concubines in Islam

Question:

In brief I would like clarification/confirmation that it is true that if a man takes a concubine the wife has no right to object to it, nor does she have a right to use it as grounds for divorce, nor is it appropriate for her to be displeased, nor can she request it to stop and not occur. In short she has no say in the matter at all. I find this very hard to reconcile when a woman is allowed to state a man cannot take a second wife in her marriage contract. I find it even more difficult because I've always believed in the promotion of an Islamic family unit consisting of mutual opinions and agreement.  

My belief in Islam has always been firm despite those doubts you encounter in everyday life, people who don't believe etc. But this is one issue which I find very hard to reconcile with my faith. Extremely difficult and something I don't feel I can just accept as being part of Islam, dealing with the fact men can have concubines has been difficult enough.  

Now I understand in modern day times there would be no right to have a concubine due to the abolishment of slavery but this doesn't change the question, as it will then be applicable to when slavery was around or who knows if a proper muslim shariah is established.

Answer: 

Islam did not start the problems of concubines: it simply dealt with it. Slavery in general goes back to the beginning of humanity. In so-called civilized societies, slavery was only abolished a hundred years ago. All Islam did was to provide a system whereby the rights, male and female, would be fulfilled, the whole slavery system would be discouraged and people would be treated fairly.  

You simply cannot understand Islam’s response to concubines if you do not visualize the state of society and humanity at that time, 1400 years ago. Slaves were treated like animals. They were objects, not functioning humans. They were sold and bought like items in a shop.

Islam could not outlaw the practice in one move either. This would mean that Muslims captured by the enemies would become slaves. On the other hand, non-Muslims captured by Muslims would go free.  

So think for yourself how pioneering and advanced the Messenger (peace be upon him) was when he said:  

‘Your servants and your slaves are your brothers. Anyone who has slaves should give them from what he eats and wears. He should not charge them with work beyond their capabilities. If you must set them to hard work, in any case I advise you to help them.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari)

In his final speech on the Hajj, he said:

"And your slaves! See that you feed them such food as you eat yourselves and dress them what you yourself wear. And if they commit a “mistake which you are not inclined to forgive then sell them, for they are the servants of Allah and are not to be tormented! "  

Islam’s vision of keeping concubines was to work towards freeing them. It was not to allow another avenue for men to fulfill their sexual urges. They could do that by keeping up to four wives. Yes, Islam allowed Muslims to have intercourse with slave women taken as captives of just and legitimate wars. In so doing, the woman would automatically become free if she got pregnant. What's more, her child would also become free.

In the Qur’an, Allah states regarding the concubines:  

“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. (The Noble Quran, 24:33)"  

In other words, if the slave woman desires to keep chaste, then her Muslim master must not compel her into sex. Pagans back then were used to having sex with and raping their slave girls, even the ones who were married.  

In your question, you state that you believe Islam is about the ‘promotion of an Islamic family unit consisting of mutual opinions and agreement’. The same Islam that gave women rights, opinions, voices and dignity is the same Islam that allowed concubines in Islam (albeit under strict conditions). Therefore the issue should not cloud your judgement about Allah’s wisdom in His Shariah rulings.

Hijri Date


Friday Muharram 6 1436
Friday 31 October 2014

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