Article source co-authored with Johanna HIGGS : ISIS’s “Science” of Slavery: How ISIS Justifies Enslavement of Yezidi Women with Islam


The Yezidi’s have been persecuted by the surrounding Muslim communities for many centuries. A minority in the region the Yezidis constitute only 1.5 percent of Iraq’s estimated population of 34 million. Of Kurdish descent, the Yezidis are generally considered to be a pre Islamic sect with an oral tradition as opposed to written scripture, though there are several ideas as to where the Yezidi culture originated.

For ISIS this makes them unbelievers of the worst kind, more so than Christians and Jews who are considered to have some limited protections according to their descriptions in Quran as ‘people of the book.’

It is for this reason, that ISIS has proclaimed their right to enslave Yezidi women.

ISIS considers their rules of enslavement as a ‘science that has been almost absent in modern Islamic jurisprudence,’ or what is known as fiqh. The word figh is an Arabic term meaning ‘full understanding’ and refers to the body of Islamic law extracted from detailed Islamic sources.

In a pamphlet released by ISIS, they highlight the need to practice this ‘science’ throughout the Islamic Caliphate, which they seek to establish throughout the world.

This pamphlet, through its questions and answers, uses interpretations of the Quran, as defined by various Sunni Islamic scholars to justify their acts of slavery. These scholars, using interpretations as defined by the exegesis, use the term ‘right hand possession’ as meaning ‘female slave’.

The literal interpretation in Arabic of the term ‘right hand’ means any promise or commitment that must be observed and respected. So the term, ‘right hands possession’ semantically means the obligation to fulfill promises. This could be relevant to different contexts, particularly those regarding social commitments such as caring for orphans, marriage, and recently, this term was referred to in relation to surrogacy. In the Quran, both men and women are called to respect what their right hands possess.

However, when the word ‘possession’ is added, ISIS interprets this as female slave.

Through this traditional interpretation of Quran, ISIS has publically and officially sanctioned their use of slavery and rape. The ‘right hands possession,’ means for them that ‘religiously’ they can have sex with ‘unbelieving’ women, virgins and young girls, captured during war even if it is outside the institution of marriage. They consider this as a reward for their war efforts and is a motivator for soldiers to fight.

The brutality of war and the crimes that all women have endured at the hands of ISIS, are shocking. As we sit here, there are women and young girls, like your mother, like your daughter, like your wife, like your sister, who are being sold, tortured and raped, just because they are women of the ‘wrong’ faith.

As a global community, it is essential that we work together to speak out. All women and girls deserve to be respected and be free from threats of violence, intimidation and slavery, regardless of their cultural or religious beliefs. We must speak out, encourage our governments to take action because if we don’t, our silence makes us complicit in the incredible suffering being perpetrated against Yezidi women, and in fact all women and girls who are victims of slavery throughout the world.