A Jāriya, Maqamat of Al-Hariri, 1200-1210.[1]

Jarya or jariya (SING; Arabic: جارية), also jawari (PLUR), was a term often used for female slaves in the medieval Islamic world.[2] In a courtly context, they could be "slaves for pleasure" (muṭʿa, ladhdha) or “slaves for sexual intercourse” (jawārī al-waṭ),[citation needed] who had received special training in artistic skills.[citation needed] In contrast to the Qiyan, however, they normally did not perform for men other than the man in whose harem they were placed.


The slave category of the jarya—similar to the qiyan—rose to fame during the Abbasid Caliphate era,[2] possibly because free Arab women became more and more secluded from society during this time period.[2]

They were acquired by purchase or captured as war booty. The term were applied to such enslaved women who, by instruction or self-education, acquired a great knowledge of artistic skills and intellectual knowledge by which they could entertain a man, rather than by sexuality and physical beauty. They could study issues from music and poetry to religion, history and literature, and many were known to be able to entertain their owner by both intellectual as well as musical abilities. There were many examples of jawaris who managed to gain influence over male rulers.

The jawaris differed from qiyan in that they appear not to perform in public, only in the harem to which they belonged. Royal harems could employ a very large number of jawaris, who acted as the entertainers of the royal harem and who were not necessarily synonymous with the concubines of the ruler.[3] The Abbasid harem had thousands of jawari as well as concubines who were not always the same, and this was adopted by the harems of many other Islamic rulers, such as the rulers of the Caliphate of Cordoba and the Fatimid Caliphate.[3]

The jariya category of sexual harem slaves were described by the 9th-century writer Al-Jahiz, who accused them of exerting a destructive influence over their owners created by their artistic skills, which created a web of dependent feelings such as love (hub), passion (hawa), affinity (mushakala) and a wish for continued companionship (ilf).[4]

Though most scholarly attention has gone to courtly contexts, jawari were also present in non-courtly urban settings, including the homes of merchants and artisans, notably as domestic workers. A wide range of representations features jawari, including technical treatises and spiritual literature.[5]


There were many famous jaryas noted in Islamic literature and history, such as the Arabian Al-Khayzuran, the Yemeni Alam al-Malika, and the Syrian Hababah.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Balafrej, Lamia (19 December 2022). "Automated Slaves, Ambivalent Images, and Noneffective Machines in al-Jazari's Compendium of the Mechanical Arts, 1206". Inquiries into Art. History: 767–768. doi:10.11588/xxi.2022.4.91685. While at a wedding in Sinjar (Iraq), Abu Zayd tells the story of how he lost his enslaved concubine (jāriya). The plan had been to keep her in strict seclusion, but one day, under the influence of alcohol, he made the mistake of revealing her existence to a neighbor. Word got around; eventually, Abu Zayd was forced to sell the concubine to the governor.
  2. ^ a b c Gordon, Matthew; Hain, Kathryn A. (2017). Concubines and Courtesans: Women and Slavery in Islamic History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-062218-3.[page needed]
  3. ^ a b El-Azhari, Taef (2019). Queens, Eunuchs and Concubines in Islamic History, 661–1257. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-1-4744-2318-2. JSTOR 10.3366/j.ctvnjbg3q.[page needed]
  4. ^ Classen, Albrecht (2019). Pleasure and Leisure in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age: Cultural-Historical Perspectives on Toys, Games, and Entertainment. Walter de Gruyter. p. 214. ISBN 978-3-11-062307-9.
  5. ^ Balafrej, Lamia (2023). "Instrumental Jawārī: On Gender, Slavery, and Technology in Medieval Arabic Sources". Al-ʿUṣūr al-Wusṭā. 31: 96–126. doi:10.52214/uw.v31i.10486. ISSN 1068-1051.
  6. ^ Mernissi, Fatima (2003). The Forgotten Queens of Islam. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-579868-5.[page needed]