Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald asks some pointed questions about slavery in Islam:
The Arab slave-trade in black African slaves began centuries earlier than the Western slave-trade, and lasted centuries later. Indeed, it lasts up to now, in Mauritania, Mali, and Sudan, and even in Arabia. The Arab slave-trade was suppressed by the British in the late 19th century, through force of arms and the threat of arms. The complete story about this can be found in J. B. Kelly’s “Britain and the Persian Gulf, 1795-1880.” The entrepots controlled by the Sultan of Muscat and Oman — the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba — were where slaves were gathered and then shipped to Muscat, and from there to all the Muslim slave markets — Cairo, Damascus, Constantinople (which is where the Russian Ambassador, a certain Tolstoy, bought “Gannibal the Moor,” who became the great-grandfather of — Alexander Pushkin).
When Saudi Arabia formally abolished — to look good in the eyes of the West and of ARAMCO — slavery in 1962, one old princess of the royal family violently objected. She needn’t have. Since then the Saudis have practiced a kind of slavery without the formal recognition of that slavery. Advertisements have been spotted in Saudi papers, offering to swap (yes, just like those folksy swaps in Yankee Magazine, out of Dublin, New Hampshire) girls, Indian or Thai or Cambodian, for a used car — but please, one in good condition.
Behind the closed doors of those vast houses that the Saudi rich live in, the spectacles that one can imagine might possibly go on, do go on. Some of the information, in bits and pieces, has dribbled out — from those who have lived in Saudi Arabia and observed, or personally endured the semi-slavery of the house staff. Those who believe that no foreign girls are taken advantage of by their Saudi masters, that male servants and female servants are not treated as slaves — slaves who sometimes, if they protest, meet with the fates that protesting slaves do meet with — are remarkably naive.
Why should one be surprised at the existence of slavery under Islam? Slavery is part of Islam. The Qur’an and the hadith and Muhammad’s life refer to slaves and slavery. If it was part of 7th century Arabia, it is part of the Sunna, and is sanctioned by Allah and by Muhammad. What more do you want? In order to denounce it as an offense, one would be attacking Muhammad, or Islam. In order to denounce it, one would be suggesting that Muhammad was not, in what he permitted, the perfect man for all time. On would be hinting that the Sunna is not the perfect way of life for all time.
Many Muslims may secretly agree with that idea. But the question is: on what textual basis do they propose to convince the other Muslims that one can treat the Qur’an and hadith as historical texts, not valid in every way for all time, but to be treated as Christians and Jews treat certain parts of their respective religious texts? It is the intellectual and psychological inability of Muslims to do this, to jettison large parts of hadith and sira and — Qur’an — that stand in the way. It doesn’t matter if this or that Muslim feels uneasy, or privately distances himself. What matters is what most Muslims think, or choose to think, based on their refusal to reconsider the supposed holiness or immutability of the texts.
There is no Muslim Wilberforce. There is no Muslim Anti-Slavery Society. Slavery is compatible with both Qur’an and Sunna. That is a problem for Muslims. It would be interesting to see just how they explain — with the usual Taqiyya and Tu Quoque — this matter. Possibly the “Tu Quoque” (You Do It Too) line of defense will point to how recently, in Western history, slavery was abolished — barely 150 years ago. But that ignores the real problem. There is no mechanism, no means apparently, for de-legitimizing large portions of Qur’an, hadith, and sira. And the arguments based on how Muhammad himself treated his slaves well, or sometimes urged someone to manumit this or that slave, does nothing to answer the essential point:
Islam condones, accepts, regulates slavery. The canonical texts nowhere suggest that slavery is not an accepted part of life.
Query: what will it take for Muslims to receive those texts differently from the way they have, despite the attempts by Muslims here and there to reform Islam (all such attempts ended in total failure), over 1350 years? It is not enough to prattle on about “reform” as the grant money from Western universities, institutions, and governments is pocketed, and the conferences held, along with the subventions for fat, worthless “proceedings” of those conferences.
A little truth-telling about the situation is in order. Let’s stick to slavery. How can the condoning of slavery in the canonical texts of Islam be permanently undone? How?