Slavery and Jihad

The latest essay by Anestos Canelides examines the Islamic institution of chattel slavery, which accompanied the Great Jihad wherever it reached.

Arab slave market

Slavery and Jihad
by Anestos Canelides

Sura 48.20: …Allah promises you much booty (spoils of war) that you will capture from the defeated infidel.

                   — Legacy of Jihad, by Dr. Andrew Bostom, pg. 127

Slavery has been a curse upon human existence since the dawn of mankind. During modern times there has been a thin illusion that slavery has vanished from the world. The sad reality is that slavery does exist in our modern era, and while slavery is not unique to Islam, there has never been an abolition of slavery in the Islamic world as there has been in the Western nations.

In recent decades slaves were taken in southern Sudan by Muslims from the north. These captives were either Christians or animists taken during the civil unrest between southern Sudan and the Muslims in northern Sudan.

Is there a connection between jihad and slavery in the Muslim world? Most importantly, is slavery an major factor in Jihad?

The main focus of this essay will not be the dhimmi status of the conquered, but jihad and chattel slavery in the Muslim world.

Slave manaclesThere is a permanent link between jihad and slavery. It is a uniquely Islamic institution, and provides a good explanation for the persistence of slavery in Islam’s dominions and societies. This may applied to specialized forms of slavery such as the employment of eunuchs, slave soldiering, child slavery, and harem slavery. Jihad slavery has been a powerful tool for both expanding Islamization and the maintenance of Muslim societies.[1] It was a form of punishment for the infidels who were conquered, whether they were Christians, Jews, or idolaters.

Historian Spero Vyronis provides a description on how jihad slavery, as practiced by the Seljuk Turks and early Ottomans, was so important for the Islamization of conquered lands in the eleventh through fourteenth centuries.

A further contributing factor to the decline of the numbers of Christian inhabitants was slavery… Since the beginning of the Arab razzias in the lands of Rum (Roman), human booty had come to constitute a very important portion of the spoils. There is ample testimony in the contemporary accounts that this situation did not change when the Turks took over the direction of Jihad in Anatolia. They enslaved men, women and children from all major urban centers and from the countryside where the populations were defenseless. In the earlier years before the Turkish settlements permanently affected Anatolia, the captives were sent off to Persia and elsewhere but after the establishment of the Anatolian Turkish principalities, a portion of the enslaved were retained in Anatolia for the service of the conquerors.[2]

The reality is that entire regions were depopulated, due largely to enslavement, and in Anatolia (present-day Turkey) once fertile farmland reverted back to forest. The majority of the looting, pillaging and enslavement of Christians began after the first Seljuk invasion of the former Byzantine lands. The disastrous loss by the Romans at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 accelerated the Islamization of Roman lands. The Muslim Turkic tribes found the land similar to their homeland on the Eurasian steppes, so these nomads began migrating en masse into Roman territory.

They were not peaceful immigrants, and yes, it was a jihad against the Christian infidel. Many Christians were killed or enslaved in the process. The Byzantines (Romans) were not the only ones to have faced slavery by the Muslim invaders. The Islamic demand for a global caliph, stemming from the belief that Islam will dominate the world one day, has had an all too sad impact on the world. The Qur’an clearly says (Sura 4.75): “Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah and those who reject the faith fight in the cause of evil: So fight ye against the friends of Satan: feeble indeed is the cunning of Satan.”[3]

Another example, according to Dr. Andrew Bostom, author of The Legacy of Jihad, may be found under the Shah Abbas I (1588-1626 AD), when the Safavid Shiite theocracy of Iran expanded its earlier form of slave razzias into the Christian Georgian and Armenians regions. Many people were enslaved in these regions and forcibly converted to Shia Islam. The males were made to serve in the military, and the females were forced into harems.[4]

Islamic slavery was not unique to Christian nations, or even to Europe and Asia Minor, but also occurred in Africa. While all too many people today focus on slavery in the Americas, slavery within Africa was comparable to the western transatlantic slave trade to the Americas. Quantitative estimates for the transatlantic slave trade between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries reckon the numbers at about 10.5 million. This is more than matched by the number of slaves carried along the Islamic trade routes. It is estimated the Islamic trans-Saharan, Red Sea and Indian Ocean slave trade from 650 AD to 1905 AD was about 17 million. The terrible plight of the enslaved animists taken from the savannahs and forest regions of western and central Africa was at least comparable to the suffering faced by slaves of the transatlantic crossing.[5]

Most of the slaves captured by Muslims were females. Males who were not killed were generally fully castrated when taken captive, and those who survived the brutal maiming were used as eunuchs. Many of the females ended up in the harems, and their offspring were often murdered.

Greatest in comparison would be the extensive domain of slavery created by jihad. This would include all regions where Islam had conquered from the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia. Wherever the sword of Allah has arrived there has been conquest, forced conversion, death and slavery. According to Dr. Andrew Bostom in “Jihad conquests”: “The persistence of Islamic slavery is as impressive and unique as to its extent. Slavery was practiced in both Ottoman Turkiye and Shiite Iran.” Ehud Toledano points out that slavery was the core of Ottoman society until the demise of the Ottoman Empire in the second decade of the twentieth century. Slavery in fact continued to exist in most Muslims countries until recent times, and it was mainly due to the pressure from western powers it ended. Slavery was not abolished on the Arabian Peninsula until 1962, and persisted until 1970 in Yemen and Oman. Chad still permitted slavery in the 1990s.

Does it still exist? Yes, it is likely that the barbaric institution of slavery still exists in some Muslim enclaves. It is believed by some observers that slavery may still exist in Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia to this day.[6]

This institution will continue to exist in Orthodox Islam because it is an effort to free men from unbelief. According to Ralph Willis in Jihad and the Ideology of Enslavement, “If Jihad frees men from unbelief and deprives men of freedom, so also does the humiliation and subjection of enslavement serve to remove men from infidelity.” Jihad seeks to release the captives’ spirits from the bondage of their unbelief, but conversion does not prevent one from becoming enslaved. It brings death to the infidel, and in order to recapture their identity the slave must incarcerate his spirit in Islam. It is only through manumission that the process is sustained.[7]

In essence, a person is enslaved as punishment for their unbelief and forced to endure the hardship of slavery, even if they convert to Islam. For the kafir who embraces Islam, hijra points to the path of freedom; for the kafir who defies Islam, jihad is the path to bondage. This is the only path by which the controversy between belief and unbelief can be closed. “Again, for the slave from Dar al-Harb who flees Dar al-Islam, hijra is the sanctuary from the servile condition. Hence it brings life to the infidel: while it vanquishes the Kafir.[8] The fact is that you cannot separate Jihad from slavery, and it is a tool to force conversion on the unbeliever by making their life a living hell.

While slavery does not exist in most Muslim nations today, I remain unconvinced that with the growth of Islam as a world power it would not return. Unless Islam reforms itself, this institution will have a revival as Islam spreads and encounters resistance. Those who are in the house of war, or Dar al-Harb, could face the yoke of slavery or death.

I write both to the infidel, like myself, as well as to Muslims who are truly moderate and honestly believe in the plurality of all faiths. I can only hope that a dialogue amongst Muslims today will prevent the restoration of slavery in the Islamic world. I do not expect this to happen soon.

All forms of slavery should be condemned, whether Muslim or from another belief system. Bear in mind that there are many Muslims in the world who would be appalled at the idea that slavery might ever return. This essay is not descriptive of them, but only those who have no understanding of human rights.


1.   Bostom, Andrew. The legacy of Jihad: Jihad Conquest and the imposition of Dhimmitude — a Survey, Prometheus Books, page 86
2.   Ibid, page 87
3.   Ibid, page 1
4.   Ibid, page 88
5.   Ibid, page 9
6.   Ibid, page 92
7.   Willis, John. The legacy of Jihad: Jihad and the Ideology of Enslavement, Prometheus Books, page 343
8.   Ibid, page 347

Previous posts by Anestos Canelides:

2010   May   29   The Last Empire
    Jun   18   The Muslim Devastation of India
    Aug   20   Are They Lying to Us?
    Sep   28   Devshirme: A Muslim Scourge on Christians
    Oct   6   AIFD: Friends of America and Freedom
    Dec   3   A 19th-Century Jihad on American Shipping
2011   May   29   Borders, Language and Culture
    Oct   18   The Jihad Against Dogs

10 thoughts on “Slavery and Jihad

  1. “While slavery does not exist in most Muslim nations today, I remain unconvinced that with the growth of Islam as a world power it would not return.”

    Again, a premise disguised as a conclusion.

    When Muslims ‘marry’ six year old girls to elderly husbands, Islam is enslaving those girls to child molestation – and a lifetime of rape. Girls and women allowed to be beaten by husbands, in-laws, and ‘morals’ police at will….

    When Muslims condone ‘temporary’ marriages of girls to tourists from wealthy Muslim states, Islam is enslaving those girls into forced child prostitution – and a lifetime of rape.

    When Muslims ‘hire’ young female domestic help whose passports are confiscated, who are NOT actually paid for their work, who suffer molestation, rape, beatings, and even starvation – all with Islamic impunity, Islam is enslaving those girls to a lifetime of suffering.

    When Muslim men kidnap Christian and Hindu girls and force them to convert to Islam and ‘marry’ Muslim men, Islam is enslaving those girls after violent rapes followed by a lifetime of fear and suffering.

    When Muslims kidnap pretty blond Western children and fly them to Saudi Arabia on private planes, slavery exists for those young people with all that it entails under Islam. If Eastern European girls are forced to work as sex slaves in Western Europe, is it equally plausible that some young Western girls are shipped to Saudi Arabia? That is the oft-whispered rumor….

    Slavery exists where it can in the Muslim world. Where Muslims have the most power, Muslims institute slavery.

  2. Conquering Muslims DISPLACE and DISORIENT native populations by killing the men and sending the women and children deep into Muslim territory without means to understand the language or escape their sadistic sexual slavery. Thus, slaves are forced to become Muslim and perpetuate the Islamic system where ALL people are slaves of Allah (Satan!). Conversion does NOT equal freedom – with the captured people kept in chattel slavery despite conversion.

    There is an excellent book entitled
    White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and Islam’s One Million White Slaves
    that explains how Moroccan Muslims enslaved ONE MILLION white people in the not-so-distant past. The Moroccan Muslims would sail up European coasts, wait for Sunday mass, encircle European churches, capture and enslave entire towns, and send the non-Muslim slaves back to Muslim Morocco – never to be seen or heard from again.

    Also, the Moroccan Muslims would capture Europeans ships in order to enslave their skilled labor – a human resource that Muslims ALWAYS lack due to the Islamic ideology emphasizing mental slavery versus advanced education.

    Have the Moroccans changed since the Moroccans enslaved entire white towns?! My young liberal cousin who has visited Morocco (and thus claims to know more than I do!) defends Moroccans as nice modern Muslims who would never, well, you know, violently rape and murder non-Muslims. Hmmm.

    BUT, here’s what happened in WWII when nice modern Moroccans were employed to ‘liberate’ the naive non-Muslims of Montecassino, Italy: “Montecassino 1944, Moroccans run amok”, drawn from the Italian journal Millenovecento, number 14, December of 2003, by Tommaso Baris.

    Just another thing to thank the French for….

    Oh well, I guess that the French will see for themselves soon….

  3. To Egghead:

    “Slavery exists where it can in the Muslim world. Where Muslims have the most power, Muslims institute slavery.”

    I hate to say it, but this is a premise, not a conclusion.

    Giving a series of examples does not constitute an argument.

    As long as you want to play this game, you are also subject to the rules.

  4. RonaldB: I vehemently disagree.

    Among them, the Koran, Hadith, and Sira state and support that ALL Muslims are slaves of Allah.

    Among them, the Koran, Hadith, and Sira state and support that ALL people are born as Muslims – and must revert back to that status.

    The entire premise of Islam from its founding to its foundational documents to its theoretical and real world Muslim implementation is instituting slavery to Allah (Satan!) via Arab international law called Sharia Law.

  5. I recall watching a documentary in the mid 90s on the topic of slavery in North and Sub-saharan Africa. It was all very sad and humanitarian, with campaigners buying slaves from massive slave markets to restore their freedom and the happy freed captives returning home at the end of the documentary. No mention of why they were slaves, or who had done it.

    Of course, being north African, you can be sure they were islamic.

    Slavery is officially outlawed in the countries the documentary visited but is widespread even so. There’s no need to talk about some future re-instatement of slavery in Islamic lands. They’ve never given it up.

  6. If you like historical documents, I’ve gathered here lists of European slaves bought back in north Africa by anti-slavery catholic orders from muslim owners. Most of these lists bear the names, ages, duration of slavery and origins of each person. Sometimes the price is also indicated. The anti slavery orders like the Trinitarians were founded at the end of the 12th century. The last list of slaves is from 1785. Note that the symbol of the Trinitarians (created in 1210) represents the Christ liberating two slaves, a white one and a black one.

  7. The Iranian jurist Sultan Tabandeh wrote in the 1960s in his A Muslim Commentary on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that under islamic law, slavery is a genuine legal condition (he basically says that slavery does not exist in the muslim world contemporaneously because slavery is not currently fashionable – but it is clear that for muslims there is nothing morally or legally wrong with slavery).

    The question is one of de jure versus de facto. Even if there were no slaves currently in the muslim world (Sudan and Mauritania would indicate there currently are slaves of muslims – the right-wing peer Baroness Cox has been buying Christian slaves of muslims in Sudan in the first decade of the 21st century, in order to free them: Other living freed black slaves of muslim masters are currently touring American schools talking about the modern-day reality of islamic slaving.

    The history of islam in Africa (see Segal Islam’s Black Slaves), the history of islam in Europe (see Milton White Gold, Fregosi Jihad) and the history of islam in Asia (see Durant Story of Civilisation, vol.1, see M.A.Khan Islamic Jihad) all show that there has been slavery wherever islam has gone.

    Furthermore, The Reliance of the Traveller a medieval book of sharia law translated into English in the 1990s, has the approval of Al Azhar University (the highest authority on islam in the world). The English Translation of The Reliance deliberately omits the sections on the legality of slavery. However, there is another version of the book (found in PDF format) which contains the parallel arabic text – in that version the legality of slavery is discussed – Clearly those muslims who read arabic have access to a view of islam where slavery is indeed legal. That should be borne in mind in all debates about the institution of sharia law. Muslims and their dhimmi servants present a sanitised version of islam to the west – one where slavery is seen as a thing of the past (if it is mentioned at all).

    When the western world attempted to destroy the slave-trade in the 19th century, the muslims just increased the number of slaves they took. According to Segal, more black africans were enslaved by muslims in the 19th century than in the preceding 10 centuries combined. If it had not been for the pressure from the christian west, muslims would never have given up the slave-trade. If the world had become dominated by islam by now, we would be living as muslims, as dhimmis, or as slaves. Indeed, I think that will research will show that the 16th century rise of the european trade in black slaves was a consequence of the contamination of Portugal and Spain by the preceding hundreds of years of islamisation. The evils enshrined in islam are corrupting – when peoples see islam succeed through slavery, fascist totalitarianism and cruelty, then it is almost impossible for those values not to seem attractive (pragmatically speaking, they appear to confer success).

    That currently most muslim countries do not legalise slavery is an anomaly. It is clear from the foundational texts of islam, from the currently fashionable medieval books on sharia law, from the history of islamic societies across three continents, and from the shameless opinions of modern, learned islamic jurists that under islamic law slavery is legal – it is just not currently fashionable. But fashions change. And the most pervasive pro-slavery ideology in the world is islam.

    Do you really think that when the oil runs out that there will not be a re-introduction of slavery? Are the rich and powerful really going to go back to riding bicycles, washing their clothes by hand, etc.? All the massive construction projects we see being built every year would only be possible with slaves, in an economy that was not fuelled by the energy from oil.

  8. Oh, and as for the precedent of slavery, well, please let us remember that The Holy Bible describes that the slavery of entire peoples has existed in the Middle East for a very long time – slavery perpetrated by Middle Easterners (Egyptians) upon Jews (the original dhimmis).

    Now that the Muslim Brotherhood rules Egypt, do you think that Muslims would hesitate for an instant to murder all Israeli men and capture all Israeli women?

    AND, what would the Muslims in the Egyptian Brotherhood DO with the captured Israeli women? Devout Muslims would forcibly convert the Israeli women to Islam and then 1) prostitute them as sex slaves in harems or temporary marriages, or 2) ‘marry’ them into polygamous marriages as wives with little power in houses where the other wives have local Muslim relatives with the Muslims being willing to beat the Israeli women senseless if they rebel. And, where would Israeli women run to in order to escape slavery when the entire Middle East is composed of devout Muslim countries?

    In recent current events, Egyptian Muslims have kidnapped Copt girls and women, forced them to convert to Islam, and ‘married’ them (just like the Pakistani Muslims have done with Indian Hindu girls in border towns) – just to see if the world cares – and the free people of the world have just shrugged their collective shoulders and continued playing their ipods….

    And, what would the Muslims in the Egyptian Brotherhood DO with the captured Israeli children? Well, adoption is NOT a Muslim option, so the Muslims would ‘marry’ all of the girls who are older than six years in memory of Mohammed – and the Muslims would place the boys in Dancing Boy harems because man-boy pedophilia is the official Mohammed-sanctioned societally accepted outlet for Muslim homosexuality. Sad but true.

  9. I noted that in this age and time(twenty first century), those middle eastern and asian employers of various faiths or nonfaith in Asia and Middle East still have the most tendencies to treat their workers like slaves, ie, work upaid extra hours or unpaid or lowly paid extremely long hours or have their maids worked day and night, stucked in the homes that they worked as domestic maids but treated like slaves with almost no freedom and no rights(to marry, to socialise, no time off, etc) for up to two years or more at a time, depending on their slave like contract. It is very prevalent in predominantly islamic influenced countries and in asian or nonislamic region that have not reform yet. Therefore I was thinking perhaps it is the islamic ideology of slavery(that still stucked in their own backwardness), or the backward eastern culture of various faith or nonfaith that still cling to slavery in certain Asia and Middle Eastern region, that is to be blamed? It is time they stop being so unreasonably extremely exploitive, stop importing workers from other countries and stop treating poorer people like slaves. Another fact is, asian people of other faiths such as buddhist, hindus and christians also treated their workers like slaves in certain part of asia but they managed to get away with it because their predominantly islamic government or their subservient asian culture did not put a stop to it, even when they are fully aware of it or part of it.


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