Islamic Slavery and Racism
April 2, 2013
When Tuaregs and Islamists swarmed in to seize Northern Mali, one of the old grievances animating their campaign was slavery. The Tuaregs were not former slaves, they were, and in some cases still are, slaveholders.
The French invasion of Northern Mali, liberating towns and villages under Islamist rule, was a historical echo of the original French emancipation of Tuareg slaves back in the colonial period. Despite French efforts, the Tuareg did their best to hang on to their slaves and Muslim Tuareg still continue to hold thousands of slaves in Northern Mali.
Mali is not unique. The Sudanese genocide was given theological and political force by the attitude that Arabs and Muslims had the natural right to a superior position over African Animists and Christians. And today Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the Butcher of Sudan, continues to enjoy the support of the Muslim world despite being indicted for genocide by the International Criminal Court.
The supporters of the Muslim world’s campaign to displace the indigenous Jewish population of Israel in favor of the Arab colonists and settlers casually accuse Israel of apartheid. Every year Israeli Apartheid Week is held on college campuses in an attempt to compare Israel’s refusal to allow Hamas terrorists access to its territory with racial discrimination.
But racial Apartheid is very much a reality in the Muslim world. The same Muslim students who show up to denounce Israel as an apartheid state often come from countries where there is true apartheid when it comes to black skin.
In North Africa, the Haratin, a Berber word meaning dark skin, are the remnants of the indigenous African population. Many are still enslaved. Others live apart from mainstream society, forced into degrading or difficult occupations.
Mauritania is the country with the world’s largest proportion of slaves. There hundreds of thousands of Haratin serve the Bidhan, the so-called “White Moors”. The Bidhan pass on the Haratin as property from generation to generation. And even those who are not legally property face a grim life.
In the 80s, Mauritania ethnically cleansed tens of thousands of Africans from its territory. Even Human Rights Watch stated, “It is fair to say that the Mauritanian government practices undeclared apartheid and severely discriminates on the basis of race.”
The best kept secrets of the Muslim world include large populations of former African slaves in places like Pakistan, Iraq and Turkey. While Africans in Israel are not descended from slaves, Afro-Arabs, Afro-Turks and African-Pakistanis are living reminders of a Muslim slave trade that sometimes still lingers on.
The site of the world’s greatest slave rebellion was in Basra, Iraq, where half-a-million African slaves rose against the might of the Arab Abbasid Empire.
The Zanj rebellion was brutally suppressed, but its legacy lives on in the modern day city of Basra where hundreds of thousands of Afro-Iraqis live as a despised minority taunted with the slur “Abd” or Slave. That same Arabic word is often widely applied to black people in the Middle East.
While Muslim propagandists have exploited the legacy of slavery in the United States to win black converts, slavery in the Muslim world began long before the United States and ended a century later.
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. By contrast, Saudi Arabia only abolished slavery in 1962. That same year Yemen abolished slavery and the United Arab Emirates abolished slavery a year later.
Saudi Arabia’s ruling family did not embark on this course out of the goodness of their hearts, but under pressure from President Kennedy, at a time when the House of Saud did not yet have the United States economy and its foreign policy in a headlock. The abolition of slavery was a compromise. Kennedy had wanted representative government and civil rights. He had to settle for a belated emancipation.
Slavery has been officially abolished; unofficially it lingers on. There is still a silent unofficial slave trade that is carried on and leading Saudi clerics have insisted that slavery is a part of Islam. Saudis living abroad are often discovered to have domestic workers who live like slaves leading to criminal cases.
The situation is worst in North Africa where Arab colonization largely displaced and suppressed the indigenous peoples, like the Nubians in Egypt. Ethnically cleansed to make way for the Lake Nasser project, Egyptian Nubians have, like so many other North African indigenous peoples, been reduced to a persecuted minority within their own land.
Some may argue that Islamic slavery, like Islamic terrorism, has nothing to do with Islam, and yet the rationale for racial slavery can be found in the Koran and the Hadiths which discuss Mohammed’s trade in black slaves.
Al-Tabari wrote that, “Noah prayed that the hair of Ham’s descendants would not grow beyond their ears, and that whenever his descendants met Shem’s, the latter would enslave them.” This theological justification provided a religious manifest destiny for the Arab conquests and acts of ethnic cleansing in Africa.
The great Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun justified slavery by relegating black people to the rank of animals, writing, “The only people who accept slavery are the Negroes, owing to their low degree of humanity and proximity to the animal stage.”
The legacy of Islam makes the permanent abolition of slavery and racism impossible. Egypt and its Mamaluk slave empire fell in the 19th century and British attempts to abolish slavery appeared to have done the job, but the new Muslim Brotherhood constitution dropped the old ban on slavery. Mauritania officially outlawed slavery numerous times, but it still widely persists. Saudi Arabia abolished slavery, but its elite families, of whom the Hadiths say, Allah chose the Arabs above all others and chose the Quraysh above the Arabs, still fall back into their old habits even in the West.
The oil-rich tyrannies at the heart of the Islamic Gulf are maintained by armies of slave laborers with few rights. The skyscrapers of Dubai and Doha are built with the blood of thousands of foreign workers who are paid a pittance and are only allowed to leave with the approval of their masters.
Ali al-Ahmed, a leading Saudi scholar and the director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, put it bluntly in Foreign Policy magazine. “Blacks, who make up around 10 percent of the population, are banned from judgeships — as are women and Muslims who observe a different version of the faith — because the monarchy’s religious tradition still views blacks as slaves, other Muslims as heretics, and women as half human. There is only one word to describe such a system: Apartheid.”
While Saudi money goes to sponsor propaganda that accuses Israel of Apartheid for fighting Saudi-backed terrorist groups, the brutal kingdom continues an ancient policy of slavery and repression.
And in North Africa, African migrants look to the West to escape racism in lands colonized by Islam. “Arabs hate black people. And that is not from today, it is in their blood,” a young African man named Aboubakr says. “Blacks have no rights here.”