Sarah Brown resident moderator over at Harry’s Place asked me whether I believe “sexual slavery” is justified in any time, place or context. Quite how this question was germane to our ongoing discussion of the video depicting Maajid Nawaz touching up a stripper (she is clearly seen rebuffing his lecherous advances) is beyond me but the obliging type that I am I agreed to answer it. Yes, I realise the purpose is to exculpate Mr Nawaz – look those nasty Islamists are far worse so leave Mr Sleazy alone – but hey, I’m bored and I have a few minutes free and I feel like having a laugh so let’s play.
Simple answer is no. The more nuanced answer now follows:
In 7th century Arabia women would accompany their men to the battlefield. While they wouldn’t participate in the actual fighting they would look after the camp, cook, sing poetry to rouse the fighters and provide comfort (sexual and otherwise). By doing so they were effectively part of the war effort. Both sides understood that in the event of their route by the enemy all their possessions as well as their women and children (which both sides regarded as possessions) would be forfeit. Slavery wasn’t invented by Islam or the Arabs, it was an ancient system, with its roots in prehistory, that was prevalent across the world in the 7th century. Islam didn’t abolish slavery outright but rather regulated it, improved the rights of slaves, forbade cruel and excessive punishments and gave ample opportunities for slaves to earn their freedom as well as ample incentives to their owners to manumit them.
Regarding the sexual element then yes it was the right of a slave owner to sleep with his female slave. Obtaining her consent wasn’t necessary but as I understand if she refused he wasn’t allowed to force himself upon her. Women in such situations, in the context of late antiquity, invariably resigned themselves to their fate – and in many ways it was the best option available. If your husband and family had been killed the alternatives to being someone’s slave were pretty much limited to prostitution (having to sleep with many men) or starvation (death). Such was the way of life in the 7th century but Islam immensely improved the lot of slaves, including slave women, who if they bore their master a child could not be sold and were automatically freed upon his death (the child was also born free). The idea that Islam permits women to be used as “sexual slaves” a la Eastern European brothel girls is risible and completely baseless but naturally one that Islam haters are keen to regurgitate regularly.
Fast forward to the 21st century and women no longer accompany men to the battlefield. The question of seizing them therefore doesn’t even arise in the first place – well actually it does but most scholarly opinions forbid it. Furthermore slavery as an institution is not practised anywhere (in theory anyway) and is regarded as repugnant and an affront to human dignity by almost all. Seizing slaves was never an obligatory feature of jihad (according to classical Islamic jurisprudence), merely a permissible one. It was always in the Amir’s (leader) remit to prohibit the seizing of enemy combatants as slaves. Given all this, in a scenario where seizing slaves would give rise to an inordinate level of animus against Islam (which in the contemporary millieu it clearly would) then the principle of maslaha (benefit) becomes applicable and would dictate that it should be outlawed by Caliphal fiat (although it can never be abolished as a precept). Furthermore a future Caliphate will almost certainly negotiate treaties with foreign states outlawing the seizure of slaves on the basis of reciprocity.
I am strongly against the seizing of slaves – female or male – and think it does a great disservice to the cause of Islam. No, I’m not about to now further humour you with a discussion of Islamic State and their activities in Syria and Iraq. I think you’ve far exceeded your allocation of my intellectual reserves for this month, Sarah. Besides you’d be far better advised to contemplate why Islam forbids the type of degrading activities Mr Nawaz seems to have a proclivity for but secular liberalist capitalism promotes them as expressions of free market entrepreneurship. Ponder which is better and feel free to let us know once you’ve decided. 🙂