16 February 2018
The phrase “Ma Malakat Aymanukum” has been used in the Quran on a number of occasions and the Urdu translators of the Quran have translated it as “the possession of their hands” and female slaves are meant by it though the phrase is gender neutral and male slaves are also meant according to the context.
“Also (prohibited are) women already married, except those whom your right hands possess” (Al Nisa: 24)
The above quoted verse deals with the women who are prohibited for men for marriage. Among those are the women too who are though married but are prisoners of war and are in the custody of Muslims. Therefore, in this context, “whom your right hands possess” does not mean only female slaves but also prisoners of war among women.
“Except with those joined to them in the marriage bond, or (the captives) whom their right hands possess, - for (in their case) they are free from blame” (Al Muminun: 6)
In Surah Al Nur, the Quran gives a list of men or male members of her family before whom she can come without Purdah or reveal her adornment: Here too, the phrase Ma Malakat Aymanuhunna is used meaning slaves. Obviously, here slave means male slaves.
“and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands' fathers, or their sons or their husbands' sons, or their brothers or their brothers' sons or sisters' sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigour, or children who know naught of women's nakedness.” (Al Nur: 31)
In the Quran, the word ‘Abd’ is used for male servant and ‘amah’ is used for female servant. So, when the Quran wants to specify any one of them it uses specific words but when it speaks of both, it uses the phrase Ma Malakat Aymanukum and leaves it to the reader to understand its meaning according to the context. In the following verse:
“Marry those among you who are single, or the virtuous ones among yourselves, male or female.” (Al Nur: 32)
“Do not marry unbelieving women (idolaters), until they believe: A slave woman (Amatun) who believes is better than an unbelieving woman, even though she allures you. Nor marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe: A man slave (Abd) who believes is better than an unbeliever (Mushrik), even though he allures you. Unbelievers do (but) beckon you to the Fire. But Allah beckons by His Grace to the Garden (of bliss) and forgiveness, and makes His Signs clear to mankind: That they may celebrate His praise.”(Al Baqarah: 221)
The phrase Ma Malakat Aymanukum is also used for male prisoners of war or captives and enjoins on the Muslims to free them if they want agreement of freedom in lieu of some money.
“And if any of your slaves (Ma Malakat Aymanukum) ask for a deed in writing (to enable them to earn their freedom for a certain sum), give them such a deed if ye know any good in them :(( Al Nur: 33)
On one or two occasions, Quran also uses the word ‘Fatayat” to specifically mean young maids or female captives in addition to the phrase ‘Ma Malakat Aymanukum’”:
“Ma Malakat Aymanukum Min Fatayatukum Al Muminat” (Al Nisa; 25) It means young girls among your captives or slaves. This also shows that Ma Malakat Aymanukum is gender neutral and only means slaves or female slaves.
“La Takrahu Fatayatikum” (Al Nur: 33)
“Do not force your female slaves (into prostitution)
From above discussion, it becomes clear that the phrase “Ma Malakat Aymanukum” is not used only to mean female slaves but it is a gender-neutral phrase meaning both male and female slaves. Also, on some occasions it is also used to mean prisoners of war or women taken as war booty or male prisoners of war or servants or captives.
Broader Meaning of the Phrase
However, there is also one verse in the Quran where the phrase “Ma Malakat Aymanukum” is used in a broader sense which was hitherto unnoticed by our exegetes and commentators of the Quran. The verse in question is as follows:
“Allah has bestowed His gifts of sustenance more freely on some of you than on others: those more favoured are not going to throw back their gifts to those whom their right hands possess, so as to be equal in that respect. Will they then deny the favours of Allah?” (Al Nahl: 71)
In this verse, the phrase “Ma Malakat Aymanukum” is not used to mean only male or female slaves but all the poor and needy persons, male or female, dependent on the wealthy and well to do people. This verse also hints at the system of distribution of Zakat because the purpose of Zakat is to distribute a portion of the income or wealth of a well to do person to needy people around him. Thus, all the needy people around a well to do person are ‘Ma Malakat Aymanuhum” according to this verse. The Quran envisages a society where the wealthy will always take care of the needy people around them and will strive to reduce poverty in his area by parting with a portion of their wealth with the poor and the needy. Therefore, all the needy and the destitute under a wealthy person’s purview are his “right hand possession” or “Ma Malakat Aymanuhum” or dependents in terms of financial position and it is his religious duty to take care of them. So, even a beggar, an orphan or a destitute person comes under the phrase ‘Ma Malakat Aymanukum’. This is the broader meaning of the term “Ma Malakat Aymanukum”.
S. Arshad is a regular columnist for NewAgeIslam.com
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