We know from multiple sources that adolescent male slaves often served as the sexual slaves of male slave owners in historical slave holding societies. This was true in al-Subkī’s own world, despite the strong Islamic prohibition against sodomy and male same-sex intimacy. Islamic jurists, privileging the dominion of the slave-owner, were reluctant to recommend punishing male slave owners for sexually assaulting or raping their male slaves. While jurists condemned the sinful behavior of these men, they did not, as a rule, condone slaves running away from their masters to escape sexual assault. The jamdārs, the wardrobe pages, the subjects of the text below, were usually pre-pubescent military slaves (mamlūks) and eunuchs. Their physical proximity to the ruler (or to a powerful amīr) placed these enslaved boys in the ranks of the owner’s khāṣṣ (elite or “favored”) slaves, some of whom might have opportunities for manumission and preferment to high offices. While jamdārs were almost always children, there were adult eunuch jamdārs in the Cairo Citadel. The head of the corps of jamdārs was always a manumitted adult eunuch. These adult eunuch jamdārs, by virtue of their access to the Sultan, were often wealthy and influential. Al-Subkī does not, however, mention the role of eunuchs as jamdārs.

Translated from the Arabic by Shaun Marmon. Tāj al-Dīn Abū al-Naṣr ‘Abd al-Wahhāb al-Subkī, Kitāb Mu‘īd an-Ni‘am wa-Mubīd an-Niqam, The Restorer of Favours and the Restrainer of Chastisements, edited by David W. Myhrman (London: Luzac, 1908), 50-51. This translation CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Most of them are beautiful young beardless boys. Both the kings and the amīrs seek them [as slaves]. They are in the entourage of their master and stay with him until bedtime. There is a demand for them because lust for beautiful boys commands the hearts of most mortals; and the jamdārs dress themselves in clothes that inflame the sexual desires of men. They [the jamdārs] adorn themselves and, in this way, they become like women and tempt men with their beauty. It is ḥarām for the jamdār who believes in God and the Last Day to pursue this goal or to make himself resemble women as they were created. He must not permit his master to sodomize him! Nor to kiss him! And may his master have fear of God and have pity on his [the jamdār’s] tender years. Truly, worldly things such as all of that are worthless before God.

The etiquette required of a jamdār is that, when he dresses his master, the jamdār should begin with the right slipper, and when he undresses him, with the left.[1]  

[1] For ritual reasons.

Discussion Questions

1. The moral agency of the believer is a consistent theme in the Mu‘īd. But al-Subkī, as a jurist, knew that the agency of slaves was subordinate to the dominion of their masters. How does al-Subkī judge the moral agency and responsibility of enslaved children in the face of sexual assault?

2. Although the Mu‘īd purportedly is a guide to doing your job well, al-Subkī’s advice to the jamdār on how to dress his master comes at the end of this section. Does al-Subkī consider the sexual labor of the jamdār to be more significant than his job, i.e. dressing and undressing his master?

Related Primary Sources