Slavery and Islam: What is Slavery?
Published: February 7, 2017 • Updated: August 13, 2021
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
The Problem of Defining \ˈslā-v(ə-)rē\
How We See Slavery – American Chattel Slavery
The Spectrum of Coerced Labor
- Serfdom: In Europe, this tradition goes back to ancient Greece. Laborers, usually peasant farmers, were free in the sense that they owned their own clothes, tools, livestock as well as the fruits of their labor. But they were bound to the land on which they lived or to their landlord wherever he might go.Serfdom in Europe developed as the status of free peasants and settled Barbarian prisoners of war in the late Roman Empire collapsed into a single class of “quasi-servitude” not too different from slavery.Serfdom disappeared in most of Western Europe in the wake of the Black Death in the 1300s, though it continued in the institution of villeinage in England until around 1600 and continued into the 1800s in mining areas of Scotland and German-speaking lands. Serfdom is most associated with Russia, where it came to replace slavery in agriculture and domestic spheres in the late 1600s and early 1700s.
- Master/Servant Relationship: When serfdom disappeared from Western Europe, it was replaced by the relationship between the laborer and the landowner/employer. Unlike our modern notion of a worker’s contract, however, failing to live up to this contract was a criminal offense. Only in the British colonies in North America did a notion of free labor eventually appear in the 1700s, and this did not make its way back to Britain until 1875.
- Debt servitude: This has been one of the most widespread forms of coerced labor. When a person is unable to repay a debt, he or she becomes the slave of the creditor. This was extremely common in Southeast Asia, where our Western model of slavery was extremely rare.
- Bonded labor/indentured servitude: This is similar to debt servitude and has been very common in history. A person willingly enters into an agreement to exchange their labor and a loss of some freedoms for a fixed period of time in return for some service or up-front payment. This differs from debt servitude because the person willingly surrenders their labor and a degree of freedom.
Definitions that Never Seem to Work
Slavery in Islam – A Political Question
Conclusion: Focus on the Conditions, not the Word
1 The Ottoman tradition of elite slavery may have been inherited from the late Roman and Byzantine Empires, where imperial slaves (often eunuchs) could rise to high positions in the military and the administration; Youval Rotman, Byzantine Slavery and the Mediterranean World, trans. Jane Marie Todd (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), 104; Cam Grey, “Slavery in the Late Roman World,” in The Cambridge World History of Slavery: Volume I The Ancient Mediterranean World, ed. Keith Bradley and Paul Cartledge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 499.
2 Pamela Kyle Crossley, “Slavery in Early Modern China,” in The Cambridge World History of Slavery: Volume 3 AD 1420-1804, ed. David Eltis and Stanley Engerman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 200.
3 Christoph K. Neumann, “Whom did Ahmet Cevdet represent?,” in Late Ottoman Society, ed. Elisabeth Özdalga, 117-134. London: Routledge, 2005), 117.
4 David Brion Davis, Challenging the Boundaries of Slavery (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 17-18.
5 Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), 22.
6 Grey, “Slavery in the Late Roman World,” 496; Rotman, Byzantine Slavery, 174-76.
7 Patterson, Slavery and Social Death, 22.
8 Crossley, “Slavery in Early Modern China,” 191.
9 Julia O’Connell Davidson, Modern Slavery: The Margins of Freedom (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 162.
10 Crossley, “Slavery in Early Modern China,” 187.
11 Vaughan Lowe, International Law: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 1.
12 Here quoting Youval Rotman, Byzantine Slavery, 19.
13 Rotman, Byzantine Slavery, 17-18.
14 Rotman, Byzantine Slavery, 97-98.
15 Joseph C. Miller, The Problem of Slavery as History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 12.
16 David Eltis and Stanley Engerman, “Dependence, Servility, and Coerced Labor in Time and Space,” in The Cambridge World History of Slavery Volume 3, 3.
17 Richard Hellie, “Russian Slavery and Serfdom, 1450-1804,” in The Cambridge World History of Slavery Vol. 3, 276-77.
18 Cam Grey, “Slavery in the Late Roman World,” 484-6.
19 Hellie, “Russian Slavery,” 284, 292-93.
20 Eltis and Engerman, “Dependence, Servility, and Coerced Labor,” 7; Davidson, Modern Slavery, 68. In England this issue was governed by the Statute of Artificers, which the American colonies only adopted in a limited way.
21 Kerry Ward, “Slavery in Southeast Asia, 1420-1804,” in The Cambridge World History of Slavery Volume 3, 165-66.
22 Eltis and Engerman, “Dependence, Servility, and Coerced Labor,” 6.
23 Kenneth Morgan, Slavery and Servitude in Colonial North America (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 8-9, 20; David Galenson, “The Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude in the Americas: An Economic Analysis,” Journal of Economic History 44, no. 1 (1984): 4.
24 It was in the Ottoman state’s interest to keep this agricultural system stable; Y. Hakan Erdem, Slavery in the Ottoman Empire and its Demise, 1800-1909 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 12-13, 15.
25 Stanley Engerman, “Slavery at Different Times and Places,” American Historical Review 105, n. 2 (2000): 481
26 Crossley, “Slavery in Early Modern China,” 189.
27 Hellie, “Russian Slavery,” 284, 293.
28 Hellie, “Russian Slavery,” 279-80. The author notes the similarity between this Russian contract and the ancient Persian custom of antichrisis (as named by Greek authors).
29 Crossley, “Slavery in Early Modern China,” 191.
30 Ward, “Slavery in Southeast Asia,” 171.
31 Lawrence M. Friedman, A History of American Law, 2nd ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985), 225.
32 W.W. Buckland, The Roman Law of Slavery (New York: AMS, 1969, reprint of 1908 Cambridge U. Press edition), 2-3.
33 Yan Thomas, “Vitae Necisque Potestas: Le Père, La Cité, La Mort,” Publications de l’École Française de Rome (1984): 499–548.
34 Buckland, The Roman Law of Slavery, 36-8.
35 Kenneth Morgan, Slavery and Servitude in Colonial North America, 35, 77; Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1998), 116; Paul Finkelman, “Slavery: United States Law,” in Oxford International Encyclopedia of Legal History, 5:258-262; Friedman, A History of American Law, 225-6.
36 David Brion Davis, Slavery and Human Progress (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 8.
37 Ehud Toledano, Slavery and Abolition in the Ottoman Middle East (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998), 164-65; Toledano, As if Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 21.
38 See also Nur Sobers-Khan, Slaves without Shackles: Forced Labour and Manumission in the Galata Court Registers, 1560-1572 (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 2014).
39 Martin Klein, “Introduction,” in Breaking the Chains: Slavery, Bondage, and Emancipation in Modern Africa and Asia, ed. Martin Klein (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), 4-5.
40 Rodney Coates, “Slavery” in Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, ed. George Ritzer (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007).
41 A. Testart, “The Extent and Significance of Debt Slavery,” Revue Française de Sociologie 43 (2002): 176.
42 Davis, Slavery and Human Progress, 17-19; Brenda Stevenson, What is Slavery? (Malden, MA: Polity, 2015), 8.
43 Claude Meillassoux, The Anthropology of Slavery (London: Athlone, 1991).
44 Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), 7-8, 13.
45 Nasser Rabbat, “The Changing Concept of the Mamlūk in the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt and Syria,” in Slave Elites in the Middle East and Africa, ed. Miura Toru and John Edward Philips (London: Kegal Paul, 2000), 89, 97.
46 Rotman, Byzantine Slavery, 104.
47 See Ali Yaycıoğlu, “Wealth, Power and Death: Capital Accumulation and Imperial Seizures in the Ottoman Empire (1453-1839)” available at http://www.econ.yale.edu/~egcenter/Yaycioglu%20-%20Wealth%20Death%20and%20Power%20-%20November%202012.pdf.
48 Leslie Pierce, Morality Tales: Law and Gender in the Ottoman Court of Aintab (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 315; Toledano, As if Silent and Absent, 25; Ebru Boyar and Kate Fleet, A Social History of Ottoman Istanbul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 147-48.
49 Dror Ze’evi, “My Slave, My Son, My Lord: Slavery, Family and the State in the Islamic Middle East,” in Slave Elites in the Middle East and Africa, 75. See also Metin Kunt’s short article, “Ethnic-Regional (Cins) Solidarity in the Seventeenth-Century Ottoman Establishment,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 5, no. 3 (1974): 233-39.
50 Veinstein, G., “Soḳollu Meḥmed Pas̲h̲a”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 21 November 2016 <http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.georgetown.edu/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_7090> First published online: 2012
51 Daniel Crecelius and Gotcha Djaparidze, “Relations of the Georgian Mamluks of Egypt with Their Homeland in the Last Decades of the Eighteenth Century,” Journal of the Social and Economic History of the Orient 45, no. 3 (2002): 326.
52 Christine E. Sears, “‘In Algiers, the City of Bondage’: Urban Slavery in Comparative Context,” in New Directions in Slavery Studies, ed. Jeff Forret and Christine E. Sears (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015), 203, 207, 211.
53 Julia O’Connell Davidson, Modern Slavery: The Margins of Freedom (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 3, 6, 22-23, 37-39, 69, 169.
54 Davidson, Modern Slavery, 100
55 William Clarence-Smith and David Eltis, “White Servitude,” 139, 144.
57 Davidson, Modern Slavery, 33.
58 Davidson, Modern Slavery, 32.
59 Kevin Bales, Understanding Global Slavery (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 52-54.