Islam, sex and slave-girls

I recently posted an excerpt from one of Stanley Lane Poole’s books to my Facebook page. Poole had praised Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in it, narrating his exemplary exercise of forgiveness during the conquest of Mecca. Predictably, some people did not like this praise. They started discrediting Mr. Poole and, one after another, started enlisting the “bad attributes” of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Islam.

My friend, Ali Rizvi, started off by asserting that Islam was evil because it allowed men to rape slaves. Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 6.44.53 PM






After a few hours of discussion, Ali dropped the rape charge, but contended that:

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I do not blame Ali or critics like him for inventing these myths. Many in the Muslim world have – and continue to – spread similar myths for ages. I do blame modern-day critics, however, for regurgitating these myths without any scholarship of the Quran.

There are many verses in the Quran that state that Muslims were supposed to marry their slave-girls or prisoners of war before indulging in sexual relations with them. This was one way of emancipating slaves and integrating prisoners of war in society. For example, the Quran states:

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

And again:

2) “And whoso of you cannot afford to marry free, believing women, let him marry what your right hands possess, namely, your believing handmaids. And Allah knows your faith best; you are all one from another; so marry them with the leave of their masters and give them their dowries according to what is fair, they being chaste, not committing fornication, nor taking secret paramours.” (4:26)

At the time of the advent of Islam, slavery was the norm in Arabia. Anyone who could afford to buy a slave, kept one. Unfortunately, these slaves – especially girls – had no dignified status in society. They were bought and sold like property. They were forced, overworked and abused.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was deeply troubled by this. He wanted to emancipate these slaves, but not by letting them leave, have to fend for themselves homeless, but by integrating them into society and making them useful contributors to the growing Muslim community. Towards this end, he forbade buying of slaves, encouraged freeing the male slaves who were able to work, and encouraged marrying the female ones.  Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) commanded:

“He who has a slave-girl and he educates and treats her nicely and then manumits and marries her, will get a double reward.”

As evident again, marriage was the stated condition for indulging in sexual relations with a slave-girl. Islam prohibits fornication and adultery and speaks of it as a punishable social ill. This is also very clear by the use of the words “being chaste” in the verse quoted above. If sexual relations were allowed before marriage, how would these women be “chaste?” The same verse also prohibits having sexual affairs with slave-girls and condemns fornication.

Predictably again, Ali insisted I was wrong.

Here is another verse of the Quran that emphasizes that slave-girls had to be married, and were no exception to the recognized and permissible way of having sexual relations.

3) “And do not marry polytheistic women until they believe. And a believing slave woman is better than a polytheist, even though she might please you. And do not marry polytheistic men [to your women] until they believe. And a believing slave is better than a polytheist, even though he might please you.” (2:222)


4) “O ye who believe! it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will; nor should you detain them wrongfully that you may take away part of that which you have given them, except that they be guilty of a flagrant evil; and consort with them in kindness; and if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing wherein Allah has placed much good.” (4:19) 

This verse made it clear that women were not inheritable equity. Islam completely forbade this primitive custom. Women were, as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) described elsewhere “tender and fragile,” and needed to be consorted to with great love, care and affection. There consent was made equally important in all matters. They were to be treated in “the best manner,” he said. This was unprecedented in contemporary Arabia. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) gave rights to all segments of society, uplifting the ones that were most disadvantaged. He said:

 “An orphan girl should be consulted with regard to marriage, If she refuses then she is not to be forced.”

No Arab noble would have ever conceived of marrying a slave or an orphan. But with Islam, the Arabs realized that all men are created equal. Prophet Muhammad inspired a new way of thinking in Arab society and redefined the relationship between master and servant, so much so that he himself also married a former slave. Prophet Muhammad said:

“Let none of you call out to his slave saying, ‘My slave boy!’ or ‘My slave girl!’ nor let a slave call out to his master saying, ‘My Lord!’ but let the master call out to the slave saying, ‘My young man!’ or ‘My young woman!’ and let the slave call out to the master as ‘My chief!’ for, verily, ye are all slaves, and your Lord is Allah, the Almighty.”

It is also note-worthy here that Islam’s early history was full of wars forced on the Muslims. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not allow Muslims to have sexual relations, let alone rape or torture the women who were taken prisoners during these battles. He preached compassion and peace. He allowed the Muslims to marry those female captives who were so willing, and integrate them and make them part of the fabric of society. He led by his own example, once again, by marrying two such women captives and elevating them to the status of “the mothers of the faithful” – a title of great honor and esteem for Muslims world over.

If  slaves were integrated into American society the same way after the Emancipation Proclamation as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught, we would have seen free intermarriages, and equal rights and a dignified status for the slaves in society. Had this have happened, we would not have needed the civil rights movement.

Coming back to Ali’s assertion, there is ample evidence that Islam makes freedom of conscience and mutual consent the pre-requisites for marriage and marriage, in turn, the pre-requisite for any and all sexual relations, including those with slave-girls and captives in seventh century Arabia.