s. [165] Syed Ahmad Khan and Syed Ameer Ali were primarily concerned with refuting Western criticism of Islamic slavery. However, they did not directly refute the European criticism about female slavery and concubinage. [166] According to Dilawar Husain Ahmad, polygamy and concubinage were responsible for "Muslim decline". [167] Chiragh Ali denied the Quranic permission for concubinage. [168] However, he accepted William Muir's view that Muslims would not abandon female slavery willingly, but he asserted that Muslim jurists did not allow concubinage with the female slaves being imported from Africa, Central Asia and Georgia in that time. However, he did not specify who these Islamic jurists were. [169] Syed Ahmad Khan was opposed by the ulama on a number of issues, including his views on slavery. [167]

A group of ulama led by Waji al-Din Saharanpuri gave a fatwa in the 1830s that it was lawful to enslave even those men and women "who sought refuge" after battle. Sayyed Imdad Ali Akbarabadi led ulama in publishing a lot of material in defence of traditional kinds of slavery. Sayyid Muhammad Askari condemned the idea of abolishing slavery. [170] In the 19th century, some ulama in Cairo refused to allow slave girls, who had been freed under secular law, to marry unless they had obtained permission from their owner. [171] After 1882 the Egyptian ulama refused to prohibit slavery on the grounds that the Prophet had never forbidden it. In 1899 a scholar from Al-Azhar, Shaykh Muhammad Ahmad al-Bulayqi implicitly defended concubinage and refuted modernist arguments. [172] Most ulama in West Africa opposed abolition. [173] They ruled that concubinage was still allowed with women of slave descent. [174]

In 1911 one Qadi in Mombasa ruled that no government can free a slave without the owner's permission. [175] Spencer Trimingham observed that in coastal Arab areas masters continued to take concubines from slave families because the descendants of slaves are still considered to be enslaved under religious law even if they had been freed according to secular law. [176] The Ottoman ulama maintained the permissibility of slavery due to its Islamic legal sanction. They rejected demands by Young Ottomans for fatwas to ban slavery. [177]

A conservative Deobandi scholar published a book in Lahore in 1946 in which he denied that the Prophet had ever encouraged the abolition of slavery. [170] After 1947, the ulama in Pakistan called for the revival of slavery. The wish to enslave enemies and take concubines was noted in the Munir Commission Report. When Zia ul Haq came to power in 1977 and started applying sharia, some argued that the reward for freeing slaves meant that slavery should not be abolished "since to do so would be to deny future generations the opportunity to commit the virtuous deed of freeing slaves." [178]

A lot of ulama in Mauritania did not recognise the legitimacy of abolishing slavery. In 1981 a group of ulama argued that only owners could free their slaves and that the Mauritanian government was breaking a fundamental religious rule. In 1997 one Mauritanian scholar stated that abolition [176]

is contrary to the teachings of the fundamental text of Islamic law, the Koran... [and] amounts to the expropriation from Muslims of their gods, goods that were acquired legally. The state, if it is Islamic, does not have the right to seize my house, my wife or my slave.

The translator of Ibn Kathir's treatise on slaves, Umar ibn Sulayman Hafyan, felt obliged to explain why he published a slave treatise when slavery no longer exists. He states that just because slavery no longer exists does not mean that the laws about slavery have been abrogated. Moreover, slavery was only abolished half a century ago and could return in the future. His comments were a reflection of the predicament modern Muslims find themselves in. [179]

Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker noted in The Better Angels of Our Nature that despite the de jure abolitions of slavery by Islamic countries in the 20th century, [180] the majority of the countries where human trafficking still occurs are Muslim-majority, [181] while political scientists Valerie M. Hudson and Bradley Thayer have noted that Islam is the only major religious tradition that still allows polygyny. [182]

Modern manifestations

Middle East

Armenians underwent a genocide in the Ottoman Empire, which climaxed around 1915–16. It has been accepted as the first genocide of the 20th century by scholars of genocide and historians of the late Ottoman period. [183] The Ottomans had intended to destroy the Armenians. [184] Derderuan notes that after being separated from their men who were killed, the Armenian women and children were raped, forcibly converted to Islam and subjected to sexual slavery. Eliz Sanasarian also notes the involvement of Turkish women in perpetrating violence against Armenian women by selling them into sexual slavery. [185] Women who were deemed beautiful were sold as sex slaves to military officials. The remaining women would be beaten and raped. [186] The women were also often forced into prostitution or forcibly married with non-Armenians. [187]

Kidnapped Armenian girls were sorted on the basis of their age, beauty and marital status. The "first choice" was given to high-level Ottoman officials. One German reported the sale of girls in Ras al-Ayn and testified that the policemen carried out the trade in girls. [188] A few slave markets were set up in the vicinity of government buildings while Armenian captive sex slaves were kept in the Red Crescent Hospital in Trebizond. [189] The fact that before the genocide the Armenian leaders had appealed to outside powers, to press the Ottomans to make reforms for the Christians, was cited as a violation of their contract with the state. [190] Hence, one Palestinian shaykh ruled that Muslims could buy the Christian girls from the slave markets in the Levant. [191]

A large number of free Baloch women were kidnapped in the first half of the 20th century by slave traders and sold across the Persian Gulf. For example, Yuri bint Lapek was abducted after raiders killed her husband. [192] Another notable case was that of Marzuq who was kidnapped from Makran and sold in Sharjah. Marzuq was purchased by Rashid bin Ali who had sex with her. When she became pregnant he married her off to another Baluchi to avoid taking responsibility for the child. [193] Many slave owners arranged marriages for their female slaves, just so they would not have to take responsibility for impregnating their slaves. [194]

South Asia

The most widespread raptio in modern times was the kidnapping of tens of thousands of girls during the Partition of India. [195] These women were kept as captives or forced wives [196] and concubines. [197] For instance, one account from Kirpal Singh mentions how Pakistani soldiers in Kamoke took 50 Hindu girls after killing most of their men. [198] After being taken, Hindu and Sikh girls would be forcibly converted to Islam to be "worthy" of their captors' harems. [195] Pashtun tribesmen captured a large number of non-Muslim girls from Kashmir and sold them as slave-girls in West Punjab. [199] In Mirpur, many of the Hindu women captured by Pakistani soldiers committed jauhar, the old practice of Hindu women to escape Muslim soldiers. [200] Eyewitness and official accounts describe how Hindu girls in West Punjab and Mirpur would be distributed among the Muslim Military, National Guards, police and ruffians. [201] The non-Muslim girls from Punjab and Kashmir were sold in different parts of Pakistan and the Middle East and were forced into concubinage. [202] They were kept as slaves, forcibly converted to Islam as soon as they fell into the hands of their Muslim captors and were used for sexual pleasure. [203] During the fighting in Kashmir, the government put 600 Hindu women in the Kunja camp in West Punjab. The Pakistani army used all of them before returning them to India. [204] Gopalaswami Ayyangar accused the Pakistani government of holding 2000 Hindu women. [205]

An even larger number of Muslim women were taken by Sikh jathas. [206] Muslim girls in East Punjab would be distributed among the jathas, Indian military and police and many were then sold multiple times. [207] The Pakistani Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan complained that Muslim women in Jammu had been taken as sex-slaves by Sikhs. [208] The Maharaja of Patiala was reported to be holding a Muslim girl from a reputable family. [199] Meo men were expelled to Pakistan and their lands taken. [209] About the conflict with Meos, a captain from the Alwar State Army would later recall "We took away the women. That was the system." [210] The governments of India and Pakistan later agreed to restore Hindu and Sikh women to India and Muslim women to Pakistan. [206] Many women feared how they would be treated by their relatives if they returned, so they refused to return and chose to convert to the religion of their captors. [196] However, most of those women who returned were accepted by their fathers and husbands. [211] Some girls fell in love with their captors and consequently did not want to return. [201]

The Pakistani elite blamed the Hindus for the Bengali revolt in 1971 [212] so Pakistani army officers operated with an intent to drive out the Hindus. [213] Mullahs and a West Pakistani fatwa declared that Bengali Hindu women could be treated as war booty. [214] [215] Tikka Khan ordered that Bengalis be turned into "slaves and concubines." [216] Pakistani soldiers kept female captives as sex-slaves inside their cantonments and military camps. [217] [218] The Pakistani Army and their allies mostly raped Hindu women. [219] [220] The rape of Hindu captive girls was part of a policy to "dilute" their "religious community's bloodline." [221]

In Afghanistan the Taliban has committed atrocities against the Shia population. One of its atrocities has been to enslave Shia Hazara women and use them for concubinage. [222] The Taliban either took beautiful young women from other ethnic groups as concubines or forcibly married them. [223] In 1998 eyewitnesses in Mazar e Sharif reported the abduction of hundreds of Shia girls who were used by Taliban fighters as concubines. [224] The number of Hazara women taken as concubines by the Taliban was 400. [225]

North Africa

The evidence strongly demonstrates that the government of Sudan had revived slavery and made it as important as it was in the previous century. [226] The Sudanese army had a central role in the revival of slavery. [227] The slavery in Sudan was a result of the conflict between North Sudan's Arab Muslims and South Sudan's black Christians. [228] Christian prisoners of war in the Sudanese civil war were often enslaved. The female captives were used sexually. Their Muslim captors asserted that Islamic law allowed them. [222] Sudan's Arab government had recruited Arab troops. One component consisted of millitias and the other component of their forces, called the Popular Defense Forces, consisted of the Sudanese Army. This was a mainly jihadi force fighting the SPLA which they considered to be an "enemy of Islam and the Arabs." [229] Arab raiders destroyed black Christian villages, executed all their males and then took away the women and children as slaves. [228]

Regular soldiers also abducted women and children. The Sudanese government allowed soldiers to take booty to supplement their low salaries. The first slave raid on the Dinka took place in February 1986. [230] Two thousand women and children were taken. In a second raid in February 1987 one thousand women and children were taken. Once the raiders acquired enough booty they would distribute the captives between their selves and their families. Slave raids continued every year after 1985. [231] Dinka girls kept in Arab households were used as sex-slaves. [232] Some of them were sold to Arab men in Libya, It has been alleged that slave markets were set up in Sudan. Western visitors noted that five or even more slaves could be bought for one rifle. Near the peak of the civil war in 1989 female black slaves were sold for 90 dollars at the slave markets. Several years later, when there was an abundance of slaves, the price of an average female black slave had dropped to $15. Many Western organisations traveled to Sudan with funds collected for the purpose of purchasing these slaves to emancipate them. [228]


The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant attacked the city of Sinjar in 2014. ISIL kidnapped many of the women and raped them. [233] [234] The Guardian reported that ISIL's extremist agenda extended to women's bodies and that women living under their control were being captured and raped. [235] Fighters are told that they are free to have sex and rape non-Muslim captive women. [236] ISIL believes this is theological rape, sanctioned by Islamic scriptures against non-Muslim women but the same has been condemned by Islamic scholars from around the world. [237] [238] The UN estimated 1,500 Yazidi and Christian captives were forced into sexual slavery. [239]

While the group claimed religious sanction for their atrocities, ISIL's religious justifications were refuted by dozens of Islamic scholars. [240]

Modern Muslim attitudes

While classical Islamic law permitted slavery, the abolition movement starting in the late 18th century in England and later in other Western countries influenced slavery in Muslim lands both in doctrine and in practice. [241] According to Smith "the majority of the faithful eventually accepted abolition as religiously legitimate and an Islamic consensus against slavery became dominant", though this continued to be disputed by some literalists. [242] [243] However, contradictions persisted as is demonstrated by Ahmed Hassan, a twentieth-century translator of Sahih Muslim, who prefaced the translated chapter on marriage by claiming that Islam only allows sex within marriage. This was despite the fact that the same chapter included many references to Muslim men having sex with slave-girls. [244] Most ordinary Muslims ignore the existence of slavery and concubinage in Islamic history and texts. Most also ignore the millennia-old consensus permitting it and a few writers even claim that those Islamic jurists who allowed sexual relations outside marriage with female slaves were mistaken. [245] Kecia Ali notes that one reason for this defensive attitude may lie with the desire to argue against the common Western media portrayal of "Islam as uniquely oppressive toward women" and "Muslim men as lascivious and wanton toward sexually controlled females". [246]

Muhammad Asad also rejected the notion of any sexual relationship outside of marriage. [247]

Asifa Quraishi-Landes observes that most Muslims believe that sex is only permissible within marriage and they ignore the permission for keeping concubines in Islamic jurisprudence. [248] Furthermore, the majority of modern Muslims are not aware that Islamic jurists had made an analogy between the marriage contract and sale of concubines and many modern Muslims would be offended by the idea that a husband owns his wife's private parts under Islamic law. She notes that "Muslims around the world nevertheless speak of marriage in terms of reciprocal and complementary rights and duties, mutual consent, and with respect for women's agency" and "many point to Muslim scripture and classical literature to support these ideals of mutuality—and there is significant material to work with. But formalizing these attitudes in enforceable rules is much more difficult." [248] She personally concludes that she is "not convinced that sex with one's slave is approved by the Quran in the first place", claiming that reading the respective Quranic section has led her to "different conclusions than that held by the majority of classical Muslim jurists." [6] She agrees "with Kecia Ali that the slavery framework and its resulting doctrine are not dictated by scripture". [249]

In response to the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram's Quranic justification for kidnapping and enslaving people, [250] [251] and ISIL's religious justification for enslaving Yazidi women as spoils of war as claimed in their digital magazine Dabiq , [252] [253] [254] [255] [256] [257] the 126 Islamic scholars from around the Muslim world, in late September 2014, signed an open letter to the Islamic State's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, rejecting his group's interpretations of the Qur'an and hadith to justify its actions. [258] [259] [n 1] The letter accuses the group of instigating fitna – sedition – by instituting slavery under its rule in contravention of the anti-slavery consensus of the Islamic scholarly community. [260] It included the claim that no scholar disputes the abolition of slavery was one of the aims of Islam. However, Kecia Ali finds this claim well intentioned but ahistorical and simplistic. While there was definitely an "emancipatory ethic" (encouragement for freeing slaves) in Islamic jurisprudence, "there has not been a strong internally developed critique of past or present slaveholding practices". [261] [262] Nevertheless, she also states that the position of these views that ISIS holds are not unquestionable. She notes that slavery is illegal and no longer practiced in nearly all majority-Muslim countries and points out that other Islamic scholars like Professor Bernard Freamon oppose ISIS on the issue of slavery. [263] She compares the shift in attitudes within Islam towards slavery, to similar shifts within Christianity towards Biblically sanctioned slavery, which was once widespread in the late antique world in which the Quran arose. [244] [264] She further adds that "the Islamic State's attempt to create an imagined pristine community relies on a superficial and selective enactment of certain provisions from scripture and law and states that singling out slavery or rules governing marriage or punishments for a handful of crimes as constituting the enactment of 'authentic' Islamic law surely reflects a distorted notion of a Muslim polity". [265]

A modern scholar on Islamic legal history made an assertion that the Quran does not allow non-consensual sex between masters and female slaves. However, Kecia Ali does not find the idea of consent explicitly stated in the pre-modern Muslim legal tradition between the 8th and 10th century. [32] Nevertheless, Kecia Ali points out that slavery is, "in fact, marginal to the Qur'anic worldview" and notes that "it is possible to view slavery as inconsistent with basic Qur'anic precepts of justice and human equality before God". [262]

Mufti Taqi Usmani states that slavery and turning captives into concubines is still allowed by Islam. However, he states that due to the fact that most Muslim countries have signed international treaties which prohibit enslavement, the Muslim countries should not enslave prisoners of war as long as other nations also refrain from enslavement. [266] This position is opposed by other Islamic scholars like Abu Fadl who argue against slavery as being a permanent institution within Islam. [267] Similarly, Imam Zaid Shakir has argued against those who claim that Islam still allows sexual slavery as a deterrence against those who fight Muslims. He states that in the current context the taking of sex slaves by ISIS only has harmful effects on Muslims. He argues that slavery is not an integral part of Islam and fatwas on it can be changed. [268]

See also


  1. Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, a Nigerian extremist group, said in an interview "I shall capture people and make them slaves" when claiming responsibility for the 2014 Chibok kidnapping. ISIL claimed that the Yazidi are idol worshipers and their enslavement part of the old shariah practice of spoils of war.

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The rules and regulations concerning prisoners of war in Islam are covered in manuals of Islamic jurisprudence, based upon Islamic teachings, in both the Qur'an and hadith.

Slavery in the Ottoman Empire

Slavery in the Ottoman Empire was a legal and significant part of the Ottoman Empire's economy and traditional society. The main sources of slaves were wars and politically organized enslavement expeditions in North and East Africa, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. It has been reported that the selling price of slaves decreased after large military operations. In Constantinople, the administrative and political center of the Ottoman Empire, about a fifth of the 16th- and 17th-century population consisted of slaves. Customs statistics of these centuries suggest that Istanbul's additional slave imports from the Black Sea may have totaled around 2.5 million from 1453 to 1700.

Slavery in Iran History of Slavery in Iran

The History of slavery in Iran (Persia) during various ancient, medieval, and modern periods is sparsely catalogued.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has employed sexual violence against women and men in a terroristic manner. Sexual violence, as defined by The World Health Organization includes “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.” ISIL has used sexual violence to undermine a sense of security within communities, and to raise funds through the sale of captives into sexual slavery.

Slavery in 21st-century jihadism

Quasi-state-level jihadist groups, including Boko Haram and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, have captured and enslaved women and children, often for sexual slavery. In 2014 in particular, both groups organised mass kidnappings of large numbers of girls and younger women.

History of slavery in the Muslim world History of slavery in Islamic lands

The Muslim world initially inherited the institution of slavery from pre-Islamic Arabia; and the practice of keeping slaves subsequently developed in radically different ways, depending on social-political factors such as the Arab slave trade. Throughout Islamic history, slaves served in various social and economic roles, from powerful emirs to harshly treated manual laborers. Early on in Muslim history slaves provided plantation labor similar to that in the early-modern Americas, but this practice was abandoned after harsh treatment led to destructive slave revolts, the most notable being the Zanj Rebellion of 869–883. Slaves were widely employed in irrigation, mining, and animal husbandry, but most commonly as soldiers, guards, domestic workers, and concubines. Many rulers relied on military slaves and on slaves in administration - to such a degree that the slaves could sometimes seize power. Among black slaves, there were roughly two females to every one male. Two rough estimates by scholars of the numbers of just one group - black slaves held over twelve centuries in the Muslim world - are 11.5 million and 14 million, while other estimates indicate a number between 12 and 15 million African slaves prior to the 20th century.

Kecia Ali is an American scholar of Islam who focuses on the study of Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh) and Women in Early and Modern Islam. She is currently a Professor of Religion at Boston University. She previously held a position at Brandeis University's Feminist Sexual Ethics Project, and was a research associate and postdoctoral fellow at Brandeis University (2001–2003) and Harvard Divinity School.

Rape in Sharia

Rape in Sharia In considered a serious sexual crime in Islam. Accordingly, sexual violation is regarded as a violation of moral and divine law. Islam divided claims of sexual violation into 'divine rights' and 'interpersonal rights' : the former requiring divine punishment and the latter belonging to the more flexible human realm.

Cariye Term used for enslaved women concubines in the Middle East

Cariye or Cariyes was a title and term used for category of enslaved women concubines in the Islamic world of the Middle East. They are particularly known in history from the era of the Ottoman Empire, where they legally existed until the mid-19th century.

In classical Islamic law, a concubine was a slave-woman with whom her master engaged in sexual relations. Concubinage was widely accepted by Muslim scholars in pre-modern times. Most modern Muslims, both scholars and laypersons, believe that Islam no longer accepts concubinage and that sexual relations can only happen within marriage.

Abbasid harem Portion of the Abbasid household

The harem of the caliphs of the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258) in Baghdad was composed of his mother, wives, slave concubines, female relatives and slave servants, occupying a secluded portion of the Abbasid household. This institution played an important social function within the Abbasid court and was the part of court were the women of the court were confined and secluded. The senior woman in rank in the harem was the mother of the Caliph. The Abbasid harem acted as a role model for the harems of other Islamic dynasties, as it was during the Abbasid Caliphate that the harem system was fully enforced in the Muslim world.

Slavery in Egypt

Slavery in Egypt existed up until the early 20th century. It differed from the previous slavery in ancient Egypt, being managed in accordance with Islamic law from the conquest of the Caliphate in the 7th century until the practice stopped in the early 20th-century, having been gradually abolished in the late 19th century. During the Islamic history of Egypt, slavery were mainly focused on three categories: male slaves used for soldiers and bureaucrats, female slaves used for sexual slavery as concubines, and female slaves and eunuchs used for domestic service in harems and private households. At the end of the period, there were a growing agricultural slavery. The people enslaved in Egypt during Islamic times mostly came from Europe and Caucasus, or from the Sudan and Sub-Saharan Africa through the Trans-Saharan slave trade.


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