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Harsher Realities of Concubinage



The apologetic discourses highlight all the ideals. Muslims would have treated their slaves and concubines very well. Concubines had all these rights and in a comparative context as well. In Islamic societies, the slaves were treated much better than outside of Islamic societies. Concubines had all these rights in contrast to non-Muslim society. However, there is a harsh reality to slavery and to concubinage as a compounded slavery problem. Since there's the problem of slavery and the slave would be used for the sexual pleasure of her master. That harsh reality needs to be known as well. Muslims need to capture the whole concept.


For instance, if an individual is studying Islam through the classical book of Islamic Law. Then. he or she reads a section about prayer. There are certain principles that govern how Islamic law is derived, and he or she got the finer points regarding prayer. However, same principles may apply in a different category altogether, nothing to do with prayer, but the same underlying principles are connected.


In order to understand Islam holistically, one needs to understand all its aspects. There are certain principles that will give rise to details of Islamic law with regards to slavery concubinage that will have ramifications for his or her understanding of Islam as a whole. The harsher realities of slavery cannot be acknowledged. One needs to capture all of the information to get a complete understanding of what Islam really means, what it meant at one time, and what it should mean for us today. There is a modern book, which is a translation of a more ancient book that was written hundreds of years ago.


The book that was written in Arabic when slavery was still in Vogue. There were all these rules about slavery. This is one of the most excellent examples of how to prepare a translation in modern times. It's just an excellent work of translation. However, the slavery section was untranslated. The translator’s excuse is that this is not practice. It's not relevant, but he keeps the Arabic. He didn't discard the Arabic, but he didn't translate that Arabic portion. Why didn’t he translate that Arabic portion?


It's not a sufficient excuse that it's not being practiced now. Muslims need to understand what exactly was being practiced, because most of us are being told that they are to follow the ways of the pious predecessors. What is being described in that classical law book is what was being practiced by the classical period. What our pious predecessors did? One needs to know that we can know for ourselves, whether we are to follow those pious predecessors step-by-step. Another perspective is that they did certain things which were prevalent in their societies at the time. It fit well within the social milieu, in which they operated. One might humble ourselves by saying that one wouldn’t have done the good deeds that our pious predecessors. If one thinks about going back to the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), how does a person know whether he or she will be like Abu Bakr, the close and devoted companion of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)? Or Abu Jahal, one of the fierce opponents of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). A person is unsure if one was transported back to time, if he or she would be a good person.


One of the major problems that concubinage is practiced is consent. The concubines didn't necessarily have consent. There was a master that was deciding for them in terms of marriage. For example, the master could decide that he was going to marry this woman to somebody else. She had no choice in the matter.


Whether she remained a concubine for this master, or she was married off by the master to someone else, she didn't have a say in the matter. According to several classical law books, the master is owning her by having the right to sleep with her. She can’t refuse. Perhaps we can count on his goodness as a Muslim to take into consideration her feelings, and give her time and wait until she's ready. That's the ideal. There are permissible rulings in Islamic law. Once he had total dominion and control of her, she did not have much of a choice. In modern times, people tend to understand the power dynamics than people in the past. Consent was the best option for her. However, one wouldn’t label as free consent because of the power dynamic.


If the master was in a relationship with this concubine, then he could decide to not have children with her.


According to Islamic theology, God is in full control of people having a kid. There is practice that the Muslims at that time engaged in, which is known in Arabic as Azle, or it might be called withdrawal at the critical moment. Coitus Interruptus is a Latin term that goes in classical law books about the concept. The books state that he is not allowed to do that with his wife without her consent. Since it was the wife's right to have children. He couldn't do it without the wife’s consent. However, with the slave girl, he could do it without her consent. Her consent did not matter. This is because he doesn't want children with her. One reason would be that he wants to retain the option to sell her. Once she has children with her, he would no longer be allowed to sell her.


If one thinks about the possibility of a man owning a slave woman. If the man has enjoyment with her and then deciding to sell her, maybe use that money to buy another woman. Then, it seems possible. He might want to preserve, the option of being able to sell her off to someone else.


There's so many legal treatises on concubines, the rules that are involved, but they're all always done from the idea. These concubines are treated as property perhaps.


It's a harsh reality that the concubine was a slave. As a slave, she was the property of the master. Property was bought and sold. This is how she was regarded. There could be different scenarios. There could be count on some ideals. One might say that the master may develop romantic affections for his concubine. The master may treat her with great respect almost as a wife. Perhaps, her status might be indistinguishable from that of a wife, the basic distinction that she was not really a free person. However, a lot of apologetic discourse and classical law books hardly sees it. Look at this situation from the point of view of this poor female. She might have been captured in war. She might've been sold off as a slave by an impoverished family who could do no better than to sell their daughter.


According to the Biblical book of Exodus, if a father sells his daughter as a slave, then these are the prescriptions that follow for her. A lot of people may be shocked that a man could sell his daughter as a slave. Indeed, it was a harsh reality of ancient times. If this girl found herself as a slave. Currently, Islamic law doesn’t add to the slave population by taking a free person than selling that person into slavery. However, the existing slaves could be bought and sold to Muslims. One who owned a slave woman could sell her in the open market. A master could buy one in the open market.


One needs to understand all these harsh realities along with the ideals of slavery and concubinage. Also, one needs to refer to the Quran and the life example of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Currently, Muslims ask themselves, “How should we see the Quran and life example in relation to this subject?” “How should we see the reported practices of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) through what one knows now about these power dynamics?” Given what one knows about the harsher reality of concubinage.




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