Concubinage in Islam



I am a History student and I have a particular interest in the history of the Islamic world, particularly Ottoman history. The Ottoman sultans all had many lawfully married wives, but also kept many ‘concubines’ in their household ,who were simply there for the sultan’s sexual pleasure and general entertainment. The Ottoman sultan would have hundreds of concubines sometimes over his lifetime, as well as his legal wives, and the justification often given is that the slave girls were ‘ma malakat iymanihum‘ ,referred to many times in the Qur’an. However, this has always not sat completely comfortably with me (either rightfully or wrongly) and I want to know if these actions of the Ottoman sultans ,and other Muslim rulers in fact, are truly justifiable from an Islamic perspective. Inshallah I hope you can clarify this for me.


Wa `alaykum salam,

The concubinage structure was a way to save war captives from destitute widowhood and orphanhood through a palatial life that also provided a form of education and many of those concubines ended up emancipated and in lawful marriages. The Ottoman Sultans had other things on their minds than pleasure and entertainment even if they were men, not angels. There were pragmatic social and political dynamics at play and not just the Western fantasy of a sexual harem a la Delacroix.

Hajj Gibril Haddad

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