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Beyond Slavery pp 107-122 | Cite as

Slavery and Sexual Ethics in Islam

  • Kecia Ali
Chapter
Part of the Black Religion/Womanist Thought/Social Justice book series

Abstract

All religions that survive for any appreciable period of time must eventually confront the problem of adapting to historical change. How much can beliefs and practices shift without losing the tradition’s essence? How does one determine which things may change and which may not? These are especially complicated questions for faiths with fixed scriptures and carefully preserved texts against which adherents can measure deviation. Just as Christians and Jews have struggled to interpret and apply biblical, rabbinic, and priestly guidance in circumstances quite unlike those of the traditions’ origins, Muslims have engaged their sacred heritage in a wide variety of settings over the centuries. Some of the things that appear as ordinary and normal in the core texts of all three faiths, such as death by stoning for certain types of sexual misconduct, are no longer widely accepted by individual believers.1 But how does someone who believes in the divine provenance of scriptural rules reconcile them with a manifestly different set of ordinary ideas about what is right and wrong? These questions arise urgently when one considers that classical Islamic law accepts both slavery as an institution and the sexual use of female slaves, whereas the overwhelming majority of Muslims today completely reject all forms of slavery.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Ibn Rushd, The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer: A Translation of Bidayat al-Mujtahid, 2 vols., trans. Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee (Reading, UK: Centre for Muslim Contribution to Civilization, Garnet, 1994–1996). These and all other dates refer to the common era. I have slightly altered Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee’s translation of this passage.Google Scholar
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    See Ingrid Mattson, A Believing Slave is Better Than an Unbeliever: Status and Community in Early Islamic Society and Law (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1999) 131–141, for a discussion of these issues, and the suggestion that the Qur’anic verses may make a distinction between permissible sex with war captives and (impermissible) sex with female slaves obtained in another fashion.Google Scholar
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    There are, however, limits to its usefulness as an interpretive approach. See Kecia Ali, “Timeless Texts and Modern Morals: Challenges in Islamic Sexual Ethics,” in New Directions in Islamic Thought: Exploring Reform and Muslim Tradition, ed. Christian Moe et al. (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009) 89–99.Google Scholar
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  40. 43.
    Khadduri, “Marriage in Islamic Law,” 217; Fatima Mernissi, The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam, trans. Mary Jo Lakeland (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1991) 139; and Wadud, Qur’an and Woman, 9.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Bernadette J. Brooten 2010

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  • Kecia Ali

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