The term "Right Hands Possessed" in the Quran
The term ‘ma malakat aymanukum’ (Literally: What your right hands possesses) is not gender specific and as an idiomatic expression, applies to ‘those that one keeps in protection and honour’. This can include captives, slave girls, maidens, servants (fatayatikum 4:25) etc. Please note that the ‘right hand’ has a somewhat glorified meaning in the Quran which is apparent from its usage in different contexts (e.g. those on the right hand in heaven; books of one’s deeds given to the right hand etc).
It is also apt to note that affluent women would have also most likely to have possessed men slaves. This is confirmed by the usage of the idiomatic expression 'ma malakat aymanuhunna' when used in reference to women's possession.
‘Malakat aymanukum’ which can literally be rendered as ‘right hands possess’, appears many times in the Quran and in a variety of contexts.
Ma malakat aymanukum
What your right hands possess (2nd person masculine plural) *
(4:25; 4:36; 24:33)
Ma malakat yaminuka
What your right hands possess (2nd person masculine single)
Alazeena malakat ayymanukum
Those whom your right hands possess * (2nd person masculine plural)
Ma malakat aymanuhum
What their right hands possess * (3rd person masculine plural)
Ma malakat aymanuhunna
What their right hands possess (3rd person feminine plural)
* Please take note that masculine plurals can also be a reference to a group of both males and females. Therefore, restricting the interpretation of the term to just ‘females’ is unwarranted from the Quranic Arabic.
The following points must be noted with regards to 'those that your right hands possess' from the Quran.
(1) Be good to them as you are with your parents, orphans, needy, neighbours and free them if you can [4:36]
(2) Do not compel them to whoredom or force them [22:33]
(3) You can only have sex with them through marriage / wedlock [4:25]
The above is edited from the website: Joseph A Islam, www.quransmessage.com
Furthermore, “Ma Malakat Aimanukum” is one of the most misunderstood, misused and abused term of the Quran. It is usually taken as to mean “female slave”. However, it must be borne in mind that there is a specific word in Arabic language for female slaves and this word has been used at least twice in the Quran, once as a singular [“amatun” which is used in 2:221] and secondly as a plural [“imaaun”, which is used in 24:32].
“Ma Malakat Aimanukum” literally has the following renderings: “what your right hands possess”, or “what you rightfully have” or “what is rightfully yours” or “what your [already] have” could be any of the following:
-Your possession, or property
-Your slave or Prisoner of War (POW) [both male and female] because “Ma Malakat Aimanukum” refers to a neutral gender which is applicable to both male and female.
In further analysis of the term “Ma Malakat Aimanukum”.
The word “Malakat” has the root meem-laam-kaaf [M-L-K]. Its primary signification is:
-To possess or own, particularly with ability to have it to oneself exclusively
Other meanings include:
-To have power to command or exercise authority
-To take over
Note one of the meanings is “to marry”. This is according to dictionaries of Arabic language [Lisan-ul-Arab by Ibn-Manzoor Vol. 13, page 184]. Another dictionary of Modern Arabic also describes this meaning [The Hans Wehrs Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, page 1081].
According to Lisan-ul-Arab, al-milaak means:
-The bond of holy matrimony. According to the same dictionary, milaakun also means:
The word “milkun” which has plural “amlaak” means:
The word “mulkun” means:
-Right of possession [what is rightfully yours]
In the term “Ma Malakat Aimanukum”, the word MALAKAT is in the PAST tense, which signifies “What you ALREADY have”, or “what you ALREADY possess” or “what CAME in your possession”. The word, grammatically, cannot be taken as to mean “what you WILL possess” or “what you WILL have”. The future or present tense form of this word is altogether different and has been used in various verses of Quran [5:17, 5:76, 10:31, 13:16, 16:76, 17:56, 19:87, 20:89, 25:3, 29:7, 34:22, 34:42, 35:13, 39:43, 43:86, 82:19]
Note: "Ma Malakat Aimanukum" means those who are already in your possession. This is stated in the past tense, meaning something that has been done before the ministry of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him). For the future, The Quran completely closed the door on slavery by (inregards to prisoners of war [slaves]), the clear order of after over powering them [enemy] : either be gracious to them - let them go, or else take ransom and let them free [eg. prisoner exchange] (47:4). Thus these newly converts [Muslims/Believers] were prohibited from enslaving ever since 47:4 was revealed by God in the Quran, forever.
As for the word “Aimanukum”.
The word “Aimanun” is the plural of “Yaminun” and means or implies “Right hands”. The root of this word is ya-meem-noon [Y-M-N].
The word “Yaminun” also means:
The word “Yumnun”, has the same root Y-M-N and means:
Side Note “Marriage” is also a covenant [as described in Quran] and an event of auspiciousness, hence suitability of the use of word “Aimanun” in context of marriage too.
From the above it can be seen that “Ma Malakat Aimanukum”, may not only refer to “slave” [which may be either male or female] but also to:
-Prisoners of war
-What is rightfully yours
Moreover, another important word [which is used as conjunction] must also be explained. The word is “AW”, used in the phrase “aw ma malakat aymanukum”. “AW” is usually translated as “OR”. There is no doubt that “OR” is one of the meanings of “AW” but as a matter of fact, this word is used in no less than 12 different ways [also explained in Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon]. One of the uses of this word is TAFSEEL, [i.e. elaborative or explanatory]. In other words, “aw” is also used to add some meaning to the previous word or to explain a previous word or to give some attribute or characteristics of the previous word.
In the Quran 17:110, there is a phrase “odAAoo Allaha awi odAAoo alrrahmana”. Note carefully how “Allah” and “Rahman” are separated by the word “aw”. Here “aw” does not imply that “Allah” and “Rahman” are two different Beings. Without doubt, “Allah” and “Rahman” is one and the same Being. “Rahman” is an attribute of “Allah”.
Now refer to verses 23:6 and 70:30.
23:6 Illa AAala azwajihim aw ma malakat aymanuhum fainnahum ghayru maloomeena
70:30 Illa AAala azwajihim aw ma malakat aymanuhum fainnahum ghayru maloomeena
In both the above verses, “azwajihim” and “ma malakat aymanuhum” are separated by “aw”. Here it does not mean that “azwajihim” and “ma malakat aymanuhum” are two subject/topic matters. Actually, they refer to one and the same subject/topic matter. “azwajihim” ARE “ma malakat aymanuhum” i.e. the subject/topic matter being marriage, therefore “their spouses” are “what they rightfully possess” [through wed lock].
In 4:24, the term “ma malakat aymanukum” refers to those married women which are wives of the disbelievers [as explained in 60:10]. The verse 4:24 makes unlawful to marry all married women except those married women that have come to the believers (may include prisoners of wars albeit improbable) as emigrants but their husbands are non-believers. [After becoming believers, Quran renders their previous marriage to the unbelievers, null].
In 4:3, the term “ma malakat aymanukum” means “what you rightfully possess” or “what you [already] have”.
In 33:52, the Prophet is forbidden to marry any more women in spite of their beauty except to marry only "right hands possessed" referred in 60:10, to make them part of the family and give them status.
God’s message has never permitted men to engage in sex outside the institution of marriage whether this is from the category of free believing women, or from the category of 'right hands possess'. All sources that claim that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing upon him) practiced or endorsed sex outside of wed lock are unwarranted from the Quran’s perspective.
For Believers [Muslims] the Quran must be the ultimate criterion for judging all 'secondary sources.' Those who claim to follow Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) should take heed of the following verse:
Say: "Shall I seek for judge other than God? - when He it is Who hath sent unto you the Book, explained in detail." They know full well, to whom We have given the Book, that it hath been sent down from thy Lord in truth. Never be then of those who doubt. [6.114]
And Allah knows best.