What is the meaning of “those whom your right hand possesses” (milk al-yamin)?

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Last Updated on 16th July 2021

Someone from an Arab country asked Huzooraa:

1. the meaning of “those whom your right hand possesses” [milk al-yamin] …

Huzooraa, in a letter dated 14 January 2020, gave the following reply: 

1. “In the early stages of Islam, the enemies of Islam would make Muslims a target of various kinds of atrocities. If they got hold of the wife of a poor and oppressed Muslim, they would include her among their wives as a slave. 

“Hence, in accordance with the Quranic injunction of ‭ ‬جَزٰٓؤُا‭ ‬سَيِّئَةٍ‭ ‬سَيِّئَةٌ‭ ‬مِّثۡلُهَا[‘the recompense of an injury is an injury the like thereof’], such women who came along with an assailing army against Islam in order to support them would be taken captives as prisoners of war in accordance with the custom of that era. Then, if such women did not earn their freedom by paying the ransom or through the method of mukatabat [an agreement between a slave and master, where the slave offers to pay their own monetary value in order to be set free] they would be distributed among the army as there were no royal prisons etc. to hold such prisoners of war in those days. In Islamic terminology, such women are called ‘milk al-yamin’.

“Moreover, with regard to milk al-yamin, one should also remember that Islam does not at all permit anyone to capture the women of the assailing enemy and to enslave them just because they are at war against them. The teaching of Islam is that no one can be taken prisoner unless a regular war takes place. Allah the Exalted states in the Holy Quran: 

مَا كَانَ لِنَبِيٍّ اَنۡ يَّكُوۡنَ لَهٗۤ اَسۡرٰي حَتّٰي يُثۡخِنَ فِي الۡاَرۡضِ ؕ تُرِيۡدُوۡنَ عَرَضَ الدُّنۡيَا ٭ۖ وَ اللّٰهُ يُرِيۡدُ الۡاٰخِرَةَ ؕ وَ اللّٰهُ عَزِيۡزٌ حَكِيۡمٌ

‘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, since the condition of a regular war was in place, only those women used to be taken prisoners on the battlefield who were there to fight. Therefore, they were not just general women, but rather those who came there as armed adversaries. 

“Hence, Islam is not at all in favour of enslaving people. In the early stages of Islam, temporary permission had to be granted for this under the specific circumstances of that era. However, Islam and the Holy Prophetsa, with great wisdom, encouraged the manumission of even such slaves and emphasised that they should be treated well with kindness until they themselves earned their freedom or were set free. 

“As soon as these specific conditions ended and the state laws took on a new form, as is the custom now, so did the justification to enslave people come to an end. Now, according to Islamic law, there is absolutely no justification for keeping a slave. In actual fact, the Hakam and Adl, the Promised Messiahas has declared it as forbidden [haram] under current circumstances.”

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