What is being dubbed as 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 began the program by airing a video-clip of a man, Abd al-Rauf Awn, "marrying" his "slave." Before making the woman, who had a non-Egyptian accent, repeat the Koran's Surat al-Ikhlas after him, instead of saying the customary "I marry myself to you," the woman said "I enslave myself to you," and kissed him in front of an applauding audience.
Sheikh Awn telling his concubine-bride what to say during their "nuptial vows," which included her "enslavement" to the self-proclaimed Sharia expert.
The owner-husband, Abd al-Rauf Awn, then appeared on the show, identifying himself as an Islamic scholar and expert at Islamic jurisprudence who studied at Al Azhar. He gave several Islamic explanations to justify his "marriage," from Islamic prophet Muhammad's "sunna" or practice of "marrying" enslaved captive women, to Koran 4:3, which commands Muslim men to "Marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four… or what your right hands possess."
For all practical purposes, and to avoid euphemisms, "what your right hands possess"—also known in Arabic as a melk al-yamin—is, according to Islamic doctrine and history, simply a sex-slave. Linguistic evidence further suggests that she is seen more as a possession than a human.
Even stripping the sex-slave of her hijab, the way Awn commanded his concubine-wife, has precedent. According to Islamic jurisprudence, whereas the free (Muslim) woman is mandated to be veiled behind a hijab, sex-slaves are mandated only to be covered from the navel to the knees—with everything else exposed. During the program Awn even explained how Caliph Omar, one of the first "righteous caliphs," used to strip sex-slaves of their garments, whenever he saw them overly dressed in the marketplace.
Awn further explained that sex-slave marriage is ideal for today's Egyptian society. He based his position 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—yet one that better 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 might be expected to have a sufficient income 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, anyway.
The other guest on the show, Dr. Abdullah al-Naggar, a professor of Islamic jurisprudence at Al Azhar, fiercely attacked Awn for reviving this practice, calling on him and his slave-wife to "repent" and stop dishonoring Islam, 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 long, Al Azhar has been primarily 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 distinctly Islamic practices that defy Western sensibilities.
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 are over, declared that, in an ideal Muslim society, "when I want a sex-slave [I should be able to go] to the market and pick whichever female I desire and buy her." Likewise, a Kuwaiti female politician 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.