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The Arab slave trade was the practice of slavery in the Arab World, mainly West Asia, North Africa, East Africa and certain parts of Europe (such as Sicily and Iberiamarker) during their period of domination by Arab leaders. The trade was focused on the slave markets of the Middle East and North Africa. People traded were not limited to a certain color, ethnicity, or religion and included Arabs and Berbers, especially in its early days.

Later, during the 8th and 9th centuries of the Islamic Caliphate, most of the slaves were Slavic Eastern Europeans (called Saqaliba), people from surrounding Mediterranean areas, Persians, Turks, peoples from the Caucasus mountain regions (such as Georgiamarker, Armeniamarker and Circassia) and parts of Central Asia and Scandinavia, Berbers from North Africa, and various other peoples of varied origins as well as those of Black African origins.

Later, toward the 18th and 19th centuries, slaves increasingly came from East Africa, until slavery was officially abolished by the end of the 19th century. It still continues today in a smaller form in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, where women and children are trafficked from the post-Soviet states, Eastern Europe, Far East, Africa, South Asia and other parts of the Middle East.

Scope of the trade

Historians estimate that between 11 and 18 million Black Africans were enslaved by Arab slave traders and taken across the Red Seamarker, Indian Oceanmarker, and Sahara Desert between 650 and 1900, compared to 9.4 to 14 million Africans brought to the Americas in the Atlantic slave trade.

Periodic Arab raiding expeditions were sent from Islamic Iberiamarker to ravage the Christian Iberian kingdoms, bringing back booty and slaves. In a raid against Lisbonmarker in 1189, for example, the Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansur took 3,000 female and child captives, while his governor of Córdobamarker, in a subsequent attack upon Silves in 1191, took 3,000 Christian slaves.

Arabs also enslaved substantial numbers of Europeans. According to Robert Davis between 1 million and 1.25 million Europeans were captured by Barbary pirates, who were vassals of the Ottoman Empire, and sold as slaves between the 16th and 19th centuries. These slaves were captured mainly from seaside villages from Italymarker, Spainmarker, Portugalmarker and also from more distant places like Francemarker or Englandmarker, the Netherlandsmarker, Irelandmarker and even Icelandmarker and North America. The impact of these attacks was devastating – Francemarker, Englandmarker, and Spainmarker each lost thousands of ships, and long stretches of the Spanish and Italian coasts were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants. Pirate raids discouraged settlement along the coast until the 19th century.

The Ottoman wars in Europe and Tatar raids brought large numbers of European Christian slaves into the Islamic world too.

The 'Oriental' or 'Arab' slave trade is sometimes called the 'Islamic' slave trade, but a religious imperative was not the driver of the slavery, Patrick Manning, a professor of World History, states. However, if a non-Muslim population refuses to adopt Islam or pay the Jizya protection/subjugation tax, that population is considered to be at war with the Muslim "ummah" and therefore it becomes legal under Islamic law to take slaves from that non-Muslim population. Usage of the terms "Islamic trade" or "Islamic world" has been disputed by some Muslims as it treats Africa as outside of Islam, or a negligible portion of the Islamic world. Propagators of Islam in Africa often revealed a cautious attitude towards proselytizing because of its effect in reducing the potential reservoir of slaves.

From a Western point of view, the subject merges with the Oriental slave trade, which followed two main routes in the Middle Ages:

The Arab slave trade originated before Islam and lasted more than a millennium. It continues today in some places. Arab traders brought Africans across the Indian Ocean from present-day Kenyamarker, Tanzania, Sudanmarker,Eritreamarker, western Ethiopiamarker and elsewhere in East Africa to present-day Iraqmarker, Iranmarker, Kuwaitmarker, Turkeymarker and other parts of the Middle East and South Asia (mainly Pakistanmarker and Indiamarker). Unlike the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the New World, Arabs supplied African slaves to the Muslim world, which at its peak stretched over three continents from the Atlanticmarker (Moroccomarker, Spainmarker) to Indiamarker and eastern Chinamarker.

Sources and historiography of the slave trade

A recent and controversial topic

The history of the slave trade has given rise to numerous debates amongst historians. For one thing, specialists are undecided on the number of Africans taken from their homes; this is difficult to resolve because of a lack of reliable statistics: there was no census system in medieval Africa. Archival material for the transatlantic trade in the 16th to 18th centuries may seem useful as a source, yet these record books were often falsified. Historians have to use imprecise narrative documents to make estimates which must be treated with caution: Luiz Felipe de Alencastro states that there were 8 million slaves taken from Africa between the 8th and 19th centuries along the Oriental and the Trans-Saharan routes.

Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau has put forward a figure of 17 million African people enslaved (in the same period and from the same area) on the basis of Ralph Austen's work. Paul Bairoch suggests a figure of 25 million African people subjected to the Arab slave trade, as against 11 million that arrived in the Americas from the transatlantic slave trade. Owen 'Alik Shahadah author of African Holocaust (audio documentary), puts the figure at 10 million and argues that the trade only boomed in the 18th century, prior to this the trade was "a trickle trade" and that exaggerated numbers have been claimed in order to de-emphasize the Transatlantic trade.

Another obstacle to a history of the Arab slave trade is the limitations of extant sources. There exist documents from non-African cultures, written by educated men in Arabic, but these only offer an incomplete and often condescending look at the phenomenon. For some years there has been a huge amount of effort going into historical research on Africa. Thanks to new methods and new perspectives, historians can interconnect contributions from archaeology, numismatics, anthropology, linguistics and demography to compensate for the inadequacy of the written record.

Slavery (of Africans by Africans) was endemic in Africa itself for thousands of years before Europeans or Arabs entered the continent. In Africa, slaves owned by African owners were often captured, either through raids or as a result of warfare, and frequently employed in manual labor by the captors. Slaves were commonly traded by one African nation to another in exchange for goods or services.

The Arab slave trade from East Africa is one of the oldest slave trades, predating the European transatlantic slave trade by 700 years. Male slaves who were often made eunuchs were employed as servants, soldiers, or laborers by their owners, while female slaves, including those from Africa, were long traded to the Middle Eastern countries and kingdoms by Arab and Oriental traders, as concubines and servants. Arab, African and Oriental traders were involved in the capture and transport of slaves northward across the Sahara desert and the Indian Ocean region into the Middle East, Persia, and the Indian subcontinent.

20th Century

From approximately 650 until around the 1960s the Arab slave trade continued in one form or another. The Moroccan Sultan Moulay Ismail "the Bloodthirsty" (1672-1727) raised a corps of 150,000 black slaves, called his Black Guard, who coerced the country into submission. Historical accounts and references to slave-owning nobility in Arabia, Yemenmarker and elsewhere are frequent into the early 1920s. In 1953, sheikhs from Qatarmarker attending the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II included slaves in their retinues, and they did so again on another visit five years later.

As recently as the 1950s, the Saudi Arabiamarker’s slave population was estimated at 450,000 — approximately 20% of the population. It is estimated that as many as 200,000 black Sudanese children and women had been taken into slavery in Sudan during the Second Sudanese Civil War. Slavery in Mauritania was legally abolished by laws passed in 1905, 1961, and 1981. It was finally criminalized in August 2007. It is estimated that up to 600,000 black Mauritanians, or 20% of the Mauritaniamarker’s population, are currently enslaved, many of them used as bonded labour.

The Arab slave trade in the Indian Oceanmarker, Red Seamarker, and Mediterraneanmarker long pre-dated the arrival of any significant number of Europeans on the African continent.

Descendants of the African slaves brought to the Middle East during the slave-trade still exist there today, and are aware of their African origins.

Medieval Arabic Sources

These are given in chronological order. Scholars and geographers from the Arab world had been travelling to Africa since the time of Muhammad in the 7th century.

  • Al Masudi (died 957), Muruj adh-dhahab or Meadows of Gold, the reference manual for geographers and historians of the Muslim world. The author had travelled widely across the Arab world as well as the Far East.
  • Ya'qubi (9th century), Book of Countries
  • Al-Bakri, author of Book of Roads and Kingdoms, published in Cordoba around 1068, gives us information about the Berbers and their activities; he collected eye-witness accounts on Saharan caravan routes.
  • Al Idrisi (died circa 1165), Description of Africa and Spain
  • Ibn Battûta (died circa 1377), Marinid geographer who travelled to sub-Saharan Africa, to Gaomarker and to Timbuktumarker. His principal work is called Gift for those who like to reflect on the curiosities of towns and marvels of travel.
  • Ibn Khaldun (died in 1406), historian and philosopher from North Africa. Sometimes considered as the historian of Arab, Berber and Persian societies. He is the author of Historical Prolegomena and History of the Berbers.
  • Ahmad al-Maqrî (died in 1442), Egyptian historian. His main contribution is his description of Cairo markets.
  • Leo Africanus (died circa 1548), author of a rare description of Africa.
  • Rifa'a al Tahtawi (died in 1873), who translated medieval works on geography and history. His work is mostly about Muslim Egypt.
  • Joseph Cuoq, Collection of Arabic sources concerning Western Africa between the 8th and 16th centuries (Paris 1975)

European texts (16th - 19th centuries)

Other sources

  • African Arabic and Ajami Manuscripts
  • African oral tradition
  • Kilwamarker Chronicle (16th century fragments)
  • Numismatics: analysis of coins and of their diffusion
  • Archaeology: architecture of trading posts and of towns associated with the slave trade
  • Iconography: Arab and Persian miniatures in major libraries
  • European engravings, contemporary with the slave trade, and some more modern
  • Photographs from the 19th century onward
  • Ethiopianmarker ( Ge'ez and Amharic)historical texts

Historical and geographical context of the Arab slave trade

A brief review of the region and era in which the Oriental and trans-Saharan slave trade took place should be useful here. It is not a detailed study of the Arab world, nor of Africa, but an outline of key points which will help with understanding the slave trade in this part of the world.

The Islamic world

The religion of Islam appeared in the 7th century CE, and in the next hundred years it was quickly diffused throughout the Mediterranean area, spread by Arabs after they conquered the Sassanid Persian Empire and many territories from the Byzantine Empire, including the Levant, Armenia and North Africa; they invaded the Iberian peninsula where they displaced the Visigothic Kingdom. These regions therefore had a diverse range of different peoples. To some extent, these regions were unified by an Islamic culture built on both religious and civic foundations. For example, they used the Arabic language and the dinar (currency) in commercial transactions. Meccamarker in Arabia, then as now, was the holy city of Islam and pilgrimage centre for all Muslims, whatever their origins.

According to Bernard Lewis, the Arab Empire was the first "truly universal civilization," which brought together for the first time "peoples as diverse as the Chinesemarker, the Indians, the people of the Middle East and North Africa, black Africans, and white Europeans."

The conquests of the Arab armies and the expansion of the Islamic state that followed have always resulted in the capture of war prisoners who were subsequently set free or turned into slaves or Raqeeq (رقيق) and servants rather than taken as prisoners as was the Islamic tradition in wars. Once taken as slaves, they had to be dealt with in accordance with the Islamic law which was the law of the Islamic state, especially during the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. According to that law, slaves are allowed to earn their living if they opted for that, otherwise it is the owner’s (master) duty to provide for that. They also can’t be forced to earn money for their masters unless with an agreement between the slave and the master. This concept is called “مخارجة” in the Islamic jurisprudence. If the slave agrees to that and he would like the money s/he earns to be counted toward his/her emancipation then this has to be written in the form of a contract between the slave and the master. This is called “مكاتبة” (mukatabah) in the Islamic jurisprudence. Muslims believe that slave owners in Islam are strongly encouraged to perform “mukatabah” with their slaves as directed by Qur’an
And if any of your slaves ask for a deed in writing (to enable them to earn their freedom for a certain sum), give them such a deed if ye know any good in them: yea, give them something yourselves out of the means which Allah has given to you. 24:33

The framework of Islamic civilisation was a well-developed network of towns and oasis trading centres with the market (souk, bazaar) at its heart. These towns were inter-connected by a system of roads crossing semi-arid regions or deserts. The routes were travelled by convoys, and black slaves formed part of this caravan traffic.

Arabic views on black people

The Qur'an, the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and the overwhelming majority of Islamic jurists and theologians, all stated that humankind has a single origin and rejected the idea of certain ethnic groups being superior to others. According to the hadiths, the prophet Muhammad declared:

Despite this, some ethnic prejudices later developed among Arabs due to several reasons: their extensive conquests and slave trade; the influence of Aristotle's idea of certain ethnic groups being slaves by nature, echoed by Muslim philosophers such as Al-Farabi and Avicenna, particularly in regards to Turkic and black peoples; and the influence of Judeo-Christian ideas regarding divisions among mankind between the three sons of Noah, with the Babylonian Talmud stating that "the descendants of Ham are cursed by being black, and [it] depicts Ham as a sinful man and his progeny as degenerates." However, ethnic prejudice among some elite Arabs was not limited to darker-skinned black people, but was also directed towards fairer-skinned "ruddy people" (including Persians, Turks and Europeans), while Arabs referred to themselves as "swarthy people".

The 9th century Muslim author Al-Jahiz, an Afro-Arab and the grandson of a Zanj (Bantu) slave, wrote a book entitled Risalat mufakharat al-Sudan 'ala al-bidan ("Treatise on the Superiority of Blacks over Whites"), in which he stated that Blacks:

And that:

Al-Jahiz also stated in his Kitab al-Bukhala ("Avarice and the Avaricious") that:

Jahiz' criticism however, was limited to the Zanj and not blacks in totality, likely as a result of the Zanj revolts in his native Iraq.

This sentiment was echoed in the following passage from Kitab al-Bad' wah-tarikh (vol.4) by the medieval Arab writer Al-Muqaddasi:

Al-Dimashqi (Ibn al-Nafis), the Arab polymath, also described the inhabitants of Sudan and the Zanj coast, among others, as being of "dim" intelligence and that:

By the 14th century, an overwhelming number of slaves came from sub-Saharan Africa, leading to prejudice against black people in the works of several Arabic historians and geographers. For example, the Egyptianmarker historian Al-Abshibi (1388-1446) wrote: "It is said that when the [black] slave is sated, he fornicates, when he is hungry, he steals."

Mistranslations of Arab scholars and geographers from this time period have lead many to attribute certain racist attitudes that weren't prevalent until the 18th and 19th century to writings made centuries ago. Although bias against those of very black complexion existed in the Arab world in the 15th century it didn't have as much stigma as it later would. Older translations of Ibn Khaldun, for example in The Negro land of the Arabs Examined and Explained which was written in 1841 gives excerpts of older translations that were not part of later colonial propaganda and show black Africans in a generally positive light.

In 14th century North Africa, the Arab sociologist, Ibn Khaldun, wrote in his Muqaddimah:

When the conquest of the West (by the Arabs) was completed, and merchants began to penetrate into the interior, they saw no nation of the Blacks so mighty as Ghanah, the dominions of which extended westward as far as the Ocean. The King's court was kept in the city of Ghanah, which, according to the author of the Book of Roger (El Idrisi), and the author of the Book of Roads and Realms (El Bekri), is divided into two parts, standing on both banks of the Nile, and ranks among the largest and most populous cities of the world. The people of Ghanah had for neighbours, on the east, a nation, which, according to historians, was called Susu; after which came another named Mali; and after that another known by the name of Kaukau ; although some people prefer a different orthography, and write this name Kagho. The last-named nation was followed by a people called Tekrur. The people of Ghanah declined in course of time, being overwhelmed or absorbed by the Molaththemun (or muffled people;that is, the Morabites), who, adjoining them on the north towards the Berber country, attacked them, and, taking possession of their territory, compelled them to embrace the Mohammedan religion. The people of Ghanah, being invaded at a later period by the Susu, a nation of Blacks in their neighbourhood, were exterminated, or mixed with other Black nations.

Ibn Khaldun suggests a link between the decline of Ghana and rise of the Almoravids. However, there is little evidence of there actually being an Almoravid conquest of Ghana.

Ibn Khaldun attributed the "strange practices and customs" of black Africans to the hot climate of sub-Saharan Africa and made it clear that it was not due to any curse in their lineage, dismissing the Hamitic theory as a myth.

His critical attitude towards Arabs has led the scholar Mohammad A. Enan to suggest that Ibn Khaldun may have been a Berber pretending to be an Arab in order to gain social status, but Muhammad Hozien has responded to this claim stating that Ibn Khaldun or anyone else in his family never claimed to be Berber even when the Berbers were in power.

The 14th-century North African Arabic geographer and traveller, Ibn Battuta, on his trip to Western Sudanmarker, was impressed with occasional aspects of life.

Battuta later visited the Zanj-inhabited portions of East Africa and held more positive views of its black people.

Ibn Battuta also appeared to be relatively impressed with some aspects of the Mali Empire of West Africa, which he visited in 1352, writing that the people there:

In addition, he wrote many other positive comments on the people of the Mali Empire, including the following:

Ibn Battuta's remarks contrasted greatly to that of many other comments from Arab authors concerning blacks. However, many of the exaggerated accounts are noted to have been based on hearsay and even perpetuated by Africans themselves in an attempt to keep their states and economies isolated, in addition to Ibn Battuta having been the only medieval Muslim scholar referenced here to have actually traveled to both east and west Africa.

Africa: 8th through 19th centuries

Elikia M’bokolo, April 1998, Le Monde diplomatique. Quote:"The African continent was bled of its human resources via all possible routes. Across the Sahara, through the Red Sea, from the Indian Ocean ports and across the Atlantic. At least ten centuries of slavery for the benefit of the Muslim countries (from the ninth to the nineteenth)." He continues: "Four million slaves exported via the Red Sea, another four million through the Swahili ports of the Indian Ocean, perhaps as many as nine million along the trans-Saharan caravan route, and eleven to twenty million (depending on the author) across the Atlantic Ocean"

In the 8th century AD, Africa was dominated by Arab-Berbers in the north: Islam moved southwards along the Nile and along the desert trails.

  • The Sahara was thinly populated. Nevertheless, since Antiquity there had been cities living on a trade in salt, gold, slaves, cloth, and on agriculture enabled by irrigation: Tahertmarker, Oualatamarker, Sijilmasamarker, Zaouila, and others. They were ruled by Arab, Berber, Fulani, Hausa and Tuaregs. Their independence was relative and depended on the power of the Maghrebi and Egyptian states.
  • In the Middle Ages, sub-Saharan Africa was called bilad -ul-Sûdân in Arabic, meaning land of the Blacks. It provided a pool of manual labour for North Africa and Saharan Africa. This region was dominated by certain states: the Ghana Empire, the Empire of Mali, the Kanem-Bornu Empire.
  • In eastern Africa, the coasts of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean were controlled by native Muslims, and Arabs were important as traders along the coasts. Nubia had been a "supply zone" for slaves since Antiquity. The Ethiopian coast, particularly the port of Massawamarker and Dahlak Archipelagomarker, had long been a hub for the exportation of slaves from the interior, even in Aksumite times. The port and most coastal areas were largely Muslim, and the port itself was home to a number of Arab and Indian merchants.
Slaves in eastern Africa - illustration from late 19th century)
The Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopiamarker often exported Nilotic slaves from their western borderland provinces, or from newly conquered or reconquered Muslim provinces. The Somali and Afar Muslim sultanates, such as the Adal Sultanate, exported slaves as well. Arabs also set up slave-trading posts along the southeastern coast of the Indian Ocean, most notably in the archipelago of Zanzibarmarker, along the coast of present-day Tanzania. East Africa and the Indian Ocean continued as an important region for the Oriental slave trade up until the 19th century. Livingstone and Stanley were then the first Europeans to penetrate to the interior of the Congo basin and to discover the scale of slavery there. The Arab Tippu Tip extended his influence and made many people slaves. After Europeans had settled in the Gulf of Guineamarker, the trans-Saharan slave trade became less important. In Zanzibar, slavery was abolished late, in 1897, under Sultan Hamoud bin Mohammed.

Africa and the Arab slave trade

People were captured, transported, bought and sold by some very different characters. The trade passed through a series of intermediaries and enriched some sections of the Muslim aristocracy. Slavery fed on wars between African peoples and states, which gave rise to an internal slave trade. Those conquered owed tribute in the form of men and women reduced to captivity. Sonni Ali Ber (1464–1492), emperor of Songhai, waged many wars to extend his territory.

In the 8th and 9th centuries, the Caliphs had tried to colonise the African shores of the Indian Ocean for commercial purposes. But these establishments were ephemeral, often founded by exiles or adventurers. The Sultan of Cairo sent slave traffickers on raids against the villages of Darfurmarker. In the face of these attacks, the people formed militias, building towers and outer defences to protect their villages.

Geography of the slave trade

"Supply" zones

Merchants of slaves for the Orient stocked up in Europe. Danish merchants had bases in the Volga region and dealt in Slavs with Arab merchants. Circassian slaves were conspicuously present in the harems and there were many odalisques from that region in the paintings of Orientalists. Non-Muslim slaves were valued in the harems, for all roles (gate-keeper, servant, odalisque {chambermaid}, musician, dancer, court dwarf, concubine). In the Ottoman Empire, the last black slave sold in Ethiopia named Hayrettin Effendi, was freed in 1918. The slaves of Slavic origin in Al-Andalusmarker came from the Varangians who had captured them. They were put in the Caliph's guard and gradually took up important posts in the army (they became saqaliba), and even went to take back taifas after the civil war had led to an implosion of the Western Caliphate. Columns of slaves feeding the great harems of Cordobamarker, Sevillemarker and Grenadamarker were organised by Jewish merchants (mercaderes) from Germanic countries and parts of Northern Europe not controlled by the Carolingian Empire. These columns crossed the Rhône valley to reach the lands to the south of the Pyreneesmarker.

There are also historical evidence of North African Muslim slave raids all along the Mediterranean coasts across Christian Europe and beyond to even as far north as the British Isles and Iceland (see book titled White Gold). The majority of slaves traded across the Mediterranean region were predominantly of European origin from the 7th to 15th centuries. The Barbary pirates continued to capture slaves from Europe and, to an extent, North America, from the 16th to 19th centuries.

Slaves were also brought into the Arab world via Central Asia, mainly of Turkic or Tartar origin. Many of these slaves later went on to serve in the armies forming an elite rank.

  • At sea, Barbary pirates joined in this traffic when they could capture people by boarding ships or by incursions into coastal areas, mainly in Southern Europe.
  • Nubia and Ethiopiamarker were also "exporting" regions: in the 15th century, Ethiopians sold slaves from western borderland areas (usually just outside of the realm of the Emperor of Ethiopia) or Ennarea, which often ended up in India, where they worked on ships or as soldiers. They eventually rebelled and took power (dynasty of the Habshi Kings in Bengal 1487-1493).
  • The Sûdân region and Saharan Africa formed another "export" area, but it is impossible to estimate the scale, since there is a lack of sources with figures.
  • Finally, the slave traffic affected eastern Africa, but the distance and local hostility slowed down this section of the Oriental trade.


Caravan trails, set up in the 9th century, went past the oases of the Sahara; travel was difficult and uncomfortable for reasons of climate and distance. Since Roman times, long convoys had transported slaves as well as all sorts of products to be used for barter. To protect against attacks from desert nomads, slaves were used as an escort. Any who slowed down the progress of the caravan were killed.

Historians know less about the sea routes. From the evidence of illustrated documents, and travellers' tales, it seems that people travelled on dhows or jalbas, Arab ships which were used as transport in the Red Sea. Crossing the Indian Ocean required better organisation and more resources than overland transport. Ships coming from Zanzibar made stops on Socotramarker or at Adenmarker before heading to the Persian Gulfmarker or to India. Slaves were sold as far away as India, or even China: there was a colony of Arab merchants in Cantonmarker. Serge Bilé cites a 12th century text which tells us that most well-to-do families in Canton had black slaves whom they regarded as savages and demons because of their physical appearance. Although Chinese slave traders bought slaves (Seng Chi i.e. the Zanj) from Arab intermediaries and "stocked up" directly in coastal areas of present-day Somaliamarker, the local Somalis -- referred to as Baribah and Barbaroi (Berbers) by medieval Arab and ancient Greek geographers, respectively (see Periplus of the Erythraean Sea), and no strangers to capturing, owning and trading slaves themselves -- were not among them:

One important commodity being transported by the Arab dhows to Somalia was slaves from other parts of East Africa.
During the nineteenth century, the East African slave trade grew enormously due to demands by Arabs, Portuguese, and French.
Slave traders and raiders moved throughout eastern and central Africa to meet the rising demand for enslaved men, women, and children.
Somalia did not supply slaves -- as part of the Islamic world Somalis were at least nominally protected by the religious tenet that free Muslims cannot be enslaved -- but Arab dhows loaded with human cargo continually visited Somali ports.
13th century slave market in the Yemen

Slave labor in East Africa was drawn exclusively from the Zanj, who were Negroid Bantu-speaking peoples that lived along the East African coast in an area roughly comprising modern-day Tanzania, Mozambiquemarker and Malawimarker.The Zanj were for centuries shipped as slaves by Arab traders to all the countries bordering the Indian Oceanmarker. The Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs recruited many Zanj slaves as soldiers and, as early as AD 696, we learn of slave revolts of the Zanj against their Arab enslavers in Iraqmarker (see Zanj Rebellion). Ancient Chinese texts also mention ambassadors from Java presenting the Chinese emperor with two Seng Chi (Zanj) slaves as gifts, and Seng Chi slaves reaching China from the Hindu kingdom of Sri Vijaya in Javamarker.


Slaves were often bartered for objects of various different kinds: in the Sûdân, they were exchanged for cloth, trinkets and so on. In the Maghreb, they were swapped for horses. In the desert cities, lengths of cloth, pottery, Venetian glass beads, dyestuffs and jewels were used as payment. The trade in black slaves was part of a diverse commercial network. Alongside gold coins, cowrie shells from the Indian Ocean or the Atlantic (Canariesmarker, Luandamarker) were used as money throughout black Africa (merchandise was paid for with sacks of cowries).

Slave markets and fairs

Enslaved Africans were sold in the towns of the Muslim world. In 1416, al-Makrisi told how pilgrims coming from Takrur (near the Senegal river) had brought 1700 slaves with them to Mecca. In North Africa, the main slave markets were in Morocco, Algiersmarker, Tripolimarker and Cairo. Sales were held in public places or in souks. Potential buyers made a careful examination of the "merchandise": they checked the state of health of a person who was often standing naked with wrists bound together. In Cairo, transactions involving eunuchs and concubines happened in private houses. Prices varied according to the slave's quality.

Towns and ports involved in the slave trade

See also


This article was initially translated from the featured French wiki article "Traite musulmane" on 19 May 2006.
  1. Historical survey > The international slave trade
  2. Arabs and Slave Trade
  3. Should The Islamic World Apologize For Slavery?
  4. United Arab Emirates, US Department of State
  5. Protection Act of 2000: Trafficking in Persons Report 2007, US Department of State
  6. Country Narratives: Near East, US Department of State
  7. Welcome to Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to Black History
  8. Focus on the slave trade
  9. The Unknown Slavery: In the Muslim world, that is — and it's not over
  10. BBC NEWS | Africa | Quick guide: The slave trade
  11. Ransoming Captives in Crusader Spain: The Order of Merced on the Christian-Islamic Frontier
  12. When europeans were slaves: Research suggests white slavery was much more common than previously believed
  13. Davis, Robert. Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500-1800.Based on "records for 27,233 voyages that set out to obtain slaves for the Americas". Stephen Behrendt, "Transatlantic Slave Trade", Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999), ISBN 0-465-00071-1.
  14. BBC - History - British Slaves on the Barbary Coast
  15. Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates by Christopher Hitchens, City Journal Spring 2007
  16. Supply of Slaves
  17. Soldier Khan
  18. The living legacy of jihad slavery
  19. Manning (1990) p.10
  20. Murray Gordon, “Slavery in the Arab World.” New Amsterdam Press, New York, 1989. Originally published in French by Editions Robert Laffont, S.A. Paris, 1987, page 28.
  21. Battuta's Trip: Journey to West Africa (1351 - 1353)
  22. The blood of a nation of Slaves in Stone Town
  23. BBC Remembering East African slave raids
  24. "Know about Islamic Slavery in Africa"
  25. Irfan Shahid, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Dumbarton Oaks, 2002, p. 364 documents Ghassanid Arabs seizing and selling 20,000 Jewish Samaritans as slaves in the year 529, before the rise of Islam.
  26. A Legacy Hidden in Plain Sight
  27. Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, Traite, in Encyclopædia Universalis (2002), corpus 22, page 902.
  28. Ralph Austen, African Economic History (1987)
  29. Paul Bairoch, Mythes et paradoxes de l'histoire économique, (1994). See also: Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes (1993)
  30. Mintz, S. Digital History Slavery, Facts & Myths
  31. Lewis. Race and Slavery in the Middle East. Oxford Univ Press 1994.
  32. 'The Unknown Slavery: In the Muslim world, that is -- and it's not over. (From: National Review | Date: 5/20/2002 | Author: Miller, John J.)
  33. Slavery in Islam
  34. £400 for a Slave
  35. War and Genocide in Sudan
  36. The Lost Children of Sudan
  37. Slavery still exists in Mauritania
  38. Mauritanian MPs pass slavery law
  39. The Abolition season on BBC World Service
  40. Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, in Les Collections de l'Histoire (April 2001) says:"la traite vers l'Océan indien et la Méditerranée est bien antérieure à l'irruption des Européens sur le continent"
  41. A Legacy Hidden in Plain Sight (
  42. Dr Susan
  43. Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi, Culture and Customs of Somalia, (Greenwood Press: 2001), p.13
  44. Bethwell A. Ogot, Zamani: A Survey of East African History, (East African Publishing House: 1974), p.104
  45. Translation and the Colonial Imaginary: Ibn Khaldun Orientalist, by Abdelmajid Hannoum © 2003 Wesleyan University.
  46. The Negro land of the Arabs Examined and Explained
  47. Not Quite Venus from the Waves: The Almoravid Conquest of Ghana in the Modern Historiography of Western Africa by Pekka Masonen; Humphrey J. Fisher 1996
  48. The Conquest That Never Was: Ghana and the Almoravids, 1076. I. The External Arabic Sources, by David Conrad and Humphrey Fisher © 1982 African Studies Association
  49. IBN KHALDUN: His Life and Work by Muhammad Hozien
  50. Please note : The numbers occurring in the source, and repeated here on Wikipedia include both Arab and European trade. The impact of the slave trade on Africa
  51. Pankhurst, Richard. The Ethiopian Borderlands: Essays in Regional History from Ancient Times to the End of the 18th Century (Asmara, Eritrea: Red Sea Press, 1997), pp.416
  52. Pankhurst. Ethiopian Borderlands, pp.432
  53. Pankhurst. Ethiopian Borderlands, pp.59
  54. Emery Van Donzel, "Primary and Secondary Sources for Ethiopian Historiography. The Case of Slavery and Slave-Trade in Ethiopia," in Claude Lepage, ed., Études éthiopiennes, vol I. France: Société française pour les études éthiopiennes, 1994, pp.187-88.
  55. Roland Oliver, Africa in the Iron Age: c.500 BC-1400 AD, (Cambridge University Press: 1975), p.192
  56. F.R.C. Bagley et al., The Last Great Muslim Empires, (Brill: 1997), p.174
  57. James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 12: V. 12, (Kessinger Publishing, LLC: 2003), p.490
  58. Henry Louis Gates, Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, (Oxford University Press: 1999), p.1746
  59. David D. Laitin, Politics, Language, and Thought: The Somali Experience, (University Of Chicago Press: 1977), p.52
  60. Catherine Lowe Besteman, Unraveling Somalia: Race, Class, and the Legacy of Slavery, (University of Pennsylvania Press: 1999), p. 51
  • [278293] Mintz, S., Digital History/Slavery Facts & Myths


Books in English

  • The African Diaspora in the Mediterranean Lands of Islam (Princeton Series on the Middle East) by Eve Troutt Powell (Editor), John O. Hunwick (Editor)
  • Edward A. Alpers, The East African Slave Trade (Berkeley 1967)
  • Robert C. Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) ISBN 978-1403945518
  • Allan G. B. Fisher, Slavery and Muslim Society in Africa, ed. C. Hurst (London 1970, 2nd edition 2001)
  • Murray Gordon, Slavery in the Arab world (New York 1989)
  • Bernard Lewis, Race and slavery in the Middle East (OUP 1990)
  • Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah trans. F.Rosenthal ed. N.J.Dawood (Princeton 1967)]
  • Paul E. Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa (Cambridge 2000)
  • Ronald Segal, Islam's Black Slaves (Atlantic Books, London 2002)

Audio Material

Books and articles in French

  • Serge Daget, De la traite à l'esclavage, du Ve au XVIIIe siècle, actes du Colloque international sur la traite des noirs (Nantes, Société française d'histoire d'Outre-Mer, 1985)
  • Jacques Heers, Les Négriers en terre d'islam (Perrin, Pour l'histoire collection, Paris, 2003) (ISBN 2-262-01850-2)
  • Murray Gordon, L'esclavage dans le monde arabe, du VIIe au XXe siècle (Robert Laffont, Paris, 1987)
  • Bernard Lewis, Race et esclavage au Proche-Orient, (Gallimard, Bibliothèque des histoires collection, Paris, 1993) (ISBN 2-07-072740-8)
  • Olivier Petré-Grenouilleau, Les Traites oubliée des négrières (la Documentation française, Paris, 2003)
  • Jean-Claude Deveau, Esclaves noirs en Méditerranée in Cahiers de la Méditerranée, vol. 65, Sophia-Antipolis
  • Olivier Petré-Grenouilleau, La traite oubliée des négriers musulmans in L'Histoire, special number 280 S (October 2003), pages 48–55.

External links

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