What is a concubine?

The Details of the Question

- When the master wanted to marry a concubine, did the concubine have the right to refuse?
- When the master wanted to have sexual intercourse with a concubine, did the concubine have the right to refuse?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Slavery and concubinage were not introduced by Islam; it was a status that Islam first reformed and aimed to completely abolish in time; as the nations of the world came to the same point, it became a thing of the past.

However, we should not forget that there are hungry, destitute, unemployed, homeless and weak people in many parts of the world today, and some of them are treated like former slaves and concubines. Poverty and freedom do not go together; necessities enslave people. Thus, humanity did only a small part of what should have been done by abolishing slavery.

The goal of Islam is freedom and justice worthy of humanity all over the world. Unless those two goals are achieved in a new world order, humanity will bear a great responsibility and a sin; it should feel ashamed because of it (the blood that is shed, the pain that is suffered, etc.). Those who believe in the religion should not forget that Allah will call them to account because of it.

Marriage contract consists of an agreement between a man and a woman, both of whom are free (hence owning their own bodies), on the issue of mutually establishing a family and benefiting from each other in accordance with its terms and conditions. The contract and deed that enables one to have a concubine (acquiring through purchase, inheritance, loot or donation…) is also a legal transaction, and this legal transaction also gives the right to live as a husband and wife between the owner and the concubine; it is stronger and more comprehensive than the marriage contract and can replace it.

Two kinds of marriages are mentioned in the following verses: one with free women and the other with concubines.

“(Believers) Who abstain from sex, except with those joined to them in the marriage bond, or (the captives) whom their right hands possess...” (al-Muminun, 23/5-6).

“…But if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess...” (an-Nisa, 4/3).

Marriage related to concubines is expressed in the verse as “that your right hands possess”. It is also called “milk al-yamin” or “aqd al-yamin”.

Another important concept related to this issue in Islamic fiqh is the concept of “tasarri”. It means deciding to take a female slave obtained as a concubine as a wife and to have intercourse with her.

According to Islamic law, tasarri does not occur only by having intercourse with a concubine. Except for the marriage contract, all the necessary conditions for marriage with normal women must be prepared. According to the Hanafi madhhab, there are two conditions for tasarri to occur:

First: To allocate a private residence for the concubine with whom one wishes to have intercourse with, just like his wives who are normal free women.

Second: Allocating the same amount of time to the concubine as he allocates to his other wives. According to Abu Yusuf, the desire to have a child from her is also essential. (see al-Badai’, 8/344-45-Shamila) Those two conditions are necessary according to Shafi’i madhhab too. (see Mughnil-Muhtaj, 20/316; Nihayatul-Muhtaj, 29/343-Shamila)

If a man fulfills those conditions, he does not have to get permission. As a matter of fact, it is not permissible even for the free wife to reject her husband when he calls her to have sexual intercourse without an excuse. Even being in the menstruation period is not an excuse because her husband can benefit from a part of her other than the forbidden area when she is in menstruation period. (Fatawa Hindiyya -manuscript- 611/45; Muslim, Hayd 16, Nasai, Taharah 180; Ibn Majah, Taharah 124)

Girls and women captured from the enemy during the war are taken as “concubines”. Since they are considered booty by law, they would be given to warriors in need of maids by the Islamic state. As long as they were not emancipated, they were bought and sold like a commercial item. From that moment on, the “concubine” was considered a part of the family and a member of the family and was treated accordingly. The “master”, the owner of the concubine, could employ her in personal services and household chores; if he wished, he could have sexual intercourse with her without the need for a wedding ceremony. It would seem strange at first but it was considered quite normal and natural in the past. There is also a permission given by the Quran in this regard. This permission is expressed as follows in verses 5 and 6 of the chapter of al-Mu’minun:

“(Believers) Who abstain from sex, except with those joined to them in the marriage bond, or (the captives) whom their right hands possess, - for (in their case) they are free from blame.”

The master’s sexual use of his concubine has two important instances of wisdom and benefits for the concubine. First and foremost, those women, who had been captured and left unattended, were prevented from being neglected. Otherwise, the possibility of the concubines falling into prostitution and committing fornication would be inevitable; thus, they would be attached to the house of their master.

Another benefit is that if the concubine had a child from her master, she would be considered as “umm al-walad” meaning “the mother of the child”. This child born of a concubine was regarded as free. With the birth of the child, the mother did not pass to her master’s heirs after the death of her master, and she gained her freedom. If she had no children and if her master did not free her, the concubine would be inherited like other goods.

It is not necessary for the master and his concubine to be husband and wife. The master can employ her only as a maid too. In addition, if the husband of the concubine is among the captives, it is not permissible for the master to have sexual relations with that concubine since the marriage of the spouses will continue. If the concubine’s husband is a slave of someone else, and the concubine is a slave of someone else, the master cannot sexually benefit from that female slave who is possessed by him. (Istılâhat-ı Fıkhiyye Kamusu, III, 402)

In addition, the Quran also encourages the marriage of male and female slaves to each other. The following is stated in the chapter of an-Nur:

“Marry those among you who are single, or the virtuous ones among yourselves, male slaves and female slaves: if they are in poverty, Allah will give them means out of His grace.” (an-Nur, 24/32)

Thus, a kind of equality among the slaves is ensured.

Our religion, which recommends emancipation of the slave on every occasion, encourages the concubine to become a housewife by getting married. The Prophet (pbuh) expresses the issue as follows in a hadith:

“If one of you who has a concubine educates her in the best way, raises her, and then sets her free and marries her, there are two rewards for him.” (Bukhari, Itq 15)

If the explanations above are taken into consideration, it will be clearly seen how much Islam guards slaves and concubines and protects their rights. The concubine is not only seen as a person whose “femininity” is used. She is also a member of the household, a part of the family. She is the most responsible woman of the family after the man’s wife.

A person could free his concubine and set her free, or he could give her to someone else as a gift. The two concubines sent to the Prophet (pbuh) by Muqawqis, the ruler of Egypt, are like that. Those two concubines were converted to Islam on the way to Madinah from Egypt. As it is known, our Prophet (pbuh) married one of those concubines called Mariya. Afterwards, Mariya gave birth to Ibrahim. After the birth of Ibrahim, our Prophet (pbuh) freed Mariya. Thus, Mariya rose to a position that other Prophet’s wives would envy. The Prophet (pbuh) gave the other concubine named Shirin to his poet Hassan bin Thabit.

Women from non-Muslim countries cannot be taken as “concubines” today without marriage acting upon the example above because the institution of concubinage, which is now a historical event, is not practiced in any way today. On the other hand, the “concubine” given to our Prophet (pbuh) as a gift was already a concubine of Muqawqis. Muqawqis did not send a free woman from his own nation to the Prophet (pbuh) as a “gift”.

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