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Verses from Surah al-Mu’minun (5 -11)

7. That is, (legal) slave-girls (Ibn Jarir), who can only be taken in battle-fields, it being part of an institution discouraged by Islam, and now abolished by consensus of mankind (Au.).

Sayyid writes: “Islam came at a time when slavery was an institution that was prevalent all over the world. Enslavement of the prisoners of war was common and universally recognized. It was not possible for Islam, which was engaged in a death struggle against powers that stood in its way, to abolish the system unilaterally. Had it attempted that, Muslim prisoners would have remained slaves in enemy lands while the enemy prisoners would have had to be set free. Therefore, (as an immediate remedy) Islam dried all the sources of slavery – except those taken in war – hoping that one day or the other the institution would be abolished by international consensus. But in those days prisoners of war came as slaves … and Islam allowed sexual relationship between female slaves and their masters – and masters alone, to the exclusion of all – until the time they could win their freedom for which Islam had opened several ways.

“Perhaps, one of the factors in allowing such relationship was a need of the slave girls themselves. They could, in its absence, find other ways of gratification of natural instincts creating a moral chaos as it happens in our times, when, slave taking is disallowed (but sexual exploitation is ignored). But Islam cannot approve of unclean practices. So, the situation remained, until freedom was gained. And a woman gained her freedom by several means; e.g., if she gave birth to a child through her master, and he died. Or he freed her either as an act of piety, or in redemption of a wrong he committed, or if she entered into an agreement by which she paid a sum and freed herself, or if the master struck her on the face and she gained her freedom thereby.”


8. Most commentators have pointed out that while all the verses of this passage address both men and women, this particular verse addresses only men. That is because it is not allowable for women to have sex with their slaves. (The story of a free woman who had sex with her slave during the time of `Umar, is weak). Similarly, Alusi points out, a woman cannot allow her husband to have sex with one of her own slave-girls. If she so wishes, she might first sell the slave-girl to her husband after which alone she is lawful to him. It is reported that Ibn `Abbas allowed it, and hence the Shi`ah use the ruling, but it appears the attribution to Ibn `Abbas is incorrect.

Some contemporary writers have used another verse to prove that a Muslim cannot have sex with a slave girl he owns. The verse of their reference is (4: 25): “And he of you who cannot afford to marry free believing women may marry such believing women as whom your right hands posses.”

That is, if sex was allowed, there was no need to marry the slave girls. Mawdudi points out that the reference is to the slave-girls owned by others. This is stated further in the same verse as quoted above, but which, somehow, the modern writers fail to quote in full. And the missing part of the above verse (4: 25) is, “Marry them, then, with the leave of their guardians and give them their bridal due in fair manner.”

(This part makes it clear that the slave-girls in question belong to other than him: Au.).

Majid comments on legality of sex in Islam: “Regular exercise of sexual function on the part of men, like all other natural functions, within lawful bounds and in relation to women whose rights and dues they duly observe, is in Islam absolutely above reproach and wanton abstinence is viewed not as a sign of spirituality but as an aberration. In fact it is the primary purpose of marriage, biologically viewed. Compare and contrast with this the attitude of Christianity which holds that sexual intercourse, even in wedlock, is something of a handicap in the scheme of salvation, and implies that even the permitted sex behaviour is not altogether approved. See Mt. 22: 30, 1 Co. 7: 32-34. ‘Christianity,’ writes an English student of sociology, ‘being an advocate of eternal life, very logically preaches that sex is to be deplored, to be avoided, and, if possible, negatived. And the Puritan, who may be regarded as the extreme Christian, is notorious for his implacable loathing of sex.’”

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