Custodianship of the Right Hand: Concubinage, Rape, and ‘Sexual Slavery’ in Islam

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

Paper Summary:

The issues of slavery, concubinage, and the rape of women in warfare throughout history are subject to fierce intellectual, philosophical, and psychological discussion. They are issues that have led to painful doubts within many faith communities, including the Muslim community. This paper addresses the allegations that the early Muslims permitted and encouraged the rape of women in warfare and their exploitation as ‘sex slaves.’ These claims are based upon citing a set of historical facts and Islamic texts out of context, sometimes in the service of hardline anti-immigration politics intended to demonize and dehumanize Muslim immigrants on the whole as sexual predators. The legal status of sexual relationships within the historical institution of slavery (or more accurately in Islamic terms, the “custodianship of the right hand”) is explained in detail, and the firm prohibition of rape and sexual harm in early Islam is documented. It is also demonstrated that Islam, having inherited an historical system of economic slavery in Arabia, proceeded to humanize slaves and grant them rights and inherent dignity, with several indications in the law that logically resulted in universal emancipation. Finally, it will be proven that sexual consent, while difficult to define in law even today, was certainly a moral requirement as understood by the early Muslims and later scholars, including consent within the concubine relationship.

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