“According to an obscure ruling in Islamic law, cited by the Islamic State, a man must ensure that the woman he enslaves is free of child before having intercourse with her.” — from this New York Times article, March 12, 2016.
Possibly the most horrifying of the Islamic State’s practices has been the systematic sexual enslavement of Yazidi women by and for its fighters. Since August 2014, thousands of Yazidi girls and women have been taken from their families, warehoused, and put on display in viewing rooms where they are inspected by potential buyers among the Muslims. Having examined the goods, these fighters make their choice and then sign a sales contract for these girls, who have now become their property that they are allowed to do with as they wish, including using them for sexual gratification, and then to resell them to others.
The IS fighters have been taught that because these Yazidi girls practice a religion other than Islam, and one without the minimal protections afforded to those who are fellow People of the Book (ahl al-kitab) with a written scripture, that is Christians and Jews, Muslim men have not only a right, but a positive religious duty to rape them.
In the moments before he raped the 12-year-old girl, the Islamic State fighter took the time to explain that what he was about to do was not a sin. Because the preteen girl practiced a religion other than Islam, the Quran not only gave him the right to rape her—it condoned and encouraged it.
He bound her hands and gagged her. Then he knelt beside the bed and prostrated himself in prayer before getting on top of her. When it was over, he knelt to pray again, bookending the rape with acts of religious devotion…. ‘ I kept telling him it hurts – please stop. Drawing closer to God.”
Other girls testified to the same treatment, mixing sex and acts of devotion: “Every time that he came to rape me, he would pray. He kept telling me this is ibadah,” a term from Islamic scripture meaning “worship.” He said that raping me is his prayer to God. It’s allowed. It’s halal.
What non-Muslims may find most disturbing is how these IS fighters, capable of the repeated rape of helpless schoolgirls, and of every other conceivable kind of cruelty toward non-Muslim men as well as women, unperturbedly violate by their behavior everything we regard as humanly decent, yet are terribly worried about only one thing: breaking even a single one of the many Islamic regulations of life, whatever its content. And when it comes to the rules regulating sexual slavery, they appear to worry most about the duty a Muslim man has to make sure that before having intercourse with one of his slave women, she not be pregnant. The origin of the rule is disputed, but most likely it once had to do with ensuring that a slave girl could both continue to work and to provide sexual gratification – hence the recommendation to her owner to practice al-azl, or coitus interruptus. But once the rule is set in stone, its origins do not matter.
IS buyers of slave girls demand assurances that the girls not be pregnant, and once they’ve bought a slave-girl, these serial rapists insist on feeding their girls contraceptives of every variety, that is, they keep them in re-sellable condition.One Yazidi girl recalled that “when prospective buyers came to inquire about her, she overheard them asking for assurances that she was not pregnant, and her owner provided a box of birth control as proof.” In other examples, would-be rapists first quizzed their victims on their last menstrual cycle, or insisted that their sex slaves take a morning-after pill, or when available, gave them a dose of an injectable contraceptive, Depo-Provera. In a particularly grim case of Mother Knows Best, one Yazidi girl, known only as J., recalled that when she was sold to a new owner, “it was the man’s mother who escorted her to the hospital. ‘She told me, ‘If you are pregnant we are going to send you back.’ About 30 or 40 minutes later they came back to say I wasn’t pregnant.” The fighter’s mother triumphantly told her son that the 18-year-old was not pregnant, validating his right to rape her, which he did repeatedly.”
What all this testing for pregnancies, these contraceptives of every variety, these worries on the part of IS rapists, offers is insight into the way Muslims enslave themselves to the complex of rules regulating every area of Muslim life, including that of sexual slavery. If the rule exists, it must unswervingly be followed. If something is prescribed as halal or proscribed as haram, there need be no further discussion. No independent judgment as to its morality enters into it.
The New York Timesreporter on IS calls this rule about pregnancy and unsuitability for rape a “medieval injunction”: “[a]ccording to an obscure ruling in Islamic law cited by the Islamic State, a man must ensure that the woman he buys is free of child before having intercourse with her.” To prove she is not pregnant, the slave must complete her “waiting period” – that is, must pass one menstrual period.
But this is not a “medieval injunction.” It derives from various Hadith, including this Hadith of Abu Dawud in the 9thcentury:
Abu Said al-Khudri said: “The apostle of Allah sent a military expedition to Awtas on the occasion of the battle of Hunain. They met their enemy and fought with them. They defeated them and took them captives. Some of the Companions of the apostle of Allah were reluctant to have intercourse with the female captives in the presence of their husbands who were unbelievers. So Allah, the Exalted, sent down the Quranic verse, “And all married women (are forbidden) unto you save those (captives) whom your right hands possess”. That is to say, they are lawful for them when they complete their waiting period.” [The Quran verse is 4:24]. (Sunan Abu Dawud vol. 2, no. 2150).
The note on this Hadith says that “After the distribution of the spoils of war a man may have intercourse with the female slave after passing one menstrual period, if she is not pregnant. If she is pregnant one should wait till she delivers the child.”
The Times reporter could have used the subject of sexual slavery and birth control to describe and explain the varying degrees of authority in Islam, with the Qur’an coming first, the Hadith second, the Sira third, in importance. She might have discussed what Hadith scholars or muhaddithin took into account – the isnad-chain — in assigning rank of “authenticity” to individual Hadith, and might then also have explained how Believers assigned a rank of “authoritativeness” to the collections of Hadith by various muhaddithin (with Bukhari and Muslim considered to be most “authoritative”). Then she could have talked about the Hadith-derived rules for Muslim slaveowners.
But more importantly, she might have held up for closer inspection the way True Believers observe the rules that regulate every aspect of a Muslim’s life, completely without concern for their moral content. All of these rapists who insist on “doing the right thing” Islamically, which means providing contraceptives to their victims to ensure that they can’t get pregnant during the time that they are being raped, all those Muslim mothers delighted to discover that their son’s chosen sex slave is not presently pregnant, thereby “validating his right to rape her,” all those Muslim rapists declaring that they are by their actions fulfilling a duty of ibadah or worship – these are the ingredients of the moral upside-down-cake of Muslim theology, and not only when it comes to sexual slavery.
They may behead every other day a baker’s dozen of Christians, they may burn bound prisoners alive, they may bomb churches and kill Yazidis and slit the throats of Shia to their hearts’ content, but don’t accuse the IS members of breaking an Islamic rule about not raping pregnant women. They have standards. They listen to a higher authority.