Slavery was one of the biggest social evils in practice for centuries. Only in the last few decades, we have seen a sharp decline in slavery across the world. The two most talked about slave trades took place in the 19th century America and the 20th Century Saudi Arabia. The nature of two slave trades was different in many ways. The American slaves were bonded laborers, whereas the majority of the Arabian slaves were concubines or sex slaves. The American slave trading and the practice of slavery stopped after the Civil War and the Saudi Arabian slave practice was announced illegal in the 1960s due to international pressure (Gordon 1989). Many a times the proponents of slavery tried to justify the practice of slavery quoting the holy books of the Quran and Bible as supportive of slavery. However, both the prophets Mohammad and Jesus believed in the equality of all and freedom for every individual. The wrong interpretations of the holy books by a few people created the misconception and justification that slavery is acceptable, which, in reality is not.
The history of slavery dates back to the time when the first human civilization started forming. Starting from the ancient Greek, Egyptian, Roman to modern day American and Arab civilizations, all have some history of slavery. The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle has stated that “From the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule”, which implies that slaves are slaves by birth and that they are born to be ruled. Two of the most infamous slave trades of modern day world happened in the 20th Century Mecca and 18th -19th century America. Millions of slaves were transported mostly from sub-Saharan African countries to these places (Suzanne 1997). This essay will draw a comparison between the slave trades of the 20th century Mecca and the 19th century America and will discuss how the slavery system was abolished in these two countries, touching upon how the misinterpretation of the Quran and Bible have led to the misunderstanding that these two holy books promote slavery.
Comparison between American and Arabian Slave Trade
There are many similarities and dissimilarities between the two slave trades. The biggest similarity between the slave trade in America in the 19th century and the slave trade of the 20th century Arabian Peninsula was that most of the slaves were imported from poor African nations. In the case of the USA, more than 90% of the slaves were imported from the West African and sub-Saharan countries, whereas for the Arabian Peninsula, close to 70% of the slaves came from the same region and the rest came from some of the poor East European nations (Gordon 1989). The condition of the slaves in both these regions was very poor. They were not allowed any freedom or the basic human rights. They were treated like cattle whose worth was determined by their ability to work. The commitment of a minute mistake would lead to severe lashing and lacerated back, and in many cases, they were killed (Suzanne 1997).
However, there were many differences between the slave trade of the America in the 19th century and that of the Arabian Peninsula of the 20th century. The American slave trade was only going on for two centuries, whereas the Arab slave trade had been going on for fourteen centuries. Most of the slaves who were exported from Africa to the USA were males. In fact, 90% of the 7 million slaves exported to the USA between 18th and 19th century were males (Suzanne 1997). These slaves were mostly used as agricultural workers for the production of rice, indigo, and cotton. However, in the Arabian Peninsula, the majority of slaves were women. Almost 80% of the slaves traded in between 18th and 20th century were women (Gordon 1989). Often these women slaves were used as sex slaves or concubines. Some of them were also used as household workers (Halabi 2008). Most of the male slaves were used as guards or used for military purposes. The American slaves had no legal right to marriage, but often they were found to marry and raise a family. The children born to the slaves were also destined to become slaves. This process increased the black population of the USA from close to 7 million to almost 15 million before the Civil War started (Suzanne 1997). In Arabian Peninsula, there was no scope for women slaves to marry as they were kept as concubines. All the male slaves imported to the Arabian Peninsula were castrated so that they could not procreate.
Abolishment of Slavery in the USA and Mecca
The American slave trade started because the new world needed a lot of cheap labor for agricultural and mining purposes. The Southern parts of the country, which imported a lion’s share of the slaves, were more conservative when it came to any talk about slavery abolishment as they were taking the full advantage of low cost labor in their large cotton agricultural field (Suzanne 1997). However, the Northern states started anti-slavery movement in the early 19th century. By 1830, black leaders of the Abolitionist Movement like Frederick Douglas and white supporters like William Garrison gave momentum to the anti-slavery campaigns. After Abraham Lincoln became the President of the US, further movements to liberate the slaves started across the country (Acharya, Blackwell and Sen 2014). During the Civil War of 1861-1865, all the Southern states resisted the Abolitionist Movement. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary emancipation proclamation making it illegal to hold slaves in any state of the US Confederate (Acharya, Blackwell and Sen 2014). After the Civil War came to an end, the emancipation proclamation was turned into a law through the introduction of the Thirteenth Amendment (Acharya, Blackwell and Sen 2014). In this process, almost 4 million slaves were freed. Many more millions were freed in the next few decades, especially in the Southern states (Acharya, Blackwell and Sen 2014).
In the Arabian Peninsula, the slave trade continued unabated till the 1960s. In fact, most of the slaves imported from Africa were used as deep sea divers for extracting pearls and were made to work in date firms in the middle of the desert. Almost 80% of the slaves died within first 5 years of working in these conditions (Gordon 1989). When the date and pearl businesses lost their charms, slaves were used to work in the main mosque of Mecca, and women slaves were used as concubines or bonded sex workers (Halabi 2008). Even when the United Nations announced slavery as a punishable offense in 1966, Saudi Arabia continued to practice slavery. However, as the country was doing more and more business with different European nations and the USA, they were getting pressurized to introduce a law for putting an end to the practice of slavery. Because of the international pressure, finally, in 1962, Saudi Arabia banned the practice of slavery (Gordon 1989). However, many Islamic groups still propagate the message that it is the right of a person to keep slaves as per the Quran.
Slavery and Quran and Bible
Many a time in the past, both Christian and Muslim people practiced slavery in the name of their respective holy books. However, neither the Quran nor the Bible promotes slavery. In fact, the Holy Quran [49:13] states, “O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware”, which, in simpler terms, means that in the eyes of Allah (God), all are born equal (Watson 2002). The prophet Muhammad stated that the whole mankind originates from “Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.” Many other verses of the Holy Quran also speak of the emancipation of the slaves. For instance, the passage 2:177 of the holy Quran states, “It is not righteousness that you turn your faces toward East or West; but it is righteousness . . . to spend of your substance . . . for the ransom of slaves” (Watson 2002). However, because of the way some of the scholars have misinterpreted the Quran to be supportive of slavery, many non-Islamic as well as Islamic people claim that the practice of slavery is acceptable in the Quran, and hence it is justified to keep slaves. For example, Bukhari-in-Hadith, an Islamic scholar, has interpreted some of the sayings of Mohammad in such a way as to imply that the prophet Mohammad promoted slavery. Even other religious scholars of Islam like Abu Dawun and Ibn Ishaq also interpreted the verses of the Quran in support of slavery, creating confusion in the minds of common people (Watson 2002).
The Old Testament allowed slavery for insolvent debtors and criminals as punishment, but the New Testament clearly forbids the practice of slavery and slave trade in any form. In the New Testament [Exodus 21:16], it is written that “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death” (The Scrouge 2014). Also, in Galatians 3:28, it is written that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (The Scrouge 2014). This shows that both the holy books do not support slavery, and that the practice of slavery had flourished because of a few people who could run their business and home profitably by making slaves drudge at low cost.
Slavery is a social offense. The trace of its existence could be found in the ancient civilizations like the Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilizations. As the requirement of cheap labor increased, the rich people and countries supplied slaves to meet the demand. Slavery is not bound by country, race, and religion. Although many argue that both the holy books of the Bible and Quran promote slavery, the statements of Mohammad and Jesus, however, show otherwise that slavery was condemned by both these two prophets. The statements show that both of them believed in the freedom and equality of men. People, who wanted to support slavery, misinterpreted the holy books in order to justify their actions.
Gordon, Murray. Slavery in the Arab World. New Amsterdam Press. New York. 1989. Print.
Suzanne, Everett. History of Slavery. Christian Action. New York. 1997. Print.
Davis, Robert. Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean; the Barbary Coast and Italy 1500 – 1800. Palgrave MacMillan. 2004. Print.
“The Scourge of Muslim Slavery”. Truth and Grace. 5 May 2014. Web. 9 Nov. 2014. <http://www.truthandgrace.com/muslimslavery.htm>
Watson, Adam. “Muhammad the Abolitionist: Slavery in The Qur'an”. Insightbb. 2002. Web. 9 Nov. 2014. <http://home.insightbb.com/~adamwatson/showcase/quranslavery.html>
Acharya, Avidit, Blackwell, Matthew and Sen, Maya. “The Political Legacy of American Slavery”. Matt Blackwell. 2014. Web. 9 Nov. 2014. <http://www.mattblackwell.org/files/papers/slavery.pdf>
Halabi, Romina. “Contract Enslavement of Female Migrant Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates”. Human Rights & Human. 2008. Web. 9 Nov. 2014. <https://www.du.edu/korbel/hrhw/researchdigest/slavery/fmd.pdf>