Slavery in Islam

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Illustration by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti to the Maqāmāt of al-Hariri . 34. Maqāma: slave market in Zabid , Yemen, 13th century ( French National Library ).

The Islam has the slavery found in the region of its origin as entrenched institution and maintained. Mohammed and his contemporaries owned, captured, acquired, sold, and freed slaves or used female slaves as concubines . Over the centuries the slave trade and slave labor have been important economic factors in the Islamic world. It was only gradually abolished in most Muslim states through the colonialist influence of the European states, which made itself felt from the early 19th century. To this day, however, legal relationships similar to slavery still exist in individual predominantly Islamic countries.


The slave is referred to in Arabic as vglabd (cf. Sura 2 : 178), raqaba or mamlūk (see Mamluken ). In the Koran, slaves are often referred to as “what your right hand has” ( mā malakat aimānu-kum , e.g. Sura 24:33 ). A slave girl is called jariya (جارية / ǧāriya ) or ama (امة) designated. A slave who served as a concubine becomes surrīya سرّيةcalled. Slavery as such is called riqq in Arabic .

Statements in the Koran

The Koran regards the distinction between masters and slaves as part of the divine order, but describes the release of slaves as a benevolent act. The Koran also approves the cohabitation of the free man with his slave ( Sura 4 : 3; 4: 24f; Sura 23 : 6; Sura 70 : 30). However, people are encouraged to treat the slaves well (Sura 4:36) and to marry them off (24:32). In addition, the release of slaves (Arabic ʿitq ) is intended as reparation for various offenses. A Muslim slave is to be released as atonement for killing a believer (4:92). Furthermore, the release is prescribed as an atonement for breaking the oath (5:89) and revoking a divorce ( Sura 58 : 3). In Sura 24:33 the believers are asked to issue a license ( kitāb ) to their slaves who desire a license ( kitāb ), but not to let their slaves work as prostitutes. The ransom of foreign slaves is also recommended as an act of charity (2: 177).

Slavery in Islamic Law

General rules

More precise rules on slave law were first elaborated in Islam as part of the Siyar literature. Here, for example, it was regulated in which cases people were allowed to be enslaved, what to do with runaway slaves or slaves captured by the enemy, if they are found again, etc. A free Muslim cannot be enslaved. Conversion to Islam does not change slave status.

In contrast to Roman law , which regards slaves exclusively as the property of their master, slaves under Islamic law are man and thing at the same time. As the property of their owners, they can be given away, loaned, pledged, bequeathed or sold at will. On the other hand, they are entitled to good treatment, care and food. In a narration from Bukhari , Mohammed explains:

“Your slaves are your brothers. God has put them under your command. Whoever has the upper hand over his brother should give something to eat what he himself eats and give him clothes that he himself wears. Do not tell them what is beyond their power. And if you do, help them! "

Muslim slaves were also on a religious level with free Muslims. However, they were relieved of those duties for which freedom of movement was essential ( Friday prayer , pilgrimage , jihad ) Of greater legal importance was that slaves could not testify as witnesses in court and could not acquire property. However, they can do business on behalf of their master.

Marriages between free and slaves are allowed. But slaves need the consent of their master for marriage. A married slave's children belong to her master, even if her husband is a free man. For this reason, such a marriage is subject to many legal restrictions and is only permitted under certain conditions. The man must be in danger of fornication or (and?) The groom must be single and unable to pay the bride price for a free woman. The slave must be a Muslim. Regular marriages between owners and slaves are prohibited. However, marriage is possible if the slave is released by his owner. According to some law schools , male Muslim slaves may marry a maximum of two women.

While sexual relations between a Muslim and his slave were allowed, those between a Muslim and her slave were forbidden. The sexual intercourse of a Muslim with the slave of another owner is regarded as fornication and punished accordingly.

The Umm Walad

For the umm walad (أمّ ولد / 'Child's mother'), the slave who gave birth to her master, special rules apply in classical Islamic law: she may no longer be sold and becomes free after her master's death. The child from this connection is also free. The Umm Walad never had the same social status as a free woman. The sons of such slave mothers were known as hudschanā ' ("bastards") , especially in early Islamic times .


A slave can be released by testamentary disposition (Arabic: tadbīr ). In this case, the slave becomes free as soon as the master dies. According to the prevailing opinion, such a disposition cannot be revoked and the slave can no longer be sold or given away afterwards. Slaves can also sign a ransom contract ( mukātaba ) with their master . In this case, the ransom is usually bought in installments. The slave is then immediately free as far as the control of his master over him is concerned. In terms of legal status, however, he will only gain freedom after the contract has been fulfilled. Until then, he does not have full power of disposal over his property. There is no entitlement to such a ransom. The mukātab , i.e. the slave who has concluded a ransom agreement with his master, is entitled to support from the proceeds of the zakāt or sadaqa . The release creates a clientele relationship between the slave and his former master with consequences under inheritance law.

The release of a slave is considered a godly work ( qurba ) in Islam . According to a tradition of the Prophet Mohammed, it protects against hellfire: "Whoever lets a slave (var .: Muslim slave / believing slave) free will be freed from hellfire."

Practice of Slavery in History

There is no evidence that Muhammad intended to abolish slavery. A famous case of the enslavement of a tribe from the early days of Islam are the Banu Quraiza . This Jewish tribe from Yathrib / Medina was attacked by the Muslims led by Muhammad after the trench battle . After the Banu Quraiza gave up, the men of the tribe were beheaded and the boys, women and girls enslaved. Ibn Ishaq describes the division of the booty as follows:

The Prophet distributed the property, the women and the children of the Banu Quraiza among the Muslims. He stipulated what share of the booty the riders and the unmounted were entitled to, and kept a fifth himself. […] He sent the captured women and children from the fifth with the helper Sa'd ibn Zaid to the Nadjd and exchanged them for horses and weapons. One of the captive women, Raihana bint 'Amr, was kept for himself by the Prophet. She remained in his possession until he died.

In the case of the Banū l-Mustaliq, Mohammed Juwairiya bint al-Hārith , who had fallen into the hands of the Muslims as spoil with her fellow tribes and who asked him for help with their ransom, offered the marriage. The Muslims then released the slaves who were part of their share of the booty. They did not want to have any tribal members of a prophet's wife as slaves. Caliph Umar later generally forbade Arabs to be enslaved.

The slaves deported from Africa to Mesopotamia , called " Zanj ", also belonged to the early days of Islamic expansion . As “blacks” they belonged to the lowest social class and had to do hard work in draining the salt marshes for the establishment of plantations on the Euphrates . In the history of slavery in Islam, which extends from 1400 years to the present, they caused an event similar to that of the slave revolt in Rome, led by Spartacus : After quickly suppressed revolts in the years 689, 690 and 694, Ali ben Muhammad, an Arab poet, led and teacher, who pretended to be a relative of Muhammad and proclaimed himself Mahdi ("Messiah"), the 14-year Zanj uprising from 869 to 883.

For Europe, the Islamic expansion in 711 brought the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula , whose Muslim-controlled area was called Al-Andalus . From Al-Andalus the slave trade developed with the Christian countries bordering to the north, to which the Muslim merchants, as enemies of the Christian West, did not seek direct access. All peoples not yet Christianized in Europe, including the Saxons who were warred by Charlemagne in the 9th century , were targeted by Christian slave hunters, since light-skinned Europeans were a sought-after and profitable trade with Al-Andalus. In the 10th century the Saxons themselves became slave hunters in the neighboring Slavic regions and supplied Muslim customers primarily through the intermediary of Jewish long-distance traders, namely the Radhanites . Most important centers of trade and distribution were primarily the the eastern kingdom belonging Verdun in the west and the Bohemian Prague in the east, where the young captive male Slavs castration in the particularly popular in the Islamic world and correspondingly expensive eunuchs were transformed. The income from the slave trade with the Islamic world reached such a volume that from the 9th to the 11th century it became a decisive factor in the boom for the economically depressed West.

Overall, the history of slavery in the Islamic Orient is very different due to the vastness and the ethnic, cultural and political diversity of the area. For centuries, the most abundant slave reservoir was Sub-Saharan Africa , especially Sudan , where regular slave hunts were also undertaken, but here by the Muslims themselves.

Under the Abbasid caliph Hārūn ar-Raschīd , many female slaves belonged to the harem, which was already established at that time . The Turkish military slaves who were employed in Baghdad by the caliph Al-Mutasim in particular to protect the ruler and strengthen the army as Praetorian Guard have become famous . Later these "Mamelukes" took over the rule and founded several dynasties of their own. Boy picking was a special form of slavery in the Ottoman Empire . Boys from Christian provinces were taken away from their families, trained and forcibly Islamized. These men formed the basis of the Janissary Corps and the administration of the empire and were able to rise to the highest government offices. Many rulers in Islamic history were also the sons of female slaves. The writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry processed the encounter with slavery in North Africa in his book Wind, Sand and Stars .

In 2004, the American historian Robert C. Davis published a study of the enslavement by Muslims in the Mediterranean region - but also beyond to England and Iceland - where between 1530 and 1780 1.25 million Christians attacked the pirates of the Maghreb, for example from Algiers , Tunis and Tripoli are said to have fallen into their hands. In Algiers, piracy did not end until the French conquered in 1830. According to the historian Egon Flaig , the slave imports of the Islamic world far exceeded those of the Roman Empire , which led to the "enslavement processes being fueled in a way that had never happened before in world history."

Abolition of slavery from the 19th century

The systematic Islamic slave hunt only ended with the interventions and prohibitions of the colonial powers. “But in areas that were beyond the reach of the colonial powers, the slave trade flourished in illegality; and the slave raids by Muslim traders continued into the 1920s. "

The first Muslim ruler to abolish slavery on his territory was Ahmad I al-Husain , who was the Bey of Tunis from 1837 to 1855 . He tried to modernize his state technically and resorted to French support. In 1841 he banned the slave trade, closed the slave markets, released his own slaves and stopped sending slaves to Istanbul as tribute. In 1846 he ordered that any slave who so wished to be released. 6,000 to 30,000 slaves were set free.

In the Ottoman Empire in 1854/55, under pressure from the great European powers, an edict was issued to ban the slave trade. But then there were protests by traders in the Hejaz who condemned the ban on slavery as anti-Islamic. On behalf of the Sherif , the leading scholar of Mecca issued a fatwa in which he declared the Turks to be apostates and called for jihad against them. When, as a result, an anti-Ottoman uprising actually broke out in the Hejaz, the Hejaz was exempted in the Ottoman decree of 1857 which prohibited slavery.

In India, where the British abolished slavery by 1862, some modernist Muslim scholars like Sayyid Ahmad Khan argued that Islam itself had already abolished slavery. This abolition took place in stages in the Koran. At the end there is the verse of freedom ( āyat al-ḥurrīya ) of sura 47 : 4, which was revealed when Mecca was captured (in January 630), which calls on Muslims to release prisoners of war either by mercy or against ransom.

Slave markets such as the one in Zanzibar, which mainly supplied the Emirates of Arabia and was only closed by the British, or those in Central Asia lasted until the late 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, travelers from the Orient such as Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje reported on the slave market in Mecca. Saudi Arabia only officially abolished slavery in 1963.

The abolition of slavery was particularly difficult in Mauritania . There were three initiatives to repeal it in the 20th century without much change in practice: 1905 (French colonial decree), 1960 (achievement of independence) and for the third time in 1980. 23 years later, in 2003 , a law against human trafficking was passed, but the word slavery was avoided. In August 2007, then-President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi passed a law that made slavery a criminal offense for the first time. This is the fourth time that slavery has been mentioned in a piece of legislation. The law was highly controversial among the voting parliamentarians. The last law to abolish slavery in Mauritania was passed on August 8, 2007.

Persistence of slavery in the present

Even today there are forms of slavery in individual regions of the Islamic world, including slavery in Sudan and other religious or non-religious forms of bondage. Also, Dubai became a talking 2006 by itself, as in Miami ( Florida ), a trial of Emir Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum enslaved children should be performed for organized slavery with 30,000 in the last 30 years, which was set on jurisdiction but of 2007. At the same time, Dubai agreed with UNICEF to bring 1,000 children abused as lightweight camel jockeys back to their parents' families and to pay all costs. Nevertheless, 10,000 children from Bangladesh , southern India , Sudan and Ethiopia are still assumed to be used as camel jockeys in the Gulf States . The French anthropologist Malek Chebel, who advocates an enlightened, liberal Islam, demands after his travels to Islamic countries that precise research on human trafficking should be carried out especially for the Gulf region.

While most contemporary Muslim scholars oppose slavery, there are individuals who defend it, such as the Saudi Arabian Sheikh Saleh ibn-Fawzan , the lead author of the Islamic curricula for approximately 5 million Saudi schoolchildren and students (including in Saudi -arab schools worldwide). He declared on a tape: "Slavery is part of Islam" and "Slavery is part of jihad, and jihad will last as long as Islam exists". Al-Fawzan, a prominent member of the Supreme Council of Legal Scholars (Ulema / Ulama ), Saudi Arabia's highest religious body, is considered particularly conservative and rejects any modernization.

More recently, the practice of IS (Islamic State) in its advance since the summer of 2014 in the Middle East slavery not only again as an old Muslim tradition, but justified it in the case of the capture of a part of a larger non-Muslim population, the Yazidis , even "In the form of a traditional legal interpretation". In its propaganda magazine “ Dabiq ” (October 2014), ISIS stated that its “goal is the cultural and religious erasure of the identity of the Yazidis”. Obviously, in the absence of Islamic scholars , Sharia students would not have classified the Yazidis as a former Muslim sect, but as a pagan religion from pre-Islamic times, thus as Muschrik (idolater, a derogatory term for polytheists ). "According to Islamic law one is also entitled to enslave Yazidi women and children."

The article entitled “The Premature Rebirth of Slavery” goes on to say that women and children were divided up among the fighters of the Islamic State “after a fifth of them were given to the Islamic State government as taxes. […] In particular, it is defended that the Yazidis are made sex slaves: instead of entering into questionable relationships with housemaids, it is better to keep an enslaved sex concubine. At least that's legal. "

An article in the daily Die Welt assumes that there could be up to 7,000 kidnapped Yazidis: "The self-accusation of IS is now an important indicator that the terrorist militia is attempting a cultural genocide against the Yazidis."

See also


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Robert Brunschvig: ʿAbd . In: The Encyclopaedia of Islam . New Edition. Brill, suffering. Vol. 1, pp. 24a-39
  2. Robert Brunschvig: ʿAbd . In: The Encyclopaedia of Islam . New Edition. Brill, suffering. Vol. 1, p. 25: " The Ḳurʾān (...) makes the emancipation of slaves (...) a deed of expiation for certain felonies " Cf. Jonathan Brockopp: Slaves and Slavery . In: Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān . Brill, 2006. Vol. 5, p. 57
  3. Cf. Majid Khadduri: The Islamic Law of Nations: Shaybānī's Siyar. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press 1966. pp. 120-179.
  4. a b c d e f Th. W. Juynboll: in: EJ Brill's First Encyclopaedia Of Islam 1913-1936, Leiden 1987, Vol. 1, keyword: 'Abd
  5. Buchari: Your slaves are your brothers ( Memento of the original from January 23, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  6. a b c P. Heine: in Khoury, Hagemann and Heine: Islam-Lexikon, Freiburg 1991, vol. 3, keyword slaves
  7. See J. Schacht: Art. "Umm walad" in Encyclopaedia of Islam . Second edition. Vol. X, pp. 857-859.
  8. ^ A b Hans Müller: in Klaus Kreiser and Rotraud Wielandt (eds.): Lexikon der Islamischen Welt, Stuttgart 1992, sv slaves
  9. See: Jamal Juda: The social and economic aspects of the Mawālī in the early Islamic period . Tübingen 1983, DNB 831054417 (Dissertation University of Tübingen 1983, 250 pages). P. 174f
  10. Cf. G. Bergsträsser: Fundamentals of Islamic Law . Edited u. ed. by J. Schacht. Berlin-Leipzig 1935. p. 42.
  11. Transmission to Buchari : Archived copy ( memento of the original from January 23, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. and Muslim If anyone emancipates a Muslim slave… ( Memento of the original from November 28, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (in several variants) @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  12. Hans Müller in: Bernard Lewis: Economic History of the Near East in Islamic Time, Leiden 1977, p. 57
  13. Ibn Ishaq: The Life of the Prophet . From the Arabic by Gernot Rotter . Kandern 2004, p. 180f.
  14. Maurice Lombard, The heyday of Islam. An economic and cultural history 8.-11. Century , Frankfurt a. M. 1992, pp. 206-234.
  15. Cf. Tidiane N'Diaye, The veiled genocide. The history of the Muslim slave trade in Africa , Rowohlt: Reinbek 2010.
  16. P. Heine: in Khoury, Hagemann and Heine: Islam-Lexikon, Freiburg 1991, vol. 2, keyword harem
  17. Robert C. Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500–1800 , Palgrave Macmillan 2004.
  18. Egon Flaig: World history of slavery . Ed .: Beck. Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-406-58450-3 , pp. 85 .
  19. Egon Flaig: World history of slavery . Beck, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-406-58450-3 , pp. 214 .
  20. See Clarence-Smith 100f.
  21. See Lewis: Race and Slavery in the Middle East. 1990, pp. 80f.
  22. Cf. Aziz Ahmad: Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan 1857–1964. London 1967. pp. 51f.
  23. Meyers Lexicon Online 2.0: Slavery ( Memento of 14 February 2008 at the Internet Archive )
  24. Archived copy ( memento of the original from March 25, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  25. Beat Stauffer: Tolerated, suppressed and glossed over. In: October 12, 2008, accessed October 14, 2018 .
  26. ^ Malek Chebel: L'esclavage en terre d'islam. Un tabou bien gardé . Editions Fayard, Paris 2007. ISBN 978-2-213-63058-8 .
  27. Foreign Office on Slavery in Mauritania
  28. Malek Chebel (2007), p. 149.
  29. Children as camel jockeys in the Gulf States ( memento of the original from May 28, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  30. See Malek Chebel in the French Wikipedia
  31. Malek Chebel (2007), p. 150
  32. Cf. for example Fethullah Gülen : Questions to Islam . Izmir 2005, p. 47ff. Online version ( Memento of the original from July 20, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  34. Archived copy ( memento of the original from April 30, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  35. Archived copy ( memento of the original from April 18, 2009) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  36. a b c Clemens Wergin: IS enslaved girls as concubines. In: Die Welt, October 14, 2014. p. 6.