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SLAVERY UNDER CHRISTIANITY AND ISLAM
Slavery is a practice that has been around for a very long time. It is cruel, unethical, and frowned upon by almost everyone. Justification for slavery is something every slave owner would love to have in their position, and religion was the primary source used for this justification. Christianity, as well as Islam who used their understanding and teachings to try to justify slavery of the Africans. Even though slavery affected all people of different races, this paper will concentrate on the African slave and the exploitation of the people for their labor.
Colonization had a role in spreading religion within the continent of Africa. Many of the African slaves worshiped their own religions before being captured and sent to slavery in the Western world. Making the African slave accept the religion of their masters vitally important to the masters who wanted complete control of their slaves their slaves. Slavery in Northern and Eastern Africa was a practice within Islam that has been around for over 1400 years and slavery in the Arab world is still present today. Slaves that were allowed to convert to Islam was not considered a slave but was still relegated to the life of a slave. Harsh treatment of the African slaves was something that was magnified by the European slave owners, but Arab slave owners showed more hatred towards the African slaves. The slave routes to the West and the Middle East were very tough and millions of African slaves died in transit. Christianity and Islam are the two most common religions practiced in Africa today. They two had slaves working among them.
The emergence of colonies in the Americas and the need to find labourers saw Europeans turn their attention to Africa with some arguing that the Transatlantic Slave Trade would enable Africans, especially the “Mohammedans”, to meet Christianity and civilisation in the Americas, albeit as slaves. It was even argued that the favourable trade winds from Africa to the Americas were evidence of this providential design.
Religion was also a driving force during slavery in the Americas. Once they arrived at their new locales the enslaved Africans were subjected to various processes to make them more compliant, and Christianity formed part of their enslaved lives. Ironically, although the assertion of evangelisation was one of the justifications used for enslaving Africans, very little missionary work actually took place during the early years. In short, religion got in the way of a moneymaking venture by taking Africans away from their work. It also taught them potentially subversive ideas and made it hard to justify the cruel mistreatment of fellow Christians (Gates, P.63).
It is a remarkable event not merely because of the risks incurred (200 lashes of the whip often awaited those caught at such a meeting) but because of the hurdles overcome merely to arrive at this moment. For decades all manner of people and circumstances conspired against African Americans even hearing the gospel, let alone responding to it in freedom and joy (Internet, Christianity Today).
The following scriptures are what slave owners used to justify slavery:
Psalm 123:2 (New International Version (NIV)): As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy.
Ephesians 6:4-6: Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Slaves obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.
Ephesians 6:9: And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
Colossians 3:22: Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.
Colossians 4:1: Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
Titus 2:9: Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them,
1 Peter 2:18: Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
Slave owners would read these verses to slaves as part of the worship services that they allowed (and controlled) as a means of encouraging the proper attitude among their slaves. Based upon these isolated verses, slave owners claimed that the Bible supported slavery and taught slaves to be obedient to their masters (Internet, Thoughtco.com).
On the surface, this certainly appears true. However, when looking at the evidence, one has to remember that the Bible was created in a time when slavery was certainly condoned. Paul’s letters mention slavery so often because Christianity appealed to slaves. Many slaves converted to the new religion of Christianity because of Christianity’s message of justice and freedom. Nonetheless, Christianity was an outlawed religion in the Roman Empire. Therefore, Paul counseled his followers, if they were slaves, to be peaceable and obedient so that further oppression would not be brought down on the heads of slaves as well as upon the members of the Church in general. The verses about obedience are not condoning slavery but are practical matters to try to prevent further suffering of Christians, whether slave or free (Internet, Thoughtco.com).
The most compelling argument against slavery in the New Testament is Paul’s letter to Philemon, in which Paul asks a Christian to free his Christian slave. Most Christians countered these claims of Biblical support that owning slaves violated the spirit of Christian teaching (Internet, Christianity Today).
Historical records show that Islam and Christianity played an important role in enslavement in Africa. The Arab-controlled Trans-Saharan slave trade helped to institutionalise slave trading on the continent. And during the ‘age of expedition’, European Christians witnessed caravans loaded with Africans in route to the Middle East. Others arriving much later in West Africa observed slavery in African societies, leading them to assume that African enslavement was intrinsic to the continent (Internet, Thoughtco.com).
For many of these early European explorers, the Bible was not only regarded as infallible, it was also their primary reference tool and those looking for answers to explain differences in ethnicity, culture, and slavery, found them in Genesis 9: 24-27, which appeared to suggest that it was all a result of sin. Islam used these same quotes from the Quran to justify slavery. In the Genesis passage, Africans were said to be the descendants of Ham, the son of Noah, who was cursed by his father after looking at his naked form. Moreover, in Genesis 10, the ‘Table of Nations’ describes the origins of the different races and reveals that one of the descendants of Ham is “Cush” – Cush and the “Cushites” were people associated with the Nile region of North Africa. In time, the connection Europeans made between sin, slavery, skin colour and beliefs would condemn Africans (Internet, Thoutco.com)
The African slave was chosen for several reason. Tribal warfare in Africa caused Africans to enslave other Africans. European and Arab explorers would seek out these captives and easily enslave them. Europeans were moving rapidly to a slave-based labor system. This ultimately led to slaves being taken to the colonies throughout the world (Gates, P 11).
Documentation suggests that slaves throughout Islamic world were mainly used for menial domestic and commercial purposes. Eunuchs were especially prized for bodyguards and confidential servants; women as concubines and menials. A Muslim slave owner was entitled by law to use slaves for sexual pleasure. As primary source information becomes available to Western scholars, the bias towards urban slaves is being questioned. Records also show that thousands of slaves were used in gangs for agriculture and mining. Large landowners and rulers used thousands of such slaves, usually in dire conditions of the Saharan salt mines, it is said that no slave lived there for more than five years (Internet, Atlantablackstar.com).
The Quran prescribes a humanitarian approach to slavery-free men could not be enslaved, and those faithful to foreign religions could live as protected persons, dhimmis, under Muslim rule (as long as they maintained payment of taxes called Kharaj and Jizya). However, the spread of the Islamic Empire resulted in a much harsher interpretation of the law. For example, if a dhimmi was unable to pay the taxes they could be enslaved, and people from outside the borders of the Islamic Empire were considered an acceptable source of slaves (Fair, P. 12)
Although the law required owners to treat slaves well and provide medical treatment, a slave had no right to be heard in court (testimony was forbidden by slaves), had no right to property, could marry only with permission of their owner, and was considered to be a chattel, that is the (moveable) property, of the slave owner. Conversion to Islam did not automatically give a slave freedom nor did it confer freedom to their children. Whilst highly educated slaves and those in the military did win their freedom, those used for basic duties rarely achieved freedom. In addition, the recorded mortality rate was high — this was still significant even as late as the nineteenth century and was remarked upon by western travelers in North Africa and Egypt (Internet, Atlantablackstar.com).
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. 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. (Internet, Atlantablackstar.com).
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. (Internet, Atlantablackstar.com).
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 prized 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 (Internet, Atlantablackstar.com).
Documentation suggests that slaves throughout Islamic world were mainly used for menial domestic and commercial purposes. Eunuchs were especially prized for bodyguards and confidential servants; women as concubines and menials. A Muslim slave owner was entitled by law to use slaves for sexual pleasure. (Internet, Atlantablackstar.com).
The number of people enslaved by Muslims has been a hotly debated topic, especially when the millions of Africans forced from their homelands are considered. Some historians estimate that between A.D. 650 and 1900, 10 to 20 million people were enslaved by Arab slave traders. Others believe over 20 million enslaved Africans alone had been delivered through the trans-Sahara route alone to the Islamic world (Internet, Wikipedia).
The Arab slave trade typically dealt in the sale of castrated male slaves. Black boys between the age of 8 and 12 had their scrotums and penises completely amputated to prevent them from reproducing. About six of every 10 boys bled to death during the procedure, according to some sources, but the high price brought by eunuchs on the market made the practice profitable (Internet, Wikipedia)
Some men were castrated to be eunuchs in domestic service and the practice of neutering male slaves was not limited to only Black males. “The Calipha in Baghdad at the beginning of the 10th Century had 7,000 black eunuchs and 4,000 white eunuchs in his palace (Internet, Atlantablackstar.com).
Arab enslavers targeted women for rape. The eastern Arab slave trade dealt primarily with African women, maintaining a ratio of two women for each man. These women and young girls were used by Arabs and other Asians as concubines and menials. A Muslim slaveholder was entitled by law to the sexual enjoyment of his slave women. Filling the harems of wealthy Arabs, African women bore them a host of children. This abuse of African women would continue for nearly 1, 200 years (Lewis, P110).
Arab slave trade ushered in the European slave trade. The Arab slave trade in the 19th century was economically tied to the European trade of Africans. New opportunities of exploitation were provided by the transatlantic slave trade and this sent Arab slavers into overdrive (Internet, Atlantablackstar.com).
The Portuguese (on the Swahili coast) profited directly and were responsible for a boom in the Arab trade. Meanwhile on the West African coast, the Portuguese found Muslim merchants entrenched along the African coast as far as the Bight of Benin. These European enslavers found they could make considerable amounts of gold transporting enslaved Africans from one trading post to another, along the Atlantic coast (Internet, Atlantablackstar.com).
The Arab slave trade sparked one of the largest slave rebellions in history. The Zanj Rebellion took place near the city of Basra, located in present-day southern Iraq, over a period of fifteen years (A.D. 869–883). The insurrection is believed to have involved enslaved Africans (Zanj) who had originally been captured from the African Great Lakes region and areas further south in East Africa. Basran landowners had brought several thousand East African Zanj people into southern Iraq to drain the salt marshes in the east. The landowners forced the Zanj, who generally spoke no Arabic, into heavy slave labor and provided them with only minimal subsistence. The harsh treatment sparked an uprising that grew to involve over 500,000 enslaved and free men who were imported from across the Muslim empire (Internet, Atlantablackstar.com).
Arab enslavers avoided teaching Islam to blacks to justify enslaving them. According to some historians, Islam prohibited freeborn Muslims from being enslaved, so it was not in the interest for Arab slavers to convert enslaved Africans to the religion. Since converting enslaved Africans to Muslim would grant them more rights and reduce the potential reservoir of people to enslave, propagators of Islam often revealed a cautious attitude toward proselytizing Africans. Still, if an African converted to Islam he was not guaranteed freedom, nor did it confer freedom to their children. Only children of slaves or non-Muslim prisoners of war could become slaves, never a freeborn Muslim (Internet, Atlantablackstar.com).
The Arab slave trade was the longest yet least discussed of the two major slave trades. It began in seventh century as Arabs and other Asians poured into northern and eastern Africa under the banner of Islam. The Arab trade of Blacks in Southeast Africa predates the European transatlantic slave trade by 700 years. Some scholars say the Arab slave trade continued in one form or another up until the 1960s, however, slavery in Mauritania was criminalized as recently as August 2007 (Internet, Atlantablackstar.com).
The Arab slave trade allowed more upward mobility than the European slave. Trade upward mobility within the ranks of Arab slaves was not rare. Tariq ibn Ziyad – who conquered Spain and whom Gibraltar was named after – was a slave of the emir of Ifriqiya, Musa bin Nusayr, who gave him his freedom and appointed him a general in his army (Internet, Atlantablackstar.com).
Son of an enslaved Ethiopian mother, Antarah ibn Shaddad, also known as Antara, was an Afro-Arabic man who was originally born into slavery. He eventually became a well-known poet and warrior. Extremely courageous in battle, historians have dubbed him the “father of knighthood” and “chivalry” and “the king of heroes.” This kind of upward mobility did not occur in the European slavery system (Internet, Atlantablackstar.com).
In conclusion I must say that the study of slavery opened my eyes to the cruelty of slavery by people all over the world. Many historians have tried to estimate the amount of Black African slaves that died during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and we will go with the estimation of over 10 million. During my research it is estimated that over 121 million Black African slaves died during transportation to the Middle East. Crossing the Sahara Desert on foot, to shipping them on slave ships throughout the Mediterranean and Red Sea, as well as the Indian Ocean. Despite the harsh treatment of these slaver owners of Christianity and Islam, these two religions are the two largest religions in the Continent of Africa—Islam 45% and Christianity40%. In 2017 the Nation of Libya had Black African slaves imported to their country and they were frowned upon and condemned by other Islamic nations and the entire United Nations. The slaves were freed and returned home. The Black African is still searching for dignity and respect throughout the world. With the pain and suffering we have endured it is time we are hailed as the kings and queens God meant us to be. I want to make sure the reader of this paper doesn’t think one slave trade was better or worse than the other—they were all bad!

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