Sex Slaves


It is the claim of critics that Islam allows sexual relations with slave girls. To lend credence to this claim they allude to certain translations of Qur’anic verses, such as: “… those more favoured are not going to throw back their gifts to those whom their right hands possess…” (16:71 Yusuf Ali) and “Also (prohibited are) women already married, except those whom your right hands possess..” (4:24 Yusuf Ali) and by pointing to the mention of “those whom your right hands possess” suggest that the expression refers to slaves, thereby sex with slave girls is allowed. But does the original Arabic expression Malakat Aymanikum, commonly rendered in most English translations of the Qur’an as those whom your rights hands possess, really refer to slave girls? This is what needs to be seen. And for this we need to study and explore the Qur’an in detail before conceding to the argument.


The Arabic term for slave is Abd for the masculine gender and Ammah for the feminine, and whenever the Qur’an speaks of slaves, it is these terms which are mentioned:

“And if ye are in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto OUR SLAVE (Arabic: AABDINAA)..” 2:23 Pickthal

And when MY SLAVES (ARABIC: IBAADI) ask you (O Muhammad SAW) concerning Me, then (answer them), I am indeed near..” 2:186 Muhsin Khan

We clearly see in the verses cited above that Abd occurs for “slave” in its various derivative forms and with suffixes and pronouns. 2:221 demonstrates the feminine form Ammah along with the masculine, confirming the usage even further:

“And do not marry polytheistic women until they believe. And a believing SLAVE WOMAN (ARABIC: AMMAH) is better than a polytheist, even though she might please you. And do not marry polytheistic men [to your women] until they believe. And a believing SLAVE (ARABIC: ABD) is better than a polytheist, even though he might please you…” 2:221 Saheeh International

Abd and Ammah are the terms for slaves in the Qur’an, on the other hand Qur’anic inflection reveals that the compound Arabic expression Aymanikum which is usually rendered as ‘those whom your right hands posses’, is not for slaves under the possession of the right hand of the slave owner, but refers to the oaths and covenants that people have pledged to undertake. Malakat Aymanikum categorizes those women (and men) who are under the custody and protection of believers by way of a written pledge or agreement. This is absolutely clear in Qur’anic inflection. One need not be an expert in Arabic, but a mere word search can reveal this clear phenomenon:

“Allah does not call you to account for what is vain in YOUR OATHS (ARABIC: AYMANI-KUM), but He calls you to account for the making of deliberate oaths (ARABIC: AYMAN)…..” 5.89 Shakir

“…..and as to THOSE WITH WHOM YOUR RIGHTS HANDS (ARABIC: AYMAN) HAVE RATIFIED AGREEMENTS, give them their portion; surely Allah is a witness over all things. 4.33 Shakir

It should be noted that in above the same term Ayman which is usually cited to insinuate slavery has been used. Can we say that the term means slaves by exploring its inflection in other Qur’anic passages and checking its meaning in Arabic lexicons? Certainly not. Linguistically Ayman is the plural form of Yameen (lit. “right” – directional as well as conceptual). An oath and covenant is also called Yameen as it involves swearing by the (symbolic) ‘right hand’, and it is in this shade of meaning that the word and its plural form occur in the Qur’an. (See Lanes Arabic English Lexicon, pp 3064. Also Qur’an 5.89, 5.108, 16.91, 9.12.)

As the verses cited by critics refer to Malakat Aymanikum (lit. those under rightful authority [of believers] i.e. those under the protection of oath of believers), and not about Ibaad or Aammaat i.e. male or female slaves, the suggestion that these passages ratify slavery and concubinage is invalid.


With Malakat Aymanikum category of women Nikah [lit., “marriage”], is mandated in the Qur’an and not sex outside of it! we can read this very clearly:

“If any of you have not the means wherewith to wed Al Muhsanaat [lit,. “fortified women”], they may wed believing girls from among those whom your right hands possess: And Allah hath full knowledge about your faith. Ye are one from another: Wed them with the leave of their Ahl [lit., “family”], and give them their dowers, according to what is reasonable: They should be chaste, not lustful, nor taking paramours: when they are taken in wedlock, if they fall into shame, their punishment is half that for Muhsanaat. This (permission) is for those among you who fear sin; but it is better for you that ye practise self-restraint. And Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” 4:25

The command fankihoohunna-bi-ithni ahlihinna [lit., “so marry them with the permission of their family”] shows that Nikah is commanded with Malakat Aymanikum, and not concubinage, as it is wrongly suggested by many. Also we see that the term Muhsanaat (lit., “fortified women”) in above verse which is often wrongly translated as “free believing women” which again is suggestive of slavery, is in fact from the Arabic word Hisn or “a fort”, a term that signifies fortification in the physical as well as in the sense of being protected and honoured. Fortified women, would thus be, those who are having a good and protective upbringing in a morally strong household than an upbringing in a sinful environment. Malakat Aymanikum on the other hand include women who were formerly nonbelievers, but have abandoned their sinful past and converted to Islam, by virtue, their non Muslim husbands are no longer lawful for them. When such female converts migrate to the community of believers living in their custody and protection, then Muslim men can marry such emigrant women once the women have dissolved their marriages with their former husbands:

“O you who have believed, when the believing women come to you as emigrants, examine them. Allah is most knowing as to their faith. And if you know them to be believers, then do not return them to the disbelievers; they are not lawful [wives] for them, nor are they lawful [husbands] for them. But give the disbelievers what they have spent. And there is no blame upon you if you marry them when you have given them their due compensation. And hold not to marriage bonds with disbelieving women, but ask for what you have spent and let them ask for what they have spent. That is the judgement of Allah ; He judges between you. And Allah is Knowing and Wise.” Sahih International 60:10

Thus the command “..And there is no blame upon you if you marry them when you have given them their due compensation…” shows that a believer may marry such a woman, who was formerly a nonbeliever but has now converted to Islam and migrated to the Muslim community. If she leaves her husband and comes in the custody of community of believers she falls in the category of those under the rightful authority of believers. Believers can, if they wish marry such emigrants who were previously married provided they pay their former husbands some amount for the dissolution of their marriage. References in Sura Nisa about “those under your right hands possession” as per contemporary interpretation, are not for slave-girls, but for Muslim converts who have migrated in Imaan (belief) and to the custody and protection of believers and have left their unbelieving husbands.


Here we stress that only Nikah is the permissible manner of sexual gratification in the Qur’an. Apart from Nikah, no other method is endorsed nor prescribed. Zinaa (fornication and adultery) is a very serious matter in the Qur’an whose repeated offender is destined for hell-fire according to 25:68-71:

“And those who do not invoke with Allah another deity or kill the soul which Allah has forbidden [to be killed], except by right, and do not commit Zinaa [unlawful sexual intercourse]. And whoever should do that will meet a penalty.” 25:68

“Multiplied for him is the punishment on the Day of Resurrection, and he will abide therein humiliated” 25:69

“Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them Allah will replace their evil deeds with good. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” 25:70

It is clear from the Qur’an that having sex with anyone outside of marriage is tantamount to Zinaa and is a flagrant violation of Qur’anic law which qualifies one to sure shot punishment on the day of judgement, unless one repents of it in his or her lifetime and amends behavior  Sexual slavery and concubinage in which sexual relations are outside of the bond of marriage, is thus prohibited for believers.