A difference among faiths over slavery

Slavery was taken for granted throughout Islamic history, as it was, of course, in the West as well, up until relatively recent times. Yet while the European and American slave trade get lavish attention from historians (as well as from mau-mauing reparations advocates and their marks, guilt-ridden contemporary politicians), the Islamic slave trade actually lasted longer and brought suffering to a larger number of people. It is exceedingly ironic that Islam has been presented to American blacks as the egalitarian alternative to the “white man’s slave religion” of Christianity, since Islamic slavery operated on a larger scale than did the Western slave trade, and lasted longer. . . .

Also, the pressure to end it moved from Christendom into Islam, not the other way around. . . . In fact, when the British government in the nineteenth century adopted the view of . . . abolitionists as its own and thereupon began to put pressure on pro-slavery regimes, the Sultan of Morocco was incredulous precisely because of the audacity of the innovation that the British were proposing: “The traffic in slaves,” he noted, “is a matter on which all sects and nations have agreed from the time of the sons of Adam . . . up to this day.”

. . . However, it was not the unanimity of human practice, but the plain words of the Qur’an and Muhammad that were decisive in stifling abolitionist movements within the Islamic world. Slavery was abolished under Western pressure; the Arab Muslim slave trade in Africa was ended by the force of British arms in the nineteenth century.

There is evidence that slavery still continues beneath the surface in some majority-Muslim countries as well – notably Saudi Arabia, which only abolished slavery in 1962, Yemen and Oman, both of which ended legal slavery in 1970, and Niger, which didn’t abolish slavery until 2004. In Niger, the ban is widely ignored, and as many as one million people remain in bondage. Slaves are bred, often raped, and generally treated like animals.

Some of the evidence that Islamic slavery still goes on consists of a spate of slavery cases involving Muslims in the United States. A Saudi named Homaidan Al-Turki was sentenced in September 2006 to 27 years to life in prison, for keeping a woman as a slave in his home in Colorado. For his part, Al-Turki claimed that he was a victim of anti-Muslim bias. He told the judge: “Your honor, I am not here to apologize, for I cannot apologize for things I did not do and for crimes I did not commit. The state has criminalized these basic Muslim behaviors. Attacking traditional Muslim behaviors was the focal point of the prosecution.”

. . . Slavery is still practiced openly today in two Muslim countries, Sudan and Mauritania. In line with historical practice, Muslim slavers in the Sudan primarily enslave non-Muslims, and chiefly Christians. According to the Coalition Against Slavery in Mauritania and Sudan (CASMAS), a human rights and abolitionist movement founded in 1995, “The current Khartoum government wants to bring the non-Muslim Black South in line with Sharia law, laid down and interpreted by conservative Muslim clergy. The Black animist and Christian South remembers many years of slave raids by Arabs from the north and east and resists Muslim religious rule and the perceived economic, cultural, and religious expansion behind it.” – from “Slavery, Christianity, and Islam

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