Egypt's "first sex-slave marriage" took place mere days after the Muslim Brotherhood's Muhammad Morsi was made president.
Last Monday, on the Egyptian TV show Al Haqiqa ("the Truth"), journalist Wael al-Ibrashi showed a video-clip of a man, Abd al-Rauf Awn, "marrying" his slave. Before making the woman, who has a non-Egyptian accent, repeat after him the Koran's Surat al-Ikhlas, instead of saying the usual "I marry myself to you," the woman said "I enslave myself to you," kissing him in front of an applauding audience.
Then, even though she was wearing a hijab, her owner-husband declared that she is forbidden from such trappings and commanded her to be stripped of them, so as "not to break Allah's laws." She took her veil and abaya off, revealing, by Muslim standards, a seductive red dress (all the other women present were veiled). The man claps for her and the video-clip (which can be seen here) ends.
The man, Abd al-Rauf Awn, who identified himself as an Islamic scholar who studied at Al Azhar and an expert at Islamic jurisprudence, then appeared on the show, giving several Islamic explanations to justify his marriage, from Islam's prophet Muhammad's "sunna," or practice, of "marrying" enslaved captive women, to Koran 4:3, which declares: "Marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four… or what your right hands possess."
Though the term malk al-yamin literally means "that which is owned by your right hand," for all practical purposes, and to avoid euphemisms, according to Islamic doctrine and history, she is simply a sex-slave. Linguistic evidence even suggests that she is seen not as a human but as a possession.
Even stripping the sex-slave of her hijab, the way Awn did, has precedent. According to Islamic jurisprudence, whereas the free (Muslim) woman is mandated to wear a hijab, sex-slaves are mandated only to be covered from the navel to the knees—with everything else exposed. Awn even explained how Caliph Omar, one of the first "righteous caliphs," would strip sex-slaves of their garments, whenever he saw them overly dressed in the marketplace.
Awn further went on to declare that he believes the idea of sex slave marriage is ideal for today's Egyptian society. He bases this on ijtihad, a recognized form of jurisprudence, whereby a Muslim scholar comes up with a new idea—one that is still rooted in the Koran and example of Muhammad—that fits the circumstances of contemporary society. He argued that, when it comes to marriage, "we Muslims have overly complicated things," so that men are often forced to be single throughout their prime, finally getting married between the ages of 30-40, when they will have a stable career and enough money to open a household. Similarly, many Egyptian women do not want to wear the hijab in public. The solution, according to Awn, is to reinstitute sex-slavery—allowing men to marry and copulate much earlier in life, and women who want to dress freely to do so, as technically they are sex-slaves and mandated to go about loosely attired.
The other guest on the show, Dr. Abdullah al-Naggar, a professor in Islamic jurisprudence at Al Azhar, fiercely attacked Awn for reviving this practice, calling on him and his slave-wife to "repent," to stop dishonoring Islam, and arguing that "there is no longer sex-slavery"—to which Awn responded by sarcastically asking, "Who said sex-slavery is over? What—because the UN said so?"
In many ways, this exchange between Awn, who advocates sex-slave marriage, and the Al Azhar professor symbolizes the clash between today's "Islamists" and "moderate Muslims." For a long time, Al Azhar has been engaged in the delicate balancing act of affirming Islam while still advocating modernity according to Western standards, whereas the Islamists—from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Salafis—bred with contempt and disrespect for the West, are only too eager to revive Islamic practices that defy Western standards.
While this may be the first sex slave marriage to take place in Egypt's recent history, it is certainly not the first call to revive the practice. Earlier, Egyptian Sheikh Huwaini, lamenting that the "good old days" of Islam were over, declared that, in an ideal Muslim society, "when I want a sex-slave," he should be able to go "to the market and pick whichever female I desire and buy her." Likewise, a Kuwaiti female politician earlier advocated for reviving the institute of sex-slavery, suggesting that Muslims should bring female captives of war—specifically Russian women from the Chechnya war—and sell them to Muslim men in the markets of Kuwait.
And so the "Arab Spring" continues to blossom.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.