Quran Facts | 33:51 – TAKE SLAVES AS BOOTY OF WAR
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33:51 – TAKE SLAVES AS BOOTY OF WAR

Introduction

The allegations that Islamic teachings advocate slavery or don’t outright outlaw slavery can be broken down into the following points:

1. It is alleged that slavery was slow to be removed from the Islamic civilization and was not outright outlawed.
2. It is alleged that the Quran allows Muslims to keep slaves.
3. It is alleged that the Quran allows Muslims to rape sex-slaves.

 

Far removed from the criticism that Islam encouraged slavery, the Islamic movement under the Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) has a great historical legacy of a social revolution where freeing slaves was applauded as an act of righteousness and many former slaves were promoted to prestigious positions based on their talent and merit.

O Prophet, We have made lawful to thee thy wives whom thou hast paid their dowries, and those whom thy right hand possesses from among those whom Allah has given thee as gains of war... (33:51)

 

Allegation

It is alleged that this verse allows women to be taken in war as slaves for the purpose of sexual pleasure, not for freeing them, thus it is not encouraging an end to slavery, but propagating it.

 

Context

This verse has to be read along with verse 33:29 (see below). In these verses the wives of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) were offered a choice between the companionship of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) which may require hardship and sacrifice and its rewards in the after-life versus the attractions and comforts of the present life. The verses implore the wives to prefer the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s (on whom be peace) company and thus the ideal of the struggle for spiritual and moral excellence in this life for a reward in the hereafter. This fundamentally rests against the notion the Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) and his companions acquired wives or women ‘possessed by the right hand’ for the purpose of sexual pleasure.

 

O Prophet! say to thy wives, ‘If you desire the life of this world and its adornment, come then, I will provide for you and send you away in a handsome manner - (33:29)

 

As for sexual relations permitted with the women possessed by the ‘right-hand’, the fourth Caliph of The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has explained this nuance in light of the circumstances of war and conservative/moral ideals. The circumstances in Arabia, at the time, were fluid with conflict. There was an initiative to quash the Islamic movement by its Meccan enemies especially after it had found a platform in Medina. Matters were further complicated by the warring super-powers of Rome-Byzantine and Persia-Sassanid at the footsteps of Arabia. During this time there was no established prison-system or any other infrastructure to deal with the population of the defeated army which included female captives. As such to deal with this dynamic, a process and system was required to guard the well-being of these women as well as the overall social and moral welfare of society.

 

Hence, such women who may have become widowed through war were assigned to the sanctity of a Muslim household which would bear responsibility for them. The absence of such an installment could mean that such women would then be left to fend for themselves in the community where they may be sexually preyed upon, fall into prostitution for survival or gravitate towards rebellion. Hence, assigning the women to a household was a quick and effective system of addressing key social issues in the aftermath of war and the fluid circumstance. Also, as sympathies and relations would be nourished by people under the same household this would also begin the process of reconciliation between former enemies on the battlefield.

 

Further, contrary to popular notions, Islam and Quran by no means permit or encourage concubines. There are several verses in the Quran exposing the injunction that female prisoners of war should be brought into wedlock as and when possible for the purpose of morality and sanctity in society. Below are several such verses:

 

1) And marry widows from among you and your male-slaves and female-slaves who are fit for marriage - (24:33)

 

2) And those of you who cannot afford to marry free believing women, let them marry what your right hands possess, namely your believing handmaids – so marry them with the leave of their masters and give them their dowries according to what is fair - (4:26)

 

3) And if you fear that you will not be fair in dealing with the orphans, then marry of women as may be agreeable to you, two or three or four; and if you fear you will not deal justly, then marry only one or (if you cannot afford to marry even one free wife then marry) what your right hands possess - (4:4)

 

The verse may also be rendered as “then marry of women as may be agreeable to you two or three or four or what your right hands possess;” the words “and if you fear you will not deal justly, then marry only one,” forming a parenthetical clause. According to this rendering also slave-girls are to be married before they are treated as wives.

 

4) And marry not idolatrous women until they believe; even a believing bondwoman is better than an idolatrous woman, although she may highly please you (2:222); the sense being that a believing slave wife should be preferring to a non-believing free wife.


Fundamental Teachings of Islam

With regards to allegations of encouraging slavery, one has to consider the testimony of several historian who have lauded the Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) and the Islamic movement as a social revolution. Historian Bernard Lewis writes in his book The Islamic Revolution, 

Historians generally agree that Islamic social reforms in areas such as social welfare, family structure, slavery, and the rights of women and children improved on the status quo of Arab society.

Lewis also states that one of the reasons for the rapid success of early Islam was its rejection of traditional privileges and hierarchies for an emphasis on talent and merit. The Islamic movement had begun the emancipation of slaves. Quranic verses pronounced the manumission of slaves as a deed of righteousness and expiation of sins. By the time of the Islamic Medieval period, the vast majority of labor was free and paid. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) and the Islamic revolution not only initiated the process to end slavery but empowered former slaves causing a shift in social attitudes from slaves being viewed as less able than free people to being able to achieve great human accomplishment based on talent and merit. This social revolution propelled former slaves to prominent status, such as Salman the Persian, who became governor of Al-Madain (modern-day Iraq), and Suhaib the Roman, who became a religious leader.

 

In the contemporary American emancipation movement, Thomas Miller in his book Americas Alternative Religions, says that The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam was one of the catalysts of the American Civil Rights movement– also attested to by Howard University historian and lecturer Dr. Fatimah Fanusie. Ahmadi-Muslims were the first Islamic missionaries to arrive in the U.S., producing Islamic literature in English that propagated racial equality and justice.

 

Further Islam does not permit sex-slavery. The example of the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) provides sufficient evidence that he never led a lifestyle based sexual pleasures by demeaning the status of women. In fact, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) and the Islamic movement fought for and promoted the rights and status of women in society.

 

An important point in this discussion is the portrait of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) up to the age of 25 when he married his first wife Khadijah who was also his employer. In the prime of his youth he had married a lady fifteen years his senior and lived with her a most happy life till he was an old man of fifty and she about sixty-five. After her death he married Saudah, another lady of an advanced age. He married all his other wives between 2 A.H. and 7 A.H., a period when he was constantly engaged in martial activity while his life was perpetually in danger and the fate of Islam itself hung in the balance. After this he lived for about three years as virtual ruler of the whole of Arabia when all the comforts and amenities of life were at his disposal and yet he entered into no further marriage. Does not this fact alone establish the honesty and sincerity of the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s (on whom be peace) motives in marrying his wives?

 

He married Zainab, the divorced wife of Zaid in 5 A.H. in order to also assuage her wounded feelings as the respected lady had felt deeply humiliated at being divorced by Zaid. He married Mariah in 7 A.H. and thus by raising a freed slave girl to the highly eminent spiritual status of the “Mother of the Faithful” he gave a death blow to slavery. Such were the motives of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) in marrying widows and divorced women, by no means noted for their youth or beauty. One can hardly infer a motive of carnal desire here.

 

Per the Quran, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) was permitted to marry, in addition to his already wives, women who were taken prisoner in wars against Islam, women who were his relatives and women who offered themselves for marriage to him. These verses need to be read along with 33:29 (see below) that shows the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s (on whom be peace) marriages were motivated by considerations other than sensuous gratification. Among these were women who had lost their husbands to war and were at an immense loss and insecurity. And history shows that many of the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s (on whom be peace) marriages had political and tribal reconciliation as purpose.

O Prophet! say to thy wives, ‘If you desire the life of this world and its adornment, come then, I will provide for you and send you away in a handsome manner. (33:29)

It is in view of these considerations that he married most of his wives. He married Hafsah whose husband was killed in the Battle of Badr, Zainab bint Khuzaimah whose husband was killed in the Battle of Uhad, Umm Salamah whose husband died in 4 A.H., and Umm Habibah, daughter of Abu Sufyan, who became a widow in 5 or 6 A.H. (in exile in Abyssinia). He married Juwairiyah and Safiyyah, both widows, in 5 A.H. and 7 A.H. respectively, seeking a union with and pacification of their tribes. It is worthy of note that a hundred families of the Bani Mustaliq were liberated by Muslims when the Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) married Juwairiyah.