The Scourge of Slavery - The Rest of the Story

scourgeofslavery01Over 28 Million Africans have been enslaved over the Muslim world over the past 14 centuries

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While much has been written concerning the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, surprisingly little attention has been given to the Islamic slave trade across the Sahara, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.  While the European involvement in the Trans Atlantic slave trade to the Americas lasted for just over three centuries, the Arab involvement in the slave trade has lasted fourteen centuries, and in some parts of the Muslim world is still continuing to this day.



A comparison of the Islamic slave trade to the American slave trade reveals some interesting contrasts.  While two out of every three slaves shipped across the Atlantic were men, the proportions were reversed in the Islamic slave trade.  Two women for every man were enslaved by the Muslims.

While the mortality rate for slaves being transported across the Atlantic was as high as 10%, the percentage of slaves dying in transit in the Trans Sahara and East African slave trade was between 80 and 90%!

While almost all the slaves shipped across the Atlantic were for agricultural work, most of the slaves destined for the Muslim Middle East were for sexual exploitation as concubines, in harems, and for military service. 

While many children were born to slaves in the Americas, and millions of their descendants are citizens in Brazil and the USA to this day, very few descendants of the slaves that ended up in the Middle East survive. 

While most slaves who went to the Americas could marry and have families, most of the male slaves destined for the Middle East were castrated, and most of the children born to the women were killed at birth.

It is estimated that possibly as many as 11 million Africans were transported across the Atlantic (95% of which went to South and Central America, mainly to Portuguese, Spanish and French possessions.  Only 5% of the slaves went to the United States). 

scourgeofslavery03Slaves in Africa - in the early 20th century.

However, at least 28 million Africans were enslaved in the Muslim Middle East.  As at least 80% of those captured by Muslim slave traders were calculated to have died before reaching the slave markets, it is believed that the death toll from the 14 centuries of Muslim slave raids into Africa could have been over 112 million.  When added to the number of those sold in the slave markets, the total number of African victims of the Trans Saharan and East African slave trade could be significantly higher than 140 million people. 


scourgeofslavery04William Wilberforce led the campaign against slavery for 59 years.

While Christian Reformers spearheaded the anti-slavery abolitionist movements in Europe and North America, and Great Britain mobilised her Navy, throughout most of the 19thCentury, to intercept slave ships and set the captives free, there was no comparable opposition to slavery within the Muslim world. 

Even after Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1807 and Europe abolished the slave trade in 1815, Muslim slave traders enslaved a further 2 million Africans.  This despite vigorous British Naval activity and military intervention to limit the Islamic slave trade.  By some calculations the number of victims of the 14 centuries of Islamic slave trade could exceed 180 million.

Nearly 100 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in America, and 130 years after all slaves within the British Empire were set free by parliamentary decree, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, in 1962, and Mauritania in 1980, begrudgingly removed legalised slavery from their statute books.  And this only after international pressure was brought to bear.  Today numerous international organisations document that slavery still continues in some Muslim countries.


Slavery long predated Christianity and many of the early Christians were slaves in the Roman Empire.  Without exception, the pre-Christian world accepted slavery as normal and desirable.  The Greek philosopher Aristotle claimed:  "From the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule." The great civilisations of Mesopotamia, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and all the civilisations in Central America and Africa were built upon slave labour. 

People became slaves by being an insolvent debtor, or sold into slavery by their parents, or by being born to slave parents, or by being captured in war, or through kidnapping by slave raiders and pirates.  Slave dealing was an accepted way of life, fully established in all societies.  Most of these slaves were white people, or Europeans.  In fact the very word "slave", comes from the people of Eastern Europe, the Slavs. 

St. Patrick, the English missionary to the Irish, was once  a slave himself, kidnapped from his home and taken to Ireland against his will. Patrick spoke out strongly against slavery.  He wrote:  "But it is the women kept in slavery who suffer the most."

About 80% of those captured by
Muslim slave raiders died before
reaching the slave markets.

The Greeks, from whom we derive so many modern, humanistic ideas, were utterly dependent on slavery.  Even Plato's Republic was firmly based on slave labour.  Plato said that 50 or more slaves represented the possessions of a wealthy man. 

Under Roman law, when a slave owner was found murdered, all his slaves were to be executed.  In one case, when a certain Pedanius Secundas was murdered, all 400 of his slaves were put to death. 

Before the coming of Christ, the heathen nations despised manual work and confined it to slaves.  When Christ was born, half of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves.  Three quarters of the population of Athens were slaves.

Slavery was indigenous to African and Arab countries before it made its way to Europe. Slavery was widely practiced by the tribes of the American Indians long before Columbus set foot on the shores of the New World.  Ethiopia had slavery until 1942, Saudi Arabia until 1962, Peru until 1968, India until 1976 and Mauritania until 1980.  What is also seldom remembered is that many black Americans in the 19thCentury owned slaves.  For example, according to the United States census of 1830, in just the one town of Charleston, South Carolina, 407 black Americans owned slaves themselves.

But Jesus revolutionised labour.  By taking up the axe, the saw, the hammer and the plane, our Lord endued labour with a new dignity.  Christianity undercut slavery by giving dignity to work.  By reforming work, Christianity transformed the entire social order. 

Our Lord Jesus Christ began His ministry in Nazareth with these words:  "The Spirit of the Lord is on proclaim freedom for the prisoners.and release to the oppressed."  Luke 4:18

When the apostle Paul wrote to Philemon, concerning his escaped slave, he urged him to welcome back Onesimus "no longer as a slave, a dear a man and as a brother in the Lord."  Philemon 16.

Because of these and other Scriptural commands to love our neighbour, to be a good Samaritan and to do for others what you would want them to do for you, Christians like William Wilberforce, John Newton, William Carey, David Livingstone, Lord Shaftsbury and General Charles Gordon worked tirelessly to end the slave trade, stop child labour, and set the captives free.

From the very beginning of the Christian Church, Christians freed slaves.  During the 2nd and 3rdCenturies many tens of thousands of slaves were freed by people who converted to Christ.  St. Melania was said to have emancipated 8000 slaves, St. Ovidius freed 5000, Chromatius freed 1400, Hermes 1200.  Many of the Christian clergy at Hippo under St. Augustine "freed their slaves as an act of piety." In AD315, the Emperor Constantine, just two years after he issued the edict of Milan, legalising Christianity, imposed the death penalty on those who stole children to bring them up as slaves.

The Emperor Justinian abolished all laws that prevented the freeing of slaves.  St. Augustine (354 - 430) saw slavery as the product of sin and as contrary to God's Divine plan (The City of God).  St. Chrysostom in the 4th Century, taught that when Christ came He annulled slavery.  He proclaimed "in Christ Jesus there is no slave.therefore it is not necessary to have a them, and after you have taught them some skill by which they can maintain themselves, set them free."

For centuries, throughout the Middle Ages, bishops and church councils recommended the redemption of captive slaves, and for five centuries the Trinitarian monks redeemed Christian slaves from Moorish (Muslim) servitude.

In 1102AD, the London Church Council outlawed slavery and the slave trade.  By the 12th Century slaves in Europe were rare, and by the 14th Century slavery was almost unknown on the continent of Europe.

However, with the birth of Islam came a rebirth of the slave trade.  As Ronald Segal in "Islam's Black Slaves" documents:  "When Islam conquered the Persian Sassanid Empire and much of the Byzantine Empire, including Syria and Egypt, in the 7th Century, it acquired immense quantities of gold.stripping churches and monasteries.either directly or by taxes, payable in gold, imposed on the clergy and looting gold from.tombs.the state encouraged the search and sanctioned the seizure, in return for a fifth of the finds."

 Segal notes:  "Female slaves were required in considerable numbers for.musicians, singers and dancers.many more were bought for domestic workers.and many were in demand as concubines.  The harems of rulers could be enormous.  The harem of Abdal Rahman III (912 - 961) in Cordoba contained over 6000 concubines!  And the one in the Fatimid Palace in Cairo had twice as many."

scourgeofslavery06An Arab slave raid in East Africa
1888. The death toll from 14 centuries
of the Islamic slave trade in
Africa is estimated at
over 112 million.

Islam's Black Slaves also reveals that the castration of male slaves was common place.  "The Calipha in Baghdad at the beginning of the 10th Century had 7000 black eunuchs and 4000 white eunuchs in his palace." It was noted that there were widespread "homosexual relations" as well.  Islam's Black Slaves notes that Islamic teachers throughout the centuries consistently defended slavery:  "For there must be masters and slaves." Others noted that blacks "lack self-control and steadiness of mind and they are overcome by fickleness, foolishness and ignorance.  Such are the blacks who live in the extremity of the land of Ethiopia, the Nubians, Zanj and the like."

Ibn Khaldun (1332 - 1406) the pre-eminent Islamic medieval historian and social thinker wrote:  "The Negro nations are as a rule submissive to slavery.because they have attributes that are quite similar to dumb animals."

By the Middle Ages, the Arab word "abd" was in general use to denote a black slave while the word"mamluk" referred to a white slave.  Even as late as the 19th Century, it was noted that in Mecca "there are few families.that do not keep slaves.they all keep mistresses in common with their lawful wives."

It was noted that black slaves were castrated "based on the assumption that the blacks had an ungovernable sexual appetite."

When the Fatimids came to power they slaughtered all the tens of thousands of black military slaves and raised an entirely new slave army.  Some of these slaves were conscripted into the army at age ten.  From Persia to Egypt to Morocco, slave armies from 30000 to up to 250000 became common-place. 

Even Ronald Segal, who is most sympathetic to Islam and clearly prejudiced against Christianity, admits that well over 30 million black Africans would have died at the hands of Muslim slave traders or ended up in Islamic slavery. 

A dhow, the favourite slave carrying
vessel of Arab slave traders. 
Arab traders beat their cargo into
submission on the run from the African
coast to Zanzibar. 

The Islamic slave trade took place across the Sahara Desert, from the coast of the Red Sea, and from East Africa across the Indian Ocean.  The Trans Sahara trade was conducted along six major slave routes.  Just in the 19th Century, for which we have more accurate records, 1.2 million slaves were brought across the Sahara into the Middle East, 450000 down the Red Sea and 442000 from East African coastal ports.  That is a total of 2 million black slaves - just in the 1800's.  At least 8 million more were calculated to have died before reaching the Muslim slave markets. 

Islam's Black Slaves records:  "In the 1570's, a Frenchman visiting Egypt found many thousands of blacks on sale in Cairo on market days.  In 1665 Father Antonios Gonzalis, a Spanish/Belgian traveller, reported 800 - 1000 slaves on sale in the Cairo market on a single day.  In 1796, a British traveller reported a caravan of 5000 slaves departing from Darfur.  In 1838, it was estimated that 10000 to 12000 slaves were arriving in Cairo each year." Just in the Arabic plantations off the East Coast of Africa, on the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, there were 769000 black slaves.

scourgeofslavery08The slave market in Zanzibar sold an average of 300 slaves every day.

In the 19th Century, the East African black slave trade included 347 000 slaves shipped to Arabia, Persia and India;  95 000 slaves were shipped to the Arab plantations in the Mascareme Islands.

Segal notes "The high death rate and low birth rate among black slaves in the Middle East and the astonishingly low birth rate amongst black slave women" in North Africa and the Middle East.  "Islamic civilisation.lagged increasingly behind the West in protecting public health.  The arithmetic of the Islamic black slave trade must also not ignore the lives of those men, women and children taken or lost during the procurement, storage and transport.the sale of a single captive for slavery might represent a loss of ten in the population  from defenders killed in attacks on villages, the deaths of women and children from related famine and the loss of children, the old and the sick, unable to keep up with their captors or killed along the way in hostile encounters, or dying of sheer misery."

One British explorer encountered over 100 human skeletons from a slave caravan en route for Tripoli.

The explorer, Heinrich Barth, recorded that a slave caravan lost 40 slaves in the course of a single night at Benghazi.

The British explorer, Richard Lander, came across a group of 30 slaves in West Africa, all of them stricken with smallpox, all bound neck to neck with twisted strips of bullock hide. 

One caravan with 3000 proceeding from the coast in East Africa, lost two thirds of its number from starvation, disease and murder.

 In the Nubian desert, one slave caravan of 2000 slaves literally vanished as every slave died.

In 1818, Captain Lyon of the Royal Navy reported that the Al-Mukani in Tripoli "waged war on all its defenceless neighbours and annually carried off 4000 to 5000 slaves.a piteous spectacle!  These poor oppressed beings were, many of them, so exhausted as to be scarcely able to walk, their legs and feet were much swelled, and by their enormous size formed a striking contrast with their emaciated bodies.  They were all borne down with loads of firewood, and even poor little children, worn to skeletons by fatigue and hardships, were obliged to bear their burden, while many of their inhuman masters with dreadful whip suspended from their waist.all the traders speak of slaves as farmers do of cattle.the defenceless state of the Negro kingdoms to the southward are temptations too strong to be resisted, a force is therefore annually pillage these defenceless people, to carry them off as slaves, burn their towns, kill the aged and infants, destroy their crops and inflict on them every possible misery.all slavery is for an unlimited time.none of their owners ever moved without their whips - which were in constant use.drinking too much water, bringing too little wood or falling asleep before the cooking was finished, were considered nearly capital crimes, and it was in vain for these poor creatures to plead the excuse of being tired.  Nothing could withhold the application of the whip.  No slaves dared to be ill or unable to walk, but when the poor sufferer dies, the master suspects that there must have been something 'wrong inside' and regrets not having liberally applied their usual remedy of burning the belly with a red-hot iron."

scourgeofslavery09Arab slave traders along the Ruvuma River, East Africa, 1866, axe a straggler.

Records for Morocco in 1876 show that market prices for slaves varied from £10 ($48) to £30 ($140).  Female slaves comprised the vast majority of sales with "attractive virgins"fetching between £40 to £80 ($192 - $386).  It was reported that "a considerable majority of the slaves crossing the Sahara were destined to become concubines in North Africa, the Middle East and occasionally even further afield."


Segal also observed that:  "White slaves from Christian Spain, Central and Eastern Europe" were also shipped into the Middle East and served in the "palaces of rulers and the establishments of the rich." He records that:  "All slavic eunuchs.are castrated in that region and the operation is performed by Jewish merchants."

scourgeofslavery10Muslim slave raiders kidnapped women from Europe for harems in the Middle East.

Historian Robert Davis in his book "Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters - White Slavery In the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy", estimates that North African Muslim pirates abducted and enslaved more than 1 million Europeans between 1530 and 1780.  These white Christians were seized in a series of raids which depopulated coastal towns from Sicily to Cornwall.  Thousands of white Christians in coastal areas were seized every year to work as galley slaves, labourers and concubines for Muslim slave masters in what is today Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya.  Villages and towns on the coast of Italy, Spain, Portugal and France were the hardest hit, but the Muslim slave raiders also seized people as far afield as Britain, Ireland and Iceland.  They even captured 130 American seamen from ships they boarded in the Atlantic between 1785 and 1793. 

According to one report, 7000 English people were abducted between 1622 to 1644, many of them ship crews and passengers.  But the Corsairs also landed on unguarded beaches, often at night, to snatch the unwary.  Almost all the inhabitants of the village of Baltimore, in Ireland, were captured in 1631, and there were other raids in Devon and Cornwall.  Many of these white, Christian slaves were put to work in quarries, building sites and galleys and endured malnutrition, disease and mistreatment at the hands of their Muslim slave masters.  Many of them were used for public works such as building harbours.

Female captives were sexually abused in palace harems and others were held as hostages and bargained for ransom.  "The most unlucky ended up stuck and forgotten out in the desert, in some sleepy town such as Suez, or in Turkish Sultanate galleys, where some slaves rowed for decades without ever setting foot on shore." Professor Davis estimates that up to 1,25 million Europeans were enslaved by Muslim slave raiders between 1500 to 1800. 

While Islam dominated the slave trade from the 7th to the 15th Century, between 1519 and 1815 Europe also joined in this trade in human flesh.  And it was those European nations which had suffered the most at the hands of Muslim slave raiders, and under centuries of Muslim military occupation, Spain and Portugal, who dominated the European slave trade.

It was the enemies of the Reformation who brought Europe into this disgraceful trade.  Emperor Charles V (whom Martin Luther defied with his historic "My conscience is captive to the Word of I stand I can do no other." speech) of the Holy Roman Empire who first authorised Europe's involvement in the slave trade in 1519.  Because of Pope Alexander VI's Line of Demarcation Bill of 1493 which barred Spain from Africa, Spain issued Asientos (a monopoly) to other nations to supply slaves for her South American colonies.  First Portugal had this lucrative franchise, then the Dutch, then the French.  Finally, by the treaty of Utrecht 1713, the Asientos was transferred from France to Britain.  Britain's involvement in slavery was first authorised in 1631 by King Charles I (who was later executed by Parliament).  His son, Charles II, reintroduced it by Royal  Charter in 1672.

According to "The Slave Trade" by Hugh Thomas, approximately 4 million (35.4%) went to Portuguese controlled Brazil; 2,5 million (22.1%) to the Spanish nations of South and Central America; 2 million (17.7%) to the British West Indies (mostly Jamaica); 1,6 million (14.1%) to French West Indies; half a million (4.4%) to Dutch West Indies and half a million (4.4%) to North America. 


Slaves freed by the British Navy.

It is extraordinary that, considering that less than 5% of all the Trans Atlantic slaves ended up in North America, the vast majority of films, books and articles concerning the slave trade concentrate only on the American involvement in the slave trade, as though slavery was a uniquely American aberration.  However, the vastly greater involvement of Portugal, Spain and France seem to be largely ignored.  Even more so the far greater and longer running Islamic slave trade into the Middle East has been so ignored as to make it one of history's best-kept secrets.

We tend to focus on what happened in North America because the United States would eventually fight a war, in part over slavery, and because of the enormous and vocal American opposition to slavery.  This was in sharp contrast to the indifference that Muslims, Africans and many Europeans evidenced towards it.


scourgeofslavery12A steam pinnache of HMS London puts a warning shot across the bow of a slaving dhow in 1881.

The legends of European slave raiders venturing into the jungles of Africa to capture free peoples are generally just that:  myths. 

The embarrassing fact of history, is that the Europeans did not have to use any force to obtain these slaves.  The slaves were"sold" by their black owners.  There was no need for the slave raiders to risk their lives or venture into the jungles of Africa, they simply purchased the people from African chiefs and Muslim slave traders at the coast. 

However, while the slave trade and slavery itself was always criticised vigorously in Britain and America, no comparable criticism was evident in the Muslim Middle East or amongst the African tribes which sold their own people, and neighbouring tribes, into slavery.  Almost all of the African slaves transported across the Atlantic were captured and sold by African rulers and merchants. 

Many chiefs found it more profitable to sell their enemies, criminals and debtors than to kill or imprison them.  Many were weaker neighbouring tribes conquered for the express purpose of selling their people into slavery.  The disgraceful fact is that there were three equally guilty partners in the crime of the Trans Atlantic slave trade:  pagan African chiefs, Muslim Arabs and Christian Europeans.

The Trade, as it became known, involved a triangular voyage.  Slave ships sailed from Bristol or Liverpool loaded with cloths, beads, muskets, iron bars and brandy.  This merchandise was then traded in West Africa in exchange for slaves.  Mostly African chiefs sold their own people, or engaged in wars and slave raids against neighbouring tribes to capture victims for this trade.  Often professional Arab slave traders provided the victims. 

The middle passage transported the slaves to the West Indies.  Here the slaves were sold and the ships loaded with spices, rum, molasses and sugar.  The third leg of the journey was the return to England.  The average Englishman on the street was kept in the dark as to what was actually happening on the middle passage, until, in 1785, Thomas Clarkson's landmark study "Slavery and Commerce In the Human Species" was first published at Cambridge.  According to Clarkson's research, 10% of the slaves would normally die during the middle passage.  Strong men would fetch as much as £40 while the women and children were sold in cheap batches with the sick and weak men.  In England 18 000 people were employed simply on making the goods to trade for slaves in Africa.  This trade constituted 4.4% of British exports. 

On Sunday 28 October 1787, William Wilberforce wrote in his diary:  "God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the Reformation of society." For the rest of his life, William Wilberforce dedicated his life as a Member of Parliament to opposing the slave trade and working for the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. 

On 22 February 1807, twenty years after he first began his crusade, and in the middle of Britain's war with France, Wilberforce and his team's labours were rewarded with victory.  By an overwhelming 283 votes for to 16 against, the motion to abolish the slave trade was carried in the House of Commons.  The parliamentarians leapt to their feet with great cheers and gave Wilberforce the greatest ovation ever seen in British history.  William bent forward in his seat, his head in his hands, tears of gratitude streaming down his face. 

In 1809, the British government mobilised its Navy to search suspected slave ships, even foreign vessels on the high seas.  In 1810, the British Parliament declared slave trading a felony, punishable by fourteen years hard labour.  In 1814, the British representative at the Congress of Vienna insisted on the abolition of the slave trade being included in the International Treaty.  This Treaty was signed by all the European powers on 9 June 1815.  In 1825, Britain passed a bill making slave trading punishable by death. 

Finally, just three days before William Wilberforce died, by an Act of Parliament in 1833, the British abolished slavery itself - setting all 700 000 slaves in British overseas territories free.  Wilberforce's lifetime campaign of 59 years was now fully successful.  "Thank God that I've lived to witness the day in which England is willing to give 20 million pounds sterling for the abolition of slavery!" he exclaimed.  Within three days he died rejoicing.  (For the story of how slavery was abolished see the chapter on William Wilberforce - Missionary to Parliament in The Greatest Century of Missions).

The "History of European Morals" suggests that "the unweary, unostentatious and inglorious crusade of England against slavery may probably be regarded as among the three or four perfectly virtuous pages comprised in the history of nations."

The abolition of slavery was one of the great turning points in history.  And the long and vigorous crusade by the British Navy throughout the 19th Century against the slave trade ranks as one of the most extraordinary and unselfish applications of national policy ever seen in the history of nations.

".where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."     2 Cor 3:17


Rescued from slavery by the British Navy, 
Samual Crowther became the first African
bishop of the Church of England.

One of the many fruits of William Wilberforce's life long crusade against the slave trade was that Samuel Ajayi Crowther, who was born in 1807 (the year Great Britain abolished the slave trade) in Yorubaland (modern Western Nigeria) was rescued by a British naval squadron.  When Samuel was just thirteen years old, he was captured by Muslim slave traders for transport across the Atlantic, but rescued by the Navy.  Samuel received an education in Sierra Leone, where he was converted to Christ, and after further education in England he was ordained as a minister of the Church of England for service with the Church Missionary Society. 

scourgeofslavery14Newly liberated slaves in Zanzibar.

Samuel participated in the expedition up the Niger River Valley to overcome the ravages of the slave industry still entrenched there.  Of the 145 Europeans on that expedition, 130 were struck down with Malaria, and 40 died.  Yet the expedition succeeded in establishing a Missionary Center at Fourah Bay for training liberated slaves to evangelise West Africa.  It was built on the very place where a slave market had once stood.  The rafters of the roof were made almost entirely from the masts of old slave ships. 

Samuel Crowther was one of the first four students to graduate from Fourah Bay's College, Sub-Saharan Africa's first university.  In 1864, Samuel Crowther was ordained as the first African Bishop of the Church of England in an overflowing Canterbury cathedral.  Today there are eighteen times more Anglicans worshipping in church every Sunday in Nigeria than there are in Great Britain.


scourgeofslavery16Livingstone and his team free slaves from Arab slave raiders in the Shire Valley.

However, as the British Navy was defeating the slave trade in the Atlantic, the East African slave trade was increasing.  It was missionary explorer David Livingstone whose graphic descriptions brought the ravages of the East African slave trade to light.  His Missionary Travels and Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambezi exposed the horrors of the slave trade:  "Two of the women had been shot the day before for attempting to untie their thongs.  One woman had her infants brains knocked out because she could not carry her load and it; and a man was dispatched with an axe because he had broken down with fatigue.those taken out of the country are but a very small section of the sufferers.  We never realised the atrocious nature of the traffic until we saw it at the fountain head.  'There truly Satan has his seat.'  Besides those actually captured thousands are killed and die of their wounds and famine, driven from their villages by the internecine war waged for slaves with their own clansmen and neighbours, slain by the lust of gain, which is stimulated, be it remembered always, by the slave purchases of Cuba and elsewhere."


The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society reported that most slaves were captured in the Lake Niassa area (Malawi and Mozambique), the Bahr El Ghazal region and in areas of Ethiopia.  Slaves were taken to East African markets like Zanzibar, Kilwa and Quelimane and then shipped to Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Iraq, Iran and to the islands of Pemba, Reunion and Madagascar. 

The Anti-Slavery Reporter estimated the Muslim slave trade as exporting 63000 slaves per year.  Some estimates went as high as 500000 slaves exported in a single year. One researcher, Ralph Austen calculated that between 1830 and 1861 imports of slaves to the Persian Gulf averaged 3700 to 3100 per annum.  This same researcher noted that about 8855 slaves a year were retained as slaves on the East African coast as slaves of African slave masters.

1833 - All slaves in the British Empire
are set free by Parliamentary decree.

Few authors dared describe the horrors involved in the Trans- Sahara slave trade:  kidnapping and castrating young boys to be sold as eunuchs ("the living dead") in the homes of wealthy Arab landlords and force marching young women across endless miles of scorching sand in the Sahara desert to become slave concubines, most dying in transit.  The Muslim slave trade typically dealt in the sale of castrated male slaves:  eunuchs.  Eunuchs were created by completely amputating the scrotum and penis of eight to twelve year old African boys.  Hundreds of thousands of young boys bled to death during this gory procedure.  The survival rate from this process ranged from 1 in 10 to 1 in 30.  These castrated boys brought the highest price at the slave market. 


Islam's Black Slaves notes:  "the Quran stipulated that female slaves might lawfully be enjoyed by their masters." Mohammad himself owned many slaves, some of whom he captured in wars of conquest and some he purchased.  The names of forty slaves owned by Mohammad are recorded by Muslim chroniclers.  Islamic law (Sharia) contains elaborate regulations for slavery.  A slave had no right to be heard in court (testimony was forbidden by slaves), slaves had no right to property, could marry only with the permission of the owner, and were considered to be chattel, that is the movable property, of the slave owner.  Muslim slave owners were specifically entitled by Sharia law to sexually exploit their slaves,  including hiring them out as prostitutes.

One reason why very little has been written about the Arab involvement in slavery is that traditional Islamic culture still condones slavery.  The Sharia, the codified Islamic law which is based upon the teachings and example of Mohammad, contains explicit regulations for slavery.  One of the primary principles of Islam is following the example of Mohammad.  Whatever Mohammad did, we must do, what he forbade, we must forbid, what he did not forbid, we may not forbid. As Mohammad himself traded in slaves and owned slaves, accumulating multiple wives, even marrying a six year old, and having concubines - slavery and the sexual exploitation of women is deeply ingrained in Islamic tradition.  Muslim nations had engaged in the slave trade for over 600 years before Europe became involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. 



Almost 200 years after the British outlawed the slave trade in 1807, slave raids and the sale of slaves in Muslim markets continues in countries like Sudan.  The slave trade remained legal in Saudi Arabia until 1962, when under international pressure it was finally abolished.  However, there are persistent, credible reports, that slavery persists in Saudi Arabia, and even that slaves from Sudan are ending up in Saudi Arabia.

Recently, a former slave from the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, Mende Nazer, had her autobiography:  "Slave:  My True Story"published.  Mende was captured in 1992, she was first a slave to a rich Arab family in Khartoum, and then in 2002 to a Sudanese diplomat in London, from whom she escaped and sought political asylum. 


Although the Old Testament provided for slavery for criminals and insolvent debtors, kidnapping and enslaving law-abiding people incurred the death penalty.  "Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death."  Exodus 21:16 

The New Testament expressly forbids both the slave trade and slavery itself.  ".the Law is made not for the righteous but for Law breakers.for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers." 1 Timothy 1:9-10

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:28

"From one man He made every nation of men." Acts 17:26

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your your neighbour as yourself." Mark 12:30-31

"Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." John 8:32

".where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." 2 Cor. 3:17

".proclaim liberty throughout the land." Leviticus 25:10

Dr. Peter Hammond is the author of Faith Under Fire In Sudan and The Greatest Century of Missions.


A History of Christianity, by Kenneth Scott Latourette, Harper, 1953

Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters:  White Slavery in the Mediterranean; the Barbary Coast and Italy 1500 - 1800, by Robert Davis, Palgrave MacMillan, 2004

God's Politician, by Garth Lean, Helmers and Howard, 1987

History of Slavery, by Suzanne Everett, Chartwell, 1997

Islam's Black Slaves, by Ronald Segal, Farrar, New York, 2001

Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, by David Livingstone, London, 1857

Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambezi, by David Livingstone, London,1865

The Greatest Century of Missions, by Peter Hammond, CLB, 2002

The Slave Trade, by Hugh Thomas, 1997

Under the Influence - How Christianity Transformed Civilization, by Alvin Schmit, Zondervan, 2001


Christian Action P.O.Box 23632 Claremont 7735 Cape Town South Africa - 021-689-4481 -
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