Ma malakat aymanukum

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

Translation and meaning

Bernard Lewis translates ma malakat aymanukum as "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]


There are several verses of the Quran which use the phrase ma malakat aymanukum and its variations,[6][7]

If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.
Qur'an, [4:3],[8]
And (also forbidden are) 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.
Qur'an, [4:24],[8]
And whoever among you has not within his power ampleness of means to marry free believing women, then (he may marry) of those whom your right hands possess from among your believing maidens; and Allah knows best your faith: you are (sprung) the one from the other; so marry them with the permission of their masters, and give them their dowries justly, they being chaste, not fornicating, nor receiving paramours; and when they are taken in marriage, then if they are guilty of indecency, they shall suffer half the punishment which is (inflicted) upon free women. This is for him among you who fears falling into evil; and that you abstain is better for you, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
Qur'an, [4:25],[8]
And Allah hath favoured some of you above others in provision. Now those who are more favoured will by no means hand over their provision to those (slaves) whom their right hands possess, so that they may be equal with them in respect thereof. Is it then the grace of Allah that they deny?
Qur'an, [16:71],[8]
Who abstain from sex, 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.
And let those who do not find the means to marry keep chaste until Allah makes them free from want out of His grace. And (as for) those who ask for a writing from among those whom your right hands possess, give them the writing if you know any good in them, and give them of the wealth of Allah which He has given you; and do not compel your slave girls to prostitution, when they desire to keep chaste, in order to seek the frail good of this world's life; and whoever compels them, then surely after their compulsion Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
Qur'an, [24:33],[8]
O ye who believe! let those whom your right hands possess, and the (children) among you who have not come of age ask your permission (before they come to your presence), on three occasions: before morning prayer; the while ye doff your clothes for the noonday heat; and after the late-night prayer: these are your three times of undress: outside those times it is not wrong for you or for them to move about attending to each other: Thus does Allah make clear the Signs to you: for Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.
Qur'an, [24:58],[8]
O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Makka) with thee; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her;- this only for thee, and not for the Believers (at large); We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess;- in order that there should be no difficulty for thee. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
Qur'an, [33:50],[8]

Slaves are mentioned in at least twenty-nine verses of the Qur'an, most of these involving the legal status of slaves.[9] The exact number of verses referring to slaves is contested by scholars because the words and phrases have multiple possible meanings and translation is thus subjective.[9] The Quranic verses on slaves are expressed in variants of three phrases: 'Abd (male slave or servant, feminine: amah), ma malakat aymanukum (that which your right hand possesses, used to highlight right to have sex with female slaves), and raqabah (the neck, captive, used to highlight the process of manumission).[9]

Mainstream view of slavery in the Quran

The Quran treats slavery and free males not as part of the natural order but admits it is indeed a happening as was the nature of humans from days of yore, and states this distinction as an example of God's grace.[10] It regards this discrimination between human beings as in accordance with the divinely established order of things and to undermine this order is to act against God.[11][12] The phrase ma malakat aymanukum - that which your right hand possesses - clarifies that, in Islamic law, slaves are possessions and property of a Muslim free man. Slaves could be bought or sold under Islamic law, according to the Quran and the Hadiths,[11]

The (Brethren) sold him for a miserable price, for a few dirhams counted out: in such low estimation did they hold him!
Qur'an, [Quran 12:20]

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.[13][14] The Quran does not explicitly state anywhere that a slave is a spiritual equal of a free Muslim.[11] The verses 2.178 and 4.176 of Quran explicitly states at least three distinct and unequal categories of human beings: free Muslim males, slaves and women.[11][15] The inequality is further emphasized in the Quranic verse 16.71 using the phrase ma malakat aymanukum.[11][16] The Quran also outlines verses wherein an infidel slave after converting to Islam may be manumitted by a Muslim and thereby gaining merit in the eyes of God.[17]

Comparison to pre-Islamic cultures

There were many common features between the institution of slavery in the Quran and that of pre-Islamic culture. However, the Quranic institution had some unique new features.[18] According to Brockopp, the idea of using alms for the manumission of slaves who had converted to Islam appears to be unique to the Quran.[19] Other scholars state that Quran does not condemn prostitution, and both male and female prostitution has been practiced throughout Islamic history.[20]

Brockopp states that the Qur'an was a progressive legislation on slavery in its time because it encouraged proper treatment.[18] Others state that Islam's record with slavery has been mixed, progressive in Arabian lands, but it increased slavery and worsened abuse as Muslim armies attacked people in Africa, Europe and Asia.[21][22] Murray notes that Quran sanctified the institution of slavery and abuses therein, but to its credit did not freeze the status of a slave and allowed a means to a slave's manumission in some cases when the slave converted to Islam.[22][23]


When an individual erred such as missing a day of fasting, they were to free a slave. Sharia authorized the institution of slavery, and under Islamic law, Muslim men could have sexual relations with female captives and slaves without her consent.[24][25] Sharia, in Islam's history, provided religious foundation for enslaving non-Muslim women (and men), as well as encouraged slave's manumission. However, manumission required that the non-Muslim slave first convert to Islam.[23][26]

Non-Muslim slave women who bore children to their Muslim masters became legally free upon her master's death, and her children were presumed to be Muslims as their father, in Africa,[23] and elsewhere.[27]

Muhammad's treatment of captives

After the Muslims executed the male members (between 600 and 900) of the Banu Qurayza tribe,[28] the women and children were taken as slaves.[29] Muhammad himself took Rayhana as his slave.[30] 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.[31] Many women of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe were traded for horses and arms, under the Prophet's command. The earliest biography of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq, records this in detail.

Then the apostle sent for Sa'd bin Zayd al-Ansari brother of bin Abdul-Ashhal with some of the captive women of Banu Qurayza to Najd and he sold them for horses and weapons. (Source: Ibn Ishaq: 693)

Sexual intercourse

Surah Al-Muminun (23:6) and Surah Al-Maarij (70:30) both, in identical wording, draw a distinction between spouses and "those whom one's right hands possess" (female slaves), saying " أَزْوَاجِهِمْ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُمْ" (literally, "their spouses or what their right hands possess"), while clarifying that sexual intercourse with either is permissible. 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.[32]

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."[33] Most schools restrict concubinage to a monogamous relationship between the slave woman and her master,[34] 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."[33]

Clarence-Smith presents an opposing view in the book "Islam and the Abolition of Slavery", citing Ghulam Ahmed Pervez and Amir Ali who have argued that the Quran should actually read "Ma malakat aymanukum" to be in the past tense. When some demanded that Pakistan should reinstate slavery in the new Islamic country in 1947 upon its independence from the British colonial rule, Pervez argued that "past tense interpretation" means Quran revealed "an unqualified ban" on slavery.[35] The history of slavery in Islamic states and of sexual relations with slaves, was the "responsibility of Muslims, and not of the Quran", according to Parwez, as quoted by Clarence-Smith.[35] Amir Ali blamed the history of Islamic slavery in racist terms, states Clarence-Smith, stating that slave servitude and sexual abuse of captive slaves may have been because of degeneration of the Arabs from their admixing over time with "lower races such as Ethiopians".[36]

Limitations on forced sex

Malik, the founder of the Maliki madhhab, states in Al-Muwatta, that if a man rapes a slave girl, he must pay to the slave-owner an amount, and he will be subjected to a hadd punishment.[37]

Malik related to me from Ibn Shihab that gave a judgment that the rapist had to pay the raped woman her bride-price. Yahya said that he heard Malik say, "What is done in our community about the man who rapes a woman, virgin or non-virgin, if she is free, is that he must pay the bride-price of the like of her. If she is a slave, he must pay what he has diminished of her worth. The hadd-punishment in such cases is applied to the rapist, and there is no punishment applied to the raped woman. If the rapist is a slave, that is against his master unless he wishes to surrender him."

Moreover, the founder of the Shafi'i madhabs also confirmed that stance:

If 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.
Al-Shafi'i, Kitabul Umm, Vol.3, p.253.

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, but one he owns.[14] Neither may he have relations with a female slave if she is co-owned without the permission of other owners. 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.[38][39]

There have been historical exceptions where forced sex of slave girl by other than the owner have been treated as an offense in Muslim state.[40] The incident was,

Malik related to me from Nafi that a slave was in charge of the slaves in the khumus and he forced a slave-girl among those slaves against her will and had intercourse with her. Umar ibn al-Khattab had him flogged and banished him, and he did not flog the slave-girl because the slave had forced her.

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.[14][42]

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.[43][44]

Ma malakat aymanukum of Muhammad's companions

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

622 – 719 AD

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

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.").[45][46][47][48][49][50]

See also


  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. Thomas Patrick Hughes (1996), Dictionary of Islam, ISBN 978-8120606722, p. 596
  7. MH Shakir (2007), Concordance of the Quran, ISBN 978-1879402720, pp. 540-542
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Ali, Kecia (2006). Sexual ethics and Islam : feminist reflections on Qur'an, hadith, and jurisprudence. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 39–52. ISBN 978-1-85168-456-4.
  9. 1 2 3 Jonathan E. Brockopp (2000), Early Mālikī Law: Ibn ʻAbd Al-Ḥakam and His Major Compendium of Jurisprudence, Brill, ISBN 978-9004116283, pp. 128-132
  10. [Quran 16:71]
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 Jonathan E. Brockopp (2000), Early Mālikī Law: Ibn ʻAbd Al-Ḥakam and His Major Compendium of Jurisprudence, Brill Academic, ISBN 978-9004116283, pp. 130-133
  12. ([Quran 2:221], [Quran 4:25]), ([Quran 24:33])
  13. Marmon in Marmon (1999), page 2
  14. 1 2 3 Brunschvig. 'Abd; Encyclopedia of Islam
  15. W. G. Clarence-Smith (2006), Islam and the Abolition of Slavery, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195221510, pp. 23-35
  16. Kidane Dawit Worku, The Ethics of Zär'a Ya'eqob, ISBN 978-8878392229, p. 135
  17. W. G. Clarence-Smith (2006), Islam and the Abolition of Slavery, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195221510, pp. 129-136
  18. 1 2 Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, Slaves and Slavery
  19. Quran 2:177, Quran 9:60
  20. Melissa Hope Ditmore (2006), Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work, Volume 2, ISBN 978-0313329708, p. 392
  21. Gad Heuman and James Walvin (2003), The Slavery Reader, Volume 1, Routledge, ISBN 978-0415213042, pp. 31-32
  22. 1 2 Murray Gordon (1989), Slavery in the Arab World, Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 978-0941533300, pp. 18-39
  23. 1 2 3 Lovejoy, Paul (2000). Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa. Cambridge University Press. pp. 16–17. ISBN 978-0521784306. Quote: The religious requirement that new slaves be pagans and need for continued imports to maintain slave population made Africa an important source of slaves for the Islamic world. (...) In Islamic tradition, slavery was perceived as a means of converting non-Muslims. One task of the master was religious instruction and theoretically Muslims could not be enslaved. Conversion (of a non-Muslim to Islam) did not automatically lead to emancipation, but assimilation into Muslim society was deemed a prerequisite for emancipation.
  24. Mazrui, A. A. (1997). Islamic and Western values. Foreign Affairs, pp 118-132.
  25. Ali, K. (2010). Marriage and slavery in early Islam. Harvard University Press.
  26. Jean Pierre Angenot; et al. (2008). Uncovering the History of Africans in Asia. Brill Academic. p. 60. ISBN 978-9004162914. Quote: Islam imposed upon the Muslim master an obligation to convert non-Muslim slaves and become members of the greater Muslim society. Indeed, the daily observation of well defined Islamic religious rituals was the outward manifestation of conversion without which emancipation was impossible.
  27. Kecia Ali; (Editor: Bernadette J. Brooten). Slavery and Sexual Ethics in Islam, in Beyond Slavery: Overcoming Its Religious and Sexual Legacies. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 107–119. ISBN 978-0230100169. Quote: The slave who bore her master's child became known in Arabic as an "umm walad"; she could not be sold, and she was automatically freed upon her master's death. (page 113)
  28. Guillaume, Alfred. The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah. pp. 461–464.
  29. Muir, William. "The Life of Mahomet". Smith, Elder, & Co., London, 1861; Vol.3, Ch.17, p.276 (citing Hishami, 436)
  30. Rodinson, Maxine. Muhammad: Prophet of Islam. p. 213.
  31. Muir, William. "The Life of Mahomet". Smith, Elder, & Co., London, 1861; Vol.4, Ch.25, pp.149–150
  32. Brunschvig. 'Abd; Encyclopedia of Islam, Brill, page 13.
  33. 1 2 Sikainga, Ahmad A. (1996). Slaves Into Workers: Emancipation and Labor in Colonial Sudan. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-77694-2. p.22
  34. Bloom, Jonathan; Blair, Sheila (2002). Islam: A Thousand Years of Faith and Power. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09422-1. p.48
  35. 1 2 Clarence-Smith, William. Islam and the Abolition of Slavery. Oxford University Press. pp. 198–200. ISBN 0195221516.
  36. Clarence-Smith, William. Islam and the Abolition of Slavery. Oxford University Press. pp. 199–201. ISBN 0195221516.
  37. Al-Muwatta, 36 16.14
  38. "USC-MSA Compendium of Muslim Texts". Retrieved 2014-04-06.
  39. "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.
  40. Abiad, Nisrine (2008). Sharia, Muslim States and International Human Rights Treaty Obligations: A Comparative Study. p. 136.
  41. "Bukhari , Book: 89 - Statements made under Coercion, Chapter 6: If a woman is compelled to commit illegal sexual intercourse against her will". Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  42. Lovejoy, Paul E. (2000). Transformations in Slavery. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-78430-1., p.2
  43. Quran 4:25
  44. Javed Ahmad Ghamidi. Mizan, The Social Law of Islam, Al-Mawrid
  45. Amelia Smith, "ISIS Publish Pamphlet On How to Treat Female Slaves," Newsweek, 12/9/2014
  46. 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
  47. Greg Botelho, "ISIS: Enslaving, having sex with 'unbelieving' women, girls is OK," CNN, December 13, 2014
  48. Katharine Lackey, "Pamphlet provides Islamic State guidelines for sex slaves," USA Today, December 13, 2014
  49. Carey Lodge, "Islamic State issues abhorrent sex slavery guidelines about how to treat women,",Christianity Today, 15 December 2014
  50. 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

Traditional Sunni viewpoints

Traditional Shi'a viewpoints

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