Slave-girls as sexual property in the Quran

The Quran makes women subordinate to men in many ways.   But no women subject to the rule of Quranic law are more unfortunate than slave girls. According to the eternal and unchanging scripture of Islam, men are permitted to treat them as sexual property regardless of their wishes, under certain specified circumstances.

Sura (Chapter) 23 of the Quran was revealed during Muhammad's life in Mecca before his Hijrah or Emigration from his home city to Medina in AD 622. During the early years of his ministry, he never waged war on anyone, so these were times of peace, although he suffered from a measure of persecution. [1]

The Quran in Sura 23:5—6 says:

5 [Most certainly true believers] . . . guard their private parts scrupulously, 6 except with regard to their wives and those who are legally in their possession, for in that case they shall not be blameworthy. (Sayyid Abul A'La Maududi, The Meaning of the Quran, vol. 3, p. 237)

The key words are 'those who are legally in their possession.' Maududi (d. 1979) is a highly respected commentator on the Quran, and he interprets the plain meaning of the clause, saying that sex with slave—girls is lawful.

Maududi writes:

Two categories of women have been excluded from the general command of guarding the private parts: (a) wives, (b) women who are legally in one's possession, i.e. slave—girls. Thus the verse clearly lays down the law that one is allowed to have sexual relation with one's slave—girl as with one's wife, the basis being possession and not marriage. If marriage had been the condition, the slave—girl also would have been included among the wives, and there was no need to mention them separately. (ibid. p. 241, note 7)

The main point in this section, which Maududi overlooks or refuses to criticize, is that Muhammad himself endorses not only the entire institution of slavery, but also sex between male owners and their female slaves within this institution. No devout Muslim can criticize the Prophet.

It should be noted that Sura 70:29—30, also revealed in Mecca, uses words nearly identical to Sura 23:5—6. Men must guard their private parts from everyone but their wives and slave—girls, meaning that men may have sex with both 'categories' (Maududi's word). [2]

At the time Sura 4, where our next Quranic verse is found, is revealed, Muhammad had emigrated from Mecca to Medina, and had fought many wars and skirmishes. For example, he fought the Meccans in the Battle of Badr in AD 624 and again the Meccans at the Battle of Uhud in AD 625. He also exiled the Jewish tribes of Qaynuqa in AD 624 and Nadir in AD 625. He carried forward this policy of sex between male owners and their female slaves to his new city of Medina, with the added twist of enslaving women prisoners of war and permitting his soldiers to have sex with them. [3]

The Quran in Sura 4:24 says:

And forbidden to you are wedded wives of other people except those who have fallen in your hands (as prisoners of war) . . . (Maududi, vol. 1, p. 319). (See also Suras 4:3 and 33:50)

Thus, women captives are sometimes forced to marry their Muslim masters, regardless of the marital status of the women. That is, the masters are allowed to have sex with the enslaved human property.

Maududi says in his comment on the verse that is it lawful for Muslim holy warriors to marry women prisoners of war even when their husbands are still alive. But what happens if the husbands are captured with their wives? Maududi cites a school of law that says Muslims may not marry them, but two other schools say that the marriage between the captive husbands and wives is broken (note 44).

But why would a debate emerge over this cruelty? The answer is obvious for those who understand simple justice. No marriage should take place between married prisoners of war and their captors. In fact, no sex should take place between women captives and their captors.

Predictably, the hadith perpetuate this Quran—inspired immorality.

The hadith are the reports of Muhammad's actions and words outside of the Quran. The most reliable collector and editor is Bukhari (d. 870).

The hadith demonstrate that Muslim jihadists actually have sex with the captured women, whether or not they are married. In the following passage, Khumus is one—fifth of the spoils of war.

Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son—in—law, just finished a relaxing bath. Why?

The Prophet sent Ali to Khalid to bring the Khumus (of the booty) and . . . Ali had taken a bath (after a sexual act with a slave—girl from the Khumus).

What was Muhammad's response to the person who hated Ali for this sexual act?

Do you hate Ali for this? . . . Don't hate him, for he deserves more than that from [the] Khumus. (source: Bukhari)

Muhammad casually  mentions that slave women who are part of the one—fifth of the spoils of war can be treated like sexual property. Ali is a Muslim hero. He was the husband of Fatima, Muhammad's daughter by his first wife Khadija. After all, slaves are fair sexual game. The Quran says so.

Some things, however, are forbidden. Holy jihadists may not practice coitus interruptus with the women they capture. Babies must be fathered, regardless of the preference of the man. The woman, of course, has no say in the matter whatsoever.

While on a military campaign and away from their wives, Muslim jihadists 'received captives from among the Arab captives and we desired women and celibacy became hard on us and we loved to do coitus interruptus.' They asked the Holy Prophet about this, and he invoked the doctrine of fate:

It is better for you not to do so [practice coitus interruptus]. There is no person that is destined to exist, but will come to existence, till the Day of Resurrection. (Bukhari ; for parallel hadiths go here  and here)

That is, these enquiring Muslims should stop doing coitus interruptus, but instead go all the way with the enslaved sex objects. Fate controls who should be born.


It is one thing for some soldiers in any army to strike out on their own and rape women. All armies have criminal soldiers who commit this wrong act. But it is quite another to codify rape in a sacred text. Islam codifies and legalizes rape. It is disappointing that the Quran does not abolish this sexual crime in the clearest terms: Thou shalt not have sex with slave—girls under any circumstance!

It may be argued that American slave—owners committed sexual crimes against their slaves before the Civil War (1861—1865), so who are Christians or Americans (the two are not identical) to complain about Islam?

But the two situations are different. It is wrong to compare the US slave states with the Muslim community founded by Muhammad, who claimed divine inspiration. Instead, it is best to compare the founder of a religion (Jesus) with another founder (Muhammad). Second, in no place in the New Testament does God give permission to men—Christian or secular—to have sex with slave—girls. This would violate the spirit of Jesus' ministry and the entire writings of the New Testament authors. If Americans in a bygone era did this, then they were not following God's law. Moreover, a long and bloody Civil War was fought which ended the practice.

The Quran, however, codifies and legalizes this sexual crime for all time and every place that Islam is able to dominate. No significant reform movement within Islam questions the universal applicability of the laws it proclaims. Sharia law based on the Quran is on the march, replacing British Common Law in parts of Nigeria, and its application is demanded by Muslim populations from Malaysia to Canada.

Ignorance of the law, as they say, is no defense.

James M. Arlandson may be reached at


[1] For more information on the historical and the literary topical contexts of Sura 23, click here.

[2] If readers would like to inspect these verses in multiple translations from the original Arabic, they should go to this website, which has three translations, and this one, which is funded by the Saudi royal family.

[3] (For more information on the historical and literary topical contexts of this next sura, please click here.)

Supplemental Material

This article quotes the Quran and many hadith passages on sex with women prisoners of war. It also analyzes modern Muslim scholars on the topic. They support this practice. In Appendix One, the author answers a Muslim charge that the Old Testament allows this practice.

This article provides further details on Muhammad's encouragement to his soldiers to 'do it' with women prisoners of war.

For information on Muhammad's 'convenient' and 'special' marriage privileges, see this short article.

This article demonstrates that Muhammad owned slaves.

This online booklet cites many passages in the Quran and hadith, surveying women's place in Islam. The facts lead to one conclusion: Islam does not honor women.

As for slavery generally, this article demonstrates that Muslims practiced the slave trade. The article tracks this dirty business up to today in the Islamic world.

This short article contrasts Islam and Christianity on slavery.

This is an overview article on slavery in Islam.

This webpage  has many links to articles and online booklets on women in Islam and Christianity.

This page  in an online index refers to many articles and Quranic passages on slavery.