The African Slave Trade: The Islamic Connection

This essay was published originally in the New English Review, September, 2016.

As many of our readers know, Gates of Vienna finds Emmet Scott’s research into the history of Islam’s darker corners, largely unexamined by Western scholars, to be a sorely-needed remedy for the current obfuscation of authentic Islamic history. Thus, faux-“movements” such as #BlackLivesMatter, funded by Soros or those like him, sadly cheat African Americans of the full story regarding Islam’s brutal treatment of Africans. Just like the slavery that preceded it, BLM cheats people of a reality based on factual information, trading it for the easy answer of deep resentment fueled by misinformation.

Emmet Scott’s essay appears here in its entirety, including his choice of image.

The African Slave Trade: The Islamic Connection

by Emmet Scott

In The Impact of Islam (2014) I showed that whilst slavery as an institution had been abolished in Christian Europe by the tenth century, it was revived in later centuries first and foremost by contact with the Islamic world. As might be expected, it was that region of Europe in nearest proximity to the Dar al-Islam, namely the Iberian Peninsula, that first adopted the Islamic custom of slave-raiding and slave-keeping. In the Iberian Peninsula Christendom had shared a land border with Islam for many centuries, and it was precisely there that Christian kings and princes, from the eleventh century onwards, began to adopt such characteristically Islamic customs as polygamy, the keeping of harems, and the guarding of those harems with slave eunuchs.

By the late fourteenth century Portuguese and Spanish sailors had begun exploring the coasts of West Africa, with a view to finding a route to the Indies by circumnavigating the continent. This was known to be possible because just such an expedition, described in the pages of Herodotus, had been accomplished during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Necho. A direct route to the Indies would open up the possibility of a lucrative trade in spices without the need to traverse the Muslim lands of the Middle East.

By the middle of the fifteenth century Portuguese caravels had pushed south of the Saharan coast and established a trading post at Arguin in modern Mauretania. Slaves were among the first commodities purchased by the Europeans, but it should be remembered that the latter were only now participating in a commerce that had been pursued by the Arabs of North Africa for centuries. Indeed, throughout the Middle Ages Christian Spaniards and Portuguese had become familiar with the sight of black slaves in the possession of the Muslim inhabitants of Andalusia (Islamic southern Spain) and Morocco, and there is absolutely no question that in procuring African slaves the Christians were merely imitating the example of their Muslim neighbours. This is not to make excuses for the Christians, but it is something that needs to be said, for it is a fact that is routinely ignored in academic and popular publications.

Many of the slaves obtained by the Portuguese were taken to Madeira, where they worked in sugar-cane plantations. Others, however, and this is a fact usually hidden from readers, were sold in Morocco and Algeria. The Spanish and Portuguese merchants quickly discovered that a very handsome profit could be made in selling black slaves to the Muslims, for the sea-route was far speedier and therefore cheaper than the trans-Saharan routes by which the slaves had hitherto been conveyed north.

After the discovery of the Americas in the late fifteenth century the African slave trade became extremely important for Europeans, with the English, Dutch and French joining the Portuguese and Spaniards in transporting many thousands of Africans across the ocean every year. Altogether, an estimated 12.3 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic in the four and a half centuries between the end of the fifteenth century and the middle of the nineteenth. Of these, about 10.4 million survived the crossing and were put to work mainly in plantations, though some were also employed in mines and factories. African slaves were usually permitted to marry and their descendants now form an important element in the populations of North, South and Central America.

European slavers preferred young males who were best suited to heavy work in the fields, and in this regard European slave-trading was very different from its Muslim counterpart. Although the Muslims also traded in healthy young males, who were often put to work in mines and on ships as galley-slaves, the great majority of Africans taken by the Muslims were young women and girls as well as young boys. The women and girls were destined for the harems either as concubines (sex slaves essentially) or as harem attendants, whilst the young boys were normally made into eunuchs and expected to perform the various functions expected of this class of person. The “operation” by which youths were made into eunuchs was barbarous in the extreme and it is estimated that at least 60% of the victims died of blood loss or shock.

The Islamic world began taking slaves from Africa shortly after Islam’s founding, in the seventh century, and slaves continued to be procured there until the second half of the twentieth century. It was still perfectly legal to buy another human being in Saudi Arabia until 1963, when slavery was abolished (officially at least) after intense Western pressure. It is of course impossible to say precisely how many Africans were enslaved by Muslims during these centuries, since few accurate records are available, and those that are only cover short periods and specific areas. There were several major routes by which slaves were conducted north from the African interior: One ran north from the Niger region across the Sahara to Marrakesh; another ran through the middle of the Sahara to modern Algeria and Tunisia; yet another ran from the southern Sudan region up the Nile Valley towards Egypt; and one more ran from the Great Lakes region of central Africa north through Somalia towards Arabia. A final and extremely important slaving route ran from the coastal regions of East Africa and centered on the port of Zanzibar. From here thousands of slaves were shipped north towards Arabia and Turkey.

Estimates of the numbers involved in this traffic vary wildly; the most conservative being around 10 million and the highest around 100 million. The truth is probably somewhere in between. However, irrespective of the precise numbers, one fact is striking, and strikingly in contrast with the situation in the Americas: The millions of Africans brought into the Islamic Middle East and North Africa since the seventh century left almost no genetic trace in the present-day populations of those regions. In the case of male slaves this is easily explained: virtually no African male was permitted to reproduce. The majority of such slaves taken were young boys and these were invariably castrated. The adult males who did not suffer this fate were consigned to a life of perpetual backbreaking labour as galley slaves or miners, without the comfort of female company. The situation with female slaves however was very different: virtually all of these were employed as house-maids and concubines, and the great majority would at some stage have had children, or at least become pregnant. What happened to these children is one of the darkest secrets of Islamic history. Taking everything into account, there can be no doubt that great numbers of them were killed by their fathers, since no other explanation is forthcoming. It is a curious fact that a topic as explosive as this has been very sparsely investigated by academics and journalists, though the following excerpt from the New York Daily Times of 1856 shows it to be a subject periodically noted by Western observers over the centuries. “In Constantinople it is evident that there is a very large number of negresses living and having habitual intercourse with their Turkish masters – yet it is a rare thing to see a mulatto [someone of mixed Negro-Caucasian race]. What becomes of the progeny of such intercourse? I have no hesitation in saying that it is got rid of by infanticide, and that there is hardly a family in Stanboul where infanticide is not practiced in such cases as a mere matter of course, and without the least remorse or dread.” (“Horrible Traffic in Circassian Women – Infanticide in Turkey” New York Daily Times, August 6, 1856, p. 6)

Other reports from the nineteenth century speak of middle-aged and elderly African women, half-mad with grief and despair, roaming the streets of Constantinople begging for bread after being ejected by their Turkish owners. The same type of scene was repeated in cities throughout the Muslim world over the centuries, and illustrates the virulent racism was historically part and parcel of the Muslim and Arab mentality.

In highlighting these facts I do not seek to demonize a people or a civilization, I merely seek to redress the imbalance. For over half a century now Islamic history has been thoroughly sanitized in mainstream academic publications. Take for example, as typical of the genre, the following comment of Bernard Lewis, the doyen of Middle Eastern history at Princeton for several decades. “Islam, in contrast to ancient Rome and the modern colonial systems, accords the slave a certain legal status and assigns obligations as well as rights to the slaveowner. He is enjoined to treat his slave humanely and can be compelled by a qadi to sell or even manumit his slave if he fails in this duty. It is not, however, required, and the institution of slavery is not only recognized but elaborately regulated by Islamic law. Perhaps for this very reason the position of the slave in Muslim society was incomparably better than in either classical antiquity or nineteenth-century North and South America.” (What Went Wrong, p. 85)

It is true that since writing these words, and in the wake of 9/11, Professor Lewis has somewhat modified his rose-tinted view of Islamic culture. Nonetheless, tutored on such ideas, a whole new generation of academics has arisen to continue the process of sanitization, to the great detriment of the truth and Western civilization.

Emmet Scott is the author of Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy, and The Impact of Islam, both published by New English Review Press.

Previous posts by Emmet Scott:

2016   Jul   13   The Myth of the Primeval Matriarchy
    Aug   1   The Sunni-Shia Divide and Islam’s Puzzling Origins
    Sep   16   The Decline and Fall of the Catholic West

24 thoughts on “The African Slave Trade: The Islamic Connection

  1. Good article on Islam and slavery. One point I would make is that of the 10.5 million slaves brought to the Western hemisphere, only about 500,000 came to America. It is a point worth noting because all of black America and the academia bleat about constantly is the slavery issue in America. This needs to be put behind us as it is just a small part of the universe of slavery in the world.

    • Good point. In addition, the comparatively small number of Africans imported into North America entered a land populated by a much greater number of whites. There were consequences to that fact.

      The dominant culture in North America was European, Christian, and Anglo-Saxon. That scenario had a more civilizing effect on the Africans than those taken to lands where the former culture was either absent or in small numbers. The civilizing effect may have been exerted on the Africans in two directions. First, the Africans were dominated by shear force of numbers of the Europeans and were forced to adopt certain behaviors that were acceptable to the larger population. Second, the Africans willingly adopted a lot of the culture of the Europeans in an effort possibly to elevate themselves and to emulate the richer and more sophisticated culture. Examples include marriages, the formation of nuclear families, learning to read and write, the adoption of Christianity, and the discarding of much of the old customs. In other words, Africans in North America experienced more assimilation into Christian European culture than those outside of America.

    • If African Americans are so conscious and proud of their African “roots” they could stop bleating about white privilege
      And return to the mother country and help drag it into the
      21st century!

      Also BHO could stop referring to himself as the 1st African American President as he is mixed race, his mother being caucasian, or doesn’t white blood count anymore?

      • Actually, there are plenty of Africans in Africa that are constantly bleating about so-called “white privilege”

        • But rely totally on ‘white privilege’ technology whenever and wherever something goes wrong, or when the wells run dry…

  2. Thanks, I knew very little about that. One thing I do know is that the man who is primarily credited with eviscerating the inland African slave trade was–you’re going to like this–Leopold II of Belgium. The tyrant of the Congo used his cleanup of the Islamic slave trade as a justification for getting involved in Central Africa.

  3. Looking at the dynamic, the massive deportation and sterilization of Africans seems to have served as a system: explosive birth rates of Africans controlled by disease, starvation and deportations.

    African women seem to be programmed for large birth rates. If this is true, their birth rates will not follow the general pattern of drastically declining with prosperity. The population overflow is serving as fodder for the destruction of European civilization by the European leaders. But, the genetically-induced systematic overpopulation is not going to go away simply by overrunning the not-so-large European land mass.

    The efforts of European governments and agencies so far have been to simply feed the population explosion, considering it “racist” to talk about limiting populations through anything other than completely voluntary birth control measures. An example of this sort of thinking is the Clinton Global Health Initiative, which focuses on distributing AIDS medicine, rather than effective prevention.

    Slavery entailed a drastic solution to overpopulation, at the cost of huge individual suffering on the parts of the slaves, but serving to maintain an African population equilibrium. I believe that science can be employed to alleviate the individual suffering, maintain a functional equilibrium, and maintain or raise the genetic quality of all the populations involved: but only if all truths can be spoken and discussed.

    • RonaldB-

      According to the powers that be/leftist mindset, it is only ‘racist’ to prescribe birth control as a solution for non-white populations.

      • Re African birthrates, Princess Gloria ‘T&T’ got it dead right–and predictably was vilified for it!

  4. First, I must congratulate the author of this piece for some very interesting, informative, and well written. Thank you for writing this, there is something for everyone. I happen to know something about Andualusian history as I wrote my dissertation about it. Everything appears to be accurate. And one should note the very late date for the (official) end of slavery in Saudi Arabia) – 1963.

    Secondly, the words “slave” and “slavery” come from the word Slav, or people of the Slavic part of Europe. This cannot be repeated too often – as so few people know it. The Turks (mostly, but other Muslims were involved), use to capture “Slavs” and make them slaves. So not all slaves are black by the way, in fact I myself have met a white slave, in America – a place where there is officially no slavery. And I have talked to two American slave owners in the last few years. so slavery is alive in America.

    • Slav/s comes from slava which means glory or celebration.

      Miroslav = Mir = Peace
      Borislav = Bor = Fight/Battle etc
      Vladislav = Vlada = Govern/ to rule


      Nobody in their right mind would name their child ‘Peaceslave’ by putting slave as suffix in their name. The only reason why those two words have a connection is because people are trying to conquer another people. Physically if possible, if not, you try to bend and change the meaning of their language. By doing so, you destroy their culture and identity. Passevily absorbing them. Best and most obvious case for everyone to see is the ‘amerikanization’ of the planet.

      • I dunno if you are of Slavic origin but that explanation is very poor. “Slav” in those names means “to celebrate”, but the name of the people derives from a different meaning.
        So “Miroslav” is someone who “celebrates peace”, “Borislav” is someone who either “celebrates battles” or is “celebrated for battles”, similarily “Vladislav” is someone who either “celebrates the rule” or is “celebrated for his rule”.
        Slavs call themselves “Slovani” (or similar forms depending on the language) and this name has nothing to do with “glory” (this is a very old and already proven-wrong theory), it probably derives from old indo-european languages and has to do with water (because Slavs mostly lived near big bodies of water, were capable swimmers and could even dive – an unusual skill for that period). And the word for “slave” is completely different sounding in our languages too (“otrok”, “niewolnictwo”, …).
        On the contrary the etymology of the word “slave” is based on the late latin word for Slavs – “Sclavus”, exactly because Slavic nations were often subjects to slavery during the Middle Ages.

        • The same goes for “Serb” / “servant” if I recall correctly, Serbia being a handy nearby region to take slaves.

          • I did a quick research on this and indeed it seems “servant” or “to serve” has the same etymological root as “Serbia”, which is a proto-indo-european word “ser-wo”, which means “guardian”. In a sense I find this quite intriguing too, because Serbia, together with Romania and Bulgaria, was always Europe’s shield (so basically a guardian) against the Ottomans (and was never treated really well in return, Kosovo is probably the most painful example for them).

  5. “In highlighting these facts I do not seek to demonize a people or a civilization…” Why not? They are a people who should be demonised for their complete lack of civilisation.

    Many aspects of Islamic slavery are covered in Dario Fernandez-Morera’s excellent work The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise which I seem to recall purchasing via a link on GoV.

  6. Slavery, or the taking of another into bondage, especially to sell the person is enjoined as a Capital offense in Exodus 21:16. Africa was raped by the Muslims from the 7th Century onwards. The British fought the last bastion of this slave trade in 1873 in Khartoum. A ship manned by slavers sought to sell their slaves to the Puritans in 1621. The slaves were freed and the ship’s crew were hung at the gibbet in obedience to Ex 21:16 according to the histories of the Puritan’s Massachusetts Bay Colony. On his second attempt, Thomas Jefferson’s bill outlawing slavery in the Virginia Colony was enacted by an almost unanimous vote in 1765. However, George III vetoed the bill and demanded that the colonists accept and put to work all the negroes that were sent to the colonies. Cotton was big business and the English textile mills needed to remain busy as that cash cow was repaying the monies owed from the French & Indian Wars.
    In short, slavery was forced upon this country by royal decree and 20 years later had become a mainstay of the economy. In another 80 years this country would be picking up the pieces and welcoming immigrants so as to make up for the lives that had been lost during the Civil War but not once was the Negro ever fully enfranchised. We have been reaping the fruit of that for the past 50+ years. I grew up with Watts and had my nice 50s world shattered completely. Given all the damage that has been done, anyone who is found engaging in slavery should be taken out and shot like the dog that they are.

    • Thanks for a fantastic history. I didn’t know that Jefferson tried to outlaw slavery or that the Puritans hung the crew of a slave ship. A few links would be nice if you have them available.

      I wouldn’t go so far as to blame the condition of black ghettos on disenfranchisement. The blacks had the vote in northern cities, and the ghettos in the north are as dangerous and depressed as the ones in the south. We are indeed reaping the fruit of slavery, but apparently that is part of the British monarchy’s gift to us.

      As a historical factoid in which you might be interested, the one person who brilliantly but futilely told Jefferson Davis that if he attacked Fort Sumter, he would destroy the Confederacy was Robert Toombs. Toombs was an ardent Secessionist, and an ardent pro-slavery advocate. He advocated the legalization of slave shipments from Africa, which were illegal, even in the South. That, of course, would have compounded the later problem with blacks in the US exponentially.

      What really devastated the black community, north or south, was not not disenfranchisement, but the provision of automatic welfare for single mothers and unemployed but able-bodied males. This exploded the illegitimacy rate, which is a huge predictor of criminal behavior.

  7. Resources online avail the curious to images of the newspapers printed and circulated in New York from that period. For instance, see The New York Reformer dated August 21, 1856, Page 6, Image 6 (Watertown, NY 1850-1867)

    Horrible Traffic Circassian Women — Infanticide in Turkey
    * From the Correspondence of the London Post.

    There has been lately an unusually large number of Circassians going about the streets of Constantinople. Many of them no doubt belonged to the deputation which came to petition the Porte that their country might be taken under the suzerainty of the Sultan. A considerable portion , however, of the Circassians now in the capital have quite another mission than a political one to fulfill. They are here as slave dealers, charged with the disposal of the numerous parcels of Circassian girls that have been for some time pouring into this market. Perceiving that when the Russians shall have reoccupied the coast of the Caucasus, this traffic in white slaves will be over, the Caucasus dealers have redoubled their efforts ever since the commencement of the peace conferences to introduce into Turkey the greatest possible number of women while the opportunity of doing so lasted. They have been so successful, notwithstanding the prohibition of the trade by the Port and the presence of so many of Her Majesty’s ships in the Black Sea, that never, perhaps, at any former period, was white human flesh so cheap as it is at this moment. There is an absolute glut in the market, and dealers are obliged to throw away their goods, owing to the extent of the supply, which in many instances has been brought by steam under the British flag. In former times a “good middling” Circassian girl was thought very cheap at £100, but at the present moment the same description of goods may be had for £5! In fact, the creatures are eating their heads off, and must be disposed of at any sacrifice, however alarming.
    Independently of all political, humane and Christian obligations to this abominable state of things, there are several practical ones which have even forced themselves on the attention of the Turks. With low prices a low class of customers come into the market. Formerly a Circassian slave girl was pretty sure of being bought into a good family, where not only good treatment but often rank and fortune awaited her; but at the present low rates she may be taken by any huxter who never thought of keeping a slave before. Another evil is, that the temptation to possess a Circassian girl at such low prices is so great in the minds of the Turks that many who cannot afford to keep several slaves have been sending their blacks to market, in order to make room for a newly purchased white girl. The consequences are that numbers of black women, after being as many as eight or ten years in the same hands, have lately been consigned to the broker for disposal. Not a few of those wretched creatures are in a state quite unfit for being sold. I have it on the authority of a respectable slave-broker that at the present moment there have been thrown on the market unusually large numbers of negresses encient [Spanish for ancient] some of them even slaves of pashas and men of rank. He finds them so unsaleable that he has been obliged to decline receiving any more. A single observation will explain the reason of this, which might appear strange when compared with the value that is attached to an unborn black baby in some slave countries. In Constantinople it is evident that there is a very large number of negresses living en famille [French ‘in family’] with their masters —yet it is a rare thing to see a mulatto.
    What becomes of the progeny of such relations? I have no hesitation in saying that it is got rid of by infanticide, and that there is hardly a family in Stamboul where infanticide is not practiced in such cases as a mere matter of course, and without the least remorse or dread.

  8. Here is an article from 1845 which describes the life of some of the slaves under Turkish rule:
    Long Island farmer, and Queens County advertiser December 02, 1845, Page 2, Image 2
    About Long Island farmer, and Queens County advertiser. (Jamaica [N.Y.]) 1826-1862

    This beautiful palace, is situated, on the Bosphorus, a strait leading from the sea of Marmora to the Black Sea, and within the precincts of the city of Constantinople. In the engraving, only the buildings near the water are seen; the grounds the gardens, the dwellings are said to be splendid, beyond anything in any other part of Europe.
    SERAGLIO. — The female establishment of the sultan is of a peculiar character, consisting of as many woman as his fancy dictates. They are all slaves, generally Circassians or Georgians, and strictly confined to the imperial harem of seraglio [the women’s apartments (harem) in an Ottoman palace]. No free born Turkish woman can be admitted as an odalic or concubine to the sultan. They are attended by female slaves, and guarded by black eunuchs, purchased and brought from the east of Africa where a profitable business is carried on of fitting children for this purpose. The principal eunuch of the seraglio is called the Aga, and is a person of considerable consequence. When the women are to be transferred from the seraglio of the city to their summer residence on the Bosphorus, it is done at break of day, passing from the gardens to the boats between two screens, while a guard of eunuchs precede and warn every person to keep at a distance, on pain of death. Each boat has a closely covered cabin-in which the woman are placed, and the eunuchs guard the entrance and keep the boatmen at a distance. From this collection of concubines the sultan chooses seven wives. The Koran in terms allows him but four, by a liberal construction, however, of this article any number short of double the one specified, is taken to be within its provision. — These wives are called cadins, and each has a splendid apartment, and numerous attendants.— She who first present a male heir, is, by way of eminence, called the sultana; and having thus proved her fidelity to the sultan, as he supposes, is allowed to appear without a veil.
    The women of the harem are not absolutely denied a physician, but when allowed one, he must not see their faces; they must be on a bed covered with a thick counterpane, and their pulse felt through a gauze covering. The lives of the ladies of the imperial harem are a monotonous round of dressing, bathing, walking in the gardens, and attending voluptuous dances. Being prohibited from all opportunity of attracting the attention of the other sex, this is found to be a dull and irksome task.
    PRIVATE HAREMS — The harems of the sultans are imitated by the grandees, the great officers of state, and all whose wealth will admit of it, in a greater or less degree, according to their circumstances. The higher the grade of the master, the more numerous, and the more strictly watched are his female slaves. Marriage, or the exclusive connection of one man with one woman as understood by the rest of Europe, has no place in Turkey. Domestic Society and social intercourse, in which women take a part are unknown. The strictness with which they are guarded, shows that chastity, as a principle or virtue, does not exist.
    PRINCES OF THE BLOOD.— The princes, or sons of the sultan, are usually brought up in confinement, with the eunuchs and concubines of the harem. Each is required to learn some mechanic art, but never acquire a knowledge which would fit them to rule. On the death of the sultan, they have nothing before them but the throne or a violent death. The daughters have the title of sultana, and while in the cradle, are married to viziers, pashas, or other great officers; their male posterity, by a law of the empire, are condemned to death, lest among them there should rise up a competitor for the throne.
    The seraglio, or sultan’s summer palace, stands on a point of land projecting into the sea from Constantinople; it s walls embrace a circuit of nine miles, including mosques, spacious gardens and buildings capable of accommodating 20,000 persons. The sultan is served by pages, who are generally Asiatics of humble origin. They are divided into four chambers or classes, according to their respective employments.
    The mutes of the seraglio, persons deprived of their speech to prevent their revealing secrets, are about forty in number. They were formerly employed to perform all capital executions with the bow string. These, with about the same number of dwarfs, form a body of court fools, kept for the purpose of footstools for the sultan to mount his horse.

  9. I recall reading that the muslim slave routes were well marked. You just followed the bones and skeletons.

  10. To date, many African countries are discouraging young women from seeking employment oppirtunity in the middle east.
    Women who are lucky to survive andbtell of horrific accounts of rape, and other forms of sexual abuse at the hands of their masters.
    Slave mentality especially against women , blacks or any other minorities seems to the core of Islamic culture, no doubt.

  11. Christianity & Islam are the scourge on this planet. Boath of them viewed non believers to be worth enslavement or extrimnating. Together they have destroyed almost 3000 civilisation’s by enslavement, Missionary’s activities , conversion’s by force, fraud & inducement. In the process boath of them have left very deep wounds on surviving civilisation’s & are continuing to do so.

    • Excellent rejoinder . Islam and missionary Christianity ruined nations and continue to do so.

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