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The Quran: "What Your Right Hands Possess"

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There are verses that those who want to defend Classical Islamic Law would say these are the verses of the Quran that prove this notion of going to bed with a slave woman. Yet, what the verses would need to prove is the Classical Islamic presupposition that if a man owns a slave woman, he automatically has the right to go to bed with her. There's no verse of the Quran that gets there. However, let's analyze the verses that they might present and deconstruct their argument.


They will look at the statement in Arabic meaning, “Whatever your right hands possess.” This is a euphemism, it's a nice way of speaking of owning slaves. Yet, not necessarily. Sometimes the Quran introduces a new term, and one haven't seen those. What does it mean within the Quranic context? You cannot automatically give it a meaning and that's the Quranic meaning.


If it was being used widely and can have other literature that had the term. When the Quran mentioned it, everybody would know the meaning that's already established. It wasn't being used.

This is the Quran's introduction. If we take it to mean the ownership of slaves, so this is a nice way of the Quran speaking of owning slaves. Since it’s in your right hand, this is usually something honorable. It's an honorable way of giving some dignity. Basically, it's putting a sugar coating on a bad situation.


The Quran is improving the way in which Muslims are going to think about the ownership of slaves. Yet, it's not necessarily that this phrase could mean ownership of slaves. Mohammed Asad, the author of “The Message of the Quran,” in his translation and commentary on the Quran points out that this term could mean even your husband or your wife. Since one has some ownership claim one’s husband or wife. Mohammed Asad didn't mention this. However, in the New Testament, Paul said, “Let every man have his own wife and let every woman have her own husband.”


The idea of having or possessing is what Paul wrote. However, the verses mentioned wives and what your right hand possesses. It doesn't mention wives. It mentioned “Alzawjacum.” “Azawj” is the plural of “Zawj.” In Arabic, “Zawj” could mean just one of a pair. Dr. Maurice Bucaille pointed out in his book: “The Bible, The Qur'an, and Science.” One can use the word, “Zawj” to refer to one of a pair of shoes. Because they appeared with each other. “Zawj” means a pairing. The Quran says, “We pair them.” It's a pairing of two things.


Yet, both things are mentioned, “Zawj” and “Aljame alzawjaum.” It would seem like they're too different things. “Zawj” could be both male or female.

If we say “Zawja” in Arabic, that's female. Yet, if we say “Zawj” it could mean. If one asks a man, “How is your “Zawj?” In Muslim culture, people don't ask other men about their wives because the man is going to ask, “Why they’re interested in their wife?” “Zawj” could mean either a husband or a wife.


The plural is “Azawj” could either husbands or wives. Whereas “Zawjat” the plural of “Zawja” is either husbands or wives. Whereas “Zawjat” the plural of “Zawja” is female. “Zawja” is the singular wife and “Zawjat” plural wives.


“Except with their spouses or their slaves, with these they are not to blame.” Quran [23:6].


“Except with their spouses or those whom their right hands possess so they are not to be blamed.” Quran [70:30].


Muhammad Asad says that the word “Aw” in Arabic, just as in English sometimes can be a toss-up between two things, like we're asking a person, “Do you want coffee or tea?” Yet, sometimes 'or', even in English, can be used to give one another way of saying the same thing.


He shows that this occurs in the Quran as well. In this case, the 'or' is not a choice between this and that, but it is another way of speaking about the same thing. When the Quran says, "Except with reference to your spouses or your right-hand possessions.” It's not talking about a different category, but it's just spouses again. The fact that one has some ownership claim on your spouse. It's by the introduction of the term, “In other words.”


The Quran states, “Except those who guard their private parts, except in the presence of their spouses. In other words, in the presence of their right-hand possessions.” It's another way of speaking about spouses.


Which one is more likely? Is it the argument that what the Quran is saying means that you automatically go to bed with your female slave? Or, is the Quran, saying that one goes to bed with your spouses? In other words, with your right-hand possessions, meaning your spouses.


The Quran did not have to have this wordiness about it. Yet, there are many such arguments, one can pick at the Quran in many places. The Quran did not have to say it this way, did not have to use these extra words.


It's better to give that interpretation to this verse than the one which has been traditionally given. If one takes the verse literally those who are following the Classical Islamic Law. They're insisting on, “Let's take it literally. It says so, it must mean exactly that. Let's take it word by word exactly the way it says.” We've already said that “Zawjaum” could mean both male or female. That means the verse could be addressing women just as it addresses men.


“Successful are the believers.” Quran [23:1].


The term, “Almuminin,” the believers is in the masculine gendered plural. Unless there is some reason for limiting the reference, it refers to believers altogether, male and female.


Since all believers, male and female, need to be successful. Those who are humble in their prayers, that's both men and women. Those who give charity. The ones that do all of the things that are mentioned in these six verses.

Why are we going to make this one refers only to men who have permission to sleep with their slave girls?


Women would have the right to sleep with their male slaves. If one wants to make it even more ridiculous, anyone can sleep with any one of the genders because it doesn't specify. If one wants to say to the literalist, exactly the way it says, word for word?


These are all the literal implications. Yet, one is not going to take it so literally, word for word. One will give due consideration to the literal meaning, but that's one stage of the analysis. The analysis must continue to look at the whole context of the Quran, the morals, and the ethic which the Quran is teaching us.


We've already seen so many passages where the Quran is telling the people to marry off the slave girls. It’s either one or the other. One isn’t going to marry them off and make them concubines. The Quran is emphasizing marry off these slave girls.


How do we just imagine that the certain other verse, is telling us that the men automatically have the right to sleep with the slave girls as concubines? In which case they don't have to marry them off. This would be the contrary.


One has to say that those who are saying that the man has the automatic right to sleep with his slave girl as a concubine, and want to pin that on the Quran. There is no verse of the Quran that gives them that license. They might interpret these two verses, which we have just mentioned. However, they are not taking it literally because we've seen the problems, nor are they taking it within the context of the Quranic teachings overall.


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