Liberals (do not) mention another issue that should be close to their hearts: the Islamic slave trade.
Slavery has been an integral part of Islamic practice from the start. It is scripturally endorsed, embedded in shari'a law, and has been practiced from the seventh century until today. The slave trade was notably carried on by Arab merchants across the Sahara and brought Africans to North Africa. Liberals rightly condemn the European slave trade and its impact on North America; they – again rightly – act to eliminate modern slavery through trafficking – which is estimated to involve some 40.3 million people worldwide by 2016. It is almost unheard of, nevertheless, for people on the left also to speak of the Islamic (mainly Arab) slave trade.
The educational website History World, for instance, has a substantial account entitled "History of Slavery", in which it describes the use of slaves in Babylon, Greece, Rome, the European Middle Ages, and the Portuguese and triangular (chiefly the Transatlantic) slave trades. Yet it only mentions Islamic slavery in passing, despite its having lasted far longer than the European and American versions. Here are the three short paragraphs the site devotes to the subject, all of which appear to argue that supposedly Muslim slavery was not altogether a bad thing:
Slavery is an accepted part of life in Arabia during the time of Muhammad, in the 7th century, and the Qur'an offers no arguments against the practice. It merely states, particularly in relation to female slaves, that they must be well treated. In general that has been the case compared with the barbaric treatment of slaves in some Christian communities.This article also does not mention the three centuries of the Barbary Slavers: North African Muslims who went out as pirates into the Mediterranean to capture ships from European countries and take crews and passengers as slaves to be sold in the markets of Tunis, Algiers and other towns. Barbary pirates ventured as far as England and Ireland, where they would raid coastal villages, and carry residents off. Professor Robert Davis writes:
Meanwhile the Muslim habit of using slaves in the army has led to one unusual result - in itself an indication of the trust accorded to slaves in Middle Eastern communities.
In 1250 the slave leaders of the Egyptian army, known as Mamelukes, depose the sultan and seize power. A succession of rulers from their own ranks control much of the Middle East, as the Mameluke dynasty, for nearly three centuries.
"The fishermen and coastal dwellers of 17th-century Britain lived in terror of being kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa. Hundreds of thousands across Europe met wretched deaths on the Barbary Coast in this way".As late as the early 19th century, the new US Navy fought two wars against the Barbary States, bringing the piracy to an end.
Edward Moran's 1897 painting, depicting the burning USS Philadelphia at the Battle of Tripoli Harbor, during the First Barbary War in 1804. (Image source: U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection/Wikimedia Commons)
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