The Arab slave trade was the longest yet least discussed of the two major slave trades. It began in seventh century as Arabs and other Asians poured into northern and eastern Africa under the banner of Islam. The Arab trade of Blacks in Southeast Africa predates the European transatlantic slave trade by 700 years. Some scholars say the Arab slave trade continued in one form or another up until the 1960s, however, slavery in Mauritania was criminalized as recently as August 2007.
The Arab slave trade typically dealt in the sale of castrated male slaves. Black boys between the age of 8 and 12 had their scrotums and penises completely amputated to prevent them from reproducing. About six of every 10 boys bled to death during the procedure, according to some sources, but the high price brought by eunuchs on the market made the practice profitable.
Some historians estimate that between A.D. 650 and 1900, 10 to 20 million people were enslaved by Arab slave traders. Others believe over 20 million enslaved Africans alone had been delivered through the trans-Sahara route alone to the Islamic world.
Dr. John Alembellah Azumah in his 2001 book, The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa estimates that over 80 million Black people more died en route.
Islam and Black Pride
One of the most bizarre manifestations of African-American pride is the contemporary identification with Islam. Like Kwanzaa, however, Islam has a far shorter and less memorable history in Black America than most realize.
The story goes that in 1930 Allah appeared to the people of Detroit in the form of a mysterious man named “Fard.” Allah’s human form seemed to be of African and Arab descent and claimed to have been born in Mecca, a descendent of the prophet Muhammad. He preached a message of racial identity and claimed that Islam was the true religion of the black people of America before they were robbed of it by the White Man. (Ironically, the prophet Muhammad was described as a “white man” by those who knew him).
In fact, Fard was really just a small-time con-man named Wallace Dodd Ford, who had served three years in San Quentin for drug-dealing. He drifted into Detroit at a time when many African-Americans were beginning to form racial identity groups around charismatic personalities such as Marcus Garvey. Of course, racial consciousness was hardly just “a black thing” at the time, as the 1920’s were also when Ku Klux Klan influence peaked in America.
Interestingly, Ford was neither of African or Arab descent, as he claimed. He was a mix of European and Polynesian. But he did recognize an opportunity when he saw one, and the street preacher soon built up quite a following among those who could appreciate an overtly racist theology that persists to this day in spite of its zaniness.
According to Ford, and his Nation of Islam, Africans were the original and only people of the world (divine and uncorrupted) before whites were invented by an evil scientist named Yakub in a malicious experiment with tragic consequences. Islam is the true religion, and, at some point, a spaceship will be sent by Allah to eliminate the white people from the earth. (The Quran actually says that black people became that way because they lived closer to the rising place of the sun – which wouldn’t be possible unless the earth were flat).
Although it may be difficult to imagine such a crackpot being given the time of day in this progressive age, in fact much more than that is awarded to Louis Farrakhan every time he plans one of his narcissistic “Million Man” marches. Prominent political figures such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton never fail to line up behind the leader of an organization that openly espouses a message of racial superiority. In 2005, even Bill Clinton lent his endorsement to the event – of course, he’s supposed to be our first Black President (at least for the black people who managed to survive his unwillingness to stop genocide in Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Sudan, Zaire, Burundi and Rwanda – as Clinton’s eight years in office saw more Africans lose their lives in wars than were ever brought to America in chains).
It’s only fitting that the nation’s largest and most accepted racial hate organization got its start through false and fatuous circumstances. Ford was not just an imaginative preacher of hate, but a skillful con artist as well. He charged the nation’s poorest people $10 (in the middle of the Depression) to divine their “original” Muslim name for them, and he had affairs with several women. In 1933 (and again in 1934) he was asked to leave town by the police following a ritual killing committed by a devoted follower. The second time around he managed to disappear so effectively that many believe he was killed by his heir, Elijah Muhammad.
Like Ford, Elijah Muhammad was also a fraud. He fathered several children from illegitimate relationships and disillusioned several of his followers in the process.
One of these was Malcolm X, who traveled to Mecca for the Hajj at about the same time and came away with even more reasons to be disenchanted by the Nation of Islam. Traditional Islam may be an artificial religion designed under very harsh conditions in the 7th century, but at least there isn’t talk of UFOs or evil scientists, and neither is it racially exclusive. Malcolm was impressed to see people of all races circling the black rock together and he broke away from the Nation of Islam. Shortly thereafter, he was killed for his principles by followers of Elijah Muhammad.
The modern Nation of Islam is led by Louis Farrakhan, who broke away from Elijah Muhammad’s son in 1977, after the latter began moving the organization toward traditional Sunni practices. Today, most Black Muslims observe mainstream Islam with a slight racial tinge, rather than the cultic heritage of Wallace Dodd Ford and Elijah Muhammad. This includes teaching directly from the Qur’an and stressing the Five Pillars of Islam.
The legacy of the NOI, however, is that many African-Americans are drawn to Islam out of racial pride, thinking that there is some sort of association with Africa. Muslim evangelicals in the black communities and in prisons often play this up in an attempt to persuade the gullible into rejecting Christianity as the “white man’s religion.”
There is terrible irony to this romanticism. In the first place, Christianity in Africa predates Islam. Christian missionaries were on the continent within two decades of the Crucifixion. Secondly, unlike Christianity, Islam had no interest in missionary hospitals or the poor. Arab contact with Black Africa was for one purpose only, plain and simple:
The awful truth is that Arabs ravaged Africa for almost a thousand years before Europeans ever began to export black slaves. In fact, it was the foundation of slave procurement and trading established by the Muslims (usually through Jihad) that enabled the European practice.
Far more Africans were swallowed up in the fourteen hundred years of Islamic slave trading than in the three centuries of European practice. An estimated 17 to 20 million Africans were exported from their native land to the Muslim world, but this isn’t the whole story. With a transport survival rate of less than 1 in 3, Dr. John Alembellah Azumah estimates that perhaps 50 to 80 million more died in route.
Here is a quote from an observer in Zanzibar that sheds light on the harsh conditions of Islamic slavery:
“As they filed past, we noticed many chained together by the neck… The women, who were as numerous as the men, carried babies on their backs in addition to a tusk of ivory or other burden on their heads… It is difficult to adequately describe the filthy state of their bodies; in many instances not only scarred by [the whip], but feet and shoulders were a mass of open sores… half-starved ill-treated creatures who, weary and friendless must have longed for death.”
The text (quoted from Dr. Azumah’s The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa) goes on to describe the fate of those who became too ill or too weak to continue the journey – as related by a Muslim “herdsman”:
“Spear them at once! For, if we did not, others would pretend they are ill in order to avoid carrying their loads. No! We never leave them alive on the road; they all know this custom.”
When asked who carries the ivory when a mother gets too tired to carry both her baby and the ivory, the herdsman replied, “She does! We cannot leave valuable ivory on the road. We spear the child and make her burden lighter.”
After Muhammad’s companions overthrew the Christians in Egypt shortly after his death, they began demanding slaves from the Nubians to the south. For over 600 years, the black African kingdom was forced to send a tribute of slaves to Cairo on a regular basis.
Although the Qur’an does not distinguish between races, there is a strong legacy of racism against people of African descent in early Islam.
According to the Quran itself, blackness is a product of being too close to where the sun sets and rises (Muhammad thought that the earth flat and the Africans lived along the edge). Islamic scholar Ibn Qutaybah described black people as “ugly and misshapen because they live in a hot country where the heat overcooks them in the womb and curls their hair.”
Again quoting from The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa, Dr. Azumah provides several examples of Islam’s early attitude toward blackness:
• The hadith in which an Ethiopian woman laments her racial inferiority to Muhammad, who consoles her by saying, “In Paradise, the whiteness of the Ethiopian will be seen over the stretch of a thousand years.”
• The Muslim Arab and Persian literature which depicts blacks as “stupid, untruthful, vicious, sexually unbridled, ugly and distorted, excessively merry and easily affected by music and drink.”
• Nasir al-Din Tusi, the famous Muslim scholar said of blacks: “The ape is more capable of being trained than the Negro.”
• Ibn Khaldun, an early Muslim thinker, writes that blacks are “only humans who are closer to dumb animals than to rational beings.” He also insisted that “the only people who accept slavery are the Negroes, owing to their low degree of humanity and proximity to the animal stage.” (In truth, over 500,000 Africans in Basra overthrew their Arab-Islamic masters in the largest slave uprising in history in what is known as the Zanj Rebellion).
• Classical Islamic law allows a light-skinned Muslim man to marry a black woman, but a black Muslim man is restricted from marrying a light-skinned woman. As the literature of the time put it, “only a whore prefers blacks; the good woman will welcome death rather than being touched by a black man.”
• Another hadith quotes Muhammad: “Do not bring black into your pedigree.”
• In Abu Dawud (2247-2255) Muhammad described a hypothetical black baby Hadith as a “dusky child with curly hair, fat limbs, fat shins and fat buttock.”
• Muhammad once told his people “Whoever wants to see Satan let him take a look at Nahtal b. al-Harith” He was a sturdy black man WIth long flowing hair, Inflamed eyes, and dark ruddy cheeks.(Ibn Ishaq 357)
• The famous Muslim historian, al-Mas’udi describes the African slaves as, “Kinky hair, thin eyebrows, broad noses, thick lips, sharp teeth, malodorous skin, dark pupils, clefty hands and feet, elongated penises and excessive merriment.” He goes on to add that the “the dark complexion person (al-aswad) is overwhelmed by merriment due to the imperfection (fasad) of his brain; therefore, his intellect is weak.” (Akbar Muhammad, Slaves and Slavery in Muslim Africa, vol. I, p 68)
In fact, the original Arabic word for slave, “Abd,” evolved into the the colloquial word for a black person after the establishment of Islam.
Muhammad owned and sold black slaves. In fact, the pulpit of his mosque, from which he preached Islam, was built by slave labor on his order.
Even Christianity’s harshest critics could hardly picture Jesus as a slave trader. Whereas the New Testament merely acknowledges slavery, the teachings of Islam offer explicit guidance in the details of the practice, thus endowing it with divine sanction.
The Quran encourages sex with slaves in several places, which explains the 2-1 ratio of female to male slaves taken from Africa by Muhammad’s descendants. The Muslims were more interested in the sexual servitude of black women than the Europeans, who exported Africans for labor.
As one might have guessed, the life of slaves in Muslim countries was quick and painful. There is a reason why one doesn’t find too many native blacks in Saudi Arabia or Iraq today. Enslaved men could not bear children because they were often castrated, and the unfortunate Africans as a group did not ultimately survive the brutal treatment.
Here’s a description of what Turkish Muslims did to their male “Negro” children in the relatively civilized late-1800’s:
Castrators of Negroes buy them and then sell them, after having mutilated them, on the Turkish market, that is if the victim does not succumb to the operation or to its consequences [90% do not survive the castration]. As to the methods used, they have remained as primitive as in the past. The child is spread out on the floor or a table, the sexual parts are tied at their base by a rope, and on these parts they operate with one vigorous movement of a razor, the wound is then dressed with some small shot [i.e., lead rifle shot?], with some astringent substances, boiling oil, or some warm honey. Once the bleeding stops, they fix a kind of lead nail two inches long, slightly curved and with a thickened end, in the urethra, until it is completely healed… Castrators sometimes use an even more barbaric method. Immediately after the removal of organs, they introduce into the urethra rather than a nail, a piece of reed protruding two inches, so that urinary functions are performed without interruption. Then a plaster is applied on the wound, and the patient is buried up to his neck in the warm and dry sand, while the assistants trample the ground around him. This maneuver reduces the mobility of the wounded one completely… after a week he is unearthed. (As quoted from Andrew Bostom)
By contrast, the 400,000 slaves brought to America over the course of 200 years evolved into the most prosperous group of African people on earth.
So ingrained is slavery in Islam that the religion’s holiest city, Mecca (site of the Haj pilgrimage), was a slave trading capital. Up until the 20th century, Mecca served as the gateway to the Muslim world for slaves brought out of Africa. Azumah notes:
“It became a custom for pilgrims to take slaves for sale in Mecca or buy one or two slaves while on Haj as souvenirs to be kept, sold or given as gifts.”
The last slaves were openly traded in Islam’s holiest city in 1960!
Arab enslavement of black Africans continues to this day in the Muslim world, particularly in the Sudan, Niger, and Mauritania.
Slavery would most certainly exist today in the same form that it did for more than a thousand years in the Arab world were it not for the Western Christian-based nations “imposing their values on Muslim lands” by putting an end to it. The horrific situation that we described of slaves in Zanzibar was forcibly suppressed by the Europeans.
There is not, and never has been, an abolition movement within Islam.
Unlike the West, the Muslim world has yet to offer an apology for slavery. The institution is ingrained in the Qur’an. To admit that it is a mistake would be to admit the fallibility of the Qur’an and bring its divine origin into question. Even today, Muslims act as if Islamic slavery was a favor done to the millions of unfortunate men, women and children who were forcibly uprooted from their native lands and sent to lives of sexual and menial servitude deep in the Islamic world.
Slavery was not entirely race-based in Islamic history (although it eventually became illegal to enslave an Arab). Hungary was pillaged of 3 million people over a 150 year period, and Muslim slave traders raided European coasts for well over 1000 years, killing, raping and taking slaves.
But, perhaps the most conspicuous example of overt racism in Islam is the genocide in present-day Sudan by the Arab-Islamic government and the refusal of Muslim organizations around the world to condemn it. Over two million black Africans have died from Arab aggression in the Christian south. And 200,000 more were killed by Arab militias over the last four years in Darfur. The Arabs are known for rampaging through villages and hacking black Africans to death in the name of Jihad while screaming things like, “Kill the slaves!”
Although the Darfurians are mostly Muslim as well, there is little to no attention placed on their plight by international Muslim organizations. Despite being repeatedly challenged on the issue, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), for example, has never bothered to condemn the Islamic Republic of Sudan for the Arab massacre of Africans.
Compare this to the outrage, sympathy and money that is poured out on the Palestinian people… who are Arab. Yet, the number of Palestinian civilians killed in their relentless conflict with Israel over the last 40 years is less than the average number of Africans killed by Islam each month.
Even in the earliest days, racism against blacks was a fringe part of Islam. At one time there was a law that mandated the death penalty for anyone suggesting that Muhammad was black. Perhaps it is for this reason that quite a few hadith mention the “whiteness of the prophet” – explicitly referring to his skin color.
Africa and African-Americans owe absolutely nothing to Islam, because it has done nothing good for them. It inspires slavery, but not abolition. It may not be the “White man’s religion,” but that certainly doesn’t make it the Black man’s.
Islam in Africa
The White Prophet with the Black Slaves (Video)
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