This criticism found here, can be formulated in the following way:
- That the Qur’an permits the capture of women combatants during wartime and permits Muslims to have sexual relations with them. The implication is that any sexual relationship with prisoners of war would naturally be a coercive one and as such, Islam de-facto (according to the criticism) permits rape of prisoners of war.
- That this permission was given, as per the writing of Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad r.a as a means of retaliation against the pagans who had initiated the enslavement of Muslim women in war and their rape through their use of slaves.
- The Ahmadiyya theology is confused in this regard because in other sections of Ahmadiyya commentary, the use of sex-slaves is categorically forbidden.
This criticism is framed by Sohail and summarised in the following image taken from his website. The black text is from Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad’s r.a writing, and Sohail’s comments are in red:
The author of this criticism makes the error that he deliberately or unintentionally totally misrepresented the passage. In doing so, he demonstrates how easily he leans towards ill-thinking of others, rather than looking at the simple, plain meaning of the text. We encourage all readers to go to page 231 of the book, found here, and read the chapter for themselves in full.
In this passage, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad r.a is answering a simple question that he frames as the first line of the paragraph wherein the above passage is found. He asks:
“The question may arise as to why women were captured during wars in the first place, so that dangers of this nature would arise?”Ahmad, M. Bashir; Seal of the Prophet Vol. 2; p. 231
The “dangers” he is referring to are the moral dangers posed to Muslim families by large numbers of women entering en-masse into their homes. Why would Islam put the society at large in such a precarious moral situation, where the peace of homes could be shattered? Indeed, large scale prostitution often follows in the wake of war in communities.
In explanation of this, he writes that this was a retributive measure. While Muslim women were being captured by polytheists in battle and being raped, Islam permitted Muslims to take female combatants as prisoners of war. There the similarity ended, since Islam does not permit the rape of any man or woman under any circumstance, as detailed below. Thus, the question he was asking was not: “Why does Islam permit the rape of female prisoners of war”, but, as quoted above: “Why women were captured during wars in the first place”. Sohail misrepresents the passage by omitting the question to which this paragraph was offered as an answer, while mockingly cajoling the reader into believing that it is rape that is meant as the retributive measure, rather than capture as a prisoner of war. This is extraordinarily deceptive, not only since the preceding sentences clarified the context of this passage, but because following sentences after this passage also do so! Thus, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad r.a goes on to clarify on p. 233:
“As regards to this issue, undoubtedly, in various circumstances permission to take slaves has been granted as a method of retribution.”Ahmad, M. Bashir; Seal of the Prophet Vol. 2; p. 233
Thus it is absolutely clear, from sentences both before and after the passage in question, that it is the taking of female prisoners of war that is the retributive measure, not their rape.
Indeed, in the very passage he quotes, there is a clear indication that rape is not meant here, since Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad r.a explains that the retributive measure permitted by Islam was “not exactly the same” as the insult and harm dealt to Muslim women. If Muslim women were taken captive and subjected to the horrors of rape, and Muslim men were permitted to do the same to pagan women, then in what way was the retribution “not exactly the same”?
[Post-publication addendum: The English translation given in the book is “…if needed, they may treat the disbelievers in a similar manner, if not exactly the same”. The phrase “if not exactly the same” in the translation may give the impression that the writer is saying that the treatment is exactly the same, as if one was to say “it is similar, if not the same”. This is not the correct conclusion; the Urdu clearly states the very opposite: “Musalmanon ko bhi ijazat day dee keh agar zururat ho to voh bhi kuffar kay sath, agar waisa nehin, to isi qism ka sulook kar kay unhein hosh mein laein.” The words “agar waisa nehin” gives the meaning synonymous to: “if needed, they may treat the disbelievers in a similar, though not exactly the same, manner”. This supports our above thesis].
Finally, Sohail mockingly asks in his article where in the Qur’an is it forbidden to rape female slaves or prisoners of war. We provide him the relevant passage below:
“And those who find no means of marriage should keep themselves chaste, until Allah grants them means out of His bounty. And such as desire a deed of manumission in writing from among those whom your right hands possess, write it for them if you know any good in them; and give them out of the wealth of Allah which He has bestowed upon you. And force not your maids to unchaste life if they desire to keep chaste, in order that you may seek the gain of the present life. But if any one forces them, then after their compulsion Allah will be Forgiving and Merciful to them.”Qur’an 24:34
While this passage has classically been understood to refer to a prohibition on the use of slaves and prisoners of war for prostitution, the arabic can equally be construed as a prohibition against the rape of female slaves or prisoners of war. Indeed, given that the earlier portion of the verse is an exhortation to such men as cannot afford to marry to keep themselves chaste, this latter meaning fits perfectly. It should be noted that no similar verse or injunction exists in any other religious teaching.
In addition, the hadith and historical literature is categorically clear that early Islam did not tolerate the rape of slaves or prisoners of war. We know that the prophetic punishment of an individual convicted of rape was death, as evidenced by Jami`at-Tirmidhi 1454, in which, on the sole testimony of the raped woman, a man was put to death.
The punishment for raping slaves or prisoners of war was the same. We know this was the case because that was the ruling of the 2nd Caliph of Islam, Umar (ra), who was renowned for following the prophetic example to a tee:
Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, sent Khalid ibn al-Waleed with the army and Khalid sent Dirar ibn Al-Azwar along with a company and they invaded a district belonging to the tribe of Asad. They captured a beautiful girl and Dirar was impressed with her. He asked his companions to give her to him and they did, then he had intercourse with her. When he completed his mission, he felt guilty for what he had done and he went to Khalid and told him about it. Khalid said, ‘Indeed, I have made it permissible and wholesome for you.’ Dirar said, ‘No, not until you write to Umar.’ Umar replied that he should be stoned but by the time the letter had arrived, Dirar had passed away from natural causes. Khalid said, ‘Allah did not want to disgrace Dirar.’Source: al-Sunan al-Kubrá al-Bayhaqi, 16761
This demonstrates a few important points. Firstly, it demonstrates, in fact, the high moral standing of the soldiers in the Muslim army, that a man, notwithstanding his evil act, felt guilty enough to report himself, and to insist upon the matter being escalated to the commander in chief. This demonstrates that rape of female prisoners of war was an absolute rarity, and not a commonplace matter. Compare this, for example, to the hundreds of thousands to millions of so-called “war-children” born in Europe, often as a result of rape, in both the world wars of the 20th century and the Bosnian war, where rape was particularly used as a weapon by Serb forces against a beleaguered Muslim population.
Why Islam Permits Taking Female Prisoners of War
One could read the relevant section in the book linked above by Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad r.a, however, for the ease of the reader, a summary of the points are made below.
Muslims were fighting a defensive war against an enemy that had set out to exterminate them for their faith. In this regard, the Muslims were driven from their homes in three sets of migrations – two to Abyssinia and one to Medina. After being driven out of their homes, they had war waged against them.
In these battles, namely Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, as well as many other smaller skirmishes and battles with the Jews of Medina, the Jews of Khaibar and the Arabs of Ghassan, women of the opposing parties would attend the battles. The most well-known example of this is when Hind, wife of Abu Sufyan, attended the battle of Uhud and ate the liver of the Prophet’s uncle, Hazrat Hamza r.a. Women were a part of the battlefield, sometimes as combatants, other times as nurses, and yet other times as a means to goad the men to acts of valour through their recitation of brazen, war-like poetry. They were thus there as part of the war effort, to exterminate Muslims from the face of the Earth.
When the Muslims conquered the day, the question remained: what to do with the prisoners? These men and women were hundreds of miles from home, in the middle of the desert. Their fathers, brothers or husbands may have been slain on the battlefield. Should the Prophet have left them there to starve to death in the wilderness? What was the solution?
The Quran taught a simple solution:
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. That is the ordinance. And if Allah had so pleased, He could have punished them Himself, but He has willed that He may try some of you by others. And those who are killed in the way of Allah — He will never render their works vain.Quran 47:5
The Quran specifies in this verse some important principles:
- Unlike in other cultures, where making war on others was a means of obtaining wealth by ransoming the captives as slaves, the Quran specified that prisoners could not be taken except when waging a genuine war between two peoples.
- Prisoners of war can be ransomed back to their families or be released as a favour, if their family members come to collect them.
- Those who had no family members to collect them could not be kept prisoners indefinitely, but only until such times as the war ends – “until the war lays down its burdens.”
Is this not reasonable? What other solution could reasonably be given? Thus, these prisoners of war were taken back to Medina. They had minimal resources to cope with all prisoners of war in a camp, and so the prisoners, male or female, would be distributed to the households of individual soldiers. Islamic teachings exhort Muslims to treat their prisoners well:
And they feed, for love of Him, the poor, the orphan, and the prisoner, Saying, ‘We feed you for Allah’s pleasure only. We desire no reward nor thanks from you.(Quran 76:9-10)
Abu Aziz ibn Umair reported: I was among the prisoners of war on the day of Badr. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “I enjoin you to treat the captives well.” After I accepted Islam, I was among the Ansar and when the time of lunch or dinner arrived, I would feed the prisoners dates as I had been fed bread due to the command of the Prophet.Mu’jam Al-Kabeer 18444, Grade: Hasan
It was this spirit of kind treatment of prisoners of war that resulted, centuries later, in the following testimony by a defeated Christian Frank, Oliverus Scholasticus about the kindness of his Muslim conqueror, Al-Kamil:
Who could doubt that such goodness, friendship and charity come from God? Men whose parents, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, had died in agony at our hands, whose lands we took, whom we drove naked from their homes, revived us with their own food when we were dying of hunger and showered us with kindness even when we were in their power.”Judge Weeramantry, Christopher G. (1997). Justice Without Frontiers. Brill Publishers. pp. 136–7
So what happened when a female prisoner of war was distributed to the house of a soldier? If she had no family to collect her or to ransom her, then she would be in that household for years potentially. In such a situation, it is alleged, any relationship between a Muslim and a prisoner of war would be non consensual on account of the lack of parity in power and authority between the captive and the captor. How could one say no to the person on whom you depend for water, food and shelter?
Islam recognised this problem. And to solve it the Quran offers prisoners of war the opportunity to take their freedom into their own hands. They could exchange their prisoner-of-war status for that of an employee with their erstwhile masters. This was known as the mukataba or a deed of manumission. Notably, this deed of manumission was to be taken out with the ruling authorities of the day and not with the master, who had no say in whether to grant it or not. The Quran lays out the commandment on this point as follows:
And those who find no means of marriage should keep themselves chaste, until Allah grants them means out of His bounty. And such as desire a deed of manumission in writing from among those whom your right hands possess, write it for them if you know any good in them; and give them out of the wealth of Allah which He has bestowed upon you. And force not your maids to unchaste life by keeping them unmarried if they desire to keep chaste, in order that you may seek the gain of the present life. But if any one forces them, then after their compulsion Allah will be Forgiving and Merciful to them.Quran 24:34
This was not just a theoretical opportunity. Many prisoners of war availed themselves of this. Perhaps the most well-known was Hazrat Juwairiya r.a, a woman who went on to become one of the wives of the Prophet of Islam. He granted her a deed of manumission, before offering his hand in marriage to her, which she accepted:
She 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 (ﷺ) 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 (Aisha) said: The people then heard that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) had married Juwayriyyah. They released the captives in their possession and set them free, and said: They are the relatives of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) 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
In other examples, Reyhana, a Jewish prisoner of war given to the Prophet s.a.w was invited to Islam by him and he offered his hand in marriage with it. She refused both, and in return he let her go free.
Was Marriage Necessary?
Much has been made of this question. The simple answer is that Islam did not require such women have a wedding ceremony to announce their relationship because it was simply a superfluous act. In Islam, they were already considered to be in a union.
Marriage, known as a Nikah, in Islam, is nothing more than an announcement that this man and this woman will live together. Its purpose is simple: Let the rest of society know that when this woman becomes pregnant, this man is responsible for the child she gives birth to. That is the fundamental and most important function of marriage: Accountability. It is a function our society has largely relegated to the state.
In the case of such women who entered into the houses of Muslim men as prisoners of war, such an announcement was irrelevant and unnecessary for the simple fact that they were already living together. As a consequence of the war situation, female prisoners of war were living in the households of Muslim men already, and as discussed, may have chosen to stay with them in their households. So the point of making an announcement that “this woman will now live with me” at the onset of a relationship was irrelevant, because such individuals were already living with each other, and were doing so by choice, having declined the opportunity to avail themselves of their freedom through a deed of manumission.
Thus the purpose of the Nikah was void in such circumstances, and no Nikah was done. That such female prisoners were considered as a form of wives, without the necessity of a formal Nikah is proven from the fact that when children were born from such unions, such women would have rights akin to those of wives.
We see now the absurdity of the allegation that Islam permits the rape of female slaves or prisoners of war. If a woman who waged war against Muslims for their faith is captured and no one comes for her, and she herself does not avail the opportunity of obtaining her own freedom through a deed of manumission, choosing instead to remain in a Muslim household, in what way can the development of a relationship between her and a Muslim man be referred to as rape? Rape involves compulsion, whereas such women were free to leave their situation as they pleased. In addition, the Quran explicitly forbids the use of compulsion with prisoners of war or slaves in the matter of sexual relations.
Is there any comparable religious teaching that is as thorough in providing guidance for such a difficult situation?