Islam's Black Slaves: A History of Africa's Other Black Diaspora Hardcover – 11 Feb 2002
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About the Author
RONALD SEGAL was born in South Africa and is the former publisher of Africa South. He left his country with ANC leader Oliver Tambo in 1960 for political exile in England, where he has remained ever since. The founding editor of the Penguin African Library, he is the author of 13 books, including most recently, The Black Diaspora.
Top customer reviews
Africa has suffered at the hands of the slave trade for well over a thousand years, the European component of that trade was at it height between the 1500's into the 1800's. Slavery already existed in the lands that were to come under Islam, and the trade was carried over from then (7th century) and though the Ottoman empire banned it in the 1850's it has continued in some parts of the Islamic world until well into the twentieth century, in two countries Mauritania and Sudan it is believed to be still continuing.
A section of the book makes the comparison between the two trades and makes the point that in the few centuries that the Europeans traded in slaves they enslaved almost as many Africans as Islamic countries did over 13 centuries. Further to this he points out that "in European Slavery the Africans were depersonalised, a unit of labour in an America where the original populations had been hideously depleted by European arms and diseases." This is in comparison to Islam where "the overall treatment of slaves was overall more benign, in part because of the values and attitudes promoted by religion inhibited the very development of Western style Capitalism, with its effective subjugation of people to the priority of profit." In short Slaves in Islam became part of the service sector, soldiers and household servants, cooks and concubines where in the Americas slaves were a unit of production in the highly capitalised production of commodities for world trade.
In both instances the Slave Trade itself was equally bloody. No one wishes to be enslaved, and this is as true whether the masters are Christian and capitalist or of the Muslim religion. The journeys that Slaves made across the Saharan Desert or on dhows to Arabia were fully as brutal as those experienced by the slaves who made their passage across the Atlantic. The castration of slaves to feed the market for Eunuchs is one particular aspect of Islamic slavery that is absent from the Western experience. The figures for death rates following the "operation" are horrendous though the author is unable to give a precise figure.
Segal also reflects on the situation for Slaves once they reach their destination, and it is here - in general - that the differences between the two systems become more noticeable. The authors conclusion is that "the freeing of individual slaves by their owners was much more frequent and widespread in Islam." It also covers the question of why there is no noticeable Diaspora of Blacks in the Islamic world. A recent comment posted on one of my reviews states quite categorically that it was a result of the widespread castration of male slaves. While there certainly was a trade in Eunuchs it was not a majority of those African males enslaved, who were only reckoned to be a third of those traded, females making up two thirds (this is the reverse of the proportions for the Atlantic trade). The conclusion that Segal comes to is that "the comparative smallness of a black Diaspora in Islam is evidence not of the small numbers carried by the trade, but of the degree to which large numbers were absorbed in the wider population." He also notes examples of Slaves and former Slaves who rose to high and respectable positions within Islamic societies.
The book ranges through time and geography to give accounts of particular examples of Islamic societies and the forms of slavery they practiced. It is this part of the book that becomes a little confusing, the reader is bombarded with names and places from Spain (Al-Andalus) to India and all across North Africa as well as the Ottoman Empire. Also covered are those places that came colonies under European Imperialism, and the changes that occurred in relation to slavery which was gradually replaced by Capitalistic labour relations which secured similar ends (coercing labour) without the inhuman ownership of one person by another. A short section on Islam and the post slavery black population of America is interesting, but seems somewhat superfluous given that they were neither formally slaves and the hybrid beliefs they held were only in part related to Islam as it was known elsewhere.
As a good impartial history of Slavery and Islam I know of none that is better. It has its weaknesses, and is not as comprehensive as books on the Atlantic slave trade and American Slavery in part because of the diversity of experience and the fact that the history of Islamic slavery stretches back far further in time and the sources are not as readily available as those for the American experience. Overall an interesting book, that is worth reading.
While slavery under Islam far predates western slavery it continues today in countries such as Mauretania and Sudan.However Islams slaves did not meet such barbarity as Christianitys did as they were mainly servants,soldiers or sexual partners and were more likely to eventually be freed.
Well written and researched and recorded in a frank and neutral manner.
A thought provoking book.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
What's clear from this book is that Islam invented the African slave trade and introduced it to the West. The West had taken slaves in battle but had never penetrated Africa as slave traders for the purposes of money. Islam send thousands of Arabs deep into the hearts of Africa to get as many slaves as possible. This book details how most of the slaves sought were female which would be used for the sexual recreation of Muslim men. The African women that became pregnant were punished and the children were murdered. The male African slaves were frequently used as soldiers or killed and thus there is relatively little African culture in the Arab countries that imported more then 11 million or more African slaves from 500AD onwards up to this day.
The author tries to argue that these slaves were more humanely treated because they were not used to work fields as the slaves in the West were. But its not clear how its more humane to treat young African women as sexual slaves for mere enjoyment, only to murder them at age 25 then it is to keep slaves for most of their natural life working on a farm and procreating. Few if any of Islams African slaves were allowed to mate with eachother and have offspring this is why little African culture is apparent in Islamic countries today throughout the former Ottoman empire.
This book is essential for the west to understand that Islam was a slave loving and slave holding culture, one that in many ways mirrored the western obsession with human trade. It is an interesting book. This is essential reading for understanding the dark side of Islamic societies and the obsession that Arabs had in the slave trade. The slave trade exists to this day in the Sudan and Africa where Arab gangs raid villages, stealing women and children to be sold as slaves to rich Saudis for sexual pleasure and house work. Not much has changed in 1500 years in Saudi Arabia, and this book is a good primer on the basis for slavery in Islamic society, a basis that the author claims comes from the Koran exhorting Muslims to treat slaves well but to import them vigorously.
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