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Assalamu'alaikum Shaykh. The English translations of the Qur'an appear to state in many verses that Muslim men are permitted to have relationships with "women whom their right hands possess." Does this mean that men can have girlfriends or have relationships with women prisoners of war? Please explain who these women are and what these verses mean in today's context.

Assalamu Alaikum, 

(Answered by Sh. Abdurrahmann Murad)

Jazaak Allah Khairan for asking this question.

Let me first respond to the second part of your question first; girlfriend/boyfriend relationships…are they legal in Islam?

In reality, they are unlawful; a man cannot have an intimate relation with a woman except if they are married. 

Let me share with you a few stories that indicate this; the first is the story of Marthad bin Abi Marthad, may Allah be pleased with him. He would secretly release Muslim POW from Makkah and help them come to Madinah. On one such mission, he happened to see ‘Anaaq, who was a prostitute. He had known her from the 'Days of Ignorance', before Islam.

Here Marthad says: “I came to a garden in Makkah on a moonlit night and ‘Anaaq recognized me. She said in suprise: ‘Marthad?’ I said, ‘Marthad.’ She said: ‘Welcome! Stay with us tonight.’ I said, ‘O ‘Anaaq, Allah has forbidden Zina (unlawful sexual relations)!’

I came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah praise him, and asked him, ‘O Messenger of Allah, shall I marry ‘Anaaq?’ He remained silent, the verse was then revealed: “The adulterer shall marry only an adulteress or a polytheist woman, and an adulteress shall marry only an adulterer or a polytheist man; such marriages are forbidden for believers.” (An-Noor 3) - (Tirmidthi # 3101)

Another story that indicates that it is unalwful is the story of Abdullah bin Maghfal, may Allah be pleased with him. He mentioned that there was a woman who had been a prostiute during the days of ignorance (before Islam). A man passed by her, or she passed by him, and he touched her. She said: “Stop it! Allah has done away with shirk and has brought Islam!” So he left her alone and went away, still looking at her, until he walked into a wall, hitting his face. He came to the Prophet, may Allah praise him, and told him what had happened.

The Prophet said: “You are a man for whom Allah wishes good for. When Allah wishes good for His slave, He hastens the punishment for his sin, so that it is dealt with before the Day of Resurrection.” (Sahih al-Jami)

From these narrations it is quite clear that it is unlafwul for one to have a 'boyfriend/girlfriend' relationship in Islam. Sexual intimacy is only allowed in a marital relationship. 

Now to deal with the first part of your question, 'What your right hand possesses'. This is often repeated in the Quran and Hadeeth, and it indicates slaves. Within the framework of Islamic law, a relationship is allowed between master and slave, but there are conditions that must be abided by. These conditions preceed the relation as well continue during and afterwards. The Islamic law guides a person in an amazing way, it ultimatley leads one to freeing a person and not leaving them in captivity. This is a topic in onto itself, but in short, there are no slaves today; thus this relation cannot be practiced.