What is the Islamic teachings on female prisoners of war?


A lady from Germany wrote to Hazrat Amirul Momineen, Khalifatul Masih Vaa, stating that there is an article on one of the Community’s websites about female prisoners of war, taken captive during religious wars. According to the article, there is no requirement for nikah before establishing conjugal relations with these captives, a position contradicting that of Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, stated in his Tafsir-e-Kabir. Moreover, this stance induces discomfort among tabligh contacts and certain Ahmadis.

In the same vein, another lady wrote about the verse in the Holy Quran, containing the words, “what your right hands possess”, expressing her unease. As a woman, she found herself dissatisfied because Islam prohibits adultery, and these women could be someone else’s wives. Another point she raised was whether these relations were established with the captives’ consent or if they were permitted even without it. Huzoor-e-Anwaraa, in his letters dated 6 June 2022 and 20 March 2023, provided the following answer to this question:

“The reality is that various misconceptions have arisen due to the lack of proper clarification of this issue. These misconceptions have been addressed by the Promised Messiahas. His Khulafa have also refuted these misunderstandings from time to time, providing an elucidation of the true teachings as required.

“Primarily, Islam unequivocally does not permit the capture and enslavement of enemy women simply because they belong to the enemy ranks. The teaching of Islam is that no one can be taken as a captive until an active war is underway. Allah the Exalted proclaims in the Holy Quran:

مَا کَانَ لِنَبِيٍّ اَنۡ يَّکُوۡنَ لَہٗۤ اَسۡرٰي حَتّٰي يُثۡخِنَ فِي الۡاَرۡضِ ؕ تُرِيۡدُوۡنَ عَرَضَ الدُّنۡيَا ٭ۖ وَاللّٰہُ يُرِيۡدُ الۡاٰخِرَةَ ؕ وَ اللہُ عَزِيۡزٌ حَکِيۡمٌ

“‘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, Ch.8: V.68)

“Thus, given the precondition of a bloody war, only those women used to be taken captive who were present on the battlefield with intent to fight. Hence, they were not merely civilian women but had arrived there as combatant enemies.

“Furthermore, examining the wartime laws and customs of that period reveals that in those times, during conflicts, both parties would seize each other’s individuals, whether they were men, children, or women, and enslave them.

“Therefore, pursuant to جَزٰٓؤُا سَيِّئَةٍ سَيِّئَةٌ مِّثۡلُہَا [‘the recompense of an injury is an injury the like thereof’ (Surah ash-Shura, Ch.42: V.41)], it does not emerge as objectionable for Muslims to act thus, in accordance with their own mutually agreed-upon rules of engagement. This is particularly the case when viewed within the framework of the norms, environment, and laws of that region and era. During that period, the belligerent parties conducted warfare in adherence to the prevalent rules and regulations, and all the principles of war were uniformly applied to both sides, which the opposing party did not object to. The matter would only become contentious if Muslims deviated from the agreed-upon rules [like the disbelievers often did].

“Despite all this, the Holy Quran has intricately tethered all these rules of war with a foundational principle. The Holy Quran commands:

فَمَنِ اعۡتَدٰي عَلَيۡکُمۡ فَاعۡتَدُوۡا عَلَيۡہِ بِمِثۡلِ مَا اعۡتَدٰي عَلَيۡکُمۡ

“‘Whoso transgresses against you, punish him for his transgression to the extent to which he has transgressed against you.’ (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.195)

“It further states:

فَمَنِ اعۡتَدٰي بَعۡدَ ذٰلِکَ فَلَہٗ عَذَابٌ اَلِيۡمٌ

“‘Whoso, therefore, will transgress after this shall have a grievous punishment.’ (Surah al-Ma’idah, Ch.5: V.95)

“This is a foundational doctrine that holds a distinctive superiority over the teachings of all prior religions. Upon studying the precepts concerning warfare in the Bible and other holy scriptures of different faiths, one encounters teachings that urge total annihilation of the enemy. These not only pertain to men and women but extend to even prescribing the looting, incineration, and destruction of their children, livestock, and homes.

“Even in circumstances where the contending parties are consumed by uncontrolled emotions, determined to annihilate one another, and where anger is so inflamed that it persists even after the act of killing and is only satiated by the desecration of the enemy’s remains, the Holy Quran imparts such teachings that are akin to placing a rein on untameable horses. The Companionsra honoured this teaching with such grace that history is replete with hundreds of commendable and awe-inspiring examples.

“In those times, disbelievers would take Muslim women captive and subject them to extreme cruelty. Beyond just imprisoning them, they would also mutilate the corpses of the fallen Muslims, severing their noses and ears. The event where Hindah chewed on the liver of Hazrat Hamzahra is an unforgettable episode.

“However, even amidst such circumstances, Muslims were instilled with the teaching that, despite being on the battlefield, they should never brandish their swords against a woman or a child, and were strictly prohibited from any form of desecration of the enemy’s corpses. Thus, even in the face of death, the dignity of the enemy’s remains was upheld.

“Also, it should be remembered that in the early days of Islam, in Arab society, there were two types of bondwomen. One type was those who came into the possession of Muslims through means other than wars. Islam taught that a Muslim who educates and nurtures a slave woman in his possession, and then frees her and marries her with her consent, will receive a twofold reward. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-‘ilm, Bab ta‘limi r-rajuli ’amatahu wa ’ahlahu) A Muslim was not allowed to be involved in physical relations with such bondwomen without marriage, as clarified in the aforementioned directive of the Holy Prophetsa, that such a woman should be educated, nurtured, and then freed. And when a woman is freed, her consent is a mandatory condition for marriage.

“The other type were those female prisoners of war who were in those times when enemies of Islam were subjecting Muslims to various kinds of oppression, and if the wife of a poor, oppressed Muslim fell into their hands, they would include her among their women as a slave.

“Hence, in accordance with the Quranic injunction of جَزٰٓؤُا سَيّئَةٍ سَيّئَةٌ مّثۡلُہَا [‘the recompense of an injury is an injury the like thereof’ (Surah ash-Shura, Ch.42: V.41)], women who came to aid the forces assaulting Islam were taken as captives, in line with the conventions of the time. Subsequently, if these women did not secure their freedom either by paying a ransom or through the procedure of mukatabat [a contractual agreement between a slave and their master, whereby the slave pledges to pay a negotiated amount, typically achieved through labour, in exchange for freedom], they would be distributed amongst the warriors. The warrior was then allowed to establish physical relations with such a woman, which was deemed permissible in accordance with the aforementioned teachings and customs of the time.

“Regarding the matter of marriage with these captive women, there are two perspectives.

“According to one stance, elucidated in Tafsir-e-Kabir by Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, it was essential to marry these women before establishing physical relations with them. (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 6, p. 130) This was also the viewpoint of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira. (Haqaiq-ul-Furqan, Vol. 3, p. 418)

“Contrarily, another view suggests that for those women who were part of the enemy force attacking Muslims and were taken as captives as per the customs of the time, there was no formal requirement for a nikah to establish marital relations with them. This perspective is not incorrect either. Indeed, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, has also expressed this viewpoint on some occasions when responding to queries about such captive women. Consequently, in response to the question of whether it is correct to keep a captive woman in one’s house as a wife without nikah – since scholars had issued a fatwa that there was no need for nikah with a female prisoner of war and that it was permissible to have a relationship with her without it – Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra said:

“‘The answer to this question depends on the definition of ‘captive women’. If by ‘captive women’ we mean those women who joined the attacking forces against the Holy Prophetsa and assisted them, and were then taken captive in battle, then, if they did not demand mukatabat, it was permissible to make them one’s wives without nikah. That is, there was no need for their verbal consent for marriage.’ (Daily Al-Fazl, Qadian Dar-ul-Aman, No. 57, Vol. 24, 5 September 1936, p. 5)

“In response to the question, ‘What is Huzoor’sra view on whether or not to marry a captive woman?’, he stated: ‘Nikah is an honour bestowed upon a woman. What does it mean to grant this honour to a female prisoner of war? She is usually associated with a nation that has attacked Islam with the intent to eradicate it. Captive women can be taken from the women of a nation that has attacked Muslims with the intent to change their religion. If victory is achieved in a political war, it is not permissible to take captive women. This injunction is, in fact, a punishment for a nation that attacks with the intent to change their religion.’ (Al Fazl, Qadian Dar-ul-Aman, No. 20, Vol. 22, 14 August 1934, p. 5)

“Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh, in some question-and-answer sessions and duroos of the Holy Quran, has also explicated the matter of captive women, affirming the same stance that there was no formal requirement of a nikah to establish conjugal relations with these female prisoners of war. (Q&A session, 9 February 1994, Al Fazl, 24 October 2002, pp. 3-4; Q&A session, 4 November 1994, Al Fazl, 4 December 2002, p. 4; Dars-ul-Quran, 14 January 1997)

“Therefore, in light of the Quran, the Hadith and the instructions of the Promised Messiahas, my stance is that those bondwomen who fell under Muslim possession by means other than warfare, it was prohibited to establish relations with them without marriage. However, women from the enemies of Islam, who joined the enemy’s army to assist them and became captives alongside other war prisoners as a result of the enemy’s defeat, Muslim warriors, into whose share they fell as spoils of war, were not required to perform a formal marriage involving the consent of the captive woman or the requirement of her guardian’s approval according to Islamic law. Instead, akin to many tribes and societies where the practice has been and still exists in some countries, they merely announced in society that they are husband and wife, which served as a form of marriage declaration. Similarly, the allocation of the above-mentioned type of captive women to a warrior after a war, during the division of spoils, was considered a kind of marriage declaration. However, the outcome of this kind of marriage did not impact the man’s permission to marry up to four women, meaning a man could still establish conjugal relations with the aforementioned type of captive woman even after four marriages. However, if the captive woman bore a child, she would be freed as the mother of that child [umm al-walad].

“Moreover, the good treatment of female prisoners of war, arranging for their education and training, and freeing them, was declared a meritorious deed in Islam. Hence, a narration from Hazrat Abu Musa al-Asharira recounts:

قَالَ النَّبِيُّ اَيُّمَا رَجُلٍ كَانَتْ لَهُ جَارِيَةٌ فَاَدَّبَهَا فَاَحْسَنَ تَأْدِيبَهَا وَأَعْتَقَهَا وَتَزَوَّجَهَا فَلَهُ أَجْرَانِ

“The Holy Prophetsa said:

“‘He who has a slave-girl and teaches her excellent manners and then frees and marries her, will get a twofold reward.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-‘itq, Bab al-‘abdi idha ’ahsana ‘ibadata rabbihi wa nasaha sayyidah)

“Similarly, concerning female prisoners of war, it was directed that if they are pregnant, conjugal relations should not be established with them until they have given birth. This is to eliminate any confusion about the lineage of the child. Hence, Ruwaifa Ibn Thabit al-Ansarira narrates:

سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللّٰهِ يَقُولُ يَوْمَ حُنَيْنٍ قَالَ لَا يَحِلُّ لِامْرِئٍ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللّٰهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ أَنْ يَسْقِيَ مَاءَهُ زَرْعَ غَيْرِهِ۔ يَعْنِي إِتْيَانَ الْحَبَالَى وَلَا يَحِلُّ لِامْرِئٍ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ أَنْ يَقَعَ۔ عَلَى امْرَأَةٍ مِنَ السَّبْيِ حَتَّى يَسْتَبْرِئَهَا وَلَا يَحِلُّ لِامْرِئٍ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللّٰهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ أَنْ يَبِيعَ مَغْنَمًا حَتَّى يُقْسَمَ

“‘I heard the Messengersa of Allah say on the occasion of the Battle of Hunain, ‘It is not lawful for a man who believes in Allah and the Last Day to water what another has sown with his water [meaning intercourse with women who are pregnant]; it is not lawful for a man who believes in Allah and the Last Day to have intercourse with a captive woman till she delivered; and it is not lawful for a man who believes in Allah and the Last Day to sell the spoils of war before they are formally divided.’’ (Sunan Abi Daud, Kitab an-nikah, Bab fi wat’i s-sabaya)

“This directive of the Holy Prophetsa is applicable to both free women and bondwomen, stipulating that conjugal relations with them are forbidden when they are pregnant. However, this hadith does not mean that marital relations with a non-pregnant [free] woman without marriage are permissible. Absolutely not. Establishing marital relations with a free woman without marriage is adultery, and adultery is deemed forbidden in Islam.

“The case of bondwomen is different from that of free women, which has been elucidated in this letter with great detail. But even following this hadith, for a bondwoman who is pregnant, the guidance remains that her master should not establish conjugal relations with her until after her childbirth [and postpartum recovery].

“So, fundamentally, Islam is unequivocally not in favour of making individuals into bondwomen or slaves. In the early stages of Islam, permission was provisionally granted under the unique and compelling circumstances of that time. However, with considerable wisdom, Islam and the Holy Prophetsa encouraged manumission and insisted on the treatment of such individuals with kindness and respect, until they achieved their freedom or were emancipated.

“With the end of these specific circumstances, and as state laws evolved to their current form, the legitimacy of making individuals into bondwomen or slaves also ceased. Now, in line with Islamic law, there is absolutely no justification for keeping a bondwoman or a slave. In fact, under present conditions, the Promised Messiahas, who is the Hakam ‘Adl of this age, has declared it explicitly forbidden [haram].

“Thus, in delivering an exhaustive discourse on the matter of bondwomen, the Promised Messiahas articulates:

“‘As to the matter of the disbelievers’ women and girls becoming bondwomen through warfare, and thus cohabiting with them, this is a matter that anyone aware of the actual reality will not find objectionable in the least. The fact of the matter is that, in that early era, many vile and evil-natured individuals, becoming enemies of Islam without just cause, would inflict various types of suffering on the Muslims; if they murdered a Muslim, they would often mutilate the corpse by severing the hands, feet, and nose, and they would even mercilessly murder children. If the woman of a poor, oppressed person came into their hands, they would make her a bondwoman and include her among their women (but as a bondwoman), and there was no form of injustice that they did not commit. For a long time, the Muslims continued to receive the command from God Almighty to bear these atrocities with patience, but eventually, when the tyranny exceeded limits, God granted permission to fight these wicked people, but not to exceed the level of their atrocities.

“‘However, they were prohibited from mutilating, i.e., from severing the nose, ears, hands, etc., of any disbeliever’s corpse, and they were commanded to reciprocate the dishonour that these people preferred for the Muslims. As a result, the practice of keeping disbelievers’ women as prisoners of war and benefiting from them as women began in Islam. It was far from justice and fairness that when a disbeliever would capture a Muslim woman, he would make her a bondwoman and use her as a woman, and when a Muslim would capture their women and girls, he should treat them like mothers and sisters […]

“‘Therefore, when the vile-natured people of Arabia did not desist from causing harm and pain, and shamelessly and disgracefully started committing sinful attacks even on women, God enacted this law for their admonishment, that if their women are also captured in battles, they should be treated in the same way. Hence, there is no ground for objection to this due to the famous proverb, ‘If an action is reciprocated, then there remain no grounds for complaint.’ This proverb is also well-known in Hindi as ‘As you sow, so shall you reap.’

“‘Apart from this, Islam does not support the idea of making prisoners of war into slaves or bondwomen; in fact, the emphasis on freeing slaves in the Holy Quran is beyond imagination. The point is that, the practice of making bondwomen and slaves originated from the disbelievers and it was enacted in Islam as a form of punishment, and even then, encouragement was given for their release.’” (Chashma-e-Ma‘rifat, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 23, pp. 252-255)

Huzooras further states:

“‘Bear in mind, the underlying principle of marriage [nikah] hinges on obtaining the consent of the woman, her guardian, and the man. However, in a situation where a woman has given up her freedom, is at no liberty, and belongs to those cruel warmongering folk who have perpetuated unwarranted oppression upon Muslim men and women, when such a woman is seized and reduced to a prisoner of war in retribution for the crimes of her kinsfolk, her rights to freedom are completely forfeited. Consequently, she becomes the captive of the victorious ruler, and to bring such a woman into his harem does not necessitate her consent. Rather, subjugating her militant kin and taking her into custody implies her consent. This is a directive present in the Torah as well. Nonetheless, the Holy Quran delineates:

فَکُّ رَقَبَةٍ

“‘‘The freeing of a slave.’ [Surah al-Balad, Ch.90: V.14]

“‘Hence, setting a bondwoman or slave free is declared as a deed of immense reward, and ordinary Muslims are encouraged to do so. If they liberate such bondwomen and slaves, they will secure great merit in the sight of God. Although a Muslim ruler holds the right to subjugate such malevolent individuals and reduce them to slavery or servitude upon triumph, responding to malevolence with benevolence is nonetheless 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 bondwomen 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 bondwomen 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.’” (Chashma-e-Ma‘rifat, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 23, p. 253, footnote)

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