Answered by Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat
I am a revert to Islam, and I just have a question regarding female captives of war in Islam: do the female captives have the right to consent to be a slave to any of them, and if not, why? Is it permissible to force them to have sexual intercourse against their will after the master has bought them since they are of what their right hands possess?
And when the female captives are being handed out, can any man just take her for himself?
I pray you are well.
We’ll have to contextualize the situation a bit first, as slavery was a practice of the pre-modern world, and we do not see it as people of the past did.
Slaves in Islam
When Islam was revealed to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), slavery was an accepted system all over the world. People had slaves, and they were property, which people invested money into.
Without going into every situation, it is clear from a cursory look at the Shari‘a of Islam that the long-term goal was to abolish slavery. There are many verses and hadith which encourage this.
For example, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) told the Companion, Bara’ Ibn ‘Azib, “Free a soul (from slavery) and (help) remove someone from bondage.” Bara’ asked, “Are they not the same?” “No,” the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) replied. “The former is for you yourself to free someone, and the latter is to help another in doing so.” [Ahmad]
There are many more. Freeing a slave was also made a form of expiation from certain sins, like breaking an oath. Arabs were prone to swearing oaths in the heat of the moment, so if someone regretted swearing an oath and then broke it, he had to free a slave. The list goes on.
Why Were People Enslaved?
Firstly, to understand any of the topics we will discuss, it must be clear that these things happened in the pre-modern world. Those times were different, and people’s outlooks were different. Judging them based on modern society will always lead to problematic conclusions. Rather, they must be judged according to their own historical context.
People were enslaved for many reasons. Sometimes slaves were prisoners of war. An army that came to attack you, if defeated, would only regroup and return. There were no Geneva Conventions to govern the matter. In such a situation, they were either put to death by all powers at the time, or they were enslaved.
In Islam, enslaving them was a means of protecting one’s society, saving lives, rehabilitating the slaves who would be spread across the population, and a means of showing them the kindness and good character that Islam embodies. Many people changed and gained everlasting bliss in Paradise by accepting faith in this way.
‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be well pleased with both) freed thousands of slaves, usually when he noticed they were becoming righteous. Naturally, the slaves caught on and would make sure they were in the front row at the mosque when he walked in, hoping to be freed. Someone told Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be well pleased with both) about this, and he said, “Whoever dupes us through Allah, we will willingly be duped.” [Usmani, Fath al-Mulhim]
The slaves did not have to consent to being a slave. They were within a system that did not need their consent. Much like someone not wanting to pay taxes but having to due to being in the system.
With the above context in mind, we can see that sometimes freeing a person who is not able to return home is not the best course of action, nor always possible. Some were born into slavery. Where would they go? Remember, slavery was an accepted practice worldwide.
Slavery provided them with protection, accommodation, food, and other needs. Sometimes, people need intimacy and closeness with another human. Their masters could either allow them to marry or they could provide them with that intimacy themselves. One or the other, not both.
In Islam, the Nikah is a contract, approved by Allah, which allows intimacy between a couple. In the same way, the purchase of a female slave is a contract that includes the above constraint implicitly. It allowed a halal outlet for many people, including the slaves, which they would find difficulty without.
With that came other benefits, such as her guaranteed freedom upon the death of the master if she gave birth to a child. We have cases where rulers had children with their slaves, and those children later went on to become the rulers!
Also, when the captives were distributed, it was done so by the ruler or the commander of the army. People were not free to pick and choose whomever they wanted.
I hope that helps.
May Allah grant you the best of both worlds.
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat began his studies in Arabic Grammar and Morphology in 2005. After graduating with a degree in English and History, he moved to Damascus in 2007, where, for 18 months, he studied with many erudite scholars. In late 2008, he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continued his studies for the next six years in Sacred Law (fiqh), legal theory (Usul al-fiqh), theology, hadith methodology, hadith commentary, and Logic. He was also given licenses of mastery in the science of Quranic recital, and he was able to study an extensive curriculum of Quranic sciences, tafsir, Arabic grammar, and Arabic eloquence.