Interpretation of the phrase, “maa malakat aymaanukum


One of the most abused expression in the Quran is “maa malakat aymaanukum”, and its word for word translation is “maa (what), malakat (possess in perfect verb form), aymaanukum (your right hands)”, which literally means “what has possessed your right hands”. Many traditional Muslim scholars have abused this statement and made lawful the owners to have sex with their female slaves (servants). They have also introduced short term (temporary) marriage called “muta marriage”; even have made rape of women permissible during war time in Islam. All these innovations and fabrication contradict the laws of God in the Quran. In addition, the critics of the Quran also used this abused expression to report it one of the controversial issues in the Quran to be unethical.

Description of different categories of these people

The expression “maa malakat aymaanukum” in the Quran including 2 other similar expressions, “maa malakat aymaanuhum“, and “maa malakat aymaanuhunna” with a minor variation in grammatic forms with respect to person and gender. The literal meaning of these expressions is “What has possessed your right hands”, “What has possessed their right hands” and “What has possessed their (female) right hands” respectively. The careful review of these expressions in the relevant verses of the Quran indicate that these expressions cover five categories of people. They can be men, women, boys or girls, and the expression has different meanings in different contexts although all of them fall under the same class – a group of people who depend on you, almost totally, for their living requirements, security and well-being. However, the following is a description of all these categories of people in the Quran, and the nature of relationship between these people and those who belong to them or are responsible for them:

1. maa malakat aymaanukum: what you already have.

The first category is the women who were already married to their husbands even if their marriages did not follow the Quranic rules as their marriage occurred before the revelation of the Quran or before their conversion to Islam. In this case, if you already have a wife or wives, even from a category that became prohibited after the revelation of the Quran, you can keep them. You do not have to divorce them as God would not break an established marriage. Thus, this category of women falls under what you already have, and sexual relationship is permitted being married couples:

[4:3] And if you have feared that you cannot be just with the orphans, then you shall marry what has deemed fit for you from the women – two, and three, and four; while if you have feared that you cannot do just, then one, or what you already have (maa malakat aymaanukum). That is best that you do not do injustice.
[33:50] O you prophet, indeed, we have made lawful for you your wives whom you have given their bridal reward and what you already have (maa malakat yameenuka) whom God has given to you, and the daughters of your father’s brothers, and the daughters of your father’s sisters, and the daughters of your mother’s brothers, and the daughters of your mother’s sisters who have emigrated with you, and if a believing woman who gives herself to the prophet, if the prophet wishes to marry her, is only for you not for the believers. Certainly, we know what we have made obligatory for them (believers) about their wives and what has possessed their right hands (maa malakat aymaanuhum) that there should not be any discomfort for you. And God is forgiving, Merciful.
[33:52] It is not lawful for you (Muhammad) the women after this, nor that can you exchange with them for (other) wives, even if their beauty pleases you except for what you already have (maa malakat yameenuka). And God has been Watcher over all things.

2. maa malakat aymaanuhum: What is rightfully theirs.

The second category is also the women and sexual relationship with them is allowed. We, however, have to be very careful in understanding God’s law in the Quran. God deliberately used the word OR when permitting the sexual relationships between men and what is rightfully theirs. It is EITHER their spouses OR what is rightfully theirs. God did not choose AND in these particular verses(their spouses and what is rightfully theirs). God’s choice of His words is deliberate and He constructs His laws very clearly to leave NO doubt in the mind of His true worshipers. In this category of what is rightfully theirs, are situations where a man and a woman married each other without registering their marriage with the appropriate authorities. Common law marriage in the USA is one of these cases where both the man and the woman agrees to live together as a husband and a wife in front of God but do not register their marriage. It can also include cases described in the first category of people who becomes rightfully theirs by the permission given to them by God:

[23:6] Except with their spouses, or those who are rightfully theirs (maa malakat aymaanuhum); then indeed, they are not to be blamed.
[70:30] Except with their spouses, or those who are rightfully theirs (maa malakat aymaanuhum); then indeed, they are not to be blamed.

Note:They guard their modesty except with their spouses or who rightfully theirs.

It is noteworthy that short-term agreement between a man and a woman to have sex for any period of time is not included in this category. This short-term agreement is prostitution and is forbidden by God’s law in the Quran. In this short term agreement the man deprive the woman from her legal rights that a wife has, and free himself from having any obligation of a husband towards his divorced wife. The example of this short-term agreement to have sex between a man and a woman is what many scholars call Muta marriage. They make it legal, when it is against all the laws of marriage and establishing a family in the Quran.

3. maa malakat aymaanukum: Slaves (if any).

This category is the slaves who are dependent totally on their owner. Although the Quran advocates the freeing of the slaves in every possible occasion, the law is placed in the Quran to protect those who were slaves at the time of the revelation of the Quran and for those who may become slaves in any future time. Slaves and servants are protected and not considered as sexual partners under any circumstances outside a lawful marriage:

[4:25] Those among you who cannot afford to marry free believing women, may marry believing slave women (maa malakat aymaanukum). God knows best about your belief, and you are equal to one another, as far as belief is concerned. You shall obtain permission from their guardians before you marry them, and pay them their due dowry equitably. They shall maintain moral behavior, by not committing adultery, or having secret lovers. Once they are freed through marriage, if they commit adultery, their punishment shall be half of that for the free women. Marrying a slave shall be a last resort for those unable to wait. To be patient is better for you. God is Forgiver, Most Merciful.

In this verse, God clarifies the status of the believing slave women as being honorable women who may marry believing men after getting permission from their guardians. If these slave women are the sexual partners of their guardians, how can God offer them to the believing men? God asks them to MAINTAIN their moral behavior, by not committing adultery or having secret lovers. Thus, this verse clearly shows that those slave women are not the sexual partners of their guardians:

[24:33] Those who cannot afford to get married shall maintain morality until God provides for them from His grace. Those among your servants (maa malakat aymaanukum) who wish to be freed in order to marry, you shall grant them their wish, once you realize that they are honest. And give them from God’s money that He has bestowed upon you. You shall not force your girls to commit prostitution, seeking the materials of this world, if they wish to be chaste. If anyone forces them, then God, seeing that they are forced, is Forgiver, Merciful.

Two important teachings are found in this verse – to free the slaves (servants) to get married and not to force the girls to commit prostitution. According to this verse, servants (slaves), can be freed from their slavery to get married, and even helped them with money to do so. Had they been legitimate sexual partners of the owner or the guardian, they would not be available for marriage whenever they want to, as this verse teaches. Forcing them to have sex will be prostitution or rape.

4. maa malakat aymaanuhunna: Servants (male).

Since our servants are dependent on us in their living, we are responsible for their well-being but they are not our sexual partners. See what the Quranic verses teach us about this category:

[24:31] And say to the believing women they should lower their stare and should guard their chastity, and should not display their body except what is apparent from it. They should place their covers over their bosoms, and should not display their body except to their husbands, or their fathers, or fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or sons of their brothers, sons of their sisters, or their women, or their male servants (maa malakat aymaanuhunna) or the attendants from the men who have no sexual desire, or the children who do not have knowledge of the women’s matters. And they should not strike with their feet that it is made known what they conceal of their body. And you shall turn to God together O you the believers that you may succeed.

There is a great lesson for us in this verse. God teaches us that the believing women may have the same category of people like the men do. Notice that the verse starts by asking the believing women to maintain their chastity.

It is very interesting to note that the male scholars who gave permission to any man to have sex with his servants, did not allow the same right for a woman who owns the same category. These scholars fabricated laws of their own that apply to the men but not to the women. Such fabricated laws have no basis in God’s laws in the Quran. These laws of God apply to all genders without discrimination. God prohibited sexual relationship with those who we possess outside a marriage for both the men and the women alike:

[33:55] There is no sin upon them (women) around their fathers nor their sons, nor their brothers, nor sons of their brothers, nor sons of their sisters, nor their women, nor what they rightfully possess (their male servants) (maa malakat aymaanuhunna). And you (women) shall fear God. Indeed, God is a Witness over all things.
[24:58] O you who believe, permission must be requested by your servants (maa malakat aymaanukum) and the children who have not attained puberty (before entering your rooms). This is to be done in three instances – before the Dawn Prayer, at noon when you change your clothes to rest, and after the Night Prayer. These are three private times for you. At other times, it is not wrong for you or them to mingle with one another. God thus clarifies the revelations for you. God is Omniscient, Most Wise.

It is clear from this verse that your servants, do not have the permission given to your spouse (sexual partner) of freely entering your sleeping quarters. Had your servants been considered your sexual partners, such a permission would not be needed.

[4:36] You shall worship God alone – do not associate anything with Him. You shall regard the parents, the relatives, the orphans, the poor, the related neighbor, the unrelated neighbor, the close associate, the traveling alien, and your servants (maa malakat aymaanukum). God does not like the arrogant show-offs.
[16:71] God has provided for some of you more than others. Those who are given plenty would never give their properties to their subordinates (maa malakat aymaanukum) to the extent of making them partners. Would they give up God’s blessings?
[30:28] He cites for you herein an example from among yourselves: Do you ever elevate your servants or subordinates (maa malakat aymaanukum) to the level where they rival you, and to the point that you pay them as much allegiance as is being paid to you? We thus explain the revelations for people who understand.

5. maa malakat aymaanukum: the married women who have left their disbelieving husbands during wartime.

This special category is also protected in the Quran and not exempted as sex slaves. They must be treated like any free woman, and can be asked for permission for marriage and must be given all the due respect and payments that apply to a legal marriage. This is also clarified in (60:10):

[4:24] And the married ones of the women except whom has possessed your right hands (maa malakat aymaanukum). It is God’s decree upon you. And has been made lawful for you what is beyond that: that you may seek with your wealth to be chaste not being lustful. So, whoever you have chosen from them with it, then you shall give them their dowry as an obligation. And there is no sin upon you concerning what you have mutually agreed of it after the obligation. Indeed, God has been Knower, Wise
[60:10] O you who have believed, when has come to you the believing women as emigrants, then you shall test them. God is Knower of their faith. Then if you have known them believers, then you do not return them to the disbelievers, nor are they (female) lawful for them, nor are they (male) lawful for them (female). And you shall give them (disbelieving husbands) what they have spent. And there is no sin upon you if you marry them when you have given them their bridal reward. And you do not hold in marriage with the disbelieving women. And you shall ask what you have spent, and let them ask what they have spent. That is God’s law; He judges between you. And God is Knower, Wise.

God’s law is clear in the Quran. We, as submitters to our Creator, have no choice but to obey His law. Any person breaking His law is not practicing Islam (Submission) and cannot be considered to be a Muslim (Submitter). Indeed, such individuals who do not obey God’s laws are “Objectors” not “Submitters.”

[24:51] The only utterance of the believers, whenever invited to God and His messenger to judge in their affairs, is to say, “We hear and we obey.” These are the winners.
[5:7] Remember God’s blessing upon you, and His covenant that He covenanted with you: you said, “We hear and we obey.” You shall observe God; God is fully aware of the innermost thoughts.
[2:285] The messenger has believed in what was sent down to him from his Lord, and so did the believers. They believe in God, His angels, His scripture, and His messengers: “We make no distinction among any of His messengers.” They say, “We hear, and we obey. Forgive us, our Lord. To You is the ultimate destiny.”


The expression, “maa malakat aymaanukum” including its 2 variants covers five different categories of people including both men and women. The Quran teaches beyond doubt that these people are part of our families who should be treated with respect as they deserve rights as human beings. It is clear from the Quran that 2, out of 5 categories are allowed for sexual relationship only after being part of a marriage (as a spouse). Thus, under no circumstances does God allow in the Quran either a man or a woman to have sex unless the man and the woman become a husband and wife. The short-term marriage is forbidden by God’s law in the Quran and is prostitution. Even in case of war, all the captured women (and men), fall under the protected category and cannot be considered sex objects. They should be treated with respect and asked for marriage, and given their due dowries. The Quran also teaches that rape of women during war time same as peacetime is a crime while righteousness is defined by an established moral value that is best judged by the words of God in the Quran, and not by war or peace.
Peaceful Friday, salaam and God bless.
Tafazzal (4/17/2015)