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Muslim Slaves Used as Soldiers
Slavery is based on dominance and submission of one over another for labor and services. It dates back beyond recorded history. Reference to slavery can be found in the ancient Babylonian code of Hammurabi. Slavery was common in Tigris-Euphrates civilizations and in ancient Persia. The ancient Egyptians used slave labor to build temples and pyramids. It was also a familiar custom to the ancient Hebrews (Slavery 2002).
It has been found among groups of low material culture such as the Malay Peninsula and even among Native Americans, to more highly developed societies, such as the United States. Most people believe that slavery became popular with the development of an agricultural economy, domestic and concubine slavery appeared among the nomadic Arabs, Native Americans devoted to hunting, and seafaring Vikings (Slavery 2002). Some say slavery originated as a result of wars, and the conquest of one group over another. However, slavery as a result of debt dates to very early times. Some Africa has a history of "putting up wives and children as hostages for an obligation...if the obligation was unfulfilled, the hostages became permanent slaves"(Slavery 2002). In Greece and Asia Minor, there were public slaves, such as those belonging to temples.
With a change in economic life, there was a gradual disappearance of agricultural slaves, who then became tenant farmers, those who were "technically free but bound to the land by debt" (Slavery 2002).
This paved the way for "economies in which the agricultural slave became the serf" (Slavery 2002).
Although, serfdom was popular during the Middle ages, domestic slavery still existed. While the church encouraged manumission, "many slaves were attached to church official and church property" (Slavery 2002).
Sale into slavery was a popular punishment for serious crimes.
During the Byzantine Empire, slavery flourished. "Islam, like Christianity, accepted slavery, and it became a standard institution in Muslim lands, where most slaves were African in origin" (Slavery 2002). For Islamic life, owning slaves was a sign of wealth. Salves were used as soldiers, concubines, cooks and entertainers.
Another form of Muslim slavery was in the eunuch guardians of the harems, eunuchs had been widely known in Greek, Roman, and especially Byzantine times, but it was among the Muslims and in East Asia that they were to survive longest. In Muslim countries, slavery and freedom had a much more fluid boundary than in the West, with some slaves and former slaves reaching position of great power and prestige" (Slavery 2002).
The Portuguese explorations of the African coast during the 15th and 16th centuries resulted in the exploitation of Africans as slaves for roughly five hundred years as slave raiders maintained lucrative businesses conducted with appalling brutality (Slavery 2002). Slave trading remained an important part of commerce for the Caribbean islands, South America, and North America until the 1800's with the Abolitionist movement. However, slavery still existed in other parts of the world. In 1948, the Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations to "achieve worldwide abolition of slavery...contained a provision prohibiting slavery or trading in slaves"(Slavery 2002).
In 1966, the United Nations reported that slavery still existed in parts of Africa and Asia. Although efforts to end slavery have continued, slavery and forced labor still exists in several Third World Countries, such as Sudan, Mauritania, and Myanmar (Slavery 2002).
There is much concern regarding the fact that slavery still exist in several Muslim countries. The Koran deals directly with "the issue of slavery... states that subjected or conquered people should be given the option of converting to Islam...if they refuse, only then may they be taken as slaves...and Muslims should never be enslaved by other Muslims" (Schindler 2001). When Christianity was born, the Roman Empire spanned the globe, so the question of newly conquered people never arose. Christian conversions were voluntary, thus slavery was not a religious issue, although it was obviously practiced contrary to Christian belief (Schindler 2001). However, slavery in the Islamic East developed differently. "Black slaves, called Zanj, were used extensively in mines and sugar and cotton plantations throughout lower Mesopotamia and southwestern Iran" (Schindler 2001). In 1868, a rebellion was organized, by a messianic mullah, and spread rapidly. It gained support from the "urban poor, disaffected peasants, and also from the black soldiery the Caliphate had sent to put it down" (Schindler 2001). So successful were the rebels that Baghdad, the most important city in Islam became threatened. Eventually, the rebellion was suppressed and the "Zanj were either killed or forced back into slavery" (Schindler 2001). Earlier revolts had been fairly easy to contain, however, the Zanj Rebellion lasted so long that plantation farming was abandoned. This was the last rebellion in which slaves were so numbered that they could not be controlled. So, although, the Muslim world continued to import black slaves, the role of slavery be changed (Schindler 2001).
There was much demand for young females slaves for kitchen duties and housework. If she were attractive, she might be added to the master's harem as either a concubine or wife. Male slaves were used for menial work and many were incorporated into the army (Schindler 2001). "The famous Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire were white Christians who had been enslaved and converted as children. The Mamluk dynasty in Egypt, as its name suggests, originated from white slaves" (Schindler 2001). Whether white or black, it was not unusual to be both slave and soldier in Islam (Schindler 2001). The part of slavery that produced wealth in the Islamic world was the actual trade itself. Arab or Afro-Arab armed gangs did the initial enslavement, but the traders were Muslim. When Britain tried to suppress slavery by persuading the Ottoman Empire to publish a ban, it resulted in a revolt in the "holy city of Mecca where the traders were strongly entrenched" (Schindler 2001). The Ottomans backed down and Mecca remained a thriving slave market well into the 20th century. Slavery today still "exists in Mauritania where Moors, presumably Caucasian, own blacks...In Sudan slavery not only exists but armed gangs of Afro-Arabs still raid not only the Christian south but also the Nuba Hills in central Sudan which is both black and Muslim" (Schindler 2001).
Arab nomads wandered in search of fresh pasturage, seafarers and merchants in the ports of the Red Sea provided safe harbors and depots for slave trade. Arab commander in Egypt, Abdallah ibn Saad, made the first series of treaties, faqt, with the Nubians that were renewed regularly for over six hundred years. "The faqt obliged both to exchange annual tribute as a symbol of their good will, the Nubians in slaves and the Arabs in grain (Schindler 2001).
Yet the Atlantic trade was not the only one. The civilisations of south and south-west Asia held and traded slaves on almost the same scale as Europe. Estimates of the numbers enslaved in the trans-Saharan, Red Sea and Indian Ocean commerces vary enormously. They went on for much longer than the Atlantic slave plunder, and far fewer written records survive or have been found. Totals, across the centuries, of anything from three to 14 million have been suggested, with the most detailed calculation proposing just over seven million. The predators involved, and the societies to which these slaves were sent, were mostly Muslim. The whole complex is thus conventionally called "the Islamic slave trade" -- a practice that Ronald Segal follows. But this is just as dubious as calling the Atlantic slave trade 'Christian'" (Schindler 2001).
If someone were asked if slavery existed today, they would most likely answer, no. Sadly though, it is still very much alive. "From Khartoum to Calcutta, from Brazil to Bangladesh, men, women, and children live as slaves. According to Anti-Slavery International there are over 200 million people in bondage...more slaves in the world than ever before (Miller 2002). Recently the United Nations officials and the United States government have accused the Sudanese government of allowing the trafficking of human beings. According to their reports, Sudanese soldiers and Muslim militias armed by the government transport captured blacks from the North as slaves. Jemera Rone, Human Rights Watch-Africa representative, says, "It's war booty, they're given free license by the government. They're not prosecuted" (Debate 1996).
Children seem to be the main targets for slavery. According to a Human Rights Watch report, after each raid, the rebels take young children, often dragging them away from the dead bodies of their parents and siblings. The rebels prefer children of 14 to 16, but at times they abduct children as young as 8 or 9, boys and girls alike. They tie the children to one another and force them to carry heavy loads of looted goods as they march them off into the bush. Children who protest or resist are killed. Children who cannot keep up or become tired or ill are killed. Children who attempt to escape are killed. All of the children are trained as soldiers, taught to use guns and to march. Smaller children…[continue]
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