Myths of Muhammad: Muhammad was an Abolitionist  who Purchased the Freedom of Slaves

Myths of Muhammad: Muhammad was an Abolitionist who Purchased the Freedom of Slaves

“Our Prophet (peace be upon him) never approved of slavery. He once purchased the life of a slave who came to him, liberating him from his master!” 

The Truth:

Here is the real story on which that excerpt (of Muhammad ‘liberating a slave’) is based:

There came a slave and pledged allegiance to Allah’s Apostle on migration; he (the Holy Prophet) did not know that he was a slave.  Then there came his master and demanded him back, whereupon Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Sell him to me.  And he bought him for two black slaves, and he did not afterwards take allegiance from anyone until he had asked him whether he was a slave (or a free man) (Sahih Muslim 3901).

Muhammad actually “purchased” the slave by trading two black slaves, which is hardly a shining example of emancipation.  Not only that, it establishes the fact that Muhammad owned and traded African slaves.  As a wealthy businessman, he certainly could have liberated all three slaves, but chose instead to sell the two Africans into an uncertain future.

It is also obvious from the passage that Muhammad felt he had been conned into liberating the slave who had come to him, since he was not told of his status as a slave.  Because, of this, Muhammad decided that he would not be duped again.  In the future, he would always ask first about whether a man was free or not before deciding whether to accept allegiance.

There is also no record of Muhammad “liberating” slaves captured in battle, unless there was something to be personally gained from it.  In fact, he made slaves out of those who were previously free people, particularly if they were women and children.  Sometimes he used families as leverage to force their men into accepting Islam:

The apostle told them to tell Malik that if he came to him as a Muslim he would return his family and property to him and give him a hundred camels. (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 879)

Captured women were passed out like party favors to his men, some of whom were then passed along to others (just like the Islamic State does with Yazidi women).  This passage tells of Muhammad giving women as sex slaves to the three men who would become his successors, the future caliphs Umar, Uthman and Ali:

The apostle gave Ali a girl called Rayta; and he gave Uthman a girl called Zaynab; and he gave Umar a girl whom Umar gave to his son Abdullah. (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 878, Ibn Kathir v.3 p.481)

Allah gave Muslim men a divine mandate to keep as many sex slaves as they wished (Quran 4:24,33:52…).  Contemporary apologists sometimes pretend that this applies only to women captured in battle (see also Myth: Muhammad Would Never Approve of Rape), but the same privilege is granted to believing men in 70:30, a passage “revealed” to the Muslims in Mecca, when there had been no battles.

Much could be written about Muhammad’s prolific and well-documented relationship with slaves, but one of the most insightful examples comes from this hadith (which is repeated elsewhere):

The Prophet sent for a woman from the emigrants and she had a slave who was a carpenter.  The Prophet said to her “Order your slave to prepare the wood (pieces) for the pulpit.”  So, she ordered her slave who went and cut the wood from the tamarisk and prepared the pulpit, for the Prophet.  When he finished the pulpit, the woman informed the Prophet that it had been finished.  The Prophet asked her to send that pulpit to him, so they brought it.  The Prophet lifted it and placed it at the place in which you see now. (Bukari 47:743)

According to this hadith, the very pulpit that Muhammad preached Islam from was constructed from slave labor on his command!  Now does this sound like Muhammad had a problem with slavery?

What Does Islam Teach About…Slavery

What Does Islam Teach About…Slavery

Does Islam condone slavery? Does Islamic teaching allow Muslim men to keep women as sex slaves? 

Islam neither ignores nor condemns slavery. In fact, a large part of the Sharia is dedicated to the practice.

Muslims are encouraged to live in the way of Muhammad, who was a slave owner and trader. He captured slaves in battle; he had sex with his slaves; and he instructed his men to do the same. The Quran actually devotes more verses to making sure that Muslim men know they can keep women as sex slaves (4) than it does to telling them to pray five times a day (zero).


Quran (33:50) – “O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those (slaves) whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee” This is one of several personal-sounding verses “from Allah” narrated by Muhammad – in this case allowing a virtually unlimited supply of sex partners. Other Muslims are restricted to four wives, but they may also have sex with any number of slaves, following the example of their prophet.Quran (23:5-6) – “..who abstain from sex, except with those joined to them in the marriage bond, or (the captives) whom their right hands possess…” This verse permits the slave-owner to have sex with his slaves. See also Quran (70:29-30). The Quran is a small book, so if Allah used valuable space to repeat the same point four times, sex slavery must be very important to him. He was relatively reticent on matters of human compassion and love.

Quran (4:24) – “And all married women (are forbidden unto you) save those (captives) whom your right hands possess.” Even sex with married slaves is permissible.

Quran (8:69) – “But (now) enjoy what ye took in war, lawful and good” A reference to war booty, of which slaves were a part. The Muslim slave master may enjoy his “catch” because (according to verse 71“Allah gave you mastery over them.”

Quran (24:32) – “And marry those among you who are single and those who are fit among your male slaves and your female slaves…” Breeding slaves based on fitness.

Quran (2:178) – “O ye who believe! Retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the murdered; the freeman for the freeman, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female.” The message of this verse, which prescribes the rules of retaliation for murder, is that all humans are not created equal. The human value of a slave is less than that of a free person (and a woman’s worth is also distinguished from that of a man).

Quran (16:75) – “Allah sets forth the Parable (of two men: one) a slave under the dominion of another; He has no power of any sort; and (the other) a man on whom We have bestowed goodly favours from Ourselves, and he spends thereof (freely), privately and publicly: are the two equal? (By no means;) praise be to Allah.’ Yet another confirmation that the slave is is not equal to the master. In this case, it is plain that the slave owes his status to Allah’s will. (According to 16:71, the owner should be careful about insulting Allah by bestowing Allah’s gifts on slaves – those whom the god of Islam has not favored).

Hadith and Sira

Sahih Bukhari (80:753) – “The Prophet said, ‘The freed slave belongs to the people who have freed him.'” 

Sahih Bukhari (52:255) – The slave who accepts Islam and continues serving his Muslim master will receive a double reward in heaven.

Sahih Bukhari (41.598) – Slaves are property. They cannot be freed if an owner has outstanding debt, but they can be used to pay off the debt.

Sahih Bukhari (62:137) – An account of women taken as slaves in battle by Muhammad’s men after their husbands and fathers were killed. The woman were raped with Muhammad’s approval.

Sahih Bukhari (34:432) – Another account of females taken captive and raped with Muhammad’s approval. In this case it is evident that the Muslims intend on selling the women after raping them because they are concerned about devaluing their price by impregnating them. Muhammad is asked about coitus interruptus.

Sahih Bukhari (47.765) – A woman is rebuked by Muhammad for freeing a slave girl. The prophet tells her that she would have gotten a greater heavenly reward by giving her to a relative (as a slave).

Sahih Bukhari (34:351) – Muhammad sells a slave for money. He was thus a slave trader.

Sahih Bukhari (72:734) – Some contemporary Muslims in the West (where slavery is believed to be a horrible crime) are reluctant to believe that Muhammad owned slaves. This is just one of many places in the Hadith where a reference is made to a human being owned by Muhammad. In this case, the slave is of African descent.

Sahih Muslim 3901 – Muhammad trades away two black slaves for one Muslim slave.

Sahih Muslim 4345 – Narration of a military raid against a hapless tribe trying to reach their water hole. During the slaughter, the women and children attempt to flee, but are cut off and captured by the Muslims. This story refutes any misconception that Muhammad’s sex slaves were taken by their own volition.

Sahih Muslim 4112 – A man freed six slaves on the event of his death, but Muhammad reversed the emancipation and kept four in slavery to himself. He cast lots to determine which two to free.

Sahih Bukhari (47:743) – Muhammad’s own pulpit – from which he preached Islam – was built with slave labor on his command.

Sahih Bukhari (59:637) – “The Prophet sent Ali to Khalid to bring the Khumus (of the booty) and I hated Ali, and Ali had taken a bath (after a sexual act with a slave-girl from the Khumus). I said to Khalid, ‘Don’t you see this (i.e. Ali)?’ When we reached the Prophet I mentioned that to him. He said, ‘O Buraida! Do you hate Ali?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Do you hate him, for he deserves more than that from the Khumlus.'” Muhammad approved of his men having sex with slaves, as this episode involving his son-in-law, Ali, clearly proves. This hadith refutes the modern apologists who pretend that slaves were really “wives.” This is because Muhammad had forbidden Ali from marrying another woman as long as Fatima (his favorite daughter) was living.

Abu Dawud (2150) – “The Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) sent a military expedition to Awtas on the occasion of the battle of Hunain. They met their enemy and fought with them. They defeated them and took them captives. Some of the Companions of the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) were reluctant to have intercourse with the female captives in the presence of their husbands who were unbelievers. So Allah, the Exalted, sent down the Qur’anic verse: (Quran 4:24) ‘And all married women (are forbidden) unto you save those (captives) whom your right hands possess.'” This is the background for verse 4:24 of the Quran. Not only does Allah give permission for women to be captured and raped, but allows it to even be done in front of their husbands. (See also Muslim 3432 & Ibn Kathir/Abdul Rahman Part 5 Page 14)

Abu Dawud (1814) – “…[Abu Bakr] He then began to beat [his slave] him while the Apostle of Allah (pbuh) was smiling and saying: Look at this man who is in the sacred state (putting on ihram), what is he doing?” The future first caliph of Islam is beating his slave for losing a camel while Muhammad looks on in apparent amusement. 

Ibn Ishaq (734) – A slave girl is given a “violent beating” by Ali in the presence of Muhammad, who does nothing about it.

Abu Dawud 38:4458 – Narrated Ali ibn AbuTalib: “A slave-girl belonging to the house of the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) committed fornication. He (the Prophet) said: Rush up, Ali, and inflict the prescribed punishment on her. I then hurried up, and saw that blood was flowing from her, and did not stop. So I came to him and he said: Have you finished inflicting (punishment on her)? I said: I went to her while her blood was flowing. He said: Leave her alone till her bleeding stops; then inflict the prescribed punishment on her. And inflict the prescribed punishment on those whom your right hands possess (i.e. slaves)”. A slave girl is ordered by Muhammad to be beaten until she bleeds, and then beaten again after the bleeding stops. He indicates that this is prescribed treatment for slaves (“those whom your right hand possesses”).

Abu Dawud 1:142 – “Do not beat your wife as you beat your slave-girl

Ibn Ishaq (693) – “Then the apostle sent Sa-d b. Zayd al-Ansari, brother of Abdu’l-Ashal with some of the captive women of Banu Qurayza to Najd and he sold them for horses and weapons.” Muhammad trades away women captured from the Banu Qurayza tribe to non-Muslim slave traders for property. (Their men had been executed after surrendering peacefully without a fight).

Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller) (o9.13) – According to Sharia, when a child or woman is taken captive by Muslims, they become slaves by the mere fact of their capture. A captured woman’s previous marriage is immediately annulled. This would not be necessary if she were widowed by battle, which is an imaginary stipulation that modern apologists sometimes pose.


Slavery is deeply embedded in Islamic law and tradition. Although a slave-owner is cautioned against treating slaves harshly, basic human rights are not obliged. The very fact that only non-Muslims may be taken as slaves is evidence of Islam’s supremacist doctrine.

Of the five references to freeing a slave in the Quran, three are prescribed as punitive measures against the slaveholder for unrelated sin. They limit the emancipation to just a single slave. Another (24:33) appears to allow a slave to buy their own freedom if they are “good.” This is in keeping with the traditional Islamic practice of wealth-building through taking and ransoming hostages, which began under Muhammad.

A tiny verse in one of the earliest chapters, 90:13, does say that freeing a slave is good, however, this was “revealed” at a time when the Muslim community was miniscule and several of their new and potential recruits were either actual slaves or newly freed slaves. Many of these same people, and Muhammad himself, later went on to become owners and traders of slaves, both male and female, as they acquired the power to do so (there is no record of Muhammad owning slaves prior to starting Islam). The language of the Quran changed to accommodate slavery, which is why this early verse has had negligible impact on slavery in the Islamic world.

The taking of women and children as slaves, particularly during the conquests outside Arabia, belies the notion that Jihad was being waged in self-defense, since the enemy’s families reside neither with the Muslims nor (generally) on the battlefield. These were innocent people captured from their homes and pressed into slavery by Muhammad’s companions and successors.

Contrary to popular belief, converting to Islam does not automatically earn a slave his freedom, although freeing a believing slave is said to increase the master’s heavenly reward (Muslim slaves are implied in Quran (4:92)). As far as the Islamic courts are concerned, a master may treat his slaves however he chooses without fear of punishment.

By contrast, Christianity was a major impetus in the abolishment of slavery. Abolition had to be imposed on the Islamic world by the European West.

Given that there have never been abolitionary movement within the Islamic world, it is astonishing to see contemporary Muslims write their religion into the history of abolition. It is a lie.

There was no William Wilberforce or Bartoleme de las Casas in Islam. As mentioned, Muhammad, the most revered figure in the religion, practiced and approved of slavery. Even his own pulpit was built with slave labor. Caliphs since have had harems of hundreds, sometimes thousands of young girls and women brought from Christian, Hindu and African lands to serve Islam’s religious equivalent of the pope in the most demeaning fashion.

One of Muhammad’s closest companions was Umar, who became the 2nd caliph only two years after the prophet of Islam died. It is fair to say that he would have known Islam better than any contemporary apologist – those who say that slaves can only be captured in war and wars can only be waged in self-defense. He obviously did not agree with this.

Under Umar’s authority, Arab armies in Egypt invaded Black Africa to the south and attempted to conquer the Christian Makurians who were living there peacefully. Although the Muslims were held off, the Makurians had to sign a treaty to prevent recurring invasions. The terms of the Baqtincluded an annual payment of 360 “high quality” African slaves. The treaty stood for 700 years with no mention of the slightest opposition from generations of Muslim clerics and scholars.

Umar himself was stabbed to death by a slave whose liberty he refused to grant. In this case, the slave was captured during the campaign against a Persia, one of many offensive wars waged by the Muslims against people who were not attacking them.

Modern day apologists trying to defend slavery under Islam generally ignore the basic fact that reducing people to property is dehumanizing. They distract from this by comparing the theoretical treatment of slaves under Sharia with the worst examples of abuse from the era of European slavery.  (“Fatwa 64 from ISIS instructs slave owners to “show compassion” and “kindness” to the women they rape.)

The first problem with this is that the actual practice of Muslim slavery was often remarkably at odds with the relatively humane treatment prescribed by Sharia. For example, according to the Ghanan scholar John Azumah, nearly three times as many captured Africans died in harsh circumstances related to their transport to Muslim lands than were ever even enslaved by Europeans.

A more insurmountable problem for the Muslim apologist who insists that slavery is “different” under Islam are the many examples in which Muhammad and his companions sold captured slaves to non-Muslim traders for material goods. The welfare of the slave was obviously of no consequence.

Some contemporary apologists interpret sex slavery as a favor done to the subject – a way in which women and children are taken care of in exchange for their sexual availability to the pious Muslim male.  Although morally repugnant in its own right, this is easily belied by the fact that slavery would be unnecessary if the arrangement were of benefit to the slave.

Another myth about Islamic slavery is that it was not race-based. It was. Muhammad’s father-in-law, Umar, in his aforementioned role as caliph, declared that Arabs could not be taken as slaves and even had all Arab slaves freed on his deathbed. This helped propel the vast Islamic campaign to capture slaves in Africa, Europe and Asia for import into the Middle East.

The greatest slave rebellion in human history took place in Basra, Iraq beginning in 869. A half-million African slaves staged a courageous uprising against their Arab-Islamic masters that lasted fifteen years before being brutally suppressed. (See Zanj Rebellion)

Literally millions of Christians were captured into slavery during the many centuries of Jihad. So pervasive were the incursions by the Turks into Eastern Europe, that the English word for slave is based on Slav.

Muslim slave raiders operated as far north as England. In 1631, a French cleric in Algiers observed the sale of nearly 300 men, women and children, taken from a peaceful English fishing village:

“It was a pitiful sight to see them exposed in the market…Women were separated from their husbands and the children from their fathers…on one side a husband was sold; on the other his wife; and her daughter was torn from her arms without the hope that they’d ever see each other again.” (from the book, White Gold, which also details the story of English slave, Thomas Pellow, who was beaten, starved and tortured into embracing Islam).

The Indian and Persian people suffered greatly as well – as did Africans. At least 17 million slaves (mostly black women and children) were brought out of Africa by Islamic traders – far more than the 11 million that were taken by the Europeans. However, these were only the survivors. As many as 85 million other Africans are thought to have died en route.

Most telling, perhaps, is that slavery is still practiced in the Sudan, Niger, Mauritania and a few other corners of the Muslim world – and you won’t see any of those Muslim apologists (who shamelessly repeat the lie that Islam abolished slavery) doing or saying anything about it! 

In fact, a fatwa (Islam Q&A 33597 originally at was recently issued by a mainstream Islamic source reminding Muslim males of their divine right to rape female slaves and “discipline” resisters in “whatever manner he thinks is appropriate”.  Not one peep of protest from Islamic apologists was recorded.  In 2013, the same site prominently proclaimed (Islam Q&A 10382 originally at that “there is no dispute (among the scholars) that it is permissible to take concubines and to have intercourse with one’s slave woman, because Allah says so.”

In 2011, what passes for a women’s rights activist in Kuwait suggested that Russian women be taken captive in battle and turned into sex slaves in order to keep Muslim husbands from committing adultery.

in 2016, a British imam who claims to be anti-extremist, affirmed the legitimacy of sex slavery to his followers. There have also been several modern-day fatwas endorsing the sexual abuse of non-Muslim women following capture.

After the Islamic State kidnapped and pressed into slavery thousands of Yazidi women and children in 2014, the caliphate issued an FAQ of sorts on slavery, which included rules on sexually molesting children: “It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however, if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse.” The best that “mainstream” apologists could muster in response was a letter appealing to “the reality of contemporary times”, meaning that Islam hasno fixed moral position on the rape of woman and children.

In 2016, a scholar at Egypt’s al-Azhar, the most prestigious Islamic school in the Sunni world, stated that non-Muslim women could be captured in a time of war become “property” and can be raped “in order to humiliate them.

A 12-year-old girl taken captive by the Islamic State explained that her ‘master’ would pray before he raped her: “He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to Allah.” Other sex slaves have been forced to praybefore the rape or recite passages from the Quran during. When a Yazidi woman begged a caliphate member not to rape a little girl, he responded, “She’s a slave… and having sex with her pleases God.”

A Quran memorization competition in 2015 offered slave girls as the top three prizes. Again, there were no voices of Muslim protest from elsewhere. As Uzy Bulut keenly observed, “A religion that encourages destructive rioting and killing over cartoons, but shows no sign of sorrow as little girls are sold and raped, does not have much to contribute to advancing civilization.”

Since Muhammad was a slave owner and slavery is permitted by the Quran, the Muslim world has never apologized for this dehumanizing practice. Even Muslims in the West will often try to justify slavery under Islam, since it is a part of the Quran.

See also:
Islamic Slavery and Denial
Answering-Islam: Slavery
Myth: Muhammad was an Abolitionist

Video of Islamic State members at one of the caliphate’s sex slave markets in November, 2014. A price list was released setting the rate Yazidi and Christian girls between ages 10 and 20 at $130. Women between the ages of 20 and 30 were being sold for $86; a 30 to 40 year was being sold for $75 and 40 to 50 year old women were listed for sale at a price of $43.
The price list began with these words: “In the name of Allah, most gracious and merciful. We have received news that the demand in women and cattle markets has sharply decreased and that will affected Islamic State revenues as well as the funding of the Mujaheddin in the battlefield. We have made some changes. Below are the prices of Yazidi and Christian women.”

Islamic Slavery

Islamic Slavery

by Silas

ABSTRACT Islam institutionalized slavery. Muhammad began to take slaves after he moved to Medina, and had power. Slaves were usually taken in raids on nearby Arab tribes, or war, either through offensive or defensive actions. Islam allows the taking of slaves as “booty”, or reward for fighting. This has led to numerous “jihads” by Muslim states and tribes to attack other non-Muslim groups and obtain slaves. Islamic jurisprudence laid down regulations for the proper treatment of slaves. However, abuses have occurred throughout history.


The West is familiar with the history of slavery in the new world.  It was sinful and terrible, and it lasted for several hundred years.  And it was abolished mainly through the efforts of Christians in England (Wilberforce, Clarkson) and America (the Abolitionists, primarily Protestant).

However, few people in the west know about Islam and slavery.  Most would be surprised that Islam authorizes the taking of slaves as spoils of war.  From the days that Muhammad drew his sword to rob and conquer non-Muslims to this very day, Muslims have been taking non-Muslims, and even other black Muslims, as slaves.

Muslims were enslaving black Africans long before any slave ships sailed for the New World.  Muslims were taking and making slaves all over the lands they had conquered.  Later, when slave ships were loaded with black slaves, often, a Muslim slave broker had the human cargo all ready to go.  American slavers rarely had to go into inland to capture slaves, they were already waiting there, courtesy of some Muslim ruler, and/or slave broker!  In many cases, if the black slaves were not sent to the New World, they were sent to the Mideast to be enslaved by Arabs, or kept by other black Muslims as slaves.


To begin with, the Quran justifies slavery, and often mentions slaves.  Here are some relevant verses:

33:50 – “Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave girls whom God has given you as booty.”

This verse clearly shows that Muslims believe that taking slaves in war was a God-given right.  These slaves were considered ‘booty’ or the spoils of war.  As the saying goes:  to the victors go the spoils.

23:5 –   “… except with their wives and slave girls, for these are lawful to them:…”

The passage’s context here (not quoted in full) details how Muslim males are allowed to have sexual relations with their wives and slave girls. Implicit in this is that Muslim males had slave-concubines.  70:30 is basically a repeat of 23:5.

Ibn Sa’d’s “Tabaqat”, gives a clear description of Muhammad having “relations” with at least one of his slave girls.  Muhammad had sexual relations with Mariyah, his Coptic slave.  Mariyah and her sister, Sirin were slaves given as gifts to Muhammad.  Muhammad gave Sirin to Hasan Thabit, the poet.  Ibn Sa’d says that Muhammad “liked Mariyah, who was of white complexion, with curly hair and pretty.”  [Taken from Ibn Sa’d’s “Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir” (Book of the Major Classes), p151].

Ibn Sa’d also writes that Mariyah bore Muhammad a son named Ibrahim.  He died 18 months later.  Sa’d writes:  “If he had lived, no maternal uncle of his would have remained in bondage”, p164.  This shows that there were other Coptic slaves owned by the Muslims.

The Quran also instructs Muslims NOT to force their female slaves into prostitution (24:34), and even allows Muslims to marry slaves if they so desire (4:24), and to free them at times as a penalty for crime or sin (4:92, 5:89, 58:3) and even allows slaves to buy their liberty, if they meet certain of their master’s conditions (24:33).  [90:10 ‘freeing of a bondsman’ refers to Muslims ransoming other Muslims who were slaves of non-Muslims.]

While I think it’s nice to allow a slave to obtain his freedom, (at his master’s discretion) it is tragic that Islam allows them to be enslaved in the first place.  That’s like robbing a bank and giving some of the money back to the bank, and thinking you did the right thing!

The above verses show that taking slaves was ordained by Allah, and that it was permissible for Muslim males to have sex with their female slaves.  It also shows that slaves were a valuable commodity to the Muslims, otherwise, Allah would not have imposed the penalty of freeing a slave to make up for a crime.



There are hundreds of Hadith that deal with slavery.  Whole chapters of Hadith are dedicated to dealing with the taxation, treatment, sale, and jurisprudence of slaves.  In addition to this, numerous Hadith mention slaves, and their relation to their Muslim masters.  Here is a selection of Hadith on slaves:  [all Hadith are from Sahih Bukhari, unless noted.]

Vol. 7-#137  Narrated Abu al-Khudri:  “We got female captives in the war booty and we used to do coitus interruptus with them.  So we asked Allah’s messenger about it and he said, “Do you really do that?” repeating the question thrice, “There is no soul that is destined to exist but will come into existence, till the Day of Resurrection.””

Here, Muslims had taken female slaves, and had sex with them.  Muhammad approved of this.  He only admonished them not to practice coitus interruptus.

Vol. 5-#459  [This Hadith is similar to the above.  However, additional details are added].  Narrated Ibn Muhairiz:  “I entered the mosque and saw Abu Khudri and sat beside him and asked him about coitus interruptus.  Abu  said, “We went out with Allah’s messenger for the Ghazwa (attack upon) Banu Mustaliq and we received captives from among the Arab captives and we desired women and celibacy became hard on us and we loved to do coitus interruptus.  So when we intended to do coitus interruptus we said “How can we do coitus interruptus without asking Allah’s messenger while he is present among us?”  We asked (him) about it and he said “It is better for you not to do so, for if any soul (till the Day of Resurrection) is predestined to exist, it will exist.””

Here, the Muslims attacked the Banu Mustaliq, and took slaves.  The female slaves were distributed as booty to the Muslim soldiers.  Being away from home, the soldiers became horny, and want to have sexual relations with the newly captured female slaves.  They went to Muhammad and asked about coitus interruptus.  He told them not to practice that, but to complete the sexual act with the slaves.  Related Hadith show that they didn’t want to get the women pregnant because they wanted to be able to sell them later on.  Under Islamic law they were not allowed to sell pregnant female slaves.

In effect, Muhammad okayed the rape of female prisoners.

Vol. 3-#765

Narrated Kuraib:  the freed slave of Ibn ‘Abbas, that Maimuna bint Al-Harith told him that she manumitted a slave-girl without taking the permission of the Prophet. On the day when it was her turn to be with the Prophet, she said, “Do you know, O Allah’s Apostle, that I have manumitted my slave-girl?” He said, “Have you really?” She replied in the affirmative. He said, “You would have got more reward if you had given her (i.e. the slave-girl) to one of your maternal uncles.”

Here a woman frees a slave girl, but Muhammad says that she would have gotten more (heavenly) reward if she had given the slave one of her uncles, thus keeping the slave in slavery.

Vol. 7-#734     “….At the door of the [Muhammad’s] room there was a slave to whom I went and said, “Ask the permission for me to enter”…..

This is a long Hadith, and the quote reveals that Muhammad has slaves working in his house.

Vol. 7-#344     Narrated Anas:  “Allah’s messenger went to the house of his slave tailor, and he was offered a dish of gourd of which he started eating. I have loved to eat gourd since I saw Allah’s messenger eating it.”

This Hadith shows that another one of Muhammad’s slaves was a tailor.  #346 gives additional details.

Vol. 5-#541     Narrated Abu Huraira:  When we conquered Khaibar, we gained neither gold nor silver as booty, but we gained cows, camels, goods and gardens.  Then we departed with Allah’s apostle to the valley of Al-Qira, and at that time Allah’s messenger had a slave called Midam who had been presented to him by one of Banu Ad-Dibbab.  While the slave was dismounting the saddle of Allah’s messenger an arrow the thrower of which was unknown, came and hit him…..

This Hadith shows that Muhammad held a slave, who was struck with an arrow.

Vol. 5-#637     Narrated Buraida:  The prophet sent Ali to Khalid to bring the Khumus ([one fifth] of the booty) and I hated Ali, and Ali had taken a bath (after a sexual act with a slave girl from the Khumus).  I said to Khalid, “Don’t you see this (i.e. Ali)?”  When we reached the prophet I mentioned that to him.  He said, “O Buraida!  Do you hate Ali?”  I said, “Yes”  He said, “Do you hate him, for he deserves more than that from the Khumus.”

The note for this Hadith says “Buraida hated Ali because he had taken a slave girl form the booty and considered that as something not good.”

Here Ali took a newly captured slave girl, and had sex with her.  When Muhammad was told about it, he approved of it.  Note that slaves were considered as booty, and as a man’s property, they can use the female slave for sex, i.e., rape them.

Vol. 5-#512     Narrated Anas:  “…..The prophet had their warriors killed, their offspring and woman taken as captives….”

This Hadith details the attack on the Jews of Khaibar.  Again, many of the women and children were taken and made into slaves.

Vol. 5-Chapter 67  Narrated Ibn Ishaq:  The Ghazwa (attack upon) Uyaina bin Hisn waged against Banu Al-Anbar, a branch of Banu Tamim.  The prophet sent Uyaina to raid them.  He raided them and killed some of them and took some others as captives.

Here, Muhammad sent out his men to attack another tribe.  The killed some of them and took others as captives.  Once again, the Muslims attacked a neighboring tribe.

Vol. 5-#182     Narrated Aisha:  “Abu Bakr had a slave who used to give him some of his earnings.

Vol. 5-#50       Narrated Amr Maimun:  “….The slave of Al-Mughira…”

[another Muslim who owned the slave that killed Umar.]

….Al-Abbas had the greatest number of slaves….

[Al-Abbas, the future Muslim leader had many slaves].


Vol. 9-#462     Narrated Aisha:  “…Furthermore you may ask the slave girl who will tell you the truth”.  So the prophet asked Barira (my slave girl)…

Aisha had her own slave.

Also, volume 7-#s 845, 341, 352, 371, 410, 413, 654, ch. 22, ch. 23, and volume 1-#s 29, 439, 661, volume 9-#s ch. 23, ch. 32, #293, 296, 277, 100, 80.

All these Hadith detail that many other Muslims owned slaves.



Abu Dawud, vol. 2, chapter 597 – “On a Man who Beats His Slave While he is in the Sacred State (wearing Ihram).”

#1814- “(Abu Bakr) began to beat him (Bakr’s slave) while the apostle of Allah was smiling and saying:  “Look at this man who is in the sacred state, what is he doing?”  [The note for this Hadith says “Abu Bakr beat his slave to teach him sense of responsibility.”]

Abu Dawud, vol. 2, chapter 683 – “On the Marriage of a Slave without the Permission of His Masters”

#2074-  “Ibn Umar reported the prophet as saying:  “If a slave marries without the permission of his master, his marriage is null and void.”

Abu Dawud, vol. 2, chapter 1317 – “Contractual Obligation of a Slave.”

#3499, 3500-   “The contractual obligation of a slave is three days.  If he finds defect in the slave within three days, he may return it without any evidence;  if he finds a defect after three days, he will be required to produce evidence that the slave had the defect when he brought it.”


The chapters mentioned below show just how intrinsic slavery was during Muhammad’s life, and the lives of the Caliphs.  The Muwatta is a book of Islamic jurisprudence.  It is full of regulations on dealing with slaves.  Slaves were used throughout the Islamic world.  Judging from the amount of Hadith here, it is safe to assume that many Muslims owned slaves.

Chapter 368 – “Who takes the Property of a Slave When He is Freed”

Chapter 371 – “Slaves who cannot be set Free in the Obligatory Freeing of a Slave”

Chapter 383 – “Cohabitation with a Slave Girl after Declaring Her ‘Mudabbir'” (free after the master’s death).

Chapter 387 – “Who is Entitled to the Property of a Slave or Slave Girl at the time of Sale.”

Chapter 388 – “The Limit of Responsibility of the Seller in the Sale of a Slave or Slave Girl.”

Chapter 390 – “On the Conditional Sale of a Slave Girl.”

There are additional chapters dealing with slaves.  This list is enough to show that dealing with slaves during and after Muhammad’s time was extensive.



There are additional Islamic writings that document how Muhammad took purchased, sold, and gave away slaves.  The following quotes are from “Behind the Veil”.

Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, a great scholar and Islamic historian says in his book “Zad al-Ma’ad”, part 1, p160:

“Muhammad had many male and female slaves.  He used to buy and sell them, but he purchased more slaves then he sold.  He once sold one black slave for two.  His purchases of slaves were more than he sold.”

“Muhammad had a number of black slaves.  One of them was named ‘Mahran’.  Muhammad forced him to do more labor than the average man. Whenever Muhammad went on a trip and he, or his people, got tired of carrying their stuff, he made Mahran carry it.  Mahran said “Even if I were already carrying the load of 6 or 7 donkeys while we were on a journey, anyone who felt weak would throw his clothes or his shield or his sword on me so I would carry that, a heavy load”.  Tabari and Jawziyya both record this, so Islam accepts this as true.”

Ali, who was Muhammad’s son-in-law, whipped Aisha’s slave in front of Muhammad to make her talk about the adultery charges against Aisha.  Muhammad did not say a word to Ali about beating the female slave.  [From the Sirat Rasulallah, p496.]

In the Sirat Rasulallah, Muhammad massacred 800 males and took their women and children as slaves.  He kept at least one Jewish female named Rayhana as his concubine, and gave the rest away to the Muslims.  The Sirat says (p466) “Then the apostle divided the property, wives, and children of Banu Qurayza among the Muslims….


“Then the apostle sent Sa’d Zayd brother of Ashhal with some of the captive women of Banu Qurayza to Najd and he sold them for horse and weapons.”

            One thing for certain:  MUHAMMAD WAS A SLAVER.  The names of many of Muhammad’s slaves are detailed in Muslim writings and they can be found in “Behind the Veil”. 

Some Muslims claim that slaves under Islam were always treated fairly and kindly, and that slaves in the West were always treated like “chattel”.  The fact is that the real treatment slaves in both the west and under Islam has varied.  Some slaves were treated fairly, others were treated brutally.  Both the Quran and New Testament command masters to treat slaves fairly.  Compare Ephesians 6:9 with Sura 4:36.  Both are similar.  However, the New Testament condemns slave trading in 1 Tim 1:10  (menstealers is the same word for slave-traders), the Quran allows for, even urges slave-taking.


According to the Hughes Dictionary of Islam, slaves had few civil or legal rights.  For example:

  1. a) Muslim men were allowed to have sex anytime with females slaves – Sura 4:3, 4:29, 33:49.
  2. b) Slaves are as helpless before their masters as idols are before God – Sura 16:77
  3. c) According to Islamic Tradition, people at the time of their capture were either to be killed, or enslaved. Shows you that they were at the bottom of the barrel to start with.
  4. d) According to Islamic jurisprudence, slaves were merchandise. The sales of slaves was in accordance with the sale of animals.
  5. e) Muhammad ordered that some slaves who were freed by their master be RE-ENSLAVED!
  6. f) It is permissible under Islamic law to whip slaves.
  7. g) According to Islam, a Muslim could not be put to death for murdering a slave. 2:178 and the Jalalayn confirm this.
  8. h) According to Islam, the testimony of slaves is not admissible in court. Ibn Timiyya and Bukhari state this.
  9. i) According to Islamic jurisprudence, slaves cannot choose their own marriage mate. – Ibn Hazm, vol. 6, part 9.
  10. j) According to Islamic jurisprudence, slaves can be forced to marry who their masters want. – Malik ibn Anas, vol. 2, page 155.


Slavery continued in Islamic lands from about the beginning to this very day.  Muslim rulers always found support in the Quran to call ‘jihad’, partly for booty, part for the purpose of taking slaves.  As the Islamic empire disintegrated into smaller kingdoms, and each ruler was able to decide what Islam’s theology really meant.  Usually, he always found it in support of what he wanted to do.  Their calls of jihad against their neighbor facilitated the taking of slaves for Islam.  The Quran and Islamic jurisprudence support the taking of slaves, so, those petty Muslim rulers were following the Quran when they needed slaves.


1)         Islam allows Muslims to make slaves out of anyone who is captured during war.

2)         Islam allows for the children of slaves to be raised as slaves

3)         Like #1, Islam allows for Christians and Jews to be made into slaves if they are captured in war.  After Muslim armies attacked and conquered Spain, they took thousands of slaves back to Damascus.  The key prize was 1000 virgins as slaves.  They were forced to go all the way back to Damascus.


4)         Christians and Jews, who had made a treaty with the ruling Muslims could be made into slaves if they did not pay the “protection” tax.  This paying for ‘protection’ was just like paying a Mafia racketeer!  This allowed Muslim rulers to extort money from non-Muslim people.



Although Muslims took slaves from all over the lands they conquered, many of the Muslim slaves were black Africans.  There were forced to do the harshest labor.

There was a famous black slave revolt in Iraq where thousands of black slaves revolted and killed tens of thousands of Arabs in Basrah.  There slaves were forced to work in the large Muslim saltpeter mines.  During their revolt, they conquered the city of Basrah, in Iraq.  They conquered city after city, and they couldn’t be stopped.  Their uprising and drive for freedom lasted for about 11 years.  [“The History of Islam”, Robert Payne, p.185.]

As the Muslim armies continued to conquer land, they acquired many slaves.  Bernard Lewis in “The Arabs in History” writes:  “polytheists and idolaters were seen primarily as sources of slaves.”

In the early years of the Arab conquests, vast numbers of slave were acquired by capture.  C.E. Bosworth in “The Islamic Dynasties” writes:  “the use of this labor enabled the Arabs to live on the conquered land as a rentier class and to exploit some of the economic potential of the rich Fertile Crescent.”

Ibn Warraq writes:  “Arabs were deeply involved in the vast network of slave trading – they scoured the slave markets of China, India, and Southeast Asia.  There were Turkish slaves from Central Asia, slaves from the Byzantine Empire, white slave from Central and East Europe, and Black slaves from West and East Africa.  Every city in the Islamic world had its slave market.”


Muhammad did say that slaves should be treated fairly.  But they were still a Muslim’s property.  Just as abuses occurred under Christianity, so too, many abuses occurred, and still occur under Islam.  The difference between the two is that Islam ordains the taking of slaves during war, thus perpetuating slavery.  Christianity does not.  In slavery’s perpetual existence, Islam has seen great abuses of slaves.

Everyone knows about the abuses of slaves in the new world.  What do you know about the abuses of slaves under Islam?  I found two very good books on slavery and Islam.

1)         “Slavery and Muslim Society in Africa”, by Allan Fisher, pub in 1971, and

2)         “The Slave Trade Today” by Sean O’Callaghan, pub in 1961.

Both books really opened my eyes to how terrible slavery under Islam really is.  I use the present tense, because it is obvious that these abuses continue to this day.

I also have a number of other references concerning slavery in Islam.  A general survey is Hughes Dictionary of Islam.  It notes a few basic points:

  1. a) Slaves have no civil liberty, but are entirely under the authority of their owners.
  2. b) Slavery is in complete harmony with the spirit of Islam. Islam did make life better for the average slave, but Muhammad intended it to be a perpetual institution.
  3. c) Hughes also says that it is a righteous act to free a slave. I just find it hard to understand that the god who told Muhammad to take slaves later tells him it’s good to free slaves?

In ‘The Slave Trade Today’, Sean O’Callaghan toured the Mideast and Africa and covertly visited many slave markets.  Since Islam allows for slavery and slave trading, he was able to see much of the real world of Islamic slavery.  Remember O’Callaghan saw this less than 40 years ago.  This probably still continues today, albeit more discreetly.

In Djibouti he writes:

“Ten boys were ranged in a circle on the dais (used to display the slaves), their buttocks toward us.  They were all naked, and I saw with horror that five had been castrated.  The (slave dealer) said that usually 10% of the boys are castrated, being purchased by Saudi homosexuals, or by Yemenis, who own harems, as guards.” p 75

“Why had the girls (female slaves who had just been sold) had accepted their fate without a murmur, the boys howled and cried?”  “Simple” said the Somali, we tell the girls from a very early age  – 7 or 8 that they are made for love, at age NINE we let them practice with each other, and a year later with the boys”.

In Aden he writes:

“The Yemeni told me that the girls (slave girls used as prostitutes) were encouraged to have children, especially by white men.  For if a slave girl had a white child, she was given a bonus of 20 pounds when the child was taken from her”.    As you can see, the child of a slave remained a slave, the owner could sell the child and make money.  This sale is allowable under Islamic law.

“Only one offense was severely punished; attempting to escape from the harem… The wretched girl was stripped and spread eagle in the courtyard…punishment was administer by a eunuch, a huge powerful Negro who seemed to enjoy his task.  70 lashes were given.”

“Because of this (the fact that eunuchs can perform sexually), the eunuch often has his penis removed as well as his testicles”!  This is also legal under Islamic law, since it is preparing the slave for service.

In Saudi Arabia he writes:

‘The slave population was estimated at 450,000″!.  ….Slave auctions are no longer held regularly, only in an alley in Mecca.”

‘I was awakened by shouts and screams coming from the courtyard.  Rushing to the window I looked down to see a dozen slaves being herded through a door at the far end of the yard.  They were being driven in like cattle by three hefty guards armed with long lashed whips.  Even as I watched, one of the poor wretches, a Sudanese girl with huge breasts, received a savage lash across her naked buttocks let out a shriek of agony’

‘As the next slave was led in, a murmur of excitement went up among the buyers and they crowded closer around the rostrum.  He was a slender boy of about 12 years old with beautiful classical Arab features.  Although much has been written about Arab brotherhood and solidarity, I knew that the Arab has no compunction in enslaving his fellows should they fall into his hands.

The boy was naked and tried to cover his privates with his little hands and he ran up the steps of the rostrum……there is an age old saying among the Bedouin:  “A goat for use, a girl for enjoyment, but a boy for ecstasy”.  He (the now purchased slave boy) was claimed by a tall bearded Arab who led him from the rostrum with an arm around his waist”.

This is just a portion of what O’Callaghan saw.  This happens because Islam has made it legal for slavery.  Yes, some of this is against Islam, but because Islam has made it into an institution, abuses will occur.

Remember, this happened just 35 years ago or so, and it is probably still happening today.

It is also noted that as the slaves get too old to perform service or sexually satisfy their masters, their masters ‘manumits’ the slaves.  Now, aged, worn out, they are put out on the streets to fend for themselves. These ex-slaves are left to fend for themselves.  Their former owner has committed a great, righteousness act in freeing a slave!  He gets rid of the burdensome slave, and gets a bonus in heaven.  What a religion!

In Fisher’s book, other observations are recorded:

In Mecca:

“We take note of 20 tall Negroes in turbans walking near the Kaba.  They are eunuch slaves and are employed as police in the great Mosque.  There are about 50 of them all together.”

“The streets are full of slaves… we see a few old slave women.  They are recognized by the poverty of clothing… but we see nothing of the younger women slaves who are kept in the houses of the city.”

“As we move along we see two or three very old men and women who look like black skeletons.  If we go to the mosque at sunrise we shall see some of these, if we go at sunset they will be there too, and if we pass by at midnight, we shall see them there still .. Sleeping on the stones in their rags.  They have no home but the mosque, and no food but what they receive in alms; (they were) turned out to seek the bounty of Allah, as their masters would say.”

Speaking of how Saudi obtains so many black slaves:  “they (the slave traders) pose as Muslim missionaries who guide their compatriots (black African Muslims), to the Holy Places of Islam, to make the Pilgrimage, and be instructed in the Quran in Arabic.”  Once transported, they are made into slaves.

“So with the connivance of the Saudi authorities the ancient trade in black ivory is perpetuated in our time in spite of the international conventions”.

Fisher also notes that white slaves are most highly prized.

Another interesting comment I’ve come across is that there were regions in black Africa that Muslim missionaries wouldn’t go into.  The reason is that if those blacks became Muslim, they could no longer enslave them.  So, the Muslims banned spreading the word of Islam among certain black tribes.  It was from these tribes that local Muslim rulers would harvest slaves, and sell them throughout the Islamic world.

Time and time again, slavery in Islam is abused.  The west has finished with slavery, Islam continues it, and with that, the abuses go on.

A recent article on the slavery in Sudan is found in Newsweek, Oct. 12, 1992.  Since that time, there have been numerous articles written by every form of press on Islamic slavery in Sudan.  Basically, southern Sudanese, who are not Muslim, are attacked, and rounded up, and sold into slavery.  Anyone willing to do a search at a library could find these articles quite easily.

Lastly, I remember watching a Tony Brown’s Journal show.  It covered the slavery existing in Muslim lands today, the torture of slaves, the hobbling by breaking the young boys ankles, the seizure of Negro lands by Arabs, etc.  Anyone is able to call the show and order this tape.  A Negro Muslim from Mauritania was on the show.  He described what the Arabs in Mauritania were doing to the Negroes (all Muslim) there.  Recent human rights publications have also stated that the same is happening in Mali.  Arab Muslims are forcibly taking land, and enslaving Negro Muslims there.

Just a short while ago, a group of Negro pastors in the US, formed a group to combat Islamic slavery amongst the blacks, both Muslim and non-Muslim in Africa.  The information on this can be found in the August 1997 issue of Charisma magazine, and in the 11-17-97 issue of Christianity.  The group is called “Harambee” and is affiliated with the Loveland Church in Los Angeles, CA.

            Islam, when compared to Christianity is a step backwards; a step into “justification” of the enslavement of others.

The book “Behind the Veil” can be obtained from The Voice of the Martyrs @ 1-918-337-8015.

Religion of Peace





by Silas


Muhammad and his followers fought many battles.  Some were offensive some were defensive.  Following a victory the Muslims would take captives, or prisoners of war.  Muhammad would usually distribute the captives, both male and female, as slaves to his soldiers.  Islam provides some basic rights to its slaves but these rights are limited.  Naturally, the rights or demands of the slave owner were greater than those of the slaves.

Female slaves were used for primarily for work.  But they also provided another service to their male masters ….

The material I present is detailed but it needs to be provided to document support from all Islamic sources.

Here is the source material I use.

  1. The Quran – N.J. Dawood’s translation.
  2. The Hadith collection of Bukhari.  This collection of stories / traditions is the second most important set of books in Islam.  It follows the Quran.
  3. The Hadith collection of Muslim, (third most important set of writings).
  4. The Hadith collection of Abu Dawud.
  5. The biography of Muhammad, known as “Sirat Rasulallah”, written by Ibn Ishaq, and translated by A. Guillaume as “The Life of Muhammad”, (the most authentic biography of Muhammad’s life).
  6. The biographical material found in Ibn Sa’d’s “Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir” (Book of the Major Classes).  This was translated by S. Moinul Haq.
  7. The History of Tabari.  This 39 volume set is almost finished being translated by a collection of both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars.

FROM THE QURAN – 70:22-30

“Not so the worshippers, who are steadfast in prayer, who set aside a due portion of their wealth for the beggar and for the deprived, who truly believe in the Day of Reckoning and dread the punishment of their Lord (for none is secure from the punishment of their Lord);  who restrain their carnal desire (save with their wives and their slave girls, for these are lawful to them:  he that lusts after other than these is a transgressor…”

This verse shows that Muslim men were allowed to have sex with their wives (of course) and their slave girls.


“…who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave girls, for these are lawful to them…”

Again, Muslim men were allowed to have sexual relations with their wives and slave girls.


“And all married women are forbidden unto you save those captives whom your right hand possess. It is a decree of Allah for you. (Muhammad Pickthall’s English translation of the Quran).

This verse is one verse out of a long passage dealing with who Muslim men can marry or have sexual relations with. The phrase “captives whom your right hand possess”, means the slave girls Muslim men own.

Note also that this passage deals with more than just marriage.  In Sahih Muslim volume 2, #3432, the background context for this Quranic verse is given.  It relates to the events at Autus, and it permitted the Muslim men to have sex with their female slaves.


“Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives whom you have granted dowries and the slave girls whom God has given you as booty;…”

This verse is for Muhammad.  Supposedly, God allows Muhammad to have sex with his slave girls.

These verses establish that it was permissible for Muslim men to have sex with female slaves.



Muhammad had sex with a slave girl named Mariyam.  He probably also had sex with another slave girl of his – Rayhana.

Mariyam was a Christian slave girl and she was given to Muhammad as a gift by the governor of Egypt.  Muhammad got her pregnant and she gave birth to a son.  Afterwards Muhammad married her.  The son died 18 months later.

Here is the reference.   NOTE:  Words in [ ] type brackets are mine

In the “Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir”, mention is made of Mariyah.  On page 151, it says

 “He [the Lord of Alexandria] presented to the prophet Mariyah, her sister Sirin, a donkey and a mule which was white….The apostle of Allah liked Mariyah who was of white complexion and curly hair and pretty…. Then he cohabited with Mariyah as a handmaid and sent her to his property which he had acquired from Banu al-Nadir.”

The note for the word “handmaid” says “Handmaids gained the status of wedded wives if they bore children.  They were called “umm walad” and became free.

This story is also supported by Tabari’s History, volume 39, page 194.  Here is the quote:   (my words are in ( ) parenthesis).

“He (Muhammad) used to visit her (Mariyam) there and ordered her to veil herself, [but] he had intercourse with her by virtue of her being his property.”

The note (845) on this says, “That is, Mariyah was ordered to veil herself as did the Prophet’s wives, but he did not marry her.”

 We see that Muhammad had sex with his female slave without marrying her, that it was legal in Islam for Muslim men to have sex with their female slaves.  They were after all, the Muslim man’s property.  Although the slave girls had some human rights, when it came to satisfying their master’s desires they had to comply.

Let’s examine some background material found in the Hadith’s of Bukhari, Muslim, and Abu Dawud, and in the Sirat literature of Ibn Ishaq’s – “Sirat Rasulallah”, and Ibn Sa’d’s “Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir”.  Note that both Sirat works were written BEFORE the Hadith, but they do not supersede the Hadith or Quran in authenticity according to Muslim scholars.


 Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri that while he was sitting with Allah’s messenger we said, “Oh Allah’s messenger, we got female captives as our booty, and we are interested in their prices, what is your opinion about coitus interruptus?”  The prophet said, “Do you really do that?  It is better for you not to do it.  No soul that which Allah has destined to exist, but will surely come into existence.”

(also refer to Bukhari Vol. 3, #718)


Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri that during the battle with Bani Al-Mustaliq they (Muslims) captured some females and intended to have sexual relations with them without impregnating them.  So they asked the prophet about coitus interruptus.  The prophet said, “It is better that you should not do it, for Allah has written whom He is going to create till the Day of Resurrection”.

Qaza’a said, “I heard Abu Said saying that the prophet said, “No soul is ordained to be created but Allah will create it.””

(also ref. Bukhari 5:459).


 Narrated Buraida:  The prophet sent Ali to Khalid to bring the Khumus (part of the war booty) and I hated Ali, and Ali had taken a bath (after a sexual act with a slave girl from the Khumus).  I said to Khalid, “Don’t you see this (i.e. Ali)?  When we reached the prophet I mentioned that to him.  He said, “O Buraida!  Do you hate Ali?”  I said, “Yes.”  He said, “Do you hate him for he deserves more than that from the Khumus.”

The note for 637 explains that Buraida hated Ali for taking from the Khumus, and Buraida thought that was not good.



            Abu Sirma said to Abu Said al Khudri:  “O Abu Said, did you hear Allah’s messenger mentioning about al-azl (coitus interruptus)?”  He said, “Yes”, and added:  “We went out with Allah’s messenger on the expedition to the Mustaliq and took captive some excellent Arab women; and we desired them for we were suffering from the absence of our wives, (but at the same time) we also desired ransom for them.  So we decided to have sexual intercourse with them but by observing azl” (withdrawing the male sexual organ before emission of semen to avoid conception).  But we said:  “We are doing an act whereas Allah’s messenger is amongst us; why not ask him?”  So we asked Allah’s messenger and he said:  “It does not matter if you do not do it, for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born”.


            Abu Said al-Khudri reported that at the Battle of Hunain Allah’s messenger sent an army to Autas and encountered the enemy and fought with them.  Having overcome them and taken them captives, the Companions of Allah’s messenger seemed to refrain from having intercourse with captive women because of their husbands being polytheists.  Then Allah, Most High, sent down regarding that:  “And women already married, except those whom your right hands possess (Quran – 4:24), (i.e. they were lawful for them when their Idda (menstrual) period came to an end).


            Abu Said al-Khudri said:  “The apostle of Allah sent a military expedition to Awtas on the occasion of the battle of Hunain.  They met their enemy and fought with them.  They defeated them and took them captives. Some of the Companions of the apostle of Allah were reluctant to have intercourse with the female captives in the presence of their husbands who were unbelievers. So Allah, the Exalted, sent down the Quranic verse, “And all married women (are forbidden) unto you save those (captives) whom your right hands possess”.  That is to say, they are lawful for them when they complete their waiting period.”  [The Quran verse is 4:24].

The note on this Hadith says that “After the distribution of the spoils of war a man may have intercourse with the female slave after passing one menstrual period, if she is not pregnant.  If she is pregnant one should wait till she delivers the child.  This is the view held by Malik, al-Shafi and Abu Thawr.  Abu Hanifah holds that if both the husband and wife are captivated together, their marriage tie still continues; they will not be separated.  According to the majority of scholars, they will be separated.  Al-Awzai maintains that their marriage tie will continue till they remain part of the spoils of war.  If a man buys them, he may separate them if he desires, and cohabit with the female slave after one menstrual period.


            Muhaririz said:  “I entered the mosque and saw Abu Said al-Khudri.  I sat with him and asked about withdrawing the penis (while having intercourse), Abu Said said:  We went out with the Apostle of Allah on the expedition to Banu al-Mustaliq, and took some Arab women captive, and we desired the women, for we were suffering from the absence of our wives, and we wanted ransom; so we intended to withdraw the penis (while having intercourse with the slave-women).  But we asked ourselves:  “Can we draw the penis when the apostle of Allah is among us before asking him about it?”  So we asked him about it.  He said, “It does not matter if you do not do it, for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born.””

The note on 2167 says:  “This means that the Companions wanted to have intercourse with the slave girls, but they were afraid of conception.  In case they were pregnant and gave birth to a child they could not be sold as it was prohibited that a slave mother should be sold.  So they withdrew the penis while having intercourse with them.  By this they meant to sell the slave girls and obtain the ransom.”



All of these Hadith relate to Muslim soldiers having sexual relations with newly captured female slaves.  In some cases the women’s husbands were still alive.  After a battle, the captured women and children were divided between the Muslim soldiers as “booty”, or spoils of war.

In Bukhari Volume 5 #637, it is shown that Ali had sex with one of the females before the distribution of “Khumus” occurred.  This “Khumus” was 1/5 of the war booty to be used by Muhammad and his family, (Ali was Muhammad’s son-in-law), and be used and distributed to the poor and needy.  Here, Khalid, himself a member of Muhammad’s family, took part of the Khumus prior to the distribution.  That is why Buraida hated him in this case.  Note that Muhammad supported Ali in this.  There was no reproof at all.  If anything, Muhammad thought Ali deserved more!

Here is the point:  Muslim men were allowed to use female slaves for sex.  If the slave was not pregnant she could be sold at a slave market.  This is what Muhammad’s soldiers intended to do.


Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammad, “Sirat Rasulallah”, is the most reliable extent biography of Muhammad available today.  It corroborates the events with the Mustaliq on pages 490 and 493.  This event took place just before Aisha was accused of having sexual relations with another man.

It also corroborates the events at Autas on pages 574-576.  This event took place just after the initial battle of Hunain.

Ibn Sa’d corroborates the events at Autas (Awtus) on pages 187, 188.  He notes that 6000 slaves were taken.



The Hadith I quoted show that:

  1. The Muslim men were out in the field, and took female captives following a battle.
  2. They were divided up between the men and the men were very horny.  They were without their wives who were back home.
  3. So, the men prepared to have sex with the females, out on the field, away from home, and asked Muhammad about coitus interruptus.  They didn’t want to get the females pregnant because they wanted to later sell the female slaves for money.  Had they gotten them pregnant the Muslim men would be forced to be responsible for the children.
  4. Marriage wasn’t required to have sex with the females.  Listen to the men’s own words…. “we were interested in their prices”, i.e., they wanted to sell them.  No Muslim man would marry a women intending to sell her later.  That is not what “nikah” – marriage was all about.  These men wanted to have sex with their slaves, enjoy them, and they later sell them.
  5. And if you note what Ali did, – had sex with a female before the “human booty” was divided up between the Muslim soldiers.  Muhammad allowed him to do this.

What does all of this boil down to?  Muslim men were allowed to have intercourse with their female slaves after the slaves had had one menstrual period.  The reason for waiting one menstrual cycle was to insure that the female slaves were not already pregnant prior to being captured.

In some cases, the female slave’s husbands were also captives and it was still legal for the Muslim men to have sex with the female captives. Muhammad received a “revelation” allowing the Muslim men to have sex with the female slaves while there were still married to their captive husbands.  A note on the Hadith says that according to Islam, when the married couple is captured, their marriage is automatically annulled!

Muslims did not need to marry the female slave or give her any type of dowry in order to have sex with her.

Muslims did not need to have the female slave’s permission to have intercourse with her.   She was his property, (as was noted by Tabari), and thus, as property, the Muslim owner had an Allah-given right to have intercourse with her if he desired.  I have yet to find one Quranic verse or Hadith that says that the female’s slave’s permission was required.  All Hadith and Quranic verses that pertain to Muslim men having intercourse with female slaves always put the option on the slave-owning man, whether he wants it or not.  The slaves were not given a choice.


Think about it from the women’s point of view.  A battle is fought and her side lost.  Many of the husbands, fathers, and sons are now dead.  Some have been captured.  The women and children are also taken as captives.  Imagine the horror of the females.  Family members dead, homes and possessions are now gone, they are in the total power of their captors.

The captives are distributed amongst the Muslim men as slaves, husband and wife captives are separated.  As soon as a female has her menstrual cycle her owner appears.  He has been separated from his wife for a while out on the field of battle, sexually hungry, and he proceeds to have sex with his female slave.

Do you think that this female slave willingly has intercourse with him?  Is that her wish?  She has just experienced one of the most horrible events in her life, – the destruction of her tribe and family, the taking of her possessions, and being made someone’s slave, and now she willing consents to have sex with the very men who brought this disaster upon her!? Of course not!  What women would look upon with loving eyes the men that brought destruction upon her family and tribe!

Would Jesus Christ allow soldiers to rape female slaves?

What would the world say if Israel allowed its soldiers to take Palestinian females prisoner and rape them?  There would be a horrible outcry!

Examine the events in Kosovo and Bosnia. Here the same situation occurred. The Muslims were defeated by the Serbs and some Serbs raped Muslims. It is a horrible crime and we all condemn it. But if we examine what Muhammad allowed his soldiers to do we see that their actions are identical. Muhammad’s standards were no better and actually worse than Serbs who raped Muslim women. It is worse because Muhammad gave it religious sanction and validity for all Muslim men.

The Japanese did this to the Chinese, Korean and Filipino women during WWII.  The Germans did likewise to the Russian women.  In a similar way the Muslim soldiers only waited a few weeks to do likewise to their female captives.


Muhammad and his soldiers treated these female slaves just like the Japanese did to their female captives.  Much has been written condemning the treatment of black slaves in the West: how much more should a man who claimed to be a prophet of God be condemned for these acts?


Some attention needs to be paid to the Quranic term used here for slave.  I’m told that the Quranic classical Arabic reads ‘ma malakat aymanukum’.

Let’s examine a fuller definition of this term.  Starting with the Encyclopedia of Islam, Published by E.J. Brill, Vol. 1, page 24 under the word ‘abd’, it says:

“Abd is the ordinary word for ‘slave’ in Arabic of all periods, more particularly for “male slave”, “female slave” being ama.  On the other hand, the Quran frequently uses the term “rakaba”, literally “neck, nape of the neck”, and still more frequently, the periphrasis “ma malakat aymanukum – “that which your (their) right hand possesses”.

So, the Quran uses the phrase “that which your right hand possesses” as a term for slave.

Moving to the Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, we find similar.  Under “mamluk” it says:

“The term (mamluk) owes its origin probably to the current phrase of the Quran ma malakat aimanukum – “what your right hand possesses”, a general designation of slaves without specialization of gender.”

Referencing Hughes Dictionary of Islam, page 596 on slavery, it says:

“The term generally used in the Quran for slaves is “ma malakat aimanukum”, – “that which your right hand possesses.”

There is no doubt that ‘right hand possesses’ is a phrase used to describe a slave, whether newly captured or not.

Some Muslims may feel that I have taken the Quran and Hadith out of context.  Here is supporting material from famous Islamic scholars.


1)         Dr. Abdul Latif, from Al-Azhar writes “The second reason (to take slaves) is the sexual propagation of slaves which would generate more slaves for the owner.”  [Taken from “You Ask, Islam Answers, page 51,52].

2)         The great Islamic scholar Ibn Timmiya wrote:

            “The one who owns the mother also owns her children.  Being the master of the mother makes him the owner of her children whether they were born to a husband or they were illegitimate children.  Therefore, the master has the right to have sexual intercourse with the daughters of his maid slave because they are the daughters of his property, provided he does not sleep with the mother at the same time”…Vol. 35, page 54.

3)   I also want to note that Umar, the 2nd Caliph also committed what seems to be rape of a female slave.  From Ibn Sa’d, volume 2, Page 438  “A slave girl passed by me who attracted me, and I cohabited with her while I was fasting”.

In effect, during his fast, he noticed an attractive slave girl.  He used her sexually.  There is no mention of her being his “wife”.  There is no mention that he ever “married” her.  She looked good, and he took her.


  1. Do Muslims really understand how brutal a man Muhammad was?  He willingly allowed those women to be raped!  Why do Muslims follow such a man if they know he did such evil actions?
  2. Do Muslims in this day and age adhere to this barbaric act?  Would they allow the rape non-Muslim slaves in the Muslim world today?  Even in Mecca in 1960 there were black slave markets in operation.
  3. Why do non-Muslim standards exceed those of a man who claimed to be God’s final messenger?  If Muhammad were really the final prophet, why were his standards to poor?  Why did he allow, even support such, abusive actions?  Wouldn’t we call a man who did this a criminal today?



So, all three main sources of Islam – the Quran, the Hadith, and the Sirat all support Muslim men, including Muhammad, having sex with female slaves.  Also, both prior and present Islamic scholars also declare that Muslim men can have sex with female slaves.


These verses from the Quran and Hadith prove that Muhammad allowed his men to do to female slaves what essentially amounts to as RAPE.  No true prophet of God would willing allow this.  The icing on the cake is that Muhammad claimed to receive “revelations” from Allah permitting this.  One has to ask what kind of god Muhammad really worshipped.



            A Muslim seeking to justify Muhammad’s evil actions implies that God allowed the rape of female slaves in the Old Testament.  He asks the following question:

”So what do you think the God of the Bible is telling you here……..and since you believe Jesus to be God he is also telling you this:” [Deut 21:10 – 14]

Deuteronomy 21:10-14: “When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the LORD thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive, And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife; Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife. And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.”

Here is the same passage from the NIV.

 DT 21:10 When you go to war against your enemies and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.


The answer to the question:  “What is God telling His people to do?”

It is obvious that God is speaking to His people about marriage to a woman who was captured as a slave.  And kindness, protection and marriage is the context of the passage.

Looking at the passage there is not even the hint of a rape.  In fact, just the opposite is given.  When a woman who is not a Jew is made a captive, and the Israelite falls in love with her because of her beauty, he is not allowed to touch her for those 30 days so that she may mourn the loss of her family and country.  The intention of this law is to protect her against any rude passion on the part of the man (i.e., rape), and give her time to get used to the Jewish culture and begin to learn an affection for the man.  This law provided protection from her against rape.  This is not to be simply a thing of passion, but of true love and care.  It is a compassionate law for this foreign woman taken in war.  Remember this woman was a Gentile, and as such was not expected to have the covenant protection as a Jewish woman would have been.  But this law is giving her that protection.  She is to be given the status of a woman in Israel and is not to be regarded as a slave, or simply as contraband from the battle.  She was to be treated with dignity.

Now the question comes at verse 13 where at the end of the 30 days the man is then allowed to go into her (i.e., have intercourse)…but as a wife.  Is this verse suggesting rape?  Not at all.  It is upholding the normal sexual union permitted a man and a wife.

M.G. Kline (perhaps one of the leading Old Testament theologians of the last century) commented on Deut. 21:10-14:

This first of three stipulations concerned with the authority of the head of the household (cf. vv. 15-21) deals with the limits of the husband’s authority over his wife.  The case of a captive woman (vv. 10,11; cf. 20:14; contrast 7:3) is used as a case in point for establishing the rights of the wife, perhaps because the principle would obviously apply, a fortiori in the case of an Israelite wife.  On the purificatory acts of verses 12b, 13a, which signified removal from captive-slave status, compare Lev. 14:8; Num. 8:7.

On the month’s mourning, see Num 20:29 and Deut 34:8.  this period would provide for the achieving of inward composure for beginning a new life, as well as for an appropriate expression of filial piety.  14.  Thou shalt not sell her.  A wife might not be reduced to slave status, not even the wife who had been raised from slave status.  …then thou shalt let her go whither she will.  The severance of  the marriage relationship is mention here only incidentally to the statement of the main principle that a man’s authority did not extend to the right of reducing his wife to a slave.  This dissolution of the marriage would have

to be accomplished according to the laws of divorce in the theocracy (cf. Deut. 24:1-4).  Not the divorce was mandatory, but the granting of freedom  in case the man should determine to divorce his wife according to the permission granted by Moses because of the hardness of their hearts (cf. Matt 19:8).  [Wycliff Bible Commentary (London:  Oliphants, Ltd., 1963), p. 184].

Then Chief Rabbi J. H. Hertz (late chief rabbi of the British Empire) has said this:  “A female war-captive was not to be made a concubine till after an interval of a month.  The bitter moments of the captive’s first grief had to be respected.  She must not subsequently be sold or treated as a slave.  12.  bring her home.  This law inculcates thoughtfulness and forbearance under circumstances in which the warrior, elated by victory, might deem himself at liberty to act as he pleased (Driver).  ‘After the countless rapes of conquered women with which recent history has made us so painfully familiar, it is like hearing soft music to read of the warrior’s duty to the enemy woman, of the necessary marriage with its set ritual and its due delay.  And the Legislator proceeds to trace the course of the husband’s duty in the event of the conquered alien woman failing to bring him the expected delight.  ‘Then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not deal with her as a slave, because thou hast humbled her'” (Zangwill)….13.  she shall be thy wife.  And enjoy the full rights and duties of a Jewish wife; Exodus xxi, 10.14.  no delight in her, i.e. no longer any delight in her.  The Rabbis deemed such a marriage a concession to human weakness, as a preventive against worse manifestations of the unbridled passions of man…humbled her.  Dishonored her.”   [Pentateuch & Haftorahs, edited by Dr. J H Hertz (London: The Soncino Press Limited, 1960), p. 840.]

The question of allowed rape seems to me is not what the traditional Jewish understanding.  You have to comprehend what the Heb. text says.  The Hebrew for the verb “dishonor” (NIV) in v. 14 is `inah, which can mean sexual abuse.  But it is used in v. 14 to describe a subsequent time, as seen in Hebrew  wehayah (“and when it will happen”), which begins v. 14, when he refuses to continue to be her husband but to send her away.  In that case, he can no longer treat her as a captive.  The act “going into her” (v. 13) after 30 days was to become her husband.

Additional Judaistic references are found in these:

Deuteronomy [Devarim] the traditional Hebrew text with the new JPS translation / commentary by Jeffrey H. Tigay.

Studies in Devarim (Deuteronomy)  by Nehama Leibowitz ; translated and adapted from the Hebrew by Aryeh Newman.

Sifre:a Tannaitic commentary on the book of Deuteronomy  translated from the Hebrew with introduction and notes by Reuven Hammer.

The main point of this text is the compassion the Lord has on the foreign woman taken in battle.  The man is not allowed to rape her, but to treat her with all the respect a wife of the covenant is due.  If a Muslim reads this as rape, then he must be reading his own cultural bias into it.  But that is not the Biblical understanding of a woman.  What this text is saying is that even in battle, a woman was not to be raped by a Jew.  If he really wanted her — he had to marry her.  And even then, he had to wait a month to let the passion wear off, and for her to get used to the new culture she was about to be committed to, and to mourn for her own father.  The context of the passage is very clear, it is very easy.  How has he dishonored her if he sends her away?  Not because he raped her, but because she has been cast away, discarded as unwanted.  Divorce was an embarrassing thing (even as it was in this country 50 years ago).



Let’s compare the two cases.  This will show clearly Islam’s brutal system.  Below are two Hadith – one with provides the context of a Quranic verse.


            Abu Sirma said to Abu Said al Khudri:  “O Abu Said, did you hear Allah’s messenger mentioning about al-azl (coitus interrupts)?”  He said, “Yes”, and added:  “We went out with Allah’s messenger on the expedition to the Mustaliq and took captive some excellent Arab women; and we desired them for we were suffering from the absence of our wives, (but at the same time) we also desired ransom for them.  So we decided to have sexual intercourse with them but by observing azl” (withdrawing the male sexual organ before emission of semen to avoid conception).  But we said:  “We are doing an act whereas Allah’s messenger is amongst us; why not ask him?”  So we asked Allah’s messenger and he said:  “It does not matter if you do not do it, for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born”.


            Abu Said al-Khudri reported that at the Battle of Hunain Allah’s messenger sent an army to Autas and encountered the enemy and fought with them.  Having overcome them and taken them captives, the Companions of Allah’s messenger seemed to refrain from having intercourse with captive women because of their husbands being polytheists.  Then Allah, Most High, sent down regarding that:  “And women already married, except those whom your right hands possess (Quran – 4:24), (i.e. they were lawful for them when their Idda (menstrual) period came to and end).


1M)     Muslims were allowed to take female captives / slaves.

1J)       Israelites were allowed to take female captives / slaves.

2M)     Muslim men had to wait until the female had her first period, then they could rape the female slaves – a right recognized in          Islam because the slave was the man’s property:  this is stated in Tabari’s History, volume 39, page 194.  Here is the quote:         (my words are in ( ) parenthesis).

“He (Muhammad) used to visit her (Mariyam) there and ordered her to veil herself, [but] he had intercourse with her by virtue           of her being his property.”

2J)       Israelite men had to wait an entire month before they could marry the woman.

3M)     Muslim men did not have to allow the woman a time to mourn.

3J)       Israelite men had to give the woman a month to mourn.

4M)     Muslim men did not have to marry the slave in order to have sex with her.

4J)       Israelite men had to marry the slave in order to have sex with her.  This marriage gave the woman full rights as a free woman.            And, in the event of a divorce, she had complete freedom.

5M)     Muslim men could use the slave for sex, then later sell her to another owner who could use her for sex, and so on.

5J)       Israelite men could not sell the woman they married as a slave.

6M)     Muslim men had the option, but was not obligated to marry or free her.  He was not obligated to change her status of slave.

6J)       Israelite men “purified” their prospective wives as cleansed from slavery’s status.

PRAYER FOR SALVATION This prayer is written for anyone.  This includes Muslims who are seeking the truth and who want to know God in a personal way.             “Lord Jesus, I believe in You.  I believe that You are the Son of God and the Lord.  I believe that You died for my sins and were raised from the dead.  I confess that I am a sinner and I ask You to come into my heart, cleanse me from my sins, and forgive me for my sins.  I turn to follow and obey You.  I now receive You as Messiah and Lord and totally commit my life to You.”



Rev A:  8-18-97,  Rev B:  5-31-99,  Rev C:  9/16/01

Rev D:  12/21/01 — Added appendix 1 concerning Deut. 21:10 – 14, and Prayer for Salvation


Sex-slavery and Concubinage in Islam

Sex-slavery and Concubinage in Islam

Excerpt from ‘SEX-SLAVERY & CONCUBINAGE’ in Chapter VII: M.A Khan’s ‘Islamic Jihad: Legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism, and Slavery’.

Sex-slavery and Concubinage.

The female slaves worked as domestic maids and in the backyards, while the young and pretty ones also had to provide sex to their masters. Thus, they not only provided menial services and pleasure to masters but also helped swell the Muslim populace through procreation. Sex-slavery is not a negligible institution in Islam; Allah has shown utmost seriousness about its practice by repeatedly reminding Muslims about it in the Quran. Prophet Muhammad himself had taken at least three slave-girls as his concubines, namely Juwairiya of Banu Mustaliq [Bukhari 3:46:717], Rayhana of Banu Qurayza, and Maria, sent by the Egyptian governor to pacify Muhammad after receiving his threatening letter. From his large share of captives, he also distributed slave- girls amongst his companions for keeping as concubines. In one instance, he gave Ali (his son-in-law and the fourth caliph), Uthman b. Affan (his son-in-law and the third caliph) and Omar ibn Khattab (his father-in-law and the second caliph) a slave-girl each. In explaining the institution of slavery on the basis of Quranic verses 23:5–6, brilliant Islamic scholar Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi (d. 1979) wrote:

Two categories of women have been excluded from the general command of guarding the private parts: (a) wives, (b) women who are legally in one’s possession, i.e. slave-girls. Thus the verse [Quran 23:5–6] clearly lays down the law that one is allowed to have sexual relation with one’s slave-girl as with one’s wife, the basis being possession and not marriage. If marriage had been the condition, the slave-girl also would have been included among the wives, and there was no need to mention them separately.

In agreement with the institution of sex-slavery in Islam and its above-mentioned purpose, the Hedayah states that the object of owning female slaves is cohabitation and generation of children.’ Accordingly, physical fitness, regular menstruation, and absence of disabilities became major considerations in purchasing a female slave. According to Hedayah, odor in the mouth and armpit of a female slave is a defect—obviously because, she is meant for kissing, caressing and sleeping with; but the same does not matter in the case of male slaves. The Hedayah further stipulates that when a female slave is shared by two masters, she becomes the property of the one, who establishes a sexual relationship with her with the consent of the other. Fatwa-i-Alamgiri stipulates that if a purchased female slave has too large breasts or too loose or wide vagina, the purchaser has the right to return her for a refund—obviously because, the owner cannot get maximum pleasure from sex with such a woman, as she is intended for. Similarly, the purchaser can return a slave on the basis of whether she is a virgin.

These criteria for choosing or judging female slaves come from the time of Prophet Muhammad himself. He was in the habit of choosing the prettiest of captive women for himself. In Khaybar, he chose Safiyah, wife of Kinana, for himself, hearing that she was of exquisite beauty and worthy of himself only. He, thereby, deprived another Jihadi, who had obtained her initially. In another example, after the Prophet had distributed the captured women of the Hawazin tribe among his Jihadi comrades, a deputation from the tribe came to him seeking the release of their women. He agreed to release them for six camels apiece. His disciple Uyayna bin Hisn refused to release a woman of some nobility, fallen in his share, expecting a higher price. To this, Zubayr Abu Surad, another companion of Muhammad, convinced Uyayna to let her go, because ‘her mouth was cold and her breast was flat; she could not conceive… and her milk was not rich.’ When Uyayna complained about this to Al-Aqra, another comrade of the Prophet, he persuaded Uyayna by saying: ‘By God, you did not take her as a virgin in her prime nor even full-figured in her middle age!’

Using the female slaves for sex—a norm and a widespread practice throughout the history of Islam—is clearly sanctioned in the Quran, the Sunnah and the Sharia. It has, therefore, received unabashed and overt approval of Islamic jurists, imams, and scholars well into the modern age. Apart from the lure of booty, the greed for capturing the women for using as sex-slaves became a significant motivating factor for Muslim Jihadis to take part in holy wars since Muhammad’s time. According to Islamic laws, the slayer becomes the owner of the victim’s wife, children, and properties. Sir William Muir thought that the sanction of the sex-slavery in Islam acted ‘as an inducement to fight in the hope of capturing the females who would then be lawful concubines as ‘that their right hand possessed.’’

From Muhammad’s own practice of slave-concubinage, it flourished into a widely practiced institution in later periods as captives became numerous. Islam puts no limit on the number of sex-slaves Muslim men can keep; ‘there is absolutely no limit to the number of slave girls with whom a Mohammedan may cohabit, and it is the consecration of this illimitable indulgence which so popularizes the Mohammedan religion amongst the uncivilized nations and so popularizes slavery in the Muslim religion,’ writes Thomas Hughes. Accordingly, writes Lewis, ‘The slave women of every ethnic origin were acquired in great numbers to staff the harems of the Islamic world—as concubines or menials, the two functions not always clearly differentiated… Some were trained as performers—singers, dancers, and musicians.’ Ronald Segal also affirms this in saying: ‘Female slaves were required in considerable numbers for musicians, singers and dancers—many more were bought as domestic workers and many were in demand as concubines. The harems of rulers could be enormous. The harem of Abd al-Rahman III (d. 961) in Cordoba contained over 6,000 concubines, and the one in the Fatimid palace in Cairo had twice as many.’ Muslim rulers of India did not lag behind either; even enlightened Akbar had 5,000 women in his harem, while Jahangir and Shah Jahan had 5,000 to 6,000 each. In the eighteenth century, Sultan Moulay Ismail had 4,000 concubines in his harem.

Clearly, Muslim rulers—from Africa to Europe, from the Middle East to India—had accumulated sex-slaves in their thousands. In the heyday of Islam, court officials, nobles, high-ranking generals and provincial governors had dozens to hundreds and even thousands of slaves. Even the poor Muslim households or common shopkeepers used to have many slaves, as recorded by Muslim chroniclers. In general, the young female slaves in all households had to provide sex to their masters as demanded. It appears that capturing the women for keeping as concubines was a major focus of Islamic slave-hunting; because, for every male slave, two females were captured in Africa for transporting to the Muslim world. And for those transported by Europeans to the new world, there were two males for every female.

Niccolao Manucci, who lived in India during Emperor Aurangzeb’s reign, observed of the Muslim infatuation with women and sex that ‘all Mohammedans are fond of women, who are their principal relaxation and almost their only pleasure.’ Dutchman Francisco Pelsaert, who visited India during Emperor Jahagir’s reign (1605-27), wrote of the sexual indulgence of Muslim rulers and noblemen in the harems that:

‘…each night the Amir visits a particular wife or mahal (quarter), receives a very warm welcome from his wife and from the slaves [girls], who dressed especially for the occasion… If it is the hot weather, they… rub his body with pounded sandalwood and rosewater. Fans are kept going steadily. Some of the slaves chafe the master’s hand and feet, some sit and sing, or play music and dance, or provide other recreation, the wife sitting near him all the time. Then if one of the pretty slave girls takes his fancy, he calls her and enjoys her, his wife not daring to show any signs of displeasure, but dissembling, though she will take it out on the slave girl later on.’

However, the wife could never get rid of such beautiful slave-girls from the harem, because it was only in the power of the master to free her (Muslim women cannot own slaves).

Similarly, Maria Ter Meetelen, a Dutch slave-girl of Moulay Ismail’s palace in Morocco, left an eyewitness account of the sultan’s sensual indulgence with his wives and concubines in the harem. She wrote:

‘‘I found myself in front of the sultan in his room, where he was lying with at least fifty women,’’ who ‘‘were painted on their faces and clothed like goddesses, extraordinarily beautiful, and each with her instrument.’’ Maria added: ‘‘…they played and sang, for it was a melody more lovely than anything I’d ever heard before.’’

In sum, slave-concubinage—the most degrading and dehumanizing form of prostitution—became a prominent hallmark of Islamic tradition well into the modern age. The Ottoman sultans maintained a harem full of women until the empire was dissolved in 1921. In the princely state of Bahawalpur in Sindh, first to be conquered by Muslim invaders—the last Nawab, who ruled until 1954 before its incorporation into Pakistan, had more than three hundred and ninety women in his harem. The Nawab had become impotent early and used all kinds of tools to satisfy his great multitude of concubines and wives. When Pakistani army took over his palace, they found a whole collection of dildos. About six hundred, some made of clays, some bought in England and battery-operated. The army dug a pit and buried these dildos.’ The Arab kings till today maintain sizable harems of some kind.

Please reference M. A Khan’s book for references. You will also find a free copy of the book to download online.

Barbary Wars – The war on Islamic slavery of Westerners

Barbary Wars – The war on Islamic slavery of Westerners

Barbary Pirates — versus — Christian Sea Powers

The Holy League Wars — 1538-1600      Knights of Malta — 1522-1565
Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries — 1600-1800      Fall of the Barbary Pirates — 1800-1830     

The Barbary pirates were a band of Moorish brigands that were protected and encouraged by the coastal cities of Northern Africa, including Algiers, Tunis, Djerba and Tripoli. Piracy in the Mediterranean had existed since time immortal, but the first real wave of Barbary piracy came at the time that the Moors were driven from Spain in 1492, and Spanish vessels and coastal cities were their first targets. As they became more powerful and brought the Moslem governors of North Africa under their control, they became a greater threat to all of Europe. Not only did they plunder the cargo of merchant ships, but they took all of the Christian passengers hostage, and either ransomed them, or sold them as slaves.

The real scandal regarding the Barbary pirates was not the corsairs themselves, but rather the toleration and support they received from the great naval powers of Europe, during the 17th and 18th centuries when the military capabilities of Western Europe far outstripped that of the Ottomans. Instead of launching a naval crusade against the Barbary nations, they paid them tribute so the pirates would prey on the ships of smaller and weaker nations rather than those of the great powers. Even the American government, in its very early years paid tribute to the pirate kings, but eventually sent a squadron to defeat them. Soon after America took the lead, France and Britain joined in, and by the 1830, the pirate coast became a colony of France.

The Holy League Wars : 1538-1600


The Barbary pirates first arose after the Spanish drove the Moors out of Granada in 1492. They did not become an organized body under the protection of the North African port cities until a few years later, under the leadership of Barbarossa, a pirate chieftain who became an Ottoman Admiral. After leading several daring raids in the Mediterranean and essentially taking over the cities of Djerba and Algiers, he was appointed commander and chief of the Ottoman Navy. In this position he fought the united fleets of the Christians at Preveza, helping to establish Ottoman domination of the Mediterranean. The defeat at Preveza, combined with the utterly disastrous Spanish siege of Algiers several years later, dealt two serious blows the Christian fleets in the Mediterranean, and established a firm alliance between the Ottoman Empire and the Barbary corsairs. Dragut was another leading pirate captain who later became an Ottoman Admiral, and so for a time the Barbary pirates were protected and encouraged by the Ottoman navy. The most well known Christian sea captains who fought pirates during this period were Andrea Doria of Genoa, and Don John of Austria, both of whom fought under the Spanish flag.

During the 16th century, the great Christian naval powers of the Mediterranean were Spain, the Papal states, Venice and Genoa, as well as the Knights of Malta. These states were organized by the pope into a ‘Holy League’ for a united defence against the Ottomans. The Ottoman Empire at this time was at the height of its power at this time, having recently conquered much territory in the Balkans and annexed several European Islands within the Mediterranean, including Rhodes and Cyprus. There was a substantial risk of a Moslem invasion of Italy during this period, and increasing fear as the Ottomans, under Solyman continued to expand their territory. Finally, a great battle was fought at Lepanto in 1571 during which the entire Ottoman navy was destroyed. This dramatically changed the balance of sea power in the Mediterranean. The Ottomans were able to rebuilt their navy, but they had lost virtually all of their experienced sea-captains, and proceeded much more cautiously for the next several generations. The Barbary pirates, no longer having the backing of the entire Ottoman navy, returned to their old ways of plunder, but were no longer feared as conquerors.


Date Battle Summary
Siege of Tunis (Holy League )Christians victory
In 1535 Charles V led a Christian army of 60,000 men against Tunis, which had recently been taken by the Ottomans. After a siege at La Goletta, Tunis was taken and 30,000 inhabitants slaughtered.
Battle of Oran (Holy League )Spaniards victory
Fought May 17, 1509, between the Moors and the Spaniards, under Navarro. The Spaniards, late in the evening, attacked and drove off the Moors from a strong position on the heights above the city. They then stormed the city itself, escalading the walls by placing their pikes in the crevices of the stones. The Moors lost in the battle and the storm 4,000 killed and about 8,000 prisoners, while the losses of the victors were very small.
Battle of Preveza (Holy League )Ottomans victory
This naval battle was fought Sept 28, 1538 in the Ionion Sea between an Ottoman fleet of 122 galleys under Barbarossa, and 162 Christian galleys under Andrea Doria. The winds were against the Christians and the Turks were able to destroy 13 ships and capture 36 while suffering minimal losses. The next morning Doria retreated with his Genoese fleet, leaving the Venetians to their fate.
Siege of Algiers (Holy League )Algiers victory
A large fleet was fitted by Charles V. for a campaign against the pirate city of Algiers, but a tremendous storm destroyed much of the fleet enroute, and insufficient supplies remained to conduct a siege. The retreating forces were harassed in their departure, and many more ships were sunk on the return. Over 150 ships and 30,000 Spaniards were lost or captured.
Battle of Djerbeh (Holy League )Ottomans victory
Fought 1560, between the fleet of Solyman I, Sultan of Turkey, under Piycala Pasha, and the combined squadrons of Malta, Venice, Genoa and Florence. The Christian fleet was utterly routed, the Turks securing thereby the preponderance in the Mediterranean.
Siege of Famagusta (Holy League )Ottomans victory
This place was besieged by the Turks under Mustapha Pasha, in October, 1570, and was defended by 7,000 men, half Venetians, half Cypriotes, under Marcantonio Bragadino. The garrison held out until August 6, 1571, when it capitulated, marching out with the honours of war. After the surrender, however, Mustapha murdered in cold blood, Bragadino and four of his lieutenants. The Turks lost 50,000 men in the course of the siege.
Battle of Lepanto (Holy League )Christians victory
Fought October 17, 1571, betwen a fleet of 250 Spanish and Venetian ships, under Don John of Austria, and a Turkish fleet of 270 sail, under Piale, the Capitan Pasha. The Turkish left wing, under the Dey of Algiers, met with some success, but the centre and right were almost destroyed, the Turks losing 200 vessels, and, it is said, 30,000 men. Piale was killed. The Dey of Algiers succeeded in extricating the majority of his ships. The allies lost between 4,000 and 5,000 men, including 15 Venetian captains.


Short Biography
Barbarossa II Famed pirate captain who led the brigands of the Barbary Coast. Promoted to Admiral of Ottoman navy.
Dragut Barbary pirate based in Algiers, who preyed on Christian ships in the Mediterranean. Led the Ottoman siege of Malta.
Andrea Doria Renowned Naval Commander from Genoa. Fought in the service of Charles V. Fought Turks and Pirates in the Mediterranean.
Mustapha Pasha Ottoman leader who conducted the Sieges of Malta and Cyprus.
Cervantes Author of Don Quixote, the most famous book in the Spanish Language.
Don John of Austria Son of Charles V. Hero of the naval Battle of Lepanto. Briefly governed Spanish Netherlands.
Cardinal Ximenes Active and influential Cardinal at the court of Isabel and Ferdinand who did much to reform and reorganize the Spanish government.
Charles V Holy Roman Emperor. Ruled Hapsburg Austria, the Low Countries, Spain and parts of Italy.


Story Links
Book Links
Don John of Austria  in Child’s History of Spain  by  John Bonner
Early Corsairs (continued)  in Barbary Rovers  by  John Finnemore
Rulers of Algiers  in Barbary Rovers  by  John Finnemore
Spain Under the Hapsburgs  in Greatest Nations – Spain  by  C. F. Horne
Internal Decay  in Greatest Nations – Turkey  by  C. F. Horne
The Constant Prince  in The Red Book of Heroes  by  Andrew Lang
Invasion of Africa  in Historical Tales – Spanish  by  Charles Morris
Spain’s Greatest Victory at Sea  in Historical Tales – Spanish  by  Charles Morris

Knights of Malta : 1522-1565


The Knights Templars were a holy order of Christian soldiers dedicated to fighting Moslems and protecting pilgrims. The were originally based in the holy lands, but moved their headquarters to Rhodes in the early 14th century and continued to harass and give battle to the Ottomans from this base. The Ottomans attempted to dislodge them in 1480 but failed. In 1522 a new attack was made and after a brutally fought siege in which up to 100,000 Turks perished, the island was surrendered. The knights were allowed to march out with their weapons and banners, and within a few years re-established themselves on the Island of Malta where the became the most resilient foes of the Barbary pirates. Unlike the merchant ships which merely tried to avoid the pirates, the Knights sought them out for battle and harried them. In 1565 Malta was besieged but after a ferociously fought four-month’s battle, the Ottomans finally withdrew. The Knights of Malta, as they were henceforth called continued to operate against the Ottomans and Corsairs for the next two centuries. They were active not only in battling the pirates, but in freeing Christian slaves captured by the Moslems.

Date Battle Summary
Siege of Rhodes (Knights of Malta )Ottomans victory
A second and successful siege was begun July 28, 1522, by Solyman the Magnificent. The Knights, under Villiers de L’Isle Adam, held out until December 21, repulsing numerous attacks, but at last, worn by famine, they were compelled to surrender. The Turks are stated to have lost by disease and battle over 100,000 men. This siege is notable as being the first in which the Turks used explosive bombs.
Siege of Malta (Knights of Malta )Knights Templar victory
This place was besieged May 19, 1565, by 30,000 Turks, under Mustapha Pasha, aided by a fleet of 185 sail, under Piale, the Capitan Pasha. It was defended by the Knights of Malta, under their Grand-Master Lavalette, and though St. Elmo was taken, Valetta held out against numerous assaults until September 11, when Mustapha raised the siege. The garrison lost 5,000 men, the Turks 20,000.


Short Biography
Solyman the Magnificent Most famous of the Ottoman Emperors. Extended the empire to the Balkans and North Africa.
Mustapha Pasha Ottoman leader who conducted the Sieges of Malta and Cyprus.
Dragut Barbary pirate based in Algiers, who preyed on Christian ships in the Mediterranean. Led the Ottoman siege of Malta.
La Valetta Grand Master of the Knights Templar who held out against an enormous Ottoman force during the Siege of Malta.


Story Links
Book Links
Knights of St. John  in Barbary Rovers  by  John Finnemore
Knights of St. John (continued)  in Barbary Rovers  by  John Finnemore

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries : 1600-1800


Much changed regarding the Barbary Pirates and European Sea Powers during the following centuries. The settlement of the new world and the opening of trade routes with Asia by way of Africa resulted in a new set of sea-faring powers. Portugal, France, Holland and England became more important merchant countries than Venice and Genoa, since trade from the east no longer needed to pass through Moslem controlled lands or the Mediterranean. The Holy League was no longer an important force in the Mediterranean and at the same time, the influence of the Ottoman Empire was much curtailed as it lost its monopoly on Asian trade. By 1659 the Barbary states which had been under Ottoman protection broke free and became “anarchical military republics which chose their own rulers and lived by plunder.” They continued to menace Mediterranean shipping, but expanded their depredations into the Atlantic, and one fleet under the command of Murad Reis, a Flemish renegade, even harassed the British isles and took hundreds of captives back to the Barbary coast. Passengers on foreign vessels who could be either ransomed or sold as slaves, were considered just as valuable as any other booty and several priests dedicated their whole lives just to the cause of freeing Christian slaves.

The emerging sea powers of Britain, Holland and France were not entirely remiss in their efforts to suppress the corsairs. Britain and France both sent numerous expeditions against Algiers, and in 1655 Blake, the most famous sea captain in Britain, attacked and destroyed a harbor in Tunis. The French made several raids on Algiers, and similar half-hearted punitive actions continued throughout the eighteenth century, often in retaliation for a particularly egregious escapade. However, no sustained effort was made to permanently destroy the power of the renegade nations, and the great European powers resolved to pay tribute in order to avoid further attacks on their own ships rather than to eliminate the threat itself. The reasons for this were entirely self-serving. The major nations of Europe were always at war with each other, and were happy to see their rivals harassed. They each desired to monopolize trade as much as possible, and the pirates help to harass the very nations that would attempt to compete with them.


Date Battle Summary
Battle of Porto Farina (Seventeen Eighteen )British victory
In April 1655 Blake was sent to the Bey of Tunis in order to demand compensation for losses to English fleets. Upon the refusal of the Bey to comply, he destroyed 9 Algerian ships and 2 shore batteries.
Siege of Algiers (Seventeen Eighteen )Algiers victory
This town was attacked July 8, 1775, by a Spanish force of 51 ships of war and 26,000 men under Don Pedro de Castijon and Count O’Reilly. After a severe conflict, the Spaniards failed to dislodge their opponents, and retired, with a loss of over 3,000 killed and wounded. The Algerines lost about 5,000.


Short Biography
Murad Reis Flemish Corsair captain who led pirate raid of the coasts of Britain.
Robert Blake Military commander turned admiral who took a leading role in the Anglo-Dutch Naval Wars.
Anne-Hilarion de Tourville Naval Commander during War of the Grand Alliance. Defeated British at Barfleur.


Story Links
Book Links
Marshal Anne-Hilarion de Tourville  in Boys’ Book of Sea Fights  by  Chelsea Fraser

Fall of the Barbary Pirates : 1800-1830


While America was part of the British Empire, its merchants ships were safe from the Barbary Pirates because they flew under the British flag, but shortly after the close of hostilities, the Governors of the Barbary coast demanded and received tribute from the United States as a condition of allowing its merchant ships to pass through the Mediterranean unmolested. Many statesmen, including Thomas Jefferson were against paying tribute from the start, but in its earliest years, the U.S. Navy was not up to the task. By the time Jefferson became president however, he sent an American squadron to fight the pirates rather then pay tribute, and in 1803 a naval blockade of Tripoli was commenced. The most notable events of the siege was the sinking of the USS Philadelphia by Stephen Decatur and the land invasion resulting in the capture of Derna, by William Eaton. When the Tripoli Dey agreed to American terms however, the siege was lifted, but the navy of Tripoli had not been crushed and Algiers and Tunis remained a threat. During the war of 1812, when all of its naval resources were diverted to other ends, the U.S. resumed paying tribute, but immediately after hostilities ceased with Britain, the U.S. navy was dispatched to Algiers and took aggressive actions against Algerian vessels and forced a treaty with both Algiers and Tunis restoring American captives and the rights of American merchants to trade in safety.

The question of whether or not treaties with the Barbary states would have sustained long term, was never answered because in the following year, Britain, who had been under obligation of Peace with the Barbary states during the Napoleonic Wars sent a fleet to bombard Algiers. Although British shipping had long been safe from the pirates, the British government had resolved to abolish Christian slavery in North Africa, and had also taken several small island nations in the Mediterranean under their protection. When the Algerians broke terms of a treaty signed with Britain, it retaliated immediately and shelled the city for nine hours destroying all of the Algerian forts and much of the city. The greatly weakened pirate state was no longer a threat to any European power, the slave trade was severely curtailed, and Algiers became a French colony in 1830, Tunis and Tripoli likewise falling under European control in the next few decades.


Date Battle Summary
Battle of Tripoli (Fall of Corsairs )Americans victory
In October of 1803 the harbor of Tripoli was blockaded by an American fleet under the command of Commodore Preble. The first major action of the siege was the capture and subsequent sinking of the USS Philadelphia under the direction of Stephen Decatur. During the siege several inconclusive attacks were made on Tripoli, but the siege was not brought to a close until the town of Derna was taken.
Battle of Derna (Fall of Corsairs )Americans victory
A small number of American Marines under William Easton led a force of 500 mercenaries on a 500 mile trek across the Libyan desert to attack the town of Derna. The town was stormed and after light resistance and few casualties the American led force gained command of the garrison. This was the first American battle fought on foreign soil.
Battle of Algiers (Fall of Corsairs )British victory
In 1816 Lord Exmouth, in command of 19 British warships, and accompanied by 6 Dutch ships under Van Capellan, bombarded the forts of Algiers, mounting 500 guns. The bombardment lasted for about eight hours, and resulted in the destruction of the forts and a large part of the city. The Dey then gave way, and agreed to the total abolition of Christian slavery in his dominions. The loss of the allies amounted to 885 killed and wounded; that of the Algerines to over 6,000.
Battle of Constantine (Fall of Corsairs )French victory
This fortified city in Eastern Algeria, which, under Hadji Ahmad, had held out for six years against French rule, was invested by the French, 7,000 strong, under Marshal Clausel, in the autumn of 1836. Having no breaching pieces, Clausel essayed an assault, but was repulsed with a loss of 2,000 men, and abandoned the siege. In the following year General Damrémont sat down before Constantine October 6, with 10,000 men, and on the 12th, a breach having been effected, an assault was on the point of taking place, when Damrémont was killed. His successor, General Valée, however, took the place by storm on the following day.
Battle of Isly (Abd-el-Kader’s Rebellion )French victory
Fought August 14, 1844, between 8,000 French, under Marshal Bugeaud, and 45,000 Algerines, chiefly cavalry, under Abd-el-Kader. The French infantry repulsed all the charges of the Algerine Horse, and aided by the artillery, inflicted heavy loss upon them; when sufficiently shaken, a charge of the French cavalry completed the rout, and the Algerines fled, leaving 1,500 dead on the field. Abd-el-Kader was captured.


Short Biography
Commodore Preble Founding member of the U.S. Navy. Led the American Naval blockade of Tripoli in 1803.
Stephen Decatur Naval Hero noted for his exploits during the war Barbary War, and also the War of 1812.
William Eaton American marine who led a force of 500 accross the Libyan desert to take the town of Derma.
Lord Exmouth British commander who in 1816 bombarded and destroyed much of the city of Algiers.


Story Links
Book Links
Burning of the Philadelphia  in Boys’ Book of Sea Fights  by  Chelsea Fraser
Fate of the Philadelphia  in Historical Tales – American I  by  Charles Morris



Image Links


Spanish Galleys in a sea-fight
in Child’s History of Spain

Selling the Captain’s Nephew
in American Life and Adventure

Buring of the Philadelphia
in Great Americans

Corsairs chasing a galleon
in Barbary Rovers

Corsairs looting a Spanish town
in Barbary Rovers

Barbarossa capturing an armed galley of the Papal states
in Barbary Rovers

Malta harbor
in Barbary Rovers

The heroic defense of Fort St. Michael
in Barbary Rovers

Walls of the Kasbah, Algiers
in Barbary Rovers

Battle Map: Palmero
in Boys’ Book of Sea Fights

Battle Map: Algiers and Tripoli
in Boys’ Book of Sea Fights

Burning of the Philadelphia
in Story of the Great Republic
“Don’t Give Up the Ship.”
“Don’t Give Up the Ship.”
in Soldiers and Sailors

Defeat of the Mahometans at Lepanto
in Greatest Nations – Spain

The prisoners of Barbarossa
in Greatest Nations – Turkey

The captives of Lepanto
in Greatest Nations – Turkey

Decatur’s Men Fighting Pirates in the Mediterranean
in Builders of Our Country – II

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The Barbary Pirates (16th-19th Centuries)

The Barbary Pirates (16th-19th Centuries)

The Barbary pirates or Ottoman corsairs were pirates who operated under the cover of privateer operations authorized by the Barbary states. The Barbary pirates operated from the western portion of the north Africa from Tripoli west to Moroccan ports. This became known as the Barbary coast. The Muslim Barbary pirates preyed on Christian and other non-Islamic shipping in the western Mediterranean Sea beginning with the Crusades, but more importantly in the 16th century after the fall of Granada to the Christians (1492). The attacks continued into the early 19th century.


There is a long history of predatory maritime attacks by the coastal population of northern Africa on the maritime commerce in the Mediterranean and the coastal populations of southern Europe. The Arab conquest of North Africa created the conditions for piracy. The southern and northern shore of the Mediterranean basin developed along very different religious and cultural lines. At the time the North African-based pirates even conducted attacks into the Atlantic. The history of southern European especially the Mediterranean Islands is full of accounts of predator attacks by Muslims pirates, often called Sacerians. This is the case of most small islands such as the Balearic Island, Capri, Pontine Islands, and many other small countries. Many of these islands were as a result depopulated in the Middle Ages. Even larger islands such as Sardinia and Sicily were severely affected. These attacks increased in intensity as the as the native Berber dynasties declined (14th century) and Muslims were deported from Spain during the Reconquista (15th century).

Barbary States

The Barbary states were titular provinces of the Ottoman Empire. After Lepanto (1571), the Ottomans with their naval power declining were no longer were able to control the Barbary principalities which emerged as essentially independent states. The Barbary pirates operated from the western portion of north Africa from Tripoli west to Moroccan ports. This became known as the Barbary coast. The Barbary Coast was a medieval term for the Maghreb and evolved from the Berber inhabitants of North Africa. The town of Bougie1 (Béjaïa in Algeria west of Tunisia) was then the most notorious pirate centers. The most formidable Barbary port was Algiers, but Tripoli and Tunis were also important as well as some Moroccan ports, especially Salé. The pirates operating from the different ports were not always under the effective control of any central authority. The major principalities involved were essentially comparable to the modern states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. The importance and nature of the various Barbary states varied over time.


The Barbary pirates primarily operated in Mediterranean, especially the western Mediterranean. There were also attacks out in the Atlantic, both south along the coast of West Africa and into the Atlantic seaboard, and north along the coast of Western Europe. Attacks were reported as far north as Iceland. The attacks were primarily on maritime commerce. There were, however, raids (Riazzas) on coastal settlements, usually isolated towns for booty and slaves.


The origins of the Barbary Pirates lay with the end of the Reconquista in Spain and the fall of Granada. The Moors (Muslim Arabs and Berbers) invaded Spain (711) and quickly conquered almost all of the Iberian Peninsula. This was part of the great imperial expansion of the Islamic Caliphate–one of the most rapid military undertakings in history. Moorish Spain became a great center of learning and science. The Moors lived in Spain for 800 years. Christians survived in the northern mountains and from here launched the Reconquista. The Spanish monarchs (Isabella and Ferdinand) finally succeeded in conquering the last Moorish kingdom–Grenada (1492). They expelled both the Moors and Jews from their now united realm in that same year. Some of the expelled Moors, coveting revenge, initiated piratical attacks on the Spanish coast and Spanish shipping. Many were from the They received assistance from Moslem adventurers. Many were from the Levant. The Barbary Pirates became a recognized phenomenon (16th century) and achieved their greatest power (17th century), but declined in the 18th century. They were finally eliminated after the Napoleonic Wars. European advances in naval technology and the French conquest of Algeria (1830) effectively reduced the base for piracy.


The reasons for the development of Barbary piracy and its continuation for more than three centuries seems primarily economic, but there are also a range of religious and cultural factors involved. A major factor was the abject failure of the North African Muslim countries and the increasing economic success of Christian Europe.


Piracy was given a powerful boost with the expulsion of Muslims from Spain. Most of those expelled lost their lands, homes, and valuables. Often their families had lived in Spain for centuries. They had to begin life anew in an essentially foreign land. They would have been very bitter. It is thus understandable that they and their sons would have been motivated to seek revenge on the Christians that had treated then so unfairly. Salé in Morocco was established as an important pirate stronghold by Muslims expelled from Spain.


Religion was certainly a factor, although difficult to assess. The actions of the pirates could be justified by Islamic jihad against the Christians. And Koranic and other Islamic teaching recognizes slavery as an acceptable social institution. Thus the enslaving of non-Muslims was an acceptable practice. And North African Muslims had for centuries been involved in the African slave trade.

Economic Factors

The diverging economies of North Africa and Europe were a major factor in the phenomenon of the Barbary pirates. The Islamic Caliphate before the Crusades (10-13th century) had been the center of great learning and advanced technology. Even before the Mongol invasions (13th century), Islam had moved away from science toward fundamentalism. This shift occurred at the same time that the Renaissance began to sweep Europe (13th century). Along with the changing religious outlook came a quickening of the European economy. This was further promoted by the Reformation (16th centur).. Nowhere was the dichotomy between a backward unproductive Islam and prosperous modern Europe more apparent than in the Mediterranean. Thus the lure of commerce raiding and slave trading prove irresistible for the anarchical military states that evolved along the Barbary Coast. These states essentially lived by plunder without any major industry in contrast to the increasingly prosperous Europe on which they preyed.


Some of the most famous were Arouj and his brother Khair-ed Din (late 16th century). Christians called them both Barbarossa or “Redbeard.” They were based in modern Tunisia. Another major figure was Moolay Ismail in Morocco. He was not a a pirate himself, but encouraged their operations and benefited from their operations, especially the slaves they captured and delivered.

European Incursions and Raids

The major European power initially responding to these attacks was the Spanish which in the 16th century were the super power of the day. Spain responded to these attacks by expeditions against the major port cities in North Africa (Oran, Algiers and Tunis). The Barbary influence was not the only reason for the Spanish incursions in North Africa, but it was a significant factor. Arouj was killed by the Spanish (1518). His brother Khair-ed-Din asked for the support of Sultan Selim in Constantinople. The Sultan dispatched Ottoman troops. They seized at fort at Algiers from the Spanish (1529). Algiers became the principal power base of the the Turkish beylerbeys of northern Africa who ruled over Tripoli (Libya), Tunisia, and Algeria (1518-87). The Battle of Lepanto was one of the decisive naval battles of history (October 7, 1571).

The Ottomans

The destruction of the Ottoman fleet seriously impaired the Sultan’s ability to administer North Africa and ended the attempt of the Ottomans to dominate the Mediterranean. The Sultan appointed a Turkish Pasha to rule the area (1587). They governed for terms of 3 years. A military rebellion in Algeria, however, eventually reduced the Turush Pashas to figureheads. The major North African ports eventually achieved virtual independence from the Ottomans (by 1659). They came anarchical military states under local rulers with economies based largely on plunder. Initially the beylerbeys were admirals in the Ottoman Navy. They commanded impressive fleets and conducting naval operations against the Spanish, Venetians, and other Christian naval forces (1518-87). After Lepanto and the decline of Ottoman naval power, plunder and slave taking became their primary goal.

Royal Navy

The Royal Navy and other European powers waged an effective war against piracy in the Caribbean during the early-18th century. The question becomes, why did the Royal Navy not engage the Barbary pirates. They certainly had the capability as did the French. It is not altogether clear why the Royal Navy was not deployed against the Barbary Pirates. Were are not privy to discussions in the Admiralty or among the political leadership on this subject. Perhaps historians have addressed this subject, but we have not yet found the sources. There are some obvious reasons. The Caribbean was more important economically to the British. And wars between the British and French meant that the Barbary states were not a high priority. The Barbary states were a more difficult target in that they had secure bases which the Caribbean pirates did not have. An assault on the Barbary Pirates involved not only naval engagements, but a land campaign. While Britain and France certainly had the capability, the cost of such a campaign and the probable subsequent occupation would probably exceed the costs of buying the pirates off. This was especially the case because the pirates were willing to settle reasonably with countries that had powerful navies. They demanded more tribute from smaller states less able to defend their merchant vessels. And this may be the key to the Royal Navy’s inaction. The Barbary Pirates in effect raised the cost of smaller countries to engage in marine commerce. This gave the British a substantial competitive advantage.


The Barbary pirates were the most successful pirates in history. This is because they operated close to the shoes of increasingly prosperous Europe and because they were supported and protected by North African political and religious authorities. In some cases they became so powerful that they were the effective political authority. Barbary piracy was conducted by captains called reises. They formed formed a class or a kind of corporation to finance their operations. They achieved legitimacy by paying 10 per cent of their prizes was to the pasha (Agha or Dey or Bey).


Much of the shipping in the Mediterranean was gallies throughoutv the middle ages. Bougie was the major shipbuilding center. The Barbary pirates at first used galleys (propelled by slaves). The vessels were called zebeks. They were small, fast vessels. Sailing vessels were very vulnerable when winds slackened and could easily be overtaken by the Barbary zebeks powered by galley slaves. Interestingly historians have yet to find an intact Barbary zebek. The British believe they have found the remains of a zebek off Sokum on the Channel coast. It was apparently involved in slave raiding in the Atlantic. The wood had deteriorated, but at the cannon site Arab gold coins, some dated to 1631 have been found. Gradually Europeans began tp perfect sail ships (15th century). Gradually the pirates shifted to sail power some time in the early 17th century. Renegade Europeans played a major role in modernizing the Barbary ships. Here a Flemish renegade, Simon Danser, played a major role. This substantially increased the potential for piracy. The galleys could be used in the Mediterranean, but were largely unsuitable for the open ocean. Barbary sail vessels could range into the Atlantic as far as the Canaries or even as far as Iceland. A Flemish renegade, known as Murad Reis sacked Baltimore in Ireland (1631). He carried off captives to be sold in slave markets. Some were observed in the Algiers slace market by a French historian. [Pierre Dan]

North African Economies



We have little information on clothing in the Barbary states. As far as we can tell, the Barbary pirates wore clothes that were strongly influenced by Oriental, especially Ottoman styles. That would mean that important fogues wore turbans. These do not seem to have been worn by the ordinary sailors. Wealthy individuals dressed in rich clothing. The ordinary sailor seems to have dressed in ragged clothing. A factor here that as as a result of the seizure of European ships, the pirates seized European clothing , some of which they wore. We do not know to what extent clothing varied among the different Barbary states. We do not yet have information on women and children.


One of the primary objectives was to take white Christian slaves. Muslims were discouraged from holding other Muslims in slavery. Thus capturing Christians avoided this problem. Slavery is an institutionnized in the Koran and other Islamic teaching. The Barbary pirates succeeded in capturing large numbers of Europeans who were then sold into slavery. There were important slave markets in Algeria and Morocco. There is no precise accounting of the numbers of victims involved in the Barbary slave taking. One historian estimates that 1.0-1.25 million people may have been captured and sold into slavery during the more than three centuries that the pirates operated in force (16th-early 19th centuries). [Davis] Most of the slave raids were conducted on seaside villages in Italy, Spain and Portugal, especially in the 16th century when the Europeans were just beginning to build modern navies. There were, however, also raids on more distant settlements (France, England, the Netherlands, Ireland, and even Iceland). The pirate raid in “HMS Pinafore” was not entirely fanciful. There are many well-document Barbary slave-taking raids. Khair ad Din captured the Ischia, taking 4,000 captives to be sold into slavery (1544). Another 9,000 captives from Lipari were enslaved. Turgut Reis (Dragut) raided the Maltese island Gozo and sold 5,000-6,000 inhabitants in Libya (1551). Barbary pirates ravaged Vieste in southern Italy and enslaved about 7,000 people (1554). Turgut Reis mounted a raid on Corsica, looted Bastia hand enslaved 6000 people (1555). The Barbary attack on Ciutadella (Minorca) was particularly devastating. A large part of the population was slaughtered, but about 3,000 were taken off to be sold as as slaves (1558). Turgut Reis raided the southern coast of pain near Granada, looting settlements like Almuñécar, taking about 4,000 captives to be sold as slaves (1563). Gradually in the 17th century these slave raids became less frequent, but the Barbary pirates continued to enslave captured crews. Here American ships became special targets after the Revolution (1776-83) because for several years the United States had no navy to protect its shipping. One American enslaved by the Barbary pirates reported that 130 other American sailors had been enslaved by the Algerians just between 1785 and 1793. Wealthy Europeans were especially prized because they could be ransomed. This was also the case for ranking military officers. Attractive young women could be added to the harems. Ordinary individuals were condemned to a life of slave labor. Many men were used as galley slaves. Moroccan sultann Moolay Ismail used tens ofthousands off slaves in the construction of hisimmensee palace.

Economic Impact

The impact of the Barbary raids are not well studied. Raids on shipping can probably be quantified. France, England, and Spain each reportedly lost thousands of ships. One source notes that between 1609 and 1616 The Barbary pirates took 466 English merchant ships. Raids on coastal villages are more difficult to estimate. Reports suggest that stretches of the Spanish and Italian coasts were largely abandoned by its inhabitants. The Barbary raids thus discouraged coastal settlement in some areas until the 19th century. The Balearic islands between Spain and Algeria were the target of constant attacks. The most southerly island in the chain, Formentera, had to be abandoned.

Diplomacy and Raids

European countries at times negotiated with the Barbary Pirates and at other times launched military expeditions. British admiral, Robert Blake, commanded an expedition against Tunis (1655). There were quite a number of these expeditions launched by the British, Dutch, French and others. After the American Revolution, the Americans also participated, 1801-05 and 1815. After the Revolution, American commerce no longer operated under the protection of the Royal Navy. This was one of the early challenges faced by the fledgling American Navy. These expeditions were naval in character and the Europeans declined to land large armies to actually seize the area. Here the calculation was largely financial. A major military campaign would have been more expensive than the commerce to be protected. It was more cost-effective to buy them off.

European Wars

Another factor was European wars. These provided opportunities to prey upon commerce.

American Barbary Wars

America while British colonies developed one of the largest merchant fleets in the world. Ans as British colonies, they sailed under the Union Jack and the protection of the Royal Navy. The British had treaties with the four Barbary states (Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli). Thus they were protected by the Barbary corsairs. Morocco was the nation to publicly recognize the United States, perhaps with ulterior motive (1777). Barbary corsairs began seeing American shipping in the Mediterranean after America had achieved its independence (1783). Morocco was the first Barbary state to seize an American vessel (1784). Algiers subsequently sized were the Maria and Dauphin (1785). The men aboard were cast into a dank prison and reduced to slavery. The Dey of Algiers demanded a huge payment to ransom the captives and for for a peace treaty to protect other American ships. This incident occurred at a time when the United States was still governed by the Articles of Confederation. There was no American Navy at the time. Ironically the American diplomats first involved were John Adams in London and Thomas Jefferson in Paris. There was little they could do. As the Barbary corsairs had noted, there was no American Navy to protect the merchant ships. Only after the Constitution was signed was a Federal Government created which could build a Navy. President Adams was the father of the U.S. Navy. The Navy was the most controversial issue in the early years of the Republic. Adams and the Federalists insisted on building six costly frigates. Jefferson’s Republicans opposed both construction and the use of the frigates in the Quasi War with France, But it would be the U.S. Navy that he and the Republicans had opposed that President Jefferson would used to fight the Barbary pirates. It would be America and not the Europeans that they preyed on for several centuries that would take on he Barbary pirates.


Davis, Robert C. Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 246p.

European Slaves in Islam

European Slaves in Islam

There are key differences between the Atlantic Slave Trade and the Eastern Slave Trade (aka Arab/ Islamic Slave Trade). While the Atlantic Slave Trade focused on transporting Black Africans to the New World to provide domestic and industrial labour, the Eastern Slave Trade was not race based. Prophet Muhammad himself, during the course of inaugurating a tripartite paradigm of Islamic slavery via his military campaigns and raids against the citizens of Arabia, enslaved some of the Semitic peoples of the region. The prerequisite for being enslaved in Islam for domestic or industrial labour; sex slavery and concubinage; or chattel, is not based on race but on being a non-Muslim war captive. As the Islamic Empire expanded out of Arabia via North Africa and into Europe, war captives of all shades – brown, yellow, black and white – were relegated to slave status.

Very little is known in mainstream circles, of how White slaves fared in the Islamic Empire, in spite of the fact that they very well existed in the hundreds of thousands and more. White Eunuchs were visible throughout the Empire; in sizeable numbers in Morocco, Egypt and Turkey. At the slave markets, the purchase price for White eunuchs fared differently from Black eunuchs. White sex slaves also priced differently than Black sex slaves.

When Muslim scholars argue that Islam is not race-based, they are proven right by the doctrine of slavery in Islam – it knows not colour and recognises religion only. In the book Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Imperialism, Forced Conversion and Slavery, author M. A. Khan discusses the number and realities of Whites who fell prey to Islamic military conquests and raids, and ultimately ended up enslaved in the Islamic Empire as eunuchs, concubines and labourers. Below is an excerpt from Chapter VII of the book.



About slaves coming from Europe to the Muslim world, Lewis adds:

In Europe there was also an important trade in slaves, Muslim, Jewish, pagan, and even Orthodox Christian… Central and East European slaves, generally known as Saqaliba (i.e. Slavs), were imported by three main routes: overland via France and Spain, from Eastern Europe via the Crimea, and by sea across the Mediterranean. They were mostly but not exclusively Slavs. Some were captured by Muslim naval raids on European coasts, particularly the Dalmatian. Most were supplied by European, especially Venetian, slave merchants, who delivered cargoes of them to the Muslim markets in Spain and North Africa. 867

European slaves were in special demand for serving as concubines, in the royal army and palaces, and in establishments of the rich in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya. According to Giles Milton’s White Gold and Robert Davis’ Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters, since the 1530s, North African Muslim pirates raided European coastal towns and villages from Sicily to Cornwall as well as European ships for some three centuries and enslaved over one million Europeans (including many American seamen). British humanist author Christopher Hitchens queries on this enslavement: ‘How many know that perhaps 1.5 million Europeans and Americans were enslaved in Islamic North Africa between 1530 and 1780? …what of the people of the town of Baltimore in Ireland, all carried off by ‘corsair’ raiders in a single night?’869

The Barbary Muslim pirates kidnapped Europeans from ships in North Africa’s coastal waters (Barbary Coast). They also attacked and pillaged the Atlantic coastal fishing villages and town in Europe, enslaving the inhabitants. Villages and towns on the coast of Italy, Spain, Portugal and France were the hardest hit. Muslim slave-raiders also seized people as far afield as Britain, Ireland and Iceland.

In 1544, the island of Ischia off Naples was ransacked, taking 4,000 inhabitants prisoners, while some 9,000 inhabitants of Lipari Island off the north coast of Sicily were enslaved.870 Turgut Reis, a Turkish pirate chief, ransacked the coastal settlements of Granada (Spain) in 1663 and carried away 4,000 people as slaves. In 1625, Barbary pirates captured the Lund Island in the Bristol Channel and planted the standard of Islam. From this base, they went ransacking and pillaging surrounding villages and towns, causing a stunning spectacle of mayhem, slaughter and plunder. According to Milton, ‘Day after day, they struck at unarmed fishing communities, seizing the inhabitants, and burning their homes. By the end of the dreadful summer of 1625, the mayor of Plymouth reckoned that 1,000 skiffs had been destroyed and similar number of villagers carried off into slavery.’871 Between 1609 and 1616, the Barbary pirates ‘captured a staggering 466 English trading ships.’

Murad Rais, a European convert to Islam, became a leader of the Barbary pirates at the coastal Corsair town of Salé off Morocco. In 1627, he went on a pillaging and enslaving campaign to Iceland. After dropping anchor at Reykjavik, his forces ransacked the town and returned with 400 men, women and children and sold them in Algiers. In 1631, he made a voyage with a brigand of 200 pirates to the coast of Southern Ireland and ransacked and pillaged the village of Baltimore, carrying away 237 men, women and children to Algiers.872

The barbaric slave-raiding activities of the Muslim pirates had a telling effect on Europe. France, England, and Spain lost thousands of ships, devastating to their sea-borne trade. Long stretches of the coast in Spain and Italy were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants until the nineteenth century. The finishing industry was virtually devastated.

Paul Baepler’s White Slaves, African Masters: An Anthology of American Barbary Captivity Narratives lists a collection of essays by nine American captives held in North Africa. According to his book, there were more than 20,000 white Christian slaves by 1620 in Algiers alone; their number swelled to more than 30,000 men and 2,000 women by the 1630s. There were a minimum of 25,000 white slaves at any time in Sultan Moulay Ismail’s palace, records Ahmed ez-Zayyani; Algiers maintained a population of 25,000 white slaves between 1550 and 1730, and their numbers could double at certain times. During the same period, Tunis and Tripoli each maintained a white slave population of about 7,500. The Barbary pirates enslaved some 5,000 Europeans annually over a period of nearly three centuries.873

The most famous European Christian to serve as a slave in Barbary Muslim Africa was Miguel de Cervantes, the famous Spanish author of the Don Quixote epic. He was taken captive in 1575 by Barbary pirates and was later released upon payment of ransom.

The Ottoman penetration into Europe in the 1350s and their capture of Constantinople later in 1453 opened new floodgates for slave-trade from the European front. In their last attempt to overrun Europe in 1683, the Ottoman army, although defeated, returned from the Gates of Vienna with 80,000 captives.874 An immense number of slaves flowed from the Crimea, the Balkans and the steppes of West Asia to Islamic markets. BD Davis laments that the ‘‘Tartars and other Black Sea peoples had sold millions of Ukrainians, Georgians, Circassians, Armenians, Bulgarians, Slavs and Turks,’’ which received little notice.875 Crimean Tatars enslaved and sold some 1,750,000 Ukrainians, Poles and Russian between 1468 and 1694.876 According to another estimate, between 1450 and 1700, the Crimean Tatars exported some 10,000 slaves, including some Circassians, annually—that is, some 2,500,000 slaves in all, to the Ottoman Empire.877 The Tatar slave-raiding Khans returned with 18,000 slaves from Poland (1463), 100,000 from Lvov (1498), 60,000 from South Russia (1515), 50,000–100,000 from Galicia (1516), 800,000 from Moscow (1521), 200,000 from South Russia (1555), 100,000 from Moscow (1571), 50,000 from Poland (1612), 60,000 from South Russia (1646), 100,000 from Poland (1648), 300,000 from Ukraine (1654), 400,000 from Valynia (1676) and thousands from Poland (1694). Besides these major catches, they made countless more Jihad raids during the same period, which yielded a few to tens of thousands of slaves.878 These figures of enslavement must be considered in the context that the population of the Tatar Khanate was only about 400,000 at the time.879

For the complete references to the above excerpt, please refer to M. A. Khan’s book: Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Imperialism, Forced Conversion and Slavery. A free copy is available online.


867. Lewis (1994), op cit

869. Hitchens C (2007) Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates, City Journal, Spring Issue
870. Povoledo E (2003) The mysteries and majesties of the Aeolian Islands, International Herald Tribune, 26 September.

871. Milton, p. 11
872 Milton, p. 13–14; Lewis B (1993) Islam and the West, Oxford University Press, New York, p. 74 873. Milton, p. 99,271–72

874. Erdem YH (1996) Slavery in the Ottoman Empire and Its Demise, 1800-1909, Macmillan, London, p. 30 875. Lal (1994), p. 132

876. Fisher AW (1972) Muscovy and the Black Sea Slave Trade, in Canadian-American Slavic Studies, 6(4), p577– 83,592–93

877. Inalcik H (1997) An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman empire, 1300-1600, Cambridge University Press, Vol. 1, p. 285; Fisher, p. 583–84

878. Bostom, p. 679-81

879. Williams BG (2001) The Crimean Tatars: The Diaspora Experience and the Forging of a Nation, E J Brill, Lieden, p. 69–72 .

British Slaves on the Barbary Coast

British Slaves on the Barbary Coast

By Robert Davis


Barbary piratesThe fishermen and coastal dwellers of 17th-century Britain lived in terror of being kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa. Hundreds of thousands across Europe met wretched deaths on the Barbary Coast in this way. Professor Robert Davis investigates.

Europe under attack

‘When we had arrived [in Cork], I made a request to Lord Inchaquoin to give me a passport for England. I took boat to Youghal and then embarked on the vessel John Filmer, which set sail with 120 passengers. `But before we had lost sight of land, we were captured by Algerine pirates, who put all the men in irons.’

…the corsairs plundered British shipping pretty much at will…

So wrote the Reverend Devereux Spratt – carried off in April 1641 for several years’ bondage in Algiers, while attempting a simple voyage across the Irish Sea from County Cork to England. Spratt’s experience has been largely forgotten now, though it was far from unique in his day.

In the first half of the 1600s, Barbary corsairs – pirates from the Barbary Coast of North Africa, authorised by their governments to attack the shipping of Christian countries – ranged all around Britain’s shores. In their lanteen-rigged xebecs (a type of ship) and oared galleys, they grabbed ships and sailors, and sold the sailors into slavery. Admiralty records show that during this time the corsairs plundered British shipping pretty much at will, taking no fewer than 466 vessels between 1609 and 1616, and 27 more vessels from near Plymouth in 1625. As 18th-century historian Joseph Morgan put it, ‘this I take to be the Time when those Corsairs were in their Zenith‘.

Unfortunately, it was hardly the end of them, even then. Morgan also noted that he had a ‘…List, printed in London in 1682’ of 160 British ships captured by Algerians between 1677 and 1680. Considering what the number of sailors who were taken with each ship was likely to have been, these examples translate into a probable 7,000 to 9,000 able-bodied British men and women taken into slavery in those years.

Not content with attacking ships and sailors, the corsairs also sometimes raided coastal settlements, generally running their craft onto unguarded beaches, and creeping up on villages in the dark to snatch their victims and retreat before the alarm could be sounded. Almost all the inhabitants of the village of Baltimore, in Ireland, were taken in this way in 1631, and other attacks were launched against coastal villages in Devon and Cornwall. Samuel Pepys gives a vivid account of an encounter with two men who’d been taken into slavery, in his diary of 8 February 1661.

…during these years, Britons were enslaved all too often.

‘…to the Fleece tavern to drink and there we spent till 4 a-clock telling stories of Algier and the manner of the life of Slaves there; and truly, Captain Mootham and Mr Dawes (who have been both slaves there) did make me full acquainted with their condition there. As, how they eat nothing but bread and water…. How they are beat upon the soles of the feet and bellies at the Liberty of their Padron. How they are all night called into their master’s Bagnard, and there they lie.’

The very casualness of the account makes it clear just how commonplace unfortunates like Moontham and Dawes were in 17th-century Britain. Britons in later years have boasted that they ‘never will be slaves,’ but during these years they were enslaved all too often.

Estimating slave numbers

North African pirate shipNorth African pirate ship  ©According to observers of the late 1500s and early 1600s, there were around 35,000 European Christian slaves held throughout this time on the Barbary Coast – many in Tripoli, Tunis, and various Moroccan towns, but most of all in Algiers. The greatest number were sailors, taken with their ships, but a good many were fishermen and coastal villagers. Out of all these, the British captives were mostly sailors, and although they were numerous there were relatively fewer of them than of people from lands close to Africa, especially Spain and Italy. The unfortunate southerners were sometimes taken by the thousands, by slavers who raided the coasts of Valencia, Andalusia, Calabria and Sicily so often that eventually it was said that ‘there was no one left to capture any longer’.

White slaves in Barbary were generally from impoverished families…

There are no records of how many men, women and children were enslaved, but it is possible to calculate roughly the number of fresh captives that would have been needed to keep populations steady and replace those slaves who died, escaped, were ransomed, or converted to Islam. On this basis it is thought that around 8,500 new slaves were needed annually to replenish numbers – about 850,000 captives over the century from 1580 to 1680.

By extension, for the 250 years between 1530 and 1780, the figure could easily have been as high as 1,250,000 – this is only just over a tenth of the Africans taken as slaves to the Americas from 1500 to 1800, but a considerable figure nevertheless. White slaves in Barbary were generally from impoverished families, and had almost as little hope of buying back their freedom as the Africans taken to the Americas: most would end their days as slaves in North Africa, dying of starvation, disease, or maltreatment.

The slave’s lot

Etching showing Barbary slavesSlaves in chains  ©Slaves in Barbary fell into two broad categories. The ‘public slaves’ belonged to the ruling pasha, who by right of rulership could claim an eighth of all Christians captured by the corsairs, and buy all the others he wanted at reduced prices. These slaves were housed in large prisons known as baños (baths), often in wretchedly overcrowded conditions. They were mostly used to row the corsair galleys in the pursuit of loot (and more slaves) – work so strenuous that thousands died or went mad while chained to the oar.

…they received one change of clothing every year.

During the winter these galeotti worked on state projects – quarrying stone, building walls or harbour facilities, felling timber and constructing new galleys. Each day they would be given perhaps two or three loaves of black bread – ‘that the dogs themselves wouldn’t eat’ – and limited water; they received one change of clothing every year. Those who collapsed on the job from exhaustion or malnutrition were typically beaten until they got up and went back to work. The pasha also bought most female captives, some of whom were taken into his harem, where they lived out their days in captivity. The majority, however, were purchased for their ransom value; while awaiting their release, they worked in the palace as harem attendants.

Some were well cared for, becoming virtual companions of their owners…

Many other slaves belonged to ‘private parties.’ Their treatment and work varied as much as their masters did. Some were well cared for, becoming virtual companions of their owners. Others were worked as hard as any ‘public’ slave, in agricultural labour, or construction work, or selling water or other goods around town on his (or her) owner’s behalf. They were expected to pay a proportion of their earnings to their owner – those who failed to raise the required amount typically being beaten to encourage them to work harder.

As they aged or their owner’s fortunes changed, slaves were resold, often repeatedly. The most unlucky ended up stuck and forgotten out in the desert, in some sleepy town such as Suez, or in the Turkish sultan’s galleys, where some slaves rowed for decades without ever setting foot on shore.

The European response

Etching showing a priest negotiating the release of slavesA priest negotiates ransom for the release of slaves  ©Europeans sometimes attempted to buy their people out of slavery, but no real system emerged before around 1640. Then the attempts became more systematic and were sometimes state subsidised, as in Spain and France. Almost all the actual work, however – from collecting the funds, to voyaging to Barbary, to negotiating with the slave owners there – was carried out by clergy, mostly members of the Trinitarian or Mercedarian orders.

By the 1700s, the ransoming orders had significantly reduced slave populations in Barbary…

Parish churches too, all over Spain and Italy, kept locked collection boxes marked ‘for the poor slaves’, with clerics constantly reminded their wealthier parishioners to include ransoming societies in their wills; slave-redeeming confraternities also sprouted in hundreds of cities and villages. Ransoming slaves was promoted as being one of the best of the charitable works a Catholic could perform, since slaves were ideal victims: ‘Their [only] fault, their crime, is recognising Jesus Christ as the most divine Saviour… and of professing Him as the True Faith.’ By the 1700s, the ransoming orders had significantly reduced slave populations in Barbary, eventually even inflating slave prices, as more cash chased fewer captives.

Thousands of Dutch, Germans and British “languished for years in the chains of Barbary”…

Compared to Catholic Europe, Protestant states could be lax and disorganised in freeing their subjects. Thousands of Dutch, Germans and British ‘languished for years in the chains of Barbary,’ without the aid of organised clergy or state funds for their release. England set aside its ‘Algerian Duty’ from customs income to finance redemptions, but much of this was diverted to other uses. Large-scale ransomings – like the one headed by Edmund Casson that freed 244 men, women, and children in 1646 – were rare, with the result that Protestant Britons were often more demoralised and likely to die in captivity than European Catholics. As one ex-slave noted:

‘All of the nations made some shift to live, save only the English, who it seems are not so shiftful as others, and… have no great kindness one for another. The winter I was in [captivity], I observ’d there died above twenty of them out of pure want.’

The legacy of enslavement

Many slaves converted to Islam, though, as Morgan put it, this only meant they were ‘freed from the Oar, tho’ not from [their] Patron’s Service.’ Christian women who had been taken into the pasha’s harem often ‘turned Turk’ to stay with their children, who were raised as Muslims.

In the 1600s, no one’s racial background or religion automatically destined him or her for enslavement.

Men sought easier labours, usually as overseers for other slaves, and some gained real power and occasionally their freedom. Between 1580 and 1680, there were typically around 15,000 of these ‘renegades’ in Barbary, including around half of the corsair captains, or re’is, and even some of the pashas. Most had probably never been slaves, however, but had come to North Africa looking for opportunity, and had cast off their Christianity along with their earlier lives.

Slaves in Barbary could be black, brown or white, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish or Muslim. Contemporaries were too aware of the sort of people enslaved in North Africa to believe, as many do today, that slavery, whether in Barbary or the Americas, was a matter of race. In the 1600s, no one’s racial background or religion automatically destined him or her for enslavement. Preachers in churches from Sicily to Boston spoke of the similar fates of black slaves on American plantations and white slaves in corsair galleys; early abolitionists used Barbary slavery as a way to attack the universal degradation of slavery in all its forms.

This may require that we rethink our belief that race was fundamental to pre-modern ideas about slavery.

This may require that we rethink our belief that race was fundamental to pre-modern ideas about slavery. It also requires a new awareness of the impact of slave raids on Spain and Italy – and Britain – about which we currently know rather less than we do about slaving activities at the same time in Africa. The widespread depopulation of coastal areas from Malaga to Venice, the impoverishment caused by the kidnapping of many breadwinners, the millions paid by the already poor inhabitants of villages and towns to get their own people back – all this is only just beginning to be understood by modern-day historians.

Find out more


The Barbary Slaves by Stephen Clissold (Totowa NJ, 1977)


The Guardian: Seabed gold ‘clue to white slavers’

Places to visit

British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG. Telephone: 020 7323 8000. Treasure recently recovered from the seabed off the coast of Salcombe, Devon, believed to have come from a Moroccan pirate ship, will be on display in the Islamic Gallery [room 34] from January 15.

About the author

Professor Robert Davis, an early modern history specialist at Ohio State University, publishes a book on slavery on the Barbary coast, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters (Palgrave Press) later this year.

Muslim Resistance to the Abolition of Slavery in the Islamic Empire

Muslim Resistance to the Abolition of Slavery in the Islamic Empire

As the European colonial era approached its end, Western forces sought even more to abolish norms that were inconsistent with the UDHR charter. One of such norms, prevalent in many societies for millennia, was slavery. The Islamic empire was the largest empire pre the rise of the West. In Islamic societies, a tripartite model of slavery, inaugurated into Islam by Prophet Muhammad fully thrived. It encompassed domestic enslavement, chattel slavery and slave concubinage. It was Prophet Muhammad himself who personally inaugurated wholesale enslavement of disbelievers for selling or engaging in concubinage and household work. He very well freed some slaves as an exemplary act of goodwill, but he enslaved many more. Prophet Muhammad certified slave trade when he sold his enslaved Banu Qurayza (Jewish) captive women to Najd for acquiring weapons and horses, while forbidding anyone from enslaving the born Muslim. Muslim apologists often argue that Prophet Muhammad never really endorsed slavery, but merely allowed it since it was already prevalent in pre-Islamic Arabia. They then refer to the fact that Muhammad also preached manumission to his followers, and personally freed slaves himself, as a testament to the aforementioned premise. The fact of the matter however is that slavery of the vanquished infidels was an integral component of the Islamic empire’s booming economy. Slave trade remained a vital source of wealth in the Islamic world throughout the reigns of the Rightly Guided Caliphs (632-60), the Umayyads (661-750) and the Abbasids (751-1250). After slaughtering all able-bodied Banu Qurayza men, Muhammad confiscated all the women and children as war captives and distributed four-fifth of them among his followers. Early Muslims in their continuous expansionist wars, captured slaves in such great numbers and sold them in slave markets to provide labour throughout the empire, that slave trade became a booming lucrative business enterprise, one that lasted throughout the history of Khilafa. Much so that when outside influences sought to abolish it later on, Muslims staunchly resisted such efforts.

Islamic forces resisted Western efforts to abolish slavery in the Muslim world. As they continue to do today, partly when they fallaciously attempt to promote Islam in a Western-friendly positive light and resort to denying that Islamic doctrine sanctions slavery. All the while, gullible civilians of the non-Muslim world are being disarmed as fascist Islamic doctrines creep into their societies. Claiming that Islamic doctrine does not sanction slavery – out of a bid to protect something that one feels enormous sentiments for – when in fact it does, only aggravates the process of abolishing Islamic slavery (or any of the other fascist doctrines glorified in Islam). As reality would have it, slavery is alive and well in Islamic countries today. In keeping with the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Western Empire imposed a ban on slavery, in Saudi Arabia in the 1960s, and in a number of other Islamic countries before and after then. In spite of this ban imposed by the ‘head of the snake’, there are many reports of slavery still endorsed by senior officials in Saudi Arabia today. About half a million slaves still exist in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. When the Muslim Brotherhood ascended to presidential powers in Egypt and re-wrote the country’s constitutions, it quickly decriminalised slavery by omitting an outright ban on it. Secular countries have no justification for slavery in secularism. Islamic countries however, find no condemnation of slavery in Islamic jurisprudence. The rise of fundamentalist Islamic movements around the globe poses an existential threat to the task of making an all time ban on slavery around the globe, materialise into absolute reality.

This piece is an exposé, uncovering the opposition meted on endeavours to abolish Islamic slavery. M. A. Khan looks in-depth into various acts of resistance put up by Muslims, against Western initiatives to outlaw slavery in Islamic territories. He commences with Britain’s initiative to abolish slavery, courses through the struggle of U.S. and British forces aiming to ban slavery in Islamic territories, discusses Muslims resistance against the British-allied Ottoman’s attempt to outlaw slavery, touches on the revival of slavery in Muslim countries and the implication of the revival of slavery as a global franchise, should Islamic fundamentalists incrementally rise to power. The excerpt below is taken from chapter VII of his book  Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Imperialism, Forced Conversion and Slavery.


Slavery is evidently a divinely-sanctioned institution of Islam; its practice is theoretically binding on the Muslim community at all times. Hence, the campaign for its abolition, quite expectedly, faced staunch resistance in the Muslim world and has not achieved complete success to this day. Slavery still exists in Mauritania, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia etc. in one form or another.

European nations banned slave-trade in 1815 and Britain abolished slavery altogether and freed all slaves in 1833. During the same century, the Islamic world continued the profession, enslaving two million Blacks in Africa; another eight million likely perished in the process. This happened despite active efforts by Western nations to stop slavery in the Muslim world. When India slowly came under the British control beginning in 1757, the enslavement of Indian infidels by Muslims eventually ended. In 1843, the East India Company passed a bill, Indian Slavery Act V, banning slavery, which led to its eventual disappearance. A study at the time of passing the bill found that individual proprietors owned bodies of 2,000 slaves in Bengal, Madras and Bombay.912

In Afghanistan, which remained outside European control, violent enslavement of non-Muslims continued. Alexander Gardner, who extensively traveled across Central Asia between 1819 and 1823, left an eyewitness account of slave-hunting and slave-trade still ongoing in Kafiristan, a province in Afghanistan inhabited by non-Muslims. He observed that the sultan of Kunduz had reduced Kafiristan to ‘‘the lowest state of poverty and wretchedness’’ through regular raids for plunder and catching slaves for supplying to the markets in Balkh and Buhkara. Gardner added: ‘‘All this misery was caused by the oppression of the Kunduz chief, who, not content with plundering his wretched subjects, made an annual raid into the country south of Oxus; and by chappaos (night attacks), carried off all the inhabitants on whom his troops could lay hands. These, after the best had been chosen by the chief and his courtiers, were publicly sold in the bazaars of Turkestan.’’913

In the nineteenth century, there were hardly any families in the Islamic heartland of Mecca that did not possess slaves, including concubines. It is already noted that slaves constituted 6 percent to two-thirds of the population in the 1870–80s in the Muslim-controlled regions of Indonesia and Malaysia.


Starting in the 1530s, Muslim pirates in Barbary North Africa continued catching white slaves until the 1830s from onboard European ships, and from the islands and coastal villages of Europe. The worst-hit were Spain, Italy, France and the United Kingdom. Following independence from Britain in 1776, the U.S. ships and their crews also became victims of Barbary piracy and enslavement. This section will highlight the British and US struggle against enslavement of their citizens in North Africa.

The British struggle

In the 1620s, the wives of enslaved British mariners—some 2,000 of them—joined hands to raise a campaign to force the government to act on releasing their enslaved husbands, who ‘‘for a long time continued in most woeful, miserable and lamentable captivity and slavery…’’ in North Africa. They further added that the misery they have suffered, caused by the absence of their husbands, to the extent that their poor children and infants were almost ready to perish from starvation for the lack of means and food.914

Having suffered depredations of their trade-ships and coastal villages and ports for nearly a century, British King Charles I, after assuming power in 1625, was already acting on the issue. He sent young adventurer John Harrison to North Africa for securing the release of British captives and for signing a treaty against attacks on British ships. The King wrote a letter addressing the hard-headed Sultan Moulay Zidan, while suggesting Harrison that he might have a better prospect of success in direct negotiations with the corsairs of Salé, who often acted in defiance of the sultan.

John Harrison, deciding for a direct negotiation with the pirates of Salé, set off on a hazardous and arduous journey in the summer of 1625 in the guise of a Muslim penitent—bare-legged and in a pilgrim-like garb. After arriving at Salé, he tried to contact Sidi Mohammed el-Ayyachi, the spiritual leader of the slave- hunters of the city. Sidi Mohammed was a wily holy man (marabout or Sufi master), who boasted of causing the death of 7,600 Christians. He showed inclination toward freeing the slaves only if Britain offered him assistance in attacking the Spanish. He also demanded a supply of heavy weaponry, including fourteen brass pieces of ordnance and a proportion of powder and shot. He also asked for taking some of his damaged cannons to England for their repair. Harrison returned to London to discuss the terms with the King and Privy Council. He returned to Salé with a reduced cache of weapons and the promise to assist in his attack of the Spanish. Sidi Mohammed released some 190 captives from his dungeons, although Harrison was expecting some 2,000 of them. At length, he realized that a great many of them had died from plagues, while others were sold to the sultan or elsewhere in North Africa.915

John Harrison landed with the freed slaves in England in the summer of 1627. In his eight diplomatic voyages to North Africa, he made repeated visits to the court of Sultan Moulay Abdalla Malek (r.1627–31), but failed to secure the release of British slaves held there. Sidi Mohammed also broke the truce after some time as his men—dependent on slave-hunting for making a living—pressurized him on the ground that the British government gave them a smaller cache of weapons and was not forthcoming in attacking the Spanish. They executed a number of spectacular raids on British ships and soon they had captured 1,200 British sailors, including twenty-seven women.

The British King ran out of patience. In 1637, he sent a fleet of six warships under the command of Captain William Rainsborough toward the corsair stronghold of Salé for bombarding it into rubbles. He reached Salé after a month’s voyage, when the pirates had just made all their ships ready to go on the hunt to the coast of England. The English fleet was surprised by the huge number of ships under their command. The new governor of Salé had ordered the corsairs ‘‘that they should go for the coasts of England… [and] fetch the men, women and children out of their bed.’’916

Having realized that a deadly and likely disastrous confrontation lie ahead, Rainsborough took stock of the situation in Salé and found out that there was a power-struggle between two groups. One was led by Sidi Mohammed, another by a rebel named Abdallah ben Ali el-Kasri, who had seized control of a part of Salé and was holding 328 English captives. Instead of going on a likely disastrous offensive, Rainsborough decided to exploit the rivalry between the two warlords. He proposed to Sidi Mohammed to launch a joint attack against el-Kasri, hoping that this will enable him secure the release of all British captives and a peace treaty with Sidi Mohammed. Sidi Mohammed, anxious of getting rid of el-Kasri, agreed to the proposal. Rainsborough showered el-Kasri’s stronghold with heavy bombardments, causing total carnage and killing many. Rainsborough then directed his heavy cannon at the corsair ships belonging to el-Kasri, destroying many of them. Meanwhile Sidi Mohammed attacked the rebel stronghold with 20,000 soldiers, wreaking havoc. After three weeks of intense bombardment, the rebels capitulated. They were forced to release the British captives. Rainsborough, having thus completely crushed the rebels and securing a solemn assurance from Sidi Mohammed that he would refrain from attacking the English vessels and villages, sailed back to England in the autumn of 1637 with 230 British slaves.

Rainsborough received a hero’s welcome back to England. There was a widespread feeling that the menace of the Salé corsairs was over once and for all. This belief was reinforced by the signing of a treaty with Moroccan Sultan Mohammed esh-Sheikh es-Seghir (r. 1636–55); he agreed to prohibit and restrain all his subjects from taking, buying or receiving British subjects to use as slaves or bondsmen. But the illusion was soon over as the sultan threw away the treaty within a few months, because of the British government’s failure to stop English merchants from trading with Moroccan rebels. The corsairs of Salé also resumed their attacks. By 1643, a great many British ships were plundered and their crews enslaved. By the 1640s, some 3,000 British citizens were in the hands of Barbary slave-hunters.917

In 1646, merchant Edmund Cason was sent to Algiers with a large sum of money to free the British slaves. He was able to locate 750 English captives, while many more were forced to turn Muslim (who were never released; neither the British government desired so because of their apostasy). Cason paid £38 apiece for each male captive, while a hopping £800, £1,100 and £1,392 for three females. Having run out of cash, he returned to England with only 244 captives, leaving many more behind.

Hereafter, the Barbary corsairs intensified slave-hunting in the sea; they also widened their sphere, attacking ships from far away Norway and Newfoundland. The Russians and Greeks were also enslaved along with merchants and noblemen from the Holy Roman Empire. Spain and Italy were the worst-hit, while Britain, France and Portugal continued to be major victims. In 1672, famous Sultan Moulay Ismail consolidated power and intended to expand the slave-hunting venture to hold the European rulers to ransom for extracting large sums of tribute.

In 1661, Portugal had handed over Tangier to Britain, when King Charles II was betrothed to Catherine of Portugal. The British government had planned to use Tangier, which stood across the straits of Gibraltar, to attack and eradicate the Barbary pirates. In 1677, Sultan Moulay Ismail ordered the capture of Tangier to clear the way for his slave-hunters. Sultan’s General Kaid Omar laid a siege on the garrison city of 2,000 British occupants for five years but failed to overrun it. In 1678, Kaid Omar was able to capture eight defenders and another fifty-seven in a new wave of attacks that followed. In 1680, Kaid Omar’s forces were poised to overrun the garrison, but a British reinforcement arrived in time and beat back Kaid Omar’s forces, forcing the latter to abandon the offensive.918

King Charles II soon afterwards (December 1680) sent an ambassadorial delegation, headed by Sir James Leslie, to secure the release of the British soldiers, captured during the siege of Tangier. The arrival of the gifts for the sultan from London was delayed. So, Sir Leslie sent forth Colonel Percy Kirke to inform the sultan about the delay. A timid and drunkard with no diplomatic experience, Colonel Kirke was overwhelmed by the sight and charm of the dreaded sultan. Overawed by the extravagant welcome, hospitality and flattery shown by wily Moulay Ismail, who had kept Europe at ransom, Colonel Kirke forgot his role and started a negotiation himself. When raised the issue of a peace treaty, the sultan offered a four-year truce, but asked for ten big guns in return. The naïve Colonel not only obliged but also promised to ‘‘help him with everything he lacked.’’ Colonel Kirke not only breached his role as an emissary, not a diplomat, he also totally forgot about the captives, some 300 of them, held at the sultan’s palace. Overjoyed by his diplomatic success, he wrote to England, ‘‘I must tell the whole world, I have met with a kind prince and a just general.’’919

At length the presents intended for the sultan arrived at Gibraltar and Sir Leslie left for the sultan’s court. When he raised the issue of British prisoners, the sultan, not interested in the negotiation, withdrew and asked his General Kaid Omar to sign a truce. Unwilling to release the captives, the sultan reluctantly agreed to release the seventy soldiers captured during the siege of the Tangier garrison, but asked for so high a price that Sir Leslie had to return to London empty handed.

However, the sultan sent an ambassador, Kaid Muhammad ben Haddu Ottur, to London giving him all powers to negotiate the terms for the release of the English captives. The Sultan’s ambassadorial team was given excellent hospitality for months in London. After intense negotiations behind closed doors, a truce was eventually signed: the British captives would be released at 200 Spanish dollars apiece and that the sultan’s corsairs would spare England’s coastal villages. No mention was made of the attack on British ships. But the whimsical sultan disapproved the treaty and replied to the British King’s letter promising to rest only after ‘‘I have sat down before Tangier and filled it with Moors.’’ On the request for a negotiation about attacks on British ships, he wrote, ‘‘we have no need of it’’ and that the corsairs would continue their attacks.

Disheartened by the failure of the negotiation, the King lost interest in the Tangier garrison, which had failed to stop the depredations of the corsairs, and evacuated the post in the following year.920

British citizens continued to be captured and suffer in Sultan Moulay Ismail’s dungeons through the rest of the King’s reign. King Charles III, who ascended the throne in 1685, was very concerned and eager to have the captives released. After a protracted bargain lasting five years, the sultan agreed to free the captives at the exorbitant price of £15,000 and 1,200 barrels of gunpowder. ‘‘The ship was so full of powder that we were in continual fear of her blowing up,’’ wrote Captain George Delaval, who transported the ransom to Morocco. But the sultan started disputing the terms of the treaty after Delaval’s arrival. Delaval refused to handover the money until he was sure that the captives would be released. At length, the sultan released 194 British slaves, keeping thirty of them in his custody. Later on, when Queen Anne ascended the throne in 1702 and hinted at joining a Moroccan attack on the Spanish enclave at Ceuta, the remaining captives were suddenly released. Moroccan palace was empty of British captives for the first time in 150 years. Soon afterwards, the corsairs of Salé went on the offensive, when Queen Anne showed reluctance to join the sultan’s offensive against the Spaniards; British captives started streaming in.921

Another truce was signed between Sultan Moulay Ismail and Queen Anne in 1714 on the promise of huge gifts. As the Queen’s death in the summer of the same year delayed the delivery of the gift, the sultan sent his slave-hunters back into the sea. King George I, the German-born ruler of Hanover, was given the throne after the death of childless Queen Anne. He showed little interest in the miserable plight of British captives held in Morocco. In 1717, the wives and widows of the enslaved mariners wrote a desperate and emotionally-charged petition to the King, pleading for securing the release of their enslaved husbands. The King remained unmoved by it and the Secretary of State, Joseph Addison, took up the difficult cause. Just a few months earlier, Admiral Charles Cornwall had returned from the sultan’s palace empty-handed as the sultan was reluctant to sign a lasting peace-treaty and release the captives.

After a long deliberation in a crisis meeting in May 1717, a high level delegation, led by Captain Coninsby Norbury, was sent to Morocco. Angered by the continued illegal capture of British mariners and breach of every peace-treaty signed, Norbury was too haughty for such a delicate negotiation and showed an air of defiance and disdain of the sultan. When Sultan Moulay Ismail first met him rather courteously hoping to receive the huge gift from England, Norbury ‘‘demanded the slave, saying that without them, he’d make no peace, and would blockade all their sea-ports and destroy their commerce, with other threats of that kind.’’922 In the habit of treating foreign dignitaries with contempt, the sultan was obviously unprepared for the snub and nothing came out of Norbury’s mission. But the sultan agreed to the posting of a British consul in Morocco. Merchant Anthony Hatfeild, chosen for the post, made diligent efforts over the years to release the captives, but failed to achieve anything.

Hatfeild gathered intelligence about the activities of the corsairs, which had increased since 1717, and kept London informed about it. Alarmed by the intelligence, another diplomatic mission, led by Commodore Charles Stewart, was sent in 1720. Stewart possessed all the diplomatic niceties and skills for negotiation with the unpredictable and haughty ruler of Morocco. He signed a treaty first with Basha Hamet, the sultan’s governor of Tetouan in Northern Morocco. Thereafter, he proceeded to the sultan’s court, where his delegation was received with great hospitality. After protracted negotiations, a treaty was eventually signed in exchange of large gifts for the sultan. The slaves, 293 of them, from both England and colonial America, were released.923

The sultan and his pirates could hardly be restrained for long. By 1726, the corsairs had arraigned more British ships; the captives were sent to the sultan’s palace in Meknes. The next year (1727), Sultan Moulay Ismail died, which followed a period of deadly chaos and turmoil. During such chaotic periods, rogue elements, including the slave-hunters, normally increased their criminal activities. As a result, large numbers of European captives streamed into the slave-pens of North Africa. In 1746, the British ship, Inspector, was wrecked by the corsairs and eighty-seven survivors were captured. ‘‘Large chains were locked around our necks and twenty of us were linked together in one chain,’’ wrote Thomas Troughton, one of the ship’s crew. The British government once again secured the release of the captives from the palace at Meknes in 1751. The sultans of Morocco rarely released slaves of other nationalities: French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Dutch etc. Finally, a more humane and level-headed man, Sidi Mohammed, seized the throne in 1757. He was an enlightened man and believed that the shattered economy of Morocco could be repaired better by promoting international trade than by piracy and slavery. He, therefore, declared war against the pirates of Salé and decimated them. He signed peace treaties, first with Denmark in 1757 and, eventually, with all European nations that had fallen victim to Barbary piracy, including the United States.924

The deadly piracy in seas off the Moroccan Coast was dead for many years, although corsairs in Algiers and Tunis continued the depredation of European and American ships. After the death of Sultan Sidi Mohammed in 1790, his successor and son Moulay Sulaiman, despite ratifying his father’s treaty, encouraged the corsairs of Salé to attack European ships. However, the heydays of the Barbary slave-hunters in Salé and elsewhere in North Africa were becoming numbered. Britain and the United States—seeing no end to the scourge after centuries of inaction, appeasement and ransom payment—finally decided to hit back with military might to put an end to the piracy in North Africa forever.

One must bear in mind that the British struggle against the Barbary piracy and enslavement recount above is only a part of whole struggle in North Africa; similar struggles also took place in Tripoli and Algiers.

The U.S. struggle and strike-back

U.S. trade-ships also fell victim to Barbary piracy in North Africa. In 1646, the first U.S. ship and its crew were captured by the pirates of Salé. Until the U.S. independence in 1776, American ships in North Africa were under the British protection. The release of British captives from North African dungeons also included the American captives. British protection to American ships was withdrawn after the U.S. achieved independence in 1776. The U.S. ships from then on became the direct target of Barbary pirate attack. In 1784, Muslim pirates in Morocco and Algiers captured three American merchant ships, enslaving the crew. After protracted negotiations, $60,000 ransom was paid to release the hostages from Moroccans. Those captured by the Algerian pirates suffered a worse fate; they were sold into slavery.

To discuss about this issue, the exasperated U.S. diplomats Thomas Jefferson and John Adams met Abd al-Rahman, the Tripolian Ambassador to London, in 1785. When they enquired by what right the Barbary States justified their raids on American ships, enslaving the crew and passengers, al-Rahman informed them that ‘‘it was written in the Quran that all Nations who should not have acknowledged their (Islamic) authority were sinners; that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners; and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.’’925 The ambassador demanded tribute as protection against the attack and also asked for his own commission.

Right from that moment, Thomas Jefferson promised to wage war against the Barbary States for putting an end to the barbaric practice of slavery as well as to make the sea-ways secure for trade. While on diplomatic duty in Paris, he unsuccessfully tried to build a coalition of American-European naval powers for putting an end to the Barbary depredations of European and American trading ships. He faced opposition even back from home; even John Adams opposed his idea. Adams, amongst many others, preferred the payment of tribute than engaging in a protracted war against a doggedly warrior people. When asked for Adams’ opinion about organizing ‘‘an international taskforce comprised of all European nations whose shipping was being victimized,’’ he wrote to Jefferson that although his idea was ‘‘bold and wholly honourable…, We ought not to fight them at all unless we determine to fight them forever.’’926

Meanwhile the depredation of American ships and enslavement of their crews continued; 130 seamen had been captured between 1785 and 1793. The U.S. Government dispatched diplomats Joel Barlow, Joseph Donaldson, and Richard O’Brien to North Africa in 1795, who successfully concluded treaties with Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli agreeing to pay tribute for the safe passage of American ships. Algiers also freed 83 American sailors, it had enslaved. During the presidency of John Adams (1797–1801), America continued paying tribute, which gradually reached as high as 10 percent of the national budget.

The humiliating exercise of paying tribute, combined with stories of appalling sufferings of white slaves in North African dungeons, gradually changed the public sentiment against ransom-payment and in favor of military actions. When Thomas Jefferson became the President in 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli, Yusuf Qaramanli, citing late payment of tribute declared war on the United States, seizing two American brigs, and demanded additional tributes. This followed demands for larger tributes from other Barbary States as well. Jefferson was all along totally against the humiliating exercise of paying tribute to the Barbary States. As early as in 1784, he had told Congressman James Monroe (later U.S. President, 1817–25): ‘‘Would it not be better to offer then an equal treaty? If they refuse, why not go to war with them… We ought to begin a naval power if we mean to carry on our own commerce.’’927

Not forgotten of his encounter with the Tripolian ambassador sixteen years earlier, the new President, without informing the Congress, sent forth a naval fleet to Barbary North Africa. In retaliation, Tripoli declared war on the United States in May 1801 and Morocco soon followed suit. America soon suffered a setback when Tripoli captured the U.S. frigate Philadelphia, but Edward Preble and Stephen Decatur soon mounted a heroic raid on the Tripolian harbor, destroying the captured ship and inflicting heavy damage on the city’s defences. This news created great excitement in the U.S. and Europe: a new power has arrived on the world-stage.

Meanwhile William Eaton, American consul in Tunis, allied with Hamid, the exiled brother of Tripolian pasha Yusuf Karamanli, offering him to make the American nominee for Tripoli’s crown. The ploy did not receive appreciation back home, but Eaton pursued it anyway. In 1805, he made a daring journey with a small detachment of marines and a force of irregulars across the desert from Egypt to Tripoli. They made a surprise attack and the city of Darna with its huge garrison surrendered. As Eaton had engaged pasha’s forces, Jefferson and Karamanli reached an understanding to end the war. The terms of truce included the release of the Philadelphia crew upon payment of a tribute, but America would pay no more tribute in future. In this, stressed Jefferson, Eaton’s derring-do had played a part. Daring and uncompromising, Eaton denounced the deal as a sellout.

New hostilities began between Britain and the United States in 1812. Exploiting this Anglo- American hostility, the new pasha of Algiers, Hajji Ali, rejected the American tribute negotiated in the 1795 treaty as insufficient. Algerian corsairs resumed the capture of American ships. Once the Treaty of Ghent ended the war with Britain, President James Madison requested the Congress to declare war on Algiers. On 3 March 1815, the war was declared and Madison dispatched the battle-hardened naval force under the command of Stephen Decatur to North Africa again to put a complete end to the piracy problem. The U.S. navy destroyed the fleets of reigning Dey Omar Pasha, filled his grand harbor with heavily armed American ships and took hundreds prisoner. Dey Omar capitulated and reluctantly accepted the treaty dictated by Decatur, which called for an exchange of U.S. and Algerian prisoners and an end to the practice of tribute and ransom. Having defeated Algiers—the most powerful Barbary State, Decatur sailed to Tunis and Tripoli, and dictated the signing of similar treaties. Decatur also secured the release of all European captives from Pasha Qaramanli’s dungeons in Tripoli. President Madison’s words on this occasion—‘‘It is a settled policy of America, that as peace is better than war, war is better than tribute; the United States, while they wish for war with no nation, will buy peace with none’’—inaugurated a new U.S. foreign policy paradigm.928

The British-led European strike-back

The United States settled her accounts with the Barbary States in 1815: the year, all European nations jointly declared a ban on slave-trade. But the depredation of European ships continued. The U.S. derring-do actions in Barbary North Africa (1801–05, 1815) had elicited calls for similar actions in Europe, particularly in Britain. When the crown heads and ministers of Europe gathered for the Congress of Vienna in 1814 to discuss a peace treaty following the end of the Napoleonic war, Sir Sydney Smith, a staunch proponent of military settlement of the Barbary piracy crisis, petitioned for a military showdown with the rulers of North Africa. ‘‘This shameful slavery is not only revolting to humanity, but it fetters commerce in the most disastrous manner,’’ he told the Congress.

Sir Smith’s plea drew attention to a dehumanizing and commercially crippling problem that had lasted centuries. Britain pushed for the inclusion of a ban on slave-trade in the European treaty. The Vienna Congress passed a resolution condemning all forms of slavery, but took no steps against the Barbary States. However, the support for Sir Smith’s battle-cry for military actions was soon forthcoming from all corners Europe; they had all suffered terribly from this obnoxious enemy. They were taking cues and encouragement from the U.S. success in Algiers a few months earlier. Because Britain was not as bad a sufferer, who intermittently concluded truce and secured release of English captives, other nations criticized Britain for ‘turning a blind eye to the ravages of the corsairs, since Britain stood to benefit whenever her trading rivals were attacked.’929

Stricken by the criticism, Britain, a proponent for the abolition of black slavery, now resolved to end the white slavery as well. In 1815, the British government dispatched a large fleet, commanded by Sir Edward Pellow, to the North African coastal waters, aiming to compel the rulers of Barbary States to abstain from seizing ships and slaves from anywhere in Europe. The British government resolved against the payment of tributes, stating: ‘‘If force must be resorted to, we have the consolation of knowing that we fight in the sacred cause of humanity.’’930

Having arrived with an impressive fleet in the waters off Algiers in late 1815, Sir Pellow sent an uncompromising message to Omar Pasha demanding his unconditional surrender within one hour, release of all European slaves and abandonment of capturing European ships and slaves forever. After the earlier U.S. attacks, Omar Pasha had fortified his defences and recruited battle-hardened soldiers to ward off likely European attacks. When no response from him came, Sir Pellow declared war. The British fleet was bolstered by a squadron of six Dutch vessels. The battle began with heavy bombardment of Algiers destroying the city to rubbles. The forces of Omar Pasha showed stiff resistance and counterattacked, causing significant damage and casualties to the British side. Having reduced the city to rubbles, Sir Pellow directed his attention to the fleet of corsair ships docked in the harbor firebombing and shelling them, which set them all in flames. By the next morning, the city and the corsair fleets were in total ruin. The British side had 141 men dead and 78 wounded, while 2,000 were dead on the enemy side. After surveying the devastation the next morning, Omar Pasha, swallowing his pride, surrendered unconditionally, agreeing to all demands of the British commander. The terms for the truce included releasing of all European captives and complete stoppage to enslaving Europeans.

Having suffered the shocking battering by the United States and Britain, the Barbary States stopped attacking the British and U.S. ships, but continued ravaging ships from other nations. For example, the French ships continued to suffer. The French government then stepped up its own military action. A joint Anglo- French naval fleet was sent to the Barbary Coast again in 1819 to batter the Barbary ports. In order to put a complete end to the depredation of Barbary corsairs and to liberate Christians who suffered terrible subjection in North Africa, France conquered Algiers in 1830, ending the Barbary slave-hunting forever.


Under pressure from the West, the Ottoman government declared a ban on slave-trade in the empire in 1855. This ban of the divine institution sometimes faced fierce popular resistance, prominently in the Hejaz and Sudan. Armed with the argument that this was a West-dictated ban on a God-sanctioned institution, Muslims in the Islamic heartland of Hejaz (Saudi region) rose in revolt against the Ottomans. Sheikh Jamal, the chief of the Ulema in Hejaz, issued a fatwa against the ban on slave-trade and other Christian-inspired anti-Islamic reforms undertaken by the Ottomans. It read: ‘The ban on slave is contrary to the Holy Shari’a… With such proposals, the Turks have become infidels. Their blood is forfeit and it is lawful to make their children slaves.’931

The Ottomans were able to put down the renewed Jihad in the Hejaz within a year. However, the revolt and the fatwa had their desired effect. Fearful of long-term fallout from this ban on a divine institution in the Islamic heartland, the Ottomans declared a concession, exempting Hejaz from the ban on slavery. In this connection, the Ottoman sultan had the Chief Mufti of Istanbul, Aref Efendi, written a letter to the Qadi, Mufti, Ulema, Sharifs, Imams and preachers of Mecca, calling the ban on slavery and other Ottoman reforms as “slanderous rumors”. The letter read: ‘‘It has come to our hearing and has been confirmed to us that certain impudent persons lustful for the goods of this world have fabricated strange lies and invented repulsive vanities to the effect that the Lofty Ottoman state was perpetrating—almighty God preserve us— such things as prohibition of male and female slaves… all of which is nothing but libelous lies…’’ 932

The Ottoman-Egyptian effort to disband slave-trade also faced strong resistance in Sudan, the most fertile ground for Muslim slave hunters and traders through the ages. According to Rudolph Peters, ‘Discontent amongst the Sudanese increased when the European Powers compelled the Egyptian government to suppress the slave trade.’ The discontent was not only for material reasons, notes Peters, ‘but also for religious considerations.’ He adds: ‘As Islam permits slavery, most Muslims did not see any harm in it. Suppression of it, especially as it was actually carried out by Europeans employed by the Egyptian government, was seen as an affront against Islam.’933 As a result, Muhammad Ahmad (d. 1885), a Sufi leader, rose in Jihad against the Ottoman-Egyptian administration and their Western allies. The aggrieved slave- traders and Sufi masters, with their private armies, joined the Jihad movement.934

Following the Ottoman failure to disband slavery in the Hejaz (Saudi region), slave-trade remained legal in Saudi Arabia for another 107 years. Lord Shackleton reported to the House of Lords in 1960 that African Muslims going for the Hajj pilgrimage carried slaves with them for selling in Mecca, ‘‘using them as living travelers cheques.’’935 Saudi Arabia and Yemen banned slave-trade in 1962, nearly 155 years after its ban in Britain; Mauritania banned it only in 1980. This ban was, of course, enacted by virtue of intense international pressure, mainly from the West, but with only partial success.


Slavery continues in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Mauritania in various forms to this day. Reuters recently published a report, entitled Slavery Still Exist in Mauritania, which said:

They do not wear chains, nor are they branded with the mark of their masters, but slaves still exist in Mauritania… Herding camels or goats out in the sun-blasted dunes of the Sahara, or serving hot mint tea to guests in the richly carpeted villas of Nouakchott, Mauritanian slaves serve their masters and are passed on as family chattels from generation to generation… They may number thousands, anti-slavery activists say.’ Boubacar Messaoud, a born slave and now an anti-slavery activist told Reuters that ‘It’s like having sheep or goats. If a woman is a slave, her descendants are slaves.’936

Slavery also continues in Saudi Arabia; but because of the secretive nature of the holy Islamic kingdom, very little information comes out of it. The hundreds of thousands of young women from poor countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and so on, who go to Saudi Arabia to work as maids at the homes of Saudi Sheikhs, live a life of virtual slavery in domestic confinement. A majority of them likely end up providing sexual service to their masters to comply with the Quranic sanction of concubinage. Homaidan Al-Turki, a former Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado from Saudi Arabia, who was sentenced in 2006 to twenty-year imprisonment for sexually assaulting his Indonesian maid, denied that it was a sexual assault; it is a ‘traditional Muslim behaviour,’ he claimed.937 Human Rights Watch reports on the exploitation and abuse of foreign maids in Saudi that,

Some women workers that we interviewed were still traumatized from rape and sexual abuse at the hands of Saudi male employers, and could not narrate their accounts without anger or tears. Accustomed to unrestricted freedom of movement in their home countries, these and other women described to us locked doors and gates in Riyadh, Jeddah, Medina, and Dammam that kept them virtual prisoners in workshops, private homes, and the dormitory-style housing that labor subcontracting companies provided to them. Living in forced confinement and extreme isolation made it difficult or impossible for these women to call for help, escape situations of exploitation and abuse, and seek legal redress.938

The Times of India wrote on 10 December 1993 that ‘There is no doubt that many thousands of slaves are still serving in the wealthy palaces of Arabia.’ The old and rich Saudi Sheikhs frequently travel to Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt and other poor countries to marry young girls from poor families paying handsome amount of money to their parents and take the girls to Saudi Arabia, where they naturally live as nothing but slaves.

Revival of slavery in Sudan: Sudan (Nubia) has been the worst victim of Islamic slavery, which struck Sudan very early: it was forced to send an annual tribute of 400 slaves between 652 and 1276. Since the early days of Islam, suggests the tenth-century document Hudud al-Alam, Sudan had become a fertile ground for the Muslim slave-hunters and continues to be so till today. John Eibner, who worked on a project for freeing slaves in Sudan in the 1990s, reports the enslavement of black Sudanese women and children—Christian, Animist and even Muslim—by Arab militias and the government-sponsored Popular Defence Force (PDF). The enslaved women were forced to become Muslim and generally used as concubines, while the young boys were trained to become Jihadis for fighting their coreligionists. He freed 1,783 slaves in 1999, while his organization, the Christian Solidarity International, freed 15,447 slaves between 1945 and 1999.939 Even the colonial British government (1899–1956) had failed to stop enslavement and slave-trade effectively in Sudan. A 1947 memorandum prepared by the British civil servants noted that, in the late 1920s, ‘an extensive trade in slaves from Ethiopia was unmasked and even today there are occasional kidnappings, and the victims are hurried into the hands of the desert nomads of the far north.’940

Worse still is the fact that, with the government-sponsored resurgence of Islamism since the 1980s, there has been a revival of violent enslavement in Sudan. In 1983, the Islamist Sudanese government headed by President Jaafar Nimeiry, prodded by the Islamist leader Dr. Hasan al-Turabi, declared unification of the black Christian- and Animist-dominated Southern Sudan with the Arab-dominated North, abrogating former’s long-standing autonomy. The government also enacted Sharia laws uniformly all over Sudan. The purpose of the government was to transform multireligious and multiethnic Sudan into an Arab dominated Muslim state through the process of Jihad.

In protest, rebels in the dominantly non-Muslim south formed a resistance movement, Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), headed by Colonel John Garang. In response, the Islamist government started arming tribal Arab militias (Baqqara). Armed with automatic weapons, these Arab brigands spearheaded the government’s war effort against the rebels and their sympathizers. They attacked villages killing the adult men, abducting the women and children, looting and plundering cows, goats and grain, and burning the rest. There was a brief respite after the Islamist government was overthrown in 1985. The Jihad resumed again after Sadiq al-Mahdi, an Islamist and brother-in-law of al-Turabi, became the Prime Minister in the 1986 election. The Arab militia raids returned with ‘deliberate killing of tens of thousands of civilians’ and ‘the abduction of women and children, who were forced into slavery.’941

After the coup in 1989, led by al-Turabi and General Umar al-Bashir of the National Islamic Front (NIF), slave-raids by Arab militias became widespread and institutionalized. The authoritarian Islamist regime of President al-Bashir formed an irregular force, the PDF, for spearheading Jihad against the rebels, and the communities sympathetic to them. The worst victim of the PDF raids and slave-hunting has been the Dinka people in the Southwest Bahr al-Ghazal states and the Nuba tribes of southern Kordofan region. The Blacks of the southern Nuba Mountains, despite being Muslims, were declared apostates in an Islamic fatwa on the account of their sympathy for the rebels. The fatwa, according to U.N. special rapporteur Gaspar Biro, read:942

An insurgent who was previously a Muslim is now an apostate; and a non-Muslim is a nonbeliever standing as a bulwark against the spread of Islam, and Islam has granted the freedom of killing both of them.

In 1998, the PDF, supported by the regular army, waged a harrowing slave-raiding campaign against the Dinkas in Bahr al-Ghazal, displacing over 300,000 and enslaving and slaughtering unknown numbers. Following these raids, claimed Santino Deng, an advisor to the provincial government, that the Islamic militia were holding 50,000 Dinka children captives in Babanusa (Western Kordofan). A UNICEF report claimed that the PDF enslaved 2,064 people and killed 181 between December 1998 and February 1999.943 Based on the ongoing slave-raiding in Sudan, estimates John Eibner, there were some 100,000 chattel slaves in 1999.944 Between 1986 and 2003, notes an Anti-Slavery document, an estimated 14,000 people have been abducted and forced into slavery in Sudan.945

The worse was yet to come, this time in Darfur. In 2004, Arab militias (Janjaweed), patronized by the Sudan government, launched a harrowing wave of Jihad against the rebels and their sympathizers. The government-sponsored Jihad in Sudan killed some two million people between 1983 and 2003. In the renewed Jihad in Darfur since 2004, the U.N. puts the death toll at roughly 300,000; the former U.N. undersecretary-general puts the number at no less than 400,000.946 In Darfur, an estimated two-and-a-half million people have been displaced and an unknown number likely enslaved. In July 2008, the International Criminal Court charged President al-Bashir of sponsoring war-crime and crime against humanity in Darfur.947

Trimingham observed in 1949 that the Baqqara Arabs, who had lived on slave-raiding for ages and whose life was made difficult by the colonial British administration’s ban on slavery, ‘still hanker after the practice.’948 After the infidel British rulers were kicked out in 1956, the Arabs in Sudan slowly got back what they had lost and hankered after: their God-sanctioned age-old profession of slavery.


It is a disturbing fact that Muslims, especially those from some Middle East countries, have been importing the imprints of slavery to the West. In recent years, there have been a number of reports of Saudi and Sudanese families in the United States and United Kingdom, who have reduced their maids to slavery, leading to legal processes. According to the Anti-Slavery document cited above, a former slave named Mende Nazer—who recently published her autobiography, Slave: My True Story—was captured in 1992 from the Nuba Mountains in Sudan. She was a slave first in a rich Arab family in Khartoum, and then, to a Sudanese diplomat in London, from where she escaped in 2002 and sought political asylum in Britain. According to a 2003 report in National Reviews,949

Three members of the Saudi royal family, including a sister of King Fahd, were caught up in a scandal five years ago in London for their treatment of three Filipina women. The women sued the Saudi royals, alleging that they had been physically abused, starved, and held against their will in the Saudis’ mansion in London. The Filipinas said they were often locked in the attic, were fed mere scraps of food, and were denied medical attention when they became gravely ill.

About the treatment of domestic workers in Saudi homes in the United States, it reported:

…most situations involving domestics working for Saudis have seven hallmarks: confiscation of passports, contract terms unilaterally changed, overlong working hours, denial of medical attention, verbal and often physical abuse, a prison-like atmosphere… All of the women with whom we spoke worked in the U.S., although some first worked inside Saudi Arabia; the women who worked in both countries said their conditions did not improve once in the U.S.


Whatever residues of slavery that exist in the Muslim world today are insignificant to what existed throughout the history of Islam: right from the days of Prophet Muhammad to the mid-twentieth century. Undoubtedly, external pressures, namely from Western countries and the U.N. etc., has played a decisive role in limiting slavery in Muslim countries. But the rise of orthodox Islamic militants globally, who aim to conquer the world for establishing Islamic rule, styled after the medieval Islamic caliphate, is a worrying sign. In a London demonstration against the publication of Prophet Muhammad’s cartoons in a Danish newspaper in 2006, a Muslim protester shouted that let us invade Denmark and ‘take their women as war booty,’ while another called out: ‘take lessons of the Jews of Khaybar.’950 However shameful the institution of slavery is and those historical incidents are, the pious Muslim minds, often highly educated ones, feel inspired by them even today.

In 1999, the Sudanese government even took the justification of its supports for the ongoing slavery in Sudan to the U.N. On 23 March 1999, Sudanese rebel leader John Garang complained to Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, about the Government-sponsored violent Jihad and enslavement. In response, the former PM Sadiq al-Mahdi (r. 1986–89) wrote to Robinson defending the Sudanese Government’s complicity in the harrowing activities on a religious basis. He wrote,951

The traditional concept of Jihad …is based upon a division of the world into two zones: one the zone of Peace, the other the zone of War. It requires initiating hostilities for religious purposes… It is true that the (NIF) regime has not enacted a law to realize slavery in Sudan. But the traditional concept of Jihad does allow slavery as a by-product (of jihad).

Therefore, if the radical Islamist movements worldwide succeed in achieving their goals, the revival of the sacred institution of Islamic slavery on the world stage with its past glory remains quite a possibility.

912. Moreland, p. 90

913. Lal (1994), p. 8

914. Milton, p17

915. Ibid, p. 17–20

916. Ibid, p. 22–23

917. Ibid, p. 23–6

918. Ibid, p. 28,37–38

919. Ibid, p. 39–41

920. Ibid, p. 39–41

921. Ibid, p. 49–50

922. Ibid, p. 116

923. Ibid, p. 172–95

924. Ibid, p. 269–70

925. Berube CG and Rodgaard JA (2005) A Call to the Sea: Captain Charles Stewart of the USS Constitution, Potomac Books Inc., Dulles, p. 22

926. Ibid 927. Ibid

928. Hitchens, op cit 929. Milton, p. 272 930. Ibid

931. Lewis, p. 102–3

932. Ibid, p. 103

933. Peters, p. 64

934. Ibid, p. 64–65

935. Lal (1994), p. 176
936. Fletcher P, Slavery still exists in Mauritania, Reuters, 21 March 2007
937. US Urged to Review Saudi Student’s Case, Arab News, Riyadh, 28 March 2008

938. Human Rights Watch, Exploitation and Abuse of Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia,

939. Eibner J (1999), My Career Redeeming Slaves, Middle East Quarterly, December Issue
940. Henderson KDD (1965) Sudan Republic, Ernest Benn, London, p. 197
941. Metz HC ed. (1992) Sudan: A Country Study, Library of Congress, Washington DC, 4th ed., p. 257

942. David Littman (1996) The U.N. Finds Slavery in the Sudan, Middle East Quarterly, September Issue

943. Inter Press Service (Khartoum), July 24, 1998.

944. Eibner, op cit

945. Anti-Slavery, Mende Nazer―From Slavery to Freedom, October 2003

946. Lederer, EM, UN Says Darfur Conflict Worsening, with Perhaps 300,000 Dead, Associated Press, 22 April 2008.

947. Walker P and Sturcke J, Darfur genocide charges for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, Guardian, 14 July 2008

948. Trimingham JS (1949) Islam in the Sudan, Oxford University Press, London, p. 29
949. Joel Mowbray, Maids, Slaves, and Prisoners: To be employed in a Saudi home—forced servitude of women in

Saudi Arabia and in homes of Saudis in US, National Review, 24 Feb. 2003 267

950. Chilling Islamic Demonstration of Cartoons, London,, accessed on 20 July 2008.

951. Letter from Sadiq Al-Mahdi to Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (Section III: War Crimes), Mar. 24, 1999.


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