WE shall dwell on the subject of race in Islam and afterwards analyze the extent to which non-black Muslims ill-treated black slaves.
The issue of race, as opposed to religion, contributed to the involvement of Muslims in enslaving Africans.
To begin with, the ancient Arabs where no different in phenotype to Africans.
Theirs was a cultural difference caused by their contrasting environments.
Though divided by the Red Sea, a narrow inlet of the Indian ocean, Africa and Arabia (formerly Sheba) were one.
The monarchs were the same since the days of Makeda (1000 BCE) to the days of Candice or Hendake (30 CE) and beyond. The Sabaean Kingdom crossed into Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Kingdom into Sabaean regions, like Najran, after the monarchs split up.
Ancient Arabian art depicts the indigenous inhabitants as blacks; with locks, riding topless on camels and yielding swords in desserts.
The racial type of the Arabians began varying because of the existence of the present day southern European race in their vicinity.
These are the descendants of Greeks and Romans who now inhabit Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal.
Their ancient homeland was in Mount Seir, east of the Mediterranean, while their territory stretched as far as Arabah, from whence the term Arab was derived.
In the Bible, they are known as the Edomites, meaning reds in Hebrew. They are descendants of Esau (hairy), the brother of Jacob who had a mutation pre-birth, which made him red-skinned and hairy.
His race was a cause for concern to his parents, especially after he married two northern women to further estrange him from his ancestral phenotype.
When he saw that his smooth-skinned brother Jacob made proud his parents by seeking to court his mother’s kinswomen, Esau began marrying from the daughters of Ishmael.
Abraham had a strict restriction on inter-marrying with races other than his own.
He only made exception to like races, namely Egyptians like Hagar, with whom he conceived Ishmael.
The Semites were indistinguishable from Hamites, with the exception of the descendants of Esau.
Ishmael was given an Egyptian wife by his mother and was allocated the Arabian Peninsula by his father.
From there, the Semitic Arabs were derived, meeting the Hamitic ones who were already there.
But the race of Edom stayed in their vicinity.
Even after migrating north-west of the Mediterranean Sea to the places they currently inhabit, their genetics and phenotype remained in Arabia.
When Greece came into world dominance, Alexander promoted miscegenation between Europeans and Asians who, at that time, were typically black.
Alexander, himself, was a mix between an Egyptian father of royal blood and a Greek mother betrothed to King Philip of Macedonia.
He recognised the strength of the black race and wanted to pioneer a Eurasian (European Asian) race resembling himself.
Thus, with the spread of Greeks, via Alexander’s conquest and after him the Diadochi (his four successors), also came the spread of the red-skinned race of southern Europe.
The process was called Hellenism and changed the faces of Egypt, Syria, Judea, Iraq, Iran as well as India forever.
Arabia was no exception, but the Arabian Desert often kept non-blacks away.
A final wave of non-blacks came into Arabia via the Turks who inherited leadership of the east after the downfall of the Moors.
These wore sheets to endure the sun’s heat.
First, it was the Ottoman Dynasty, then the rest of the Turks.
Their proximity to Europe and acceptance of European refugees from ancient times caused many of them to become white-skinned.
Turkey, also, was the headquarters of the Roman and Byzantine empires.
When we look at Egypt, Mecca, Iran and other Islamic nations today, we find many of these Turks present.
They are known as Mashrik Arabs as opposed to Maghreb Arabs who come from North Africa.
The Maghreb Arabs were called Berbers by the Romans, meaning non-Roman. They were black and found among groups like the Taureg.
During the Moorish period, southern Europeans, particularly Spaniards, used to attend Moorish learning institutions, like Taledo. They admired the Moors and their superior civilisation so much so that many of them became Muslim.
This frustrated the Roman Catholic Church.
When the Moors were eventually overpowered by the Spanish Monarch’s armies in 1492, a Catholic-led mass ethnic cleansing movement called the Spanish Inquisition took place.
It involved the killing of Moors and expulsion of whites, if they refused to convert to Catholicism.
The names Montenegro and Matamoros meant ‘Murder the Moor’ and are testament to the extent to which Moors were killed during the inquisition.
They would be rounded up and made to run through avenues with whole towns awaiting them.
The whites would sing and dance to music as they pursued the doomed Moors and would do all they could to kill them as they fled for their lives.
This practice is ceremonially commemorated by the Spanish by way of letting cattle (often black) run the streets and have people chase after them.
Jews, like Christopher Columbus and his voyage companions, known as Moranos (mixed race) became Catholic shortly before they sailed to the Americas.
The white Muslims abandoned their religion and the ones who did not, fled to North Africa and settled in places like Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria.
Others headed to Turkey where they were taken in under a Millet System which encouraged the accepting of refugees. This, the Ottomans saw as an effective way of making their might known to foreign lands.
They also recruited Europeans of the Byzantine, Roman or Greek orders, as well as others as noblemen called janissaries. All this white genetic contribution to the population of Turkey has led to the white skin we see there today.
Osman, founder of the Ottoman Dynasty, was described as not only black, but extremely dark.
The Turks were also depicted as blacks in the portraits that depict the Crusades.
Despite the presence of non-black Arabs in these regions, initially inhabited by blacks, there are still indigenous blacks in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Judea, among other countries.
Now that we have an idea of where these non-black Arabs came from, let us look at how white Muslims treated black slaves and the extent of their brutality towards them.
Blacks were prominent during the Moorish Empire but were victimised during the Ottoman Empire.
They were colonised by the Ottomans and lost ground in the holy sites of Jerusalem and Mecca, among others.
The Ottomans were imperialistic and followed behind the footsteps of past great empires like those of Rome and Greece.
They enslaved Moors (blacks) and would use them as eunuchs in their harems (prostitute lounges).
The harems were a Babylonian trait that was carried on by the Greeks, Romans and, then, the Ottomans.
The very name harem was given by Muslims meaning ‘forbidden’ (haram) because such deeds were unlawful in the Quran.
But the Turks are white before they are Muslim and, to this day, they are associated with promoting sex slavery and human trafficking, among many more such evils.
The eunuchs were not supposed to be sexually active and to ensure this, they would wholly castrate the Moor and leave him with no male members.
They would painfully seal the wound with burning coal to avoid over bleeding and consequent death.
In every harem filled with white Muslims and their prostitutes, one would see a black eunuch watching all the sexual immorality take place.
There are countless portraits that carry such depictions and many misconstrue the Moor to be in a position of distinction because of the grand attire he wore.
Although the Transatlantic Slave Tradeis well-documented and thought to be the most ruthless towards slaves, that of the muslims was just as brutal.
Female slaves were valued for their virginity and hardly passed the age of 10 without being deflowered.
This was caused by the value the Quran places on female virginity but it in no way permitted the abuse of underage and underdeveloped girls.
Similarly, most women, young or old, would be raped en-route to the Americas by the ships’ crews and would arrive pregnant with mulatto (mixed race) children.
Arab slave traders and masters were cruel towards weak or unsubmissive slaves.
For example, they would kill through stabbing or shooting male or female slaves who failed to walk the long distance between the slave market and the destination they would be taken to.
Deaths on the middle passage were many as blacks were walked from the hinterland to the coast, then shipped to Arabia and as far as Iraq and China.
Some slaves were left to die of starvation and their bodies would feed scavengers.
Slaves who tried to escape or were refusing to co-operate were hung to discourage the rest from being insubordinate.
They practiced child labour and the punishment of not working hard was whipping, with stipulated strokes per crime.
The main victims of enslavement among the zanj (non-Muslim blacks) were from Mozambique, Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania.
The Nyasa, Yao, Zalama, Zaramo, Makuwa, Majindo and Zigua ethnic groups, among others, were most affected.
They called the enslaved mushunguli, which literally means ‘the sufferer’ in Zigua languange.
If these were not enslaved, they were converted to Islam.
Thus, groups like the Yao in Malawi are overly Islamic to this day.
Zimbabweans, Zambians and other peoples from the hinterland were not exempted from enslavement but were better off because they were more distant from the coasts.
Ethiopians, particularly light-skinned women, were highly priced for their beauty.
These would often be made mistresses and concubines.
The zanj were used as farm labourers, salt miners, load carriers, entertainers, eunuchs and soldiers, among other things.
They arrived in India in large numbers.
From India, some of these zanj were taken to China and were called Seng chi (zanj).
This information is found in Chinese documents dating back to 614 CE.
As early as the 7th Century CE, the zanj were recruited by Moors of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates as soldiers.
Although the Moors were black, the zanj were captives and originally non-Muslim and this led them to rebel against their masters in places like Iraq.
The inhabitants of Iraq who bought the slaves and consequently owned them were already mixed at this point.
Unlike the victims of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the zanj, in places like Iraq, retained their mother languages and this gave them the ability to organise themselves.
In the Iraqi city of Basra, the number of zanj was extremely high.
The ill-treatment the slaves experienced at the hands of the Arabs and their undesirable position in society led them to revolt against their masters.
The first known zanj slave rebellion attempt was in the year 689 and also 694 CE.
These were quickly quelled.
However, in September of 869 CE, a blackman called Ali ibn Muhammad led a rebellion that would last for 14 years and cause the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis.
This was the Nat Turner of the zanj in Iraq and his movement incorporated slaves and other members of society who were disenfranchised and oppressed.
The extremity of the rebellion by far surpasses that of Nat Turner in America and almost reaches the proportions of the Haitian slave revolution in terms of casualties.
The agenda of the slaves was human rights abuses.
They read the Quran and found the message empowering and could see the hypocrisy of the Muslims who abused them instead of treating them well.
The living and working conditions were terrible.
Ali promised slaves freedom and wealth if they joined his team.
This took place shortly after a series of civil wars between the caliphates of Iraq, which weakened their government and army. Thus, Ali was successful and became known to his followers as ‘Sahib az Zanj’, meaning, ‘Chief of the Zanj’.
The rebellion lasted till 883 CE, upon which it was successfully stopped.
Although little is known and taught about this slave rebellion, it is well-documented and is testament to the brutality slaves faced at the hands of their Muslim masters.
The trade of zanj as slaves was widespread over a long period.
There were slave ports in Yemen and the coast of Somalia.
The Somalis and Yemenites were prominent slave traders because of their strategic and advantageous geographical locations.
The state of being zanj was determined by whether one was Muslim or not at the point of capture, not race.
Most Muslims were from the Arabian peninsula and thus Africans were targets and typically zanj.
That explains why black-skinned groups like Moors and Somalis also had zanj soldiers, slaves and so on.
The individual experiences of the enslaved zanj are yet to be put together to see the holistic picture of their fate after being shipped off.
One thing that incentivised the enslavement of the zanj, besides their religion or race, was their ability to cultivate efficiently.
Be it in Yemen, Iraq or India, the Bantu were known to make the land productive.
In Iraq, soil reclamation and cultivation were the reasons the zanj were sourced in large numbers.
They could also withstand strenuous work and their overuse led to their willingness to rebel against their masters.
Besides this, the non-black Muslims were also involved in the sale of slaves at both the east African and west African coasts. As far as they were concerned, it was business.
To them, it was a sub-Saharan slave trade and they participated not only by owning black slaves, but entering the hinterland to source and capture them.
These, they would sell to captains and agents with ships at the coast seeking to fill them with slave cargo.
Blacks from southern Europe, including those who fled to West Africa, were pursued by Muslims as they became like commodities to them.
In conclusion, the Transatlantic Slave Trade only seems worse than that of the Indian Ocean because the destinations of the former were consolidated and the latter widespread.
The experiences of the zanj slaves, thus, cannot be generalised. Some blacks, like the Siddhi, remain slaves in places like India because the emancipation proclamations of America and Europe did not reach their jurisdiction.
But as it pertains to the black slave, does it matter if it’s a Christian or Muslim that deprived him or her of freedom and other human rights?
Slavery is slavery and any person or group which suppresses another and reduces them to perpetual slavery, comprising forced servitude with no reward for labour, ought to be equally condemned.