Slave women in the Islamic StateWith a detailed price list published on 16 October last year (21 Dhu al-hija 1435), ISIS formalised the slaves market (sûq al-nikhâsa): 50,000 dinars for a woman aged between 40 and 50, 75,000 for a woman aged between 30 and 40, 100,000 for a woman aged between 20 and 30, and 150,000 dinars for a girl aged between 10 and 20. The highest price? 200,000 dinars, for girls aged between 1 and 9. It is prohibited to acquire more than three women, though Turks, Syrians and Gulf Countries are excluded from this ban. A few days after this list was published there followed a second text by the research department and the fatwas of Islamic State, produced by ISIS's publishers, the Maktabat al-Himma, and disseminated by many jihadist websites and a few Arab newspapers, entitled "Questions and answers on prisoners of war and slaves" (Su’âl wa-jawâb fî al-sabî wa al-riqâb). The five-page pamphlet regulates the status of women taken captive and enslaved, and rules what is legal and illegal in the relationship with their master, so that whoever buys a slave knows exactly what rights they hold over her.
The rights derive from some Koranic verses and a few traditions, taken out of context and quoted in order to endorse the practice of slavery. ISIS's method is a dangerous one, and testifies to the ongoing crisis of the interpretation of Islam and the danger of an increasingly-widespread attitude in fundamentalist circles, which seeks to justify any action, even the most vile, "by way of verses". To be free from this, adoption of a historical approach to interpretation now seems unavoidable in the Muslim world, or rather an interpretation of Koranic content in the light of the context in which they emerged. Otherwise momentary political benefit will always prevail.
To illustrate the problem, one need only mention a few extracts from the pamphlet by way of example: "the prisoner of war is a woman of the ahl al-harb, the people of war, and what makes her lawful is her unbelief (kufr)". But not all unbelievers can be captured and brought to the dâr al-islâm, the abode of Islam, we read in the document. Islamic State in fact agrees with the idea that only women of the Book - that is Jewish and Christian women - and polytheistic women, may lawfully be enslaved, while an apostate woman (murtadda) may not be reduced to a state of slavery however serious the position in which she finds herself is.
With the purchase made, the master is allowed to have sexual relations with his slave on the basis of the Koranic verse that reads: "[the believers will prosper] who keep themselves chaste, except with the wives and slave girls that they possess" (Koran 23:5-6). Provided, however, that the man has sole ownership. That means that if two or more people share in the purchase of a female prisoner, the one who wants to join with the woman must first acquire the share of the other owners, or the other owners may give it to them. The pamphlet explains that you can "sell, buy and give away the prisoners as they are a mere property (mahdh mâl)", which means that on the death of the slave's owner, along with all other goods, the prisoners are part of the inheritance, carefully regulated by the document.
The master may beat his slave "for educational purposes, but it is forbidden to beat her causing her fractures to satisfy his own desire or to torture her, and it is forbidden to strike her on the face". The woman is obviously not allowed to rebel, as one of the most serious crimes that a slave can commit is escaping from her master. In this case - the research department and fatwas of Islamic State explain - "even if the law of God does not rule a punishment, it is good to inflict an exemplary punishment on the woman in order to deter other slaves from escaping". As for marriage, the pamphlet states that it is inappropriate for a free man to marry a slave, whether she be Muslim or a woman of the book (kitâbiyya), that is Jewish or Christian, unless the man does not fear committing the sin of fornication (zinâ). In this case the marriage would be allowed on the basis of the Koranic verse that reads: "And those of you who do not have the means to marry free believing women, choose your wife from unmarried slaves and believers" (Koran 4:25).
Always referring to the Koran, the department of research and fatwas contemplates the possibility of liberating the slaves. Liberating a slave is in fact considered a meritorious action based on what one reads in the sura of the Land: "And who will make you understand the ascendant path? It is redeeming a slave" (Koran 90:12-13), and in a saying of the Prophet that promises heaven to whoever frees a slave: "Whoever frees a slave as a believer in God frees the members from the Fire" (a saying handed down by Muslims). Not forgetting, moreover, that in sharia it is possible to expiate a sin by freeing a slave, as the final part of the document recalls. The sharia ruled for this type of expiation (kaffâra) for three crimes: perjury (al-hinth fî al-yamîn), unjust killing (qatl khata') and the threat of zihâr, a form of divorce which was prevalent during the pre-Islamic period that consisted of saying to one’s own wife "for me you are like the back of my mother (zihâr)", thus establishing immediate divorce from the woman.
The document in question has aroused much controversy in almost all Arab countries, especially in Egypt. Assuming that "God Almighty has ennobled man, has made him his servant on earth and made him free because only he is needed", the former deputy Egyptian Minister of Religious Affairs, Sâlim ‘Abd al-Jalîl, said that slavery (al-raqq) is an ancient phenomenon, dating from the pre-Islamic age of jâhiliyya, and that it should have been overcome long ago, ever since God invited Muhammad and the sharia to abolish it. The minister distances himself from this practice, also recalling a saying of the Prophet, warning the men who turn to it: "On the day of the resurrection (yawm al-qiyâma) I shall contest three [types] of men: the man who came to me and then disowned me, the man who sold a free person and was illegally enriched with the money obtained from this sale, the man who has taken a servant into his service, benefited from their services and did not effectuate payment".
A strong condemnation was also expressed by the Observatory of the Takfirist Fatwas, an institute recently established by the Egyptian mufti to monitor the Fatwas that contain accusations of unbelief (takfîr), in the context of a programme aimed at combating terrorism. In a dossier published on the 7th of December, the observatory listed the crimes committed by ISIS, including those which harm the rights of women proposing the precepts of Islam as a pretext and reveals the international consequences of the actions of ISIS. Specifically, the report states that: 1) the terrorists despise the woman and exploit her in the worst ways to achieve their own abject ends that have nothing to do with Islam, 2) the offering of women is an important part of terrorist organisations because they allow you to attract people and advance new members, 3) the separatists from al-Qaida [ISIS] have created a foundation, the al-Zawrâ’ Foundation, reserved for women in order to prepare them for war, to teach them to bear arms and bring other girls to the organisation, 4) membership of western girls in the terrorist organisations has led to an increase in Islamophobia in Europe and the rise of right-wing parties, 5) the leaders of ISIS exploit women who have become detached from al-Qaida in order to achieve their own objectives, 6) the violation of the rights of women by the terrorist organisation has nothing to do with any religion. It is pure exploitation of women in the name of Islam.
The observatory also highlights the extent of the changes that are taking place within terrorist organisations in relation to the role of women. Allowing them to perform executive duties, unlike al-Qaeda, ISIS manages to attract a large number of women who find a form of negative "emancipation" within this organisation. In his view a spiral of violence against women has been triggered on two levels: the partisans (munâsirât) who are fighting against other women and the militants of the social networks who are waging their war online.
In any case, and despite the importance, both in theory and practice, of the considerations of the Observatory, the hermeneutic crux raised by ISIS appears to remain unresolved.