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Sex slavery and the Islamic State

By Mark Durie - posted Friday, 3 July 2015


Jamie Walker, Middle East correspondent for The Australian,asked two critical questions in a recent article which discussed the involvement of two Australian citizens, Mohamed Elomar and Khaled Sharrouf, in Islamic State sex slavery. In 2014 Elomar purchased sex slaves, of whom four, all Yazidis, later escaped to a refugee camp where the ABC caught up with them and interviewed them. Elomar had also boasted on Twitter that he had "1 of 7 Yehzidi slave girls for sale" at $2500 each.

Walker's questions were:

"The uncomfortable questions for the Western world, including Australia, are why this debased appeal seems to be gaining traction with Islamic State's target audience, which increasingly includes women, and why it's not challenged more stridently in the public arena."

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The Islamic State has given its own answer to the first question. In the fourth edition of its magazine Dabiq it aggressively promoted sex slavery as an Islamic practice, arguing that the practice conforms to the teaching and example of Muhammad and his companions.

Does this argument have any wider appeal than among Islamic State recruits?

The reality is that many Muslim scholars have upheld the practice of enslaving captives of war. For example Islamic revivalist Abul A'la Maududi wrote in his influential and widely disseminated tract Human Rights in Islam that for Muslims to enslave their captives was "a more humane and proper way of disposing of them" than Western approaches. Enslavement by Muslims, he argued, is preferable to the provisions of the Geneva Convention because of the value of this policy for fuelling the growth of Islam:

"The result of this humane policy was that most of the men who were captured on foreign battlefields and brought to the Muslim countries as slaves embraced Islam and their descendants produced great scholars, imams, jurists, commentators, statesmen and generals of the army."

Islamic revivalist movements which look forward to the restoration of an Islamic Caliphate have repeatedly endorsed the practice of slavery in the name of their religious convictions. For example the (now banned) Muhajiroun movement in the UK announced in an article, "How does Islam Classify Lands?" that once a true Islamic State is established, no-one living in other nations (which it calls Dar al Harb 'house of war') will have a right to their life or their wealth:

"… hence a Muslim in such circumstances can then go into Dar Al Harb and take the wealth from the people unless there is a treaty with that state. If there is no treaty individual Muslims can even go to Dar Al Harb and take women to keep as slaves."

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It is a problem that the Qur'an itself endorses having sex with captive women (Sura 4:24). According to a secure tradition (hadith) attributed to one of Muhammad's companions, Abu Sa'id al-Khudri, this verse of the Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad at a time when Muslims had been 'refraining' from having sex with their married female captives. Verse 4:24 relieved them of this restraint by giving them permission to have sex with captive women even if the women were already married.

Abd-al-Hamid Siddiqui, a Fellow of the Islamic Research Academy of Karachi and the translator into English of the Sahih Muslim, commented on this tradition, saying: "When women are taken captive their previous marriages are automatically annulled. It should, however, be remembered that sexual intercourse with these women is lawful with certain conditions."

There have been many cases reported across the centuries of Islamic armies using captive women for sex slavery, but is this any different from all wars? It is different in one important respect, that the mainstream of Islamic jurisprudence has justified and supported this practice on the basis of Islam's canonical sources, including Muhammad's own example and teaching. Islamic sex slavery is religiously sanctioned 'guilt-free sex'.

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About the Author

Dr Mark Durie is a theologian, human rights activist, Anglican pastor, a Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, Adjunct Research Fellow of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at Melbourne School of Theology, and founding director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness.

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