Slaves by the grace of God

Friday, August 26th, 2005

Slaves by the grace of God looks at slavery in the Muslim world. This excerpt from Islam’s Black Slaves reprints an article from 1956 (apparently describing the contemporary slave trade):

A trader would nudge a slave’s jaw with a stick and the man would open his mouth to display his teeth. Another probe with the stick and he would flex his arm muscles. Young women were forced to expose their breasts and buttocks. A dispute developed over the virginity of a tall young ebony woman, and during the hour-long argument she was forced to squat while one of the most prominent buyers examined her with his fingers. She was terrified; her trembling was visible fifty yards away.

Occasionally children were sold in batches. They did not cry, mainly, I think, because they had no tears left, but they held tightly to one another and kept looking around as if for help. Boys of about ten or twelve had their anuses examined; homosexual buyers are fussy about disease.

It was even worse in the old days, it would appear:

There are other issues relating to slavery where sharia commands a particular course of action, but Muslims generally found ways to skirt the letter of the law. For instance, castration is banned in Islam, but eunuchs were omnipresent in Muslim courts. How was this so? There were multiple avenues of recourse. In some places non-Muslims specialized in castrations, in Al-Andalus it was Jews, in the Ottoman Empire it was Christians. In other cases slaves were castrated outside of Muslim lands, so that Prague in Christian Bohemia became a center for the generation of eunuchs for Ottoman service. In Africa the Muslims were often castrated en route. Sometimes, castration was attributed to a “mistake,” the slaves were sent to a barber who was going to circumcise them and he simply grasped their genitals and sliced everything off (while European slaves generally had their testicles removed, black slaves had both testicles and penis removed).

(Hat tip to

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