1. Home
  2. Polygamy
  3. Does Islam permit making female prisoners of war into concubines?

Does Islam permit making female prisoners of war into concubines?

It is forbidden in Islam to make anyone into a slave. The Holy Prophet sas said:

Allah said, “I will be an opponent to three types of people on the Day of Resurrection… One who sells a free person and consumes his price.”

(Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 37, Hadith 10)

There are three whose prayer are not accepted, and one who enslaves a freed person.

(Sunan Ibn Majah, vol. 1, Book 5, Hadith 970)

Those who are captured in battle are prisoners of war, they are not slaves. Prisoners of war can only be taken during a battle in which blood is shed, not otherwise. Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran:

It does not behove a Prophet that he should have captives until he engages in regular fighting in the land. You desire the goods of the world, while Allah desires for you the Hereafter. And Allah is Mighty, Wise.

(Surah al-Anfal, 8:68)

In commentary of this verse, Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra explained:

Making someone a prisoner of war is only permissible when there is an official war with a people, and individuals of the opposing people are arrested as prisoners of war right in the battlefield. It is not permissible to arrest those people against whom a declaration of war has not been made. It is not permissible to capture those against whom one is at war off of the battlefield afterward. Only during battle can the combatant soldiers and those who are supporting the combatant soldiers be captured.

(Tafsir-e-Kabir, vol. 6, p. 308, 24:33)

Concerning those who are captured, Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran:

And when you meet in regular battle those who disbelieve, smite their necks; and, when you have overcome them, bind fast the fetters—then afterwards either release them as a favour or by taking ransom—until the war lays down its burdens.

(Surah Muhammad, 47:5)

As for those who are captured, two actions that can be taken:

  1. Those who are guilty of war crimes that are punishable by death can be given capital punishment after the battle.
  2. Those who are not guilty of war crimes can be taken as prisoners of war; “when you have overcome them, bind fast the fetters.”

As for prisoners of war, two actions that can be taken concerning them:

  1. Those who are imprisoned may be released as a favor; “then afterwards either release them as a favour.”
  2. Those who are not released as a favor must be released on ransom; “or by taking ransom.”

As for those who are not released as a favor, there are two methods of ransom:

  1. If the prisoner can afford the ransom, then the prisoner, or their family and friends, can pay the ransom. If the enemy is willing, the ransom can be paid in the form of prisoner exchange.
  2. If the prisoner cannot afford the ransom, then the prisoner can work for the amount that is equivalent of their ransom, and the prisoner is freed. Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran:

And those of your slaves who desire a deed of liberation to be contracted, write it down for them if you see in them any good potential, and give them out of that wealth which truly belongs to Allah which He has bestowed upon you. And force not your maids to unchaste life if they desire to keep chaste.

(Surah an-Nur, 24:34)

With slaves, Muslims had the option to deny this request under certain circumstances, but with prisoners of war, Muslims were not given the option to deny any request for manumission because the Holy Quran established the right of ransom to each prisoner of war. We find application of this teaching in the life of the Holy Prophet sas. After the defeat of Banu Mustaliq, the entire tribe was captured and there was no one to pay the ransom of the prisoners of war. Hadrat ‘Aishah narrates ra about the daughter of the chief of that tribe:

Juwayriyyah, daughter of al-Harith ibn al-Mustaliq, fell to the lot of Thabit ibn Qays ibn Shammas, or to her cousin. She entered into an agreement to purchase her freedom (Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 30, Hadith 3,920).

Even at this stage, the Holy Prophet sas set the example that to “release them as a favor” is still the preferable option. In the same narration, Hadrat ‘Aishah ra relates:

She (Juwayriyyah) said, “Messenger of Allah, I am Juwayriyyah, daughter of al-Harith, and something has happened to me, which is not hidden from you. I have fallen to the lot of Thabit ibn Qays ibn Shammas, and I have entered into an agreement to purchase of my freedom. I have come to you to seek assistance for the purchase of my freedom.” The Messenger of Allah sas said, “Are you inclined to that which is better?” She asked, “What is that, Messenger of Allah?” He replied, “I shall pay the price of your freedom on your behalf, and I shall marry you.” She said, “I shall do this.” She (‘Aishah) said, “The people then heard that the Messenger of Allah sas had married Juwayriyyah. They released the captives in their possession and set them free, and said, ‘They are the relatives of the Messenger of Allahs as by marriage.’ We did not see any woman greater than Juwayriyyah who brought blessings to her people. One hundred families of Banu al-Mustaliq were set free on account of her.” (Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 30, Hadith 3,920)

As for those who refuse to pay their ransom, they can be imprisoned until the end of the hostilities; “until the war lays down its burdens.” Prisoners of war cannot be made into slaves after the war has ended (Seal of the Prophets, vol. 2, p. 220). In commentary of the Holy Quran 24:34, Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra wrote:

Since a deed of liberation being contracted is mentioned here, which means slaves gaining conditional freedom, so here those female prisoners of war are referred to who seek conditional freedom. The meaning of this verse is: for the sake of gaining this world, do not force your female prisoners of war into unchastity by preventing them from their desire to seek conditional freedom. If any woman wishes to save herself from forced marriage by seeking conditional freedom, and after gaining complete freedom she wishes to marry the husband of her choice, then to prevent her from this purpose is to force unchastity on her.

(Tafsir-e-Kabir, vol. 6 p. 314)

In the absence of prisons, prisoners of war were distributed among soldiers of the army. If women chose to participate in battle against Islam, they were also taken as prisoners of war if captured, otherwise, they were not. Female prisoners of war were distributed among soldiers of the army.

Soldiers could only have conjugal relations with female prisoner of war if all of the following circumstances came together:

1.If her country or family did not free her by paying her ransom, “nor did the woman herself seek to free herself, she being the one who should have more regard for her dignity than anyone else.” (Tafsir- e-Kabir, vol. 6, p. 131

There were such women who would prefer to remain with the Muslims rather than return to their people, as is indicated in the Holy Quran.

O ye who believe! When believing women come to you as Refugees, examine them. Allah knows best their faith. Then, if you find them true believers, send them not back to the disbelievers.

(Surah al-Mumtahinah, 60:11)

This verse shows that there was a problem of enemy women trying to migrate to the Muslims for whatever reasons they had. Only if a female prisoner of war chose to stay with the Muslims rather than pay her ransom could she be kept.

2. If she was captured on a battlefield where Muslims were defending themselves in a religious war, not a political war (Fatawa Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud, vol. 2, p. 89).

3. If the enemy also had conjugal relations with the Muslim women they captured (Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 23, p. 253). Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran:

And if you desire to punish the oppressors, then punish them to the extent to which you have been wronged; but if you show patience, then, surely, that is best for those who are patient.

(Surah an-Nahl, 16:127)

This action was not allowed to be taken out of personal revenge. Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran:

And if any of your wives goes away from you to the disbelievers, then when you retaliate and get some spoils from the disbelievers, give to those believers whose wives have gone away the like of that which they had spent on their wives. And fear Allah in Whom you believe.

(Surah al-Mumtahinah, 60:12)

In commentary, Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra explained:

Concerning those Muslims who suffer loss because their wives went to disbelievers or became prisoners of war, the government should not give them recompense in the form of disbelieving prisoners of war. Rather, the government should give them financial compensation so that the dignity of women that Islam seeks to establish is not undermined.

(Tafsir-i-Saghir, p. 741)

In summary, these circumstances could only come about if there are no prisons to house the prisoners, a people initiated an aggressive religious battle against Islam in which blood was shed, women participate in the attack and were captured, her family did not pay her ransom and she did not herself pay her ransom, and her people had conjugal relations with the female prisoners of war they captured (Islam and Slavery, p. 64–72).

A female prisoner of war did not have to be married before conjugal relations. The Promised Messiah as wrote:

Remember that the true reality of marriage is that the consent of the woman, her guardian, and the man is taken. However, when a woman has lost her rights of freedom and is not free, rather she is of those oppressive militant people who commit- ted unjust oppression against Muslim men and women, so when such a woman is captured and is made into a prisoner of war as a consequence of the crimes of her relatives, then all rights of her freedom are lost. Therefore, she is now a prisoner of war of the victorious king, and to bring her into one’s harem does not require her consent. Rather, to bring her into captivity by victory against her militant relatives is her consent. This also present in the Torah. However, the Holy Quran has taught

The freeing of a slave.

(Surah al-Balad, 90:14)

And the freeing of a prisoner of war is described as an act of great reward. Muslims, in general, have been motivated that if they free such prisoners of war then they will receive a great reward from Allah Almighty. Although a Muslim king has the right to make such vile people into prisoners of war after becoming victorious over them, nevertheless, to respond to evil with goodness is preferred by God. It is a matter of great joy that in our era, those people who are referred to as disbelievers in opposition to Islam, have abandoned this practice of injustice and oppression. For this reason, it is now impermissible for Muslims as well to take their prisoners as bond-women and slaves, because God states in the Holy Quran that you may retaliate against a combatant group to a degree, only when they have first taken the lead. Hence, when now such a time no longer exists and the disbelieving people do not act so violently and unjustly towards the Muslims in a state of war, whereby they themselves as well as their men and women are taken as bond-women and slaves; rather, they are considered to be state prisoners, for this reason, in this era, it is now impermissible and unlawful for Muslims as well to do so (Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 23, p. 253).

Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra said:

Marriage is an honor which a woman has. What is the meaning of giving this honor to a prisoner of war? She is attached to those people who have invaded to wipe out Islam (Fatawa Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud, vol. 2, p. 88).

Most of the women who were captured were idolatresses, and Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran:

And marry not idolatrous women until they believe.

(Surah al-Baqarah, 2:222)

In commentary, Hadrat Khalifatul-Masih I ra said:

In battle, women would come as prisoners, so the Companions asked about marrying them since they were their relatives. The Holy Prophet sas gave the command that marrying an idolatress is not permissible.

(Haqaiqul-Furqan, vol. 1, p. 359)

This teaching applied only to the rare case when all of these circumstances came together and were imposed on Muslims. It is an extreme measure that counteracts greater harms that come up in these unusual circumstances. Such teachings are often quoted by Muslim extremists and opponents of Islam without context to make them seem as if they can be generally applicable.

These teachings give the least repugnant option available in such extreme circumstances. For example, eating pig is repugnant. Even when we are starving to death and it becomes permissible to eat it, it is still repugnant. However, when the alternative is comparatively worse, then the lesser repugnant of two options is preferable. Conjugal relations with female prisoners of war is repugnant whether it is permissible or not. However, when there is no other choice, then the lesser repugnant option has greater benefits.

For example, Allah Almighty teaches that although capital punishment seems like death on the surface, it is a source of life. If leniency is shown to murderers, the saving of a few guilty lives encourages would-be-murderers to murder as well, and countless lives are lost.

However, if murderers are executed, the loss of a few guilty lives deters would-be-murderers, and countless lives are saved.

And there is life for you in the law of retaliation, O men of understanding, that you may enjoy security.

(Surah al-Baqarah, 2:180)

Similarly, when the disbelievers began taking Muslim women as concubines, they had to be deterred. Had their behavior not been deterred, history repeatedly bears witness to what their actions could have escalated to. The mass rapes that took place in Germany at the end of World War II demonstrate how low even seemingly civilized people can fall when they have no fear of consequences. The disbelievers had openly threatened mass rape against the Muslims. They sent a letter to Medina threatening:

You gave protection to our companion. We swear by Allah, you should fight him or expel him, or we shall come to you in full force until we kill your fighters and appropriate your women.

(Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 19, Hadith 2,998)

They also sent a letter to the Jewish tribes allied with the Holy Prophet sas threatening:

You are men of weapons and fortresses. You should fight our companion or we shall deal with you in a certain way. And nothing will come between us and the anklets of your women.

(Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 19, Hadith 2,998)

In defense against such people, Muslims were permitted that if they captured such women on the battlefield who had joined aggressive battle to exterminate Muslims, they could make them into concubines if the women did not seek their release. If leniency had been shown, the saving of a few guilty women’s freedom would have encouraged the disbelievers, and countless innocent women would have lost their freedom. Depriving a few guilty women of their freedom had a deterring effect on the disbelievers, and the freedom of countless innocent women was saved.

It may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you like a thing while it is bad for you. Allah knows all things, and you know not.

(Surah al-Baqarah, 2:217)
Updated on January 4, 2019

Was this article helpful?

Related Articles