Babikir Faysal Babikir

One of the most important principles underlying the discourse of political Islam groups, in all their varieties, is the categorical rejection of the concept of a historical reading of the Qur’ān, or any link being made between the tafsīr (commentary) of its verses with the causes of their revelation, or the context in which they were revealed. The argument of those advocating this current of thinking is based on the dictum that the Qur’ān is ‘valid for all times and all places’.

Those who differ with their opinion do not oppose the concept, but they say that they apply basically to issues associated with matters of faith and worship, matters which by their nature are ‘historically transcendent’ and do not alter with changes in times.

Those advocating the need to adopt a historical reading argue that the Qur’ān was not brought down to Man in one fell swoop, such as was the case with the tablets of the Torah which were not revealed at one go to Moses, but rather in the case of the Prophet were revealed in installments and scattered over a period of 23 years. Many of its verses were abrogated, and some forgotten, a fact which confirms its interaction with historical reality. Those who support this view claim that enacting a historical reading of the Qur’ānic text does not affect its sacredness or detract in any way from the truth of its divine origin. Indeed, it confirms its perpetuity and power to deal with new events.

What one’s right arm possesses

On the other hand, those who advocate the need to ignore the historical dimension when reading the Qur’ānic text suffer the dilemma of its contradiction to historical developments and emerging contemporary realities, and this dilemma is made patently clear in the question of slavery, servitude and ‘what one’s right hand possesses’.

The practice of slavery was prevalent in the world before the advent of Islam. The Qur’ān did not prohibit it categorically, in line with the circumstances of the times it appeared, but it did encourage and urge the freeing of slaves from a basic religious concept founded upon the equality of all Muslims in matters of faith.

In common with all societies Islamic society practiced enslavement at times of invasion and conquest, where Muslims held markets for the buying and selling of slaves. Islamic law established the rules for dealing with the slave and works of jurisprudence set aside detailed and precise treatments on this.

Works of Islamic jurisprudence make a clear distinction between a free Muslim and a Muslim slave with respect to rights and duties. Slaves fall into the category of objects, property and money, to be bought and sold and bequeathed without rights. Slave-girls are to be used for sexual pleasure and are not accorded the rights of free married women.

Over time, and with the considerable development of human societies, significant changes taking place on the subject of slavery led to its total abolition, to its consideration as a crime punishable by law, and to its rejection by a sound conscience sense as something that conflicts with ethics. In September 1926 the city of Geneva saw the signing of the Slavery Convention which banned all types of act that could lead human beings into any form of slavery.

These modern developments pose a critical question: Are Muslims to continue adopting the rulings of Qur’ānic verses that talk about what one’s right arm possesses and their validity for all times and all places? Or should they implement the principle of a historical reading of these verses?

The regime of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Daesh) has given their response to this question on behalf of political Islam groups when they issued a circular containing questions and answers about the captivity of women and sexual intercourse with enslaved women.

Islamic law makes a  distinction between a free Muslim and a Muslim slave with respect to rights

The publication signed in the name of ‘The Department of Research and Iftā’ of the Islamic State featured 32 questions and answers and defined slavery as ‘the women of the People of War whom Muslims have taken.’

The third question in the document concerned whether it was permissible ‘to enslave infidel women’, and concluded that

There is no dispute among the scholars that it is permissible to capture unbelieving women from communities of original unbelief, such as the women from among the People of the Book, [i.e. Jews and Christians] and polytheists. However, the scholars differ over the issue of capturing apostate women. The consensus leans towards forbidding it, though some experts think it permissible. We ourselves consider it likely to be more correct to follow the consensus, but God is the Wiser.

The document went on to discuss another question, that of ‘the permissibility to have intercourse with a female captive’. The response was this:

It is permissible to have sexual intercourse with the female captive. God Almighty said: [Successful are the believers] who guard their chastity, except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame [Qur’ān XXIII: 5-6]

Another question deals with whether ‘If two or more buy a female captive together, does she then become [sexually] permissible to each of them?’, the response being:

It is forbidden to have intercourse with a female captive if [the master] does not own her exclusively. One who owns [a captive] in partnership [with others] may not have sexual intercourse with her until the other [owners] sell or give him [their share].

Concerning the conditions for a master having sexual intercourse with a female captive or slave

If she is a virgin, he her master can have intercourse with her immediately after taking possession of her. However, is she isn't, her uterus must first be purified.

That is, he is to wait until she has had a least one monthly period so as to confirm that she is not already pregnant. On the question of the possibility of ‘kissing’ another man’s female slave, the following response was provided:

A man may not kiss the female slave of another, for kissing implies pleasure, and pleasure is prohibited unless the man owns the slave outright.

As for the question ‘Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty?’ the response was the following:

It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who has not reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however if she is not fit for intercourse, then he should be content with enjoying her without intercourse.

On another point, whether two sisters can be taken together while taking slaves, the document had this to say:

It is permissible to combine possession of two sisters, a female slave and her paternal aunt or a female slave and her maternal aunt. But they may not be together during intercourse, and whoever has intercourse with one of them cannot have intercourse with the other, due to the general prohibition on this.

The document goes on to deal with other questions and answers on the ‘lawfulness’ of striking slave-girls, selling them or offering them as presents to others, or the regulations on their meeting with foreign men without wearing a hijab.

The ISIS document: supported by traditional Islamic jurisprudence

There is no doubt that this ISIS publication takes its support from traditional Islamic jurisprudence, which in turn is derived from Qur’ānic verses that show how one is to deal with the ‘possession of one’s right hand’. We have seen how the organization cites a verse from the Qur’ān when explaining the ruling on ‘sexual intercourse with a ‘female captive’.

Of course the Qur’ānic text is not limited to those verses cited by the ISIS publication, for there are many other verses, including where God says: And all married women (are forbidden unto you) save those (captives) whom your right hands possess [Qur’ān IV, 24] – a verse for which Al-Qurtubī in his work Al-Jāmiʽ li-Ahkām al-Qur’ān explains as follows:

What is meant by married women here are those who have husbands. This means that such women are forbidden, except for the case of women taken captive in enemy territory. These are permitted to the one whose share of the spoils they fall to, even if they are married.

Similarly, the following words of the Almighty:

And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or (the captives) that your right hands possess. Thus it is more likely that ye will not do injustice. [Qur’ān IV, 3]

are interpreted by the commentator Ibn Kathīr as follows:

If you fear lest you cannot act justly, due to your women being numerous, any one that so fears should restrict himself to one, or to servant girls and concubines. Although one is not obliged to deal fairly with them all, it is nevertheless preferable. He who acts accordingly does well, although he who does not is not to feel any anguish.

As for the Almighty’s words:

Serve Allah. Ascribe no thing as partner unto Him. (Show) kindness unto parents, and unto near kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and unto the neighbour who is of kin (unto you) and the neighbour who is not of kin, and the fellow-traveller and the wayfarer and (the slaves) whom your right hands possess. Lo! Allah loveth not such as are proud and boastful [Qur’ān IV, 36]

This verse recommends Muslims to act with kindness toward those ‘whom your right hands possess.’

The ISIS publication places all groups of political Islam in a position of great embarrassment, particularly those groups that make claims to being modern and keeping abreast of current developments, chiefly the branches of the Muslim Brotherhood dispersed over various Muslim countries, or the Tunisian Renaissance movement or the group in Sudan led by Dr. Turabi and others. They are faced with one of two choices: either they agree with the practices of ISIS, or they reject them outright.

Are Muslims to continue adopting the rulings of Qur’ānic verses that talk about what one’s right arm possesses?

To consent to such practices would simply torpedo their repeated claims to match the spirit of the times and its prevailing values of human rights, freedom, equality and tolerance. It also torpedoes their desperate attempts to emphasize their openness to the Other.

To reject these practices means that they accept the principle of a ‘historical reading’. This in turn will force them to shed many of their ideas and slogans that they call to be applied, on the grounds that this principle will apply to these too, as much as it applies to the question of ‘what one’s right hand possesses’.

What distinguishes the most radical groups of political Islam groups such as ISIS is simply the clarity of their positions and the conformity of their practices and to the principles and ideas they believe in. This is in contrast to other currents who hide behind the glitter of their slogans and the obscurity of their aims but which – once given the opportunity for power and governance – will reveal their true intentions.

It is therefore clearly necessary that one should not make any distinction between this or that Islamist group until such time as their principles, intellectual theses and standpoints are clearly and unambiguously differentiated, something that is yet to happen.