By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009
Most commentators have translated the captioned verses in a literalist and gendered manner purporting to legitimize a man’s sexual intimacy with slave/ captive women in the historical context, and maids, call girls etc. in today’s context. This contradicts the broader Qur’anic message, making a mockery of its laws relating to marriage.
The captioned verses belong to the Suras (al-Mu‘minun, 23 and al-Ma‘arij, 70) that date from the Meccan period of the revelation (610-622 AD). Marriage laws and those abolishing slavery were yet to be introduced. These came down in phases about a decade later (after the Prophet moved to Medina in 622) and abolished the notions of slavery as well as sex with captives, slave women, call girl and the like outside the wedding bond.
A recent focused exegetic (interpretational) work  that is approved by al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo and is endorsed and recommended by a leading American Islamic scholar and jurist Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, presents the following gender neutral universal translation of the captioned verses that negates the notions of slavery and all forms of extramarital relations:
“(Believers/Prayerful) preserve their private parts* (23:4/ 70:29) - except from their spouses (azwaj), that is (awe) those under their lawful trust (ma malakat ayman), and then (they are) not blame worthy (23:5/ 70:30).” *[Sexual impulses]
The traditional translation will typically read:
“(Believers/Prayerful) preserve their private parts* (23:4/ 70:29) - except from their wives (azwaj), or (awe) those that their right hands possess (ma malakat ayman) (such as captive/ slave women, bondmaids etc.) and then (they are) not blame worthy (23:5/ 70:30).” *[Sexual impulses]
The universal rendition is based on the following irrefutable considerations:
1. The gender neutral addressee – ‘believers’, ‘prayerful’ respectively of the passages 23:1-6 and 70:19-29 respectively that contain these verses. That is, both the passages are addressed to both men and women and not to men alone.
2. The word azwaj is rendered in a gender neutral manner (denoting both men and women) as consistently used in the Qur’an. Traditional translations are in the feminine form (as wives) which is gender-biased, misleading and untenable.
3. The particle awe (23:5/ 70:30) is translated as ‘that is' instead of ‘or’ based on its versatile connotation in the Qur’anic usage.
The tabled universal interpretation is further supported by the following Qur’anic illustrations and arguments to avoid any doubts and suspicions.
1. The Qur’an uses the word ‘right hand’ figuratively to denote a positive lawful status, such as the companions of the ‘right hand’ (56:8, 56:27) and God's ‘right hand’ (39:67). Therefore, the phrase ‘ma malakat ayman’ could be best rendered as “those under one’s lawful trust.”
2. Its following verses/ passages carry clear exhortations to freeing the salves:
• 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
3. 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 i) marry from among the bondmaids under their lawful trust (4:3, 4:25), ii) marry off the unmarried ones among their male and female slaves (24:32) and iii) free their slaves against reasonable contract, allowing them to pay later for their freedom (24:33).
“If you fear that you cannot do justice by the orphans, marry women who please your - two or three or four; but if you still fear that you cannot treat (them) equitably, then only one, or (marry) someone under your lawful trust. Then it is most likely that you will not act unjustly” (4:3).
“And any of you who cannot afford to marry chaste believing woman (should marry) from believing bondmaids under your lawful trust, 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… (Remember,) God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (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).
4. 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.
Conclusion: The Qur’an came to bring about an all round reform of human society that included, among other things, phased abolition of slavery and empowerment of women through the institution of marriage and other family laws. Therefore any suggestion to accommodate slavery or sex with captives, maids, call girls etc. in the fold of Islam will stand in stark contradiction to its universal message.
It is conceivable that with time the gendered and historic-specific traditional translation of the Qur’an will be refreshed with the tabled universal rendition. But how long the predominantly male Muslim scholarship will cling to the gendered traditional interpretation remains a question mark. Those lusting after extramarital avenues will not be happy with the tabled universal rendition. It is for the Muslim intelligentsia to take up the issue through Face book, Twitter and other forums rest the highly patriarchic Ulama will support and perpetuate the traditional rendition that caters to the masculine sexual lust.
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.
1. Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, Maryland (USA) 2009, authored by Muhammad Yunus and Ashfaque Ullah Syed.
Respected Muhammad Yunus (1) sahib, I just went through your article
“A Fresh Insight into the Qur’anic Verses Quoted to Justify Unwedded Sexual Relation with Maids, Call Girls etc".
I salute to your sincerity and hard work. Kindly elaborate the "under their lawful trust" You gave some examples from Quran. What was "lawful trust"? How was it implemented by prophet and companions? When Muslims stated to go against broader Qur’anic message? How prophet put it into practice in case of Safiya bint Huyai?
Actually, the problem
arises from somewhere else. And if at all there is a problem, I have found and
stated my solution. I am content. So let us move forward and close the topic.
[reply to a similar question by Joseph Islam of www.quransmessage.com]
Salamun Alaikum,You say:"So what should be the proper meaning of this idiom in the context of 23:6 which gives the permission of sex with mates(azwajihim ) OR "those that your right hands possess". It does not mention explicitly that it required to marry these category of "those that your right hands possess" [Bold emphasis mine]With respect, any ‘perceived’ difficulty is removed if the following section of the article is considered: [Start of quote]WHY DOES THE QURAN DISTINGUISH BETWEEN 'MARRIED WOMEN' AND 'RIGHT HANDS POSSESS' AND CLASSIFY THEM AS SEPARATE CATEGORIES?"Women who are from the category of ‘right hands possess’ are not ‘free’ women in the same sense. They are either slaves or captures. When one takes them in marriage, all the rules of responsibility of wedlock on part of the male applies to the one he marries. However, this spouse still has reduced answerability such as her punishment in the case of ‘Fahisha’ (lewdness).There remains a crucial difference between a marriage based on complete freedom of choice exacted by a 'free believer' without circumstantial influence and one based on compromises, incentives such as freedom, status and financial stability gained through a compromise marriage. These differences in choices based on free and non-free parties are clearly recognized. Hence the noted difference in answerability as well"[End of quote]Therefore, the Quran classifies two separate categories. This does not mean they do not have to be married. All the verse 23:6 says is 'Except from their spouses or what their right hands possess'. It makes no mention of 'Nikaah'. It just addresses two separate categories and assumes ‘Nikaah’ (Lawful wedlock). The fact that both categories have to be married to make sex lawful is clear from verse 4:25.With respect, I see no difficulty here if one clearly acknowledges why the Quran addresses the two categories separately. If this is accepted, then any further attempts to ‘redefine’ ‘right hands possess' become mute.I hope that helps, God willing.Joseph.
The Quran is a beacon of equality, justice, fairness, commonsense and compassion. Any message that we wish to adduce from the Quran must be subjected to those five tests. If it fails on any of those five tests, it should be re-examined, re-contextualized, re-interpreted and refined.
@Manzoorul Huq.There is no dispute that sex with slave was in vogue in those days (as theQur’an ws under revelation.) Therefore, if you and I interpreted the notedverses in that era, we will render it in the traditional way.
Thatinterpretation will be specific to the era. But if we want to adduce themessage of the Qur’an for all humanity for all time, we have to take account ofall the Qur’anic verses relating to man-woman relationship andrights/privileges as this article has attempted to do. We will then reach atthe tabled universal interprettaon of the noted verses. We have to appreciatethat the Qur’an could not ignore the prevalent realities at any given moment ofthe revelation.
Therefore any revelation referring to a custom (sex with slavefor example) predating a set of laws that collectively abolish that custom mustbe necessarily regarded as context specific and reinterpreted post revelationas the article attempts to do.
The Quran is a beacon of equality, justice, fairness and commonsense. Any message that we wish to adduce from the Quran must be subjected to those four tests. If it fails on any of those tests, it should be examined, re-interpreted and refined.
If neutral universal translation is this: “(Believers/Prayerful) preserve their private parts (23:4/ 70:29) - except from their spouses (azwaj), that is (awe) those under their lawful trust (ma malakat ayman), and then (they are) not blame worthy (23:5/ 70:30).” , then all disputes on the issue are over. But suppose it turns out that sex with slave girl was possible in those days without wedding, then the following may be relevant. Nikah in the nature of a bilateral contract is neither needed not possible with a slave-girl and to take the slave into sexual relationship would be entirely unilateral decision of the man, but after she has been taken into sexual relationship by her master, she virtually becomes a wife.
There is no question of prostitution as an option. It was never there and it can never be. This ambiguous state remained obviously for a limited period because; slavery was not abolished by Islam overnight, like stopping usury, or drinking etc. Slavery was abolished by encouraging abolition through several means perhaps because slaves were human beings and not merely objects like liquor, or money, and there was so much of economic insecurity those days; and more than abolition, rehabilitation of slaves in a slave-ridden society was an important issue.
Mr. Zuma if Bukhari can be relied for what you have said then what about the references of Bukhari in the link mentioned below?