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Islam's Wretched Record on Slavery By: Serge Trifkovic
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, November 20, 2002


Another in a series of excerpts adapted by Robert Locke from Dr. Serge Trifkovic’s new book The Sword of the Prophet: A Politically-Incorrect Guide to Islam

As the recent campaign for reparations has shown, the West is still being taken to task for the fact that it used to permit slavery.   But in fact the West, rather than being the origin of slavery in the world, is in fact the only civilization to have created from within itself a successful movement to abolish it.  Other civilizations, like Islamic civilization, have not yet achieved this.  To this day, the principal places in the world where one can buy a slave for ready cash are Moslem countries. 

This should not come as a surprise, for slavery finds explicit positive support in Islam, rather than the mere acquiescence it does in Christianity.  Christianity is not explicitly anti-slavery, as the long acceptance of slavery by the various churches shows, but it does not positively endorse it, either.  More importantly, it was out of evangelical Christian circles that abolitionism emerged in American and Britain, and no church today countenances it. While both the Old and New Testaments recognize slavery, the Gospels do not treat the institution as divinely ordained. Christianity recognized slavery as a fact of life, as part of how the world works, as indeed it did in New Testament times.

The Koran, by contrast, not only assumes the existence of slavery as a permanent fact of human existence, but regulates its practice in considerable detail, thereby endowing it with divine sanction by revealing God's detailed will for how it should be conducted. Mohammed and his companions owned slaves. The Koran recognizes the basic inequality between master and slave and the rights of the former over the latter.  To be fair, it also urges, without actually commanding, kindness to slaves,   and considers a Moslem slave to be of a higher order than a free infidel.  However, this does not entitle him to be set free.

The Koran explicitly guarantees Moslems the right to own slaves, either by purchasing them or as bounty of war.  Mohammed had dozens, both male and female, and he regularly traded slaves when he became independently wealthy in Medina. Some of their names are recorded to posterity. As for the women:

"Whenever Mohammed took a woman as a captive, if he imposed the veil on her, Moslems would say he took her as a wife, but if he left her unveiled they would say, 'He owned her as a slave'; that is, she became a property of his right hand."

In line with the racist views of Mohammed himself about his own people, the Arabs as "the nobles of all races" were exempt from enslavement.    More later on the present-day consequences of this in Africa.

The four caliphs or religious rulers who came after Mohammed discouraged the enslavement of free Moslems, and it was eventually prohibited. But the assumption of freedom as the normal condition of men did not extend to non-Moslems. Disobedient or rebellious dhimmis (subject peoples, i.e. Christians, Hindus, Jews, Africans) were often reduced to slavery and prisoners captured in jihad were also enslaved if they could not be exchanged or ransomed. In Africa, Arab rulers regularly raided black tribes to the south and captured slaves claiming their raids to be jihad; in India, many Hindus were enslaved on the same pretext.

The divine sanction of slavery in Islam means that disobedience carries everlasting punishment. The Koran says that:

"There are three whose prayer will not be accepted, nor their virtues be taken above: The runaway slave until he returns back to his master, the woman with whom her husband is dissatisfied, and the drunk until he becomes sober.

Historically, while maltreatment was deplored, there was no fixed penalty under sharia, Islamic law, placing protection of the slave's well-being at the capricious mercy of judges.  If, of course, they could even get their day in court: slaves had no legal rights. The Koran mandates that a freeman should be killed only for another freeman, a slave for a slave, and a female for a female.  A Hadith or officially-recognized traditional saying says that "a Moslem should not be killed for a non-Moslem, nor a freeman for a slave."

A Moslem slave-owner was entitled by law to the sexual enjoyment of his slave women. Many African slaves were eunuchs. Castration was against Islamic law, but this was massively evaded. For African captives nothing short of "castration level with the abdomen" would do; no mere removal of the cojones, as with Slavic and Greek captives. Only such radically castrated eunuchs were deemed fit to be guardians of the harem.

During its so-called golden age, the slave trade inside the Islamic empire and along its edges was vast. It began to flourish at the time of the Moslem expansion into Africa, in the middle of the seventh century, and it still survives today in Mauritania and Sudan. The Spanish and Portuguese originally purchased black African slaves for their American colonies from Arab dealers. Nubians and Ethiopians, with their slender features and thin noses, were preferred to the equatorial Bantus, who were perceived as crude beings for whom hard toil and lowly menial tasks were appropriate.

There are notable differences between the slave trade in the Islamic world and the trans-Atlantic variety. The former has been going on for 13 centuries and it is an integral feature of the Islamic civilization, while the influx of slaves into the New World lasted less than a third that long and was effectively ended by the middle of the 19th century.

Just over ten million Africans were taken to the Americas during that period, while the number of captives taken to the heartlands of Islam - while impossible to establish with precision - is many times greater. Nevertheless, there are tens of millions of descendants of slaves in the Americas, and practically none in the Moslem world outside Africa. For all its horrors, the Atlantic slave trade took place within a capitalistic context in which slaves were expensive pieces of property not to be destroyed.  In the Moslem world slaves were considerably cheaper, far more widely available, and regarded as a dispensable commodity.  They were effectively worked to death, and thus left no descendants.

Contrary to the myth that Islam is a religion free from racial prejudice, slavery in the Moslem world has been, and remains, brutally racist in character.  To find truly endemic, open, raw anti-Black racism and slavery today one needs to go to the two Islamic Republics in Africa: Mauritania and Sudan. Black people have been enslaved on such a scale that the term black has become synonymous with slave. The mixed-race, predominantly Negroid but self-avowedly "Arabic" denizens of the transitional sub-Saharan zone have been indoctrinated into treating their pure-black southern neighbors with racist disdain. (To this day it can be dangerous to one's life to ask a dark-looking but Arabic-speaking Sudanese or Mauritanian Moslem if he is "black.")

For the pure-black populations of Sudan and Mauritania, independence from colonial rule marked the end of a slavery-free respite. Slavery was "abolished" several times in Mauritania since independence, most recently on July 5, 1980. Yet the Anti-Slavery Society's findings (1982) and those of Africa Watch (1990) point to the existence of at least 100,000 "full-time" slaves and additional 300,000 half-slaves, all of them black, still being held by Arab-Mauritanians. Even the head of state from 1960 to 1978, Mokhtar Ould Daddah, kept slaves behind the presidential palace.  The Mauritanian government has not tried to eradicate slavery and failed; it has not tried at all.  Even the old Arab practice of forming slave armies is being revived in Mauritania, where thousands of Haratines were forcibly recruited, armed, and sent to take over black African villages in the south, where they massacred the inhabitants.

In 1983, the Arab-controlled government of Sudan instituted strict Islamic law in the entire country and subjected black Christians and other non-Moslems of the south in its decree. Then in 1992 a religious decree was ordered that gave justification to the military onslaught against non-Moslems. Since that time the United Nations and human rights groups have documented countless cases of slavery. 

The Moslem world has yet to produce a serious indigenous movement to abolish slavery that was not the consequence of Western prompting.

The Arabian Peninsula in 1962 became the world's penultimate region to officially abolish slavery, yet years later Saudi Arabia alone was estimated to contain a quarter of a million slaves.  Thousands of miles away from Africa, in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, girls as young as five are auctioned off to highest bidders.  Afghan girls between the ages of 5 and 17 sell for $80 to $100. The price depends on the colors of their eyes and skin; if they are virgins, the price is higher. The girls are generally sold into prostitution or, if they are lucky, they may join harems in the Middle East.

If they are lucky.

 


Serge Trifkovic received his PhD from the University of Southampton in England and pursued postdoctoral research at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. His past journalistic outlets have included the BBC World Service, the Voice of America, CNN International, MSNBC, U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Times of London, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He is foreign affairs editor of Chronicles.


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