Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – The first case of a “melk al-yameen” [slavery] marriage in Egypt stirred religious controversy amongst Islamic scholars. This issue entered the spotlight after privately owned Egyptian television channel Dream TV, during its daily show “al-Haqeeqa” [The Truth], broadcast a “melk al-yameen” marriage ceremony earlier this month. “Melk al-Yameen” is referred to in the Holy Quran as “those whom your right hand possesses” and denotes women that have either been taken captive during battle and enslaved or are the descendants of slaves.
This marriage ceremony prompted Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Dr. Ali Gomaa to issue a fatwa describing “melk al-yameen” marriages to be religiously impermissible and akin to “adultery.” Whilst al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Centre described this form of marriage as an example of “apostasy and a return to jahiliyyah [state of ignorance of the divine guidance of God]” adding “this is not a marriage.” Islamic Religious scholars also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that this form of marriage is absurd and has no connection whatsoever to Islam today, adding that “melk al-yameen” marriages are extinct.
Egypt has witnessed the first case of “melk al-yameen” marriage following the 25 January revolution and the rise of the Islamist trend. This marriage ceremony was performed by a Muslim cleric who gave his name as “Abdul Raouf Aun”, and was conducted on the basis that the woman voluntarily gave ownership of herself to her husband, with this form of marriage not requiring witnesses or official confirmation. This marriage was between Aun himself and a woman who was identified as Nadia. The ceremony began with Nadia asserting that she “enslaved” herself to him, with the groom then accepting this “enslavement.” Following this, both Aun and his wife recited Surat al-Ikhlas.
Aun, who is promoting this form of marriage in Egypt, said “we, Muslims, usually complicate things a lot…the ‘melk al-yameen’ and mutaha [Shiite temporary] marriages were allowed during the time of Prophet Muhammad. We only acknowledge the normal, traditional marriage and even that we have complicated.”
In the first official response to this promotion of “melk al-yameen” marriages, the al-Azhar Islamic Research Centre issued a statement asserting that “melk al-yameen” is a form of marriage affiliated to the system of slavery that existed in the world during the early days of Islam, and Islam gradually clamped down on this system in terms of legislation. The statement stressed that Islam sought to end all forms of slavery.
Dr. Ali Abdul Baqi, head of the al-Azhar Islamic Research Centre, stressed that “international laws and charters have been issued prohibiting slavery and enshrining human freedom, and so ‘melk al-yameen’ has ended, and it is no longer present and will not return.”
He added “talking about ‘melk al-yameen’ now represents a return to the era of jahiliyyah and an invitation to forbidden and sinful sexual relations; this does not constitute a marriage in any way, shape or form.”
For his part, Egyptian Grand Mufti Dr. Ali Gomaa said that the objective of raising this issue today is to promote religious confusion and misunderstanding. He said “this is something that we have become used to from the enemies of Islam over the centuries…and we will not fall into this trap, but rather will explain and clarify the truth.”
He added that Islam had been subject to many distortions and suspicions, and has been attacked and besieged, with questions being raised about many cultural and economic religious issues.
The Egyptian Grand Mufti asserted that “every now and then we see such lies being repeated and witness a return to such suspicions, as if we have not addressed these issues…this is a form of…dressing up falsehoods as the truth.”
He clarified that when Islam was being revealed, slavery was predominant across the world, describing slavery as a system by which human beings enslaved one another, so that a man or woman could be considered property, and sold.
Gomaa stressed “there were four types of slavery [during the early Islamic period]. Slavery of debtors, namely if somebody owes somebody else money and cannot pay him back, then the creditor owns him, whilst if the debt is greater than this man’s value, he would also own his wife and children. Then there was forcible slavery, namely if a man, woman or child is kidnapped or abducted and forcibly sold into slavery, and Islam came and banned this form of slavery, declaring it religiously impermissible. Then there is the issue of starvation, namely if somebody cannot feed their children then they can sell them, and this is something that is happening even today in India, and is something that was also prohibited by Islam. Islam prohibited the killing or selling of one’s children. Finally there is slavery by warfare, namely war captives, and so the imam or Caliph would be in charge of the captured prisoners, and it would be his decision whether to exchange captured prisoners for Muslim prisoners or to sell them into slavery, however Islam also asserted that it is a good deed to free prisoners or slaves, and that one may atone for his sins by freeing slaves.”
He said “Islam came and prohibited three forms of slavery, whilst one remained. Islam also encouraged the freeing of slaves, to the point that freeing a slave became a means of worshipping God and atoning for one’s sins” adding “Islamic Sharia law yearns for freedom.”
Dr. Gomaa also asserted that in the 19th century slavery was abolished worldwide, whilst slavery was abolished in Egypt in 1877, whilst anybody found guilty of owning a slave was sentenced to hard labor under the law.
He added “the woman who comes to the man and says that she has ‘enslaved’ herself to him, and who lives with the man as if this were a marriage, this is adultery and haram, for a free person cannot be under the hand of another person, even voluntarily. Even if somebody says this or is forcibly enslaved…they remain free.”
The Egyptian Grand Mufti said “whoever does this are slandering God, Islam and Muslims and changing what is religiously permissible and impermissible, for this is a form of adultery. This is all due to aggression and ignorance, for slavery in the Islamic world ended more than 153 years ago.”
For his part, Dr. Abddl Muti Bayoumi, a member of the al-Azhar Islamic Research Center, said “this form of marriage is a misunderstand” stressing that “melk al-yameen” marriage is a form of adultery, and calling on anybody who is marriage in this fashion to marry legitimately to ensure that they are not living in a state of sin.
Whilst Dr. Mohamed Rafat Osman, also of the al-Azhar Islamic Research Center, stressed that “melk al-yameen” marriage is nothing more than “flagrant adultery”, calling anybody who is married in such a manner to be punished under Islamic Sharia law.
He said “God Almighty said ‘and those who guard their chastity, except with their wives and the (captives) whom their right hands possess – for (then) they are not to be blamed [Surat Al-Maarij, Verse 29 -30].’” He added “‘melk a-yameen’ [captives whom their right hand possess] was present in this time as prisoners were considered of this category…but this is something that only exists in ancient Islamic history.”
Dr. Osman stressed that if there were a war between Muslims and non-Muslims today, Islam would not consider captured prisoners to be “melk al-yameen” because of the existence of international laws and decrees – which Islamic scholars and clerics unanimously approve – that prohibit slavery and govern the manner in which prisoners are dealt with.
For his part, al-Azhar University professor, Dr. Muhammad Wahdan, described the call for “melk al-yameen” marriages as “absurd” stressing “‘melk al-yameen’ ended in the first era of Islam, and the promotion of this form of marriage is a return to slavery, something that Islam freed the Muslims from.”
Whilst Dr. Amina Nasir, professor of religion and philosophy at al-Azhar University, stressed that “‘melk al-yameen’ was known to humanity centuries before Islam, and when Islam came it opened the door to get rid of this” adding “those who call for a return to the past are ignorant.”
For his part, Sheikh Mohamed Osman Bastawisi of Egypt’s Ministry of Awqaf [Islamic Endowments], stressed that “‘melk al-yameen’ marriage included certain conditions that do not apply to this era and which are not in our time, namely there are no captives and slaves in this era today, whilst this is something that only applied to wars between Muslims and non-Muslims, and in defense of land, honor and money, according to the scholars.”
He added “‘melk al-yameen’ marriage had its time, and Islam made this the least permissible option, as God Almighty said ‘this (permission) is for those among you who fear sin; but it is better for you that ye practice self-restraint. [Surat al-Nisa, Verse 25].’ Therefore scholars agree that this form of marriage was only applicable under two conditions, firstly inability to marry a freewoman, and secondly fear of sin.” He stressed that this Quranic verse, dealing with “melk al-yameen”, begins “if any of you have not the means wherewith to wed free believing women” [Surat al-Nisa, Verse 25] and therefore this is something that was only applicable in the past under very specific conditions, and is not applicable today whatsoever.