‘…So their lineages are not cut off’: the Reframing and Reformulation of the Legal Discourse on Slavery and Slave-Concubinage from the mid-Nineteenth to the mid-Twentieth Centuries

By Omar Anchassi
Submitted to Session P4950 (Between Continuity & Change: Conceptualizing Slavery, Tyranny, Gender, and Tolerance in Islamic Thought & the Middle East, 2017 Annual Meeting
Arab States;
Islamic Thought;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In a revealing passage in his apologetic treatise al-Risala al-Hamidiyya, the Tripolitan `alim Husayn al-Jisr (d. 1909) explores the rationales of slave-concubinage and why it is that a male slave cannot marry his female owner. The licitness of a master’s sexual access to slave-concubines (with no limit to their number) ensures their lineages are not cut off (la'alla yata`atal nasluhunn), given that their preoccupation with domestic labour does not spare them the time for married life. The competing authority claims entailed by simultaneous ownership and husbandhood, in the latter case, result in a ‘political’ contradiction that does not conduce to amity between the slave and his female owner, ‘in contradiction to the objectives of this equitable Shari`a.’ While the underlying ideas here reflect themes typical to classical and post-classical works of Fiqh, the framing and tone of the discussion of slave-concubinage have clearly changed by this period, even among scholars of impeccable traditionalist credentials (such as Yusuf al-Dijjwi, d. 1946). This is true of writing in a range of genres (tafsir, hadith-commentary, periodical literature, etc) that this paper will explore, building on the contributions of Amal Ghazal, William Clarence-Smith and others. Taking late post-classical works such as Ibn `Abidin’s (d. 1836) Radd al-Muhtar and al-Bajuri’s (d. 1860) Hashiya as its point of departure, this paper will examine the transformation of discourse on slavery and slave-concubinage more particularly until the mid-twentieth century, the period when the key reformulations occur and the arguments of the reformist camp came to be widely disseminated. Among other authors, this paper will draw on the oeuvres of al-Tahtawi (d. 1873), `Abduh (d. 1905), Ibn Badis (d. 1940) al-Maraghi (d. 1948), al-Ibrahimi (d. 1965) and the long-lived Ibn `Ashur (1879-1973). It will call attention to the reframing of the discussion on slavery and slave-concubinage in the modern period and how precisely modern works engage with and depart from the pre-modern heritage.