Islam, Slavery, and Racism: The Use of Strategy in the Pursuit of Human Rights (1987)*

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Fadel Abdallah



Slavery is one of the most controversial and arresting topics in human
history. The question of Islam in relation to slavery has been an issue of
concern among scholars for a long time. It became a question in which many
Orientalists found a convenient gap to pass through in their attacks against
the system of governance and justice in Islam. This self-righteous criticism
against the attitude of Islam towards slavery is part of a long Western tradition
of scholarship based on stereotyping, overstating, and selectivity of Islam
in particular and the Orient in general. Most of the time, the statements of
these scholars are presented in a sugar-coated style of language that is more
dangerous than if they were presented in a critical, open, and direct language.
Thomas Carlyle, Renan, Goldziher, Macdonald, von Grunebaum, Gibb and
Bernard Lewis are good examples and representatives of this tradition.

*This article was first published in the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 4, no. 1 (1987): 31-50

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1 For a sustained and persuasively critical study against Oriental studies and Oriental
scholarship, see Edward Said, Orientalism (Vintage Books, New York, 1979).
2 Bovill, E. W., The Golden Trade of the Moors, 2nd ed. (London, Oxford University
Press, 1968), p. 21.
3 Bovill, op. cit., pp. 21-22, quoting Barrow, R.H., Slavery in the Roman Empire (London,
4 Plato in his Republic as quoted in ‘Abd al-Salam al-Tarmamini, al-Riqq madih wa
hadiruh (al-Majlis al-watani lil-thaqafah wa-al-funun wa-al-adab, Kuwait, 1979),
pp. 23-23; The Politics of Aristotle, translated by B. Jowett. (Clarendon Press, Oxford,
1885), Vol. I, pt. I:3-6, pp. 6-10. Shawqi Abu Khalil, al-Islam fi qafas al-ittiham (Dar
al-fikr, Damascus, 2nd ed., 1974), p. 165. See also Muhammad Shawkat al-Tuni,
Muhammad muharrir al-’abid (Mu’assasat dar al-sh’b, Cairo, 1975), pp. 21-22. See
also ‘Abbas Mahmud al-’Aqqad, Haqa’iq al-Islam wa-abatil khusumih, 3rd ed. (Dar
al-kitab al-’Arabi, Beirut, 1966), p. 286.
5 See al-Tarmamini, op. cit., pp. 23-24; also al-Tuni, op. cit., p. 25.
6 See Muhammad al-Bahi, al-Islam wa-al-riqq (Dar al-turath al-’Arabi, Cairo, 1979),
p. 7.
7 See Bovill, op. cit., p.41.
8 See Muhammad Qutb, Shubuhat hawla al-Islam, 4th ed. (Maktabah Wahbah, Cairo,
1960), pp. 32-33; also lbrahim Hashim al-Fallali, La riqq fi al-Qur’an (Dar al-qalam,
Cairo, undated), pp. 19-21. See also Shawqi Abu Khalil, op. cit., pp. 165-166; also
al-Tuni, op. cit., p. 25.
9 Ahmad Shalabi, Muqaranat al-adyan, Vol. III, p. 205 as quoted in Shawqi Abu Khalil,
op. cit., p. 164; see also al-Fallali, op. cit., p. 30.
10 See Ahmad Muhammad Jamal, Muftarayat ‘ala al-Islam (Dar al-fikr, Beirut, 1972),
p. 130; also Shawqi Abu Khalil, op. cit., p. 164; also al-Fallali, op. cit., pp. 24-29.
11 Shawqi Abu Khalil, op. cit., p. 165: also al-Fallali, op. cit., pp. 29-30.
12 See The Jerusalem Bible, Reader’s Edition (Doubleday & Co., Inc., New York, 1968),
Exodus: 21, p. 82.
13 Ibid., Deuteronomy: 20. p. 209
14 This attitude was maintained by the Apostles Sts. Paul and Peter. See ibid., New
Testament, Romans: 6, p. 203; also Peter: 2, p. 302.
15 See al-Tuni, op. cit., pp. 25-27; also al-Tarmamini, op. cit., pp. 32-33, 158; also al-Fallali,
op. cit., pp. 33; also Shawqi Abu Khalil, op. cit., pp. 167-168.
16 al-Fallali, op. cit., p. 15.
17 al-‘Aqqad, op. cit., pp. 285-287. For al-‘Aqqad’s views on the subject, see pp. 285-298
of the above cited book.
18 For a survey of those who raised their voice against slavery or called for a humane
treatment of the slaves see Mustafa al-Jiddawi, Dirasah jadidah ‘an al-riqq fi al-tarikh
wa fi al-
Islam (1963), pp. 207-228.
19 See Allan G. B. Fisher & Humphrey J. Fisher, Slavery and Muslim Society in Africa
(New York, 1972 edition), p. 9. (Hereafter, reference to this book is to be made as
“The Fishers”).
20 Qur’an, IV: 92. The verses quoted in this paper, are from Pickthal’s translation
(Muslim World League - Rabita Mecca al-Mukarramah, 1977).
21 Ibid., V:89.
22 This practice was very common among the Arabs, where a man upon getting angry
with his wife would swear not to touch her as a way of punishment; he would
say to her, “you are forbidden from me as the back of my mother is” (Arabic: anti
muharramatun ‘alayya ka-zahri ummi). This custom is called in Arabic al-zihar.
23 Qur’an, LVIII:2-4.
24 Ibid., XC:8-13.
25 Ibid., XC:14-18.
26 Ibid., II:177.
27 Ibid., XVl:71.
28 Ibid., IX:60.
29 Ibid., XXIV:33.
30 For an explanation of the concept of mukatabah, see al-Bahl, op. cit., p. 8; also Shawqi
Abu Khalil, op. cit., p. 174; also al-Tuni, op. cit., p. 89.
31 Qur’an, XXIV: 32.
32 Ibid., IV:3.
33 See al-Fallali, op. cit., p. 137.
34 Qur’an, IV:25.
35 Ibid., IV:36; see also XXIV:31; also XXXIII:55.
36 Reported by al-Bukhari in Sahih al-Bukhari, Arabic-English text, “Manumission of
Slaves and its Superiority,” (Kazi Publications, Chicago, 1977), Vol. III, Book XLVI,
Chapter I, No. 693, p. 419.
37 Reported by al-Bukhari in ibid., Chapter 14, No. 720, p. 433.
38 Reported by al-Bukhari through Abu Hurayrah in ibid., Chapter 17, No. 728, p. 437.
39 Reported by al-Bukhari in ibid., Chapter 15, No. 721, p. 434.
40 Reported by Muslim, in al-Jami’ al-Sahih (al-Maktab al-Tijari li-l-tiba’ah wa-l-nashr,
Beirut, undated), Vol. 5, p. 90.
41 Ibid.
42 al-Tarmamini, op. cit., p. 124.
43 See the story in al-Tuni, op. cit., pp. 178-179.
44 See the story in ibid., pp. 150-155.
45 Ibid., p. 42.
46 al-Fallali, op. cit., p. 178; also Qutb, op. cit., p. 36.
47 For a brief account of these personalities and their relationships with the Prophet,
see al-Tuni, op. cit., 50-59, 105-184.
48 See ibid., p. 77.
49 See ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-tabaqat al-kubra (Dar Sadir, Beirut, 1957), Vol. 2. p. 304.
50 For Lewis’ quotations and discussion see Race and Colour in Islam (N. Y.: Harper &
Row Publishers, 1970), pp. 91-92.
51 Ibid., p. 94.
52 Ibid.
53 Ibid., pp. 102-103.
54 Qur’an, XXX:22.
55 Ibid., XLIX:13
56 lgnac Goldziher, Muhammedanische Studien (Paris, 1952), Vol. I, p. 269, English
trans., p. 344, quoted in Lewis, op. cit., p. 19.
57 Muttaqi, Kanz al-’Ummal, Hydarabad, 1313, Vol. III, p. 197.
58 Ibn Majah, Sunan (Cairo, 1372/1952), Vol. I, p. 597 (Nikah 6).
59 Goldziher, op. cit., p. 74, English trans. p. 75, quoted in Lewis, op. cit., pp. 21-22.
60 Lewis, op. cit., p. 89.
61 Toynbee, Arnold J. A Study of History (Oxford University Press, London, 1939), Vol.
1, p. 226.
62 Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, Futuh Misr, ed. C. C. Torrey (New Haven, 1922), p. 66.
63 The Autobiography of Malcolm X with the Assistance of Alex Haley (New York: Grove
Press, 1966), pp. 338-339, 340.
64 Lewis, op. cit., p. 67.
65 Ibid., p. 5-6.
66 Lugard, F. D., The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa (Edinburgh & London,
1922), p. 365.
67 Kaba, L., “Some Aspects of Social Inequality and Slavery in Songhay under the Askia
(1443-1591),” p. 5. (Unpublished paper).
68 Nachtigal, Gustav, Sahara und Sudan, Ergebnisse Sechsjahriger Reisen in Africa
(Berlin, 1879), Vol. I, p. 100.
69 Blyden, E. W., Christianity, Islam, and the Negro Race (London, 1887), reprinted 1967,
pp. 175-176.
70 The Fishers, op. cit., p. 9.
71 Hopkins, A. G., Economic History of West Africa (New York. Columbia University
Press, 1974), p. 82; also The Fishers, op. cit., p. 9.
72 Bovill, op. cit., p. 247.
73 Qutb, op. cit., pp. 41-45.
74 See ibid., pp. 45-50; also al-Bahi, op. cit., pp. 4, 18-2 l; also al-Fallali, op. cit., p. 169;
also Sayyid Qutb, Fi Zilal al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-’Arabi, 1961),
Vol. II, pp. 61-65.
75 Qur’an, XLVII:4, translation of Muhammad Asad (Gibraltar: Dar al-Andulus, 1980).
76 See Amin al-Khuli in his article, “al-Islam bayna al-mithaliyyah wsa-al-waqi’iyyah”
in Al-’Arabi, issue no. 13, (1959).