Should We Examine Islamic History and Law According to Modern Morality?

Answered by Mawlana Ilyas Patel


How is it that Islam is applicable to all times, yet we cannot judge Islamic history based on our modern morals?

In response to the issue of the Prophet marrying Aisha at 9 years old and the right of Muslim soldiers to have intercourse with slave women, I have been told that our morals now cannot be applied to those of earlier Muslims.

Yet simultaneously, I am meant to believe that those same rulings are applicable today. How can those two contradictory ideas coexist?

I read the answer to both questions and was not satisfied in the least. The fact that other civilizations also accepted and still accept pedophilia does not make the act agreeable. Why was that used as an argument?

Additionally, no matter how you try to explain it, sex with slave women cannot be justified. No woman would agree to such a thing.


In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate

I pray you are in good faith and health. Thank you for your question.

We can judge and compare Islamic history with our modern morals. However, one person’s judgment in one era will differ from another person’s in a different era. One has to understand the way of life was not set in its founding moments. They developed and were practiced throughout. People embraced Islam, customs were adapted, and values shifted, and thus controversies were provoked.

Sayyida ‘A’isha’s Age (Allah be pleased with her) at the Time of Her Marriage

Scholars have written that they have found no instance of anyone criticizing the Prophet’s marriage due to her age or accusing him of pedophilia until the early twentieth century by the British orientalist David Margoliouth. Thus, many fell for the reinterpretation and came with various age ranges from twelve to the end of her teen years.

However, Aisha’s (Allah be pleased with her) marriage was at the age of nine. This is historically correct. There are no apologies needed for this, as it has been reported by her own authenticated testimony of her own marriage that her marriage was consummated when she was nine years old. And the Prophet of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) could not sin. Marriage was practiced at an earlier age in varied cultures right until now, and we cannot reinterpret scriptures amid changing and shifting values and norms.

Sex with Slave Women

The law allowed a master to have sexual relations with his female slave without a marriage contract, just as it allowed a man to have sexual relations with a free woman only with a marriage contract, but in neither case was the man allowed to rape the woman. A master was no more allowed by the law to rape his slave than a husband his wife. In the context of slavery, the Prophet’s (Allah bless him and give him peace) very last words were, “Beware of neglecting prayer and beware how you treat your slaves.” [Abu Dawud]

The obligation to provide sexual labor was a critical feature of enslavement for women in almost every society in which slavery existed, notes Elizabeth Elbourne. The patriarch of the Abrahamic tradition had a concubine (Hajar), as did the seal of its prophets. The right of a master to have sex with his female slaves in certain circumstances was totally normal in societies from the ancient Near East and the Roman Empire in the early centuries of Christianity to medieval and even early modern China.

The Dignity of All Humans, Including Slaves

The dignity of the human person is affirmed in the Quran in the verse, “We have indeed honored human beings.” [Quran, 17:70] However, no doubt abuse took place, and it did throughout, but it took place in many cultures and societies. Islam, however, laid down solid and clear rules, like forbidding forced intercourse with female slaves. Moreover, cursing them or overburdening them was also forbidden.

Islam further enjoined visiting sick slaves, giving them assets, and treating them well. Many even became leaders.

But, as time went on, it was practiced on the ground and in its spreading cultures varyingly. [Saeed Dehlawi, Slavery in Islam]

Read About Slavery, but Spend Time Wisely

This is an issue of the past, although, to some extent current too, it was abused significantly in the name of Islam. Also, modern-day slavery of all kinds still exists varyingly all throughout the world. I advise you to read further in detail and try to understand the shifting values and norms of each era. Better yet, study and read history in its widest form, and you will find the answer in sha Allah. See the links below.

Life is too short and too valuable, so it must be spent on more immediate and more important concerns.

Linked Answers:
Slavery and Islam | Oneworld ( (Book)
ISIS, Sex Slaves and Islam | New Islamic Directions – Imam Zaid Shakir

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I pray this helps with your question.


[Mawlana] Ilyas Patel
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Mawlana Ilyas Patel is a traditionally-trained scholar who has studied in the UK, India, Pakistan, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey.

He started his early education in the UK. He went on to complete hifz of the Quran in India, then enrolled into an Islamic seminary in the UK, where he studied the secular and Alimiyyah sciences. He then traveled to Karachi, Pakistan.

He has been an Imam in Rep of Ireland for a number of years. He has taught hifz of the Qur’an, Tajwid, Fiqh, and many other Islamic sciences to both children and adults onsite and online extensively in UK and Ireland. He was teaching at a local Islamic seminary for 12 years in the UK, where he was a librarian and a teacher of Islamic sciences.

He currently resides in the UK with his wife. His personal interest is the love of books and gardening.