The Role of Islam in African Slavery

The Role of Islam in African Slavery

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.

A Slave Kaffle, from "Narrative of Travels in Northern Africa in the Years 1818-19 and 1820"




A Slave Kaffle, from "Narrative of Travels in Northern Africa in the Years 1818-19 and 1820"


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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.

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