Jamada al-thani 18, 1426/July 24, 2005 #56
Muhammad's (pbuh) History-Changing Decision on Captive Women
Kaukab Siddique, Ph.D
Associate Professor of English
[In previous postings, I looked at two issues related to the French
ban on Islamic headscarves. My first article pointed out Abidullah
Jan sahib's error in comparing French President Chirac with the
Taliban. I pointed out that the Taliban never forced non-Muslim to
stop wearing their religious coverings and signs. In my second
posting, I looked at Asif Iqbal's error in seeing a pagan goddess's
veil as the precursor of the Islamic headcovering. I also pointed
out the vapidity of his thinking about French secularism.]
[In this posting I look at Shahid Mahmud's attack on Islam which
he wrote in support of Asif Iqbal.]
Shahid Mahmud quotes this hadith:
The Prophet stayed for three days between Khaibar and Medina, and
there he consummated his marriage to Safiyya bint Huyai. I invited
the Muslims to the wedding banquet in which neither meat nor bread
was offered. He ordered for leather dining-sheets to be spread,
and dates, dried yoghurt and butter were laid on it, and that
was the Prophet's wedding banquet. The Muslims wondered, "Is she
(Saffiyya) considered as his wife or his slave girl?" Then they
said, "If he orders her to veil herself, she will be one of the
mothers of the Believers; but if he does not order her to veil
herself, she will be a slave girl." So when the Prophet proceeded
from there, he spared her a space behind him (on his she-camel)
and put a screening veil between her and the people. (Sahih Bukhari,
Source, The Alim CD)"
And then adds these comments:
"Examination of this and some related Ahadith reveals:
HERE IS MY REBUTTAL OF SHAHID MAHMUD:
Captives of war were the property of Mohammed and his supporters.
Institutionalized slavery was very much part and parcel of the
Earlier, Suffiya Bint Huyai was about to be given to another Muslim
as a slave. Mohammed chose her, and according to this report he
'manumitted' her before marrying her. Manumission, hence, is no
more than elevating the stature of the woman marrying Mohammed,
not an established moral principal. For had that been the case,
Suffiya would not have been given to another Muslim earlier.
Further, one wonders, what is the worth of this manumission if
Suffiya, after taken away from another Muslim, is to become
Mohammed's wife? Surely, that is an improvement for her, but
not the freedom to choose.
The most important point, and the one most relevant to this
thread, are these magic words: ""If he orders her to veil herself,
she will be one of the mothers of the Believers; but if he does
not order her to veil herself, she will be a slave girl." There
are some very sobering conclusions one can draw from this. First,
manumission did not mean a thing and the very presence or absence
of veil was to determine what happens to Suffiya Bint Huyai.
Second, veil was required for Prophet's wives, not other women,
especially those who were slaves - exactly the point Asif made."
The HIJAB was a SYMBOL of this EXALTATION of a captive woman.
Both the revelation of the Qur'an and the life of the Prophet (pbuh)
[as adumbrated in books of Hadith] were part of a process of
progressive Islamic development. These must be placed in context
to be understood. Random quotation without context can only lead
The CONTEXT here is that WOMEN CAPTURED IN WAR had no rights
whatever. They were entirely at the mercy of their captors. That
was true of the PAGANS of Arabia, the JEWS, the CHRISTIANS and
In our own times (20th-21st century c.e.), women in war time have
been given no rights. At the conclusion of the SECOND WORLD WAR,
the entire female population of Germany was raped by the
conquering Communist Russian armies. [The rape victims ranged
all the way from little girls to grandmothers. EXTENSIVE information
on these rapes is given in THE FALL OF BERLIN 1945 by Antony Beevor
and other books.] In Saigon, the "friendly" U.S. troops turned
even a city which was supposed to be on their side into a brothel.
In IRAQ, there are reports of rapes of more than 4,000 women by
U.S. troops which the U.S. is refusing to investigate.
In HADITH, only that which the Prophet (pbuh) said, did and
approved of is relevant to what Islam is all about. This is
an elementary rule which anyone studying Hadith should know.
What a Hadith refers to other people having said, thought or
referred to is NOT ISLAM but only the opinion of those people.
Even in what the Prophet (pbuh) said, did and approved of, we
have to see the level of development and its place in the
emergence of the Islamic community.
In the Hadith quoted by Shahid Mahmud (and other WAR RELATED
HADITH), the Prophet (pbuh) REVERSED THE COURSE OF HISTORY IN
THE TREATMENT OF CAPTIVE WOMEN.
Thus from a CAPTIVE WOMAN with NO RIGHTS, Saffiya, r.a., became
a MOTHER OF THE BELIEVERS, and was placed at the TOP OF
As was usual in war time, captive women were distributed
among the victors.
The Prophet (pbuh) selected the most important of these women
(Safiyya bint Huyyai, r.a.). He FREED [That's the simple word
for "manumitted."]. Then he MARRIED her.
This was indeed the TRANSFORMATION of deeply accepted ideas about
This is the SUNNAH of the Prophet, pbuh. Hazrat Ali, r.a., and
other great Muslims followed this example to change the fate of
captive women. Hence the rapid expansion of Islam as this
revolutionary power smashed the slave empires of Persia and
Rome after liberating all of Arabia from the dead hand of
Interestingly, it was at Khaibar too that the Prophet, pbuh,
finally banned temporary marriage which was deeply entrenched
in the Arab culture during war time.
There is no place for slavery in Islam. It is against the Sunnah
of the Prophet. Let's conclude with a revealing Hadith which I am
sure the likes of Shahid Mahmud will never quote. Here is the
Sunnah of the Prophet, pbuh:
"When the messenger of Allah, pbuh, passed away, he had neither a
male slave nor a female slave...."
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2005-07-27 Wed 18:43ct