What is the ruling regarding female prisoners of war?

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Last Updated on 16th July 2021

Someone wrote to Huzooraa that he had been taken aback by the fact that Islam allowed intimate relationships with and the sale of female prisoners of war. He wrote that it had been very disheartening for him to know this. He also wrote that after the Bai‘at of the Promised Messiahas, he had hoped that Huzooraa would dismiss this notion and cleanse Islam of it, but he had not seen this happen.

Huzooraa, in his letter dated 3 March 2018, gave a very insightful reply to this question. He said:

“The truth is that several misunderstandings regarding this issue arise because this issue has either not been well explained to people or not well understood by them. These misunderstandings have been cleared by the Promised Messiahas in his writings. His Khulafa have also been refuting the misconceptions on appropriate occasions and have been explaining the true teachings.

“Firstly, Islam does not at all permit anyone to capture the women of the 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 کَانَ لِنَبِیٍّ اَنۡ یَّکُوۡنَ لَہٗۤ اَسۡرٰی حَتّٰی یُثۡخِنَ فِی الۡاَرۡضِ ؕ تُرِیۡدُوۡنَ عَرَضَ الدُّنۡیَا ٭ۖ وَاللّٰہُ یُرِیۡدُ الۡاٰخِرَۃَ ؕ وَ اللہُ عَزِیۡزٌ حَکِیۡمٌ

‘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 were taken prisoners who were there to fight on the battlefield. Therefore, they were not just general women, but rather those who came as armed adversaries.

“Moreover, when one looks at the rules of engagement and customs of that time, it becomes clear that in those days, when there was warfare, both sides used to seize each other’s people, be they men, children or women, and they used to enslave them.

“Therefore, in accordance with جَزٰٓؤُا سَیِّئَۃٍ سَیِّئَۃٌ مِّثۡلُہَا [the recompense of an injury is an injury the like thereof], it was not objectionable for Muslims to do so under the rules of engagement, mutually agreed-upon by both the parties. This is especially so when viewed in the context of that era, the circumstances and the region.

“Nonetheless, the Holy Quran has further bound all these rules of war by a core teaching. It says:

فَمَنِ اعۡتَدٰی عَلَیۡکُمۡ فَاعۡتَدُوۡا عَلَیۡہِ بِمِثۡلِ مَا اعۡتَدٰی عَلَیۡکُمۡ

“This means, ‘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 اعۡتَدٰی بَعۡدَ ذٰلِکَ فَلَہٗ عَذَابٌ اَلِیۡمٌ

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

“This doctrine is distinctly superior to the teachings of all previous religions. If one studies the teachings about warfare in the Bible and the holy books of other religions, one finds in them the teaching to utterly destroy the enemy. Let alone men and women, we find that they even go so far as to command the robbing, burning down and destroying of their children, livestock and homes.

“Even under such conditions, when both the parties lose control over their emotions, are determined to kill each other and are so enraged that even after the killing, the emotions do not subside and the anger is only quenched by mutilating the corpses of the enemy, the Holy Quran gave such teachings which amounted to bridling uncontrollable horses. The Companionsra followed this teaching so beautifully that history is filled with hundreds of enviable examples.

“In those days, the disbelievers used to imprison and severely maltreat Muslim women. Let alone prisoners, they even used to cut off the noses and ears of the fallen Muslims while mutilating them. Who can forget that Hindah chewed on the liver of Hazrat Hamzahra?

“But even on such occasions, Muslims were taught that although they are on the battlefield, they should not raise their swords against any woman or child and they were strictly forbidden from mutilating the enemy’s corpses. So, the sanctity of the enemy’s dead bodies was safeguarded.

“As far as the issue of female slaves is concerned, it should always be kept in mind that 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 Islamic injunction of جَزٰٓؤُا سَیِّئَۃٍ سَیِّئَۃٌ مِّثۡلُہَا [the recompense of an injury is an injury the like thereof], such women who came along with the 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 his own monetary value in order to be set free, by working the number of hours required to pay the settled amount], it became permissible to have intimate relations with such women after performing nikah.

“However, there was no consent required from that prisoner of war for such a nikah. Moreover, a nikah to such a woman did not affect the permission to marry four [free] women. In other words, a man could perform nikah with such a woman despite being married to four [free] women. However, if the female prisoner of war bore a child, she would become free as a result of being the mother of that child.

“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. Therefore, Hazrat Abu Musa al-Ash‘arira narrates:

قَالَ النَّبِيُّ أَيُّمَا رَجُلٍ كَانَتْ لَهُ جَارِيَةٌ فَأَدَّبَهَا فَأَحْسَنَ تَأْدِيبَهَا وَأَعْتَقَهَا وَتَزَوَّجَهَا فَلَهُ أَجْرَانِ

“That is, the Holy Prophetsa said:

‘He who has a slave-girl and teaches her excellent manners and then frees and marries her, will get twofold reward.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Itq, Bab alabdi iza ahsana ibadata rabbihi wa nasaha sayyida sayyidahu)

“Ruwaifa Ibn Thabit Ansarira narrates:

سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللهِ يَقُولُ يَوْمَ حُنَيْنٍ قَالَ لَا يَحِلُّ لِامْرِئٍ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللهِ 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 بِاللهِ 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 it is formally divided.”’ (Sunan Abi Daud, Kitab an-Nikah, Bab fi wat’i s-sabaya)

“Hence, in principle, Islam is definitely not 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 encouraged the manumission of slaves and emphasised that they should be treated with kindness until they themselves earned their freedom or they 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. Now, according to Islamic law, there is absolutely no justification for keeping a slave. In fact, the Promised Messiahas declared it as forbidden [haram] under current circumstances.”

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