Islam and the Abolition of Slavery By William Gervase Clarence-Smith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 293 pages.)

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Muhammad M. Haque



This book delves into Islam and its connection with slavery in historical and
etiological terms by presenting the synthesis in an almost axiomatic manner
that “slavery has always been a part and parcel of the basic core and a central
tenet of Islam.” The author relies on various scholarly sources, including the
Qur’an and the hadiths, with the bulk of information coming from non-
Islamic sources. Providing quotes from various scholars (e.g., Lewis, Muir,
Berlioux, Hughes, Garrett, Margoliouth, Roberts, and DeJong) (pp. 16-17),
Clarence-Smith brings out of a set of synergistic syllogisms on the assumptive
plane that the Qur’an failed to eliminate slavery, that removing this practice
would shake the faith itself, that the Prophet was totally unaware of the
concept of abolition as an idea as well as in practice, and, importantly, that
the whole Islamic social structure with its attendant system was based on a
type of slavery associated with the organization of the harem.
Hence, from the author’s point of view, Islam in essence kept slavery
within a massive infrastructure and played a negligible role in its demise.
Moreover, the system was abolished mostly due to western effort rather than
any purely religious guidelines or impetus. This organized form of slavery
included singing girls, concubines, common soldiers from the ranks of war
captives as well as non-war captives, cannon fodder, bond maidens, harem
guards, and chattel similar to livestock – collectively often reaching into the
millions. While there were examples of slaves rising to the position of amir,
such instances are exceptions and extremely rare.
The author defends his argument’s basic propositions in eleven highly
condensed chapters. The first chapter, “Introduction,” basically details his
central thesis with supporting arguments, including the intensity of the slave
systems as highlighted above. The concluding segment, “Envoi,” outlines
the current responsibilities of different religious groups for a greater cooperation
and unity toward the process of slavery’s final elimination and apologizing
for past misdeeds ...

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