A Closer Look At Awtas Incident In Relation To Quran 4:24

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Kaleef K. Karim

Although we have written about Surah 4:24 and the time of its revelation, we are going to look over some of the claims once again, to get a better understanding of this incident historically.

We showed that the verse (Q. 4:24) was revealed in relation to the battle of Hunayn, where the Hawazin and Thaqifites prepared with their people to attack the Muslim community. Husbands and wives came to this battle to annihilate the Muslim community.

In this article we are not going to go over Surah 4:24’s historical time of revelation, as we have dealt with this great detail here: “What Happened To The Captive Women In Awtas Incident?

In this piece, we will try to respond to some common claims made in regards to the Hadith and Quranic verse, with more information available to us.

The Hadith reports used for this claim are the following two:

Narrated Abu Sa’eed Al-Khudri: “On the Day of Awtas, we captured some women who had husbands among the idolaters. So some of the men disliked that, so Allah, Most High, revealed: And women already married, except those whom your right hands possess… (4:24)” (Jami at-Tirmidhi volume 5, Book 44, Hadith 3016, (Sahih Darussalam))


“Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported that at the Battle of Hanain Allah’s Messenger sent an army to Autas and encountered the enemy and fought with them. Having overcome them and taken them captives, the Companions of Allah’s Messenger seemed to refrain from having intercourse with captive women because of their husbands being polytheists. Then Allah, Most High, sent down regarding that:” And women already married, except those whom your right hands possess (iv. 24)” (Sahih Muslim Book 8, Hadith 3432)

From the above reports, critics have deduced that Muhammed’s warriors had sexual intercourse with women in “presence” of their husbands.

Although the Hadith may appear to say that sexual relations occurred, however, when we consult the other reports we find that this did not take place.

How do we know that the husbands weren’t with the women? Well, there are several ways to find out that they weren’t there with the women.

Two reports mention that the warrior-men all dispersed (Ibn Ishaq):

“(Al-Ta’if) was a sequel to the battle of Hunayn And Autas and al-Abraq when Hawazin gathered their force in their folly and were DISPERSED LIKE SCATTERED BIRDS. The (men of al-Ta’if) could not hold a single place against us except their wall and the bottom of the trench. We showed ourselves that they might come forth, But they shut themselves in behind a barred gate. Our unmailed men returned to a strong surging force fully armed glittering with death-dealing weapons; compact, dark green, (if one threw them at Hadan, It would become as though it had not been created). (The Life Of Muhammad – A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, with introduction and Notes by A Guillaume [Oxford university Press, Seventeenth Impression 2004], page 591)


“Muhammad bin ‘Ali narrated: “WHEN IT WAS THE DAY OF AWTAS, THE (DISBELIEVER) MEN FLED TO THE MOUNTAINS and their women were taken as captives.” (Ahkam al-Qur’an, Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyya, Beirut, 1994 volume 2 page 173)


There are several more reports that show that no men were in the custody of Muhammed (p), those captured, since all the men fled. When the Hawazin delegations came to ask for their people back, the only people in the Prophet Muhammed’s custody were women, children, sheep and camels (Ibn Ishaq):

“Then a deputation from Hawazin came to him in al-Ji’rana WHERE HE HELD 6,000 WOMEN AND CHILDREN, and sheep and camels innumerable which had been captured from them. Amr b. Shu’ayb from his father from his grandfather Abdullah b. Amr said that the deputation from Hawazin came to the apostle after they had accepted Islam, saying that the disaster which had befallen them was well known and asking him to have pity on them for God’s sake. …” (The Life Of Muhammad – A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, with introduction and Notes by A Guillaume [Oxford university Press, Seventeenth Impression 2004], page 592)

Tarikh al-Tabari (838 – 923 AD):

“The captives of Hunayn, along with their possessions, were brought to the Messenger of God, Mas’ud b. Amr al-Qari overseeing the spoils. The messenger of God then ORDERED THAT THE CAPTIVES AND THEIR POSSESSIONS BE TAKEN TO AL-JI’RANAH AND HELD THERE IN CUSTODY. … When the defeated men of Thaqif came to al-Ta’if, they shut the gates of the city and made preparations for war. … When he had finished at Hunayn, the Messenger of God and his companions went directly to al-Ta’if and encamped there for a forthnight, waging war against Thaqif. Thaqif fought the Muslims from behind the fort and none came out in the open. All of the surrounding people surrendered and sent their delegations to the Messenger of God. After besieging al-Ta’if for a forthnight, the Prophet left and halted at al-Jiranah where the captives of Hunayn were held with their women and children. It is alleged that those CAPTIVES TAKEN FROM THE HAWAZIN NUMBERED SIX THOUSAND WITH WOMEN AND CHILDREN. When he reached al-Ji’ranah, the delegations of Hawazin came to the Prophet and embraced Islam. THERE, HE SET ALL THEIR WOMEN AND CHILDREN FREE and decided to make the lesser pilgrimage [directly] from al-Ji’ranah.” (History of al-Tabari (‘Tarikh al-Tabari’): The Last Years Of The Prophet – [Translated And Annotated By Ismail K. Poonawala, Suny – Series in Near Eastern Studies, University Of California, Los Angeles – State University of New York, 1990], volume 9, page 20)

And Ma’mar Ibn Rashid’s (714 – 770 AD) – Kitab al-Maghazi:

“When the Hawazin came back before the Messenger of God, ‘they said, You are the most upright and faithful in honouring bonds of kindship, but our women and those in our care have been taken captive, and our wealth seized.’ The Messenger of God replied, ‘I patiently bided my time for you, and with me are those you see. To me, the most preferable speech is the most honest. So choose one of the two, either the property or the captives.’ ‘O Messenger of God!’ they replied. ‘As far as we are concerned, if you force us to choose between property and honor, we shall choose honor.’ Or they said, ‘We esteem honor above all else.’ THUS THEY CHOSE THEIR WOMEN AND CHILDREN. Then the Prophet rose to address the Muslims. He first gloried God, as His due, and then proceeded to say: ‘As for the matter at hand, these men, your brethren, have come as Muslims’ – or ‘having surrendered ourselves (mustaslimin)’ – ‘and we have given them a choice between their OFFSPRING and their property. They regarded nothing as equal to their honor; this, I have seen it fit for you to return their women and children to them. Whoever wishes to act so magnanimously, let him do so; and whoever wishes to demand compensation for his share so that we may give him a portion of what God has granted us as spoils, let him do so.’ The Muslims answered God’s Messenger: ‘THE JUDGEMENT IS GOOD!’ The Prophet then said, ‘I do not know who has permitted that and who has not so command your leaders to convey this information to us.’ Once the leaders had informed the Messenger of God that the people had acquiesced to the agreement and permitted it, GOD’S MESSENGER RETURNED THE WOMEN AND CHILDREN TO THE HAWAZIN CLAN. GOD’S MESSENGER ALSO GRANTED TO THE WOMEN whom he had given to several Qureshi men the CHOICE BETWEEN REMAINING IN THE HOUSEHOLD OF THOSE MEN AND RETURNING TO THEIR FAMILIES.” (The Expeditions (‘Kitab al-Maghazi’) – An Early Biography Of Muhammad By Ma’mar Ibn Rashid [Translated: Sean W. Anthony – Copyright 2014 by New York University], page 107 – 109)

Furthermore, here are more authentic Hadith reports which clearly mention that the “captives” were not distributed, but set free:

Sahih al-Bukhari:

“Narrated Marwan and Al-Miswar bin Makhrama: When the delegates of the tribe of Hawazin came to the Prophet and they requested him to return their properties and captives. The Prophet stood up and said to them, “I have other people with me in this matter (as you see) and the most beloved statement to me is the true one; you may choose either the properties or the prisoners as I have DELAYED THEIR DISTRIBUTION.” The Prophet had waited for them for more than ten days since his arrival from Ta’if. So, when it became evident to them that the Prophet was not going to return them except one of the two, they said, “WE CHOOSE OUR PRISONERS.” The Prophet got up amongst the people and glorified and praised Allah as He deserved and said, “Then after, these brethren of yours have come to us with repentance, and I SEE IT LOGICAL TO RETURN THEM THE CAPTIVES. So, whoever amongst you likes to do that as a favor, then he can do it, and whoever of you likes to stick to his share till we recompense him from the very first war booty which Allah will give us, then he can do so (i.e. give up the present captives).” THE PEOPLE UNANIMOUSLY SAID, “WE DO THAT (RETURN THE CAPTIVES) WILLINGLY.” The Prophet said, “We do not know which of you has agreed to it and which have not, so go back and let your leaders forward us your decision.” So, all the people then went back and discussed the matter with their leaders who returned and informed the Prophet that all the people had willingly given their consent to return the captives. This is what has reached us about the captives of Hawazin. Narrated Anas that `Abbas said to the Prophet, “I paid for my ransom and `Aqil’s ransom.” (Sahih al-Bukhari volume 3, Book 46, Hadith 716)


Sahih al-Bukhari:

“Narrated Marwan bin Al-Hakam and Al-Miswar bin Makhrama: When the delegates of the tribe of Hawazin came to the Prophet they requested him to return their property and their captives. He said to them, “This concerns also other people along with me as you see, and the best statement to me is the true one, so you may choose one of two alternatives; either THE CAPTIVES OR THE PROPERTY AND (I HAVE NOT DISTRIBUTED THE BOOTY FOR) I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU.” When the Prophet had returned from Ta’if, he waited for them for more than ten nights. When they came to know that the Prophet would not return except one of the two, they chose their captives. The Prophet then stood up amongst the Muslims, Glorified and Praised Allah as He deserved, and then said, “Then after: These brothers of yours have come to you with repentance and I see it proper to return their captives, so whoever amongst you likes to do that as a favor, then he can do it, and whoever of you wants to stick to his share till we pay him from the very first Fai (i.e. war booty) which Allah will give us, then he can do so.” The people said, “We return (the captives) to them willingly as a favor, O Allah’s Messenger!” The Prophet said, “I do not know who of you has given his consent and who has not; so go back and your leaders may present your decision to me.” The people went away, and their leaders discussed the matter with them, and then came to the Prophet TO TELL HIM THAT ALL OF THEM HAD GIVEN THEIR CONSENT (TO RETURN THE CAPTIVES) WILLINGLY. (Az-Zuhn, the sub-narrator said, “This is what we know about the captives, of Hawazin.”) (Sahih al-Bukhari volume 3, Book 47, Hadith 778)


Sunan Abi Dawud:

“Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar: The tradition mentioned above (No. 2468) has also been transmitted by Abdullah ibn Budayl through a different chain of narrators in a similar way. This version adds: While he (Umar) was observing i’tikaf (in the sacred mosque), the people uttered (loudly): “Allah is most great.” He said: What is this, Abdullah? He said: THESE ARE THE CAPTIVES OF THE HAWAZIN WHOM THE MESSENGER OF ALLAH HAS SET FREE. He said: This slave-girl too? He sent her along with them.” (Sunan Abi Dawud Book 13, Hadith 2469, Sahih Albani)


Sunan Abi Dawud:

“Marwan and Al Miswar bin Makhramah told that when the deputation of the Hawazin came to the Muslims and asked the Apostle of Allaah to return to them their property, the Apostle of Allaah said to them “with me are those whom you see”. The speech dearest to me is the one which is true, so choose (one of the two) either the captives or the property. They said “WE CHOOSE OUR CAPTIVES. The Apostle of Allaah stood up, extolled Allaah and then said “To proceed, your brethren have come repentant I have considered THAT I SHOULD RETURN THEIR CAPTIVES TO THEM, so let those of you who are willing to release the captives act accordingly, but those who wish to hold on to what they have till we give them some of the first booty Allaah gives us may do so. The people said “We are willing for that (to release their captives), Apostle of Allaah. The Apostle of Allaah said “We cannot distinguish between those of you who have granted that and those who have not, so return till your headmen may tell us about your affair. The people then returned and their headmen spoke to them, then they informed that they were agreeable and had given their permission. (Sunan Abi Dawud Book 14, Hadith 2687, Sahih Albani)


Mishkat ul-Masabih:

“Hawazen tribe came to him, and said, ‘we embrace Islam.’ And they asked the Prophet to return them their property, and the captives which had been taken in the battle of Hunain. The Prophet said, ‘chuse [choose] one of them, either your property or your captives.’THEY SAID, ‘WE CHUSE [CHOOSE] OUR CAPTIVES.’
Then the Prophet stood up, and praised God; after that said to his warriors, ‘verily your brothers are come repenters of infidelity; and verily I told them, I WOULD RETURN THEIR CAPTIVES; then any one of your wishing to return a captive without any atonement, do so; and any of your wishing to return them in lieu of money, let him take it FROM ME, from Bait-ul-Mal.’ Then the men said, ‘O Messenger of God! We are glad of this’ The Prophet said, ‘verily I do not know who of you are pleased and who not.’ Then they told the Prophet they were ALL PLEASED.’” (Mishcat-Ul-Masabih: Or A Collection Of the Most Authentic Traditions regarding The Actions And Sayings Of Muhammaed; Exhibiting – The Origin Of The manners And Customs; The Civil, Religious And Military Policy Of The Muslemans. [Translations from the original Arabic, by Capt. A. N. Matthew, Bengal Artillery. – Calcutta: Printed by T. Hubbard, At The Hindoostanee Press, 1810] volume 2, page 271)

These various reports prove to us that the claim made by some that the men were with the women in the report quoted at the start of this article, is incorrect.

In conclusion, all the various different reports shown on the Awtas incident tell us that no men were with the women since they all fled. Secondly, although sexual relations was allowed, they were not permitted to do so unless they became Muslim. The Quran categorically forbids men from having any relation with polytheistic women. Furthermore, the women were not touched given that the Prophet (p) did not distribute them (except for few cases, they may have converted). He waited for the delegations to come, and the women and children were handed back over to their families.

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