Arab Muslim Trafficking in African Slaves

The United States is the main focus of world opprobrium for its historical involvement in the enslavement of black Africans. However, neither the Americans nor the Europeans were the primary traders of black African slaves. Most slaves in Africa were either taken by Arab Muslims directly, or sold to the Arabs by the victors in African intertribal warfare. According to some sources, more than 140 million black African slaves may have been trafficked by the Arabs in the centuries since the founding of Islam. These slaves lived in brutal conditions, and the majority died in transit across Africa, Arabia, or the Indian Ocean. Only a tiny fraction crossed the Atlantic to end up in what is now the United States.

The Arab traffic in African slaves has not ended. Even though slavery is officially outlawed in all Muslim countries, the practice continues to this day.

Below is a concise and useful video summary of the history of the Arab slave trade:

Some of the text in this video was taken from In the Name of Allah:
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A comparison of the Islamic slave trade to the American slave trade reveals some interesting contrasts. While two out of every three slaves shipped across the Atlantic were men, the proportions were reversed in the Islamic slave trade. Two women for every man were enslaved by the Muslims.

While the mortality rate for slaves being transported across the Atlantic was as high as 10%, the percentage of slaves dying in transit in the Trans Sahara and East African slave trade was between 80 and 90%.

While almost all the slaves shipped across the Atlantic were for agricultural work, most of the slaves destined for the Muslim Middle East were for sexual exploitation as concubines, in harems, and for military service.

While many children were born to slaves in the Americas, and millions of their descendants are citizens in Brazil and the USA to this day, very few descendants of the slaves that ended up in the Middle East survive.

While most slaves who went to the Americas could marry and have families, most of the male slaves destined for the Middle East were castrated, and most of the children born to the women were killed at birth.

It is estimated that possibly as many as 11 million Africans were transported across the Atlantic (95% of which went to South and Central America, mainly to Portuguese, Spanish and French possessions. Only 5% of the slaves went to the United States).

African Slaves

However, at least 28 million Africans were enslaved in the Muslim Middle East. Since at least 80% of those captured by Muslim slave traders were calculated to have died before reaching the slave markets, it is believed that the death toll from 1400 years of Muslim slave raids into Africa could have been over 112 million. When added to the number of those sold in the slave markets, the total number of African victims of the Trans Saharan and East African slave trade could be significantly higher than 140 million people.

Hat tip: Steen.

12 thoughts on “Arab Muslim Trafficking in African Slaves

  1. How many of those that use the history of the slave trade to attack the UK & America will do the same to the countries of the middle east. Not many (read: none) as it doesn’t serve their purpose and, since very few descendants of slaves survive, they wont really care.

  2. Interesting stuff, but some of those figures seem a bit off…I mean, if 80-90% of African slaves destined for the Middle East died en route, how was it worthwhile?

    Just wondering, personally, I have no knowledge in this subject…

  3. if 80-90% of African slaves destined for the Middle East died en route, how was it worthwhile?

    There was only worth, and hardly any while..The slaves walked.
    If 80 or 90% died, they presumably weren’t fed
    The number of slaves who survived were a bonus..


    Larry Houle

    The owning of slaves and the raping of slaves are the Laws of God in the Koran. Islam institutionalized slavery. Muhammad began to take slaves after he moved to Medina, and had power. Muhammad owned 40 slaves. Slaves were usually taken in raids on nearby Arab tribes, or war, either through offensive or defensive actions. Slavery was central to the expansion of Islam. 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.

    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 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.


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

    a) Muslim men were allowed to have sex anytime with females slaves – Sura 4:3, 4:29, 33:49.

    b) Slaves are as helpless before their masters as idols are before God – Sura 16:77

    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.

    d) According to Islamic jurisprudence, slaves were merchandise. The sales of slaves was in accordance with the sale of animals.

    e) Muhammad ordered that some slaves who were freed by their master be RE-ENSLAVED!

    f) It is permissible under Islamic law to whip slaves.

    g) According to Islam, a Muslim could not be put to death for murdering a slave. Ref. 2:178 and the Jalalayn confirm this.

    h) According to Islam, the testimony of slaves is not admissible in court. Ibn Timiyya and Bukhari state this.

    i) According to Islamic jurisprudence, slaves cannot choose their own marriage mate. – Ibn Hazm, vol. 6, part 9.

    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.

  5. Don´t forget that islam is slavery.

    Islam means submission. Most islamists would claim that the only basis for making differences between people is the distinction between muslim and kafir(non-muslim). The truth however is, that you cannot have freedom in a culture that despises reflection and promotes submission.

    Islam itself IS slavery for god, but what god whants is left to the religious leaders to answer.

    What I am saying is that religion in general is a tool for power and the powers in office in the middle east (be they secular or religious) are not those of freedom and equality.

    My point is, that there is NO freedom in islam, a point on which every believing muslim would agree with me, and so the mindset of slavery becomes the natural consequence of islam.

  6. The national breast beating within the West is surreal considering the following countries (all linked by Islam) were still practicing it during the latter half of the 20th century.

    Slavery abolished:

    1952 Qatar
    1962 Saudi Araba
    1962 Yemen
    1963 United Arab Emirates
    1970 Oman
    1980 Mauritania – (An overwhelmingly Arab/Islamic country)

  7. Never before in the history of slavery has slavery, it is said, flourished as in our days.
    The offering of slaves today is almost unlimited. Was a US slave in today’s money value worth $40 000 in the middle of the 1800, the value today is $100 or less. Modern-day slaves can be found laboring as servants or concubines in Sudan, as child “carpet slaves” in India, or as cane-cutters in Haiti and southern Pakistan, to name but a *few* instances.
    According to Anti-Slavery International ( there are currently some 27 million people in bondage. UNICEF estimates that 200,000 children from West and Central Africa are sold into slavery each year. Many of these children are from Benin and Togo, and are sold into the domestic, agricultural, and sex industries of wealthier, neighboring countries such as Nigeria and Gabon.

    According to 1993 U.S. State Department estimates, up to 90,000 blacks are owned by North African Arabs, and often sold as property in a thriving slave trade for as little as $15 per human being. Animist tribes in southern Sudan are frequently invaded by Arab militias from the North, who kill the men and enslave women and children. The Arabs consider it a traditional right to enslave southerners, and to own chattel slaves (slaves owned as a personal property). Physical mutilation is practiced upon slaves not only to prevent escape, but to enforce the owners’ ideologies — if they refuse to become Muslims, their Achilles tendons are cut — threatened with this treatment most young slaves convert.
    Weapons, drugs and slaves are the commodities par preference today.

  8. Let’s also not forget the centuries of slave raids by Barbary slavers along the coast of Europe that saw the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Europeans in Muslim lands.

    Oh, we definitely need a post on that. I heard the number was in the millions. Several American merchantmen were captured along that coast in the late 1700s, and their crews and passengers were sold into slavery. That’s the whole reason we finally had to sail over there and take care of them in 1805(?)

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