Slavery and Polygyny – Islamic Hypocrisy

Aboard an Arab slave boat, in 1869

Aboard an Arab slave boat, in 1869

Muhammad had many slaves. He was a slave owner.

He also had sex with his slaves. He owned the women, and had sex with them.

Muhammad was also a polygynist.

Today, many islamic scholars claim that slavery is not allowed any more. They claim that slavery was only allowed in the historical context, but not any more. They “prove” this by referring to the quran and hadiths saying e.g. that a way to atone for a sin is to free a slave. And since freeing a slave is said to be a good thing, slavery has been abolished, and that is islamically correct. They also say that since slavery was heavily restricted, that goes to show that it was disliked, and hence it is correct to abolish slavery. There are some muslim scholars who claim that slavery is still allowed, as is having sex with your slaves, since Muhammad did this and everything that he did is perfect. These scholars seem to be exceptions though, not the rule.

Then how about polygyny?

Polygyny is only explicitly allowed in one single verse in the quran, and in An Nisa there are clearly stated restrictions, the man must be custodian of orphans and fearing not to be able to live up to that responsibility, he must not only be absolutely fair to his wives – he must harbour no fear whatsoever that he’d ever risk being unfair to them!

So Muhammad was a slave-owner and a polygynist. He didn’t free all his slaves. Today however, islamic laws have abandoned slavery while maintaining polygyny. Why?

The quran restricts slavery as well as polygyny. Today however, islamic laws have abandoned slavery while maintaining polygyny. Why?

The quran allows a man to fuck his slaves, to keep him from zina. Islam allows polygyny to keep men from zina. Today however, islamic laws have abandoned slavery while maintaining polygyny. Why?

Islamic scholars today say that slavery in the quran and hadiths must be interpreted within the limitations of historical context. What about polygyny? Today islamic laws have abandoned slavery while maintaining polygyny. Why?

Muslims in favour of polygyny often argue that we can not make haram what Allah has made halal. Slavery is not haram in the quran, nor in the hadiths. Today however, islamic laws have abandoned slavery while maintaining polygyny. Why?

I’d like to quote a text about slavery in Georgia:

The parallel between the mechanisms of slavery in christian Georgia, and women in islam is all too obvious.
Most muslim nations however have banned slavery, although it is allowed in the quran. Polygyny often remains legal.
It’s a worldwide truth, that misogyny is an even stronger force than racism.

18 thoughts on “Slavery and Polygyny – Islamic Hypocrisy

  1. Misogyny is based on a lie that woman are inferior to men & that God created them that way & that their only role in life (first & foremost) is to serve their husbands & have their children & be ruled over by males .The slavery of the blacks is based on a lie that white people are superior to blacks & that God made them that way.All lies from man not God.
    Jesus said “You shall know the truth & the truth shall set you free” Thank you Fiona for posting this subject.I have always looked at polygamy as slavery because it is & it’s justification is based on a lie.

  2. I think you’ve put this piece together quite nicely, and it certainly does merit not just responses from your usual readers, but the ulama at large.

  3. Great post Fiona! It’s time Islam considers to have another look at authenticity of what their religion preaches and whether they want to stick to 1000 year old customs or grow to allow basic human rights to women. I often think of Gandhi. There are many evidences of so many morally wrong things he did but still people consider him Holy man and some Indian people almost worship him. I think true test of a person is what they do when they have power, fame etc and when people blindly follow them. Unfortunately most men tent to take advantage when in power that itself is a good indicator that there is need to make sure that they should not be given power over women. Basically no human being should be given power over another just because they are a specific gender, color, race, religion etc.

  4. I believe that as one of the youngest religions on Earth, Islam has not yet “grown up.” Christianity took over 1500 years before it reached the point where its adherents could break off into different sects and survive successfully without killing each other. Islam is still stuck in the “my interpretation is better than yours” toddler stage where Sunni and Shia are still duking it out over which version should take precedence. In the middle of this is it any surprise that they have yet to allow more modern moral interpretations to take effect in their holy text?

    It wasn’t until Martin Luther that Christians were allowed (as a whole) to have vernacular bibles. His inadvertent separation from the Roman Catholic Church allowed Christianity to grow and find its roots in places it couldn’t reach before, as well as giving Christians a chance to learn how to live with people who had different beliefs without having to kill each other. Granted, it was not a smooth or violence-free transition, but it is the time when Christianity grew up from its initial “believe the way the Church tells you to or die with your soul imperiled / possibly excommunicated”.

    Islam is just now reaching the stage where this sort of reformation can happen, but it has the added burden that from the start (after Mohammad’s death) of two different sects that disagree on so many fundamental principals. Which means the process of becoming all it could be will probably be protracted, taking much longer than its predecessors to reach the point of “reasoned adulthood.” Just look at ISIS / the Islamic State. They are fighting so hard to go back to the Golden Years that Never Existed.

  5. Thank you Fiona,

    This comparison has needed to be made for a very long time. You are an incredibly smart and insightful person.

    I agree 100% with Jamylah on this, it needs responses from a wide range of people. I’d be interested to see what the regulars on other blog have to contribute to this. Instead of the blind “its halal its halal its halal” chanting. Ladies, please analyse this.

    Personally I think this comes from muslim men/scholars/imams having empathy with slaves but not with women enduring polygamy. Respect for men is sooo important in islam that men can understand how it must feel to be a slave, inferior, worth less etc. So they adjusted the rules over time. It was something they could relate to.

    In comparison the same men do not understand what its like for a woman in polygamy. Hence there had been no urgency to change that practise. Its also about sex. Lets be honest. If muslim men had to give up polygamy it would mean less sexual variety during their lifetime because of the restrictions put on sex outside marriage, divorce etc.

    You are so correct Fiona. If there are enough indications in the quran that slavery is not preferred (despite being halal) there are equally as many indications polygamy is not preferred (despite also being halal).

    This should be posted on an islamic forum for a discussion.

  6. Sorry to diverge Fiona, but still relevant…

    Polygamy actually destroys the sisterhood that is meant to existbin Islam.

    Rivalry aside, many muslim women are terrified that their husbands may meet and fancy one of their friends.

    Single female muslims especially can relate to this (reverts especially too maybe). They often will not be invited to family homes because they are single.

    Once shes married she will find she is invited more to other womens homes.

  7. I agree with Jamylah, this is actually a pretty good piece, and one that needs to be read by the Islamic higher authorities and common Muslims. The logic that is applied for slavery but not polygyny, although both pretty much have the same backgrounds to how they came about.

  8. This is what I think. If something is compulsory it is needed at all times, if something is forbidden then it is not needed at all times. If something is just allowed however then I think it depends on the culture and our interpretation/practice should be readjusted to suit the new times. Slavery and polygamy in my opinion are not encouraged and so unless there are situations similar to the times in 6 century Arabia when they were needed then there is no need to practice them. There may be people now who need it though.

  9. A:
    About slavery (and polygamy), you concluded: “There may be people now who need it though.”

    Do you mean that are some slaves who need to be slaves, or some slave owners who need to own slaves?

  10. Which was the point exactly. So if all homeless people e.g. would be better of as slaves, why can’t we be slave owners like Muhammad, only polygynists?

  11. Who said homeless people are better off as slaves? They’re better off working as opposed to begging. Islam did not abolish slavery as the islamic state did not have the financial capabilities to look after the tens of thousands who would come under their control in one go following battles etc. Islam believes in a welfare state therefore rules were put on slaves to eventually abolish it. Polygamy was not intended to be abolished but society has changed now and therefore the fatwas etc should be revised

  12. Fiona I’ve found a fatwa which just cannot be missed. You have to make a post on it. Its from the radical fatwa site IslamWeb and what is said in this fatwa can be a breakthrough for radical Muslims.


    I married three years ago and I have a daughter. My wife loves me and I love her too. Although my wife is beautiful, there are some physical features which have become important to me and are not found in my wife. I know that Islam allows me to marry even four wives at the same time. Nevertheless, I know that my wife will not accept my second marriage and there will be many problems. It is the custom of women in our country not to simply accept polygamy. I am now confused. I know that Islam allows me to marry another woman but I am afraid of problems. Is it better for me to keep patient and curb my desire in order to keep my wife and daughter away from problems? Will I be rewarded for patience by Allaah The Almighty? May Allaah Reward you.


    All perfect praise be to Allaah, The Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allaah, and that Muhammad , is His Slave and Messenger.

    Patience occurs either when something bad takes place or when one misses something that he loves and desires. One is rewarded for patience in the two cases when he does so sincerely for the Sake of Allaah The Almighty and seeks His reward. Refraining from having more than one wife in order not to hurt her feelings or to avoid the consequent problems is included in the second type of patience. One is rewarded for this when he remains patient for the Sake of Allaah and seeks His reward.

    The questioner should know that the human soul usually aspires to what it is does not have. If you married a second wife, you would still desire others, and so on.

    Allaah Knows best.

  13. Again, if e.g. homeless people or refugees would believe they’re better off than slaves, why do islamic nations today not wish for them to have that possibility? Read my original post again – there is NOTHING in the quran or in the hadiths that says slavery is haram. So why does modern islam make slavery haram while polygyny remains halal. You yourself say Muhammad was an example as a polygynist, but not as a slave owner. You write: “Islam did not abolish slavery as the islamic state did not have the financial capabilities to look after the tens of thousands who would come under their control in one go following battles etc. Islam believes in a welfare state therefore rules were put on slaves to eventually abolish it. Polygamy was not intended to be abolished but society has changed now and therefore the fatwas etc should be revised” I would like to se any kind of original sources to back those claims. These are just fabricated opinions, they have nothing to do with sunnah or the quran.

  14. Thank you! I do hope the poor woman who wrote a few days ago, Shukranforhelp, reads this!

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