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Gernot Rotter (1967)

Die Stellung des Negers in der islamisch-arabischen Gesellschaft bis zum XVI. Jahrhundert

PhD thesis, Rheinische Wilhelms-Universität, Bonn.

Rotter provides a summary (in German) on pp. 182-3, which is here rendered in English:

1. Based on the tolerance expressed in the Qur’an and practiced by the prophet, Islamic law never acknowledged racial differences. On the other hand, philosophical and literary characterizations (except in poetry) were always negative. Both by means of the legendary curse of Ham, the ancestor of all black people, and in “scientific” explanations, negroes are described as born by nature to be slaves and as holding a position not much above brute animals. The traditions, based on the Qur’an, which argued against such a picture appear to have had insufficient impact.

2. The emergence of a large-scale trade in African slaves was favoured by three factors: (a) Legally, only non-Muslims could be enslaved in Islam; (b) black Africans had been known as slaves in the Mediterranean and on the Arabian penisnula from before the advent of Islam, and (c) slavery was practiced in all African societies. The slaves were first acquired through individual Muslim traders who bought the slaves, either personally or through intermediaries, from the tribal rulers, who had recruited them from among their own subjects or as prisoners of war. Later, Arabic and black Muslims alike conducted wars, sometimes under the guise of “jihad”, against non-Muslim blacks in order to enslave them. From the 13th/14th centuries, white and black Muslims in the Sudan even enslaved their black co-religionists. Among Arabs, this practice appears to have been justified by the Ham legend.

3. Black slaves found the same occupations as white slaves. Only “slave gangs” were recruited only of blacks.

4. Manumission, recommended by the Qur’an and in theology, was extended to black slaves from the earliest times. However, the racial pride of Arabs provided a strong counter-current against accepting the equality of the free negro or, for that matter, of the free non-Arabic whites. The latter also accepted negroes as equal allies in their struggle for equality, though more in theory than in practice. The rebellions of black slaves during this period were no race wars. While negroes appear at an early time as important figures in theology, black eunuchs rise to powerful positions in the state during the 9th and 10th centuries. The black guards and army contingents - above all, foot soldiers - recruited of black armed slaves lost their influence in Iraq and in Egypt during the 10th and 12th centuries respectively, following clashes with the white non-Arabic slave armies who ruled afterwards. With the exception of Abessinian armed slaves in 11th and 12th-century South Arabia, negroes did not succeed in establishing their own Mamluk dynasties.

5. Marital ties between white men and black women were frequent at all times (the reverse was rarely the case). Criticism of such unions was rarely to be heard after the 13th century, and abusive poems on them vanished almost completely. The sexual attraction of black women overrode racial reservations. The Hidjaz and Egypt from the 15th century brought forth numerous writings in praise of such unions. As maternal genealogy was losing its relevance from the 10th century onwards, mulattoes could gain full social acceptance.

Islam black slaves race and racism
by Christoph Cluse last modified 2007-02-12 12:35

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