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Islam and Human Rights (06 Jan 2014 NewAgeIslam.Com)
Abolition of Slavery, Including Sex Slavery in Islam (The Qur’an)



By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam

January 06, 2014

(Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009)

The Advent/ Setting of the Qur’anic Revelation

The Qur’an was revealed at a time, the early seventh century of the Christian era, when the world at large was in a state of Jahiliya - an Arabic word that denotes a state of darkness and gloom (Zulumat) when the notion of universal justice had not evolved, punishments were arbitrary, the common man was bullied, oppressed and exploited, slavery was normative and, women were treated like chattel and brutalized, to cite the major vices of the era. The Qur’an came to bring humanity out of darkness into light (2:257, 14:1, 57:9), and to lift the burden that was on them from before (7:157). Since slavery was at the root of many of societal evils, it had to be eradicated to pave the way for its quantum reforms.

As social customs remain entrenched in the various tiers of a society and any attempt to ban them abruptly can hardly succeed, the Qur’an had to introduce its reforms in a phased manner. It therefore introduced its injunctions against slavery concomitantly with its social and moral reforms. Thus, it gives clear directives to freeing the slaves (Riqab, Pl. Raqabah) in the following passages:

•        90:13-16. The Qur’an combines its exhortation on “the freeing of a slave” (90:13), with “feeding during famine (14) an orphaned relative (15), or the needy (lying) in the dust” (90:16).

•        4:92 commands the freeing of a believing slave and paying compensation for any accidental killing of a believer.

•        5:89 lists the freeing of a slave as an option to expiate a false oath taken in the earnest.

•        2:177 includes the freeing of slaves among the virtues of the truly pious.

•        9:60 includes slaves regardless of faith in the category of people entitled to receive charity.

•        58:3 requires the freeing of a slave as expiation for breaking an oath called Zihar, which absolved a man of all conjugal responsibilities to his wife, but did not give her the freedom of divorce:

 Since slavery and prostitution went hand in hand, the Qur’an aimed at eradicating slavery by rehabilitating the male and female slaves through the institution of marriage. Thus, the Qur’an exhorts men to marry from among the bondmaids under their lawful trust (4:25), marry off the unmarried ones among their male and female slaves (24:32) and free their slaves against reasonable contract, allowing them to pay later for their freedom (24:33).

And any of you who cannot afford to marry (Yankiha) chaste believing woman (should marry) from believing bondmaids under your lawful trust (Ma Malakat Aiman) and God knows best your faith. Some of you have (ties) with others of them. So marry them with the permission of their people and give them their dowers reasonably as (meriting) chaste women, and do not prostitute them nor take them as mistresses….” (4:25). 

Marry off the unmarried ones among you and those among your slaves (‘Abd) and bondmaids that are ready for marriage. If they are needy, God will enrich them of His bounty. (Remember,) God is Boundless (in mercy) and All-Knowing (24:32). Yet those who have no (financial) means to marry should wait until God enriches them of His bounty. And as for those under your lawful trust who seek a contract (for freedom), draw it up for them if you know any good in them, and give them out of the riches God has given you. And do not coerce your bondmaids into prostitution seeking the gains of this world, when they want to be chaste - seeking the pleasure of worldly life. But should anyone coerce them (sexually), God will be Merciful (to them) after they have been so coerced” (24:33).

Qur’anic Positive Phrase for Slaves and Bondmaids   

While the Qur’an uses the words Fatat, Riqab, ‘Abd, to denote a slave, bondmaid in the historical sense, it also employs a dignified expression, Ma Malakat Ayman to denote slaves, bondmaids, and for that matter, anyone who is under one’s lawful trust. Most scholars render this phrase literally as: ‘what the right hand possesses’, and connote it restrictively with slaves, bondmaids, captives, and prisoners of war in the feminine gender. Such an interpretation is misleading. The closest literal translation of this expression would be: ‘those possessed by (or under trust to) the right hand.’ However, the Qur'an uses the word ‘right hand’ figuratively to denote a positive lawful status, such as the companions of the ‘right hand’, and God's ‘right hand’. Therefore, the phrase could be best rendered as “those under one’s lawful trust.” Thus, through its ingenious vocabulary, the Qur’an gives a new ennobling status to the slaves and bondmaids who were historically relegated to the lowest rung of the social hierarchy – hated, despised, brutalized and segmented from the freeborn by impervious boundaries lasting down the generations.   

The Qur’anic phrase Malakat Ayman (sing. milk al-Yamin) is no camouflage or mere euphemism. In the Prophet's days, captives from armed conflicts were distributed among the Medinite Muslims for their safe custody. Those captives, whether male or female, were virtually ‘slaves’ but were regarded as Malakat Ayman; and accordingly their custodians treated them with sympathy and consideration. William Muir, one of the most hostile of the Prophet's biographers offers this quotation from a prisoner: “the men of Medina made us ride, while they themselves walked, they gave us wheaten bread to eat when there was a little of it, contenting themselves with dates” [1].

In a different plane, unlike the legal codes that preceded it, and succeeded it for over a millennium, the Qur’an does not enact any separate civil law or code for the slaves or the ma Malakat Ayman class. The Qur’an does, however, refer to slavery in the context of the past or even prevalent traditions, but its civil, commercial, inheritance and family laws are for all believers, without any reference to their being freeborn or slaves.

In sum, Qur’anic repeated rejoinders on freeing slaves, its clear dictates to looking after them, to setting them free and to marrying them off, its specific ennobling vocabulary for slaves, bondmaids and captives, and its avoidance of any distinction between slaves and freeborn in all its social and civil laws, amply demonstrate that the Qur’an aimed at rooting out the institution of slavery. Accordingly Caliph Umar abolished slavery among the native inhabitants of Arabia. He also gave a clear instruction to his generals, on the strength of the Qur’an, not to turn the civilian population of conquered nations into slaves [2]. However, he met with stiff resistance from many of his generals, and his policy was discontinued with the establishment of the first Islamic dynasty (AH 40), less than two decades after his death (AH 24). Thus slavery re-established itself in the Islamic world, barely thirty years after the Prophet’s death, and was vigorously followed by slave traders and those with vested interests, for many centuries to come.   

The Qur’anic ideal of a slave free society was realized more than twelve hundred years after the death of the Prophet – but not in the Islamic world. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States (1861-1865) legislated the abolition of slavery by the Emancipation Proclamation (Jan.1 1863). Ironically, the classical Islamic Shari‘a that had its birth more than a hundred years after the Prophet’s demise, entertained slavery; and slaves, bondmaids, and concubines formed an integral part of the social hierarchy of Islamic civilization in many Muslim lands. Some radical Muslim intellectuals and Muftis who may be paralleled with the hypocrites and believing desert Arabs of the Prophet’s era who were intense in kufr [3] advocate lawfulness of this pre-Islamic practice but that is a reaction to the Qur’anic message.  This, however, needs a gender neutral interpretation of a Qur’anic pronouncement that appears in two of its paired verses (23:5/6, 70:29/30) as expounded below:

Gender Neutral Interpretation of the Paired Verses 23:5/6, 70:29/30

 These paired of verses, which appear in the Qur’an as identical statements inserted in the passages 23:1-11 and 70:19-35 are rendered by Yususf Ali as follows :

“(Believers) abstain from sex (23:5) except with those joined to them in the marriage, or (the captives) whom their ‘right hands possess’, - for in their case, they are free from blame (23:6).

“(Those regular in prayer and socially responsible among humans) guard their chastity except with their wives (70:29), and (the captives) whom their ‘right hands possess’, - for in their case, they are free from blame (70:30).

The opening bracketed remarks qualify the statement and are drawn from the preceding part of the passages.

Given that each of the Qur’anic expressions for ‘believers’ (Muminun), ‘human’ (insaan), Azwaj (rendered as ‘wives’ in 70:29 and ‘joined in marriage’ in 23:6, are of common gender, the Qur’anic pronouncement of the paired verses can be more accurately translated as follows:

“and who preserve their private parts /abstain from sex (23:5/ 70:29) - except from their spouses (Azwaj) (23:6/70:30), that is (awe*) those under their lawful trust (Ma Malakat Ayman), and then (they are) not blame worthy (30).” [*the rendition, ‘that is’ is consistent with the usage of the particle awe in the verse 25:62]

The truth is, the traditional gendered rendering is patently flawed on the following grounds:

•        The passages date from the early Meccan period when Muslims were ‘just a few in number, weak and helpless in the land, and were afraid that their enemies might oppress and kidnap them’ (8:26). Accordingly, the Meccan Suras are full of exhortations for patience and self-restraint and it is least likely that the Qur’an would grant a sexual license at this stage except to mandate what was prevalent at that point in time – when marriage laws were a decade away. 

•        The passages 70:21-35 and 23:1-11 which incorporate the noted verses spell out some of the attributes of true believers. If this included extramarital sex with captive or slave women, the Qur'an would have accommodated the latter or their offspring in its inheritance laws, which cover all forms of relationships (4:33). There is no mention of Ma Malakat Ae-Man, or of their offspring as inheritors of property.

•        If the Prophet or the Qur'an were to give any extra institutional sexual license to men, the pagan Arabs would have unquestionably charged him for this. They called him an impostor (30:58), insane (44:1, 68:51), and an insane poet (37:36). They charged him with forging lies and witchcraft (34:43, 38:4), forging lies against God, forgery and making up tales (11:13, 32:3, 38:7, 46:8), witchcraft (21:3, 43:30, 74:24), obvious witchcraft that was bewildering (10:2, 37:15, 46:7) and of being bewitched or possessed by a Jinn (17:47, 23:70, 34:8).They also found the revelation strange and unbelievable (38:5, 50:2), and condemned it as the legends of the ancients (6:25, 23:83, 27:68, 46:17, 68:15, 83:13). But not one single word did they utter that pointed, even remotely, to his sanctioning of any form of sexual license.

•        The traditional interpretation of Ma Malakat Ae’man invoking an institution of slavery in the biblical or historical sense is totally misleading as expounded in the main body of this article.

•        The Qur'an sanctions similar ‘rights and duties’ to men and women in many areas and just and balanced ‘rights and duties’ on conjugal matters with monogamy as a social norm [3]. 

It will be therefore be a gross mistake to interpret the verses 23:5/6, 70:29/30 in a gendered manner to sanction unlimited sexual freedom to men-folk with female captives, slaves and their like. Moreover, the Qur’an fully clarifies itself with the progress of the revelation. Thus, as Muhammad Asad observes, quoting al-Razi and al-Tabari, the Qur’an prohibits sexual relation with any woman other than one’ lawful wife [4]

Hence, any notion of slavery and sexual slavery are antithetic to the Qur’anic message.


1.       Rafiq Zakaria, Muhammad and the Qur’an, London 1992, p. 408.

2.       Shibli Noumani, al-Faruq, Delhi 1898, Karachi reprint 1991, p. 258.

3.       The Qur’an Prescribes Monogamy Is The Social Norm For Humanity’an-prescribes-monogamy,-the-social-norm-for-humanity/d/6172

5.       Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar, 1980, Chap. 4, Note 26.

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.



  • "An important change from Pagan…the believing slave is now the brother of the freeman in Islam and before God, and superior of the free pagan and idolaters (II:221)"

    So Koran  is not universal.It has several " out of date" items.Thank you for accepting  the above truth frakly

    By Dr.A.Anburaj - 9/2/2014 1:54:50 AM
  • Arab culture is no culture of God.islam is being interpreted as imitate ARabians.think like an Arabian worship like,wear ear marry like Arabians.Treat enemies of Arabians as enemies of himself.That is what Islam is. Islam should be divorced from Arab supremacy and culture.Religion is being and becoming. In hindustan the role model of a men of religion is a Brahmin/righteous man. As long as one is righteous  God would not bother about is colour of dress and other paraphernalia of life

    By Dr.A.Anburaj - 9/2/2014 1:52:18 AM
  • Koran justified Free Sex with War captives. It is inhumane  to say so. Such verses must be dropped from future editions

    By Dr.A.Anburaj - 8/11/2014 5:49:12 AM
  • But should anyone coerce them (sexually), God will be Merciful (to them) after they have been so coerced” (24:33).
    Why Allah should be merciful to the exploited Women ? Instead Allah must be harsh to the Male partner ? 

    By Dr.A.Anburaj - 8/11/2014 5:40:53 AM
  • "An important change from Pagan…the believing slave is now the brother of the freeman in Islam and before God, and superior of the free pagan and idolaters (II:221)"

    "..superior of the free pagan" is either grammatically wrong or willfully obfuscated.

    there is another very insidious grammatic atypicality, but that is for another day in another season.

    By hats off! - 7/25/2014 3:01:41 AM
  • Bernad Lewis, Professor at Princeton University, describes the far reaching changes brought by Islam :

    “But Qur’anic legislation, subsequently confirmed and elaborated in the Holy law, brought two major changes to ancient slavery which were to have far reaching effects. One of these was the presumption of freedom; the other, the ban on the enslavement of free persons except in strictly defined circumstances. The Qur’an was promulgated in Mecca and Medina in the seventh century, and the background against which Qur’anic legislation must be seen ancient Arabia. Arabs practiced a form of slavery, similar to that which existed in other parts of the ancient world. The Qur’an accepted the institution, though it may be noted that the word ‘abd’ (slave) is rarely used…It urges, without actually commanding, kindness to the slave… and recommends, without requiring, his liberation by purchase or manumission. The freeing of slaves is recommended both for the expiration of sin (Koran 4:92; 58:3) and as an act of simple benevolence (Koran 2:177; 24:33; 90:13). It exhorts masters to allow slaves to earn or purchase their freedom. An important change from Pagan…the believing slave is now the brother of the freeman in Islam and before God, and superior of the free pagan and idolaters (II:221). This point is emphasized in innumerable hadiths (traditions)…The recruitment of slave population by natural increase seems to have been small and, right through to modern times [in Muslim world], insufficient to maintain numbers. This is striking contrast with conditions in the New World, where the slave population increased very rapidly. Several factors contributed to this difference, perhaps the most important being that slave population in the Islamic Middle East was constantly drained by liberation of slaves—sometimes as an act of piety, most commonly though the recognition and liberation, by a freeman, of his own offspring by slave mother.” [Ref: Race And Slavery in the Middle East by Bernad Lewis. Page 5-8].

                Why Prophet (s) and Islam did not free all slaves in one-stroke-declaration as president Lincoln did?”  Prophet (pbuh) knew that change of heart against slavery was most important to abolish abolition of slavery permanently. The result is the least human suffering and disruption for his nation and its people while more than a million died, millions suffered, and national life disrupted in the US civil war as result of seeking abrupt change in the slavery practices in US by Abraham Lincoln. 

    By T.O. Shanavas - 7/24/2014 10:34:51 PM
  • Rational,

    All that you need to understand are the several simple statements that you misunderstood, The statements were clear. You can find all the reasons why people misunderstand by focusing on your own misunderstandings.

    By Observer - 3/17/2014 10:15:52 AM
  • Observer - 3/17/2014 7:16:49 AM
    same thing i can return to you. you might be highly qualified but you hold some silly beliefs like jizia was mercy.
    now you are talking about relative QoS of transmitter and receiver. we are talking about transmitters and receivers. Some time transmitter goes faulty despite all preventing measures so the transmission breaks. Some time link (for example cable TV) cable gets damaged. so every time you need not to tune your receiver. Fault may be in transmission also. it is your belief that is preventing you from accepting the obvious mistake.
    these are man made systems prone to malfunction.
    if only once transmitter (God) fails it is a question on its reliability. let me accept that receivers are more prone to malfunctioning, it only means that Islam has produced countless faulty receivers not only badly tuned receivers.

    By rational mohammed yunus - 3/17/2014 9:56:53 AM
  • Rational,

    You may be a communications engineer but surely you have never been in the business of broadcasting. If you were, then you would realize that the reputation of a broadcaster depends upon the reliability and quality of its broadcasts. Let me ask you a simple question. How often did you experience the failure of any radio or TV broadcasting station? 

    Surely, it is the relative reliability of a broadcasting station over the reliability of a receiving set that is being talked about and not the absolute infallibility of the broadcasting station. Otherwise, can there be any analogy to the infallibility of God? Comparing God with God would be pointless wouldn't it? 

    By Observer - 3/17/2014 7:16:49 AM
  • Observer
    perhaps i have found your source of your faulty analogy of transmitter and receiver with reference to the Quran and its reader. i am giving you the benefit of doubt by using word  'perhaps'.

    By rational mohammed yunus - 3/17/2014 6:02:24 AM
  • The wahabi is unable to digest that wahabism is biddat. and rational is not anything else but a wahabi. He is just a frustrated one who has issues with sufis. If he had been anything wlse, he should have issues with wahabis as well. He is very much within the system except that he is biddati and tries to forcefit his ideas unto others in truely wahabi ways.
    By sadaf - 2/22/2014 7:08:59 PM
  • Rafiq Lodhia

    Ibn Arabi wrote many books among them is Fusus al-Hikam, he said in the introduction of this book that..he got that book from the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). In the same book he accused Prophet Noah (alaihis salaamof being ignorant of the proper way to conveying the message. He said ..bani israil did not committed Shirk by worshiping the golden calf in the absence of Musa (alaihis salaam) as according to Ibn Arabi, Allaah manifested Himself in the form of the Calf. Further, He declared pharaoh to be a believer (Muslim).

    don't your head bow in shame for having  Sufis as your guides?

    By rational mohammed yunus - 2/20/2014 8:21:04 PM
  • Rafiq Lodhia
    "Some Sufis claim that the Messenger neither reached their status, nor did he acquire the knowledge that the Sufis have acquired, as Al-Bustami has stated, "We went into a sea which the Prophets could only reach its shores!!!"
    is it insult or not. or it is ok for a sufi to belive above the prophets.

    By rational mohammed yunus - 2/20/2014 7:49:26 PM
  • Naseer Ahmed Saheb,


    May I humbly ask, “What cheap points and revenge are you talking about?” My only objective is to extract the “Truth. If anyone talks cheap about Islam and the Prophet of Islam, then I have all the right in the world to speak my mind.


    I could care less if you team up with Pseudo Rational to respond to me about the subject matter “Tablighi Jamaat. All I have asked you for is, “Did you read ‘Faizail-e-Amal’ in its entirety?”


    This is a relatively simple question and it can easily be answered in “yes” or “no.”  How else can I behave like a decent human being? You tell me, Naseer Saheb, as I am all ears.


    Mohammed Rafiq Lodhia



    Naseer Ahmed Saheb,


    You wrote, “The writer of Fazail-e-Amal, Moulana Zakariyah is the son-in-law of Moulana Ilyas (founder of TJ).”


    My question to you is, “Did you read this book in its entirety?” Let me know so that I can understand as to what extent you have studied it.


    By Mohammed Rafiq Lodhia  - 2/20/2014 7:02:21 AM

    By Mohammed Rafiq Lodhia - 2/20/2014 1:20:32 PM
  • Since you claim to be apostate, you put words as if you are apostate. How do we believe that? How do we believe that you are genuine and not fake? There is a very prominent streak of you being a kitman, a taqqiya practicing, Wahabi, dear Mr. Rational. And let me tell you I have no issues of you being an apostate, but I have issues of you being a Wahabi and that too taqqiya practicing one, because that is being a fake person. You speak the opposite of what you mean.
    By sadaf - 2/20/2014 9:58:47 AM

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