There are key differences between the Atlantic Slave Trade and the Eastern Slave Trade (aka Arab/ Islamic Slave Trade). While the Atlantic Slave Trade focused on transporting Black Africans to the New World to provide domestic and industrial labour, the Eastern Slave Trade was not race based. Prophet Muhammad himself, during the course of inaugurating a tripartite paradigm of Islamic slavery via his military campaigns and raids against the citizens of Arabia, enslaved some of the Semitic peoples of the region. The prerequisite for being enslaved in Islam for domestic or industrial labour; sex slavery and concubinage; or chattel, is not based on race but on being a non-Muslim war captive. As the Islamic Empire expanded out of Arabia via North Africa and into Europe, war captives of all shades – brown, yellow, black and white – were relegated to slave status.
Very little is known in mainstream circles, of how White slaves fared in the Islamic Empire, in spite of the fact that they very well existed in the hundreds of thousands and more. White Eunuchs were visible throughout the Empire; in sizeable numbers in Morocco, Egypt and Turkey. At the slave markets, the purchase price for White eunuchs fared differently from Black eunuchs. White sex slaves also priced differently than Black sex slaves.
When Muslim scholars argue that Islam is not race-based, they are proven right by the doctrine of slavery in Islam – it knows not colour and recognises religion only. In the book Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Imperialism, Forced Conversion and Slavery, author M. A. Khan discusses the number and realities of Whites who fell prey to Islamic military conquests and raids, and ultimately ended up enslaved in the Islamic Empire as eunuchs, concubines and labourers. Below is an excerpt from Chapter VII of the book.
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About slaves coming from Europe to the Muslim world, Lewis adds:
In Europe there was also an important trade in slaves, Muslim, Jewish, pagan, and even Orthodox Christian… Central and East European slaves, generally known as Saqaliba (i.e. Slavs), were imported by three main routes: overland via France and Spain, from Eastern Europe via the Crimea, and by sea across the Mediterranean. They were mostly but not exclusively Slavs. Some were captured by Muslim naval raids on European coasts, particularly the Dalmatian. Most were supplied by European, especially Venetian, slave merchants, who delivered cargoes of them to the Muslim markets in Spain and North Africa. 867
European slaves were in special demand for serving as concubines, in the royal army and palaces, and in establishments of the rich in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya. According to Giles Milton’s White Gold and Robert Davis’ Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters, since the 1530s, North African Muslim pirates raided European coastal towns and villages from Sicily to Cornwall as well as European ships for some three centuries and enslaved over one million Europeans (including many American seamen). British humanist author Christopher Hitchens queries on this enslavement: ‘How many know that perhaps 1.5 million Europeans and Americans were enslaved in Islamic North Africa between 1530 and 1780? …what of the people of the town of Baltimore in Ireland, all carried off by ‘corsair’ raiders in a single night?’869
The Barbary Muslim pirates kidnapped Europeans from ships in North Africa’s coastal waters (Barbary Coast). They also attacked and pillaged the Atlantic coastal fishing villages and town in Europe, enslaving the inhabitants. Villages and towns on the coast of Italy, Spain, Portugal and France were the hardest hit. Muslim slave-raiders also seized people as far afield as Britain, Ireland and Iceland.
In 1544, the island of Ischia off Naples was ransacked, taking 4,000 inhabitants prisoners, while some 9,000 inhabitants of Lipari Island off the north coast of Sicily were enslaved.870 Turgut Reis, a Turkish pirate chief, ransacked the coastal settlements of Granada (Spain) in 1663 and carried away 4,000 people as slaves. In 1625, Barbary pirates captured the Lund Island in the Bristol Channel and planted the standard of Islam. From this base, they went ransacking and pillaging surrounding villages and towns, causing a stunning spectacle of mayhem, slaughter and plunder. According to Milton, ‘Day after day, they struck at unarmed fishing communities, seizing the inhabitants, and burning their homes. By the end of the dreadful summer of 1625, the mayor of Plymouth reckoned that 1,000 skiffs had been destroyed and similar number of villagers carried off into slavery.’871 Between 1609 and 1616, the Barbary pirates ‘captured a staggering 466 English trading ships.’
Murad Rais, a European convert to Islam, became a leader of the Barbary pirates at the coastal Corsair town of Salé off Morocco. In 1627, he went on a pillaging and enslaving campaign to Iceland. After dropping anchor at Reykjavik, his forces ransacked the town and returned with 400 men, women and children and sold them in Algiers. In 1631, he made a voyage with a brigand of 200 pirates to the coast of Southern Ireland and ransacked and pillaged the village of Baltimore, carrying away 237 men, women and children to Algiers.872
The barbaric slave-raiding activities of the Muslim pirates had a telling effect on Europe. France, England, and Spain lost thousands of ships, devastating to their sea-borne trade. Long stretches of the coast in Spain and Italy were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants until the nineteenth century. The finishing industry was virtually devastated.
Paul Baepler’s White Slaves, African Masters: An Anthology of American Barbary Captivity Narratives lists a collection of essays by nine American captives held in North Africa. According to his book, there were more than 20,000 white Christian slaves by 1620 in Algiers alone; their number swelled to more than 30,000 men and 2,000 women by the 1630s. There were a minimum of 25,000 white slaves at any time in Sultan Moulay Ismail’s palace, records Ahmed ez-Zayyani; Algiers maintained a population of 25,000 white slaves between 1550 and 1730, and their numbers could double at certain times. During the same period, Tunis and Tripoli each maintained a white slave population of about 7,500. The Barbary pirates enslaved some 5,000 Europeans annually over a period of nearly three centuries.873
The most famous European Christian to serve as a slave in Barbary Muslim Africa was Miguel de Cervantes, the famous Spanish author of the Don Quixote epic. He was taken captive in 1575 by Barbary pirates and was later released upon payment of ransom.
The Ottoman penetration into Europe in the 1350s and their capture of Constantinople later in 1453 opened new floodgates for slave-trade from the European front. In their last attempt to overrun Europe in 1683, the Ottoman army, although defeated, returned from the Gates of Vienna with 80,000 captives.874 An immense number of slaves flowed from the Crimea, the Balkans and the steppes of West Asia to Islamic markets. BD Davis laments that the ‘‘Tartars and other Black Sea peoples had sold millions of Ukrainians, Georgians, Circassians, Armenians, Bulgarians, Slavs and Turks,’’ which received little notice.875 Crimean Tatars enslaved and sold some 1,750,000 Ukrainians, Poles and Russian between 1468 and 1694.876 According to another estimate, between 1450 and 1700, the Crimean Tatars exported some 10,000 slaves, including some Circassians, annually—that is, some 2,500,000 slaves in all, to the Ottoman Empire.877 The Tatar slave-raiding Khans returned with 18,000 slaves from Poland (1463), 100,000 from Lvov (1498), 60,000 from South Russia (1515), 50,000–100,000 from Galicia (1516), 800,000 from Moscow (1521), 200,000 from South Russia (1555), 100,000 from Moscow (1571), 50,000 from Poland (1612), 60,000 from South Russia (1646), 100,000 from Poland (1648), 300,000 from Ukraine (1654), 400,000 from Valynia (1676) and thousands from Poland (1694). Besides these major catches, they made countless more Jihad raids during the same period, which yielded a few to tens of thousands of slaves.878 These figures of enslavement must be considered in the context that the population of the Tatar Khanate was only about 400,000 at the time.879
For the complete references to the above excerpt, please refer to M. A. Khan’s book: Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Imperialism, Forced Conversion and Slavery. A free copy is available online.
867. Lewis (1994), op cit
869. Hitchens C (2007) Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates, City Journal, Spring Issue
870. Povoledo E (2003) The mysteries and majesties of the Aeolian Islands, International Herald Tribune, 26 September.
871. Milton, p. 11
872 Milton, p. 13–14; Lewis B (1993) Islam and the West, Oxford University Press, New York, p. 74 873. Milton, p. 99,271–72
874. Erdem YH (1996) Slavery in the Ottoman Empire and Its Demise, 1800-1909, Macmillan, London, p. 30 875. Lal (1994), p. 132
876. Fisher AW (1972) Muscovy and the Black Sea Slave Trade, in Canadian-American Slavic Studies, 6(4), p577– 83,592–93
877. Inalcik H (1997) An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman empire, 1300-1600, Cambridge University Press, Vol. 1, p. 285; Fisher, p. 583–84
878. Bostom, p. 679-81
879. Williams BG (2001) The Crimean Tatars: The Diaspora Experience and the Forging of a Nation, E J Brill, Lieden, p. 69–72 .
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