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Right Hand Possessions

Updated: Apr 13

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Ever Merciful

This issue has acquired importance in our time due to the extreme human rights violations perpetrated by the terrorist organisation known as ISIS or 'Daesh'. My assessment is that this is a result of the false labelling of hadith collections as 'sahih', apparently due to the lack of proper and intensive study of the Qur'an by the likes of Bukhari and Muslim, for there is a significant amount of doubtful and criminal reports in their compilations, and which have been accepted uncritically over the centuries, and in so doing, verses of the Qur'an were misinterpreted under the influence of such false reports, with subsequent generations of Muslims accepting them out of regard or reverence for their predecessor scholars. So, let us now analyse this issue with an unbiased and critical mind. Islam forbade the enslavement of free persons, and strongly encouraged the freeing of those already held as slaves prior to Islam, as an act of great merit. The reason why this wrong practice was not eradicated completely was because of an exception to the rule, this being the case of Prisoners of War, viz:  [8:67] “It does not behove a Prophet that he should have captives until he engages in regular fighting in the land. You desire the goods of the world, while Allah desires for you the Hereafter. And Allah is Mighty, Wise.” These are those who had waged a war of aggression against innocent Muslims, Muslims themselves were clearly prohibited to become aggressors/transgressors, a command categorically stated in [2:190], which was reinforced by indicating it in as something forbidden in the matter of fighting [9:29], and also through several other verses emphasising justice for all persons [4:59], even for those people who manifest enmity [5:8]. The POW's were to be held as captives against their will (but otherwise treated with kindness) until the war was over, when they were to be freed either with or without taking ransom, viz: 

[47:4] “And when you meet in regular battle those who disbelieve, smite their necks; and, when you have overcome them, bind fast the fetters - then afterwards either release them as a favour or by taking ransom - until the war lays down its burdens."

One should keep in mind that even in our 21st century, though slavery is widely abolished, there are Geneva conventions in place governing 'prisoners of war'. Why not criticise such conventions as well when one condemns Islam for providing guidelines concerning them 14-15 centuries ago? The only valid criticism is that which is levelled on Muslims in general for not properly following or even correctly understanding the guidelines given in the Qur'an in this regard. 


Detractors of Islam quote [Muslim Book 8 Hadith 3432]  & [Bukhari Book 59 Hadith 459] to make the allegation that the term of the Qur'an "those whom the right hands have possessed" were slave women, captured by Muslim conquerors. They allege that [23:6] and [70:30] mean Muslim men could have intercourse with slave women that had been captured as spoils of war. They also argue that [4:24] annulled the marriages of captive women so that Muslims could have intercourse with them even if their husbands were alive.

However, there are insurmountable problems with such allegations, as apparent from the following verses of the Holy Qur'an: 


[17:32] And come not (even) near unto adultery/fornication; surely, it is a foul thing and an evil way.


This is a very clear and categorical command.


[24:33] And those who find no means of marriage should keep themselves chaste until Allah grants them means out of His bounty. ... 

There is no mention of extra-marital intercourse with slaves or prisoners of war (right hand possessions) in this verse, which one would expect to have been mentioned as an option if it were at all permissible. 


Any extra-marital intercourse would violate both of the above verses. Here are a couple of other relevant verses: 


[24:4] The adulterer cannot have sexual intercourse but with an adulteress or an idolatrous woman, and an adulteress - none can have sexual intercourse with her but an adulterer or an idolatrous man. That indeed is forbidden to the believers.


[2:221] And marry not idolatrous women until they believe; even a believing bond woman is better than an idolatress, although she may please you. And give not believing women in marriage to idolaters until they believe; even a believing slave is better than an idolater, although he may please you. These call to Fire, but Allah calls to Heaven and to forgiveness by His will. And He makes HIis Signs clear to the people that they may remember.


In those days, it was the idolators who had declared war against Muslims, and Muslims were fighting back against idolators. The verses clearly prohibit marriage or intercourse with idolatrous men or women, so the ahadith in question have to be deemed false. Maulana Nooruddin r.a. commented on the verse [2:221] as follows (please note that nikah can mean marriage, and/or intercourse): 


... the Holy Prophet s.a. forbade nikah with idolators when his Companions r.a. asked him concerning those idolatrous women who were taken captives in battles, viz: 


https://www.alislam.org/quran/view/?page=358&region=H1&CR=


The verse [2:221] above negates the possibility of nikah with idolators, and the verse [4:24] below mentions the right hand ones possessed, and [4:25] below clearly and categorically specifies that only those captive women may be married who believe (of their own free will, 2:256), and that one should marry them properly, giving dowers, and refraining from fornication and secret paramours: 


[4:24] And forbidden to you are married women, except such as your right hands possess. This has Allah enjoined on you. And allowed to you are those beyond that, that you seek them by means of your property, marrying them properly and not committing fornication. And for the benefit you receive from them, give them their dowries, as fixed, and there shall be no sin for you in anything you mutually agree upon, after the fixing of the dowry. Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, Wise.


[4:25] And whoso of you cannot afford to marry free, believing women, let him marry what your right hands have possessed, namely, your believing handmaids. And Allah knows your faith best; you are all one from another; so marry them with the leave of their masters and give them their dowries according to what is fair, they being chaste, not committing fornication, nor taking secret paramours. And if, after they are married, they are guilty of lewdness, they shall have half the punishment prescribed for free women. This is for him among you who fears lest he should commit sin. And that you restrain yourselves is better for you; and Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.


An Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at Commentary states on the above verse: 


https://www.alislam.org/quran/view/?page=273&region=E3


"592. The verse has laid down three vital principles: (a) Bondwomen should be properly married before conjugal relations are had with them. This is also clear from 2:222; 4:4; and 24:33. Thus Islam has cut at the root of concubinage which was so prevalent in Arab society before it's advent. ..."


(please note the verses quoted are 2:221, 4:3, and 24:32 in the more common numbering of verses; moreover, commentaries are not always correct, the Arabic text of the Qur'an being the only Perfect Book [2:2])


Someone may be mistaken about the two categories mentioned in the verses, i.e. 'wives' and 'right hand possessions', that the latter are not lawfully taken in marriage. However, it becomes clear from contemplating on the following verse that making such a distinction is not quite correct: 


[4:163] But those among them who are firmly grounded in knowledge, and the believers, believe in what has been sent down to thee and what was sent down before thee, and especially those that observe Prayer and those who pay the Zakat and those who believe in Allah and the Last Day. To these We will surely give a mighty reward.


In the above verse, two categories of people are mentioned, firstly, those who are firmly grounded in knowledge, and secondly, the believers. However, it is clear that both these are categories of believers, one of them a special category of believers, and the other, the ordinary believers in general.

Yet another verse of the Qur’an confirms this point:


[15:88] And We have, indeed, given thee the seven oft-repeated verses, and the Great Qur’an.

We cannot say that Suratul Fatihah, which contains the seven oft-repeated verses, is separate from the Great Qur’an. It is indeed part and parcel of the Great Qur’an. Likewise is the case with qatl and salb in [4:157] being a general (aam) and a specific (khaas) type of killing. 

Another point that can be made on this matter is in connection with verses which refer to refugee women:


[60:10] O ye who believe! When believing women come to you as Refugees, examine them. Allah knows best their faith. Then if you find them true believers, send them not back to the disbelievers. These women are not lawful for them, nor are they lawful for these women. But give their disbelieving husbands what they have spent on them. Thereafter it is no sin for you to marry them, when you have given them their dowries. And hold not to your matrimonial ties of the disbelieving women, but should they join the disbelievers, then demand the return of that which you have spent; and let the disbelieving husbands of believing women demand that which they have spent. That is the judgement of Allah. HE judges between you. And Allah is All-Knowing, Wise.


It is clear from the above verse that when refugee women are examined, the disbelieving women should be sent back to the disbelievers, and not kept amongst Muslims, taken in matrimony, or kept as sex slaves. If the Qur'an actually gave Muslims the license to indulge in intercourse with captive non-Muslim women, why then would it command Muslims to examine the faith of refugee women who came to Muslims of their own accord, and return them not to the disbelievers only if they were found to have true faith, the default position being to return such women whose faith has not been confirmed as genuine? Keep in mind that a believer is categorically forbidden intercourse/marriage with an idolatress, hence even if she comes and offers herself for free to believers, she still remains absolutely forbidden. 


Hence the two ahadith mentioned above which suggest Muslim men were having intercourse with polytheist women cannot be accepted as anything other than forgeries. The false and deceptive label of 'sahih' should be dropped from Bukhari et al. There is only one 'sahih' Book, the Noble Qur'an. This was the 'go to Book' for Muslims for up to about 3 centuries. 


There are some who give excuses to justify the traditional or orthodox sunni view on this matter. I wonder what they have to say about the Islamic moral value of chastity described here, which includes a mention of [24:30-31] which instruct guarding one's chastity or private parts: 


https://www.alislam.org/library/browse/volume/Ruhani_Khazain/book/Islami_Asool_ki_Philosphy/?l=English#page/43/mode/1up


And reflect on this verse as well, keeping in mind that there is no scope for nikah with idolators, who are described as being spiritually 'unclean' in the Holy Qur'an [9:28], and Muslims are taught to strive and pray for inner purity: 


[24:26] Women impure are for men impure, and men impure for women impure and women of purity are for men of purity, and men of purity are for women of purity: these are not affected by what people say: for them there is forgiveness, and a provision honourable.

Also, they ought to reflect on the following two verses: 


[4:82] Will they not, then, ponder over the Qur’an? Had it been from anyone other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much disagreement.


As Allah alone is All-Knowing, 'infallible', free from all faults and errors (hence we utter Subhaanallaah when an Imam errs), to believe that any book other than the Holy Qur'an is without any error or contradiction becomes a type of shirrk, unless ofcourse it is entirely composed of preserved pure divine revelation without involving human input. 


Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad r.a., whilst discussing the various forms of shirrk or idolatry, stated:

"Fourth, to regard a human being as infallible. For instance, a belief that a particular saint or holy person is wholly free from the natural weaknesses of man and must therefore, be implicitly obeyed in all matters, however objectionable his orders may be, and practically to prefer his commands to those of God, although as a matter of belief that person is not regarded as God." (Ahmadiyyat or the True Islam, page 60)

[9:31] They have taken their learned men and their monks for lords beside Allah. And so have they taken the Messiah, son of Mary. And they were not commanded but to worship the One God. There is no God but He. Too Holy is He for what they associate with Him!


If anyone is guilty of idolising 'great' and other scholars, reformers, khalifas and/or other revered figures, including any Prophet. The Prophet s.a. himself was not deterred when Umar r.a. stood before him in protest at his leading the funeral prayer of the chief of the hypocrites Abdullah bin Ubayy bin Salul when he died in Medina, on the basis that Allah s.w.t. had already told him that his prayer for their forgiveness would not be accept viz:


[9:80] Ask thou forgiveness for them, or ask thou not forgiveness for them; even if thou ask forgiveness for them seventy times, Allah will never forgive them. That is because they disbelieved in Allah and His Messenger. And Allah guides not the perfidious people.


But the Prophet s.a. did not pay heed to Umar r.a. and was then prohibited by Allah from performing such a prayer in the future in a subsequent verse, showing that Umar r.a. had a point, viz:


[9:84] And never pray thou for any of them that dies, nor stand by his grave; for they disbelieved in Allah and His Messenger and died while they were disobedient. 


I would like to invite all to the pure monotheism that is found in the Noble Qur'an, the only 'sahih' Book we have, and will continue to have, Insha'Allaah. The Holy Qur'an, the Word of Allah, is the judge (hakam) and has authority over everything and everyone.


A lesson to learn from this article is to call for the removal of the label 'sahih' from hadith books, and making it a criminal act to spread literature which does not have a clear warning (much like the warnings found on packets of cigarettes) about reports which incite towards criminal activity, or which have been or may be misinterpreted in a criminal manner. 


This should include calling for warnings concerning criminal translations and misinterpretations of the Qur'an, and the withdrawal of such literature from the public domain. Muslims have a duty to ensure the safety of the public, whether they be Muslims or non-Muslims, and a silence on this matter would make Muslims, and especially scholars and  other leaders, complicit in acts of extremism, whether manifested in the form of hate speech, violence or terrorism.


(this article is being developed) 


[19:76] Allah increases in guidance those who follow the guidance. [20:47] Peace be upon those who follow the guidance.

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