Sex-slavery and Concubinage in the Islamic Empire

5 years ago

Excerpt from ‘SEX-SLAVERY & CONCUBINAGE’ in Chapter VII: M. A. Muqtedar Khan’s ‘Islamic Jihad: Legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism, and Slavery


Sex-slavery and Concubinage.

The female slaves worked as domestic maids and in the backyards, while the young and pretty ones also had to provide sex to their masters. Thus, they not only provided menial services and pleasure to masters, but also helped swell the Muslim populace through procreation. Sex-slavery is not a negligible institution in Islam; Allah has shown utmost seriousness about its practice by repeatedly reminding Muslims about it in the Quran. Prophet Muhammad himself had taken at least three slave-girls as his concubines, namely Juwairiya of Banu Mustaliq [Bukhari 3:46:717], Rayhana of Banu Qurayza, and Maria, sent by the Egyptian governor to pacify Muhammad after receiving his threatening letter. From his large share of captives, he also distributed slave- girls amongst his companions for keeping as concubines. In one instance, he gave Ali (his son-in-law and the fourth caliph), Uthman b. Affan (his son-in-law and the third caliph) and Omar ibn Khattab (his father-in-law and the second caliph) a slave-girl each. In explaining the institution of slavery on the basis of Quranic verses 23:5–6, brilliant Islamic scholar Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi (d. 1979) wrote:

Two categories of women have been excluded from the general command of guarding the private parts: (a) wives, (b) women who are legally in one’s possession, i.e. slave-girls. Thus the verse [Quran 23:5–6] clearly lays down the law that one is allowed to have sexual relation with one’s slave-girl as with one’s wife, the basis being possession and not marriage. If marriage had been the condition, the slave-girl also would have been included among the wives, and there was no need to mention them separately.

In agreement with the institution of sex-slavery in Islam and its above-mentioned purpose, the Hedayah states that the object of owning female slaves is ‘cohabitation and generation of children.’ Accordingly, physical fitness, regular menstruation and absence of disabilities became major considerations in purchasing a female slave. According to Hedayah, odor in the mouth and armpit of a female slave is a defect—obviously because, she is meant for kissing, caressing and sleeping with; but the same does not matter in case of male slaves. The Hedayah further stipulates that when a female slave is shared by two masters, she becomes property of the one, who establishes sexual relationship with her with the consent of the other. Fatwa-i-Alamgiri stipulates that if a purchased female slave has too large breasts, or too loose or wide vagina, the purchaser has the right to return her for a refund—obviously because, the owner cannot get maximum pleasure from sex with such a woman, as she is intended for. Similarly, the purchaser can return a slave on the basis of whether she is a virgin.

These criteria for chosing or judging female slaves come from the time of Prophet Muhammad himself. He was in the habit of choosing the prettiest of captive women for himself. In Khaybar, he chose Safiyah, wife of Kinana, for himself, hearing that she was of exquisite beauty and worthy of himself only. He, thereby, deprived another Jihadi, who had obtained her initially. In another example, after the Prophet had distributed the captured women of the Hawazin tribe among his Jihadi comrades, a deputation from the tribe came to him seeking the release of their women. He agreed to release them for six camels apiece. His disciple Uyayna bin Hisn refused to release a woman of some nobility, fallen in his share, expecting a higher price. To this, Zubayr Abu Surad, another companion of Muhammad, convinced Uyayna to let her go, because ‘her mouth was cold and her breast was flat; she could not concieve… and her milk was not rich.’ When Uyayna complained about this to Al-Aqra, another comrade of the Prophet, he persuaded Uyayna by saying: ‘By God, you did not take her as virgin in her prime nor even full-figured in her middle age!

Using the female slaves for sex—a norm and a widespread practice throughout the history of Islam—is clearly sanctioned in the Quran, the Sunnah and the Sharia. It has, therefore, received unabashed and overt approval of Islamic jurists, imams and scholars well into the modern age. Apart from the lure of booty, the greed for capturing the women for using as sex-slaves became a significant motivating factor for Muslim Jihadis to take part in holy wars since Muhammad’s time. According to Islamic laws, the slayer becomes the owner of the victim’s wife, children and properties. Sir William Muir thought that the sanction of the sex-slavery in Islam acted ‘as an inducement to fight in the hope of capturing the females who would then be lawful concubines as ‘that their right hand possessed.’’

From Muhammad’s own practice of slave-concubinage, it flourished into a widely practised institution in later periods as captives became numerous. Islam puts no limit on the number of sex-slaves Muslim men can keep; ‘there is absolutely no limit to the number of slave girls with whom a Mohammedan may cohabit, and it is the consecration of this illimitable indulgence which so popularizes the Mohammedan religion amongst the uncivilized nations and so popularizes slavery in the Muslim religion,’ writes Thomas Hughes. Accordingly, writes Lewis, ‘The slave women of every ethnic origin were acquired in great numbers to staff the harems of the Islamic world—as concubines or menials, the two functions not always clearly differentiated… Some were trained as performers—singers, dancers, and musicians.’ Ronald Segal also affirms this in saying: ‘Female slaves were required in considerable numbers for musicians, singers and dancers—many more were bought as domestic workers and many were in demand as concubines. The harems of rulers could be enormous. The harem of Abd al-Rahman III (d. 961) in Cordoba contained over 6,000 concubines; and the one in the Fatimid palace in Cairo had twice as many.’ Muslim rulers of India did not lag behind either; even enlightened Akbar had 5,000 women in his harem, while Jahangir and Shah Jahan had 5,000 to 6,000 each. In the eighteenth century, Sultan Moulay Ismail had 4,000 concubines in his harem.

Clearly, Muslim rulers—from Africa to Europe, from the Middle East to India—had accumulated sex-slaves in their thousands. In the heyday of Islam, court officials, nobles, high-ranking generals and provincial governors had dozens to hundreds and even thousands of slaves. Even the poor Muslim households or common shopkeepers used to have many slaves, as recorded by Muslim chroniclers. In general, the young female slaves in all households had to provide sex to their masters as demanded. It appears that capturing the women for keeping as concubines was a major focus of Islamic slave-hunting; because, for every male slave, two females were captured in Africa for transporting to the Muslim world. And for those transported by Europeans to the new world, there were two males for every female.

Niccolao Manucci, who lived in India during Emperor Aurangzeb’s reign, observed of the Muslim infatuation with women and sex that ‘all Mohammedans are fond of women, who are their principal relaxation and almost their only pleasure.’ Dutchman Francisco Pelsaert, who visited India during Emperor Jahagir’s reign (1605-27), wrote of the sexual indulgence of Muslim rulers and noblemen in the harems that:

‘…each night the Amir visits a particular wife or mahal (quarter), receives a very warm welcome from his wife and from the slaves [girls], who dressed especially for the occasion… If it is the hot weather, they… rub his body with pounded sandalwood and rosewater. Fans are kept going steadily. Some of the slaves chafe the master’s hand and feet, some sit and sing, or play music and dance, or provide other recreation, the wife sitting near him all the time. Then if one of the pretty slave girls takes his fancy, he calls her and enjoys her, his wife not daring to show any signs of displeasure, but dissembling, though she will take it out on the slave girl later on.’

However, the wife could never get rid of such beautiful slave-girls from the harem, because it was only in the power of the master to free her (Muslim women cannot own slaves).

Similarly Maria Ter Meetelen, a Dutch slave-girl of Moulay Ismail’s palace in Morocco, left an eyewitness account of the sultan’s sensual indulgence with his wives and concubines in the harem. She wrote:

‘‘I found myself in front of the sultan in his room, where he was lying with at least fifty women,’’ who ‘‘were painted on their faces and clothed like goddesses, extraordinarily beautiful, and each with her instrument.’’ Maria added: ‘‘…they played and sang, for it was a melody more lovely than anything I’d ever heard before.’’

In sum, slave-concubinage—the most degrading and dehumanizing form of prostitution—became a prominent hallmark of Islamic tradition well into modern age. The Ottoman sultans maintained a harem full of women until the empire was dissolved in 1921. In the princely state of Bahawalpur in Sindh, first to be conquered by Muslim invaders—the last Nawab, who ruled until 1954 before its incorporation into Pakistan, ‘had more than three hundred and ninety women’ in his harem. The Nawab had become impotent early and used all kinds of tools to satisfy his great multitude of concubines and wives. When Pakistani army took over his palace, ‘they found a whole collection of dildos. About six hundred, some made of clays, some bought in England and battery-operated. The army dug a pit and buried these dildos.’ The Arab kings till today maintain sizable harems of some kind.


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