** Islam slavery Muslim countries








Islam and Slavery in Muslim Countries


Figure 1.--Arabs played a major role in the African slave trade, both in taking and transport of slaves. There were also major slave markets in Arab cities. It is not as apparent today. There are blacks in the arab world. This photograph of blacks in Aden was taken by photograpge M. Howard as part of a geography series. (I think Lehej was a village in the British colony of Aden.) There are not large black populations as in Latin American and the United Sttes. We are not entirely sure why this was, but we believe male blacks perished in large numbers and the off spring of female slaves were gradually absorbed in the wider population.

Islam from the very beginning accepted slavery and Mohammed in effect institutionalized it in the Koran. (Muslims would say God institutionalized it in the Koran.) This reflected accepted practices in pre-Islamic Arabia. Arabs commonly made captives taking in raids against neigboring tribes into slaves. Also prisionors taken in wars were commonly made slaves. Islam was spread by warriors who had little regard for mannual laborers. This basic fact strongly colored slavery in the Islamuc world. Muhammad after he escaped to Medina and begun to acquire power began taking slaves in conformance with existing practice. Islam permits the taking of slaves as "booty" in war or as a reward to warriors. The Koran justifies the taking of slaves and there are numerous references to slavery in the Koran. For example Koran 33:50: "Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave girls whom God has given you as booty." Nowhere in the Koran as in the Bible is slavery described as bad or whicked. The Koran does state that one duty of a good Muslim is to free one of his slaves. If you cannot for some reason free one of your slaves, you're required to fast for two consecutive months (Koran 4:92). The Koran permits a master to marry a slave (Koran 4:3). The Arabian practice of raids on neigboring tribes was over time adjusted to attacks on non-Muslim states and taking those peoples as slaves. Islamic jurisprudence gradually developed a code for the treatment of slaves. The regulations, however, have been variously enforced. Given the time period involved, there is very limited information on slavery in Muslim countries until the movern era. Slavery played important roles in several Muslim countries. The Mamelukes in Egypt for example were children of non-Muslim slaves, raised by Islamic clerics. The famous ??? soldiers of the Ottoman Empire were in fact children of Christian parents who were made the Sultan's slaves. One of the best studied instances of Muslim slavery was the Arab Indian Ocean slave trade that the British Royal Navy confronted in the 19th century.

Pre-Islamic Arabia

This reflected accepted practices in pre-Islamic Arabia. Arabs commonly made captives taking in raids against neigboring tribes into slaves. Also prisionors taken in wars were commonly made slaves.

Arab Conquests

One of the fascinating aspects of Islam is how the new religion of the Arab tribes so rapidly became one of the major religions of the world and the dominant religiom from North Africa west to central Asia. The common concept in the West is that Islam was spread by the sword. This certainly was an important element in the success of Islam, but it is hardly the only factor. There are a range of economic and social factors which contributed to the success of Islam. The weakness of Byzantine Christianity was a major factor. As was after the conquest, the obvious economic advantages of converting. There were other factors involved. And these factors varied over time and in the different areas in which Islam became the domininant or principal religion. Another interesting question is the strength of Islam in the modern world. Arabs after their emergence from the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century not only moved into Mesopotamia and North Africa, but also eastern Indian Oceaninto a virtual Arab lake until the arrival of the ortuguese (15th century).

The Koran and Slavery

While the European Atlantic slave trade was conducted over four centuries, the Arab African slave trade was conducted over 14 centuries, and has not finally ended even in the 21st century. A factor here is that slavery is scationed in the Koran and many Arabs and othet Muslims believe that the Koran is the literal word of God which can not be questioned by our more enlightened modern attitudes on social values and human rights. There are many references to slavery in the Koran. Some authors desribe this as Mohammed's attitude toward slavery, but this is not how many Muslims view it. Remember that Mohammed was a prophet, God's messenger. More correctly, the Koranic verses to many Muslims provide a statement of God's views on slavery. The clear conclusion from all these passages is that God saw slavery as a natural aspect of human relations. This explains why there was been no abolitionist movement within Islam and wehy it was the Brirish Royal Navy that ended the slave trade in the Indian Ocean. The many passages in the Koran mentioning slavery are rather ambigious, not unlike the Bible. Often the point of the passage is not clear. We can offer some suggestions as to the meaning. But we certainly do not pretend to be Islamic scholars. Reader comments are invited to help us better understand these various passages. There are numerous references to slavery in the Koran. For example Surah 33:50: "Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave girls whom God has given you as booty." Nowhere in the Koran as in the Bible is slavery described as bad or whicked. The Koran does state that one duty of a good Muslim is to free one of his slaves. If you cannot for some reason free one of your slaves, you're required to fast for two consecutive months (Surah 4:92). The Koran permits a master to marry a slave (Surah 4:3).

Islam and Slavery

Islam from the very beginning accepted slavery and Mohammed in effect institutionalized it in the Koran. (Muslims would say God institutionalized it in the Koran.) This is not something modern Muslims like to discuss. But if you accept that the Koran is the unquestiinable word of God, than you have to accept that God sees no problem with slavery because so many Koranic verses show an acceotance of slavery. While the Koran is the definitive Islamic holy book there are other elements that have cime to form Islamic traditions. One of these is the life of Muhammad himself. Muhammad after he escaped to Medina and begun to acquire power began taking slaves in conformance with existing practice. Islamic jurisprudence gradually developed a code for the treatment of slaves. This tradition was established during the Umayyad and Abbasid periods. A considerable degree of choice was allowed slaves. It was seen as a owner’s responsibility to adequately provide a slave's basic needs. A slave should be permitted to earn their living if they chose to do so. They could not be compeled to earn money for their master, except when an agreement was reached between the slave and the owner and in such ases part of the money earned should be use for eventual emancipation--mukatabah. Islamic tradition on the basis of the Koran promotes mukatabah. (See Surah 24:33.) This was a major diffence between slavery in the America. The Islamuc tradition of humane treatmeht of slaves seem to have been variously observed. I am not sure, in particular, how theIslanic tradition was observed by Arabs in Africa especially by the 19th century. This appears to have been more of a tradition in the Middle East itself.

Information Sources

Given the time period involved, there is very limited information on slavery in Muslim countries until the movern era.

Muslim Countries

Slavery played important roles in several Muslim countries. The Arabs have a long history of taking slaves. The Mamelukes in Egypt for example were children of non-Muslim slaves, raised by Islamic clerics. The famous ??? soldiers of the Ottoman Empire were in fact children of Christian parents who were made the Sultan's slaves.

The Arabs

The Arabs have a long history of taking slaves. Islam was spread by Arab warriors who had little regard for mannual laborers. This basic fact strongly colored slavery in the Islamic world. Islam permits the taking of slaves as "booty" in war or as a reward to warriors. The Koran justifies the taking of slaves. The Arabian practice of raids on neigboring tribes was over time adjusted to attacks on non-Muslim states and taking those peoples as slaves. The Arab slave trade was not race based. The people targetted were not people of any specific race or ethnicity, although the Arabs do not seem go have been imune from race prejusuce. The race of those enslaved have varied over time. Many slaves in the early stage of the Arab expansion (8th and 9th centuries) there were Slavic peope from Eastern Europe, Persians and Caucasoid origins. This had changed by the late phase of slavery (18th and 19th centuries) to Africans. Arab piracy (the Barbary Pirates) and slave taking caused the first American overseas military expedition at the turn of the 19th century.

Egypt

The Mamelukes in Egypt for example were children of non-Muslim slaves, raised by Islamic clerics.

Ottoman Empire

Slavery is an ancient central to the ecomonies of many ancient societies. This did not change with the coming of Islam and subsequently the rise of the Ottoman Empire. Slavery as an institution is recognized and thus sanctioned by the Holy Koran. The Koran consuls fair treatment of slaves, but slavery is sanctioned by Sharia Law. Thus approved by both religion and custom, slavery became an important institution in both the Ottoman economy and society. It was not as important as in some societies, but it was important. Slavery was entrenched in the operation of the Ottoman state in both administrative and militiary areas. [Erdem, p. 18.] Slavery was was a central element in the harem system as part of the use of slave domestics and concubines. Slavery was an important aspect of the private lives of individuals in the Muslim areas of the Empire. This was much less true in the Christian areas (primarily the Balkans) where slavery had largely disappeared by the time of the Ottoman conquest. The source of slaves varied over time. Both the Crimean Tartars and the Arabs played an important role in the Ottoman slave trade. The famed Janissary soldiers of the Ottoman Empire were in fact children of Christian parents who were made the Sultan's slaves.

Persians


Turkestan/Turkistan

Turkistan in Turish means the 'Land of the Turks'. It is the Area of central Asia situated between Siberia, (north), the Gobi Desert/Tibet (east), India/Persia (south), and the Caspian Sea (west). It was more of a eth\nic/cultyral ara than a political entity. But it was a recognized area, referred to ib both Turkic and Persian sagas. It was the area transversed by the Silk Road. Several ethnic groups populated the area, including Kazakhs, Khazars, Kyrgyz, Turkmens, Uyghurs, Uzbeks, and others. The Turkic tribes moved west into other areas (Turkey, Azerbaijan, Tatarstan, the Crimea. These areas are, however outside of historic Turkistan. The area ws conquered by Gehis Kahn (13th century) and subsequently Islamicized. It was conquered by Tsarist Russia (19th century). Slavery was an accepted practice in Turkistan and this continued after Islamization. We have little information on slavery in Turkistan except that it existed. Slaves were one of the many commodities traded along the Silk Road. We know little about central Asia slavery until modern times. Some sources suggest fairly substabntial mumbers of people were involved. The Khanate of Khiva operated a slave market for captured Russian and Persian slaves (17th-19th centuries). Some historians estimate that during the first half of the 19th century alone, as many as a million Persians and an unknown number of Russians were captured and sold as slaves in the Central Asian khanates. The Russians move to ablosh slavery as they extended their control south into the Caucauses and Central Asia (mid/late-19th century). One report at mid-century estimate the population of the Khanate of Bukhara at 1.2 million people, including 0.2 million Persian slaves. [Wolff] Russian conquest of the Caucasus led to the abolition of slavery there (1860s). Russian advances in central Asia (Turkistan) led to the conquest of the Central Asian Islamic khanates of Bukhara, Khiva, and Samarkand (1870s).

Oceania

Muslim states developed in the East Indies (Indonesoa and the southern Philippines) shortly before the arrical of vthe Europeans. We do not have information at this time as to the extent of slavery in these societies.

Muslim Abolitionist Movement

I know of no abolitionist movement in the Arab or wider Muslim world. There is nothing in the Arab or Muslim world comparable to the largely Christan-based Abolitionist Movement in England and America that brought about an end to slave trade and slavery itself. I am not sure why there was no Islamic abolitionist movement. I assume it was because the Holy Koran clearly scantions slavery. Thus Islamic clerics and theologians, unlike their Christian counterparts, never challenged an institution so clearly scantioned by the Koran. Hopefully our Muslim readers can provide us more information about this. Slavery was gradually abolished in the Middle East although legal abolition was not always fully observed. Abolition in many countries was taken under pressure from European countries (mostly the British) or after the creation of European protecorates and colonies.

Controversy

The history of the slave trade has focused on the European Atlantic slave trade. Much less attention has been given to slavery in the Muslim world. There are several reasons for this. One, the long history of Muslim slavery dating from the very early years of the Arab expansion. Few records are availabe from the early historical periods which bega in the early medieval era. This makes it especially difficult to assess the dimensions of slavery in early Muslim society. Two, the fact that slavery is firmly rooted in the Koran means that it cannot be question and thus Islamic scholars have tended to avoid the question. Three, slavery is not something Muslim historians want to honestly address. Western scholars now address a range of historical issues (colonialism, war, racism, nationalism, religion, ect.) with often brutal honesty, even if reflects poorly on their society/country. Thi is not a common practice among Muslim scholars. Nor isf it a safe practive. Muslim writers who publish books which reflect poorly on Islam or even Muslim society can be putting their lives in danger. As a result, Muslims who see books on Aran or Muslim slavery commonly view this as an attack on Islam, making such work contriversial in Muslim xountries. Another fator here is that some in West see work on Arab/Muslim slaveryas an attempt to lessen the onus placed upon the Atlantic slave trade. Here another facror is the extensive documentary evidence available on the Atlantic slave trade compared to the must more limited information available on the Arb slave trade. Historians in paticular have widely different estimates on the dimensions of the Arab African slave trade.

Sources

Wolff, Josef. Report of 1843–1845.







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Created: 12:16 AM 4/2/2007
Last updated: 4:49 AM 9/12/2010