As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East


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Sarah La Preta: A Slave in Jerusalem | The Institute for Palestine Studies

Focusing in particular on the Islamic Middle East from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, Ehud R. Toledano examines how bonded persons experienced enslavement in Ottoman societies. He draws on court records and a variety of other unexamined primary sources to uncover important new information about the Africans and Circassians who were forcibly removed from their own societies and transplanted to Middle East cultures that were alien to them.

Toledano also considers the experiences of these enslaved people within the context of the global history of slavery. About What's New Log in. Arberry, first published ; The Qur'an, translated by M. Abdel Haleem, published ; or side-by-side comparison view Arberry Haleem Side-by-side Chapter: verse lookup Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go.

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To log back in, click here or enter your username and password below. If the borrower cannot pay the creditor back in a year, they become their slave.

Most often, they became a lifetime slave. This type of slavery replaced all other forms of slavery in Russia. And yet there was also indentured servitude at the same time, differing from slavery only in that an indentured servant could not be physically harmed by their master. Unlike bonded laborers or serfs, we might think of slaves as people with little or no legal right to protection.

This has often been true. Yet not only were legal realities often quite complicated, so were the social realities behind the laws. In Roman law, slaves were conceptualized as people with no rights. Since they were, in theory, prisoners of war who had been spared execution, they were legally dead anyway. Under the Emperor Hadrian d. The Emperors Antoninus Pius d. And in the legal code of Emperor Justinian d.

In early America, all thirteen colonies had laws regulating race and slavery, which were occasionally updated. Although ten states in the South had slave codes making it a crime to mistreat slaves, mistreatment was understood in relation to the severity of the disobedience or infringement that the master was punishing. Amputating limbs, castration, and execution were all allowed as punishments when the alleged crime was severe.

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And it was almost impossible for slaves to challenge any treatment in court, since they could not even testify. Nonetheless in North Carolina and Virginia a handful of white slave-owners were executed or imprisoned for murdering or cruelly treating their slaves. As a leading scholar on Ottoman slavery has remarked, it is difficult to treat slavery as one definable phenomenon just in the Ottoman Empire, let alone globally though he stresses that the varieties of slavery in the Ottoman realm were different in degrees not different in kind.

Many historians, proceeding from a Marxist paradigm, have sought to explain slavery as a purely economic phenomenon.

Others, especially scholars of slavery in the Islamic world, have stressed that slavery is often much more of a social phenomenon. Definitions of slavery have tended to revolve around three notions: the slave as a family-less outsider, the slave as property, and the slave as the object of violence. Some scholars have proposed more specific definitions for slavery as an economic, legal, and social condition. One argues that slavery is a mode of exploitation that is uniquely characterized by its means of reproducing itself, namely through political violence or captivity in war.

The most influential, specific definition comes from Orlando Patterson, who defines slavery as always exhibiting three features. First, slavery involves perpetual domination ultimately enforced by violence. They inherit no protection or privilege and can pass none on to their children. Finally, slaves are denied any honor. Sometimes it was the slaves who dominated free people, as in the case of the Turkish slave soldiers of the Abbasid caliphs in the ninth and early tenth centuries.

Although they were freed after they finished their military training, the Mamluk dynasty of Turkic or Caucasian warlords reproduced itself generation after generation by importing new slave soldiers into a ruling military elite that defined itself by its military slave experience. Patterson argues that slave elites in Islamic civilization were still effectively powerless because their fate still hung on the whim of their masters.

But the frequency with which Abbasid Turkic slaves, Egyptian Mamluks, and Ottoman Janissaries summarily executed their masters when it suited them strongly suggests otherwise. Nor have those who identify as slaves always been natally alienated. Byzantine imperial slaves could own property and bequeath it to their children. Until then he could not sell her. But in reality, when an elite imperial slave like Sokollu died, what transpired was a form of negotiation between state officials and the heirs.

Since many of these slaves had amassed—and stashed—immense wealth, it was more efficient for the state to negotiate for a portion of it in return for allowing the heirs to receive the remainder without legal problems. There were also other easy means of circumventing the natal alienation of wealth. Like many wealthy citizens of the Ottoman Empire, imperial slaves could place their wealth in endowments Ar.

What is more striking is that, in many cases, Ottoman imperial slaves maintained their relationships to their original families in the Christian areas of the Balkans, using their newfound power to elevate their relatives. Sometimes exploiting family connections was one of the major purposes of enslavement.

Slavery and Globalization in Arabia

Though technically slaves, Christian Europeans captured by the Ottoman naval forces of Algiers in the eighteenth century were often more like hostages. They could send and receive mail from their families and, if their masters were lucky, their families paid ransoms to free them. Before delving into how slavery existed in Islam we should note that this is not a question asked in a vacuum.

Slavery is the ideal example to invoke because its evil is so morally clear and so widely acknowledged. Who would defend slavery? It is the Hitler of human practices. In that sense, it is much like the word terrorism—its power lies in the assumptions behind its meaning and the moral condemnation it carries. But it is very poorly defined.

The political nature of slavery is particularly pronounced in the history of Islam and the West. During the eighteenth and even nineteenth centuries the fear of being captured by Muslim pirates in the Atlantic and western Mediterranean loomed large in the Western European particularly British imagination. And indeed thousands of British and Americans were taken as slaves in such a way. From the British tabloids to then private citizen Donald Trump, in many parroted the claim that Muslims in northern England were luring young white girls in as sex slaves.


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The word slavery has been political even when it has been invoked for the best of causes.

As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East
As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East
As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East
As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East
As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East
As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East
As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East
As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East
As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East

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