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Interpretation of Sura an-Nur - Verse 33

Adopted from the book: "The Light of the Holy Qur'an - Interpretation of Sura an-Nur" by: "Sayyid Kamal Faghih Imani & a Group of Muslim Scholars"

33. "And let those who do not find the means to marry keep (themselves) chaste until Allah enriches them out of His grace. And those of your slaves who seek a writing (of emancipation), write it for them if you know any good in them, and give them of the wealth of Allah which He has bestowed upon you; and do not compel your slave girls to prostitution when they desire chastity, in order that you may make a gain in the life of the world; and whoever compels them, then (unto them), verily after their compulsion, Allah will be Forgiving, Merciful."


Not having spouse will not give someone permission to commit sin,so one must be patient and chaste. In order to save public chastity and purity, both the youth must try to save themselves and government must get down at it and the rich must embark on it."... and give them of the wealth of Allah..."

Of course, authorities of the society and the rich must be first recommended to do something, and then unmarried individuals must be advised to be chaste and pure.But since in spite of all attempts and endeavours carried out by individuals and others, marriage does not take place and one has to, willingly or unwillingly, remain single for a length of time, so this person must not think that he is permitted to be sexually defiled. Therefore in this holy verse the command of purity is issued though observing it may be difficult for them. It says:

"And let those who do not find the means to marry keep (themselves) chaste until Allah enriches them out of His grace...."

In this crucial and trial phase the unmarried ones should not get involved in this defilement and exempt ones' selves, because no excuse is accepted, but the power of faith, personality, and piety must be tested in this phase.

Today the issue of marriage gets so complicated that it is turned into an arduous or impassable path because of wrong customs and even superstitions, yet marriage is, regardless of all these manly-added things, an innate matter and in line with the rule of creation. Man needs a sound and healthy marriage for continuation of human generation, for tranquility of psyche and body, and for solving problems of life. And man must protect himself from any kind of pollution.

Then, in view of the fact that in any occasion that slaves are mentioned, Islam pays a special attention to their freedom, the verse turns from the discussion of marriage to the discussion of manumitting and freeing slaves, which is done through 'Mukatibah' (entering a written contract in which slaves work and pay their employer some money by installment and then they will be free). It says:

"... And those of your slaves who seek a writing (of emancipation), write it for them if you know any good in them, ..."

The purpose of the Qur'anic sentence /'alimtum fihim xayran/ (if you know any good in them) is that they (slaves) must have grown enough and be competent enough to carry out such a contract. They must be able to live independently when the amount of money they promised to pay is shelled out completely. But if they cannot do it and on the whole this matter causes them losses and consequently they will be a burden to society, this matter should be delayed until the time that they are competent and able.

Then, in order to make no trouble for slaves when they pay this money by installment, it is said:

"... and give them of the wealth of Allah which He has bestowed upon you; ..."

Commentators have different opinions upon the purpose of this 'wealth' that must be given to slaves:

Many commentators say: its purpose is to pay them a part of alms-tax, as it is said in verse 60 of Sura At-Taubah, so that they can pay their debt and then be free.

Some others say: its purpose is that the owner of the slave spares some of the debt and if he has received it he returns it to them so that they can afford more to get freed from slavery.

Another possibility is that at the beginning when slaves begin working and they do not have financial means, the owner must give them subsidy or some capital so that they can start a business and can manage their life and carry out their installments both.

Of course the above three comments are not inconsistent and it is possible that all of them to be included in the concept of the verse. The real purpose is to get Muslims help this poor and oppressed group so that they get freed sooner. It is clear, of course, that the matter of slavery is a social phenomenon, which was prevalent before Islam and Islam did not develop it.

Therefore Islam not only does not approve it, but also it sets various ways and methods to limit this phenomenon and wipe out this evil tree. Islam first struggled against the interests of slavery. In the old times if a debtor could not afford his debts, he would become the salve of the leaner. Islam barred this approach. In old times defeated soldiers became the salves of victorious army. Islam freed those who were defeated in the Battle of Badr on the condition of teaching those who were illiterates and also Islam freed some through paying compensation. Then Islam paved grounds in Islamic society to make the path of getting free for.slaves.

One of the uses of alms-tax is buying and freeing slaves. In Islam, if an owner wounds his slave, that salve is free. Breaking fast, accidental homicide and failing in performing an oath must be atoned and it is possible that a person frees some slaves as atonement.

One of the ways is 'Mukatibah' that is recommended in the above verse and it is advised that if there is some good in slave you may free him.Possibly this is its purpose that if there is benefit for the slave to be free you must answer his request positively. There happen many times that this freedom is not good for him, and maybe it is because of this that Islam has struggled with slavery gradually.

The Arabic word 'Mukatibah' is derived from the word 'Kitibat' and the word 'Kitabat' is derived from the Arabic word 'Kataba', which means to gather. The act of writing in Arabic called 'Kitabat' because alphabets and words are gathered in a phrase. And since in 'Mukatibah' a contract is usually written between the owner and a slave, it is called 'Mukatibah'.

Contractual enfranchisement is a contract that is between these two persons; wherein the slave is obliged to obtain some money through free business and pay to his owner by installment and so regains his freedom. The payment must be in a way that the slave can afford. And it has been commanded that the sum of these successive payments must not be more than the value of the slave.

And if the slave cannot pay his debts for some reasons, his debts must be paid by allocating a part of ahns-tax (Zakat) as well as through Muslim public treasury. Even some Islamic jurists specify that if the owner is to pay alms-tax, he himself must substitute his slave's debts for his ahns-tax that is to be paid.

Moreover, if Muslims are the victorious party of a war and take war prisoners, there are some different choices to treat these prisoners:

1 . To free all prisoners at once and in this case war begins again.

2 . To kill all of them and that is the sign of Muslims' cruelty.

3 . To set up a camp for them and sustain them by using Muslim public treasury. In this way innocent people must pay the expense of the wrongdoers.

4. To sent them among Muslims so that they view Islam and Muslims morals. In this way they may gradually be influenced and become Muslim, and then we free them through various ways. This plan is the best and Islam's plan is the same.

Let us pass this matter, for the system of war was in this way at that time, that a prisoner was used as a slave and Islam reciprocated it. As today prisoners are kept in camps and we also must observe international rules of war to the extent that these rules are consistent with our religion.

Then one of the evil acts of some worldly persons toward slaves is mentioned in the verse, where it says:

"... and do not compel your slave girls to prostitution when they desire chastity, in order that you may make a gain in the life of the world;..."

Some of commentators have said about the occasion of revelation of this phrase: Abdullah Ibn 'Ubayy had six salve girls. He compelled them to sell their honour for earning money for him. When the ordinance of Islam about struggling against unchaste acts (in this Sura) was issued, the slave girls came to the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) and complained about this matter. Then, at this time, the above verse was revealed and prohibited this action. 65

This verse shows that people were so much involved in immoral corruption and deviation in the Age of Ignorance that even after the advent of Islam some people used to continue their previous acts. This status existed until the time when this verse was sent down and put an end to this condition. But unfortunately in our age, in some countries (that they advocate civilization and human rights,) this action is seen very easily.

Even in our country, when the previous regime was ruling, this matter was carried out terribly, where the innocent girls and ignorant women were deceived and led to the centers of wickedness, and they were forced to be unchaste by means of devilish schemes. They could not escape at all. In this way a lot of money was earned and explanation of this poignant matter cannot be done here.

Slavery does not apparently exist as before but, in this so-called civilized world, some crimes are committed which are worse than the age of slavery. May Allah save the people of the world from these pseudo-civilized men! We thank Allah that such shameful crimes have considerably been wound up in Iran after Islamic Revolution.

It is necessary to mention that the purpose of the Qur'anic sentence: /'in aradna tahassunan/ "... when they desire chastity ..." is not that if women themselves would like to do this evil act, there is no problem to force them. When there is compulsion to do something, willingness to do it is not meaningful. Reluctance is true when there is lack of willing or tendency, otherwise, being unchaste and encouraging others to be unchaste is a great sin, anyway.

This sentence is for the fact that if the owners of these salve girls had a little jealousy, their jealousy would be hurt. The concept of this verse is that these slave girls who were apparently at a lower social level would not like to be unchaste, why did they go along with this wickedness?

At the end of the verse, as it is the approach of the Holy Qur'an, the path of return is not closed to wrongdoers and they are encouraged to go back, repent and atone. It continues saying:

"... and whoever compels them, then (unto them), verily after their compulsion, Allah will be Forgiving, Merciful."

As we said before, this sentence may refer to the condition of the salve girls' owners who were penitent for their gloomy and evil past and they were ready to do repentance and edify themselves. Or it refers to the women who were compelled and forced to this unchaste action.


65. Majma' ul-Bayan and QurtAbi Commentary

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