The first case of “melk al-yameen” (slavery) marriage was reported in modern day Egypt last week, a private Egyptian TV channel reported on Monday.
The marriage ceremony was performed by the Muslim cleric Abdul Raouf Aun, reported the privately-owned Dream TV on its daily show ‘al-Haqeeqa’ presented by prominent Egyptian journalist Wael al-Ibrashy.
Slave women or “melk al-yameen” are referred to in the Holy Quran as “ma malakat aymanukum” or “those whom your right hand possesses”. They are either women who have been taken captive during battles and then enslaved or descendants of slaves.
This practice pre-dates Islam’s advent in the region but the religion later laid out rules on this issue in an attempt to abolish slavery. It allowed Muslims to have sexual relations with slave women who had been held captives in just and legitimate wars. A woman was freed if she became pregnant and her child would be born free.
However, there has been no reported instance of this form of marriage for centuries.
The TV report on the incident, the first to take place in Egypt, included a video of the entire ceremony. The marriage was between Aun himself and a woman who was identified as Nadia – who had a non-Egyptian Arabic dialect – in the presence of guests.
The ceremony began with Nadia repeating after Aun that she has “enslaved” herself to him as they both recited the Surat al-Ikhlas of the Quran. Then he congratulated and kissed her amid cheers, clapping and congratulations from the attendants.
Aun then told Nadia that she can remove her hijab, and following his orders, she took off her headscarf and ‘abaya’, under which she was wearing a revealing red gown.
In a traditional Muslim marriage, a wife speaks of her “acceptance” to marry her husband, not “enslavement”. The “melk al-yameen” marriage, however, has no official documentation process. The wife has the right to divorce using the same Quranic verses the couple used to enter the agreement ─ in Nadia’s case, she would recite from Surat al-Ikhlas.
What’s even more controversial, is that a woman who enters a “melk al-yameen” arrangement, does not need to wear the hijab, or wear long-sleeved clothes, or long dresses, said Aun.
“We, Muslims, usually complicate things a lot,” Aun told Ibrashy during the TV show aired by Dream TV on Monday night. “The melk al-yameen and mutaa (temporary marriage among Shiites) were allowed during the time of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). We only acknowledge the normal, traditional marriage and even that we have complicated.
“We have an incorrect view of the melk al-yameen and mutaa and have instead turned the traditional marriage into a trade. Instead of getting married at the age of 16 or 17, a young man now gets married at the age of 35 or even 40,” Aun said.
“In the early days of Islam, there was no documentation of marriage at a registrar. Both partners should mainly trust each other,” Aun said.
Aun reportedly identified himself as an al-Azhar scholar, who memorized the Holy Quran during his childhood and studied fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) for seven years. He then went on to study engineering at university level.
“In the melk al-yameen marriage, the wife can remove her hijab. There are a large number of Muslim women who cannot bear to wear the hijab. When Caliph Omar bin al-Khattab walked in the street and encountered a melk al-yameen wife with her headscarf on, he would usually remove her hijab,” Aun said.
“I want to show everyone that marriage should be based on love and compassion. It is not a trade. A husband reciting a few verses from the Quran can be a dowry,” he said meaning that dowry need not be a sum of money.
The TV report also included few comments by his melk al-yameen wife, Nadia who said she felt this form of marriage was right for her.
Aun explained that he and Nadia had originally married in Saudi Arabia in a documented ceremony but he wanted to prove to everyone that melk al-yameen marriage was a good ritual that should be followed by everyone.
Dr Abdullah al-Naggar, an al-Azhar scholar and professor in Islamic fiqh, was also invited as a guest on Ibrashi’s show. He slammed the whole incident as “nonsense” whose purpose was to “mess with the honor of Muslims.”
“There is no more melk al-yameen nowadays. It is over. This woman who enslaved herself to that man should repent to God as should the man. A free person cannot enslave himself, according to Shariah (Islamic law).”
Naggar explained that the term “melk al-yameen means slavery and there is no slavery today. Enslaving a woman means that her children will be slaves as well, and this means that we will have a new generation of slaves. Islam put an end to slavery.”