Who was the Real Slave Master?

Rev. Richard P. Bailey

"The Christians were the ones who enslaved the Black man, but Islam is a world-wide brotherhood." You may have heard someone say something like this and wondered if it was true.

Slavery was practiced by all civilizations until the 19th century when it began to be outlawed. Yes, brutal slavery was practiced here in America by many Christians, but Biblical Christianity does not condone their misguided behavior.[1]

Many books have been written about the shameful treatment of slaves by Christians in this country, and true Christians offer no excuse for it. The Christian conscience condemns this atrocity and feels it must face and confess all the brutal facts.

So, is the involvement of Christians in slavery a valid reason for leaving Christianity and becoming a Muslim? Not unless Muslims are innocent in this matter.

The fact is Muslim nations and societies have practiced slavery from the time of Muhammad[2] until recent years. The facts are well established, but so little is written about Muslims’ involvement in the slave trade that most people are surprised when it is mentioned. J.D. Fage’s book, A History of Africa[3] is one of several which clearly document its extent.

Muslims began large-scale buying and selling of African slaves 600 years before Europeans did and continued to do so 100 years after.

The highest volume of the slave trade was in the trans-Atlantic slave trade from 1451 to 1867. Fage estimates that there was a total of about 12 million slaves taken from west Africa to Europe and the Americas by "Christian" traders over those 4 centuries. Although the volume was never as high in the trans-Saharan and Red Sea slave trade, the longer time involved resulted in the same total number of slaves involved. The Arabs bought slaves in central, west and east Africa and sold them in North Africa, the Middle East and on the west coast of India. About 9 million slaves were involved in the trans-Saharan slave trade over the 10 centuries from 900 to 1880, and an additional 3 million slaves were taken across the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean over 11 centuries from 800 to 1900 - a total of 12 million.

It is sad to discover that the Christian and Muslim slave traders found a ready market in which to buy slaves in all parts of Black Africa. Almost all them were captured and sold by African rulers and merchants. They found it more profitable to sell their enemies, criminals and debtors than to kill or imprison them. Even those rulers who first resisted trafficking in mankind later gave in to the great financial profits involved. We must conclude that there were three equally guilty partners in the crime of slavery: Pagan African rulers, Christian Europeans, and Muslim Arabs.

Gender is a significant factor in the comparison of Christian and Muslim slave trade from Africa. Two out of three slaves in the trans-Atlantic trade were adult males because the demand in America was for laborers to work the plantations. In the trans-Saharan trade, however, boys castrated to become eunuchs brought the highest price. The price for women was higher than for men because Islam permitted them to be used as concubines as well as workers. The result: only one out of three slaves sold in North Africa and the Middle East was a man. This accounts for the fact that there is no distinct Black segment in Middle Eastern society today. The eunuchs could not have children, the women’s offspring melted into the Arabic population, and the men often were unable to find wives. In the Americas, however, the Black population was segregated, and thus it has remaining distinct until today.

Few authors have described the horrors involved in the trans-Saharan slave trade: kidnaping and castrating young boys to be sold as eunuchs ("the living dead") in the harems of wealthy Arab landlords and force-marching young women across the endless miles of scorching sand in the Sahara desert to become slave/concubines ("double bound") in the homes of total strangers. Although most were well treated after they arrived, many died in transit.

One reason why comparatively little has been written about Arab involvement in slavery is that traditional Islamic culture reluctantly still condones slavery.[4]

The conscience of true Christians in Britain caused their Parliament to first outlaw slavery. Great Britian then influenced the rest of western Europe and America to free their slaves. This led to the outlawing of slavery by every government in the world. The last countries to free slaves were Saudi Arabia and Yemen in 1962 (100 years after Lincoln freed slaves in America), and Mauritania in 1980. An international organization investigating reports of slavery says black people are still illegally bought and sold in three Muslim nations.

So did Christians or Muslims enslave the Black man? Neither! Sinful, greedy human beings of all religions did. It is our corrupt, sinful humanity that stands condemned for the evils of slavery. Furthermore, the slave masters themselves became slaves, because Sin is the real slave master! Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin ... if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:34,36)

Following Christianity or Islam can’t set you free. Changing from one religion to another can’t set you free. The Lord Jesus, the eternal Son of God, is the only one who can truly liberate you from the bondage of sin in your life! Will you let him?


    1 The Bible seems to mention three kinds of slavery: (a) slaves through debt, (b) captives of war, and (c) slavery for commerce. The first two were permitted in the Mosaic law under certain conditions, but the third is strongly condemned throughout the Bible: "Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death." (Exodus 21:16) "... the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers ... for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers ..." (1 Timothy 1:9,10)
    2 Mohammad himself owned many slaves, some of whom he captured in wars of conquest and some he purchased. The names of forty are recorded by Muslim chroniclers. Some of these he set free such as Bilal and Zayd Ibn Haritha, but others he did not.
    3 J.D. Fage, A History of Africa, third edition, Routledge, 1995; see especially chapter 10. The book, Race and Slavery in the Middle East by Bernard Lewis is another scholarly and valuable documentation on this whole subject, Oxford Un. Press, 1990
    4 Although Islam recommends setting slaves free, it does not require it. In fact, codified Islamic law (Sharia) contains elaborate regulations for slavery. That is because one of the primary principles of Islam is following Mohammad’s example. Whatever he did we must do, what he forbid we must forbid, what he did not forbid we dare not forbid. Mohammad encouraged his followers to free their slaves, but he never forbid slavery.

Articles by Rev. Richard P. Bailey
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