Like many myths about Islam, the Quran and Muslims, I've always heard the worst from Islamophobic extremists and Islamist extremists alike. They tend to share pretty much the same language, online content and perpetuate the same awful narratives about Muslims and their supposed religious practices.
As time wears on I’m starting to see these similarities are unavoidable – particularly online where it is rife. For example, this video of a female Muslim 'scholar' saying that men can have sex with female prisoners of war to ‘humiliate’ them has been shared widely on right-wing news sites and social media.
This narrative has been spread in the wake of recent sexual assault allegations in Cologne and reports of Isis fighters raping and selling sex slaves. It’s mainly been promoted by Donald Trump supporting anti-Muslim bigots, far-right extremists and people who’ll easily believe anything bad about Muslims.
Those sharing the video usually make unfounded claims that the 'North African/Arab' men accused of the Cologne assaults were motivated by a ‘Muslim background’. The video has been used as proof of a culturally ingrained mindset that all Muslims apparently possess, as well as claims that the Quran supposedly endorses raping women, in particular female slaves.
It’s worth noting the video has also been shared by Muslims who have strongly refuted and ostracised the scholar, reacting with disgust over this extreme view.
And they are right: rape and sexual violence is not permitted in Islamic texts. It is of course something that causes harm to other humans, which is not Halal (permissible) and, in early Muslim communities, rape was a crime punishable by death.
However, seeing as this myth isn’t about to go away with a few online condemnations, what scripture is being cited by extremists and has it been distorted? After all, there are billions of Muslims across the globe that aren’t going round capturing women to rape as sex slaves.
The main reference cited is Chapter 23:1-6 in the Quran. It reads:
“And successful are the believers who guard their chastity … except from their wives or those that their right hands possess.”
The reference is about sexual relations, which are forbidden with any woman unless she is a spouse or ‘those their right hands possess’. To be clear, this means a concubine, bondmaid or a slave, but intercourse has to be consensual. Rape is forbidden as it is violent, and Islamic texts legislated for the proper and honourable treatment of slaves.
Even consensual sexual relations with a slave were not permissible if it caused harm and abuse elsewhere (e.g. to a wife) as all parties involved would be affected.
Furthermore this is not an entitlement. Concubinage and interpersonal relations with various bondmaids/slaves was already occurring at the time the Quran came about and subsequent passages list restrictions as a starting point to help to bring about the end of slavery. In any case, marriage was encouraged (Chapter 24:32) with slaves.
In fact, slavery was never endorsed by Islamic texts; rather it was something inherited from pre-Islamic cultures (pre-600s) that needed to be voluntarily and gradually weeded out of society through manumission, which was highly encouraged (Chapters 24:32-33 & 16:71). Islamic texts list a plethora of avenues to free slaves, as it was seen as a highly virtuous act. It’s difficult to find any references on how to make slaves out of people; rather the focus is always on ending slavery.
Conveniently this is something the extremists ignore, and this example further enforces the point that religious illiteracy is a root cause of extremism. Islamophobic extremists as well as Islamist extremists (like Isis) who promote and validate sexual violence through unspecific passages in the Quran - or without context - do so to justify their own violent mindsets.
Also, references in Islamic texts about slavery don’t apply any longer for a modern age given that slavery has been officially banned internationally since 1948. There is widespread consensus across all nations on this, including Muslims ones. There’s no desire among ordinary Muslims to drag humanity backwards into slavery, especially when there was a clear agenda in key Islamic texts to eventually eradicate it.
Human trafficking and modern sex slavery is, after all, not just a ‘Muslim’ issue, it’s even happening right under our noses in the UK by all sorts of perpetrators. Therefore let’s promote those devout Muslims like Zainab Bangura who work hard to empower victims of Isis’ sexual violence and slavery, as well as those women seeking justice for having been forced into sex slavery elsewhere in the world.
The majority of sane, law-abiding Muslims do not seek to impose themselves on others by force or aggression. They don’t even need me to explain passages in the Quran as they’re not interested in keeping a female slave to rape or ‘humiliate’.
Those who do spread these myths should get called out for it. They have perverted the Quran, which is a smear on the religion of billions across the globe.
Islamic texts do not promote rape and do not encourage slavery. We must therefore all be united in spreading light on the matter through proper understanding, not further ignorance and bigotry. This ignorance only plays into the hands of groups like Isis or Islamophobes, who have a vested interest in burying the truth of the Quran and pushing their own agendas instead.