Islam, Arabs and Slavery in Africa part 1

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About a month ago i was on my way to an Islamic spoken word event to see  a friend of mine. On my way stopped by at Oxford street. There were they standing a group of young black men. At first i thought they were Muslim but then  I saw these strange posters of black people depicted as saints. Little did i know that i was about to confront with one most radical groups in the streets of London. “GMS” what it stand for i do not know, but they a subgroup of the Black Israelite. At first they tried to convince me that they were direct descendants of the Israelite, then finding out that I was Muslim the theme changed.

“Islam enslaved us, how can you love Arabs” These were the words of  young aggressive and frustrated men that followed a specific narrative in the History of Slavery in  Africa. This is argument has been used by many orientalist.

While researching this subject I’ve noticed that you either have the biased narrative or no narrative. We Muslim have confront our past in many cases. Slavery is one of them. This article is an attempt to give a balance view on what really occurred  during the Scramble Africa and before it.

Slavery is an ancient practice that existed in various parts of the earth. So that means that slavery the way we understand  has a different meaning in different societies and times.This is one thing we all must acknowledge before being able to comment or Analyze it.

Africa is the best example for that. Africa as continent had many nations with a different outlook on what slavery was. I want to know the relation between Islam ,Africa and the Arabs on my journey to the past.

One of the things one noticed  from the beginning is the diffrent forms of slavery and how African perceived them to be  within a society. In the Majority of the African societies. Islam as religion has  long history with Africa. The first Muslim  in Africa were the companions( Radilahuanahma) of the Prophet SAS. They fled to Africa as refugees because of the presecution they were experiencing in Mecca in the 7th century.

So Islam itself came to Africa through people who escaped oppression.Definitely of the reason it was so widely accepted that by the 10th century most of the African in east, north and West Africa accepted Islam without being conquered or forced to.  Slavery itself was practices that the African themselves already knew of. This however changed drastically with the emergence of the  Arab slave and Atlantic slave trade.

In most of the African societies chattel slavery, did not take place before the Trans – Atlantic slave trade. The local slave systems were by nature really different from the standardize slavery we know of. Pawnship( debt slavey) war captives, military slavery, criminial slavery and domestic services were accepted by the norm.  For example Military slavery occurred quite frequent. For instance the Mamluks were slave soldiers. The reverted to Islam  and were present during the Muslim Caliphs from 1250-1517. among many other slave soldiers, the Mamluks also served in the 9th century in Abbasid caliphs. The Mamluks were white slaves from the  Caucasus who seized power in Egypt. Another example can be found in Sudan and Uganda were military unites were formed and organized by a number of Islamic Leadership and authority. Mahdiyyah movement attributes to that.

If we look into the north part Northern Africa  we see the interesting transition of Empires and nation influencing the way slavery was conducted. Chattel slavery such as was widely accepted by the Roman whilst ruling  in North Africa.

In 47 BC – 500 AD  the Sahel region was the main supplier for the Romans , provided most of the slaves. The Sahel region is between the south part of the Sahara region. However with the fall of the Roman empire Chattel slavery was one of the legacies that  survived in the north African christian communities. This form of slavery spread during the expansion of Islam in the major societies on the southern parts of the Sahara such as Mali ,Ghana and northern parts of Chad.

Slavery in medieval was a thing most of the known world engaged in. The slave trade in Europe was also extremely widespread. The slaves were mainly shipped to the Christian Byzantine Empire or the Muslim world.  According to Robert Davis between 1 million and 1.25 million  Europeans were captured by Barbary pirates and sold to Ottoman Empire and  North Africa between  16th and 19th centuries. The Tunisians attacked the islet not far from Sardinia were over 900 inhabitants were taken as captives, in 1798. The Moors of course played a huge role in Northwest Africa and later in Andalusia.

Whilst researching this subject one thing became even clearer. it was impossible for me to only include West Africa or leave our the rest of the regions i had to try the best that i could give a holistic overview and look where Islam was to really see whether the claims that the Black literature made were true.  So also start looking into West Africa but more on this topic in part two of article series.

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