Anonymous: Assalamuu Aliakum, I’m really confused about slavery and Islam. Why was slavery allowed in Islam? Did the Prophet SAW have slaves and concubines? What about Maria Qibtiyya? I thought a relationship between a male and female was not allowed outside the bounds of marriage in Islam, but they had a son? I’m very confused. I tried finding the info online, but I ‘m not sure what is reliable or not. Thanks in advance!
Party Til Fajr:
Wa alykum as-salaam,
This is a very interesting question and one that forces us to view humanity at its most despicable, but when we discuss slavery and Islam we have to force ourselves to take a very different view of slavery to the one that we have been socialized into. What I mean is that, when we speak of slavery, we generally refer to the Western experience with slavery, in which particular people were put into slavery and their bondage was justified due to their “particulars,” i.e. because they were black.
In some portions of the Muslim world, slaves were, indeed black, but slavery within the Muslim world was not based upon race, and slaves did not experience the same brutality, nor did they occupy the same place within society as in other parts of the world, let alone the West.
As far as slavery being “allowed” in Islam, I’m not sure if Islam really takes that stance on slavery at all. Again, in discussing slavery, we have to understand the economic structures and the incentive structures of Muslims as one issue and contrast that with how Islam actually addresses slavery as another.
With regard to the vast majority of problems afflicting a society, the injunctions found in The Qur’an are generally designed to bring immediate change. However, illustrating a level of understanding of human inclinations, The Qur’an, in several instances, provides injunctions and incentives to bring an end to several different kinds of behaviors, that cannot be broken immediately.
For instance, many times, those who are addicted to certain kinds of substances, cannot just stop “cold turkey.” People can die from withdrawal symptoms, and even if that is not the case, I do not know of any therapist who would suggest going about recovering from something that way.
Now, as corny as this sounds, applying this thought process to humanity is applicable. Before you freak out on me, let me just say, there is already tremendous literature that is directed and structured at this very problem, of changing human (political) behavior. It’s normally referred to as “the transitions literature,” and I’m sure many of you have read it, especially if you’re reading stuff about the World Bank, IMF, or other various organizations directed towards assisting and changing people’s lives.
I’m sure you thinking, “uh… fantastic Osama, why do you tell me these useless things?” The point is that today, 2012, we are utilizing this exact method of “pacted transitions,” so that the methodology within The Qur’an is designed, in my opinion, with this characteristic and with this advanced understanding of humanity.
Now, the “pacted transitions” literature might have problems in terms of their particular cases, the reality is that, in all major changes to any societal construct, it takes time, and the key towards a successful transition is not just the goal, but the correct identification of what steps are necessary in order to ensure you get to that goal.
So, in order to get someone (or some country) to do what “you” want, you give them incentives to change their behavior. This “incentive structure” is in not only in making slavery only permissible in very confined instances, but, that when you look at The Qur’an as a whole, it becomes overwhelmingly obvious that slavery is an institution that is to be abolished.
The Qur’an restricts slavery to captured combatants from enemy armies, which also, very interestingly, is the verse where The Qur’an implicitly states that what is required of The Prophet is expected of his followers, thus establishing our shared humanity, but also, our connection, as humans to those who will be slaves. The ayah, from Surah Al-Anfal says the following:
“It does not behove a prophet to keep captives unless he has battled strenuously on earth.” [8:67]
It is from this ayah that we get the restriction of slavery to combatants in war, and this practice was used, according to many scholars, because they did not have prisons to keep these captives in the first place. I am inclined to agree with this perspective, but also, the tradition of The Prophet and through the understanding of this verse is that they should be freed after the war is over, which solidifies the idea that what slavery was “justified” in The Qur’an, really was meant for a practical purpose and for a very small point in time.
The Qur’an also provides random places where you are supposed to free a slave. For instance, if you killed someone (I’m sorry that sounds so casual…) and it was by accident, The Qur’an does not just ask you to pay compensation to the grieving family, but to free a slave. This is literally, in The Qur’an, in Surah An-Nisa:
“And it is not conceivable that a believer should slay another believer, unless it be by mistake. And upon him who has slain a believer by mistake there is the duty of freeing a believing soul from bondage and paying an indemnity to the victim’s relations,” [4:92]
However, the firmest place in which The Qur’an’s stance towards slavery, as something to be abolished, is within one of my favorite ayahs in The Qur’an. It is within this ayah, in Surah Al-Baqarah, in which I believe that the central tenants of, not just a Muslim but a human being, is outlined clearly:
“True piety does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or the west — but truly pious is he who believes in God, and the Last Day, and the angels, and revelations, and the prophets; and spends his substance — however much he himself may cherish it — upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage;and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and [truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God.” [2:177]
I felt that the entire ayah was worth quoting. I could (and I think I will) write an entire article on this ayah alone, because it is so wonderful, especially when you look at the structure and how God puts what should be our priorities as human beings. Regardless, looking at what I italicized, the point here is that, when God is referring to our most basic obligations as human beings, that freeing people from slavery is central towards Islam.
So, in short, is slavery really allowed in Islam, or was it something to be tolerated, and to be phased out as human society progressed? I think, as far as Islam and the structure of The Qur’an goes, it’s abundantly clear that slavery is abhorred and problematic, especially since Islam places as human beings as equals before the eyes of God, but instead of pretending it doesn’t exist or that it shouldn’t, The Qur’an tackles slavery, head on, and even though Muslims in history did not follow what The Qur’an commanded, I think that, even with human weakness, the status of slaves within the Muslim world has meant that many of the ugly sides of slavery that afflicted other societies, is largely absent from Muslim societies.
As far as The Prophet having slaves or concubines, to my knowledge, the most routinely discussed possible concubines that he had were three women: Safiyya bint Huyayy, Maria al-Qibtiyyah, and Rayhanna. I can’t think of any primary source evidence (like The Qur’an, for example) that I could give you (here) to assure you that they were his wives, but, from what I have read, the evidence seems to be pretty clear that he married these women. One of the main reasons why scholars have found it doubtful that The Prophet would marry these women, is because they were not Muslim, which is especially true of Maria al-Qibtiyyah.
Her conversion to Islam is not certain, though it seems it is possible, but, again, her name denotes that she might have maintained her faith. Regardless, the issue of their status as “wives” is predicated on how the scholar sees the relative problem of The Prophet being married to someone who was not Muslim. I’m not sure if this is as much of an issue, especially since it would have been permissible anyways… So, I don’t get it.
As far as slaves, I believe he owned slaves prior to his prophethood, and even then, he freed them. The woman Barakah, who helped raise him, is one of the examples that I can think of. Another slave was Zayd ibn Harithah, who was The Prophet’s adopted son (before direct adoption was made impermissible) and who was, not only Black, but one of the first Muslims. The Prophet offered to free him, which Zayd rejected, The Prophet then freeing him and adopting him, again, before adoption rules were stated revealed to Muhammad.
Zayd’s son, Osama ibn Zayd, would become the youngest Muslim general, and would later have an awkward child named after him.
As far as whether having sexual relations with a concubine being permissible, again, this is actually more disputable than Muslims believe. This centers upon the phrase “who your right hand possess,” and when it comes to sexual relations, historical scholars, not just modern ones, offer a very different hypothesis.
Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, frequently known as simply Tabari, and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, referred to as simply Razi, have both argued in their works that these phrases in The Qur’an are very restrictive. Tabari argued that this phrase should mean that “women whom you rightfully possess through wedlock,” that that understanding was implicit within The Qur’an. Razi, argues that because the famous phrase (about right hand possessing) is within reference to “all married women” and is designed to stress the prohibition of sexual relations with any woman other than one’s lawful wife.
That being said, other commentaries justify the ability to have sexual relations with women other than your wife to, again, a very specific instance. The arguments focus on two issues:
Back in the day, if you did not have sons, when you got old, you would die. Without heirs, without someone protecting you, there was nothing that could really protect you. There were no 401K’s, so your “retirement plan” was your kids. Yes, The Prophet did not have sons, but he did not live in the same situation as others. So, in order to maximize the chance that someone would have children (since so many died in childbirth) having children with concubines was seen as acceptable, because of this practical need. It must be stressed, that in pushing this view, many scholars would argue that the alleged concubines discussed earlier, were not wives, but concubines.
The second possible justification was that, and this is somewhat related to the first issue, that when the Muslim men were in non-Muslims lands, especially on military expeditions, they generally did not bring their wives. Thus, this was considered a right during military campaigning, and again, like the first category, is predicated on the perception of The Prophet’s relationship with the women mentioned above and the interpretation one has of the sexual rights granted in The Qur’an.
However, even if the above interpretations were correct, they are ultimately tied to slavery. Thus, once the basis of slavery is abolished, as is required by Islam, so is the possibility of having sexual relations with a concubine.
Again, slavery in the Muslim experience created very different societal outcomes. I literally hate reading Western interpretations on Muslim slavery, mostly because they try and make parallels that do not exist. The most striking examples are the Mameluks and the Janissaries, who were ostensibly slaves, but were either rulers of entire Empires or the backbone of the Ottoman Empire. People would push their children into these forms of slavery, because it would mean education, and advancement.
Is slavery a good thing? Absolutely not, which The Qur’an and The Prophet agreed with and thoroughly combated. The most important factor is that you separate the Western narrative on slavery, which is informed by its particular brand of slavery, and the slavery experienced by Muslims, who by even continuing to have slaves, were not following the injunctions in The Qur’an, but, again, the experience was very different.
Just because The Qur’an addresses slavery, does not mean that it is justifying slavery. The Qur’an addresses violence, does that mean The Qur’an condones violence? Of course not, but a human being will come into contact with violence and thus must deal with, just as the Muslim would have to deal with slavery (back then) and thus, what would be the purpose of being silent on the issue?
That is the beauty of The Qur’an, it does not give a message that you want to hear, it gives you the message that you need to hear.
Insha Allah, I hope I answered your question, and I hope that if you or anyone else has a question on this, or another topic that you do not hesitate to ask me.
Q&A from Party Til Fajr
“(133) And vie with one another to attain to your Sustainer’s forgiveness and to a paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, which has been readied for the God-conscious
(134) who spend [in His way] in time of plenty and in time of hardship, and hold in check their anger, and pardon their fellow-men because God loves the doers of good;” [3:133-134] Muhammad Asad
I am sorry that I did not post an ayah last week, and I wanted to make sure that I did this week. Perhaps this is a little personal, but, so many of you share so much with me, that I feel that I should be able to do the same.
These two ayahs, mean so much, they underline so much. The point that speaks to me, the most, is how God advises the believer to not just hasten or be quick to ask for forgiveness, but to vie with one another, conjuring imagery (in my mind) that you should be pushing everything aside towards forgiveness, you should be falling over yourself, tripping over your own feet, running towards forgiveness.
Obviously, without a subject (for you to push) this line is allegorical, and therefore, when you are rushing towards forgiveness from your Sustainer, that is to mean, from all that God has bestowed and all that exists: seek forgiveness from those you have wronged (immediately), seek forgiveness from those who offended you by seeking them out, seek forgiveness from yourself, because it is only then that you can be at peace with your Lord, not because God needs your apologies, but because you need it.
It is only when you confront your demons, confront what makes you deviate from what is right, only then, that you can do what is right, consistently. To seek God’s forgiveness, is to be at peace with yourself, because it is when you are not at peace, that is when you make mistakes, when you sin, when you hurt others.
Forgiveness in this context isn’t to make you feel better, when you have hurt someone, it is not to brush yourself off, after you’ve done wrong, and move on, it’s to make sure that the other person feels better, so that you may learn from that, so that you may improve through helping others.
God’s wisdom, whether it be expressed through The Qur’an or the Sunnah, or however else God may give us His Grace, is useless if you do not apply it, it becomes a mere maxim when you preach it and do not act upon it, and I am the first one to raise my hand and realize this. Do not apologize because you need to feel better, that comes later, that’s for when you are confronted with this again… Apologize because you need to heal that other person, and you need to run to them, do not let any excuse impede you from seeking that forgiveness, it doesn’t matter who said what, who started what, don’t you realize how childish that is?
We say Insha Allah because we should have the modesty to realize that we may not see the next moment, that everything is fleeting, and you should try to embody that through your actions, and that is why forgiveness is something you should hurl yourself towards. Whatever pain you experience now, is nothing towards allowing another person to feel the way they do, because of your weakness, and the only way we can be strong, is by doing what is right, because bravery isn’t the absence of fear, it is doing what is right when you are afraid.
This might be rambling, and this might be a little disjointed, but I want to just tell you, advise you all, to simply make amends, to try, just try as hard as you can, because you never know, and I pray that I may actually embody what I preach, and that even though I will fail, I hope that you all succeed, because it is not just our Ummah that needs bravery, indeed, it is the world.
Strive towards what is good, even if it may hurt you, and realize that your tests in this world are not just when you are hurt, or scared, or sad, but when you are happy and in times of joy, and that you realize the impact of the words we say, because while our actions count so much, our words can do just as much damage. Therefore, rush towards forgiveness, with all your might, all your heart, with everything you have, because it is right, it is brave.
I pray that this message reaches you and your families in the best of health and Iman.
Anonymous: I have two questions:1. There is so much emphasis on learning about one’s religion that it’s overwhelming and I’m actually scared thinking there’s so much I need to know. How do I stop stressing and actually do something about it, other than reading your blog? 2. How does one to terms with the fate & make peace with it without being jealous. Thnks
Party Til Fajr:
Wa alykum as-salaam,
I’d like to begin by thanking you for your praise, I don’t think I deserve it, and you will probably agree after actually going through my tumblr. Insha Allah, I hope to improve and actually earn the praise you have given me.
Your first question is a question that many Muslims ask, and every time I hear it, I honestly say alhamdulilah. Why? Because, it means that Muslims are hungry to know more, they want to, and they are pushing themselves to know for themselves, rather than being given Islamic knowledge. This desire, in my opinion, is one of the major reasons Islam is strong, because we, as Muslims, are expected to pursue knowledge, not simply to receive it.
This aspect of the Islamic tradition is one of our greatest strengths, but, as your question illustrates, because Muslims (especially in the West) are such over-achievers, we put this tremendous pressure upon ourselves to know everything there is to know about Islam. When you factor in the fact that Muslims are constantly asked about all aspects about Islam by our friends, neighbors, and co-workers, you feel a certain pressure to know everything.
I understand the pressures of feeling that you need to know all the answers. So, just relax, and know that it’s okay to say “I don’t know.” I say it, a lot, and most probably more often.
However, the other issue that we do not talk about, and this bothers me, personally, is the way that Islam is packaged and presented to us, as Muslims, by our leaders today.
There is this perception that the “scholars” have education in all aspects of Islam. That these scholars, somehow, have some magical or mythical understanding of all aspects of Islam is, honestly, laughable.
I’m not commenting on the status of an Imam or whether a particular scholar has a higher level of piety and closeness to God. Only God knows the true answers to these questions.
The scholars that we think of as these super educated, all-knowing vessels of knowledge is problematic, and I’ll tell you why.
Scholars specialize their education. No scholar, and I mean this, no scholar has a scholarly education and opinion on all aspects of Islam. They study particular subjects. My grandfather, a Sheikh from Al-Azhar, had his doctorate in tafseer, or Qur’anic exegesis. Others study Usul al-Fiqh, Usul al-Deen, aqidah, or even Arabic linguistics. There is an endless amount of topics to study, and as humans, we have limits to our understanding.
Let me put it to you this way, if you asked a doctor what their specialization in medicine was, and they responded “everything,” you would laugh, right? It would be ridiculous, because doctors specialize in things: orthopedics, cardiology, etc
I tell you all this because Muslims constantly compare themselves to scholars, and they also go to scholars for answers to things that are not in their field of specialty. What bothers me even more, is that people listen to those with some sort of Islamic education, many times, in subjects that the educator is not specifically trained in.
Can a scholar (for example) whose specialization is aqidah comment on aspects of Shariah? Of course, they will have familiarity with the subject, but, again, the issue is that they have limits.
How does this relate to your first question? I talk about the scholars to bring up a point, that all people, even those who’s life’s work is studying Islam will be ignorant to aspects of Islam. If those who’s profession involves Islam cannot know everything, then why would you be so hard on yourself?
My suggestion would be to explore the aspect of Islam that interests you the most, and in my experience, you will learn about the other fields as a result, while having a deep appreciation of the specific approach that you focused upon. You should be aware of what you know and what you don’t, and this will make you more humble and also better prepared to approach finding the answers to questions you don’t know the answers to.
The way I’d put it, is this way: when trying to draw water from the ground, is it better to dig six, one-foot wells or one, six-foot wells?
To use myself as an example, I chose Shariah, and it was this particular aspect of Islam that I began to be exposed to other aspects of Islam as a result.
Also, alhamdulilah, because of your questions, I have had to return to my notes and earlier basic foundational education earlier in my life, which has improved my understanding and my connection with God. So, I must thank all of you for helping me. Rabina yu’barik feekom, insha Allah.
So, to clearly answer your first question, I suggest you focus on a particular aspect of Islam that you find interesting, because it will open the doors to other avenues and other fields of study. Also, even if you become the greatest scholar to ever live, be humble in whatever knowledge you gain, because there is always something you won’t know.
It is from that perspective, humility, in which I’d like to answer your second question. All knowledge that improves you and others is Islamic knowledge, whether that is biology, sociology, or engineering: the knowledge that you have is not just a gift for you, it is a test from God.
Gifts are easy to be jealous of, because you look at it as something to possess. Knowledge is a gift from God, but, again, it is also a test. No matter what your knowledge, and in this regard you could have more knowledge to benefit people than a super knowledgeable scholar, the test from God is what do you do with that knowledge.
Your fate is in your hands. Sure, there are things in which God only has dominion over, but we do not believe in predestination, because if we did, then what are we being tested on? Your fate is what you make it, and thus, it is up to you what you end up doing. Insha Allah, you rise to the potential given to you by God.
With these two ideas in mind, in that your fate is in your hands and that knowledge is not just a gift, but a test, you should look at those who have knowledge not as someone to envy, but someone who is tested more than you. They have a greater burden, because they are more aware of what harm they can do to others and themselves. You should not envy them, but feel sorry for them, because they will have more to answer for than you or I.
I think the pursuit of knowledge, regardless of the consequences, and in view of the benefits to you and your society, is the way towards God. I’d like to close with a great quote from Sheikh Muhammad Karam Shah al-Azhari, a Pakistani scholar who studied at Al-Azhar in Egypt: “If the flame of knowledge burns out then human contemplation is incarcerated by superstitions and nonsense.”
Insha Allah, I hope I answered your question, and if you or anyone else has a question on this, or any other issue, please do not hesitate to ask.
Q&A from Party Til Fajr
Anonymous: assalamu alaikum the only thing stopping me from fully accepting Islam is that men can sleep with women who they aren’t married to but who “their right hand possesses” / women in war circumstances. I just don’t see how that doesn’t qualify as rape since the woman might not (probably won’t) want it. Maybe you could explain it.
Party Til Fajr:
Wa alykum as-salaam,
First of all, there is nothing and I truly mean this, nothing in The Qur’an which can justify rape, nor is there anything in The Qur’an that could even hint at that possibility. So if your concern is over the idea that “rape” is somehow permitted or sanctioned by The Qur’an, then please, I assure you, and I have addressed this issue in another post, which you can read here.
As far as men being able to have sexual relations with women who they are unmarried, that is one of the most heated debates, for hormonal young Muslims and legal scholars, albeit for very different issues.
Now, before we continue, let us make a very sharp distinction here, there was never a time in which the Muslim armies would simply take women captives and have sex with them, let alone rape them. This did not happen, nor is it supported in The Qur’an.
What you might be confusing is the practice of the Muslim armies, when they were out on campaign, to engage in the practice of temporary marriage, or mutah, which far from rape or enslaving women for sex, was men entering into temporary marriages with women while on military campaign, giving them dowries and gifts and these women would have their rights.
Caliph Omar made this practice impermissible, and thus it is something that Sunnis and Shia fight over, even though none of us go on military campaigns and would probably never utilize this, and I hope you can pick up from my dismissive tone the amount of interest I have in debating temporary marriage or mutah.
The point is, when they were on military campaigns, Muslim men went into these marriages, and I want to underline that they were marriages, as some men were getting a little “uneasy” (that’s a nice way to put it) since they asked The Prophet if they should castrate themselves to help control themselves. (I’m not even kidding about this, yes, you read that right, castrate themselves)
Now why do I emphasize that they were marriages? Frankly speaking, because the Muslims armies did not rape women, and also when they were on military campaigns, they utilized this tool, and in order to engage in temporary marriage, you are obviously entering into a consensual relationship.
I’d also like to be abundantly clear about something else, the concept of “temporary marriage” has nothing to do with the concept of “what your right hands possess.” These are two distinct and separate issues, and so the issue of Muslim men having sex while on military campaign involves the issue of “temporary marriage,” and the concept of “what your right hands possess” is another, distinct issue.
I hope I have addressed your concerns over the false accusations of rape and what not against Muslims, and if not, please ask me follow up questions.
Now, in regards to the phrase “what your right hands possess,” this is a line that has been debated by even the earliest scholars. What this phrase means, is up to interpretation. I will be honest, I don’t think it matters for our day-and-age, because we do not live in the same context as one in which having a concubine was critical (for various reasons we do not have today).
Now, when I say concubine, I’m not talking some woman you have for simple sexual pleasure, because The Qur’an restricts that possibility, completely:
“And if any of those whom you rightfully possess desire [to obtain] a deed of freedom, write it out for them if you are aware of any good in them: and give them [their share] of the wealth of God which He has given you.” [24:33] Muhammad Asad
Okay, so this is the second part (of three) of 24:33, and it clearly underlines the phrase in question, and it refers, in this context, both male and female slaves, but also it underlines that if they ask for freedom, give it to them; specifically that is a moral obligation (upon a Muslim) to help slaves free themselves from bondage (as many were slaves because of debts, etc). So, from this aspect, that we take the next part of 24:33:
“And do not, in order to gain some of the fleeting pleasure of this worldly life, coerce your [slave] maidens into whoredom if they happen to be desirous of marriage; and if anyone should coerce them, then, verily, after they have been compelled [to submit in their helplessness], God will be much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace!” [24:33] Muhammad Asad
So, this ayah of The Qur’an explicitly prohibits the Muslim from utilizing his female slaves for sex, and that if they (the slaves) want marriage, which means they are receptive to the owner romantically, that the Muslim man must marry her in order to have sexual relations. It also underlines that women are not to blame if they are in this position and have sex with their masters, this is the fault of the master.
Case-closed, right? Well, not exactly, because we still haven’t discussed other parts of The Qur’an, which deal with this famous phrase. In 70:30, and in 23:6 we get two ayat which underline that a Muslim man may have sexual relations with his wife “and” those “whom they rightfully possess.” You will see why I wrote “and” later.
Now, this would seem that it would accept the idea that a Muslim man can have sexual relations with someone he is not married to, but (and this is a huge but) that interpretation can only be possible if you associate the phrase with slavery.
Why would Muslims back-in-the-day allow this to happen? Again, there is a practical reason why they would be inclined towards this interpretation, and that is because, you had to have boys in order to make sure you don’t get killed, have everything stolen, etc. I realize this doesn’t sound very, acceptable, but this is how people lived back then, and quite frankly, until very recently (and unfortunately, in many parts of the world, they still have this concern).
So, there were no 401K retirement plans, no pensions, the only way you could have an “insurance plan” was if you had kids, lots of kids, and boys were a more assured commodity, because they could more easily work on farms and other jobs, as well as have a greater access to education and military service (how poor families could achieve social mobility), so boys (but children in general) were something you wanted. So, they would try and have kids, and lots of them. This meant that when their wives couldn’t have children, or if the women weren’t having boys (even though men determine the sex of the baby, but they didn’t know that) then they would marry another, or get a concubine to produce an heir.
This was of especial importance to those with heredity titles, and since people with heredity titles tend to have more money, and therefore more power, they tended to push the interpretations of 23:6 and 70:30 as to include concubines, and they would try to ignore 24:33. This was an issue of history and not of the early Muslims, but it is where we get the idea that having sex with a slave or a woman you are not married to is okay: it is historical.
Obviously, we do not live in that same world, and thus denying this possibility is easy for us, but it was far more difficult for people back-in-the-day, just like even though there is clear evidence that slavery is wrong, Muslims still had and sold slaves. That being said, there are various historical (not just modern) commentaries that disagreed with the interpretation that these two ayat (70:30 and 23:6) allowed sex outside of marriage.
The entire argument hinges upon how you interpret that famous phrase. Muhammad Asad renders 70:30 and 23:6 like so:
“(29) and who are mindful of their chastity, (30) [not giving way to their desires] with any but their spouse — that is, those whom they rightfully possess [through wedlock] —: for then, behold, they are free of all blame,” [70:29-30]
I included the 29th ayah because it underlines Asad’s point, and his translation reflects how the phrase should be understood, and so:
“(5) and who are mindful of their chastity, (6) [not giving way to their desires] with any but their spouses — that is, those whom they rightfully possess [through wedlock] -: for then, behold they are free of all blame, (7) whereas such as seek to go beyond that [limit] are truly transgressors;” [23:5-7]
This part of The Qur’an underlines even further Asad’s point, and it is not simply wishful thinking from Asad to render this phrase this way, rather, this is something that is agreed with from historical sources, but also, when we remember that The Qur’an itself makes sex with one’s slave outside of marriage to be impermissible (4:3, 4:24, 4:25, and 24:32).
Furthermore, when The Qur’an uses the terms “azwaj” (spouses) that is a unisex term, just as 24:33 underlines that the slaves we should free, applies to both male and female slaves, so to think that “ma malakat aymanuhum” is to only mean your “female” slaves, seems rather far-fetched.
Thus, outside of the context of slavery, this phrase, “ma malakat aymanuhum” means that husbands and wives, both rightfully possess each other by virtue of marriage. So, when we look at the Arabic particle “aw,” which people use to differentiate between spouses and slaves, it becomes clear that “aw” is really an amplification, and not a simple “or.” Think of it like when Barney Stinson amplifies something by going “oooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrr,” and you’ll get the idea.
Therefore, 4:24 completes this idea, because it says:
“And [forbidden to you are] all married women other than those whom you rightfully possess [through wedlock]: this is God’s ordinance, binding upon you. But lawful to you are all [women] beyond these, for you to seek out, offering them of your possessions, taking them in honest wedlock, and not in fornication.
And unto those with whom you desire to enjoy marriage, you shall give the dowers due to them; but you will incur no sin if, after [having agreed upon] this lawful due, you freely agree with one another upon anything [else]: behold, God is indeed all-knowing,wise.” [4:24]
So, when you take this into account, you come to the conclusion that no one can have sex outside of marriage, and when you read the commentaries of historical scholars like Razi who insisted that this phrase should be understood as “women whom you rightfully possess through wedlock,” which was seconded by Tabari as well as Abdullah ibn Abbas, Mujahid, and others, while Razi writes that because the reference to “all married women” comes after the prohibited degrees of relationships (in 4:23) that this was meant to stress the prohibition of sexual relations with any woman other than one’s lawful wife.
Now, there are many scholars who hold the previous opinion, of the permissibility of men having sex outside of marriage (even if they simply say it was historical). I think Asad, Razi, Tabari, et al have laid out a very impressive argument that I agree with, but I also understand (but do not condone) why historically others interpreted this differently.
The reality is that, today, we do not find any use for that interpretation (justifying it), and so I hope that this puts you at ease, and I hope and pray that I will have the privilege of calling you my brother/sister in Islam soon, insha Allah.
I hope that answered your question, and if you, or anyone else, has a question on this, or any other subject, please do not hesitate to ask me, insha Allah.
Q&A from Party Til Fajr
In the Qur'an, in several places it mentions that God will guide whoever he wishes and those who he decides to misguide, nothing can bring him back to the path. I'm not really sure I understand this. If God chooses to misguide us, then why are we sent to hell for something we have no control over? Why would he punish us for this? On the topic of punishment, the entire notion of hell seems like, for an idea of vengeance, doesn't it? I mean, when someone punishes us,they do it to teach us a lesson
The verses “God guides whom He will” isn’t about favouritism. It isn’t a random selection either. Guidance comes to us all, Muslims or non-Muslims, believers or non-believers, whether you want it, need it, take it or reject it, we are all equally guided - to a degree.
Let’s look at it further.
When God sent Adam and Eve, He sent them down with words of reassurance:
‘Go down, all of you. But when guidance comes from Me, as it certainly will, there will be no fear for those who follow My guidance nor will they grieve’ (2:38)
This verse suggests that Guidance is to be an important part of humanity. It also reassures those who choose to follow It that there shall be nothing to worry about.
‘There is no compulsion in religion: true guidance has become distinct from error’ (2: 256)
This verse allows choices and absolute freedom. To put it more simply, you can choose to live the way you want and do whatever you desire whether that be good or evil. You are given life. Live it whichever way you want. You are given time. Spend it however you wish. But, life isn’t to last and time on earth isn’t limitless and this world isn’t for real. Now, you have been told this and you have been warned this, repeatedly, in fact, whether you believe the Warnings makes no difference, you still have been warned. The Qur’an also has much to say about the endless ‘excuses’ man make. Ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of law nor it is in the case of God. And when ‘that Time’ comes, when your time is up, that will be when you have to face the consequences of your own choices and actions. But before then, God asks that you use your given ability and your given capacity as human beings to observe and reflect and to use your reasons and to understand and to come to Faith that very way. It is the journey you are asked to take and only you can get yourself there – or not.
As for those who are not interested, those who do not wish to be guided – they will simply not be guided and this is when the verse ‘God guides whom He will’ (2:26; 4:88; 4:143; 6:39; 7:178; 7:186; 13:27; 14:4; 16:93; 35:8; 39:23; 39:36; 40:33; 74:31) comes to it. It is not that God picks and chooses who He wishes to guide or misguide but rather that God will ‘allow’ it, either way. According to Ignaz Goldziher, the famous Orientalist and scholar of Arabic, such statements do not mean that God directly leads ones into error. The decisive verb (adalla) is not, in this context, to be understood as “lead astray,” but rather as “allow to go astray.” You will be left alone, that is, if you wish. Again – your choice.
‘Now the truth has come from your Lord: let those who wish to believe in it do so, and let those who wish to reject it do so’ (18: 29)
As for those who wish to be guided, God knows your true intentions, are reminded to ask for guidance and to be patient and to never despair.
‘We shall be sure to guide to Our ways those who strive hard for Our cause: God is with those who do good.’ (29:61)
God, according to the Qur’an, could guide all mankind if He had so willed (13:31), but, He has other purposes. He has created man with a unique ability to make moral decisions and He monitors, influences, and guides each individual’s moral and spiritual development in accordance with them. The Qur’an will insist, as we read through it, that life serves definite purpose and, as 2:39 warns, it has grave consequences and must be taken seriously.
‘But those who disbelieve and deny Our messages shall be the inhabitants of the Fire, and there they will remain.’ (2:39)
This has nothing to do with vengeance. Vengeance serves no purpose here. Life has purpose. Everything in it is part of the process and is necessary for the development of our beings and what is next/yet to come. One should say that it is fair enough that since among all the uncertainties surrounding this earthy life of ours, at least the crucial certainties have been forewarned. The question is – would you take heed?
As we speak of Hell, apart from what is metaphorically said in the Qur’an, we know nothing of it. The Qur’an uses symbolic meanings when explaining ‘the unseen’ to us; the Day of Judgement, Heaven and Hell etc., they aren’t meant to be ‘literal’, they are meant to describe the realm of realities beyond human perception (al ghayb). We don’t know what Heaven is like, but we get the idea. We don’t know what Hell is like, but, again, we get the idea.
Inshallah, I hope this helps. And may I quote this verse from the Qur’an for everybody so that we may reflect:
‘[Prophet] give good news to those who listen to what is said and follow what is best. These are the ones God has guided; these are the people of understanding.’ (39:17-18)
Keep questioning and reasoning, Inshallah.
P.S. I tried to reply to your comment but it was not successful. Please allow me to reply here:
The concept of Hell isn’t about teaching lessons or learning from mistakes but a consequence of bad deeds. The learning and the teaching is for the time on earth. Inshallah, I hope this helps.
I’m losing sight of myself, of my religion I used to be tremendously into Islam & I used to be excited to expand my knowledge & now to be honest there too many things that I just don’t agree with & don’t see myself agreeing with in the future. I really tried but I don’t believe in blindly following, I honestly can’t, I tried, maybe looking into different sects but as of right now nothing seems agreeable to me. Is it possible to be a muslim that doesn’t agree w/everything? Can it just be personal? help
Please do not worry, that would be the first thing that I would tell you to do. The more you worry, the more you will look for token things to be indicative of whether you have faith or not, and then you will freak out even more, and it’ll just be an endless spiral.
Now, I think you should look at what bothers you and ask yourself, honestly: “is this actually what Islam says? Or is this a human being’s interpretation?”
Many times, people are put-off by things that are labeled “Islamic” but are really the ideas of human beings, passed off as somehow the products of God. You should be wary of these things. Does what Sheikh ibn So-bin-So make absolutely no sense to you? Then don’t listen to him.
The point is that, The Qur’an does not want you to blindly follow Islam at all. When you read through The Qur’an, you’ll constantly see that God challenges you to believe, to understand, to use your reason in order to establish belief. If you do not do that, then you are not going to be able to believe anyways. You’re fighting an uphill battle at this point.
The way that I would approach your belief in Islam is the way that my teacher once told me. He was asked if he believed everything in The Qur’an, and he responded: “No.” I was surprised, to say the least, and when asked further, he replied, “I don’t believe anything in The Qur’an, until I understand it, because if I don’t understand it, how can I believe it?”
I think you should take this approach, and instead of allowing your lack of understanding shake you and allow you to stray from your faith, you should put it to the side, and allow yourself the time to process the information and work out what are the things that you don’t understand and which are the things you are certain of. The foundations of your faith, should be based on a solid foundational knowledge of your self.
So, every Muslim has a different “formula” as how they approach their faith, no matter who they are. Everyone looks at Islam differently in their hearts, because everyone is different. Some people highlight one aspect more than another, it’s simply natural, and that’s okay.
I’ll tell you about myself: for a while I didn’t really believe in Satan. It’s not that I doubted what was in The Qur’an, but the concept of Satan, and how it fit into my view of Islam and my view of the world, didn’t really check out. It was as I advanced my thought, as I grew in knowledge, that I understood how Satan factored into my mindset, and into the Islamic worldview that I have today.
The point is that it took time, and you should have patience with yourself and try not to compare yourself to others. That (comparisons) was another thing that I did, and that pushed me away, because I didn’t experience the same things they were; which is unsurprising, it’s their experience, and I needed to focus on mine.
Insha Allah, I’d be interested to know what your questions are, and hopefully I will be able to answer them. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask me, I would be more than happy to either answer them, or point you in the right direction, insha Allah.
Many translations I have come across suggest that husbands can hit their wives (4:34) if they are not obedient or conduct themselves in a bad way. Even as a last resort it sounds absurd. I must be honest that I cannot come to terms with this. Have you seen a film called ‘Submission’, directed by Theo van Gogh, about a beaten Muslim woman with her naked body painted with this verse on her back? What is your view on that please? Thank you in advance for your answer.
Thank you for your question, it raises an interesting issue that, many times, is ignored from Muslims, mostly because they do not rationalize beating their wives, and many times, it is the mothers and wives that do the beating in the household (my mother, for instance, is an artist par excellence with inflicting pain, her weapon of choice? High heeled shoes used as boomerangs).
Seriously though, many times Muslims are not taught about this issue in their Islamic schools, and as a result, when asked about it they do not have good answers. Insha Allah, I hope to be able to shine some light on this verse and to explain the tremendous debate that has occurred within scholarly circles because this verse is troubling, to both Muslim and non-Muslim alike, and again, without context it will make no sense, like most things in this world.
Now, the best way to address this issue is to have the actual verse in front of us:
“And as for those women whose ill-will [Note: this word is important] you have reason to fear, admonish them [first]; then leave them alone in bed’ then beat them’ and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them. Behold, God is indeed most high, great!” [4:34] Muhammad Asad
“But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance [Note: same word translated, differently] - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.” [4:34] Sahih International
So, there you have it. You first tell them not to do it. Then you do not go to bed with them. And then you hit them. Case-closed, right?
Er. Not so much.
Remember the word that I put the note by? Let’s get to that word, because in Arabic the word is nushuz, which actually means “rebellion,” but many times is rendered as “ill-will” by Muhammad Asad (more on him later) or “arrogance” by Sahih International. No joke, I have no idea how they got “arrogance” from nushuz, no idea.
So, you’re probably thinking, “okay Osama, great, what is the point of all this?”
According to the tafseer (Qur’anic exegesis) of several scholars, we have to understand the word nushuz differently. We can only understand this word differently when we look at the context of the particular Surah in question: Surah An-Nisa.
Surah An-Nisa is a Surah from the period in Medina, meaning when Muslims had to leave Mecca, and were creating their own community, and were constantly defending themselves from the Meccans who wanted to kill them, because these Muslims were threatening their (Meccans) way of life, with their (Muslims’) ideas of equality, dignity, and social justice. Totally makes sense, right?
So, there would be tough times, and people would waiver. Sometimes, when people would be more afraid of being killed by the Meccans than by the next life, which shouldn’t be looked upon as some massive character flaw, I don’t think many of us have ever had to fear for our lives over our religion, so let us have some humility here. Regardless, there were times when these people (naturally) would waver, get scared, and think of leaving the community and return to their life in Mecca. Indeed, it is through this lens in which “apostasy” is actually understood through.
So, the point is that, there was a potential for people to leave, and this wasn’t just men who were in the battles, but the women at home who would contemplate their lives. The Surah is not just about women’s rights, but it actually describes the issues of peace and war, thus, the context of the ayah in question becomes even more important.
Thus, it becomes clear that this term, nushuz, which literally means “rebellion” is not really “ill-will” and most certainly not “arrogance,” rather, we are discussing the possibility that your wife will be doing two things: first, she’ll be denying The Message of The Qur’an and The Prophet and second, she’ll be rebelling against your community, committing treason against the society she is apart of. This is not an issue of someone saying: “Oohhh yahhhh I’m like, not mazlam any moreeee, just not feelin’ it anymore, lolz, let’s watch Twilight.”
This is about the issue of breaking up the entire fabric of a society that is in a real state of war, in which there is a real threat. So, in my opinion, this entire verse is referring to your wife potentially leaving her faith, and through that (in this context) betraying her community.
So, great, but the issue is still that she can be hit for this betrayal, right? So from this perspective, let’s take a look at the society we are dealing with to understand what this injunction really means:
I’m not a fan of romanticizing the Bedouin Arabs of The Prophet’s time. I’m not just talking about the pagans who were hell-bent on killing everybody who threatened their injustice, I’m talking about everybody. I’ve said this before, but I really feel like this holds true, but my mother always says this: “The Arabs got Islam first, because they needed it the most.”
I would have to agree with this statement. We have to understand the fact that these people were not so great. Let’s put this into perspective: these guys, when they had a baby daughter that they did not feel like keeping, they would go out in to the middle of the desert and bury her alive. They just didn’t kill the poor baby (astaghfurlilah), they actually buried it alive. Thus, from this example, you can see that this was a society that did not see hitting a woman as anything out of the ordinary, it was just what you did.
You would imagine then, that this Qur’anic injunction would simply reinforce that, right?
Again, not so much.
The argument structure of this verse underlines a method to eliminating the possibility that you hit a woman. For the Bedouin Arab man, hitting a woman was completely normal, and to say otherwise would be nonsensical. Thus, The Qur’an approaches it from this context (life-threatening period of war-time emotions):
Essentially what is being said here, is that, The Qur’an is “accepting” the premise that you can hit your wife. However, it creates a nearly impossible standard in which to make hitting your wife possible, by saying, in my words: “Can you hit your wife? Uh. Sure. Under what circumstances? If she’s about to commit treason against her family, her children, you (as her husband), and everyone she loves and depends upon, by betraying them. Oh, do you get to hit her then? Uh, no. What can you do? Well, you can talk to her, a lot. Oh, she won’t listen to you? Then separate yourself from her. Yeah, don’t sleep with her. Nope, both meanings, leave her bed. Oh, she is still talking about betraying everyone and joining the side of people who wish to kill everyone, including you, her husband? Sure, then, you can ‘hit’ her.”
It must be underlined, that this ‘hit’ is really just like, when you see in the movies, someone is about to do something crazy, and the other guy hits him across the face and is like “GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF MAN!” That’s what this is supposed to be. This is when your wife is about to go crazy, and is about to betray the very foundations of her social obligations, not just to her family, but to her entire society by committing an act of treason.
So, the idea that The Qur’an allows a husband to hit his wife because she is being disobedient or whatever seem particularly flimsy, and frankly, are interpretations from people who have a vested interest in keeping this idea around: those people being those who profit from such an idea (more on that later) and those who simply wish to justify their personal preferences and stupidity over their moral obligations.
With all that being said, there are differing views on this verse, because at the end of the day, many of the scholars had to deal with stupid husbands, who still felt like they were meeting the “standard” for being allowed to hit their wives. This is an unfortunate reality, but one that exists, and I will address that.
Let us begin with a strong Hadith (traditions of The Prophet) in which he illustrated that he intensely detested the idea of beating one’s wife, he said many times the following: “Could any of you beat his wife as a he would beat a slave, and then lie with her in the evening?” (Bukhari and Muslim)
However, it was not just that, but The Prophet also said: “Never beat God’s handmaidens.” This Hadith is found in: Abu Da’ud, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ibn Hibban and Hakim, on the authority of Iyas ibn Abd Allah; ibn Hibban, on the authority of Abd Allah ibn Abbas; and Bayhaqi, on the authority of Umm Kulthum. So please, don’t even try to dispute this one with me.
When this verse was revealed, The Prophet reportedly said: “I wanted one thing, but God has willed another thing — and what God has willed must be best.” However, he mentioned a very important caveat, saying that, and reinforcing the stipulations I mentioned earlier that, hitting a woman could only be done within those strict confines and that she must be “guilty, in an obvious manner,” and that if done could only be done “in such a way as not to cause pain.” Authentic traditions of this are found in Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Da’ud, Nasa’i, and Ibn Majah.
Therefore, if this “beating” must be done, if at all, it could only be done in symbolic fashion. Tabari, a classical scholar said that it should only be done with “a toothbrush, or some such thing,” while Razi, another classical scholar, said that it should be done “with a folded handkerchief.”
However, one of the greatest Muslim scholars, Imam Shafi’i (founder of the Shafi’i school of law) argued that, agreeing with my argument, that this act is just barely permissible, and should be avoided, utilizing the justification of The Prophet’s personal feelings as his strongest evidence.
So even those who would argue against my point, the overwhelming evidence illustrates, that not just me (“nice Muslim guy”), but that classic scholars, agreed with this perspective and that they clearly saw that this injunction is just so overwhelmingly narrow as to be rendered essentially meaningless.
As far as the film, Submission, and its director Theo van Gogh, I’d like to start out by saying this: I do not think that he should have been killed. Regardless of how overwhelmingly offensive and reprehensible his work was, and how clear that it (the film) was designed simply to instigate a reaction from a group in Holland, who are systematically pushed apart from society, unless, of course, they (the Muslims) are helping Holland win soccer games. Even dismissing those issues, again, no one deserves to be killed over their opinions alone, no matter how reprehensible or repugnant they may be.
That being said, as a person who is particularly interested in film, from what I saw, it’s stated objective was to “bring awareness of Muslim women who were victims of domestic violence,” ostensibly to “help” these women. If he and his contributor, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, actually cared about women, why didn’t they interview real Muslim women? Why did they have to create fictional characters in order to portray this story? If Muslim women were just being beaten on the daily, then, surely, they could have found some Muslim women to speak out, to underline this issue.
Let me be abundantly clear, I’m not denying the existence of domestic violence in the Muslim community. However, I think it is beyond naive to think that domestic violence is somehow unique to Muslims, and realize that it exists in every society, and that it is a horrendous and disgusting issue and one that must be eliminated. This can only be done by creating a safe space for all women to come forward, to seek protection, and other protections under the law and from their community and families.
However, in order to address the issue, I’m not sure how the film Submission contributed to do anything to actually help Muslim women who have experienced this horrible abuse. How did writing verses of The Qur’an on the woman’s body, a fictional woman, with fictional stories, do anything to help Muslim women? Why couldn’t the film even use real stories, honestly, why not?
Furthermore, besides the verse that I discussed, they used verses that are literally so tame, that I laughed when I read them. Look at them:
“And they will ask thee about [woman’s] monthly courses. Say: “It is a vulnerable condition. Keep, therefore, aloof from women during their monthly courses, and do not draw near unto them until they are cleansed; and when they are cleansed, go in unto them as God has bidden you to do.” Verily, God loves those who turn unto Him in repentance, and He loves those who keep themselves pure.” [2:222] Muhammad Asad
“And they ask you about menstruation. Say, “It is harm, so keep away from wives during menstruation. And do not approach them until they are pure. And when they have purified themselves, then come to them from where Allah has ordained for you. Indeed, Allah loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves.” [2:222] Sahih International.
So, this phrase is just saying, when your wife is menstruating, that you do not have sex with her, and that when she is no longer menstruating, feel free to have sex with her. So, The Qur’an is talking about sex as a good thing, something to enjoy with your wife, when she is comfortable, and yet, this is violence? Really? According to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, this is evidence of The Qur’an allowing men to rape women. Wait, what? Tell me, where is the rape? Honestly.
Oh, and let’s not forget the other verse:
“As for the adulteress and the adulterer — flog each of them with a hundred stripes, and let not compassion with them keep you from [carrying out] this law of God, if you [truly] believe in God and the Last Day; and let a group of the believers witness their chastisement.” [24:2] Muhammad Asad
“The [unmarried] woman or [unmarried] man found guilty of sexual intercourse - lash each one of them with a hundred lashes, and do not be taken by pity for them in the religion of Allah , if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a group of the believers witness their punishment.” [24:2] Sahih International
So, again, according to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, this verse also shows The Qur’an’s love of beating women. I don’t even have the patience to deal with how this is just the maximum punishment and that it in not the obligation, rather, just the most severe sentence possible. However, even more importantly, did she forget that the punishment is for men and women?
How am I supposed to take this work seriously when it seems like that the filmmakers themselves did not bother to do the research, and seemingly, to even read what they were talking about? Furthermore, if my concern was the plight of female victims of domestic violence, how am I going to provide them a space to get the help that they need with this sort of work? Honestly, even if the larger society was made “aware” of this issue, the problem isn’t the society, the problem would be in helping the victims, how did this work do that, in any way?
It is from this perspective that I evaluate the work, and thus, the fact that verses were painted on her back are a secondary offense, because the reason I am actually offended is that I feel that the film actually prevented women who need help from having the space to get that help. To me, that is a greater evil than any so-called attempt at art, which this film purported to be.
There is a reason why Ayaan Hirsi Ali has no credibility among academics, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. Read Stephen Sheehi’s work “Islamophobia,” who is an Arab Christian, and he describes her place perfectly. She has no education in Islamic studies, and purports herself as some sort of “native informer,” and provided the “Islamic perspective” that, unfortunately, Theo van Gogh was killed for. I believe that if he had listened to someone who simply read The Qur’an, he would have taken a different stance, and had he made a documentary about the plight of Muslim women who had been subjected to domestic violence (omitting his offensive imagery), I would have respected that work.
The problem, again, is that for whatever the intentions that motivated the work, the reality is that, the victims of domestic violence, have not benefited from this work, and thus, it cannot be said to have any benefit, and has simply caused greater discord and misunderstanding between different groups of people, which is actually tragic.
Insha Allah, I hope I answered your question and that if you, or anyone else has questions on this or any other topic, please do not hesitate to ask me.