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Last Updated: 2010/03/18
Summary of question
Does Islam allow marriage with female captives and the practice of coitus interruptus (withdrawal) with them?
Had the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) permitted sexual relations to take place with non-Muslim female prisoners of war? I was shocked when I heard that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had allowed such practices to take place. “When the army of the Prophet (pbuh) defeated the army of the kuffar, they would claim the spoils and valuables of the enemy as well as rape their women. An individual who was raping a non-Muslim woman taken captive in the war asked the Prophet (pbuh) if it was necessary for him to withdraw prior to ejaculating. The Prophet (pbuh), did not stop that individual from this act, but instead told him not to be concerned of a potential pregnancy. The Prophet (pbuh) proceeded to say that should the woman become pregnant [as a result of his failure to withdraw prior to ejaculating], then the birth of the child would have been in order with the will and desire of Allah.”
This topic and this particular story have been presented in a collection of narrations pertaining to the sayings and characteristics of the Prophet (pbuh). The following two narrations are from a series of three narrations deemed authentic by Muslim scholars and considered as genuine sayings of the Prophet (pbuh). I have acquired these narrations from a reliable and well known website belonging to a university. You may refer to the following websites in order to find them:
“”, Volume 3, Book 3, Narration 432.
Abu Sa’id al-Khidri narrates, I was sitting with the messenger of Allah when I said to him: O’ Messenger of Allah! We have acquired female captives that were captured in the war whom we own a share of. We wish to your know your view regarding engaging in sexual relations with these women while practicing coitus interruptus (an act which would entail a man intentionally withdrawing prior to ejaculating with hopes of preventing fertilization and pregnancy). The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Have you actually practiced this [method of birth control]? It is advisable that you refrain from the said practice. Without a doubt, every soul that has been destined by the Almighty to be born will indeed be brought into existence.”
“”, Book 29, Narrations 29, 32, 95.
Yahya narrates from Malik who narrates from Rabi bin Abdul-Rahman who narrates from Muhammad son of Yahya bin Haban who narrates from Ibn Mihriz, who says: I went to the mosque and saw Abu Sa’id al-Khidri and inquired about coitus interruptus. Abu Sa’id al-Khidri said: I had gone on a journey with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) to Bani Mustalaq. On that journey, we captured a number of Arab captives. Distance from our wives had placed immense strain upon us, and as a result we became inclined towards the women we had captured and looked to have intercourse ending with coitus interruptus in return for the ransom we demanded for their freedom. The Prophet (pbuh) was amongst us, so we asked if it was permissible to engage in sexual relations with these women and practice coitus interruptus with them. The Prophet (pbuh) stated in response: You should not implement this practice [and withdraw prior to ejaculating]. Without a doubt, every soul that has been destined by the Almighty to be born will indeed be brought into existence.
Concise answer

Undeniably, marriages between kafir (disbelieving) women that were captured in wars and their captors were based on realities that existed in society during the time of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). The women that were captured were considered a part of the enemy’s army, and to release them would only assist the enemy in recuperating their lost numbers and strengthening their army. On the other hand, to execute them would not only be unethical but a display of complete and utter brutality. Another solution may have been to solely employ these captives as workers in mines, fields of agriculture, and various other places of work. However, this act would deny these women of conjugal rights, namely, the human desire for sexual fulfillment. To ignore this aspect could lead to not only the corruption of these women, but also social degradation and immorality on a larger scale.

For this reason, Islam has allowed Muslims to employ these women into positions of labor, in addition to engaging in conjugal relations with them. An important and unfortunately often overlooked point should however be mentioned. Islam does not allow anyone to rape these women, force them to engage in sexual relations, or allow abuse of any sort. However, if the necessary conditions are met and the men want it, Islam allows sexual relations to take place between the man and woman, and considers this a matter within the sharia of Islam. By legitimizing this form of relationship, certain conditions become binding on both sides which if carried out, not only entail the avoidance of undesirable outcomes, but the positive benefit of society as well.

In regards to the practice of coitus interruptus (also known as the withdrawal method), this is a practice implemented by spouses who wish to prevent unwanted pregnancies during sexual relations and intercourse. By having the man withdraw prior to ejaculating, the possibility of seminal fluid entering the woman’s womb is decreased, thus reducing the possibility of pregnancy. This form of birth control is a method permitted in Islamic sharia and is a common method of contraception used worldwide.

Detailed Answer

While the capture of men and women as prisoners is an unfortunate and bitter outcome of battles between warring nations, it is also a reality that is common to both the past and the present. History displays countless acts of brutality, barbarity, and utterly inhumane acts that took place on war fronts such as the indiscriminate slaughter of masses, the malicious torching of innumerable people, and many other unmentionable acts. Naturally, looking back upon these deplorable acts and reading their history inflicts pain upon the heart of any human being. That having been said, what we should now concern ourselves with is how to confront and prevent such horrendous acts from continuing to happen. This is an aim which should be shared by all religions and schools of thought in order to seek and discover solutions that can effectively prevent such atrocities in the future. During the time of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), slavery and the captivity of prisoners of wars as slaves was a prevalent reality in society. While Islam considered this a regrettable fact, it also took into consideration the inhumanity that these acts may have given rise to if not properly regulated and controlled. Therefore, it devised a well calculated system that would humanize this practice to the highest extent possible, while also preventing its potential adverse effects. The immediate objective was to provide the parties concerned, namely the captives, with their irrefutable rights, while over time, aiming to remove this practice from society altogether.

In your question, you have described the relationship between slaves and their proprietors as ‘rape’; however, this may be misconstruing the reality of the situation. In order to prevent the very likely possibility of sexual immorality and corruption, Islam permitted these women to engage in sexual relations with their proprietors. The sexual drive is a quality inherently found in man’s psychological makeup, therefore, Islam provided women taken captive in wars with this option as a form of liberty, not an act of subjugation. In regards to the practice of coitus interruptus (the withdrawal method) as a form of contraception, Islam holds a neutral opinion. It neither supports it nor condemns its use. This form of birth control is a method permitted in Islamic sharia and is a common method of contraception used worldwide.

In order to further expand on this topic, we will break it down into three individual categories and assess each individually:

1) The reasoning and philosophy behind Islam permitting slavery and taking female captives in wars

2) The reasoning behind Islam allowing sexual relations to take place with female captives and its conditions

3) Why consent of the women is not required for these relations to take place

1) The reasoning and philosophy behind Islam permitting slavery and taking female captives in wars:

Undeniably, the women that were captured and taken captive in wars were a part of the enemy’s army, and to release them would only assist the enemy in recuperating their lost numbers and strengthening their army. As a result, it would be completely illogical to release these captives unconditionally. Of course, different nations have chosen various methods of dealing with this situation, however, one should sit down and logically reason as to which method is superior.

The fate of a captured soldier can lie in several different scenarios:

1) In order to prevent them from returning to their camps, the opposing army could execute the women that it captures. History has seen this practice implemented countless times, however, not only is this a brutal “solution” to the problem at hand, but it also is in contradiction with the essence of Islam and its teachings. Therefore, Islam would never permit such a barbaric practice.

2) Another option would be to jail these prisoners. Yet, this not only wasn’t a good solution, but wasn’t a practical solution in many wars, as the proper forces and facilities to maintain a prison did not exist then.

3) Another feasible solution would be to employ these captives in positions of work such as mines, agricultural fields, etc., but this would mean denying them the fulfillment of their sexual drives which could give rise to very undesirable complications, moral and ethical degradation of the women taken captive being one. If these prisoners have their emotional and physical needs met within reasonable limits, these adverse effects can be avoided. Islam wishes nothing more than for these captives to embrace the word of Islam and become both physically and spiritually freed by it. It is at that point that these individuals who were once prisoners of an enemy’s lines will join the ranks of Islam and strengthen it by spreading its word to others.

Furthermore, not only does Islam condemn any act of inhumanity towards those taken captive in war, but has given Muslims the responsibility of showing them, through word and practice, the beauty that lies behind Islam. With this, Islam hopes to not only better their lives, but to strengthen the moral roots of society as a whole.

2) The reasoning behind Islam allowing sexual relations to take place with female captives and its conditions:

Considering the expenses that maintaining these captives would incur, naturally it would be unlikely that any individual would be willing to take on their responsibility free of charge or without some sort of reimbursement. Therefore, Islam has allowed those who have taken on this responsibility to employ these individuals in their homes, fields of agriculture, and other places which they may work in exchange for maintaining their livelihood. Although forced sexual relations between female captives and their owners is forbidden in Islam and its sharia, however, in the case of the proprietors wanting it, it does allow such relations to take place when a series of conditions are observed. Such relations are thus considered within the realms of Islamic sharia and intended to improve the social well-being of the parties concerned and society at large. With the legitimization of this form of relationship, certain conditions will be binding on both parties, which are aimed at their moral well-being and that of society’s. The following are some of those conditions:

1. The woman’s husband shouldn’t have been taken captive along with her.

2. If prior to being taken captive the woman was married, her period of istibra[1] must take place (in order to assure the woman is not pregnant) before any sexual relations can take place.[2]

3. It is impermissible for the woman to be engaged in sexual relations with two men in the same period of time.

4. If one wishes to marry a captive woman, it must be with the permission of her owner.[3]

5. If the woman has already been wed by her owner to another individual, it is no longer permissible for the owner to engage in relations with that woman.[4]

6. If a man engages in sexual relations with a captive woman, intimate relations with that woman’s mother or daughters becomes impermissible for him.[5]

7. It is impermissible for a man to simultaneously engage in relations with two sisters who are both captives.[6]

These rulings, and others which are much too extensive to be mentioned in this article, are precise regulations which have been established in order to preserve the legal and emotional health of the female captives concerned. As you can see, it shares none of the features of the despicable act of rape. Furthermore, Islam has taken these measures to prevent such disgusting acts from taking place.

It should be noted that these women, like other human beings, possess a natural sexual drive, which if not properly dealt with could lead to personal and wide-spread corruption.

Islam’s approach to this matter allows these women to satisfy their sexual desires within a series of practical and calculated regulations. Although the caretakers of these women are allowed to engage in intimate relations with them, they are also responsible for providing them with food, clothing, housing, and protection. Should any children be conceived, they would be considered Islamically legitimate. Like any other children, they would be the responsibility of the father, they would inherit from him, etc. Also, the mother of the children would gain the status of “ummul walad” (the mother of the children) and would gain the status of a free woman.

In return, the woman also holds obligations towards her man. For example, she is expected (like in any healthy relationship) to satisfy his sexual desires, stay faithful to him (refrain from engaging in relations with other men), etc. These mutual agreements and obligations towards one another will yield positive results in regards to the individuals concerned and society as a whole.

In the same way that marriage sanctifies an intimate relationship between two individuals, the possession of slaves, marrying them, gifting them to others, and engaging in sexual relations with them is sanctified within the bounds of Islam. There are two ways in which one may engage in these relations without breaching Islamic sharia: marriage and through what is known as “milk al-yamin” (that which your right hand possesses [a captive under your possession]).

One of the positive effects which Islam’s introduction of marriage with female captives brought about was a significant improvement in the quality of life and status among those women. At the time, marriage between prisoners of war and free individuals was not common at all. As a matter of fact, such marriages were viewed as social and cultural taboos. Meaning, one who engaged in such a marriage would most certainly lower his social status and that of his family in the eyes of others. Islam’s introduction of this concept resulted in groundbreaking cultural revolution. Such marriages would in turn fundamentally improve the lives of these women, raise their social status, and allow them to establish families of their own. Therefore, this movement was provoked not out of disrespect towards these women, but rather in hopes of uplifting their personality and dignity.[7] If, keeping in mind that at that time, keeping captives as slaves was widespread, and brutal and unethical treatment towards them, especially the women, was also quite common, we correctly assess Islam’s systematic approach to this problem in those circumstances and considering the social norms then, we will reach and understand its true worth.[8]

3) Why the woman’s consent is not required for these relations to take place:

One may wonder why Islam has not given these captives the liberty to choose their spouses and does not consider their consent necessary when engaging in sexual relations with them.

It is important to keep in mind that these women constituted a portion of the enemy’s army in war. That having been said, in addition to maintaining their livelihood and providing them with their various amenities, their status as prisoners of war was not to be forgotten. To provide them with the luxury of living life within society like any other free individual, when in fact they were enemies of Islam, would be utterly foolish and could pose a significant threat to the Islamic society which harbored them. Who knows, there were chances that the enemies of Islam, in well planned and calculated measures, would train a series of their female combatants to intentionally allow themselves to be taken captive by the combating forces. Knowing full well the privileges that Islam allowed prisoners of war, they would hope to take advantage of these liberties with hopes of damaging and corrupting the Islamic society. If these women were given unrestricted freedoms in regards to marriage, in many cases they would refuse legitimate relationships within the bounds of social norms, let alone Islam, and instead engage in acts of sexual deviation. Naturally, this would induce a corrupting force within society, and thus, could not and would not be tolerated. In addition, if granted absolute freedom of choice in selecting their spouses, many of these women may have selected one particular owner or spouse (i.e. those who possessed wealth or high status). Considering that the wars waged by the enemy against Islam affected all of Islamic society (not just select factions), logic would deduce that the spoils of war should also benefit all Muslims in various positions of society. Naturally, the ability to freely select a spouse would give rise to numerous problems in this respect. Therefore, in order to prevent any of these potential issues, it was necessary for Islam to place certain restrictions upon the personal freedoms of these women. In this case, the women were expected to engage in intimate relations with those who had taken on the responsibility as their caretakers or those individuals whom they were wed to. Islam wanted to prevent harm from being inflicted upon its own society, while at the same time, it wished to give these prisoners, within reason of course, the highest extent of personal freedom possible. The end result was this logical and orderly approach to this unfortunate problem.

The reality behind Islam’s allowance of the practice of coitus interruptus (withdrawl):

Coitus interruptus, has been narrated by Abu Sa’id al-Khidri as a practice where “a man, with the intention of preventing conception of a child with his spouse during sexual intercourse, avoids ejaculating within the vagina of his spouse”. This practice is commonly used in virtually all societies around the globe as a method of birth control. As a matter of fact, many countries expend significant budgets in advertising this form of birth control with hopes of effectively maintaining population control. It should be noted that in one narration from the Holy Prophet (pbuh), this practice has been discouraged. However, considering other narrations regarding this matter, it is understood that this discouragement only hints at this practice as being makrooh, as opposed to being forbidden within the sharia of Islam. Consequently, fuqaha (jurists) have permitted this practice to be used when a man engages in intimate relations with his spouse(s). Meaning, coitus interruptus can be practiced with slaves, temporary wives, and permanent wives. However, in the case that one wishes to engage in this practice with a free woman to whom he is permanently wed, he must first acquire the consent and permission of his wife. Birth control is permitted because many couples at one time or another do not have the readiness or means of supporting children and raising them. In other cases, childbirth poses a significant danger to the health of the mother. Whatever the case may be, this particular form of birth control is a method permitted within Islamic law.[9]

In this article, we have further shed light on Islam’s view concerning keeping female prisoners of war and the rules concerning engaging in relations with them. After taking a look at the logical and measured approach that has been taken in regard to this sensitive topic, one can clearly observe that Islam’s outlook does not in any way contradict the heart of Islamic belief, morality, or human rights in any respect.

For further information, please refer to the following articles:

1. Question 4981 (Website: 5298), Index: Marrying female captives.

2. Question 1076 (Website: 2541), Index: Female Captives being Halal.

[1] Istibra happens when no one has any sexual relations with the female captive for the time specified in fiqh to make sure she isn't pregnant from another.

[2] Tusi, Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Hasan, Al-Khilaf, vol. 5, pg. 84, Mu’assasah al-Nashr al-Islami al-Tabi’ah li-Jame’ah al-Mudarrisin Publications, 1407 ah., first print, Qom (6 volumes).

[3] Bahjat, Muhammad Taqi, Jame’ al-Masa’el, vol. 3, pg. 506 (no. of volumes:5), first print, Qom.

[4] Jawahir al-Kalām fi Sharh Shara’i’ al-Islam, vol. 30, pg. 284.

[5] Jawahir al-Kalām fi Sharh Shara’i’ al-Islam, vol. 30, pg. 283.

[6] Jawahir al-Kalām fi Sharh Shara’i’ al-Islam, vol. 30, pg. 283.

[7] Adopted from Question 4981 (website: 5298), Marriage with Captive Women.

[8] Allamah Tabatabai, Farazhayi az Islam, pp. 171 and 221.

[9] Yazdi, Seyyid Muhammad Kazem bin Abdil-Azim Tabatabai, al-Urwah al-Wuthqā (annotated), vol. 5, pg. 506, issue 6, Mu’assasah al-Nashr al-Islami al-Tabi’ah li-Jame’ah al-Mudarrisin Publications, 1419 ah, Qom (5 volumes).

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