since presumably the 4 wives maximum rule applies to the sultan just like to everybody else, does this mean that all the remaining women in the harem had to have the legal status of slave so that he would not be guilty of fornication?
On a related note, the Wikipedia article claims that Islam prohibits enslavement of freeborn Muslims. I wonder how that would square with the possible need for declaring the harem women as slaves. Also, I recall reading about sale of Circassian women into slavery (including for the sultan’s harem) during the Circassian emigration from Russia to Turkey after the Russian conquests of the Caucasus, see http://chnm.gmu.edu/lostmuseum/lm/311/ . Does this reflect the fact that Wikipedia is inaccurate on Islam’s rule concerning enslavement of Muslims or did the 19th century Ottoman jurisprudence simply ignore these blatant violations of religious law?
Concubines and odalisques were slaves, yes. The Ottoman Empire contained or controlled large parts of Europe and Africa, and took advantage of a plentiful supply of non-muslim slaves. Most Circassians were Christians at the time of the emigration, so that really doesn’t address your point.
Circassians tend to be Muslim now, but in the past, a lot of them were Christian or pagan, so there would be no religious problem in Islam in enslaving them. That article also was, I’m imagine, somewhat sensationalized. But, generally, yes, the women in the Ottoman sultan’s harem were generally slave concubines. In fact, later Ottoman sultans didn’t generally marry at all.
It wasn’t hard to find non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire, though. The Ottomans controlled a lot of land that was majority Christian, and the elite corps of the Ottoman Army, the Janissary corps, was also made up of Christian slaves from the Balkans.
I doubt the non-Muslim status of these Circassian immigrants. The whole point of the “muhajir” migration http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhajir_(Caucasus) was for Muslims to flee from persecution by the Russians to the Muslim-ruled Turkey. The wikipedia article on the subject does not mention any significant group of non-Muslim people who emigrated along with the Muslims.
So, while I don’t doubt the long-standing Ottoman practice of enslaving foreign Christians e.g. Slavic people taken prisoner by Crimean Tatars, this Circassian case IMHO should be something else.
Your original link is from 1856, the muhajir migration was in the 1860s and 70s. Your article even talks about slave traders taking women from Circassia. There were plenty of non-Muslim Circassians around.
yes, on closer reading of the article, I can see that you are correct. The article is not about the muhajirs making ends meet by selling relatives but rather about sales by slave traders with the market experiencing a glut due to expectation of the whole trade being shut down by foreign interference.
And there’s also the little detail of the slaves (and, therefore, their children) not having much say in what religion to be. I imagine they couldn’t say “oh, by the way, I want to convert”, even if it had been beneficial (life as a powerful man’s servant or concubine vs a poor man’s wife, let me think…)