Answered by Sidi Abdullah Anik Misra
Question: Assalamu 3alaikum
In the English translation of Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography by Sheik al Buti it is written the the prophet asked Jabir wouldn’t you like to have a slave girl to amuse yourself with? When asking him about his wife. Is this an incorrect translation? If so what is the correct translation? I have read a different translation which makes more sense considering the context of their conversation.
Also the book narrates an earlier incident where a woman was injured by the Muslim army so her husband went out for revenge and in another place i read the his wife was taken captive by the Muslim army and then he went out for revenge.
If you have the time I would appreciate if you can clarify these 2 incidents for me.
Answer: Wa alaikum salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you for your question.
The Incident of Jabir’s Marriage
As for the first incident where the Prophet (sal Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam) asked Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him) about whether he married a matron or a virgin, the word used in one version is “bikr” and in other,“jaariyah”. [al-Bukhari]
“Bikr” means virgin, and “jaariyah” literally means, “adolescent girl”. The word “jaariyah” is also used metaphorically for “slave-girl”, probably since most maidservants running errands might have been young women, so it became a metaphor, or perhaps because people didn’t want to use “slave-girl”. This is similar to a waiter in some cultures being called a “garcon”, or a slave is called a “ghulaam”, both which literally mean “boy”, because they were most often young men.
Corroborating versions of the hadith and its commentaries show that what is meant is “a young girl” who would most likely never have been married before (hence, a virgin), and not a slave-girl. The mistake in the translation seems to have taken its metaphoric meaning over its literal meaning, and Allah knows best. [al-Munawi, al-Taysir]
The Incident in the “Battle of the Rags”
In the second part of the question, you asked about whether the pagan woman was injured, or captured, in the Battle of the Rags. The word used in the collection of Ahmad, al-Darqutni, and many others is “uSeebat”, which can mean “she was injured”. This is where the first translation you read came from.
However, it can also be used for when something falls into someone’s possession, in this case, through being a captive of war. This is where the second translation is from. Most early recorders of the prophetic biography (Ibn Ishaq, al-Tabari, Ibn Hisham] leave the wording general and do not clarify which meaning is meant.
However, the second meaning (“captured”) seems to be more likely, because al-Waqidi, who was considered an authority on the military campaigns of that period, narrated this incident with the preface that during the battles of this period, some female prisoners were taken, and specifically that the woman in this incident happened to be a prisoner of war. [al-Waqidi, al-Maghazi]
Ibn al-Qayyim is the only one [in my readings] who clearly used the word “captured”, and his student Ibn Kathir supported this by quoting al-Waqidi’s statement after mentioning more generally worded version of the hadith which describes the incident. [Ibn al-Qayyim, Zaad ul Ma’ad; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah]
Some narrations also mention that her being captured was the action of a single man amongst the Muslims during the time of war and not an act of the entire army, for which the pagan woman’s husband sought revenge.
Thus, the woman was not injured or harmed. This would also go against the ethics of war in Islam, which declares it impermissible to harm non-combatants and civilians, especially women and children.
It occurs to me also, that it should also not be assumed that she remained in custody after the skirmish, since her husband, who attacked the Muslims in revenge for her capture, is not mentioned to have tried to pay a ransom for his wife or free her, rather that he was only intent on gaining revenge, but when he was discovered, fled the scene. And Allah knows best.
On Being Cautious When Translating and When Reading Translations
The two questions above show why it is so important to translate correctly, as it can change the entire meaning and implication of the narration. This cannot be done simply by someone who knows the language well, but by someone who is able to access and thoroughly research the earlier works of the tradition to understand exactly which meaning was intended.
This is because it is easy for someone to be misled by translations when there is lack of understanding of the historical contexts and background, as well as a lack of wider knowledge of the Islamic teaching and how they are applied in different times and places.
Finally, it should be noted that this is a purely historical and linguistic analysis in which the aim is to understand the description of a past event. One should not attempt to extract a legal ruling, a modern implication or even a moral value by one’s own reading of a translation of an event, without consulting mainstream scholars first.
This stands for both those outside the faith looking to critique the tradition, and especially for those who are sincere but perhaps very zealous, hasty and are in the beginning stages of trying to learn about their religion. And we ask Allah Ta’ala to give us correct understanding and guidance, at the hands of the inheritors of prophetic knowledge, the scholars of mainstream traditional Islam.
Abdullah Anik Misra
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani