How Islam Enslaved Africans part 1

 

 

Slavery has been rife throughout all of ancient history. Most, if not
all, ancient civilizations practiced this institution and it is
described (and defended) in early writings of the Sumerians,
Babylonians, and Egyptians. It was also practiced by early societies in
central America and Africa. (See Bernard Lewis’s work Race and Slavery in the Middle East1 for a detailed chapter of the origins and practices of slavery.)
The Qur’an prescribes a humanitarian approach to slavery — free men
could not be enslaved, and those faithful to foreign religions could
live as protected persons, dhimmis, under Muslim rule (as long as they maintained payment of taxes called Kharaj and Jizya). However, thespread of the Islamic Empire resulted in a much harsher
interpretation of the law. For example, if a dhimmis was unable to pay
the taxes they could be enslaved, and people from outside the borders of
the Islamic Empire were considered an acceptable source of slaves.

Although the law required owners to treat slaves well and provide
medical treatment, a slave had no right to be heard in court (testimony
was forbidden by slaves), had no right to property, could marry only
with permission of their owner, and was considered to be a chattel, that
is the (moveable) property, of the slave owner. Conversion to Islam did
not automatically give a slave freedom nor did it confer freedom to
their children. Whilst highly educated slaves and those in the military
did win their freedom, those used for basic duties rarely achieved
freedom. In addition, the recorded mortality rate was high — this was
still significant even as late as the nineteenth century and was
remarked upon by western travelers in North Africa and Egypt.
Slaves were obtained through conquest, tribute from vassal states (in
the first such treaty, Nubia was required to provide hundreds of male
and female slaves), offspring (children of slaves were also slaves, but
since many slaves were castrated this was not as common as it had been
in the Roman empire), and purchase. The latter method provided the
majority of slaves, and at the borders of the Islamic Empire vast number
of new slaves were castrated ready for sale (Islamic law did not allow
mutilation of slaves, so it was done before they crossed the border).
The majority of these slaves came from Europe and Africa — there were
always enterprising locals ready to kidnap or capture their fellow
countrymen.
Black Africans were transported to the Islamic empire across the
Sahara to Morocco and Tunisia from West Africa, from Chad to Libya,
along the Nile from East Africa, and up the coast of East Africa to the
Persian Gulf. This trade had been well entrenched for over 600 years
before Europeans arrived, and had driven the rapid expansion of Islam
across North Africa.
By the time of the Ottoman Empire, the majority of slaves were
obtained by raiding in Africa. Russian expansion had put an end to the
source of “exceptionally beautiful” female and “brave” male slaves from
the Caucasians — the women were highly prised in the harem, the men in
the military. The great trade networks across north Africa were as much
to do with the safe transportation of slaves as other goods. An analysis
of prices at various slave markets shows that eunuchs fetched higher
prices than other males, encouraging the castration of slaves before
export.
Documentation suggests that slaves throughout Islamic world were
mainly used for menial domestic and commercial purposes. Eunuchs were
especially prised for bodyguards and confidential servants; women as
concubines and menials. A Muslim slave owner was entitled by law to use
slaves for sexual pleasure.
As primary source material becomes available to Western scholars, the
bias towards urban slaves is being questioned. Records also show that
thousands of slaves were used in gangs for agriculture and mining. Large
landowners and rulers used thousands of such slaves, usually in dire
conditions: “of the Saharan salt mines it is said that no slave lived
there for more than five years.1”

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