Slavery in Islamic Law

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Islamic law or Sharia permits raiding, kidnapping and enslaving non-Muslims from Dar al Harb.[1] 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.[2] However, Islamic jurists held that non-Muslims who lived in areas which had formal pacts with Muslims were to be protected from enslavement.[3]

Non-Muslim residents of an Islamic state who fail to pay jizya or break their contract with the state can also be enslaved.[4][5]

Among other things (see Qur'an, Hadith and Scholars:Muhammad and Booty), Booty included slaves who were originally free non-Muslims who were captured in battle.[6][7] 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.[8] The Muslim military commander is allowed to choose between unconditionally releasing, ransoming or enslaving war captives.[9] If a person converted to Islam after being enslaved, their emancipation would be considered a pious act but not obligatory.[10] Islamic law does not allow enslavement of free-born Muslims.[11]


The consent of a slave girl for sex, for withdrawal before ejaculation (azl) or to marry her off to someone else was not considered necessary, historically.[12] Read more here.

Muhammad has intercourse with his slave girl Maria bint Sham'un

Muhammad had a child with a slave girl of his, known as Maria the Copt, who was a gift to him from the Governor of Alexandria. In a hadith from Sahih Muslim, a phrase translated as "slave girl" is, in the orignal Arabic, umm walad (أُمِّ وَلَدِ) (literally: "mother of the child") and is the title given to a slave concubine who bore her master a child.

Anas reported that a person was charged with fornication with the slavegirl of Allah's Messenger (ﷺ). Thereupon Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said to 'Ali: Go and strike his neck. 'Ali came to him and he found him in a well making his body cool. 'Ali said to him: Come out, and as he took hold of his hand and brought him out, he found that his sexual organ had been cut. Hadrat 'Ali refrained from striking his neck. He came to Allah's Apostle (ﷺ) and said: Allah's Messenger, he has not even the sexual organ with him.

The following hadith is graded Sahih by Dar-us-Salam:

It was narrated from Anas, that the Messenger of Allah had a female slave with whom he had intercourse, but 'Aishah and Hafsah would not leave him alone until he said that she was forbidden for him. Then Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, revealed:"O Prophet! Why do you forbid (for yourself) that which Allah has allowed to you.' until the end of the Verse.

Tafsir al-Jalalayn says of the verse referred to in this hadith:

O Prophet! Why do you prohibit what God has made lawful for you in terms of your Coptic handmaiden Māriya — when he lay with her in the house of Hafsa who had been away but who upon returning and finding out became upset by the fact that this had taken place in her own house and on her own bed — by saying ‘She is unlawful for me!’ seeking by making her unlawful for you to please your wives? And God is Forgiving Merciful having forgiven you this prohibition.

An alternate, or additional circumstance for this verse has also been narrated in multiple sahih hadiths (in yet another version Sahih Muslim 9:3497, Muhammad ate honey at Hafsa's house instead of Zainab's).

'Aishah said that the Messenger of Allah used to stay with Zainab bint Jahsh and drink honey at her house. Hafsah and I agreed that if the Prophet entered upon either of us, she would say: "I perceive the smell of Maghafir (a nasty-smelling gum) on you; have you eaten Maghafir?" He came in to one of them, and she said that to him. He said: "No, rather I drank honey at the house of Zainab bint Jahsh, but I will never do it again." Then the following was revealed: 'O Prophet! Why do you forbid (for yourself) that which Allah has allowed to you.' 'If you two turn in repentance to Allah, (it will be better for you)' about 'Aishah and Hafsah, 'And (remember) when the Prophet disclosed a matter in confidence to one of his wives' refers to him saying: "No, rather I drank honey."

"Honey" was also a sexual euphemism and an explicit example of its usage in this sense is found in a hadith in Abu Dawud:

Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin:The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was asked about a man who divorced his wife three times, and she married another who entered upon her, but divorced her before having intercourse with her, whether she was lawful for the former husband. She said: The Prophet (ﷺ) replied: She is not lawful for the first (husband) until she tastes the honey of the other husband and he tastes her honey.

Sean Anthony and Catherine Bronson have noted that "Modern scholars have been inclined to regard the more scandalous story involving the slave girl as the earlier one given that it appears in the earliest sources, and despite the fact that the honey story has a superior pedigree in the eyes of the ḥadīth scholars. These modern scholars reason that, if the story of Ḥafṣah’s jealousy after seeing the Prophet with his slave-girl predates the honey story, then exegetes likely contrived the honey narrative at a later date in order to provide an alternative to the unflattering portrayal of the Prophet and his wives in the former story. Furthermore, while the honey story may provide a somewhat plausible explanation for Q 66:1–2, its explanatory force greatly diminishes when applied to the remainder of the pericope. The gravity of Q 66:5–6, which threatens divorce as a penalty for plotting against the Prophet, makes a poor match for the trifles of the honey story."[13]

Ali rapes an underage ward of the state

Another relevant hadith is one which concerns an incident which led to the famous event of Ghadir Khumm, which is much disputed between Sunnis and Shias. Both Sunni and Shia sources agree that Muhammad received complaints about 'Ali taking a slave-girl from the Khums (the fifth of all booty allotted for the state[14]) to which those complaining felt that no private party was entitled.

The Arabic of the Sunni hadith below mentions 'Ali taking a Ghusl bath (which is mandatory after sexual contact or ejaculation), implying sexual activity. Later, at a place called Ghadir Khumm, Muhammad tried to pacify those who were upset with 'Ali by declaring Ali to be his Mawla. Mawla is an honorific meaning something between "follower", "ally", and "leader", which the Shia interpret to mean "successor of Muhammad". Thus, in some sense, Ali's having raped an underage captive becomes the immediate cause of what the Shi'a insist was the the announcement of Ali's succession. The emergent Sunni polemic here casts some doubt on the historical reliability of the hadith, yet, as a hadith included in Sahih Bukhari, it more than meets the Sunni requirements for authenticity.

Narrated Buraida:The Prophet (ﷺ) sent `Ali to Khalid to bring the Khumus (of the booty) and I hated `Ali, and `Ali had taken a bath (after a sexual act with a slave-girl from the Khumus). I said to Khalid, "Don't you see this (i.e. `Ali)?" When we reached the Prophet (ﷺ) I mentioned that to him. He said, "O Buraida! Do you hate `Ali?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Do you hate him, for he deserves more than that from the Khumus."

Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (d. 1449), one of the most famous Hadith scholars of all time, points out in his seminal Fath al-Bari (the still-standard commentary on Sahih Bukhari) what several scholars before him noted: that in accounts of this event, Ali does not observe the required iddah (waiting) period to determine whether or not the girl was pregnant. Al-Asqalani quotes al-Khattabi who summarizes the possibilities: "she was either a virgin [strongly implying a young age in a culture where women married young], had not yet reached maturity, or Ali's ijtihad (that is, independent/innovative reasoning in Islamic jurisprudence) led him to not adhere to the waiting period in her case."[15]


  1. William Gervase Clarence-Smith, Islam and the Abolition of Slavery, Oxford University Press, p. 27–28, ISBN 978-0-19-522151-0, 2006, 
  2. William Gervase Clarence-Smith, Islam and the Abolition of Slavery, Oxford University Press, p. 28, ISBN 978-0-19-522151-0, 2006, 
  3. William Gervase Clarence-Smith, Islam and the Abolition of Slavery, Oxford University Press, p. 27-28, ISBN 978-0-19-522151-0, 2006, 
  4. Y. Erdem (20 November 1996), Slavery in the Ottoman Empire and its Demise 1800-1909, Palgrave Macmillan UK, p. 26, ISBN 978-0-230-37297-9, 
  5. Jarbel Rodriguez (2015), Muslim and Christian Contact in the Middle Ages: A Reader, University of Toronto Press, p. 2, ISBN 978-1-4426-0066-9, 
  6. Salma Saad, The legal and social status of women in the Hadith literature (PDF), p. 242, 1990, 
  7. Nesrine Badawi (1 October 2019), Islamic Jurisprudence on the Regulation of Armed Conflict: Text and Context, BRILL, p. 17, ISBN 978-90-04-41062-6, 
  8. William Gervase Clarence-Smith, Islam and the Abolition of Slavery, Oxford University Press, p. 27, ISBN 978-0-19-522151-0, 2006, 
  9. Malik Mufti (1 October 2019), The Art of Jihad: Realism in Islamic Political Thought, SUNY Press, p. 5, ISBN 978-1-4384-7638-4, 
  10. William Gervase Clarence-Smith, Islam and the Abolition of Slavery, Oxford University Press, p. 22, ISBN 978-0-19-522151-0, 2006, 
  11. Robert Gleave (14 April 2015), Violence in Islamic Thought from the Qur'an to the Mongols, Edinburgh University Press, p. 142, ISBN 978-0-7486-9424-2 
  12. Ali, Kecia, "Concubinage and Consent", Cambridge University Press, January 20, 2017, 
  13. Sean Anthony and Catherine Bronson (2016) "Did Ḥafṣah edit the Qurʾān? A response with notes on the codices of the Prophet's wives" Journal of the Interational Quranic Studies Association 1(2016) pp.93-125 (p.102)
  14. Quran 8:41
  15. لِاحْتِمَالِ أَنْ تَكُونَ عَذْرَاءَ أَوْ دُونَ الْبُلُوغِ أَوْ أَدَّاهُ اجْتِهَادُهُ أَنْ لَا اسْتِبْرَاءَ فِيهَا

    Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, 9, Dar Taybah, p. 487,