History of Slavery in the Muslim World
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Slavery in the Muslim world first developed out of the slavery practices of pre-Islamic Arabia, and were at times radically different, depending on social-political factors such as the Arab slave trade. Two rough estimates by scholars of the number of slaves held over twelve centuries in Muslim lands are 11.5 million and 14 million.
Under Sharia (Islamic law), children of slaves or prisoners of war could become slaves but only non-Muslims. Manumission of a slave was encouraged as a way of expiating sins. Many early converts to Islam, such as Bilal ibn Rabah al-Habashi, were the poor and former slaves. In theory, slavery in Islamic law does not have a racial or color component, although this has not always been the case in practice.
Throughout Islamic history, slaves served in various social and economic roles, from powerful Emirs to harshly treated workers. Early on in Muslim history they were used in plantation labor similar to that in the Americas, but this was abandoned after harsh treatment led to destructive slave revolts, the most notable being the Zanj Rebellion. Slaves were widely employed in irrigation, mining, pastoralism, but the most common use was as soldiers, guards and domestic workers. Some rulers relied on military and administrative slaves to such a degree that the slaves were sometimes in the position to seize power. Among black slaves, there were roughly two females to every one male.
Because internal growth of the slave population was not enough to fulfill the demand in Muslim society, massive numbers of non-Muslim slaves were imported, resulting in enormous suffering and loss of life from their capture and transportation.
The Arab slave trade was most active in West Asia, North Africa, and Southeast Africa. In the early 20th century (post World War I), slavery was gradually outlawed and suppressed in Muslim lands, largely due to pressure exerted by Western nations such as Britain and France. Among the last states to abolish slavery were Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which abolished slavery in 1962 under pressure from Britain; Oman in 1970, and Mauritania in 1905, 1981, and again in August 2007. However, slavery claiming the sanction of Islam is documented presently in the predominantly Islamic countries of Chad, Mauritania, Niger, Mali, and Sudan.
- Slavery in pre-Islamic Arabia 1
Slavery in Islamic Arabia 2
- Roles of slaves 2.1
Low population growth 2.2
- Early Islamic history 2.2.1
- Arab slave trade 2.3
- Rebellion 2.4
- Political power 2.5
- Slavery in the Ottoman Empire 3
19th and 20th centuries 4
- 20th-century suppression and prohibition 4.1
Slavery in the late 20th and 21st century Muslim world 5
- Islamist opinions 5.1
Salafi and traditionalist juridical support for slavery 5.2
- Mauritania and Sudan 5.2.1
21st century 5.3
- "Jihadists" 5.3.1
- See also 6
- Bibliography 7
- Further reading 8
- Notes 9
- External links 10
Slavery in pre-Islamic Arabia
Slavery was widely practiced in pre-Islamic Arabia, as well as in the rest of the ancient and early medieval world. The minority were white slaves of foreign extraction, likely brought in by Arab caravaners (or the product of Bedouin captures) stretching back to biblical times. Native Arab slaves had also existed, a prime example being Zayd ibn Harithah, later to become Muhammad's adopted son. Arab slaves, however, usually obtained as captives, were generally ransomed off amongst nomad tribes. The slave population increased by the custom of child abandonment (see also infanticide), and by the kidnapping, or, occasionally, the sale of small children. Whether enslavement for debt or the sale of children by their families was common is disputed. (Abd Brunschvig argues it was rare, according to Jonathan E. Brockopp debt slavery was persistent.) Free persons could sell their offspring, or even themselves, into slavery. Enslavement was also possible as a consequence of committing certain offenses against the law, as in the Roman Empire.
Two classes of slave existed: a purchased slave, and a slave born in the master's home. Over the latter the master had complete rights of ownership, though these slaves were unlikely to be sold or disposed of by the master. Female slaves were at times forced into prostitution for the benefit of their masters, in accordance with Near Eastern customs.
The historical accounts of the early years of Islam report that "slaves of non-Muslim masters ... suffered brutal punishments. Sumayyah bint Khayyat is famous as the first martyr of Islam, having been killed with a spear by Abū Jahl when she refused to give up her faith. Abu Bakr freed Bilal when his master, Umayya ibn Khalaf, placed a heavy rock on his chest in an attempt to force his conversion."
Slavery in Islamic Arabia
Roles of slaves
A system of plantation labor, much like that which would emerge in the Americas, developed early on, but with such dire consequences that subsequent engagements were relatively rare and reduced. Moreover, the need for agricultural labor, in an Islam with large peasant populations, was nowhere near as acute as in the Americas. Slaves in Islam were mainly directed at the service sector - concubines and cooks, porters and soldiers - with slavery itself primarily a form of consumption rather than a factor of production. The most telling evidence for this is found in the gender ratio; among black slaves traded in Islam across the centuries, there were roughly two females to every male. Almost all female slaves had domestic occupations. This included the gratification of the master's sexual impulses. This was a lawful motive for their purchase, and the most common one.
In recruiting barbarians from the "martial races" beyond the frontiers into their imperial armies, the Arabs were doing what the Romans and the Chinese had done centuries before them. In the scale of this recruitment, however, and the preponderant role acquired by these recruits in the imperial and eventually metropolitan forces, Muslim rulers went far beyond any precedent. It was not until the medieval Islamic state that we find military slaves in significant numbers, forming a substantial and eventually predominant component in their armies.
Low population growth
Early Islamic history
W. Montgomery Watt points out that Muhammad's expansion of Pax Islamica to the Arabian peninsula reduced warfare and raiding, and therefore cut off the sources of enslaving freemen. According to Patrick Manning, the Islamic legislations against the abuse of the slaves convincingly limited the extent of enslavement in Arabian peninsula and to a lesser degree for the whole area of the whole Umayyad Caliphate where slavery existed since the most ancient times.
According to Bernard Lewis, the growth of internal slave populations through natural increase was insufficient to maintain numbers right through to modern times, which contrasts markedly with rapidly rising slave populations in the New World. He writes that
- Liberation by freemen of their own offspring born by slave mothers was "the primary drain".
- Liberation of slaves as an act of piety, was a contributing factor. Other factors include:
- Castration: A fair proportion of male slaves were imported as eunuchs. Levy states that according to the Quran and Islamic traditions, such emasculation was objectionable. Jurists such as al-Baydawi considered castration to be mutilation, stipulating law enforcement to prevent it. However, in practice, emasculation was frequent. In 19th century Mecca, the majority of eunuchs were in the service of the mosques.
- Liberation of military slaves: Military slaves that rose through the ranks were usually liberated at some stage in their careers.
- Restrictions on procreation: Among the menial, domestic, and manual worker slaves, casual mating was not permitted and marriage was not encouraged.
- High death toll: There was a high death toll among all classes of slaves. Slaves usually came from remote places and, lacking immunities, died in large numbers. Segal notes that recent slaves, weakened by their initial captivity and debilitating journey, would have been easy victim to climate changes and infection. Children were especially at risk, and the Islamic market demand for children was much greater than the American one. Many black slaves lived in conditions conducive to malnutrition and disease, with effects on their own life expectancy, the fertility of women, and the infant mortality rate. As late as the 19th century, Western travellers in North Africa and Egypt noted the high death rate among imported black slaves.
- Another factor was the  As such, large-scale employment of slaves for manual labour became the exception rather than the norm, and the medieval Islamic world did not need to import vast numbers of slaves.
Arab slave trade
Bernard Lewis writes: "In one of the sad paradoxes of human history, it was the humanitarian reforms brought by Islam that resulted in a vast development of the slave trade inside, and still more outside, the Islamic empire." He notes that the Islamic injunctions against the enslavement of Muslims led to massive importation of slaves from the outside. According to Patrick Manning, Islam by recognizing and codifying the slavery seems to have done more to protect and expand slavery than the reverse.
The 'Arab' slave trade is sometimes called the 'Islamic' slave trade. Bernard Lewis writes that "polytheists and idolaters were seen primarily as sources of slaves, to be imported into the Islamic world and molded in Islamic ways, and, since they possessed no religion of their own worth the mention, as natural recruits for Islam." Patrick Manning states that religion was hardly the point of this slavery. Also, this term suggests comparison between Islamic slave trade and Christian slave trade. Propagators of Islam in Africa often revealed a cautious attitude towards proselytizing because of its effect in reducing the potential reservoir of slaves.
Arab or Islamic slave trade lasted much longer than Atlantic or European slave trade: "It began in the middle of the seventh century and survives today in Mauritania and Sudan. With the Islamic slave trade, we're talking of 14 centuries rather than four." Further, "whereas the gender ratio of slaves in the Atlantic trade was two males to every female, in the Islamic trade, it was two females to every male," according to Ronald Segal
In the 8th century, Africa was dominated by Arab-Berbers in the north: Islam moved southwards along the Nile and along the desert trails. One supply of slaves was the Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopia which often exported Nilotic slaves from their western borderland provinces, or from newly conquered or reconquered Muslim provinces. Native Muslim Ethiopian sultanates (rulership) exported slaves as well, such as the sometimes independent sultanate (rulership) of Adal .
For a long time, until the early 18th century, the Crimean Khanate maintained a massive slave trade with the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. Between 1530 and 1780 there were almost certainly 1 million and quite possibly as many as 1.25 million white, European Christians enslaved by the Muslims of the Barbary Coast of North Africa.
On the coast of the Indian Ocean too, slave-trading posts were set up by Muslim Arabs. The archipelago of Zanzibar, along the coast of present-day Tanzania, is undoubtedly the most notorious example of these trading colonies. Southeast Africa and the Indian Ocean continued as an important region for the Oriental slave trade up until the 19th century. Livingstone and Stanley were then the first Europeans to penetrate to the interior of the Congo basin and to discover the scale of slavery there. The Arab Tippu Tib extended his influence and made many people slaves. After Europeans had settled in the Gulf of Guinea, the trans-Saharan slave trade became less important. In Zanzibar, slavery was abolished late, in 1897, under Sultan Hamoud bin Mohammed. The rest of Africa had no direct contact with Muslim slave-traders.
While slaves were sometimes employed for manual labour during the Arab slave trade, this was usually the exception rather than the norm. The vast majority of labour in the medieval Islamic world consisted of free, paid labour. The only known exceptions to this general rule was in the plantation economy of 9th-century southern Iraq (which led to the Zanj Revolt), in 9th-century Ifriqiya (modern-day Tunisia), and in 11th-century Bahrain (during the Karmatian state).
In some cases slaves joined to rebels or even uprose against governors. The most renowned of these rebellions was the Zanj Rebellion.
The Zanj Revolt took place near the city of Basra, located in southern Iraq over a period of fifteen years (869-883 AD). It grew to involve over 500,000 slaves who were imported from across the Muslim empire and claimed over “tens of thousands of lives in lower Iraq”. The revolt was said to have been led by Ali ibn Muhammad, who claimed to be a descendent of Caliph Ali ibn Abu Talib. Several historians, such as Al-Tabari and Al-Masudi, consider this revolt one of the “most vicious and brutal uprising” out of the many disturbances that plagued the Abbasid central government.
Mamluks were slave soldiers who were converted to Islam and served the Muslim caliphs and the Ayyubid sultans during the Middle Ages. Over time, they became a powerful military caste, often defeating the Crusaders and, on more than one occasion, they seized power for themselves, for example ruling Egypt in the Mamluk Sultanate from 1250-1517.
Slavery in the Ottoman Empire
Slavery in the Ottoman Empire was a legal and important part of the Ottoman Empire's economy and society until the slavery of Caucasians was banned in the early 19th century, although slaves from other groups were allowed. In Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), the administrative and political center of the Empire, about a fifth of the population consisted of slaves in 1609. Even after several measures to ban slavery in the late 19th century, the practice continued largely unfazed into the early 20th century. As late as 1908, female slaves were still sold in the Ottoman Empire. Sexual slavery was a central part of the Ottoman slave system throughout the history of the institution.
A member of the Ottoman slave class, called a kul in Turkish, could achieve high status. Harem guards and janissaries are some of the better known positions a slave could hold, but slaves were actually often at the forefront of Ottoman politics. The majority of officials in the Ottoman government were bought slaves, raised free, and integral to the success of the Ottoman Empire from the 14th century into the 19th. Many officials themselves owned a large number of slaves, although the Sultan himself owned by far the largest amount. By raising and specially training slaves as officials in palace schools such as Enderun, the Ottomans created administrators with intricate knowledge of government and fanatic loyalty.
Ottomans practiced devşirme, a sort of "blood tax" or "child collection", young Christian boys from the Balkans and Anatolia were taken from their homes and families, brought up as Muslims, and enlisted into the most famous branch of the Kapıkulu, the Janissaries, a special soldier class of the Ottoman army that became a decisive faction in the Ottoman invasions of Europe. Most of the military commanders of the Ottoman forces, imperial administrators, and de facto rulers of the Empire, such as Pargalı Ibrahim Pasha and Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, were recruited in this way.
19th and 20th centuries
The strong abolitionist movement in the 19th century in England and later in other Western countries influenced slavery in Muslim lands. Though the "position of the domestic slave in Muslim society was in most respects better than in either classical antiquity or the nineteenth-century Americas", thanks to regulation by Sharia law, the enlightened incentives and opportunities for slaves to be emancipated meant there was a strong market for new slaves and thus strong incentive to enslave and sell human beings. Appalling loss of life and hardships often resulted from the processes of acquisition and transportation of slaves to Muslim lands and this drew the attention of European opponents of slavery. The continuing pressure from European countries eventually overcame the strong resistance of religious conservatives who were holding that forbidding what God permits is just as great an offence as to permit what God forbids. Slavery, in their eyes, was "authorized and regulated by the holy law". Even masters persuaded of their own piety and benevolence sexually exploited their concubines, without a thought of whether this constituted a violation of their humanity. There were also many pious Muslims who refused to have slaves and persuaded others to do so. Eventually, the Ottoman Empire's orders against the traffic of slaves were issued and put into effect.
According to Brockopp, in the 19th century, "Some authorities made blanket pronouncements against slavery, arguing that it violated the Qurʾānic ideals of equality and freedom. The great slave markets of Cairo were closed down at the end of the nineteenth century and even conservative Qurʾān interpreters continue to regard slavery as opposed to Islamic principles of justice and equality."
Slavery in the forms of carpetweavers, sugarcane cutters, camel jockeys, sex slaves, and even chattel exists even today in some Muslim and non-Muslim countries (though some have questioned the use of the term slavery as an accurate description).
According to a March 1886 article in The New York Times, the Ottoman Empire allowed a slave trade in girls to thrive during the late 1800s, while publicly denying it. Girl sexual slaves sold in the Ottoman Empire were mainly of three ethnic groups: Circassian, Syrian, and Nubian. Circassian girls were described by the American journalist as fair and light skinned. They were frequently sent by Circassian leaders as gifts to the Ottomans. They were the most expensive, reaching up to 500 Turkish lira and the most popular with the Turks. The next most popular slaves were Syrian girls, with "dark eyes and hair", and light brown skin. Their price could reach to thirty lira. They were described by the American journalist as having "good figures when young". Throughout coastal regions in Anatolia, Syrian girls were sold. The New York Times journalist stated Nubian girls were the cheapest and least popular, fetching up to 20 lira.
According to Murray Gordon, unlike Western societies in which developed anti-slavery movements, no such organizations developed in Muslim societies. In Muslim politics the state interpreted Islamic law this then extended legitimacy to the traffic in slaves.
Writing about the Arabia he visited in 1862, the English traveler W. G. Palgrave met large numbers of black slaves. The effects of slave concubinage were apparent in the number of persons of mixed race and in the emancipation of slaves he found to be common. Charles Doughty, writing about 25 years later, made similar reports.
According to British explorer (and abolitionist) Samuel Baker, who visited Khartoum in 1862 six decades after the British had declared slave trade illegal, slave trade was the industry "that kept Khartoum going as a bustling town". From Khartoum slave raiders attacked African villages to the south, looting and destroying so that "surviving inhabitants would be force to collaborate with slavers on their next excursion against neighboring villages," and taking back captured women and young adults to sell in slave markets.
In the East Indies, slavery was common until the end of the 19th century. In Singapore in 1891 there was a regular trade in Chinese slaves by Muslim slaveowners, with girls and women sold for concubinage.
20th-century suppression and prohibition
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, slavery gradually became outlawed and suppressed in Muslim lands, due to a combination of pressure exerted by Western nations such as Britain and France, internal pressure from Islamic abolitionist movements, and economic pressures.
By the Treaty of Jeddah, May 1927 (art.7), concluded between the British Government and Ibn Sa'ud (King of Nejd and the Hijaz) it was agreed to suppress the slave trade in Saudi Arabia. Then by a decree issued in 1936 the importation of slaves into Saudi Arabia was prohibited unless it could be proved that they were slaves at that date.
In 1962 that all slavery practice or trafficking in Saudi Arabia was prohibited.
By 1969 it could be observed that most Muslim states had abolished slavery although it existed in the deserts of Iraq bordering Arabia and it still flourished in Saudi Arabia, the Yemen and Oman. Slavery was not formally abolished in Yemen and Oman until the following year. The last nation to formally enact the abolition of slavery practice and slave trafficking was the Islamic Republic of Mauritania in 1981.
Slavery in the late 20th and 21st century Muslim world
The issue of slavery in the Islamic world in modern times is controversial. Critics argue there is hard evidence of its existence and destructive effects. Others maintain slavery in central Islamic lands has been virtually extinct since the mid-20th century, and that reports from Sudan and Somalia showing practice of slavery is in border areas as a result of continuing war and not Islamic belief.
Earlier in the 20th century, prior to the "reopening" of slavery by Salafi scholars like Shaykh al-Fawzan, Islamist authors declared slavery outdated without actually clearly supporting its abolition. This has caused at least one scholar (William Clarence-Smith) to bemoan the "dogged refusal of Mawlana Mawdudi to give up on slavery"and the notable "evasions and silences of Muhammad Qutb".
Muhammad Qutb, brother and promoter, of the famous Sayyid Qutb, vigorously defended Islamic slavery from Western criticism, telling his audience that "Islam gave spiritual enfranchisement to slaves" and "in the early period of Islam the slave was exalted to such a noble state of humanity as was never before witnessed in any other part of the world." He contrasted the adultery, prostitution, and (what he called) "that most odious form of animalism" casual sex, found in Europe, with (what he called) "that clean and spiritual bond that ties a maid [i.e. slave girl] to her master in Islam."
Salafi and traditionalist juridical support for slavery
In recent years, according to some scholars, there has been a "reopening" of the issue of slavery by some conservative Salafi Islamic scholars after its "closing" earlier in the 20th century when Muslim countries banned slavery and "most Muslim scholars" found the practice "inconsistent with Qur'anic morality."
In 2003, Shaykh Saleh Al-Fawzan, a member of Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body, the Senior Council of Clerics, issued fatwa claiming “Slavery is a part of Islam. Slavery is part of jihad, and jihad will remain as long there is Islam.” Muslim scholars who said otherwise were "infidels".
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- Ahmad A. Sikainga, "Shari'a Courts and the Manumission of Female Slaves in the Sudan 1898-1939", The International Journal of African Historical Studies > Vol. 28, No. 1 (1995), pp. 1–24
- Lewis, Bernard (1990). Race and Slavery in the Middle East. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Lovejoy, Paul E. (2000). Transformations in Slavery. Cambridge University Press.
- Manning, Patrick (1990). Slavery and African Life: Occidental, Oriental, and African Slave Trades. Cambridge University Press.
- Gordon, Murray (1987). Slavery in the Arab World. New York: New Amsterdam Press.
- Clarence-Smith, Willian Gervase (2006). Islam and the Abolition of Slavery. Oxford University Press.
- Segal, Ronald (2001). Islam's Black Slaves: The Other Black Diaspora. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- Ingrams, W. H. (1967). Zanzibar. UK: Routledge.
- Islamic views on slavery
- History of slavery
- Slavery and religion
- Slavery in Sudan
- Slavery in Mauritania
- Slavery in Niger
- Slavery in Mali
- Slavery in antiquity
- Slavery in medieval Europe
- Slavery in contemporary Africa
- Slaves freed by Abu Bakr
ISIL appealed to apocalyptic beliefs and "claimed justification by a Hadith that they interpret as portraying the revival of slavery as a precursor to the end of the world." In late September 2014, 126 Islamic scholars from around the Muslim world signed an open letter to the Islamic State's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, rejecting his group's interpretations of the Qur'an and hadith to justify its actions. The letter accuses the group of instigating fitna—sedition—by instituting slavery under its rule in contravention of the anti-slavery consensus of the Islamic scholarly community.
In the digital magazine Dabiq, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed religious justification for enslaving Yazidi women whom they consider to be from a heretical sect. ISIL claimed that the Yazidi are idol worshipers and their enslavement part of the old shariah practice of spoils of war. The Economist reports that ISIS has taken "as many as 2,000 women and children" captive, selling and distributing them as sexual slaves, and in April 2015, a United Nations special envoy visiting Iraq was given a copy of an Islamic State list of prices for captured women and children. (Prices on the list varied from $165 for slaves 1–9 years old, to $41 for women 41–50 years old.)
In 2014, Jihadist groups in the Middle East (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and Northern Nigeria (Boko Haram) have not only justified the taking of slaves in war but actually enslaved women and girls. Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram said in an interview, "I shall capture people and make them slaves". Shekau has justified his actions stating, "[w]hat we are doing is an order from Allah, and all that we are doing is in the Book of Allah that we follow". Of the 2014 Chibok kidnapping of over 200 non-Muslim schoolgirls, he stated "Allah instructed me to sell them: they are his properties. I will sell them in the market by Allah.".
Saudi Arabia is a destination for men and women from South and East Asia and East Africa trafficked for the purpose of labor exploitation, and for children from Yemen, Afghanistan, and Africa trafficking for forced begging. Hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers from India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Kenya migrate voluntarily to Saudi Arabia; some fall into conditions of involuntary servitude, suffering from physical and sexual abuse, non-payment or delayed payment of wages, the withholding of travel documents, restrictions on their freedom of movement and non-consensual contract alterations. The Government of Saudi Arabia does not comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.
According to the U.S. State Department as of 2005:
In 1994-5 a Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights documented the physically and emotionally abuse of captives by the Sudanese Army and allied militia and army. The captives were "sold as slaves or forced to work under conditions amounting to slavery". The Sudanese government responded with "fury", accusing the author, Gaspar Biro of "harboring anti-Islam and Anti-Arab sentiments". In 1999 the UN Commission sent another Special Rapporteur who "also produced a detailed examination of the question of slavery incriminating the government of Sudan." At least in the 1980s, slavery in Sudan was developed enough for slaves to have a market price -- the price of a slave boy fluctuating between $90 and $10 in 1987 and 1988.
"not only illegal because it is contrary to the teachings of the fundamental text of Islamic law, the Koran. The abolition also amounts to the expropriation from Muslims of their goods, goods that were acquired legally. The state, if it is Islamic, does not have the right to seize my house, my wife or my slave.` 
In Mauritania slavery was abolished in the country's first constitution of 1961 after independence, and abolished yet again, by presidential decree, in July 1980. The "catch" of these abolitions was that is slave ownership was not abolished. The edict "recognized the rights of owners by stipulating that they should be compensated for their loss of property". No financial payment was provided by the state, so that the abolition amounted to "little more than propaganda for foreign consumption". Religious authorities within Mauritania assailed abolition. One leader, El Hassan Ould Benyamine, imam of a mosque in Tayarat attacked it as
Mauritania and Sudan