Ma malakat aymanukum

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Ma malakat aymanukum ("what your right hands possess", Arabic: ما ملكت أيمانکم‎) is a reference in the Qur'an to slaves.[1]

Meaning and usage of the term[edit]

The term itself is normally considered to refer to prisoners of war, or more broadly to slaves in general, according to the classic tafsirs. Bernard Lewis proposes the translation "those whom you own."[2] Abdullah Yusuf Ali translates it as "those whom your right hands possess",[3] as does M. H. Shakir.[4] N. J. Dawood translates the phrase more idiomatically as "those whom you own as slaves."[5]

The general term ma malakat aymanukum (literally "what your right hands possess") appears fourteen times in the Qur'an, in the following Arabic variations:

Arabic Literal translation
ما ملكت أيمانكم what your (masculine plural) right hands possess *
ما ملكت أيمانهم what their (masculine plural) right hands possess *
ما ملكت أيمانهن what their (feminine plural) right hands possess
ما ملكت يمينك what your right hands possess
الذين ملكت أيمانكم Those whom your (masculine plural) right hands possess *
  • Note: Masculine plural may also refer to a group of males and females.

Muhammad's treatment of captives[edit]

After the Muslims executed the male members (between 600 and 900) of the Banu Qurayza tribe,[6] the women and children were taken as slaves.[7] Muhammad himself took Rayhana as his slave.[8] He presented three women from the conquered Banu Hawazin as slaves to his key supportive close marital relatives in early 630: Reeta, to Ali; Zeinab, to Uthman; and an unnamed third to Umar.[9]

Sexual relations with captives[edit]

According to the traditional interpretation of Islamic law (Sharia), it is lawful for male masters to have sexual relations with female captives and slaves[10][11] under threat of punishment if they do not consent.

According to the Salafi scholar Al-Munajid:

The woman does not have the right to refuse her husband, rather she must respond to his request every time he calls her, so long as that will not harm her or keep her from doing an obligatory duty ... Similarly a slave woman does not have the right to refuse her master’s requests unless she has a valid excuse. If she does that she is being disobedient and he has the right to discipline her in whatever manner he thinks is appropriate and is allowed in sharee’ah.

—'Is it permissible for a man to force his wife or slave to have intercourse if she refuses?, Muhammad Al-Munajid[12]

Al-Muminun 6 and Al-Maarij 30 both, in identical wording, draw a distinction between spouses and "those whom one's right hands possess", saying " أَزْوَاجِهِمْ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُمْ" (literally, "their spouses or what their right hands possess"), while clarifying that sexual intercourse with either is permissible. Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi explains that "two categories of women have been excluded from the general command of guarding the private parts: (a) wives, (b) women who are legally in one's possession".[13] The purchase of female slaves for sex was lawful from the perspective of Islamic law, and this was the most common motive for the purchase of slaves throughout Islamic history.[14]

The verse can be broken into three parts:

Imam Al-Shafi‘i, however, says that "[i]f a man acquires by force a slave-girl, then has sexual intercourse with her after he acquires her by force, and if he is not excused by ignorance, then the slave-girl will be taken from him, he is required to pay the fine, and he will receive the punishment for illegal sexual intercourse."[15]

According to Hadith no. 18685 from Sunan Al Bayhaqi:

Abu al-Hussain bin al-Fadhl al-Qatan narrated from Abdullah bin Jaffar bin Darestweh from Yaqub bin Sufyan from al-Hassab bin Rabee from Abdullah bin al-Mubarak from Kahmas from Harun bin Al-Asam who said: "Umar bin al-Khatab may Allah be pleased with him sent Khalid bin al-Walid in an army, hence Khalid sent Dharar bin al-Auwzwar in a squadron and they invaded a district belonging to the tribe of Bani Asad. They then captured a pretty bride, Dharar liked her hence he asked his companions to grant her to him and they did so. He then had sexual intercourse with her, when he completed his mission he felt guilty, and went to Khalid and told him about what he did. Khalid said: 'I permit you and made it lawful to you.' He said: 'No not until you write a message to Umar'. (Then they sent a message to Umar) and Umar answered that he (Dharar) should be stoned. By the time Umar's message was delivered, Dharar was dead. (Khalid) said: 'Allah didn't want to disgrace Dharar'

—Sunan Al Bayhaqi, Volume 2, Hadith no. 18685, page 363[16]

One rationale given for recognition of concubinage in Islam is that "it satisfied the sexual desire of the female slaves and thereby prevented the spread of immorality in the Muslim community."[17] Most schools restrict concubinage to a monogamous relationship between the slave woman and her master,[18] but according to Sikainga, "in reality, however, female slaves in many Muslim societies were prey for members of their owners' household, their neighbors, and their guests."[17]


Regarding rules for having sexual intercourse with Ma malakat aymanukum, a man may not have sexual intercourse with a female slave belonging to his wife.[19] Neither may he have relations with a female slave if she is co-owned. He may have sex with a female captive who was previously married prior to captivity, provided their Idda (waiting) period had come to an end.[20][21]

If the female slave has a child by her master, she then receives the title of "Ummul Walad" (lit. Mother of the child), which is an improvement in her status as she can no longer be sold and is legally freed upon the death of her master. The child, by default, is born free due to the father (i.e., the master) being a free man. Although there is no limit on the number of concubines a master may possess, the general marital laws are to be observed, such as not having sexual relations with the sister of a female slave.[19][22]

People are told that if they do not have the means to marry free-women, they can marry, with the permission of their masters, slave-women who are Muslims and are also kept chaste. In such marriages, they must pay their dowers so that this could bring them gradually equal in status to free-women.[23][24]

Prostitution (including the prostitution of slaves) is regarded as an offence in Islam. Muhammad gave exemplary punishment to owners of brothels that were operated using their slave-women for such pleasures.[25] Muhammad also told people that they are all slaves/servants of Allah and so instead of using the words عَبْد (slave-man) and اَمَة (slave-woman), the words used should be فَتَى (boy/man) and فَتَاة (girl/woman) so that the psyche about them should change and a change is brought about in these age-old concepts.[24]

In late 2014 the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant released a pamphlet on the treatment of female slaves which allows sex with them. It includes a discussion of when sex is allowed with a slave who has not yet reached puberty ("It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn't reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse.").[26][27][28][29][30][31]

"Ma malakat aymanukum" in the Qur'an[edit]

Slaves are mentioned in at least twenty-nine verses of the Qur'an, most of these are Medinan and refer to the legal status of slaves. The legal material on slavery in the Qur'an is largely restricted to manumission and sexual relations.[32] According to Sikainga, the Qur'anic references to slavery mainly contain "broad and general propositions of an ethical nature rather than specific legal formulations."[33]

Position of slaves in the Quran[edit]

The Quran accepts the distinction between slave and free as part of the natural order and uses this distinction as an example of God's grace,[34] regarding this discrimination between human beings as in accordance with the divinely established order of things.[32][35] "The Qur'an, however, does not consider slaves to be mere chattel; their humanity is directly addressed in references to their beliefs,[36] their desire for manumission and their feelings about being forced into prostitution.[37] In one case, the Qur'an refers to master and slave with the same word, rajul. Later interpreters presume slaves to be spiritual equals of free Muslims. For example,[38] urges believers to marry 'believing maids that your right hands own' and then states: "The one of you is as the other," which the Jalaalayn interpret as "You and they are equal in faith, so do not refrain from marrying them." The human aspect of slaves is further reinforced by reference to them as members of the private household, sometimes along with wives or children.[32] Pious exhortations from jurists to free men to address their slaves by such euphemistic terms as "my boy" and "my girl" stemmed from the belief that God, not their masters, was responsible for the slave's status.[39] The historian Bruschvig states that from a spiritual perspective, "the slave has the same value as the free man, and the same eternity is in store for his soul; in this earthly life, failing emancipation, there remains the fact of his inferior status, to which he must piously resign himself."[19]

Comparison to neighboring cultures[edit]

There are many common features between the institution of slavery in the Quran and that of neighboring cultures. However, the Quranic institution had some unique new features.[32] Bernard Lewis states that the Qur'anic legislation brought two major changes to ancient slavery which were to have far-reaching effects: presumption of freedom, and the ban on the enslavement of free persons except in strictly defined circumstances.[40] According to Brockopp, the idea of using alms for the manumission of slaves appears to be unique to the Quran, assuming the traditional interpretation of verses Quran 2:177 and Quran 9:60. Similarly, the practice of freeing slaves in atonement for certain sins appears to be introduced by the Quran (but compare Exod 21:26-7).[32] The forced prostitution of female slaves, a Near Eastern custom of great antiquity, is condemned in the Quran.[41][42] Murray Gordon notes that this ban is "of no small significance."[43] Brockopp writes: "Other cultures limit a master's right to harm a slave but few exhort masters to treat their slaves kindly, and the placement of slaves in the same category as other weak members of society who deserve protection is unknown outside the Qur'an. The unique contribution of the Qur'an, then, is to be found in its emphasis on the place of slaves in society and society's responsibility toward the slave, perhaps the most progressive legislation on slavery in its time."[32]

Muslim explanation for Quran permitting slavery[edit]

Muslims argue that God sought to incrementally push for the abolishment of slavery through personal humanitarian initiatives. For example, "The Prophet said, 'Give food to the hungry, pay a visit to the sick and release (set free) the one in captivity (by paying his ransom).'"[44] Also when an individual erred such as missing a day of fasting, they were to free a slave. Slavery was not encouraged, i.e. there was no command to take slaves. On the contrary, there were commands that freeing slaves is a righteous act. Therefore, this set the emancipation of slaves in motion. While this emancipation was occurring, the Qur'an and the Prophet established rights for slaves that were not previously enjoyed, as well as limiting the source of slaves to only prisoners of war.[45]

List of slaves amongst Muhammad's companions[edit]

A list of people who were amongst Ma malakat aymanukum includes:

622 – 719 AD

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The term generally used in the Qur’ān for slaves is ما ملكت ايمانكم mā malakat aimānukum, “that which your right hands possess.”" Hughes, T. P. (1885). In A Dictionary of Islam: Being a Cyclopædia of the Doctrines, Rites, Ceremonies, and Customs, together with the Technical and Theological Terms, of the Muhammadan Religion. London: W. H. Allen & Co.
  2. ^ Bernard Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East, page 146.
  3. ^ Surah 4:24 "Also (prohibited are) women already married, except those whom your right hands possess: Thus hath Allah ordained (Prohibitions) against you: Except for these, all others are lawful, provided ye seek (them in marriage) with gifts from your property—desiring chastity, not lust, seeing that ye derive benefit from them, give them their dowers (at least) as prescribed; but if, after a dower is prescribed, agree Mutually (to vary it), there is no blame on you, and Allah is All-knowing, All-wise." Ali, A. Y. (2004). The meaning of the Holy Qur’an.
  4. ^ Surah 4:24 "And all married women except those whom your right hands possess (this is) Allah's ordinance to you, and lawful for you are (all women) besides those, provided that you seek (them) with your property, taking (them) in marriage not committing fornication. Then as to those whom you profit by, give them their dowries as appointed; and there is no blame on you about what you mutually agree after what is appointed; surely Allah is Knowing, Wise." Shakir, M. H. (Ed.). (n.d.). The Quran. Medford, MA: Perseus Digital Library.
  5. ^ Surah 4.24 "Also married women, except those whom you own as slaves. Such is the decree of God. All women other than these are lawful for you, provided you court them with your wealth in modest conduct, not in fornication. Give them their dowry for the enjoyment you have had of them as a duty; but it shall be no offense for you to make any other agreement among yourselves after you have fulfilled your duty. Surely God is all-knowing and wise." N. J. Dawood, "The Koran," Penguin Classics, Penguin Books, 1999 edition.
  6. ^ Guillaume, Alfred. The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah. pp. 461–464. 
  7. ^ Muir, William. "The Life of Mahomet". Smith, Elder, & Co., London, 1861; Vol.3, Ch.17, p.276 (citing Hishami, 436)
  8. ^ Rodinson, Maxine. Muhammad: Prophet of Islam. p. 213. 
  9. ^ Muir, William. "The Life of Mahomet". Smith, Elder, & Co., London, 1861; Vol.4, Ch.25, pp.149–150
  10. ^ [1] Zakir Naik's views on sex with slave women
  11. ^ "Religions - Islam: Slavery in Islam". BBC. 2009-09-07. Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  12. ^ Muhammad Al-Munajid, Is it permissible for a man to force his wife or slave to have intercourse if she refuses?, (accessed 01/09/2014)
  13. ^ "Surah - Al - Muminoon". Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  14. ^ Brunschvig. 'Abd; Encyclopedia of Islam, page 13.
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b Sikainga, Ahmad A. (1996). Slaves Into Workers: Emancipation and Labor in Colonial Sudan. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-77694-2.  p.22
  18. ^ Bloom, Jonathan; Blair, Sheila (2002). Islam: A Thousand Years of Faith and Power. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09422-1.  p.48
  19. ^ a b c P.J. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs (ed.). "Abd". Encyclopaedia of Islam Online. Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 1573-3912. 
  20. ^ "USC-MSA Compendium of Muslim Texts". Retrieved 2014-04-06. 
  21. ^ "They are allowed to take possession of married women if they are slaves. Sūrah iv. 28: “Unlawful for you are … married women, save such as your right hands possess.” (On this verse al-Jalālān the commentators say: “that is, it is lawful for them to cohabit with those women whom you have made captive, even though their husbands be alive in the Dāru ’l-Ḥarb.”" Hughes, T. P. (1885). In A Dictionary of Islam: Being a Cyclopædia of the Doctrines, Rites, Ceremonies, and Customs, together with the Technical and Theological Terms, of the Muhammadan Religion. London: W. H. Allen & Co.
  22. ^ Lovejoy, Paul E. (2000). Transformations in Slavery. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-78430-1. , p.2
  23. ^ Quran 4:25
  24. ^ a b Javed Ahmad Ghamidi. Mizan, The Social Law of Islam, Al-Mawrid
  25. ^ Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, Mizan, The Penal Law of Islam, Al-Mawrid
  26. ^ Amelia Smith, "ISIS Publish Pamphlet On How to Treat Female Slaves," Newsweek, 12/9/2014
  27. ^ Abul Taher, "Our faith condones raping underage slaves: ISIS publishes shocking guidebook telling fighters how to buy, sell and abuse captured women," Daily Mail, 13 December 2014
  28. ^ Greg Botelho, "ISIS: Enslaving, having sex with 'unbelieving' women, girls is OK," CNN, December 13, 2014
  29. ^ Katharine Lackey, "Pamphlet provides Islamic State guidelines for sex slaves," USA Today, December 13, 2014
  30. ^ Carey Lodge, "Islamic State issues abhorrent sex slavery guidelines about how to treat women,",Christianity Today, 15 December 2014
  31. ^ Adam Withnall, "Isis releases 'abhorrent' sex slaves pamphlet with 27 tips for militants on taking, punishing and raping female captives," The Independent, 10 December 2014
  32. ^ a b c d e f Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, Slaves and Slavery
  33. ^ Sikainga (2005), p.5-6
  34. ^ [Quran 16:71]
  35. ^ EoI
  36. ^ ([Quran 2:221], [Quran 4:25])
  37. ^ ([Quran 24:33])
  38. ^ [Quran 4:25]
  39. ^ Marmon in Marmon (1999), page 2
  40. ^ Lewis 1990, page 6.
  41. ^ John L Esposito (1998) p. 79
  42. ^ [Quran 24:33]
  43. ^ Gordon 1989, page 37.
  44. ^ Translation of Sahih Bukhari, Food, Meals, Volume 7, Book 65, Number 286
  45. ^ "Slavery". 1996-07-04. Retrieved 2014-04-06. 

External links[edit]

Traditional Sunni viewpoints[edit]

Traditional Shi'a viewpoints[edit]