#1 The History of Islamic Slavery in Africa04-01-2012, 03:05 AM
Two Views of The History of Islamic Slavery in Africa
By Susan Stephan
Slavery in the Arab World
New Amsterdam Books, New York, NY 1989
In his fact-filled work on the history of the Muslim Arab slave trade in Africa, Murray Gordon notes that this trade pre-dated the European Christian African slave trade by a thousand years and continued for more than a century after the Europeans had abolished the practice. Gordon estimates the number of slaves “harvested” from Black Africa over the period of the Muslim Arab slave trade at 11 million – roughly equal to the number taken by European Christians for their colonies in the New World.
“Despite the long history of slavery in the Arab World and in other Muslim lands, little has been written about this tragedy,” writes Gordon in his introduction. “Except for the few abolitionists, mainly in England, who railed against Arab slavery and put pressure upon Western governments to end the traffic in slaves, the issue has all but been ignored in the West.”
‘Conspiracy of Silence’ on Arab Slave Trade
Gordon decries a “conspiracy of silence. . .[that] has blocked out all light on this sensitive subject.” Among scholars in the Arab world, the author points out, “No moral opprobrium has clung to slavery since it was sanctioned by the Koran and enjoyed an undisputed place in Arab society.”
The book starts out with a brief outline of the growth of the Islamic attitude toward slavery. There is no evidence that Muhammad sought to abolish slavery, notes Gordon, although he urged slave-owners to treat their slaves well and grant them freedom as a meritorious deed.
“Some Muslim scholars have taken this to mean that his true motive was to bring about a gradual elimination of slavery. Far more persuasive is the argument that by lending the moral authority of Islam to slavery, Muhammad assured its legitimacy. Thus, in lightening the fetter, he riveted it ever more firmly in place.”
High Rate of Black African Casualties
While Gordon acknowledges that at times the Islamic version of slavery could be more “humane” than the European colonial version, he provides many facts which point out that the Muslim variety of slavery could be extremely cruel as well.
One particularly brutal practice was the mutilation of young African boys, sometimes no more than 9 or ten years old, to create eunuchs, who brought a higher price in the slave markets of the Middle East. Slave traders often created “eunuch stations” along the major African slave routes where the necessary surgery was performed in unsanitary conditions. Gordon estimates that only one out of every 10 boys subjected to the mutilation actually survived the surgery.
The taking of slaves – in razzias, or raids, on peaceful African villages – also had a high casualty rate. Gordon notes that the typical practice was to conduct a pre-dawn raid on an unsuspecting village and kill off as many of the men and older women as possible. Young women and children were then abducted as the preferred “booty” for the raiders.
Young women were targeted because of their value as concubines or sex slaves in markets. “The most common and enduring purpose for acquiring slaves in the Arab world was to exploit them for sexual purposes,” writes Gordon. “These women were nothing less than sexual objects who, with some limitations, were expected to make themselves available to their owners. . .Islamic law, as already noted, catered to the sexual interests of a man by allowing him to take as many as four wives at one time and to have as many concubines as his purse allowed.” Young women and girls were often “inspected” before purchase in private areas of the slave market by the prospective buyer.
Racism Toward Black Africans
Some of Gordon’s research disputes the oft-repeated charge that racism did not play a part in Islamic slave society. While it is true that the Muslims of the Middle East took slaves of all colors and ethnicities, they considered white slaves more valuable than black ones and developed racist attitudes toward the darker skinned people.
Even the famous Arab philosopher Ibn Khaldun, expressed racist attitudes toward black Africans: “The only people who accept slavery are the Negroes, owing to their low degree of humanity and their proximity to the animal stage,” Khaldun wrote. Another Arab writer, of the 14th Century, asked: “Is there anything more vile than black slaves, of less good and more evil than they?”
Gordon covers the Arab/African slave trades up until the mid-20th Century, noting that Saudi Arabia only abolished the practice in the early 1960s. Unlike the European nations and the USA, the Arab nations did not abolish African slavery voluntarily out of moral conscience, but due to considerable economic and military pressure applied by the great colonial powers of time, France and Britain. Slavery is still practiced in two Islamic nations: The Sudan and Mauritania.
Further reading about the Arab/Muslim slave trades can be found in the following book:
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04-01-2012, 03:06 AM
Race and Slavery in the Middle East
Oxford University Press (Trade); Reprint edition (April 1992)
An excerpt from this book can be found here
To learn more about the 21st Century slave conditions in The Sudan and Mauritania, please visit www.iabolish.org
# # #
White Slaves, African Masters
An Anthology of American Barbary Captivity Narratives
Edited and with an introduction by Paul Baepler
The University of Chicago Press 1999
This book illuminates a subject once well-known in the history of the West but which is now somewhat neglected: the enslavement, over several centuries, of tens of thousands of white Christian Europeans and (later) Americans in Muslim North Africa -- or the so-called “Barbary” states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Tripoli. Over the course of 10 centuries, tens of thousands of these unfortunates became the possessions of Muslims in North Africa courtesy of the feared Barbary pirates. These pirates cruised the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean in search of European and, later, American ships to pillage and plunder.
Edited by a lecturer at the University of Minnesota, Paul Baepler, this book focuses on first-person accounts of American Christians who served as slaves to high-ranking Muslim officials in North Africa. Baepler also provides fascinating background commentary that puts the narratives into historical perspective. He includes two “fictional” narratives of female captives. (According to Baepler, Christian women captives of the Barbary states – unlike male captives – usually did not publish their testimonies under their real names, due to the fact that many of them had been “dishonored” by service in the harems of Barbary potentates.)
As Baepler notes in his introduction, Christian slaves of European ancestry were hardly an uncommon phenomenon in the Barbary States. The Barbary pirates were excellent seafarers and, from the Coasts of North Africa, sailed as far north as Iceland (where they went ashore and captured 800 slaves during one incident) and as far West as Newfoundland, Canada, where they pillaged more than 40 vessels at one time. By 1620, reports Baepler, there were more than 20,000 white Christian slaves in Algiers alone, and by the 1630s that number tolled more than 30,000 men and 2,000 women. The most famous of all white Christian Europeans to serve as a slave in the Barbary States was probably Miguel de Cervantes, the great Spanish author of the “Don Quixote” epic, who was taken as a slave in the late 1500s.
An Important Source of Revenue
European and (later on) American slaves appeared to have been important source of foreign revenue for the local economies for several centuries. First, European and (later) American governments paid huge sums in “tribute” to the Muslim governments in exchange for “peace treaties” that were supposed to halt the pirate attacks on their trading and naval ships. Those nations who did not pay suffered the consequences. Second, enslaved Europeans and Americans were often redeemed for a handsome ransom. And third, even if the Muslim governments received no “tribute” or ransom, they still benefited from the unpaid labor of their captives.
Baepler quotes a Barbary Coast maxim that illustrates the viewpoints of the pirates and their sponsoring states: “The Christians who would be on good terms with [the Barbary States] must [either] fight well or pay well.”
The first-person narratives reproduced in this book do not support the often-repeated contention that slavery was somehow a more human institution in the Islamic world than it was in the European colonies of the New World.
By and large, the Christian slaves were poorly fed and housed, existing, by one account, on a meager ration of two slices of bread and a small quantity of beans per day. Clothing – and medical care -- was provided by sympathetic free Europeans living in North Africa; slave-owners provided nothing. Spanish Catholic priests even built a large hospital in Algeria to look after ill and dying Christian slaves.
The most popular punishment was the “bastinado” – hundreds of blows on the soles of the feet with a thick wooden truncheon. For more severe offenses, such as attempting to escape or ridiculing the Muslim religion or prophet, slaves were executed in particularly cruel ways: by crucifixion, burning at the stake or impalement on huge iron hooks until death. The narrators of these slave accounts witnessed many acts of brutality toward the Christian slaves, as well as toward the general North African populace ruled over by the elite: the beys, deys and bashaws of the Barbary States.
Baepler quotes from, but does not include, the narrative of one James Riley, an American Barbary captive of the early 1800s who published a book about his experiences upon returning to the United States. The book became an influential “best-seller” in the young nation of the USA and influenced those Americans who worked for abolition of the shameful practice of Black African slavery in the Southern States of the USA. Riley’s book was said to have greatly influenced one young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln, who, as 16th president of the United States, signed the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in the U.S. in 1863.
As for the Barbary pirate slave trade, it continued sporadically up until the dawn of the 20th Century, and was not abolished until military and economic pressure was applied by the colonial powers of Europe (with, in come cases, assistance from the military might of the USA).The difference between pigs and people is that when they tell you you're cured it isn't a good thing.
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