Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Islamic and European slavery: a very brief comparison

The “European powers” (particularly Spain, Portugal, France and Britain) are rightly condemned for their past actions in respect of slavery, as is America.

There is no disputing the fact that in the course of the approx 350 years of European/American slavery some eleven million African slaves were transported across the Atlantic ocean in the most atrocious of conditions, which resulted in an average of 10% (more than a million) perishing on the journey.
That they were worked hard, sometimes literally to death, and that some of the women were used as sex-slaves is also indisputable. (The latter is provable on genetic grounds. Many African-Caribbean people have genes that could only possibly have come from Caucasians.)
That this was a dreadful crime against humanity is also beyond doubt.
In slight mitigation, it has to also be accepted that these same “Powers” and especially Britain were at the forefront of efforts to ban slavery worldwide, an objective that has not yet been totally achieved, though it has been achieved within the “West” and much of the world.
Many peoples throughout the World, including the Islamic world “point the finger” at the West in general, and Europeans and Americans in particular, over this issue.
Whilst this is morally justified, it has to be said that in the case of the Islamic world in particular the “finger of blame” should be pointed at themselves also.

Slavery in Islam is a scarcely mentioned matter, though books and resources are available, going right back to the records kept by Islamic Sultans, their advisers and other Muslim chroniclers.
At its zenith the Islamic Empire stretched from India through northern Africa and into Eastern Europe.
From its very inception Islam practiced slavery as a part of war and then as a tax- or tribute-measure.
A survey of sources concerning the numbers enslaved by the “Islamic powers”, according to their own records (which are incomplete and thus will under-estimate the figures) show the following:
Europeans enslaved: 400,000{1} (A secondary source{4} I have places this figure >1million.)
Indians enslaved: 6,000,000{2}
Africans enslaved: 12,000,000{3} (This figure neglects slaves for the Western trade – see below.)
Total enslaved: 18,400,000
Let me repeat: the figures shown above are, in each case, an under-estimate of the true figure. For example the Senegalese Author Tidiane N’Diaye in his book LE GENOCIDE VOILÉ, (Jan. 2008) says :  “17 million Africans who were brought to the Arab-Muslim world and transformed into eunuchs have disappeared … It was a programmed ‘ethnic extinction by castration.”. If this was the total number of male slaves, then the total number of Africans enslaved must have been much higher than that.

Even the most conservative figures show that the “Islamic powers” over their history (632 AD to present, approx 1380 years) have enslaved at the very least 66% more people than the Christian West over it’s history (approx 2000 years). 
Further it is also documented that the European slave trade was founded on the supply of slaves by muslim slave-traders who supplied about 80% of the slaves for the Atlantic slave-trade.
Thus, in total, muslims enslaved perhaps twenty-one million Africans – about nine million for the transatlantic trade and (as previously mentioned) a minimum of twelve million for the “internal” Islamic slave trade.
Furthermore, there are some aspects of Islamic slavery that are uniquely cruel. In the first place was the wide-spread Islamic practice of killing all the adult males captured in war or slave-raiding and only retaining the females, especially the children and fertile women. The latter were widely used as sex-slaves. (Harems containing many hundreds of sex-slaves are well documented in history.)
When the adult males were not killed they were frequently castrated. (Again the presence of numbers of eunuchs within the Islamic system is well documented.)
These two practices (slaughter and/or castration) had the consequence that the enslaved population had little or no chance to reproduce itself which meant that the surviving slave women could only have children fathered by their Muslim overlords. Since in Islam the child of a slave is a slave, the practice of castration was often carried out on subsequent generations also, thus the descendents of the slaves died out over time or, on occasion, were assimilated within the Muslim population.
(Sometimes Mussalmen married a slave – usually freeing her as her Mahr{10} – in order to aquire legitimate offspring.)
That the killing of the majority of the male population would have had a devastating effect on both the population of the peoples raided for slaves in particular and the population balance between muslims and non-muslims is self-evident and well documented in the case of India.{2}
Another source{5} claims that Jihad caused up to 270 million deaths. Given that jihad and slavery are inextricably linked in Islamic history, it is not beyond the bounds of reason that the upper limit for Islamic slave-taking is in the 100′s of millions range{6}.
Quoting N’Diaye again, he points out that “The slave trade of Negroes … was an invention of the Arab-Muslim world.  It was the Arabs, Berbers, Turks, and Persians, who originated this infamous practice long before the Europeans began the African slave trade. For one thousand years, they[Muslims] were trading in African people, from the 7th to the 16th centuries. They resumed the practice from the 19th to the 20th centuries, long after the Western nations had abolished this trade.” The only mistake here, due to the date of N’Diaye’s writing is that Islamic slaving continues into the 21st century also.
The modern situation{7}
In the West today, slavery of any sort is illegal. This should not be conflated with the criminal human-trafficking that still takes place within the West for the purposes of prostitution etc, that no (Western) Country sanctions.
The only slaves still found in the West are those that arrive as part of the entourage of (typically) diplomats who, due to their diplomatic immunity, are not prosecuted on the occasions when a slave escapes and goes to the Police.
Despite world-wide condemnation of slavery, it still exists today in the Islamic world, though on a reduced scale.
The abuse (both physical and sexual) of servants in Arab (esp. Saudi and Sudanese) households is well documented as well as the conditions under which they are kept prisoners within the “employers’” households. Whilst this could be considered as parallel to human-trafficking in the West, the comparison is false: whereas Western Countries try to rescue the victims and will prosecute those caught in this heinous activity when possible, no such redress – legal or civil – exists within parts of the Islamic world.
Children as young as 5 (yes five) years old from North African Countries such as Mauritania are sold as sex-slaves (under the guise of marriage to elderly men) into the Mid. East, especially Yemen, Saudi Arabia and UAE, from whence numbers have been rescued by Save the Children – rather than government agencies. Again this is not parallel to the general pattern of human-trafficking since these “child-brides” are knowingly sold for sexual purposes by their own families. (To be fair, from the Islamic perspective, there is nothing wrong with this child-marriage – except that the families get the bride-price or “Mahr” rather than the girl herself.)
In the Sudanese civil war, which cost two million (approx.) non-Muslims their lives, the Arab “Janjaweed” militia and the Islamic government forces made a practice of enslaving the young women when they razed villages and killed the men. Several charities bought these slaves back (thus freeing them) and helped them return home. Almost all had been multiply raped, many were pregnant by their rapists – which is pretty clear evidence of sexual slavery.
More recently (pre-2002) the Afghani Taliban and their allies (in particular “Mujahid”s from Pakistan) were in the habit of sex-slave raiding within Afghanistan itself. The Taliban and its allies were at war and in Islam war-booty has always included the women of a defeated enemy, thus when the Taliban et al “captured” a village (even if undefended), the women in it became the Talib’s property.
In Mauritania slaves and their off-spring are still handed down as chattels generation to generation.
Abduction, rape and forced conversion of non-Muslim girls and women in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt and elsewhere is also reliably documented. In these last cases the situation is also more akin to that of claiming women as “war booty” rather than “conventional” slave-raiding, but in many respects the effects and the (lack of) response of the Authorities (Police, legal system) is similar. In any case, this is still the accepted and, apparently, Islamically acceptable abuse of non-Muslim women for sexual purposes.
Thus muslims still believe that the enslavement of others (in particular non-Muslims, especially women) is acceptable. Indeed the Muslim Sudanese claim that it is sanctioned by Islam itself, which whilst no more than the truth, is a bold claim to make in today’s World.

Taken together the evidence; religious, historical and contemporary; shows that:
  • Islamic slavery was pervasive, endemic and religiously sanctioned{8,9,11}.
  • That it continues to this day in the Islamic world where at best it is ignored and at worst actively and openly practiced and supported.
  • The evidence also “gives the lie” to the claim by those apologists for Islam who claim that “Islam abolished slavery”. This claim is, quite simply, a bare-faced lie; far from abolishing slavery, Islam regards the enslavement of women and non-Muslims as normative and regulates it legally within Sharia codes{8,9}
 References and notes
  1. White Slaves, African Masters, The University of Chicago Press 1999
  2. Islamic Jihad, M.A.Khan, iUniverse inc.
  3. Slavery in the Arab World, Murray Gordan, New Amsterdam Books, 1989, similar figure quoted by “”, a Muslim-authored site.
  4. Sharia Law for the non-Muslim, Bill Warner. CSPI. Available as pdf.
  5. The Submission of Women and Slaves, CSPI Publishing, p.181
  6. The scourge of slavery”, Christian action. This source suggests that ~140 million Africans were “victims” (either through being killed or enslaved) of the Muslim slave trade. However, I acknowledge that the source may be less than impartial.
  7. The evidence for my statements in this section are freely available on the web.
  8. Interestingly, the translators of the “Reliance of the Traveller” do not translate the entire “book” devoted to slavery on the grounds that “it is no longer relevant” (!) and they also assert that it is a fallacy to understand Islamic slavery in terms of Western slavery. Were the latter the case, they should have no qualms about presenting the translation!
  9. A quick “google” of “Sharia and slavery” shows an incredibly wide range of sources from all parts of the social-political spectrum (inc. Wikipedia and the BBC) all agreeing that Sharia regulates rather than abolishes slavery.
  10. Mahr or “bride-price” is a sum of money (or other valuables) paid to a women to “buy” use of her vagina and the right to get children on her as part of the “Nikah” (lit: “sexual intercourse”, usually translated “marriage”) contract. For a slave, the example of Mohammed is to free her (therefore not costing a penny) as this elevation in status was considered enough to buy her vagina.
  11. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (1292-1350 AD) who is one of the greatest scholars and chroniclers of Islam. In “Zad al-Ma’ad” (Part I, p. 160), commenting on the “holy” actions of Mohammed writes: “Muhammad had many male and female slaves. He used to buy and sell them, but he purchased more than he sold, especially after God empowered him by His message, as well as after his immigration from Mecca. … He was used to renting out and hiring many slaves, but he hired more slaves than he rented out.