Islam and Sex Slavery

June 2, 2014 | 19 comments

One thing we know about Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist group that has appalled the world by abducting and enslaving 300 schoolgirls, is that what it has done is completely contrary to the tenets of Islam.

Or at least that’s what everyone is saying.

“The Nigerian terrorist group that kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls has nothing to do with Islam, and it’s grotesquely irresponsible of the media to suggest it does.” So wrote Muslim comedian Dean Obeidallah in the Daily Beast. Ahmadi Muslim spokesman Qasim Rashid wrote at that “Boko Haram’s claim that Islam motivates their kidnappings is no different than Adolf Hitler’s claim that Christianity motivated his genocide. This terrorist organization acts in direct violation of every Islamic teaching regarding women.” The nation’s two Muslim Congressmen, Keith Ellison (D-MN) and André Carson (D-IN), wrote, along with a host of U.S. Muslim leaders, a scolding open letter to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, telling him: “Your actions have shocked Muslims across the world and have disrespected Islam and the teachings of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him).”

The only problem with these and all other Islamic disavowals and condemnations of Boko Haram’s actions is that none of them have addressed the Islamic justifications for them. For Boko Haram itself has expressly and avowedly said that its actions are based on Islamic teaching.

Shekau said in a video in February that his group was “fighting Christians wherever we meet them,” following the Qur'an’s command to wage war against “the People of the Book” (its term for Jews, Christians, and some others) “until they pay the jiza [poll tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (9:29).

And as for the abduction of the schoolgirls, the Qur’an tells Muslims to take captives when they meet unbelievers (90 percent of the girls are Christian) in battle: “Now when ye meet in battle those who disbelieve, then it is smiting of the necks until, when ye have routed them, then making fast of bonds; and afterward either grace or ransom till the war lay down its burdens” (47:4). It also refers to slave women belonging to the Islamic prophet Muhammad as spoils of war: “O Prophet! Lo! We have made lawful unto thee thy wives unto whom thou hast paid their dowries, and those whom thy right hand possesseth of those whom Allah hath given thee as spoils of war” (33:50).
What can be done with such captives? Islamic law has elaborated from these passages four options:

As for the captives, the amir [ruler] has the choice of taking the most beneficial action of four possibilities: the first, to put them to death by cutting their necks; the second, to enslave them and apply the laws of slavery regarding their sale and manumission; the third, to ransom them in exchange for goods or prisoners; and fourth, to show favor to them and pardon them. Allah, may he be exalted, says, ‘When you encounter those [infidels] who deny [Islam] then strike [their] necks’ (Qur’an sura 47, verse 4) (Abu’l-Hasan al-Mawardi, The Laws of Islamic Governance).  

The first of these options, putting captives to death, is such a live possibility that it is stymieing a rescue operation. As for exchanging them, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau offered to exchange the girls who have refused to convert to Islam in return for Boko Haram prisoners held by the Nigerian government. As for the third option, enslavement, Shekau has gloated in a video: “I abducted your girls. I will sell them on the market, by Allah...There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell.” That is in line with the option of enslaving captives. The girls may be sold—if they haven’t been already—and then forcibly married to their new owners, all in accord with the Qur’an’s direction on the sexual enslavement of those taken as spoils of war:

If you fear that you will not act justly towards the orphans, marry such women as seem good to you, two, three, four; but if you fear you will not be equitable, then only one, or what your right hands own; so it is likelier you will not be partial (Qur’an 4:3).

The twentieth-century Qur’an commentator Maulana Bulandshahri explains that such “enslavement is the penalty of disbelief,” and expresses a longing for the good old days:

The reason that the Muslims of today do not have slaves is because they do not engage in Jihad (religion war). Their wars are fought by the instruction of the disbelievers (kuffar) and are halted by the same felons. The Muslim [sic] have been shackled by such treaties of the disbelievers (kuffar) whereby they cannot enslave anyone in the event of a war. Muslims have been denied a great boon whereby every home could have had a slave. May Allah grant the Muslims the ability to escape the tentacles of the enemy, remain steadfast upon the Din (religion) and engage in Jihad (religion war) according to the injunctions of Shari’ah. Amen!

This is by no means an eccentric or unorthodox view in Islam. The Egyptian Sheikh Abu-Ishaq al-Huwayni declared in May 2011 that “we are in the era of jihad,” and that meant Muslims would take slaves. In a subsequent interview he elaborated:

Jihad is only between Muslims and infidels. Spoils, slaves, and prisoners are only to be taken in war between Muslims and infidels. Muslims in the past conquered, invaded, and took over countries. This is agreed to by all scholars—there is no disagreement on this from any of them, from the smallest to the largest, on the issue of taking spoils and prisoners. The prisoners and spoils are distributed among the fighters, which includes men, women, children, wealth, and so on.

When a slave market is erected, which is a market in which are sold slaves and sex-slaves, which are called in the Qur’an by the name milk al-yamin, “that which your right hands possess” [Koran 4:24]. This is a verse from the Qur’an which is still in force, and has not been abrogated. The milk al-yamin are the sex-slaves. You go to the market, look at the sex-slave, and buy her. She becomes like your wife, (but) she doesn’t need a (marriage) contract or a divorce like a free woman, nor does she need a wali. All scholars agree on this point—there is no disagreement from any of them. [...] When I want a sex slave, I just go to the market and choose the woman I like and purchase her.

Around the same time, on May 25, 2011, a female Kuwaiti politician, Salwa al-Mutairi, also spoke out in favor of the Islamic practice of sexual slavery of non-Muslim women, emphasizing that the practice accorded with Islamic law and the parameters of Islamic morality.

A merchant told me that he would like to have a sex slave. He said he would not be negligent with her, and that Islam permitted this sort of thing. He was speaking the truth. I brought up [this man’s] situation to the muftis in Mecca. I told them that I had a question, since they were men who specialized in what was halal, and what was good, and who loved women. I said, “What is the law of sex slaves?”

The mufti said, “With the law of sex slaves, there must be a Muslim nation at war with a Christian nation, or a nation which is not of the religion, not of the religion of Islam. And there must be prisoners of war.”

“Is this forbidden by Islam?” I asked.

“Absolutely not. Sex slaves are not forbidden by Islam. On the contrary, sex slaves are under a different law than the free woman. The free woman must be completely covered except for her face and hands. But the sex slave can be naked from the waist up. She differs a lot from the free woman. While the free woman requires a marriage contract, the sex slave does not—she only needs to be purchased by her husband, and that’s it. Therefore the sex slave is different than the free woman."

The savage exploitation of girls and young women is, unfortunately, a cross-cultural phenomenon, but only in Islamic law does it carry divine sanction. Muslim leaders and media commentators who denounce Boko Haram without addressing its justifications for its actions are actually doing a grave disservice, for they are lulling non-Muslims into complacency without saying anything that might make Boko Haram (or other Muslims who believe the same way) change their views.

The abduction of the Nigerian schoolgirls could have and should have been an opportunity to call upon Muslim leaders to work for genuine reform, so that the justifications for this savagery are removed. Instead, they altogether ignore the points of Islamic doctrine that need reform.

And that only ensures that there will be more such incidents.

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch, a program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and the author of ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers, The Truth About Muhammad and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) (both...

Not Peace, But A Sword: The Great Chasm Between Christianity And Islam
Some Christians view Islam as a sister religion, a branch of the same Abrahamic tree—lacking the fullness of revelation but nonetheless a religion of peace. Others are more critical of Islamic teachings but still see Muslims as valuable partners in the global fight against secularization and the Culture of Death.

Comments by Members

#1  Mark Jeffords - Ceres, California

Hello, Robert, thank you for your post. Interesting timing, we were just having a heated debate with Tim Staples in the previous post on whether or not Catholics and Muslims worship the same God. I say no we don't worship the same God, Tim says yes we do. Do you mind weighing in on that question?

Specifically, how do you feel about Lumen Gentium 16:

"But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind."

I have a problem with the council saying "ALONG WITH US THEY ADORE THE ONE MERCIFUL GOD". Some Bishops like Athanasius Schneider, think this statement needs to be re-worded or clarified. Do you agree? Or do you think the text is fine as it is written currently? I know this is off topic, sorry, I would just love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thank you Robert!

June 2, 2014 at 3:16 pm PST
#2  Geary Burch - Berkeley Springs, West Virginia

Thank you for this blog post Mr. Spencer. What can we do, other than pray right for these girls right now? And also our enemies? There has to be something as an individual, society and a Church that we can do.

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works is dead.--James 2:14-17

June 2, 2014 at 3:27 pm PST
#3  Daniel Jimenez Cardona - Pereira, Risaralda

Dear brothers and sisters: I think that we would do better by thinking over our own historical and present mistakes, rather than focusing on those of others, especially Muslims. On our part, for instance, I've never heard a satisfactory explanation on why Saint Paul the Apostle sent Onesimus back to his master, instead of setting him free, which I think would reflect better the Spirit of Christ. I'm appreciate Saint Paul's teaching very much on other matters, but on this I don't know what to do. How about this: "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling (...)" -- Ephesians VI, 5 ? What answer or explanation do you give to that passage of Sacred Scripture (and as Our Lord Himself said, Scripture cannot fail)?

What about the industrial slavery that's going on as we speak in Eastern Asia, in factories in Bangladesh, Vietnam and China (to name a few) or sexual exploitation of children in India and the Philippines? I remind you that such factories work for firms as Apple and others in the Western world, which is largely Christian, and we, Christians, seem to be doing nothing about it. Instead, whenever there is a scandal in which members of whatever other faith or religion are involved, we rush to draw conclusions without knowing the context.

It looks like we haven't learnt from Our Lord Jesus Christ that we should first "cast out the beams" out of our own eyes; and then we will see clearly to "cast out the mote out" of our neaighbour's eye.

June 2, 2014 at 4:58 pm PST
#4  Daniel Jimenez Cardona - Pereira, Risaralda

Edit: I'm appreciate Saint Paul's teaching...
Correction: I appreciate Saint Paul's teaching...

June 2, 2014 at 5:01 pm PST
#5  Tom Runkel - Weirton, West Virginia


The main difference between the wrongs of this Muslim group and the wrongs commited by american companies is the Muslim group claims to be doing their deeds in the name of their religion. The american companies are doing it for the motive of profit. Not that I agree with them but I think there is a huge difference.

June 3, 2014 at 5:46 am PST
#6  James Tavelli - Louisville, Kentucky


I'm not a bible expert, but in just reading Philemon there is not a tone that Onesimus was sent back into slavery.

He was indeed sent back to his master but in
Philemon 15-17 its says:

"that you might have him back forever, NO LONGER AS A SLAVE but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you as a man - and in the Lord. So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me."

Paul is calling Philemon to welcome Onesimus as he would Paul himself . . . so I don't think Paul's expectation was he was sending him back just to be a slave. Later in the letter (Philemon 21) he says "with trust in your compliance I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say"

Basically saying... "I know you're going to do this' and then telling him 'oh by the way, get a room ready for me too because I'm coming.'

Like I said, i'm no scholar by any means but seems clear Paul is doing the Christian thing by saying I consider Onesimus a brother and so should you, regardless if he was a slave at one point.

June 3, 2014 at 8:09 am PST
#7  Robert Spencer - Sherman Oaks, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Mark, I think that Bishop Schneider is entirely correct: the text about Muslims that you quote from Lumen Gentium, which is also in Catechism, is in serious need of clarification. I have seen people take it to mean all sorts of outlandish things: that it is wrong to preach the Gospel to Muslims, that it is wrong to speak critically about Muslim persecution of Christians, that it is wrong to speak critically about Islamic doctrines that deny and hold in contempt aspects of Christian teaching, etc. Much of that, of course, comes from the prevailing confusion of charity with "being nice," such that many people believe they're being charitable by glossing over or ignoring difficult truths. But much of it comes from what I believe are false assumptions arising from this text, as I explain at some length in the book "Not Peace But A Sword."

June 3, 2014 at 9:18 am PST
#8  Robert Spencer - Sherman Oaks, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Geary: There are any number of things we can do. As individuals -- that is something only you, knowing your own time, talents, and resources, can answer. But there is plenty that must be done. As a society, we must exhort our elected officials to face this problem realistically and act, and not accept from them the politically correct half-truths, distortions and lies that inform so much of U.S. policy toward the Islamic world. As a Church, we have to recover the courage to speak the truth in love, and stop allowing the truth to be suppressed and our obligation to speak out for our persecuted brethren muted by false hopes for "dialogue," etc.

June 3, 2014 at 9:22 am PST
#9  Robert Spencer - Sherman Oaks, California - Catholic Answers Blogger


While it is always wise to take the beam out of our own eyes before we tell our brothers to take the speck out of theirs, the fact that New Testament texts took the existence of slavery for granted actually does not remove our obligation to speak out for the human rights and human dignity of these enslaved girls in Nigeria. You might find it worthwhile to study why abolitionist movements arose among Christians who were well aware of the Letter to Philemon, but never arose among Qur'an-reading Muslims.

June 3, 2014 at 9:25 am PST
#10  Mark Jeffords - Ceres, California

Thank You Robert, and I loved your book.

June 3, 2014 at 10:38 am PST
#11  Mark Advent - Simpsonville, South Carolina

Sex slavery is easily justifiable by the Koran.

Has bible-justified sex slavery ever been a problem in Christianity?

June 3, 2014 at 5:02 pm PST
#12  Daniel Jimenez Cardona - Pereira, Risaralda


Are you really saying what you are saying? That is, do you think it isn't the same to enslave people for the sake of merchandising than enslaving them because of religion? Pardon me, but it is my contention that slavery is plainly and simply heartless, inhuman and inhumane, whatever the tag people might put upon it. Wasn't that what dear Saint John Paul II taught when he helped his people and that of eastern Europe to break free from communism, that dignity is ultimately inherent to us, humans, anytime, anywhere?

June 4, 2014 at 3:34 pm PST
#13  Daniel Jimenez Cardona - Pereira, Risaralda


While it is true that we MUST speak out for these girls as well as any other people in the world under opressive regimes, I know of no Islamic country that, nowadays, make of slavery a common practice within an Islamic law framework. We HAVE to preach the Gospel to Muslims, because I personally don't think there is any salvation outside it, both here and in the life to come, but such preaching, I think, should start with clear facts in our minds. For what shall we say to a Muslim or Hindu (remember pariahs) or Buddhist, etc., when they come and tell us that Holy Scripture, both in the OT and NT, somehow acquiesces to slavery?

June 4, 2014 at 3:47 pm PST
#14  Jeffrey Taylor - Lawrenceville, Georgia


The issue is not whether or not a country institutes slavery, the issue is whether or not adherents of the religion are proponents of slavery, and the core of Islam is slavery to God (or Islam), not a question of conscience.

I believe the question of what to say is that despite a sola scriptura reference you have made and the simply unrelated question of commercial exploitation is that the Church ie Magisterium does not endorse slavery in any fashion, nor does it rely upon a book (as does Islam) alone, rather it is our oral and written tradition that combine for our stance.

The core problem is that Islam is an ego-driven cult that divides the world into "us" and "them", the "us" being the "better" people serving the lonely God of Islamic belief and "them" being the Western, blasphemous and idolatrous infidels who are better served by slavery than death and Jews which are just about regarded as sub-human. Christianity preaches and practices acceptance of the faith as a matter of conscience, not coercion, all loved by God who deserves our respect, but doesn't demand it. Therein lies ultimately your answer to every difference between Christianity, and Islam, which really is nothing more than as G.K. Chesterton astutely observed, is really just a Christian heresy in the final analysis. Don't fall into competing books, it is really a question of the lack of salvation in Islam and the perception of God's love for his creations.

June 5, 2014 at 6:27 am PST
#15  Mark Jeffords - Ceres, California

"Be Thou King of all those who are still involved in the darkness of idolatry or of Islamism, and refuse not to draw them into the light and kingdom of God."

- from the Prayer of Consecration to the Sacred Heart

June 5, 2014 at 10:52 am PST
#16  Usulor Kenneth - Lagos, Lagos

Mark Jefford,
You are still cleaving to your former (protestant) way of life. It is high time you sloughed!! You are now in the kingdom of God where everyone submits and subjects their judgement to the judgements and decisions of the Church, that is, the Pope and the Sacred Councils or rather the Magisterium and not vice versa. While others are saying that the words of Lumen Gentium 16 needs clarification you insist that it is wrong or errorneous. It then means that Mathew 16:18 did not hold in the Second Vatican Council. Which means that the Church has erred and has been ovetcome by the gate of hell. God forbid! This unsubmission to the SVC is what was was practiced by Arius, Paul of Samosata, Luther and the host of other archheretics. Protestantism says in essence that the Sacred Council after making the final judgement on the matters of faith and morals using the Sacred Scripture, should submit such judgement to the individual faithful for further judgement and criticism using the Sacred Scripture illuminated by their individual minds. This is exactly what you (and some men of your kind) are doing now. Dear brother, I am not saying this to offend but to correct you. What SVC said as regards Muslims is correct. To worship God and to worship God in the right manner are two different things. Islam is the worship of the God of the Catholics in a wrong, perverse, offensive and unrevealed (uninspired) manner but not not-worshiping God. It is just a natural religion. It is the natural knowledge and concortion of the brain of Mohammed or rather the aspiration of Mohammed for God whom he wanted to know. God never revealed anything to him even though he claimed so. The universal revelation of God ended at the death of St. John almost 600 years before Mohammed. If you say that the Muslims are not worshiping the same God that we Catholics worship, either because of their terroristic tendencies or because of not believing all that the Church teaches especially the Trinity, let me equally hear from you that the Jews and Protestants do not worship the same God that we worship. Both of them have equally denied and rejected some of the truths of Divine Revelation. Or do you deny that God can be known with certainty through natural reason. The Church taught this in the First Vatican Council almost hundred years before the SVC. Now the First Vatican Council in the Dogmatic Constitution Concerning the Catholic Faith, chapter 2, says "The same Holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with CERTITUDE by the natural light of human reason from created things; "for the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" Romans 1:20". It was made use of by St Pius X in the "Oath Against Modernism". If God can be known with certitude by the natural light of human reason, is it only Catholics that can know Him? The Holy Ghost in St Paul says "God is the Saviour of ALL men, especially of the faithful. 1Timothy 4:10. Please read Ecclus. 18:30 and stop your criticism of the SVC. Islam of course is not a religion from God, nevertheless, Muslims worship the God of the Catholics. It is not a religion of salvation because it was not revealed by God and so teaches human concocted doctrines about God.

June 5, 2014 at 3:11 pm PST
#17  Mark Jeffords - Ceres, California

Usulor in comment 16, when others (like certain Bishops I've named), call for LG 16 to be clarified, they are talking about the text itself, not just the private interpretation that some have. They are saying the text itself as it is written currently is problematic.

To say LG 16 is erroneous, we would have to know the intention of the Council Fathers, we've been waiting 50 years to find that out, and until there is a clarification we won't know.

It is certainly possible for a future pope or council to make corrections to the text of LG 16 or any other of the council documents and that wouldn't mean the gates of hell had prevailed.

Usulor, the Church is bigger than Vatican II and the Magisterium is bigger than Vatican II. When there is a statement in Vatican II that conflicts with the Magisterium of all time, meaning what has always been taught by the popes and councils down thru the centuries, then tradition wins every time. And that's the Catholic in me speaking, not the former Protestant. The former Protestant Mark Jeffords would hold that tradition can change based on the times, and that is of course not true and the idea has been condemned by the Church.

June 5, 2014 at 7:34 pm PST
#18  Mark Jeffords - Ceres, California

Usulor, if you are interested in an more traditional alternative to Tim Staples position, here is a link to a piece called "That We May Know the True God" from the apologetics website is an apologetics apostolate like Catholic Answers in full union with their local Bishop and with the Holy Father Pope Francis, and they provide documents on their website that prove their status for anyone unsure.

In the above linked article, Brother André Marie argues with St. Thomas Aquinas, that “unbelievers” (those who reject the trinity) do not believe in God, simple as that. The word “unbeliever” is used by St. Thomas to include heretics as well as Jews and pagans, which would include Muslims in the medieval theological lexicon.

Have a look.

God Bless!

June 5, 2014 at 7:36 pm PST
#19  Usulor Kenneth - Lagos, Lagos

Mark Jefford,
Thank you for the link. I will check it out. But remember that neither me, Tim Staple nor SVC is saying that Islamic worship of God is pleasing to God on the supernatural plane as that of the Catholics. That will be untrue. What we are saying is that the aspirations of the hearts of the Muslims is for that only one true God who has adopted Catholics even though they are taking the wrong route, channel or way to fufill that aspiration. They are not worshiping another God out there since there is only one true merciful God whom they profess to worship. True philosophy and the Church tell us that there is only one true God. This aspiration is the product of the 'certitude' of knowledge of God given by 'the natural light of human reason from created things' just as FVC has taught. Or do you reject that dogma of FVC? In referring me to Brother Andre Marie you are placing the judgement of a single man (who is fallible) over that of an Ecumenical Council. Remember that prior the SVC Protestantism equally received outright condemnation from the Church. What you have to know is that the Church has gotten a better knowledge of what other religions believe in recent times. In the former times the knowledge of Catholics about other religions is based much on assumption not on facts. I firmly believe that SVC is correct although it (may) need explanation in other not to be misunderstood. SVC taught nothing wrong or erroneous. Those who firmly maintain the contrary are simply enmies to their own souls.

June 5, 2014 at 11:51 pm PST

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