By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
10 August 2016
This topic is of interest only from a
historical point of view as slavery in the modern world is not only banned, but
has become anachronistic on account of technological developments. From the
moral perspective, Islam made far reaching changes to the then existing
institution of slavery that made slavery a temporary state helping the slaves
to win their freedom. It was however the US which was the first country to ban
slavery completely under moral and weightier economic considerations. The freed
slaves from the South were required to run the industries in the North.
Technological advancement has relieved the beasts of burden such as horses,
mules and donkeys of their burden, women of their back breaking household
chores and slaves of their hard labour on the farms. Machines are slaves of the
modern world which are cheaper, more reliable and more capable than what any
beast or human is capable of.
Islam and the Institution of Slavery
Bernard Lewis, the best known living
scholar of Islamic, Middle Eastern and Ottoman History writes in his book “Race
and Slavery in the Middle East”:
“The Qur'an, like the Old and the New
Testaments, recognizes and regulates the practice of the institution of
slavery. The Qur'anic legislation, subsequently confirmed and elaborated in the
Shariat Law, brought two major changes to ancient slavery with far-reaching
effects. One was the presumption of freedom; the other, the ban on the
enslavement of free persons except in strictly defined circumstances.
The Arabs practiced a form of slavery,
similar to that which existed in other parts of the ancient world. The Quran
urges kindness to the slave (4:36; 9:60; 24:58) and recommends liberation of
slaves by purchase or manumission. The freeing of slaves is recommended both
for the expiation of sins (4:92; 5:92; 58:3) and as an act of simple
benevolence (2:177; 24:33; 90:13). It exhorts masters to allow slaves to earn
or purchase their own freedom. An important change from pagan, though not from
Jewish or Christian, practices is that in the strictly religious sense, the
believing slave is now the brother of the freeman in Islam and before God
(2:221). This point is emphasized and elaborated in innumerable hadlths
(traditions), in which the Prophet is quoted as urging considerate and
sometimes even equal treatment for slaves, denouncing cruelty, harshness, or
even discourtesy and recommending the liberation of slaves.
Though slavery was maintained, the Islamic
dispensation enormously improved the position of the slave, who was now no
longer merely a chattel but was also a human being with a certain religious and
hence a social status and with certain quasi-legal rights. The early caliphs
who ruled the Islamic community after the death of the Prophet also introduced
some further reforms of a humanitarian tendency. It was made unlawful for a
freeman to sell himself or his children into slavery, and it was no longer
permitted for freemen to be enslaved for either debt or crime, as was usual in
the Roman world and in parts of Christian Europe until at least the sixteenth
century. It became a fundamental principle of Islamic jurisprudence that the
natural condition, and therefore the presumed status, of mankind was freedom,
whoever is not known to be a slave is free. Since all human beings were
naturally free, slavery could only arise from two circumstances: (1) being born
to slave parents or (2) being captured in war. “
Prisoners of war were dealt with in
different ways as listed below and enslavement was an exception rather than the
especially if no longer considered a threat
and allotted by the commander among his soldiers
The slaves enjoyed freedoms and humane
treatment far superior to what prisoners of war enjoy in jails. A slave-owner
was entitled by law to the sexual enjoyment of his slave women in the same
manner that he could enjoy sex with his wife.
Treatment of Slaves
“In penal law, the penalty for an offense
against a slave was half of that for a freeman. While maltreatment was
deplored, there was no fixed shari'a penalty. In what might be called civil
matters, the slave was a chattel with no legal powers or rights. He could not
enter into a contract, hold property, or inherit. If he incurred a fine, his
owner was responsible. He washowever, distinctly better off, in the matter of
rights, than a Greek or Roman slave, since Islamic jurists, took account of
humanitarian considerations. They laid down, for example, that a master must
give his slave medical attention when required, must give him adequate upkeep,
and must support him in his old age. If a master defaulted on these and other
obligations to his slave, the Qadi could compel him to fulfill them or else
either to sell or to emancipate the slave. The master was forbidden to overwork
his slave, and if he did so to the point of cruelty, he was liable to a penalty
which was, however, discretionary and not prescribed by law. A slave could
enter into a contract to earn his freedom.” (Bernard Lewis)
In general, the treatment of slaves under
Islam was far different from the images that slavery conjures. A British naval
report, dated January 25,1858, speaks of black slave marines serving with the
"They are from the class of slaves
abandoned by merchants unable to sell them. There are always many such at
Tripoli. Those brought by the Faizi Bari, about 70 in number, were on their
arrival enrolled as a Black company in the marine corps. They are in exactly
the same position with respect to pay, quarters, rations, and clothing as the
Turkish marines, and will equally receive their discharge at the expiration of
the allotted term of service. They are in short on the books of the navy. They
have received very kind treatment here, lodged in warm rooms with charcoal
burning in them day and night. A negro Mulazim [lieutenant] and some negro
tchiaoushes [sergeants], already in the service have been appointed to look
after and instruct them. They have drilled in the manual exercise in their warm
quarters, and have not been set to do any duty on account of the weather. Those
among them unwell on their arrival were sent at once to the naval hospital. Two
only have died of the whole number. The men in the barracks are healthy and
appear contented. No amount of ingenuity can conjure up any connection between
their condition and the condition of slavery."
Former slaves rose to positions of
authority in administration as well as military and even became ministers and
rulers. “In a society where positions of military command and political power
were routinely held by men of slave origin or even status and where a
significant proportion of the free population were born to slave mothers,
prejudice against the slave as such, of the Roman or American type, could
hardly develop” (Bernard Lewis).
War, Sex and Rape
Is rape an inevitable part of modern as
well as historic wars? Are there exceptions to the rule apart from the
dispensation under Islamic law which eliminated it? Let us take a brief look at
the history of warfare as it concerns the subject. The following solutions that
man has devised to minimize the problem of rape is indicative of the problem.
Japanese Military Prostitution (Wiki)
The Japanese Imperial Army set up `comfort
stations’ for the prevention of rape crimes committed by Japanese army
personnel and thus preventing the rise of hostility among people in occupied
The first "comfort station" was
established in the Japanese concession in Shanghai in 1932. Estimates vary as
to how many women were involved, with numbers ranging from as low as 20,000
from some Japanese scholars to as high as 410,000 from some Chinese scholars,
but the exact numbers are still being researched and debated. Many of the women
were from occupied countries, including Korea, China, and the Philippines,
although women from Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia and
other Japanese-occupied territories were used for military "comfort
stations". Stations were located in Japan, China, the Philippines,
Indonesia, then Malaya, Thailand, Burma, New Guinea, Hong Kong, Macau, and
French Indochina. A smaller number of women of European origin from Holland and
Australia were also involved.
German Military Brothels in World War II
German military brothels were set up by the
Third Reich during World War II throughout much of occupied Europe for the use
of Wehrmacht and SS soldiers. Until 1942, there were around 500 military
brothels of this kind in Nazi occupied Europe.
It is estimated that, along with those in
concentration camp brothels, at least 34,140 European women were forced to
serve as prostitutes during the German occupation. In many cases and Eastern
Europe, the women involved were kidnapped on the streets of occupied cities
during German military and police round ups.
American Military-Base Prostitution
(Article by Jennifer Latstetter)
Rarely, if ever, has a war been fought in
which the soldiers have not used the native women of the country sexually,
through rape, kidnapping, and slave brothels that follow armies. Unfortunately,
the United States -- a country that professes equality for all -- is one of the
biggest perpetrators of this cult of military prostitution. This victimization of women has accompanied
all American military invasions and has been condoned by the United States
government, as well as the occupied nation's government. Furthermore, the use of Rest & Recreation
sites, i.e., government-funded brothels, by the American GIs has been in full-fledge
use since the Korean War. The rationale
for this blatant mistreatment of women is that it creates a necessary sense of
brotherhood and camaraderie among the soldiers.
Rape of the Iraqi Population By US
"The General Secretary of the Union of
Political Prisoners and Detainees in Iraq, Muhammad Adham al-Hamd declared that
the US occupation administration in Iraq relies on systematic rape, torture,
and sadistic treatment of Iraqi women prisoners in its prison camps in the
country. Al-Hamd said that the enormous crimes being committed against women in
the prison camps in occupied Iraq have the support and blessings of the US
military, for whom the practices serve as a means to bring psychological
pressure on men engaged in the Resistance, in an attempt to break their spirit
and fighting will.”
US Army Secret wartime files made public
only in 2006 reveal that American GIs committed 400 sexual offences in Europe,
including 126 rapes in England, between
1942 and 1945. A study by Robert J. Lilly estimates that a total of 14,000 civilian
women in England, France and Germany were raped by American GIs during World
War II. It is estimated that there were around 3,500 rapes by American
servicemen in France between June 1944 and the end of the war and one historian
has claimed that sexual violence against women in liberated France was common.
And mind you, these are not rapes by victors of the defeated population either!
So, if this be the state of `friendly liberators’, what can be said about wars
due to hostilities?
How Do The US Male Soldiers Treat Their
Own Female Colleagues?
According to a 2011 Newsweek report, women
are more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat. 25%
of military women have been sexually assaulted, and up to 80% have been
sexually harassed by their own male colleagues.
The rape of men by other men is also common
in war. A 2009 study by Lara Stemple found that it had been documented in
conflicts worldwide; for example, 76% of male political prisoners in 1980s El
Salvador and 80% of concentration camp inmates in Sarajevo reported being raped
or sexually tortured. Stemple concludes that the "lack of attention to
sexual abuse of men during conflict is particularly troubling given the
widespread reach of the problem. Mervyn Christian of Johns Hopkins School of
Nursing has found that male rape is commonly underreported.
How Are Raped Men And Women Treated By
According to a survey published in the
Journal of the American Medical Association in 2010, 30% of women and 22% of
men from the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo reported that
they had been subject to conflict-related sexual violence. Despite the popular
perception that rape during conflict is primarily targeted against women, these
figures show that sexual violence committed against men is not a marginal
occurrence. The lack of awareness for the magnitude of the rape of men during
conflict relates to chronic underreporting. Although the physical and
psychological repercussions from rape are similar for women and men, male
victims tend to demonstrate an even greater reluctance to report their
suffering to their families or the authorities.
According to The Guardian, "Both
perpetrator and victim enter a conspiracy of silence and male survivors often
find, once their story is discovered, that they lose the support and comfort of
those around them. In the patriarchal societies found in many developing
countries, gender roles are strictly defined. […] Often, […] wives who discover
their husbands have been raped decide to leave them. "They ask me: 'So now
how am I going to live with him? As what? Is this still a husband? Is it a
wife?' They ask, 'If he can be raped, who is protecting me?'”
In the case of women, those who fall into
enemy hands are no longer acceptable by their husbands or even by their
children or parents whether or not they have been raped. There are many Iraqi
raped women who have been abandoned by their husbands, who cannot talk about
their ordeal, because the society only knows how to further exploit a raped
woman. Many of these women have migrated to Jordan to make a new beginning.
Even with their husbands alive, they have no support or comfort.
Tipu Sultan [1750-1799 AD] defeated the
Marathas in a battle who fled leaving their women behind. A tent full of women
was captured. The Sultan sent the women, guarded by his 20 men the next
morning, to the Marathas who had camped some miles away. The Maratha men
refused to take them back as they had spent a night with the victorious
- A woman who has fallen into enemy hands
is no longer welcome, and it no longer matters whether she was married or
single. Armies gang rape women and abandon them if they are still alive after
the ordeal. "Survivors face emotional torment, psychological damage, physical
injuries, disease, social ostracism and many other consequences that can
devastate their lives," says Amnesty.
Why Rape Is An Inevitable Part Of War?
Why rape is an inevitable part of war must
be answered by the psychologists. We know that wars are followed by a spurt in
birth rates. There is a connection between violence and sex. Violence raises
the libido of a man and also makes him irresistibly attractive to the woman.
Women, appear hard wired to be attracted by the ‘bad boys’, soldiers and players
and especially after a heist, a war or a closely fought game. Duels fought over
a woman where the winner takes the woman as trophy was not without the woman’s
consent (as it is made out today), although her consent was taken for granted
because she never demurred but only purred. War affects even sexual assault
rates among the civilian populations and also the aggressive behaviour of
soldiers much after the war is over.
War Culture in US
Penny Coleman, author and widow of a
Vietnam vet who took his own life, probes whether war itself is a contributory
factor to male sexual violence in civilian society. Using World War II data and
results from Bureau of Justice surveys of veteran populations, she summarizes
findings that support this supposition. Rape rates increased dramatically (more
than 27 percent) in US civil society during World War II compared to pre-war
rates, even while rates of murder and non-negligent manslaughter decreased. A
similar pattern of formidable increases in domestic violence, rape and sexual
assault occurred in US civil society since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars began,
while every other surveyed crime declined except for a small increase in simple
Post-War Spill over of Male Violence
Using national data on US veterans' crimes,
Coleman also speculates whether military service turns young men into sexual
predators. The majority of veterans in jail today are there for violence
against women and children, a fact that has persisted since the Bureau of
Justice began surveying imprisoned veterans in 1981. Yet the incidence of
veteran violence against women does not carry over to other crimes. Male
veterans are much less likely than their non-veteran counterparts to be in
prison for all other violent crimes except sexual crimes.
Journalist Ann Jones pursued this same
question - of the spill over of war violence into domestic violence - in her
gripping account of post-war violence against women and girls in four
war-ruined countries in Africa and in Cambodia and Iraq. With United Nations
(UN) and country-wide data on sexual violence as her backdrop, she documents
the environment of everyday violence against women and girls after war ends
through interviews with them and through photos they took of their lives using
cameras she provided. What their pictures and words expose is that, soldiers
bring the habit of war back to domestic and civilian life. After men stop
killing each other, many continue to beat and rape women and girls. UN studies
of high rates of post-war violence against females are borne out in Jones'
cameos of the six countries. The author's own life was, she writes,
"darkened by war." Her thrice-decorated WWI-veteran father
chronically turned his "war-ridden rage and war-honed violence" on her
and her mother. This childhood spent with a violent veteran father prompted
her, much later in life, to plumb the tragic affinity between war and domestic
Permission in Islam to Have Sex with
Has any religion tried to codify the rules
of war to the extent Islam has done and eliminate rape? Rape in the course of
war is mentioned multiple times in the Bible: "For I will gather all the
nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses
plundered and the women raped..." Zechariah 14:2 "Their little
children will be dashed to death before their eyes. Their homes will be sacked,
and their wives will be raped."Isaiah 13:16.
Laws against rape in the books of law
remain on paper for the victors. Trial for war crimes is only for the losers.
So what good is a law that makes rape in war a criminal offence if it is never
applied to the victors and rarely to the vanquished either? Do we need laws
that look good in the law books or laws that minimize misery?
There are several verses in the Quran that
permit sex with female slaves as if they are wives and the codified law allows
it with the same restrictions such as:
the slave woman was a married woman prior to her enslavement, then sex with her
was permissible only after observing the period of iddat or waiting for four
months or three menstrual cycles to confirm that she was not pregnant. The
Iddat period is automatically extended up to childbirth if found pregnant.
slave woman could not be shared. The slave woman could marry with her master’s
permission another slave or a free man and once she was so married, she was no
longer available to the master.
born of the master were born free and had full rights of inheritance etc. The
slave woman also attained freedom on delivering her master’s child and her
legal status automatically became that of a wife.
with a woman taken as a prisoner but not allotted as slave by the
commander/leader was treated as rape and adultery and punished accordingly by
stoning to death.
The women who fell into the hands of the
Muslim army were therefore not raped, gang raped, publicly disrobed or treated
in an undignified manner as is the case with how they are treated by every victorious
army.If they were not ransomed or freed, they became slave of one master who
could choose to have sex with her. Since the woman was not shared, this was not
sex slavery unless marriage of a woman is also thought of as making her a sex
slave. More importantly, the woman was not abandoned to her fate but was taken
care of in a dignified manner. This is an important point since women who fall
into enemy hands were/are generally not welcome back by their own husbands or
There is much confusion about Muta or
contract marriages and clearly even if there was an instance of it, it was
declared forbidden by Umar bin Khattab. I can however imagine that in some
campaign in a distant land, where women were not taken captive, the leader of
the Muslim army may have faced a situation where if he did not allow Muta he
may have faced a revolt by his men. What can be said in favour of Muta is that
rape was avoided and although it was `legalized prostitution’, it was with the
consent of the women. Morality is quite often a matter of choosing the lesser
evil or of minimizing misery.
War does strange things to people. War
turns men into psychopath killers and rapists. The women soldiers in the US
army are a sexually battered lot both during war and in peace times.
So the task for the critics of the Quranic
verses permitting sex with female slaves
is to define the rules of war which are pragmatic and can be adhered to,
and to look at the verses from the Koran in that light, and comment whether the
`evil of allowing sex with women taken as slaves in war’ that was allowed,
which limited sex with own slave only, was worse than leaving the subject
untouched, and turning a blind eye to the inevitable gang rape of both the men
and the women by the victorious armies.
The rules are not codified in the books in
other societies but we know from the story in Mahabharata, that a Draupadi who
became a slave of the Kauravas as a result of her husband losing her in a game
of dice, could be publicly disrobed in the presence of her (ex) husbands and
elders, without anyone raising their voice against such treatment. In Islam,
nether can a woman be enslaved in this manner or dishonoured. That is the
advantage of codifying the rules. The down side is that such rules become easy
targets for criticism.
The Quranic verse allowing sex with female
captives must be understood not with the sensibilities and morality of peace
time, but with an understanding of what war does to people. The punishment for
adultery is severe in Islam. Rape is worse than adultery and if this was to be
eliminated even during war, sex with female captives had to be allowed without
which there would have been rape without being able to punish for it. Crime
which goes unpunished only breeds contempt for the law and eventually leads to
a complete breakdown of the moral code.
Islamic wars were the only wars in history
in which no woman was publicly humiliated by stripping and gang raping and
abandoning her thereafter. The woman slave was never shared between men and
although her owner had sexual rights, he could not ill-treat her and had to
take good care of her, feeding her the same food that he ate. Children born to
the women were born free and if the woman who had borne her master’s children
was not given freedom by her master, she automatically became a free woman on
Morality is not what the majority think is
moral or immoral. Our concepts of morality change with the times just like
fashions do. Morality is what promotes maximum good and who can know this
better than God? If rape was not a feature of every war (including wars for
liberation and wars to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people), I would have
had no hesitation in condemning the permission to have sex with female captives
as undoubtedly this is immoral in precept and aesthetically abhorrent. However,
facts only confirm that the word of God cannot be found fault with even today
since in practice, these laws saved the women from the indignities that are
always heaped on them. While Slavery is rightly banned and such banning is in
accordance with the spirit of the Quran, a solution to the problem of the crime
of rape and sodomy as a consequence of war eludes a solution despite the laws
that criminalize rape and make it punishable as a war crime.
Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an
independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private
sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent
contributor to NewAgeIslam.com
Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism
For the benefit of everyone to help follow the argument.
The Science of medicine studies medicine and also produces
Why doesn’t “The Science of Moral Duty” only study the moral
principles given by religion but does not produce them?
Moral principles are like the stars that man studies but
does not produce.
Why is this so difficult for you to understand?
Now I get what you are saying.
Moral principles are
like the stars that man can only study but not produce.
It is not like medicine which man can both study and produce.
I have been trying to say the same thing.
Moral Principles must be inspired/revealed by the same Entity
that created the stars as claimed by religions which have given us the moral
You say:Without responding to my previous comment, you ask a new
question: " If ethics is the science of moral duty, why does it not
generate its own moral principles ?"
had deliberately ducked answering this question twice before. It is not a new
You say: Science is a systematized study of a subject. According
to Kidder, ethics studies moral duty. It does not produce moral precepts. A
physicist studies energy. He does not produce coal or petroleum. An astronomer
studies the stars. He does not create any heavenly bodies.
That is a great analogy GM Sb. Your
analogy and my analogy prove the point that I was making and you were unable to
I agree that man studies what is there
and produces what he can. He studies anatomy of a human being, he does not and
cannot create human beings, he studies heavenly bodies, he does not and cannot
create them, he studies moral principles, he does not and cannot create them.
The Creator of human beings, heavenly
bodies, coal etc is the Divine.
In the case of medicine, he studies
what is there and produces what is required because he can produce them.
My point is proved.
For The Rise And Fall Of The Muslims
I discuss the Islamic principles which helped achieve what Scott describes as follows:
“The rapid and almost miraculous development of the human mind was the inevitable consequence of a policy based on those principles whose application had promoted the wonderful progress of every nation ruled by the enlightened successors of Muhammad.” (Scott)
and D C Sarton describes as:The achievements of the Arabic speaking peoples between the ninth and the twelfth centuries are so great as to baffle our understanding”
Now an evolutionist can easily say that those principles evolved precisely to achieve what the Muslims achieved. There is nothing wrong with that. So are you also saying the same thing? Are you saying that Islam is a construct of Muhammad and God or divinity has nothing to do with it?
Even if your answer to the above question is yes, the fact remains that human endeavour to find moral principles has failed despite enormous effort put in by philosophers who pursued "The Science of Moral Duty". Philosophy appears to have accepted its failure.
I am doing research for my next article, where I plan to establish with data and facts that human beings are actually incapable of producing moral principles but good at learning from hindsight. The facts and data are from all the unsuccessful attempts made by the philosophers to find new moral principles.