Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(And whoso is not able to afford to marry free, believing women, let them marry from the believing maids whom your right hands possess) who are in the hands of the believers. (Allah knoweth best (concerning) your faith) He knows best that your hearts are firm in faith. (Ye (proceed) one from another) You are all the children of Adam; it is also said that this means: some of you follow the religion of others; and it is also said that this means: you are strengthened by one another; (so wed them) marry the maids (by permission of their folk) their owners, (and give unto them) the maids (their portions) their dowry (in kindness) on top of the price given to the prostitute for providing sex, (they being honest) He says: marry those maids who are chaste, (not debauched) not those who commit adultery in the open (nor of loose conduct) nor those who have lovers who commit adultery with them in secret. (And if when they are honourably married) if when they marry maids (they commit lewdness) fornication (they) the maids (shall incur the half of the punishment (prescribed)) lashing (for free women (in that case). This is) marrying maids is lawful (for him among you who feareth to commit sin) adultery and debauchery. (But to have patience) and refrain from marrying maids (would be better for you) in that your children would be free. (Allah is Forgiving) of the adultery you might commit, (Merciful) when He gave you a legal dispensation to marry captives in cases of necessity.
And whoever has not the means wherewith, [whoever] is not wealthy enough, to be able to marry believing (al-mu’mināt, ‘believing’, is in accordance with the prevalent practice, and does not add to the import), free, women in wedlock, let him take, in marriage, believing maids whom your right hands own. God knows very well your faith, so suffice yourself with its outward manifestation and leave the innermost matters to Him, for He is the One to know her [true] merit: many a slavegirl may be more excellent [in faith] than a free woman, and this is meant to encourage marriage with slavegirls; the one of you is as the other, being equal in religion, so do not disdain to marry with them. So marry them, with the permission of their folk, their guardians, and give them their wages, their dowries, honourably, without procrastination or diminution, as women in wedlock (muhsanāt, a circumstantial qualifier), in decency, not illicitly, openly fornicating, or taking lovers, companions fornicating in secret. But when they are given in wedlock, [when] they are married off (a variant reading [for the passive uhsinna, ‘they are given in wedlock’] has the active ahsanna, ‘they enter into wedlock’), if they commit lewdness, such as adultery, they shall be liable to half the chastisement, the legal punishment, of married, free, virgin, women, who commit adultery, and are thus given fifty lashes and banished for half a year; [male] slaves by analogy are liable to the same punishment. Here, God has not made wedlock the precondition for the prescribed punishment to show that stoning does not apply in their case [sc. slavegirls]. That, marrying of slavegirls on account of insufficient means, is for those of you who fear the distress of sin, fornication (al-‘anat originally means distress, but is used to mean zinā, ‘fornication’, because of the distress that it causes in the way of the punishment in this world and in the Hereafter), as opposed to those of you who might not have such a fear [of distress] with regard to their free women and for whom it is unlawful to marry her [the slavegirl]; likewise for one who has sufficient means to marry a free woman [it is unlawful for him to marry a slavegirl instead]: this is the opinion of al-Shāfi‘ī. Moreover, God’s words ‘believing maids’ precludes unbelieving women, whom it is unlawful to marry, even if one should find no believing women and fear [the distress of fornication]; yet it is better for you to be patient, and abstain from marrying slavegirls, lest the child should become enslaved also. God is Forgiving, Merciful, by allowing room for manoeuvre in these matters.
(and Allah has full knowledge about your faith; you are one from another.) Allah knows the true reality and secrets of all things, but you people know only the apparent things. Allah then said,
فَانكِحُوهُنَّ بِإِذْنِ أَهْلِهِنَّ
(Wed them with the permission of their own folk) indicating that the owner is responsible for the slave girl, and consequently, she cannot marry without his permission. The owner is also responsible for his male slave and they cannot wed without his permission. A Hadith states,
(Any male slave who marries without permission from his master, is a fornicator.) When the owner of the female slave is a female, those who are allowed to give away the free woman in marriage, with her permission, become responsible for giving away her female slave in marriage, as well. A Hadith states that
(The woman does not give away another woman, or herself in marriage, for only the adulteress gives herself away in marriage.) Allah's statement,
وَءَاتُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ
(And give them their due in a good manner;) meaning, pay them their dowry with a good heart, and do not keep any of it, belittling the matter due to the fact that they are owned slaves. Allah's statement,
(they should be chaste) means, they are honorable women who do not commit adultery, and this is why Allah said,
(not fornicators) referring to dishonorable women, who do not refrain from illicit sexual relations with those who ask. Ibn `Abbas said that the fornicating women are the whores, who do not object to having relations with whomever seeks it, while,
وَلاَ مُتَّخِذَاتِ أَخْدَانٍ
(nor promiscuous. ) refers to taking boyfriends. Similar was said by Abu Hurayrah, Mujahid, Ash-Sha`bi, Ad-Dahhak, `Ata' Al-Khurasani, Yahya bin Abi Kathir, Muqatil bin Hayyan and As-Suddi.
The Slave Girl's Punishment for Adultery is Half that of a Free Unmarried Woman
(And after they have been taken in wedlock, if they commit Fahishah, their punishment is half of that for free (unmarried) women.) this is about the slave women who got married, as indicated by the Ayah;
(And whoever of you have not the means wherewith to wed free believing women, they may wed believing girls from among those whom your right hands possess,) Therefore, since the honorable Ayah is about believing slave girls, then,
(And after they have been taken in wedlock,) refers to when they (believing slave girls) get married, as Ibn `Abbas and others have said. Allah's statement,
نِصْفُ مَا عَلَى الْمُحْصَنَـتِ مِنَ الْعَذَابِ
(their punishment is half of that for free (unmarried) women.) indicates that the type of punishment prescribed here is the one that can be reduced to half, lashes in this case, not stoning to death, and Allah knows best. Allah's statement,
ذَلِكَ لِمَنْ خَشِىَ الْعَنَتَ مِنْكُمْ
(This is for him among you who is afraid of being harmed in his religion or in his body;) indicates that marrying slave girls, providing one satisfies the required conditions, is for those who fear for their chastity and find it hard to be patient and refrain from sex. In this difficult circumstance, one is allowed to marry a slave girl. However, it is better to refrain from marrying slave girls and to observe patience, for otherwise, the offspring will become slaves to the girl's master. Allah said,
(but it is better for you that you practice self-restraint, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.)
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
That is, "The social differences among the people are merely relative; otherwise all Muslims are equal. As a matter of fact, the thing that distinguishes one Muslim from another is the quality of his Faith, and that is not the monopoly of the higher ranks of society. It is just possible that a Muslim slave-girl is higher in rank in regard to belief and morality than a free woman of a high family.
It should be kept in view that in this section (vv. 2425) the Arabic word muhsanat has been used in two different senses: (1) "wedded wives", enjoying the protection of their husbands; and (2) "free Muslim women" enjoying the protection of their families, even though they might not be married. This is important, because the lack of differentiation between these two meanings has given rise to a superficial complication. The Kharijites and those others who do not believe in the stoning of an adulterous woman have misconstrued this verse (25) to prove their own point of view. They argue that in this verse, the punishment prescribed for an adulterous married slave-girl is half of the punishment prescribed for a free "married" Muslim woman. If the punishment for an adulterous free married woman had been stoning to death, there could be no half of this punishment for a guilty slave-girl. Hence, this verse is, according to them, a conclusive proof that the punishment of stoning does not exist in Islam.
The fallacy of the above argument becomes obvious, if one uses common sense in the application of the appropriate meaning of muhsanat. In the case of the guilty slave-girl, it has been used in the sense of "married woman", enjoying the protection of the husband, as is plain from the subsequent clause; "after they have been fortified in wedlock". But in the case of the guilty Muslim woman, half of whose punishment is to be given, it means "free Muslim woman" enjoying the protection of her family, and does not mean a "free married Muslim woman", as has been misconstrued by the opponents of the punishment of stoning.
As regards the lighter punishment for an adulterous slave-girl than for a free Muslim woman, it is based on the fact that the latter enjoys double protection as compared with the former the protection of the family (even though she be unmarried) and the protection of the husband, which reinforces the protection of the family she already enjoys. In contrast to a free woman, a slave-girl does not enjoy any protection at all, if she is unmarried, and even after marriage her position does not become equal to that of an un-married free Muslim woman, for the latter enjoys the protection of her status, her family, her clan, etc. On the other hand, a slave-girl still remains, to some extent, under the bondage of slavery and has no protection of the family, clan, etc. Therefore, her punishment should be half of an un-married free woman and not half of a free married woman.
Furthermore this also shows that the punishment of one hundred stripes as prescribed in An-Nur, XXIV : 2, is for an un-married free Muslim woman guilty of fornication half of which has been prescribed here for a slave married girl. As for an adulterous married free woman she deserves capital punishment for this heinous crime because she enjoys the double protection of the family and of the husband, and that punishment is "stoning her to death." Though the Qur'an does not explicitly mention the punishment of stoning to death, it does indicate it in a subtle manner, which the Holy Prophet understood and enforced. And who else could understand the Qur'an better?
The "concession" is to marry one of the slave-girls with the consent of her master if one cannot afford to marry a free Muslim woman.
And whoever has not the means wherewith to be able to marry believing women in wedlock let him take believing maids whom your right hands own. God knows very well your faith; the one of you is as the other. So marry them with the permission of their folk and give them their wages honorably as women in wedlock not illicitly or taking lovers. But when they are given in wedlock if they commit lewdness they shall be liable to half the chastisement of married women. That is for those of you who fear the distress of sin yet it is better for you to be patient. God is Forgiving Merciful. Concessions have been granted for the weak. As for the strong He bids them to serious endeavor and the adoption of what is most comprehensive and restrictive in the law since there is no work for them except to uphold the right of the Real ḥaqq al-ḥaqq. When an external matter distracts them from their attention to the heart so that they adopt what is easier and less this takes them farther away from their attention to the innermost self for it is an abandonment of the most important and sublime matters. Whoever descends in degree from adopting that which is strongest and most comprehensive-[this decline] to what is permissible for him [is actually] a decline into the state of indulgence. Then He said at the end of the verse yet it is better for you to be patient. This means [patient] in enduring what is difficult in [your situation]. This is a soothing way [of speaking] to the servant since He did not say “Be patient” but rather yet it is better for you to be patient.