Did Muslim Warriors Rape Female Captives?
Anti-Islamists often raise -as a point of contention- that there are several ahadith [traditions from the life of the Prophet Muhammad ~sallill’ahu ‘aleyhi wa salaam~] and Qu’ran verses which seem to allow not only for men to take female captives in war, but also to have sexual relations with them, even against their will [i.e. rape]. They often point to Qu’ran verses such as the following:
“And all married women (are forbidden unto you -Muslims) save those whom your right hands possess.” [Holy Qu’ran 4:24]
The words that are translated into English in that verse as “those whom your right hands possess” is the Arabic phrase ma malakat aymanukum and in the classical Arabic it is a polite term for slaves captured in war. Thus the above verse is forbidding men to have an intimate relationship with married women, unless those women are war captives. The hot button issue here is that men are seemingly given the permission to have sex with slave-women, whether married or unmarried. It is easy to take this verse out of it’s context and say, “See! Islam doesn’t respect womens rights and allows men to take them as slaves and force themselves on them! Boo Islam!”
THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT
A call to grasping the historical context of this Qu’ran verse is in order. We must understand that the first recipients of the Message of Islam, [which is the world as it was known in the 7th century] had a custom of taking women captives of war, and thus it should be noted that Islam did not invent this practice. This custom of having sexual relations with slave-girls was practiced by virtually every culture at the time. The wars in the Pre-Islamic Arabian Penninsula were on a tribal basis, and when the men were killed their women were taken and undoubtedly were treated quite inhumanely.
However, the Prophet Muhammad ~sallill’ahu ‘aleyhi wa salaam~ was sent to abolish (or start the process of abolishing) all of that which was inhumane and degrading to mankind. He [saas] has said in an authentic tradition that “I have been sent to make perfect the moral character [of man].” Having the task of eliminating this [and hundreds of other] evils, the Prophet [saas] could have taken one of two paths:
1-To abolish it at once.
2-To do the same gradually with wisdom.
Allah [swt] and His Messenger [saas] preferred the second path because if such a deeply ingrained practice had been abolished at once then thousands of women would have been left to provide for themselves, and the likelihood of Arab men taking “damaged goods” [as they are called] as their wives was unlikely. The first duty of the Prophet [saas], then was to establish a more humane and compassionate view of women in his society, and gradually teach people to respect and have mercy on the “lower class” as they are called, to forgive people for that which they may have had inflicted on them or for sins they may have committed in their past, etc. Once the hearts of his followers had reached this level of sublime morality, then steps were taken via Qu’ranic revelations and Prophetic instructions to discourage the practice of concubinage so much so that within 100 years of the death of the Prophet [saas], it had been wiped out of the Arab penninsula as a whole.
We have to consider what the condition of such women would have been had the institution of slavery not been in place. This was a time before homeless shelters, before womens rights movements, etc. Imagine a woman whose male family members had all been killed on the battlefield in a dessimated and war-torn city. After the intruding armies had left, what was she to do? How would she support herself? Islam first dealt with this problem by putting them under the guardianship of Muslim men and mandated that they should treat them kindly, provide them board and lodge and give them respect. Imagine what could have been their fate in that particular environment had things not been thus!
THE TREATMENT OF CAPTIVES
As stated, Islam laid down rules which would eventually lead to eradicating the practice. We cannot deny that Muslims were allowed to have intercourse with slave women taken as captives of just and legitimate wars. In so doing, however, the woman would automatically become free if she became pregnant. Furthermore, her child would also become free.
The intimate physical relation, if any, had to be consensual. For, forcing somebody into such a situation [i.e. rape] is against the very spirit of Islam. We see that the Prophet Muhammad [saas] ordered the Muslims to treat their war-captives fairly and to treat them how they themselves would wish to be treated:
Narrated Abu Dharr: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Feed those of your slaves who please you from what you eat and clothe them with what you clothe yourselves, but sell those who do not please you and do not punish Allah’s creatures.” (Sunan Abu Dawud, Hadith 5161. Albani classified it as Sahih)
The Hadith clearly tells us that if a slave woman does not please her master i.e. refuse to work for him or allow him to lay down with her, the master is supposed to either bare patiently with her, or sell her. If he will not; he will indulge in something wrong i.e. he may force her into such an action and the Hadith terms such an act as ‘punishing Allah’s creatures.’
IS IT LAWFUL TO RAPE A SLAVE-GIRL ACCORDING TO HADITH?
The following Hadith even more explicitly states that it is unlawful to force a slave woman into physical relations:
Narrated Salamah ibn al-Muhabbaq: The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) made a decision about a man who had intercourse with his wife’s slave-girl as follows: If he forced her, she is free, and he shall give her mistress a slave-girl similar to her; if she asked him to have intercourse voluntarily, she will belong to him, and he shall give her mistress a slave-girl similar to her. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Hadith 4460. Ibn Taymiyya authenticated it in his Majmu’a al-Fatawa 4/360 saying ‘Some have doubted this Hadith for its chain but it is a Hasan Hadith.’)
This is the most categorical Hadith maintaining that forced relationship is forbidden and it makes her free. Also:
The Prophet (pbuh) was narrated to have said; “He who slaps his slave or beats him, the expiation for it is that he should set him free.” (Sahih Muslim, Hadith 3130)
When slapping the slave is such a heinous crime in the House of Islam, how can one think that Islam would allow the raping of slave women?
There is also a hadith in Sunan Abu Dawud which mentions that a man forced his slave-girl into fornication [with other men], whereupon Allah [swt] sent down a special revelation of the Qu’ran which stated: “But force not your maids to fornication when they desire chastity, in order that ye may make a gain in the goods of this life. But if anyone compels them [upon him is wrath], yet, after such compulsion, is Allah, Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful (to them).” [Q 24:33].
THE VIEW OF THE COMPANIONS OF THE PROPHET:
Also, based on these teachings, the companions of Muhammad [saas], particularly his closest companions, considered the practice “makruh” -an Islamic ruling that means “hated by Allah” -and this is derived from the fact that the 2nd successor to Muhammad, the blessed Umar ibn al Khattab [raa], ordered the Muslims to send back female captives of war saying, “I would not like the taking of concubines to become a custom among the Arabs.” [Related in Al Khilafa wal Khulafa’ Rashidun p.160].
This authenticated statement of ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab [raa] -who Muslims revere and who the Prophet Muhammad [saas] said of him “If there were to be any Prophet after me, it would be ‘Umar” in fact, teaches us two things. First it shows that by the time of ‘Umars [raa] rule, which began within three years of the death of the Prophet [saas], it was already a custom which was non-existent in Arabia due to the stringent regulations and emphatic teachings of the Prophet Muhammad [saas]. -Otherwise why was ‘Umar saying that he would not like this to become a practice? It had already been a practice, after all! How could it become a practice again, except that before ‘Umars Caliphate, the practice had been erradicated?
The second thing we learn from this statement of ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab [raa], is that the immediate followers of the Prophet Muhammad [saas], understood the practice to be something which was heavily frowned upon in the Islamic religion, to such an extent that the Caliph has the right to forbid it outright.
SLAVE-RAPE ACCORDING TO ISLAMIC LAW:
Due to these Prophetic Hadiths and Qu’ran verses, as well as the understanding of the early Muslims, the early schools of Islamic Law actually stipulated punishments for men who raped female slaves. Imam Malik [raa] said, “In our view the man who rapes a woman, regardless of whether she is a virgin or not, if she is a free woman he must pay a “dowry” like that of her peers, and if she is a slave he must pay whatever has been detracted from her value. The punishment is to be carried out on the rapist and there is no punishment for the woman who has been raped, whatever the case.” (Imam Maalik, Al-Muwatta’, Volume 2, page 734) -Now, Imam Malik was an early Muslim scholar who learned from the students of the Sahabah [companions of the Prophet Muhammad], yet his fatwa clearly states that a restitution must be paid to a slave girl who is raped.
Imam Shafi’i [raa], another early scholar of Islamic law, wrote: “If a man acquires by force a slave-girl, then has sexual intercourse with her after he acquires her by force, and if he is not excused by ignorance, then the slave-girl will be taken from him, he is required to pay the fine, and he will receive the punishment for illegal sexual intercourse [which is public lashing].” (Imam Al Shaafi’i, Kitaabul Umm, Volume 3, page 253) -Imam Shafi’is [raa] view was much more strict than that of Imam Malik [raa], as he not only said that the slave girl must be paid a restitution, but she is removed from his guardianship, and the offender is to be publically lashed!
In conclusion the following key points are to be remembered: First, this is a practice Islam did not establish, but rather initially highly regulated, and later eradicated. Both the Qu’ran and Hadith explicitly as well as implicitly forbid the raping of female captives, not to mention the concept of “rape” is against clearly established principals of the Islamic religion. The companions of the Prophet Muhammad [saas] outlawed the practice of intimate relations with slave girls either toward the end of the life of the Prophet, or very soon after his death because of his teachings on the subject. ‘Umar ibn Khattab [raa], who the Prophet [saas] said of him “Were there to be a Prophet after me it would be ‘Umar” considered the practice “detestable” and forbade the Arabs from partaking in it. And, finally, the early scholars of Islamic law considered raping female slaves a crime that carried with it certain corporal punishments. From these facts and others we could mention but have refrained from due to lack of time and will, we see that the Prophet Muhammad [saas], far from being the reason for concubinage in the world, was in fact its main opponent and destroyer, for he is truly the mercy to all humankind.
I hope that this article has been of some benefit, and if there is any good in this then this from Allah [swt]. Only the mistakes have been mine.
Taken, with modification, from here.