"Marriage-like Cohabitation" with Female Slave Captives (i.e., Concubinage): Institutionalized Violence and the Family Structure in Islam

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 08:45
Oral Presentation
Suzanne JOSEPH, independent scholar, USA
Slavery denotes an extreme form of violent dehumanization with concubinage recalling women slaves as victims of sexual (as opposed to economic) exploitation in particular. Islam is believed to have softened the blow of slavery, but it did not eliminate that blow. In terms of marriage and perpetuation of the family, both contractual marriage with a free woman and "marriage-like cohabitation" with an enslaved woman were permissible. While it is true that freeing a slave was regarded as a religious virtue, evidence argues against romanticization of slavery. It was illegal for a “master” to force a slave woman into prostitution; nevertheless, male slaveholders enjoyed legally sanctioned sexual access to a slave wo-man’s body. Similarly, although slaves could marry, they required the “master’s” permission to do so. Female parity within Islam is often inferred from the doctrine of sexual exclusivity—the requirement that women, free and enslaved alike, are only permitted one licit sexual partner at a time. However, the doctrine was applied differently to enslaved women and undermined by the fact that a child born to a concubine was not automatically considered legitimate. Muslim “masters” were encouraged, but not required, to acknowledge children born by their slaves. Thus, there appears to be an implicit assumption that concubines were often engaged in non-licit, non-exclusive sex. Yet other evidence suggests that enslaved women were seen as sexually “unchaste.” Specifically, freedom from slavery was seen as a requisite of chastity, prompting some jurists to declare male intermarriage with non-Muslim women of the Book unlawful if that woman was a slave. Primary source material from the nineteenth century will be used to frame questions on concubinage and the family structure in Islam. Conceptual-empirical insights from anthropology, sociology, history, and women’s studies will also be sought to broaden our understanding of nonlethal/lethal masculine violence within intimate relationships.