Bottom line is, yes, slavery has been present in the Islamic World from Day One. In fact, one can make a case that slavery was an inherent and even emblematic aspect of Islam since its inception. It only left the Muslim World due to pressure from the West when the West emancipated its own slaves in the late 1800’s. Officially, most of the Muslim World dumped theirs. Yet the practice continued. Saudi Arabia only outlawed slavery in 1962. An advertisement for a castrated Black slave for sale recently appeared in a Saudi publication. Mauritania only outlawed slavery a few years ago, and the ban is hardly enforced.
As societies collapsed, the peculiar institution experienced a recrudescence. Libyan ports now export many slaves destined for Europe. Syrian teenage girls in Jordanian refugee camps are trafficked to brothels in Amman and sold to visiting Gulf men for $140-175 for a “temporary marriage.” In Northern Nigeria, even before Boko Haram kidnapped scores of teenage Christian girls, Muslim men had been importing concubine slave girls from the north to serve as “fifth wives.” The abuse and rape of female domestics in the Gulf who are little more than slaves of their owners has been documented for years.
Worst of all is the migrant labor scam that the Gulf states have been running for decades involving workers from South Asia, especially Pakistan and India, and Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines. For all intents and purposes, work which is tied to contracts with the employer is little more than slavery, let’s face it. Gulf employers of these men have referred to them as slaves. They are housed in the most miserable conditions in a very wealthy country and worked to exhaustion and sometimes to death in ferocious heat with little protection or rest. A number of deaths have occurred to poor working conditions. Some poor countries to the east have forbidden their workers from going to the Gulf to work. There has been a bit of a crackdown, but it was mostly fake. Kuwait gave its “slaves” rights recently, but the Emir has not yet signed the bill. Qatar is worried about its reputation as the Olympics are coming soon, but its response instead of cleaning up its act has been to cover the whole mess up and beat up and detain the protesters. Any progress elsewhere in the Gulf has been frozen in recent years. Instead we get the predictable fake backlash whereby the Gulf states say that critics of their Slave System are “Islamophobes.”
The progress for serious progressive change for alleviating remaining vestiges of slavery in the Arab World seem dim at the moment as the region undergoes a retrenchment, a backlash and a hardening of reaction.
The link between Islam and slavery goes back from the start, so ISIS is not doing anything new. The fact that the formal Muslim states of the world continue to refuse to clean up their mess is most discouraging, but it too may be blamed on tradition.
“Spoils of war,” snaps Dabiq, the English-language journal of Islamic State (IS). The reference is to thousands of Yazidi women the group forced into sex slavery after taking their mountain, Sinjar, in August last year. Far from being a perversion, it claims that forced concubinage is a religious practice sanctified by the Koran.
In a chapter called Women, the Koran sanctions the marriage of up to four wives, or “those that your right hands possess”. Literalists, like those behind the Dabiq article, have interpreted these words as meaning “captured in battle”.
Its purported female author, Umm Sumayyah, celebrated the revival of Islam’s slave-markets and even proffered the hope that Michelle Obama, the wife of America’s president, might soon be sold there. “I and those with me at home prostrated to Allah in gratitude on the day the first slave-girl entered our home,” she wrote. Sympathizers have done the same, most notably the allied Nigerian militant group, Boko Haram, which last year kidnapped an entire girls’ school in Chibok.
Religious preachers have responded with a chorus of protests. “The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus,” declared an open letter sent by 140 Muslim scholars to IS’s “caliph”, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, earlier this year. “You have taken women as concubines and thus revived…corruption and lewdness on the earth.”
But while IS’s embrace of outright slavery has been singled out for censure, religious and political leaders have been more circumspect about other “slave-like” conditions prevalent across the region. IS’s targeting of an entire sect for kidnapping, killing and sex trafficking, and its bragging, are exceptional; forced labor for sexual and other forms of exploitation is not.
From Morocco, where thousands of children work as petites bonnes, or maids, to the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan where girls are forced into prostitution, to the unsanctioned rape and abuse of domestics in the Gulf, aid workers say servitude is rife.
Scholars are sharply divided over how much cultural mores are to blame. Apologists say that, in a concession to the age, the Prophet Muhammad tolerated slavery, but—according to a prominent American theologian trained in Salafi seminaries, Yasir Qadhi—he did so grudgingly and advocated abolition.
Repeatedly in the Koran the Prophet calls for the manumission of slaves and release of captives, seeking to alleviate the slave systems run by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Jewish Himyarite kings of Yemen. He freed one slave, a chief’s daughter, by marrying her, and chose Bilal, another slave he had freed, to recite the first call to prayer after his conquest of Mecca. His message was liberation from worldly oppression, says Mr Qadhi – enslavement to God, not man.
Other scholars insist, however, that IS’s treatment of Yazidis adheres to Islamic tradition. “They are in full compliance with Koranic understanding in its early stages,” says Professor Ehud Toledano, a leading authority on Islamic slavery at Tel Aviv University. Moreover, “what the Prophet has permitted, Muslims cannot forbid.”
The Prophet’s calls to release slaves only spurred a search for fresh stock as the new empire spread, driven by commerce, from sub-Saharan Africa to the Persian Gulf.
To quash a black revolt in the salt mines of southern Iraq, the Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad conscripted Turkish slaves into their army. Within a few generations these formed a power base, and from 1250 to 1517 an entire slave caste, the Mamluks (Arabic for “chattel”), ruled Egypt.
A path to power
Their successors, the Ottoman Turks, perfected the system. After conquering south-eastern Europe in the late 14th century, they imposed the devshirme, or tribute, enslaving the children of the rural poor, on the basis that they were more pagan than Christian, and therefore not subject to the protections Islam gave to People of the Book. Far from resisting this, many parents were happy to deliver their offspring into the white slave elite that ran the empire.
Under this system, enslaved boys climbed the ranks of the army and civil service. Girls entered the harem as concubines to bear sultans. All anticipated, and often earned, power and wealth. Unlike the feudal system of Christian Europe, this one was meritocratic and generated a diverse gene pool. Mehmet II, perhaps the greatest of the Ottoman sultans, who ruled in the 15th century, had the fair skin of his mother, a slave girl from the empire’s north-western reaches.
All this ended because of abolition in the West. After severing the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 19th century, Western abolitionists turned on the Islamic world’s, and within decades had brought down a system that had administered not just the Ottoman empire but the Sherifian empire of Morocco, the Sultanate of Oman with its colonies on the Swahili-speaking coast and West Africa’s Sokoto Caliphate.
With Western encouragement, Serb and Greek rebels sloughed off devshirme. Fearful of French ambitions, the mufti of Tunis wooed the British by closing his slave-markets in 1846. A few years later, the sultan in Istanbul followed suit.
Some tried to resist, including Morocco’s sultan and the cotton merchants of Egypt, who had imported African slaves to make up the shortages left by the ravages of America’s civil war. But colonial pressure proved unstoppable. Under Britain’s consul-general, Evelyn Baring, Earl of Cromer, Egypt’s legislative assembly dutifully abolished slavery at the end of the 19th century. The Ottoman register for 1906 still lists 194 eunuchs and 500 women in the imperial harem, but two years later they were gone.
For almost a century the Middle East, on paper at least, was free of slaves. “Human beings are born free, and no one has the right to enslave, humiliate, oppress or exploit them,” proclaimed the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam in 1990. Early jihadist groups followed the trend, characterizing themselves as liberation movements and, as such, rejecting slavery.
But though slavery per se may be condemned, observers point to the persistence of servitude. The Global Slavery Index (GSI), whose estimates are computed by an Australian NGO working with Hull University, claims that of 14 states with over 1% of the population enslaved, more than half are Muslim. Prime offenders range from the region’s poorest state, Mauritania, to its richest per head, Qatar.
The criteria and data used by GSI have been criticized, but evidence supports the thrust of its findings. Many Arab states took far longer to criminalize slavery than to ban it. Mauritania, the world’s leading enslaver, did not do so until 2007. Where bans exist, they are rarely enforced. The year after Qatar abolished slavery in 1952, the emir took his slaves to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Government inspections and prosecutions are rarities. “The security chiefs, the judges and the lawyers all belong to the class that historically owned slaves,” says Sarah Mathewson of London-based Anti-Slavery International. “They are part of the problem.”
No labor practice has drawn more international criticism than the kafala system, which ties migrant workers to their employers. This is not slavery as IS imposes it; migrants come voluntarily, drawn by the huge wealth gap between their own countries and the Gulf. But the system “facilitates slavery”, says Nicholas McGeehan, who reports for Human Rights Watch on conditions in the desert camps where most such workers live.
The Gulf’s 2.4m domestic servants are even more vulnerable. Most do not enjoy the least protection under labor laws. Housed and, in some cases, locked in under their employer’s roof, they are prey to sexual exploitation.
Irons and red-hot bars
Again, these workers have come voluntarily; but disquieting echoes persist. Many Gulf nationals can be heard referring to their domestics as malikat (slaves). Since several Asian governments have suspended or banned their female nationals from domestic work in the Gulf out of concern for their welfare, recruitment agencies are turning to parts of Africa, such as Uganda, which once exported female slaves. Some domestic servants are abused with irons and red-hot bars: resonant, says Mr McGeehan, of slave-branding in the past.
Elsewhere in the region, the collapse of law and order provides further cover for a comeback of old practices. Syrian refugee camps in Jordan provide a supply of girls for both the capital’s brothels and for Gulf men trawling websites, which offer short-term marriages for brokerage fees of $140-270 each. Trafficking has soared in Libya’s Mediterranean ports, which under the Ottomans exported sub-Saharan labor to Europe. Long before Boko Haram kidnapped girls, Anti-Slavery International had warned that Nigerian businessmen were buying “fifth wives”—concubines alongside the four wives permitted by Islam—from neighboring Niger.
Gulf states insist they are dealing with the problem. In June Kuwait’s parliament granted domestic servants labor rights, the first Gulf state to do so. It is also the only Gulf state to have opened a refuge for female migrants. Qatar, fearful that reported abuses might upset its hosting of the World Cup in 2022, has promised to improve migrant housing.
And earlier this year Mauritania’s government ordered preachers at Friday prayers to publicize a fatwa by the country’s leading clerics declaring: “Slavery has no legal foundation in sharia law.” Observers fear, though, that this is window-dressing. And Kuwait’s emir has yet to ratify the new labour-rights law.
Rather than stop the abuse, Gulf officials prefer to round on their critics, accusing them of Islamophobia just as their forebears did. Oman and Saudi Arabia have long been closed to Western human-rights groups investigating the treatment of migrants. Now the UAE and Qatar, under pressure after a wave of fatalities among workers building venues for the 2022 World Cup, are keeping them out, too.
Internal protests are even riskier. Over the past two years hundreds of migrant laborers building Abu Dhabi’s Guggenheim and Louvre Museums have been detained, roughed up and deported, says Human Rights Watch, after strikes over unpaid wages. Aminetou Mint Moctar, a rare Mauritanian Arab on the board of SOS Esclaves, a local association campaigning for the rights of haratin, or descendants of black slaves, has received death threats.
Is it too much to hope that the Islamic clerics denouncing slavery might also condemn other instances of forced and abusive labor? Activists and Gulf migrants are doubtful. Even migrants’ own embassies can be strangely mute, not wanting criticism to curb the vital flow of remittances. When Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, visited the UAE this week, his nationals there complained that migrant rights were last on his list. Western governments generally have other priorities. One is simply to defeat IS, whose extreme revival of slavery owes at least something to the region’s persistent and pervasive tolerance of servitude.
14 thoughts on “Slavery in the Muslim World: The Tradition Is Not Yet Dead”
Yet another raghead bitch who’s trying to divert the core issue and trying to hide the blatant slavery persistent in the Islamic world.
Listen bitch, we are not gonna be swayed by dumb fiats that Islam is a religion of peace. Islam is as much as a cancer than the satan worshipping Jews
Fucking stupid Muslims…..I hate the Middle-Eastern countries with a passion.
Years ago, when I was a full time freelancer (I can do SHITLOADS of things with a computer and mouse), I worked on a couple of high paying projects for two clients from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. They were very demanding and would TALK DOWN to me all the time. The money was good so I did not complain initially. Later it became very strenuous and I even had to work nights. The Saudi client would constantly berate me for no reason. I would be like “fuck him, let me concentrate on other work.”
One day the Saudi unconditionally offered me to get on a plane to Saudi Arabia and work for him. He apparently would have paid me 5 times more than what I was making in a month. I was suspicious of course, not that I doubted his ability to pay for he was FILTHY RICH. But he always spoke with an ulterior motive and even after working with him for 4 months, I WAS UNABLE TO TRUST HIM.
I simply called it off, changed my mobile phone number and stopped replying to his email messages. The Saudi became very vindictive, he even threatened to call the police on me for cheating him. I was like “fuck you…try doing whatever you want…this is not fucking Saudi Arabia”….I was scared but he never delivered on his threat. Besides, he couldn’t have really harmed me in India much.
What were you doing for them?
Creating website content for an Islamic website (I know quite a bit of Qu’ran and Hadiths), content aggregation using Digg, Delicious, Stumble (that trend is dying now but was very popular around 2008-09) and sending email newsletters.
There are millions of Indians working in the Gulf (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait) – construction workers, plumbers, janitors, maids and nannies, drivers – the fucking Arabs are some lazy sob’s who wouldn’t lift a finger even to turn on the television set. Indians over there are treated worse than dogs, are routinely unpaid, often have their passports confiscated by their employers and exploited to the hilt.
The Indian government and Indian embassies don’t give a fuck about the living condition of Indian workers in the Gulf. Right now, Qatar is slated to host the FIFA world cup. This means a construction frenzy – stadiums, hotels, malls, highways. It just came in news that 7 workers are dying daily due to the oppressive heat in the desert, unsanitary conditions and long working hours. Again, the Indian government doesn’t give a fuck. The Arabs don’t treat white westerners like that. Apparently British and American expats make a lot of money in Dubai. Even the Japanese are treated nicely. The Indians and Africans are at the bottom of Arab racial classification system and are treated as dispensable commodities.
I can’t see a difference between a white nationalist fantasy-land and a muslim one. Both are incredibly intolerant and brutal places full of male domination. White nationalists are constantly bitching about how “pussy” the west is. However looking to the middle east there is a model of a real man’s land 🙄
As noted in other comments, the Muslim slave trade was a million times worse than the western one. The Jews, as evil as WNs portray them, didn’t produce the cruelty the Muslims did. Slaves bound east were castrated, and the women ones were raped with any children produced killed. And these are people supposedly “following god” 😆
blockquote>laves bound east were castrated,
Oh wait, I was talking about the liberal white male 😆
Oh gosh, being a light skinned person has so much value. 😆 Since, myself, I’m such a liberal pussy, I should prostitute my thin self in India. I’d be a millionare. 😆 So do they like “chicks with dicks” :roll ??
I was saying the same thing about Koreans. Koreans treat whites with a colonialist attitude of “superiority”, yet, hypocritically, bitch and complain about imperalism.
Anyhow, you can’t expect the flow of Indians etc.. to stop going to the middle east. As WNs point out, the population of the third world is exploding. There are no jobs, and there lucky lazy Saudi bastards, as you call them, will give them a job, especially one which pays a lot more than back home.
Actually in a way I admire these workers for thier humility. Who in the hell could put up with such degradation and humilation for such a low wage? Gosh, in the USA people would sue you and quit for just a mildly bad working environment. In the USA people will tell thier employer to eat shit 🙄 at even the notion they should take a lower paying job than lighter skinned person.
Humans are a disposable commodity now; people are pests, roaches etc.. At least black slaves working on southern USA plantations had value, but not so now with the third world population. That population has no value, because it’s easily replaceable. There are more third world people than fish in the sea.
It’s very sad and evil because i believe, as it sounds, that all humans have value and should be treated with respect. However, based on economics, it just don’t work out that way.
However, it’s interesting to note though that slaves in Haiti didn’t have as much value, cause the slave trade wasn’t banned then. The slavery in the south USA and Haiti was like “night and day”. So let’s not go into some White nationalist bullshit about how slavery did all Africans a favor.
It’s very sad and evil because i believe, as it sounds, that all humans have value and should be treated with respect.
Exactly my point. In a way I admire the socialist- influenced economic model of European countries, Australia and Canada. Human beings in these countries are treated as human beings, with a right to dignity and freedom from deprivation and torture. The way millions of Germans have opened their hearts and homes for Syrian refugees (which quite frankly works against their interests) displays a higher level of compassion and human empathy.
Not ‘murica though…the land of 50 states is ground zero for douchebags capitalists. It isn’t far off to state that ‘murica is the leader of all evil, capitalist hyena packs…its far removed from the socialist, humanitarian models of Europe.
I want to people to be treated with rspect too, but in the case of the third world,it’s a hard sell. There are just too many of them. Why should some Saudi pig treat a Filipino with respect, when there are 1000 boatloads waiting to replace him/her?
America has more social mobility than the third world. A poor American person can manipulate government programs (disability etc..) to get vocational or college training. In the third world, you’d have to blow a tourist to pay for a hospital bill.