Muslims historically did not use slaves as an engine of economic production on the same scale as the West, although some Muslims profited from the actual trading of slaves. Though Arab and Muslim traders became notorious in the supply of African slaves for the American and Caribbean plantations, there are few examples in the annals of Islam of the collective forced labour found in the Western hemisphere. The 9th century slave rebellion in Iraq may have deterred Muslims from the industrial use of slaves by showing the danger of having a very large slave community in any one place.
Apart from 9th century Iraq, the largest scale slave use outside the military was on the clove plantations of Zanzibar. Nonetheless, as William Gervase Clarence-Smith writes, slaves did play a large part in Muslim economies:. Even if large estates were rare, they were not absent. More striking were the numerous slaves on middling and small properties, a phenomenon about which surprisingly little has been written. Servile labour was also common in workshops, construction, mining, water control, transport by land and sea, and the extraction of marine resources.
Whether a 'Slave Mode of Production' ever existed in Islam is moot, but the economic role of slavery was substantial, at least in certain places and at specific times. Slaves were also used for domestic work, military service, sexual slavery and civil administration. Something particular to Islamic slave systems was the creation of a slave elite in some Muslim societies that allowed individuals to achieve considerable status, and even power and wealth, while still remaining in some form of 'enslavement'.
The slave elite had enormous value to their Muslim masters because they were a military and administrative group made up of 'outsiders' who didn't have tribal and family allegiances that could conflict with their loyalty to their masters. It was believed that a corps of highly trained slaves loyal only to the ruler and dependent entirely on his good will would serve the state more reliably and efficiently than a hereditary nobility, whose interests might compete with those of the ruler.
Leslie P. Elite slavery is something of a paradox: how can a person have power and hold high office and yet still keep the status of a slave? One answer is that the slave gets authority and high office because they are dependant on the person who gives them their authority and status and who could remove that status if they chose. Thus elite slaves must give total loyalty and obedience to their master in order to maintain their privileges.
Another view is that the slave who achieves elite status is no longer really a slave, and is able to use their position and power to free themselves of many of the limitations of slavery. This is less convincing since even elite slaves are at risk of losing their privileged status until they break free completely. The dependency was not all one way - the masters in many ways relied on their elite slaves, because those slaves were the only people they could really trust.
And there was another reason why elite slaves were valuable - precisely because they were slaves, the elite slaves were free of some of the restrictions that limited free people, and this allowed them to do things for their masters that their masters could not otherwise achieve. The Mamluks were 'slave soldiers' who eventually came to rule Egypt for over two centuries from until overthrown by the Ottomans in the 16th century.
After a brief period of oppression the Mamluks were able, once again, to play a significant role in running the country. Mamluks were originally soldiers captured in Central Asia, but later boys aged were specifically taken or bought to be trained as slave soldiers. Their slave status was shown by the name 'Mamluk' which means 'owned'. Although the Mamluks were not free men they could not, for example, pass anything on to their children they were elite slaves who were held in high regard as professional soldiers loyal to their Islamic masters.
Historians have been fascinated by the uniqueness of the Mamluk phenomenon. It was inhuman in some respects for example, Mamluks being denied the opportunity to bequeath their positions and privileges to their sons , yet it provided Islam with a superb military force and a sophisticated political system. In 13th century Egypt loyalty to the masters dissolved and the Mamluks established themselves as the ruling dynasty.
Once the Mamluks had successfully revolted against their masters they were, of course, no longer slaves. The basic ideal of military slavery - the Mamluk's total loyalty to his master who had bought, trained, maintained and freed him - was a pillar of Mamluk society in Ottoman Egypt, as it had been in the Mamluk Sultanate. When the master decided that his Mamluk had reached maturity and was ready to assume an office, he set him free, and 'allowed him to grow his beard.
The master often appointed these former slaves to army posts, to the beylicate [the beys were high ranking emirs who held important positions in Egyptian government], or to the regimental command. Very often, the master decided whom his former slave would marry, a decision which could advance the Mamluk socially and financially. The devshirme system introduced in the 14th century compelled non-Muslims in parts of the Ottoman Empire to hand over some of their children to be converted to Islam and work as slaves.
Some writers say that between half a million to one million people were enslaved in this way over the centuries. Conquered Christian communities, especially in the Balkans, had to surrender twenty percent of their male children to the state. Some of these were trained for government service, where they were able to reach very high ranks, even that of Grand Vezir.
Many of the others served in the elite military corps of the Ottoman Empire, called the Janissaries, which was almost exclusively made up of forced converts from Christianity. The devshirme played a key role in Sultan Mehmet's conquest of Constantinople, and from then on regularly held very senior posts in the imperial administration.
Although members of the devshirme class were technically slaves, they were of great importance to the Sultan because they owed him their absolute loyalty and became vital to his power. This status enabled some of the 'slaves' to become both powerful and wealthy. Their status remained restricted, and their children were not permitted to inherit their wealth or follow in their footsteps.
Not all writers agree that the devshirme system was beneficial as well as oppressive, and point out that many Christian families were hostile and resentful about it - which is perhaps underlined by the use of force to impose the system. Male slaves who had had their sexual organs removed were called eunuchs, and played an important part in some Muslim societies as they did in some other cultures.
They had the advantage for their masters of not being subject to sexual influence, and as they were unlikely to marry, they had no family ties to hinder their devotion to duty.
Eunuch slavery involved compulsory mutilation, which usually took place between the ages of 8 and Without modern medical skills and anaesthetics this was painful, and often led to fatal complications, and sometimes to physical or psychological problems for those who survived the operation. Eunuchs had a particular role as guardians of the harem and were the main way in which the women of the harem had contact with the world outside.
In the Ottoman Empire eunuchs from Africa held considerable power from the mid sixteenth century to the eighteenth. It's recorded that the Ottoman family owned eunuchs as late as , of whom 35 'bore a title of some seniority'. Concubinage may be defined as the more or less permanent cohabitation outside the marriage bond of a man with a woman or women, whose position would be that of secondary wives, women bought, acquired by gift, captured in war, or domestic slaves.
Enslaved women were given many tasks and one of the most common was working as a domestic servant.
But some female slaves were forced to become sex workers: not prostitutes, as this is forbidden in Islam, but concubines. Concubines were women who were sexually available to their master, but not married to him. A Muslim man could have as many concubines as he could afford. Concubinage was not unique to Islam; the Bible records that King Solomon and King David both had concubines, and it is recorded in other cultures too.
Being a concubine did have some benefits: if a slave woman gave birth to her owner's child, her status improved dramatically - she could not be sold or given away, and when her owner died she became free. The child was also free and would inherit from their father as any other children. Concubinage was not prostitution in the commercial sense both because that was explicitly forbidden and because only the owner could legitimately have sex with a female slave; anyone else who had sex with her was guilty of fornication.
Concubines lived in the harem, an area of the household where women lived separately from men. The nature of Ottoman harems is described by Ehud R Toledano:. The harem system grew out of the need in Ottoman society to achieve gender segregation and limit women's accessibility to men who did not belong to their family.
Households were divided into two separate sections: the selamlik, housing the male members, and the haremlik, where the women and children dwelt. At the head of the women's part reigned the master's mother or his first wife out of a maximum of four wives allowed by Islam. The concubines were also part of the harem, where all the attendants were women. Male guests of the master were not entertained in the harem. An active and well-developed social network linked harems of similar status across Ottoman towns and villages; mutual visits and outdoor excursions were common.
For the women who actually spent their lives in the harems, reality was, of course, far more mixed and complicated. As they grew up, they would be paired with the men of the family either as concubines or as legal wives. However, harem slaves' freedom of choice was rather limited, as was that of women in general in an essentially male-dominated environment. Harem slaves frequently had to endure sexual harassment from male members of the family.
A balanced view might be to say that sexual slavery in this context was a very bad thing, but that it was possible for some of the more fortunate victims to gain benefits that provided some degree of compensation. Concubines could play an important political role and have considerable direct political influence on the policy of the state. More than any other Muslim dynasty, the Ottomans raised the practice of slave concubinage to a reproductive principle: after the generations of Osman and Orhan, virtually all offspring of the sultans appear to have been born of concubine mothers.
The benefit to the state, or at least to the ruling dynasty, of having the ruling line born through concubines rather than wives was that only one family was involved - the family of a concubine was irrelevant, but the family of a wife would expect to gain power and influence through their relationship to the mother of the son. These conflicting interests could threaten the succession and weaken the ruling family. This didn't eliminate conflict between heirs and families altogether, but it probably reduced it. Concubines as well as wives also played an important role in strengthening cohesion, stability, and continuity at household level too, as this remark about 18th century Cairo demonstrates:.
Marital and nonmarital unions strengthened the links among men; women legitimized the succession of men to power, and women's property ownership added to the overall wealth, prestige, and power of a household. And later in the same article the writer describes the inevitable tension inherent in the status of harem women in that society:. However, the harem was not a prison; it was instead the family quarters of an upper-class home which became exclusively female space when men not related to the women were in the house and whose entry into the harem was forbidden.
Women, heavily veiled, could and did leave their homes Women were not imprisoned in the harem or in the veils and cloaks that concealed their bodies and faces on the street, but both customs were important signifiers of women's lack of sexual autonomy and of men's control over the selection of women's sexual and marital partners.
Therefore, the eighteenth-century Egyptian household should not be seen as the site of unrelieved oppression of women but rather in terms of asymmetries of power between men and women. Slavery remained part of the fabric of Islam for over years although the Druze, a group that sprung from Muslim roots, abolished it in the 11th century. While slavery was in theory greatly limited by Islamic law, in practice it persisted on a large scale in Muslim lands. During the 20th century attitudes to slavery changed radically and in The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam stated that:.
Human beings are born free, and no one has the right to enslave, humiliate, oppress or exploit them, and there can be no subjugation but to God the Most-High. The Declaration also includes a number of other articles that are incompatible with slavery, although "All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari'ah ". Since slavery is permitted by Islamic law, Muslim countries have used secular law to ban it. Some countries outlawed slavery only comparatively recently:.beechwood-grove.co.uk/16354.php
Slavery in Islam
The idea that slavery should be abandoned began to be seriously discussed in the 16th century. The Mughal Emperor Akbar banned the slave trade in his Indian territory. The Muslim leader and reformer Nasr al-Din denounced slavery to the people of Senegal in the s and banned the sale of slaves to Christians there, undermining the French trade in slaves. In some countries, slaves who held high rank demonstrated that slaves were perfectly capable of playing any role in society if they were freed. Egypt had even been ruled by a slave dynasty for more than a century. These traditions slowly changed some Muslim thinking about slavery, and gradually created a climate in which the pressure for abolition could build.
Because slavery was accepted by Islamic law it would have been difficult or impossible to forbid slavery itself, so the abolition pressure was concentrated on the transportation of slaves, including the slave markets, which was where the worst cruelties were to be found. Islam forbade raids to gain slaves, making a slave out of a free person and other cruelties. So Muslim abolitionists focused on showing slave trading was illegal under Islamic law, knowing that if they could stop the trade in slaves, slavery itself would slowly die out from lack of supply.
For the same reason, colonial powers attacked the trade in slaves as much as the institution of slavery. The slave trade in Muslim societies ended not so much through a single act of abolition but by withering away as the result of external and internal pressure. The outside pressure came from colonial powers that had only recently abandoned slavery themselves:. From the s, radical and gradual rationalists, together with moderate literalists and progressive ulama, could all be placed in the broad category of opponents of slavery, despite their manifold disagreements.
William G. Clarence-Smith, Religions and the abolition of slavery - a comparative approach. Initially, it was a source of great hostility that the West dared to intervene in Islamic affairs in contradiction to what was allowed by the Koran. But as Western influence, or modernism, became more and more [widespread], it became less fashionable as well as profitable in Islam to own slaves.
And it became illegal over much of the area. The pressures against slavery were extremely great from Western powers. It was the moral issue. It became more scandalous because the conditions of procurement and transport became more and more horrendous. The Ottoman Empire was the major Muslim slave society of the abolition period, and it abolished the slave trade in stages. Although the Ottomans never abolished slavery itself, their policy of restricting the slave trade and increasing opportunities for slaves to get their freedom greatly reduced the number of slaves in its territories:.
Slavery was harder to outlaw in areas far from central government where tribal traditions had been less influenced by the factors above, and where the military power of the centre was much weaker. The slavers retreated into these areas, and moved their slaves to market more secretly. Quite a few of the anti-slavery military initiatives ended in victory for the slavers rather than the forces of abolition.
Some other Muslim countries passed laws allowing for the prosecution not only of the sellers of slaves but the buyers too.
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The Indian Slavery Act of made slavery illegal there, and Egypt in implemented laws with very severe penalties for slaving activities. The British felt that they had a mission to do this - as can be seen from this Foreign Office document of Captain Hamerton should take every opportunity of impressing upon these Arabs that the nations of Europe are destined to put an end to the African Slave Trade, and that Great Britain is the main instrument in the Hands of Providence for the accomplishment of this purpose. That it is in vain for these Arabs to endeavour to resist the consummation of that which is written in the Book of Fate, and that they ought to bow to superior power, to leave off a pursuit which is doomed to annihilation, and a perseverance in which will only involve them in losses and other evils.
The British action did not gain universal support. The Sultan of Zanzibar wrote to the British Consul:. If I put a stop to the traffic in slaves it will ruin these countries, and it will ruin my subjects; and I am sure that the British Government would never agree to this; my friend, it is in my wish to comply with all the desires of the British Government but these countries cannot do without slaves. For the British Government is far off, and does not know the circumstances of these countries.
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