Black Slaves, Arab Masters

May 1, 2006

I noticed Ginny’s post on Black Slaves some time ago but haven’t had the chance to respond. In a nutshell she wanted an answer to those African Americans who condemn Islam for the “Arab slave trade” that existed long before “peculiar institution” in the Americas. Being white, she felt that, coming from her, it would just sound like a white person defending the Arab injustices against blacks. Well, she’s right, it probably would. So, as an African American, I will speak on her behalf.

There are a number of reasons why one cannot compare slavery in the Islamic context with that of America’s slavery:

1. Islam was designed to eventually abolish slavery. It was a gradual approach (for various reasons). It laid tremendous reward on the freeing of slaves.

2. Many slaves before Islam were mistreated. After Islam, slavery was intended to be limited to prisoners of war. Someone could not be born into slavery, and simply accepting Islam would have been enough to gain freedom.

3. Slaves were treated as equals in Islam. They sat at the same tables with their “masters” and enjoyed the full rights of citizenship. In America, slaves were not even viewed as human at all.

4. After the death of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) there were undoubtedly abuses of slavery in the Arab world. Many of the Arabs under the Umayyad and ‘Abbassid regimes (which were themselves mostly corrupted), did trade slaves, but they neither represented Islam nor Arabs. They were individuals who will answer before Allah just as the white slave masters of the American south will.

5. American slavery stripped enslaved Africans of their identity. Their culture, language, religion, arts, etc were all erased. I have no way of tracing my ancestry or culture. We have no history as a people because of what was taken from us. The cruelty is unimaginable, and the ramifications of it extended beyond just the lives of the slaves but into future generations for the remainder of time. You cannot overstate how important culture is to the lives of a people. To remove that from them completely and to force them to adopt something foreign is permanently damaging.

6. I will not stand here and defend every Arab slave trader, but in turn, someone should not judge Islam based on their actions. White slave masters tried to use the Bible and Christianity to justify their treatment of enslaved Africans, and one should not judge Christianity based on their actions.

Finally, slavery does not have a place in Islam, and it is not an Islamic principle or concept. Islam offered a solution the problem of slavery. Whether or not individuals followed the regulations on slavery laid forth by Islam is another matter entirely.



  1. Salaam;
    I know. It’s really frusterating when people judge a religion based on the actions of tyrants who would be tyrants regardless of their religion.

  2. I think you are comparing apples with oranges here. If you want to compare the Atlantic slave trade with the Arab one, you should compare facts rather than ideals on the Arab/Muslim side.

  3. Zack, that is exactly what I was trying to explain. Those who criticize Islam because of the “arab slave trade” are, as you’ve said, “comparing apples to organges.” Islam is perfect in all its aspects, but that does not mean that Muslims are.

  4. One other thing, the ideals of the American slave trade were their practices. After all, the American laws rewarded slavery and considered enslaved Africans to be less than human.

  5. Asalam-alaikum,

    I hope you don’t mind that I added a link to this post and the next at Third Resurrection (www.thirdresurrection.blogspot.com) a Black orthodox Muslim group blog. Also, I was wondering if you would be interested in joining the group? I think you’d be a welcome addition.

  6. To add to what you said, I think that it should also be mentioned that unlike the Americas, the slaves in the Muslim world were not exclusively brought from sub-saharan Africa, but also from Europe and other places.

  7. Assalamu alaikum, once again, I’m a little late. Thanks so much for your post, I came across it while looking through technorati. Good post, as well as good comments, Mashallah. Will link it to my blog. Thanks.

  8. Hi…i am not Muslim but i have many Muslim friends, and i agree with the points presented in this post. The people who blame a certain race or religion for everything that took place by people who are truly the bad ones are wrong. I hope soon people will judge one another by the person they are!

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