This verse was revealed after battle of Uhud (Mawdudi). Madinan verse (Mawdudi and Dr. Muhammed Asad).
“And whoever among you cannot [find] the means to marry free, believing women, then [he may marry] from those whom YOUR RIGHT HANDS POSSESS OF BELIEVING SLAVE GIRLS. And Allah is most knowing about your faith. You [believers] are of one another. SO MARRY THEM WITH THE PERMISSION OF THEIR PEOPLE AND GIVE THEM THEIR DUE COMPENSATION ACCORDING TO WHAT IS ACCEPTABLE. [They should be] chaste, neither [of] those who commit unlawful intercourse randomly nor those who take [secret] lovers. But once they are sheltered in marriage, if they should commit adultery, then for them is half the punishment for free [unmarried] women. This [allowance] is for him among you who fears sin, but to be patient is better for you. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” – Quran 4:25
This verse was meant to encourage marriage with slaves in order for them to gain their freedom, 1300 years ago. It was an injunction to break down the barrier and give freedom to those who were held by others. It was a gradual process to end slavery.
“And whoever has not the means wherewith, [whoever] is not wealthy enough, to be able to marry believing (al-mu’minat, ‘believing’, is in accordance with the prevalent practice, and does not add to the import), free, women in wedlock, let him take, in marriage, believing maids whom your right hands own. God knows very well your faith, so suffice yourself with its outward manifestation and leave the innermost matters to Him, for He is the One to know her [true] merit: many a slave-girl may be more excellent [in faith] than a free woman, AND THIS IS MEANT TO ENCOURAGE MARRIAGE WITH SLAVE-GIRLS; the one of you is as the other, being equal in religion, so do not disdain to marry with them. So marry them, with the permission of their folk, their guardians, and give them their wages, their dowries, honourably, without procrastination or diminution…” (Tafsir al-Jalalayn on Surah 4:25 – online source)
Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas:
“(And whoso is not able to afford to marry free, believing women, let them marry from the believing maids whom your right hands possess) who are in the hands of the believers. (Allah knoweth best (concerning) your faith) He knows best that your hearts are firm in faith. (Ye (proceed) one from another) You are all the children of Adam; it is also said that this means: some of you follow the religion of others; and it is also said that this means: you are strengthened by one another; (SO WED THEM) MARRY THE MAIDS (by permission of their folk) their owners, (AND GIVE UNTO THEM) THE MAIDS (THEIR PORTIONS) THEIR DOWRY (IN KINDNESS) on top of the price given to the prostitute for providing sex, (they being honest) He says: MARRY THOSE MAIDS WHO ARE CHASTE, (not debauched) not those who commit adultery in the open (nor of loose conduct) nor those who have lovers who commit adultery with them in secret. (And if when they are honourably married) if when they marry maids (they commit lewdness) fornication (they) the maids (shall incur the half of the punishment (prescribed)) lashing (for free women (in that case). This is) marrying maids is lawful (for him among you who feareth to commit sin) adultery and debauchery. (But to have patience) and refrain from marrying maids (would be better for you) in that your children would be free. (Allah is Forgiving) of the adultery you might commit, (Merciful) when He gave you a legal dispensation to marry captives in cases of necessity.” (Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas on Surah 4:25 – online source)
Dr. Muhammad Asad:
“27 Lit., “with your possessions” – i.e., offering them, as the Law demands, an appropriate dower.
28 Cf. verse 4 of this surah, and the corresponding note.
29 The phrase lam yastati tawlan is often taken to mean “he is not in a position to afford”, i.e., in the financial sense; but Muhammad ‘Abduh very convincingly expresses the view that it applies to all manner of preventive circumstances, be they of a material, personal or social nature (Manar V, 19).
30 In this context, ma malakat aymanukum (lit., “those whom your right hands possess”) denotes women who were captured in a holy war and have subsequently embraced Islam. In the above phrase, the pronoun “you” refers to the community as a whole.
31 I.e., since all human beings – whatever their outward “social status” – are members of one and the same human family, and are therefore equal to one another in the sight of God (cf. 3:195), it is only the strength or weakness of faith which makes one person superior or inferior to another.
32 Lit., “and not taking unto themselves secret love-companions”. This passage lays down in an unequivocal manner that sexual relations with female slaves are permitted only on the basis of marriage, and that in this respect there is no difference between them and free women; consequently, concubinage is ruled out.
33 The weaker social status of a slave makes her, obviously, more accessible to temptation than a free married woman is presumed to be.
34 I.e., to those who for one reason or another are unable to marry free women and are, at the same time, not equal to the temptations arising from celibacy. AS IS MADE CLEAR IN THE NEXT SENTENCE, THE QUR’AN DISCOURAGES SUCH MARRIAGES – OBVIOUSLY WITH A VIEW TO REMOVING A MAJOR ATTRACTION FROM THE INSTITUTION OF SLAVERY AS SUCH, AND THUS PROMOTING ITS ABOLITION.” (The Message of The Quran translated and explained by Dr. Muhammad Asad, page 164 – 165, online source)
Maulana Muhammad Ali:
“25a. This verse lays down the conditions under which those taken prisoners in war may be taken in marriage. I do not find any verse in the Holy Qur’an or any instance in the Prophet’s life, sanctioning what is called concubinage. On more occasions than one, when the establishment of conjugal relations with slave-girls is mentioned, their taking in marriage is clearly laid down as a condition as in v. 3, v. 24, and this verse. HERE MARRIAGE WITH THOSE TAKEN PRISONERS IN WAR IS ALLOWED under certain circumstances, the first of these being that they should be believing women or Muslims. There are two more conditions: (1) that a man has not the means to marry a free woman as the opening words show, and (2) that he fears to fall into evil as stated in the concluding words. If, then, even marriage with her is allowed under exceptional circumstances, it is quite unreasonable to suppose that her master is allowed to have conjugal relations with her without taking her for a wife. She was no doubt placed on a lower level in Arab society than a free woman, but that is all. Perhaps the strictness of the rules regarding marriage with a female slave is due to the consideration that he who seeks her in marriage may first have her FREED FROM SLAVERY. It may be said that this verse speaks of others than the masters of the slave-girls, because it requires the permission of the masters. The only right the master could reasonably claim is that he does not require the permission of anybody else, yet he must still take her AS A WIFE, not as a paramour. But see the Prophet’s ƒadßth quoted in 5c, according to which the master is required to educate the slave girl, giving her the best education, then SET HER FREE AND THEN MARRY HER. One more point arising out of this verse may be noted. It is plainly laid down here that if a married slave-girl commits adultery, her punishment is half of the punishment prescribed for the free married woman who commits adultery. This shows that the Holy Qur’an never contemplated stoning as the punishment for adultery because it could not be halved, and as a matter of fact the Holy Book nowhere speaks of stoning; the only punishment for adultery that it speaks of is a hundred stripes (24:2 ).” (The Holy Quran Arabic Text with English Translation, Commentary and comprehensive Introduction [Year 2002 Edition] by Maulana Muhammad Ali, page, page 203)
“9. In these last two verses, the Qur’an indicates an important social reality and clarifies an aspect of female slavery. While the previous verse warns men who will marry believing, free women not to stray into ways of indecency, like adultery, this verse admonishes that female slaves should also refrain from such deviations. It also mentions the MATTER OF MARRYING FEMALE SLAVES IN THE CASE OF MEN WHO FEAR DEVIATION INTO UNLAWFUL WAYS IF THEY WERE TO REMAIN UNMARRIED. What we can understand from this is that men are more susceptible to deviation than women. A free Muslim woman is so far from falling that it is not even contemplated; such a woman is extremely careful about her chastity. A believing female slave may be susceptible.
We conclude from this that in the view of Islam a free, Muslim, chaste woman is the ideal of respectable womanhood; others, though believers, may not be careful about their chastity and, therefore, do not enjoy the same status or respect. A woman loses her right to respect when she indulges in indecency or she presents herself as a sexual object, using her physical charms to allure; this means that she has fallen from the rank of true humanity. Similarly, respected members of a pure, Islamic society cannot perceive of women as sexual objects. Islam regards indecencies such as fornication, adultery, and prostitution as the most abominable things, and sees these as the cause of people falling lower than animals. The sexual drive in animals is directed at reproduction; it is not just a desire to be satisfied in any way, at any means. For example, bull-camels smell the urine of a she-camel in order to learn whether the camel has been inseminated or not. They will not mate otherwise.” (The Qur’an With Annotated Interpretation in Modern English Ali Unal, page 212)
Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi:
“15. (who required considerable sum of money for the payment of her dower as well as her support and maintenance). ‘She is entitled to be provided with proper accommodation separate from the husband’s relations and to be maintained in a way suitable to his own means and the position in the life of both. If he refuses or neglects to maintain her she can pledge ‘his credit… she is further entitled to the payment of her dower.’ (‘Abdur Rahim, o. p. cit., p. 334).
16. (whose dower-money and upkeep would naturally cost much less).
17. i.e., the Muslim community.
18. (which is the only test of merit with Him) i.e., He knows whose faith is great and strong, and whose is little and weak. So that it is easly conceivable that a bondwoman might be more honourable with her Lord than her free husband. This implies as exhortation against holding bondsmen and bondswomen in contempt.
20. i.e., you as Muslims belong to the same honourable community, and as human beings have sprung from the common progenitor. Why, then, should a free-born among you fear any loss of dignity in taking a bondwoman as his wife? Here is another little neat sermon on the equality of the free-born and the slave in Islam.
21. i.e., the Muslim bondswomen.
22. (who have proprietary rights in them).
23. i.e., the handmaids themselves, as understood by Imam Malik; or, the owners of these handmaids, as interpreted, through an implied word …, by other jurists.
24. Mark the implication of the word. THE DOWER IS TO BE PAID TO HANDMAIDS AS TO THE WIVES, in the prescribed, legal, honourable way, not as hire to the whores and harlots.
25. Notice the high ideal of chastity and purity pervading the entire system of these enactments.
26. As was customary with bondswomen in pre-Islamic Arabic.
27. Which here signifies an act of fornication or incontinence.
28. Who have not the same advantages of sound education, good up-bringing, etc., as the respectable free women enjoy, and are therefore not subject to the same degree of responsibility. The corruptions of life under which a slave has to work and live makes it plain that, while purity is always hard to attain, slavery makes it far more difficult.
29. Which means that the guilty slave-wife shall receive 50 stripes.
30. i.e., THIS PERMISSION TO MARRY SLAVE-GIRLS.
31. (in consequence of fornication) i.e., who for want of a respectable free-born wife fears to fall into the sin of adultery and is anxious to avoid it.
32. (altogether, and practise self-restraint).
33. As it obviously is from the stand-point of good breeding and preservation of high descent.
34. (so that in any case and circumstance He overlooks and forgives your marrying a slave-girl).
35. (so that He has not forbidden such alliances).
36. (His ordinances for your benefit). (Tafsir-Ul-Qur’an – Translation and Commentary Of The Holy Qur’an [Published By Darul Ishaat Urdu Bazaar Karachi: Pakistan] by Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi,volume 1, page 319 – 320)
Malik Ghulam Farid:
“591. In Islam no stigma attaches to the status of a handmaid as such; but owing to her relationships and associations she may not prove such a perfect companion as a free believing woman.
591A. This means that only such of them may be married as are chaste and virtuous. Once they are married their dowries must be paid just as in the case of free women.
592. The verse has laid down three vital principles: (a) BONDWOMEN SHOULD BE PROPERLY MARRIED BEFORE CONJUGAL RELATIONS ARE HAD WITH THEM. THIS IS ALSO CLEAR FROM 2:222; 4:4; AND 24:33. THUS ISLAM HAS CUT AT THE ROOT OF CONCUBINAGE WHICH WAS SO PREVALENT IN ARAB SOCIETY BEFORE ITS ADVENT. (b) If they commit adultery, bondwomen are to have half the punishment which is 100 stripes for free women for the same offense which shows that stoning to death is not the punishment for adultery, as mistakenly understood, because stoning to death cannot be halved. (c) Incidentally, the verse seems to indicate that a bondwoman taken in marriage had a lower social status in Arab society than a free woman taken in marriage, perhaps because of her having taken part in a war waged to destroy an Muslim State.” (The Holy Qur’an Arabic Text with English Translation & Short Commentary, by Malik Ghulam Farid page 193 – 194)
“MARRIAGE WITH A SLAVE WOMAN
When a Muslim finds himself in circumstances that make it practically impossible to marry a free woman who is likely to be more mindful of her chastity, he may use the concession to MARRY A SLAVE WOMAN so as to resist the temptation of sin. Any of you who, owing to circumstances, is not in a position to marry a free believing woman may marry a believing maiden from among those whom your right hands possess. God knows all about your faith: you belong to one another. MARRY THEM, then, with their people’s consent and give them their dowers in an equitable manner, as chaste women who give themselves in honest wedlock, not in fornication, nor as women who have secret love companions. If after their marriage, they are guilty of gross immoral conduct, they shall be liable to half the penalty to which free women are liable. This provision applies to those of you who fear to stumble into sin. Yet it is better for you to be patient. God is Much-Forgiving, Merciful. (Verse 25) The religion of Islam deals with man within the limitations of his nature, abilities and practical life. It takes him by the hand, elevating him from the depths of ignorance to the sublime horizon of Islamic life. At the same time, it provides him with all that he needs. What takes place in an ignorant society is not inevitable. Ignorant standards are low and Islam wants to elevate humanity to a higher standard. Islam is aware that, by his nature, man is capable of reaching a high standard. It is true that man may sink in the mud of ignorance, but it is equally true that man is able to reach to the sublime. It is God alone who knows human nature fully, because He has created mankind and is aware of what thoughts work themselves into the human mind: “How could it be that He who has created all should not know all? He is indeed unfathomable in His wisdom, All-Aware.” (67: 14) In the early Muslim society, slaves were a by-product of war. Their position needed to be sorted out by setting them free either for no return, or in a mutual exchange of prisoners, or for compensation, according to the different circumstances that prevailed between the Muslim community and its enemies. … This verse regulates the methods and circumstances which permitted their marriage: “Any of you who, owing to circumstances, is not in a position to marry a free believing woman may marry a believing maiden from among those whom your right hands possess”. (Verse 25) Islam prefers for its followers to marry free women if they are able to do so. Freedom imparts dignity to a woman, which enables her to protect her chastity and safeguard her husband’s honour. A free woman has a family and a reputation to protect. She is too proud to allow herself to sink into the depths of promiscuity. A slave woman does not have the same considerations. Even when she is married, traces from her bondage days remain with her. Hence, she does not have the same attitude towards chastity and personal dignity as a free woman. She does not have a family reputation to worry about. Moreover, her children were treated as a class lower than the children of free women. ALL THESE CONSIDERATIONS WERE PRESENT IN THE SOCIETY TO WHICH THIS VERSE WAS FIRST ADDRESSED. It is natural, in view of all this, that Islam should prefer marriage with free women. Marriage with a bondswoman was treated as a concession given to those who were of limited means and who found it difficult to stay away from sin. In such cases, when temptation is too strong and financial resources are not available, Islam does not deprive its followers of a chance to have a proper relationship through marriage with slave women. This is followed by an explanation of the only acceptable method for the relationship between free men and non-free women. It is the same form of marriage as with free women. The first condition is that the women in question must be believers: “Any of you who, owing to circumstances, is not in a position to marry a free believing woman may marry a believing maiden from among those whom your right hands possess.” (Verse 25) The second condition is that they must be given their dowries, which is a right owing to them, and not to their masters. No one else has a claim to any part of that dowry: “Marry them, then, with their people’s consent and give them their dowers in an equitable manner.” (Verse 25)
THE THIRD CONDITION IS THAT THEY SHOULD BE PAID THEIR DUES IN THE FORM OF A DOWRY, AND THE ENJOYMENT MUST BE THROUGH MARRIAGE, not through fornication with one person or prostitution with many: “as chaste women who give themselves in honest wedlock, not in fornication, nor as women who have secret love companions”. Arabian society at that time was familiar with all these sorts of sexual relationships with free women, as explained in the report quoted above from `A’ishah. Prostitution among slave women was also commonplace. A number of notables would send out their slave women to earn money for them in this abominable way. `Abdullah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul, the chief of the hypocrites in Madinah and the chief of his tribe prior to Islam, had four slave women whom he set to prostitution, taking their ill-gotten gains. ISLAM CAME TO RESCUE AND PURIFY THE ARABS, AS ALL HUMANITY, FROM SUCH STINKING FILTH. We see clearly that Islam allowed only one sort of companionship between free men and those “maidens”, namely, marriage in which one woman is united with one man to form a family. There is no question of allowing the free satisfaction of desire without restraints. What men have to pay is a dowry, which they owe as a duty. It is not a payment given to a prostitute for a temporary acquaintance. Thus does Islam purify the man-woman relationship, even among slaves, of all the dirt of ignorance, into the depth of which humanity sinks every time it ignores Islam, including during our present times. Before we turn to the next statement in this Qur’anic verse, we need to reflect a little on the way the Qur’ān expresses the relationship which exists between free people and slaves in Islamic society and how Islam views this situation when it occurs in real life. The Qur’anic verse does not use a term like slave or bondswoman. Rather, it refers to them all as “maidens”. The expression runs as follows: “Any of you … may marry a believing maiden from among those whom your right hands possess.” (Verse 25)
Moreover, no racial discrimination is entertained between free and unfree people, as was practised in all societies at that time, and which divided mankind into different classes. On the contrary, the Qur’ān reminds us all that we have the same origin and establishes our relationship on the ties of humanity and faith which we all share: “God knows all about your faith: you belong to one another.” It does not describe the people who “own” a slave woman as her “masters”, but instead refers to them as her “people” or family: “Marry them, then, with their people’s consent.” The dowry such a slave woman receives is not given to her master; she has full claim to it. This means that the dowry is not included in the rule that all earnings by a slave belong to the master. The dowry is not classified as “earning”; it is a right that accrues to the woman as a result of her becoming lawful to a certain man: “And give them their dowers in an equitable manner.” Furthermore, they are not looked down upon as women who sell themselves. Indeed, the reverse is true: they are “chaste women who give themselves in honest wedlock, not in fornication, nor as women who have secret love companions”. (Verse 25) All these considerations give an honourable view of the humanity of those girls, even when they are in the situation of slavery brought about by temporary circumstances. THIS SITUATION DOES NOT AFFECT THE FACT THAT THEY ARE HUMAN BEINGS WHO MUST BE TREATED WITH RESPECT. When we compare this honourable outlook with the view which prevailed all over the world and which deprived slaves of every claim to being human like their masters, and denied them all rights to which they were entitled by virtue of being human, we can appreciate the great gulf between the two. Islam places the dignity and honour of man on a totally different level, and takes care of it in all circumstances, regardless of any temporary situation that may affect any group of people such as their slavery. When we compare how Islam legislated for this emergency situation with what victorious armies in modern times do with the women of countries defeated in war, we appreciate just how large the gap is. We all know how soldiers “entertain” themselves. Enough has been heard of the filth in which victorious armies indulge themselves everywhere, leaving behind them a terrible legacy from which societies suffer for many years.” (In The Shade of the Qur’an, by Qutb volume 3, page 81 – 83)
Scholar Abdullah Yusuf Ali:
“540 That is, captives taken Jihad: Your right hands does not mean necessarily that she has been assigned to you, or is your property. All captures in war belong to the community, they are “yours” in that sense. IF YOU SEEK SUCH A PERSON IN MARRIAGE, DO IT FROM NO BASE MOTIVES. SAFEGUARD YOUR FAITH, and see that she too does believe. In that case, after all, she is of the human brotherhood, and her condition is accidental and redeemable. If the slave bore a child to her master, she would become free. (R).” (The Meaning of The Noble Qur’an, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, page 53, online source)
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