Evil prevails when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke 1729 - 1797

Islam, Slavery and Jihad

Islam, Slavery and Jihad


Slavery and Jihad

The latest essay by Anestos Canelides examines the Islamic institution of chattel slavery, which accompanied the Great Jihad wherever it reached.

Slavery and Jihad
by Anestos Canelides

Sura 48.20: …Allah promises you much booty (spoils of war) that you will capture from the defeated infidel.

Legacy of Jihad, by Dr. Andrew Bostom, pg. 127

Slavery has been a curse upon human existence since the dawn of mankind. During modern times there has been a thin illusion that slavery has vanished from the world. The sad reality is that slavery does exist in our modern era, and while slavery is not unique to Islam, there has never been an abolition of slavery in the Islamic world as there has been in the Western nations.

In recent decades slaves were taken in southern Sudan by Muslims from the north. These captives were either Christians or animists taken during the civil unrest between southern Sudan and the Muslims in northern Sudan.

Is there a connection between jihad and slavery in the Muslim world? Most importantly, is slavery an major factor in Jihad?

The main focus of this essay will not be the dhimmi status of the conquered, but jihad and chattel slavery in the Muslim world.

There is a permanent link between jihad and slavery. It is a uniquely Islamic institution, and provides a good explanation for the persistence of slavery in Islam’s dominions and societies. This may applied to specialized forms of slavery such as the employment of eunuchs, slave soldiering, child slavery, and harem slavery. Jihad slavery has been a powerful tool for both expanding Islamization and the maintenance of Muslim societies.[1] It was a form of punishment for the infidels who were conquered, whether they were Christians, Jews, or idolaters.

Historian Spero Vyronis provides a description on how jihad slavery, as practiced by the Seljuk Turks and early Ottomans, was so important for the Islamization of conquered lands in the eleventh through fourteenth centuries.

A further contributing factor to the decline of the numbers of Christian inhabitants was slavery… Since the beginning of the Arab razzias in the lands of Rum (Roman), human booty had come to constitute a very important portion of the spoils. There is ample testimony in the contemporary accounts that this situation did not change when the Turks took over the direction of Jihad in Anatolia. They enslaved men, women and children from all major urban centers and from the countryside where the populations were defenseless. In the earlier years before the Turkish settlements permanently affected Anatolia, the captives were sent off to Persia and elsewhere but after the establishment of the Anatolian Turkish principalities, a portion of the enslaved were retained in Anatolia for the service of the conquerors.[2]

The reality is that entire regions were depopulated, due largely to enslavement, and in Anatolia (present-day Turkey) once fertile farmland reverted back to forest. The majority of the looting, pillaging and enslavement of Christians began after the first Seljuk invasion of the former Byzantine lands.

The disastrous loss by the Romans at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 accelerated the Islamization of Roman lands. The Muslim Turkic tribes found the land similar to their homeland on the Eurasian steppes, so these nomads began migrating en masse into Roman territory.

They were not peaceful immigrants, and yes, it was a jihad against the Christian infidel. Many Christians were killed or enslaved in the process.

The Byzantines (Romans) were not the only ones to have faced slavery by the Muslim invaders. The Islamic demand for a global caliph, stemming from the belief that Islam will dominate the world one day, has had an all too sad impact on the world. The Qur’an clearly says (Sura 4.75): “Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah and those who reject the faith fight in the cause of evil: So fight ye against the friends of Satan: feeble indeed is the cunning of Satan.”[3]

Another example, according to Dr. Andrew Bostom, author of The Legacy of Jihad, may be found under the Shah Abbas I (1588-1626 AD), when the Safavid Shiite theocracy of Iran expanded its earlier form of slave razzias into the Christian Georgian and Armenians regions. Many people were enslaved in these regions and forcibly converted to Shia Islam. The males were made to serve in the military, and the females were forced into harems.[4]

Islamic slavery was not unique to Christian nations, or even to Europe and Asia Minor, but also occurred in Africa.

While all too many people today focus on slavery in the Americas, slavery within Africa was comparable to the western transatlantic slave trade to the Americas.

Quantitative estimates for the transatlantic slave trade between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries reckon the numbers at about 10.5 million. This is more than matched by the number of slaves carried along the Islamic trade routes.

It is estimated the Islamic trans-Saharan, Red Sea and Indian Ocean slave trade from 650 AD to 1905 AD was about 17 million. The terrible plight of the enslaved animists taken from the savannahs and forest regions of western and central Africa was at least comparable to the suffering faced by slaves of the transatlantic crossing.[5]

Most of the slaves captured by Muslims were females. Males who were not killed were generally fully castrated when taken captive, and those who survived the brutal maiming were used as eunuchs. Many of the females ended up in the harems, and their offspring were often murdered.

Greatest in comparison would be the extensive domain of slavery created by jihad.

This would include all regions where Islam had conquered from the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia. Wherever the sword of Allah has arrived there has been conquest, forced conversion, death and slavery. According to Dr. Andrew Bostom in “Jihad conquests”: “The persistence of Islamic slavery is as impressive and unique as to its extent.

Slavery was practiced in both Ottoman Turkiye and Shiite Iran.” Ehud Toledano points out that slavery was the core of Ottoman society until the demise of the Ottoman Empire in the second decade of the twentieth century. Slavery in fact continued to exist in most Muslims countries until recent times, and it was mainly due to the pressure from western powers it ended.

Slavery was not abolished on the Arabian Peninsula until 1962, and persisted until 1970 in Yemen and Oman. Chad still permitted slavery in the 1990s.

Does it still exist? Yes, it is likely that the barbaric institution of slavery still exists in some Muslim enclaves. It is believed by some observers that slavery may still exist in Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia to this day.[6]

This institution will continue to exist in Orthodox Islam because it is an effort to free men from unbelief. According to Ralph Willis in Jihad and the Ideology of Enslavement, “If Jihad frees men from unbelief and deprives men of freedom, so also does the humiliation and subjection of enslavement serve to remove men from infidelity.” Jihad seeks to release the captives’ spirits from the bondage of their unbelief, but conversion does not prevent one from becoming enslaved. It brings death to the infidel, and in order to recapture their identity the slave must incarcerate his spirit in Islam. It is only through manumission that the process is sustained.[7]

In essence, a person is enslaved as punishment for their unbelief and forced to endure the hardship of slavery, even if they convert to Islam. For the kafir who embraces Islam, hijra points to the path of freedom; for the kafir who defies Islam, jihad is the path to bondage. This is the only path by which the controversy between belief and unbelief can be closed. “Again, for the slave from Dar al-Harb who flees Dar al-Islam, hijra is the sanctuary from the servile condition. Hence it brings life to the infidel: while it vanquishes the Kafir.[8] The fact is that you cannot separate Jihad from slavery, and it is a tool to force conversion on the unbeliever by making their life a living hell.

While slavery does not exist in most Muslim nations today, I remain unconvinced that with the growth of Islam as a world power it would not return. Unless Islam reforms itself, this institution will have a revival as Islam spreads and encounters resistance. Those who are in the house of war, or Dar al-Harb, could face the yoke of slavery or death.

I write both to the infidel, like myself, as well as to Muslims who are truly moderate and honestly believe in the plurality of all faiths. I can only hope that a dialogue amongst Muslims today will prevent the restoration of slavery in the Islamic world. I do not expect this to happen soon.

All forms of slavery should be condemned, whether Muslim or from another belief system. Bear in mind that there are many Muslims in the world who would be appalled at the idea that slavery might ever return. This essay is not descriptive of them, but only those who have no understanding of human rights.


1. Bostom, Andrew. The legacy of Jihad: Jihad Conquest and the imposition of Dhimmitude — a Survey, Prometheus Books, page 86
2. Ibid, page 87
3. Ibid, page 1
4. Ibid, page 88
5. Ibid, page 9
6. Ibid, page 92
7. Willis, John. The legacy of Jihad: Jihad and the Ideology of Enslavement, Prometheus Books, page 343
Ibid, page 347
Article thanks to Gates of Vienna



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