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  • Hubert Marlin

Slavery in the land of Islam: From 622 to the 21th century


After the death of the Prophet Mohammed and the submission of the Arabian Peninsula, Muslims conquered the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean. Multiplying catches of war, they prolong slavery in the ancient fashion. They also inaugurate a long and painful slave trade that blew black Africa until the end of the nineteenth century. Slavery in the land of Islam is unfortunately a reality that lasts as the anthropologist Malek Chebel depicts.

The Qur'an, the sacred text of Islam, confirms the existence of slavery (see Sura XVI, The Bees) as well as Biblical texts. Note that the first muezzin appointed by the Prophet for the call to prayer is a black slave named Bilal originally from Ethiopia. Islamic or Sharia law, which is based on the Qur'an and the sayings of the prophet (hadiths), considers that in Islamized countries slaves and prisoners of war are the only slaves. On the other hand, it authorizes the enslavement of anyone from a non-Muslim country .(if a slave comes to convert, he is not freed for that matter).Very early on, because of the rapidity of their conquests, the Arabs encountered a shortage of slaves. They could not enslave the populations of the countries subject to their law and are therefore were obliged to import an increasing number of slaves from third countries, whether or not they were in the process of Islamization.Like the Christians of the early Middle Ages, they refrained from enslaving their co-religionists, but this rule suffered numerous transgressions and one was not reluctant to enslave Muslims, especially blacks, on the pretext that their conversion was recent.

An economy based on slavery.

Slavery rapidly became one of the pillars of the economy of the Abbasside empire of Baghdad due to many war conquests and the advent of a very rich urban bourgeoisie. To be convinced of this, one might only read The Arabian Nights, a collection of Arab tales supposed to unfold during the reign of the Caliph Haroun al-Rashid, contemporary of Charlemagne.The harems of the caliph and the notables of Bagdad were filled with Circassians, these women from the Caucasus famous for their beauty. These beautiful slaves continued until the twentieth century to feed the eastern harems, in competition with the black beauties originating from Ethiopia. For domestic tasks and the work in workshops and fields, the subjects of the caliph resort to countless slaves from the Slavic countries, the Mediterranean Europe, and especially from Black Africa. These slaves were mistreated and often mutilated and castratedOther slaves and eunuchs were employed as soldiers and warlords by the various Muslim dynasties, from Morocco to India. These slaves sometimes attained high functions and sometimes acquired supreme power, like the famous Mamelukes of Egypt, whom Bonaparte will have to fight in 1798.

Eunuchs and castrates

Invented and developed on a large scale by Imperial China, exported to Muslim countries and even to Italy (the castrates), the exploitation of eunuchs (castrated men) is one of the most inhumane forms of slavery.It pursues two main objectives: to prevent foreign slaves from making their roots; Avoid sexual relations between women of the harems and their servants. The castrati are also sought after by music lovers for their powerful and very acute voice.Castration consists in the removal of the genitals, either total or limited to the testicles (to prevent reproduction). It is most often practiced in pre-adolescence and results in an appalling level mortality.Male slaves from Black Africa are generally castrated in Egypt by Coptic monks on behalf of Muslim traffickers. During the Carolingian period, the Slavic captives destined for the oriental markets are castrated at Verdun in France, which was the main market stage of this traffic. White slaves in the land of Islam In the early days of Islam, the notables ofBaghdad obtained white slaves from the warrior tribes of the Caucasus, but also from the Venetian merchants who sold them prisoners from the still pagan Slavic countries.At the end of the Middle Ages, as the slaves reserve became exhausted because of the Christianization of eastern Europe, Muslims turned to pirates who scoured the Mediterranean Sea. The latter carried out raids on the coastal villages on European shores, including even in the Atlantic Ocean to the limits of the Arctic Circle. In 1627, Algerian barbarians launched a raid on Iceland and brought back 400 captives. The memory of the fighting delivered by the inhabitants against these pirates persists in ... the head of Moor prisoners, which serves as the emblem of Corsica. The number of inhabitants abducted in Western Europe between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries in the days of Francis I, Louis XIV and Louis XV is estimated at more than one million. These slaves, especially men, were exploited in the worst ways in orange groves, stone quarries, galleys, and the construction sites in North Africa. Christian organizations were energetic in the redemption of these unfortunates, such as Miguel de Cervantes or later Saint Vincent de Paul. In eastern Europe and the Balkans, during the same period, the Ottomans took about three million slaves. Until the early nineteenth century. The princes of the North African coast themselves made great profits from piracy by imposing heavy taxes on Western shipowners in exchange for a guarantee that their ships would not be attacked by pirates. In 1805, the American President Thomas Jefferson launched a naval expedition against the Dey of Tripoli, in Libya, to force him to give up this racket. The Dey of Algiers unmoved will pursue his trade until the French conquest in 1830.

Black slaves in the land of Islam

If the slave trade quickly stumbled on the resistance of the Europeans, it was not the same with the Trafficking of black slaves from the African continent. The Arab treaty began in 652, twenty years after the death of Mahomet, when the Arab general Abdallah bin Sayd imposed the Nubian Christians (the inhabitants of the Upper Nile Valley) to provide 360 slaves per year. The convention, very formal, is reflected in a treaty (bakht) between the emir and the king of Nubia Khalidurat. This traffic will not cease to grow. The "white" Muslims of the Sahelian fringe (Peuls, Tuaregs, Toubous etc.) multiply the attacks against the villages of Bantu people in the forest and remove the best elements to sell them to the inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire or Morocco. Specialists evaluate from twelve to eighteen million individuals the number of Africans who were victims of the Arab slave trade during the last millennium, from the seventh to the twentieth century. It is about as much as European trafficking across the Atlantic Ocean, from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century. Traffic first followed Trans-Saharan roads. Caravans sold, in Timbuktu, horses, salt, and manufactured goods. They were leaving the following year with gold, ivory, ebony and, therefore, slaves to reach Morocco, Algeria, Egypt and, beyond, the Middle East. In the 19th century there was also a maritime trade between the port of Zanzibar (today in Tanzania) and the Red Sea and Persian Gulf coasts. The fate of these slaves, razed by the black chiefs in the pay of the Arab merchants, Is dramatic. After the desperate journey through the desert, men and boys were systematically castrated before they were placed on the market, at the cost of a frightening mortality. The anthropologist and economist Tidiane N'Diaye affirms that this Painful chapter of the deportation of Africans in the land of Islam is comparable to a genocide. This deportation was not limited to deprivation of liberty and forced labor. It was also, and to a large extent, a veritable programmed undertaking of what could be termed "ethnic extinction by castration." The Tales of the Thousand and One Nights, written in the time of the Caliph Haroun al -Rachid (and Charlemagne), bear witness to the ill-treatment inflicted on the black slaves and contempt for them (although they were Muslims like their masters). This contempt, legitimized by Cham's curse, has continued through the centuries. Thus, the Arab historian Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) writes: "It is true that most negroes are easily accustomed to servitude; But this disposition results, as we have said elsewhere, from an inferiority of organization which brings them closer to the raw animals.Other men may have consented to enter into a state of servitude, but this was with the hope of attaining honors, wealth, and power "(The Prolegomena, IV). These remarks precede the Atlantic trafficking of Westerners by two centuries.

Slavery and decadence

The very large contingents of slave labor contributed to the economic stagnation of the Muslim world by discouraging technical and social innovation. They also caused many troubles. Thus, at the end of the ninth century, the terrible revolt of the Zendj (or Zenj, an Arabic word for black slaves) in the marshes of southern Iraq led the empire ofBaghdad on the road of ruin and decadence. Thevarious revolts of the Zenj between 689 and 694,and during 14 years from 869 to 883, helped thedecline of the empire, these facts are establishedin the archives of the present Bahrein and Iraq,with the siege and the taking of Basra by theseslaves under the leadership of Al - Ibn called "the Master of the Zenj" (Sâhib al - Zanj),who will have the audacity to create anindependent state with the former slaves andeven create a currency to help the trade in thenewly created state. "Compared to the slave tradeof the western world, the slave trade of theMuslim world started earlier, lasted longer and,more importantly, took into servitude a greaternumber of people ", as the economist Paul Bairochsummarize. there is hardly any trace of the blackslaves in the land of Islam because of thegeneralization of castration, ill-treatment and veryhigh mortality, while their descendants are about70 million on the American continent However, African Islam, directly inspired by localmaraboutism, often revolted against thecorruption of the slave trade, also in Senegal, theImam of the Adrar, launched the Toubenanmovement in 1673 (a term deriving from theWolof word Tabwa which signifies "Repentance"with the aim of fighting against the despotism andcorruption of local notables, who contributed tothe commerce of shame. For more than a year theIman and his army succeeded in bringing order tothe regions, but the local supporters of slaveryonce again received support from the Westernslave traders who provided them with arms andmercenaries to reject this movement whichthreatened their economic interest. The leaders ofthe Toubenan movement were finally defeatedand deported into slavery to the Americas werethey will contribute to several other revolts in the"new world" the slave in Islamic land haspersisted since in Mauritania where Tuareg withwhite skin still apply the rule of servitude against blacks of Bantu origin.

Sources Herodote Review - Alban Dignat

Hubert Marlin slavery and Africans


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