Arab slave trade

slave trade in the Arab world between the 7th and 20th centuries

The Arab slave trade,[1][2][3] was a slave trade in which slaves were mainly transported across the Sahara. Most were moved from sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa to be sold to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilizations; a small percentage went the other direction.[4] Estimates of the total number of black slaves moved from sub-Saharan Africa to the Arab world range from 6-10 million, and the trans-Saharan trade routes conveyed a significant number of this total, with one estimate tallying around 7.2 million slaves crossing the Sahara from the mid-7th century until the 20th century when it was abolished.[5][6] The Arabs managed and operated the trans-Saharan slave trade,[7] although Berbers were also actively involved and also traded.[8][9] Alongside Black Africans, Turks, Iranians, Europeans and Berbers were among the people traded by the Arabs, with the trade being practised throughout the Arab world, primarily in Western Asia, North Africa, East Africa, and Europe.[10]

The main slave routes in Africa during the Middle Ages


19th-century engraving depicting an Arab slave trading caravan transporting black African slaves across the Sahara to North Africa.

One of the oldest slave trades in history was the Arab trade of Zanj (Bantu) slaves in Southeast Africa. This trade began 700 years before the European Atlantic slave trade.[11] Men taken as slaves were often used as servants, soldiers, or workers. Women and children were mainly used as servants and concubines.

Most male slaves were castrated.[12] It is estimated that as many as 6 out of every 10 boys bled to death during this process.[12] Even so, castrating slaves was worthwhile because eunuchs sold for high prices. Over time, the Arab slave trade shifted to concentrate more on women and young girls for sexual purposes. This was different than the later Atlantic slave trade, which concentrated on enslaving men for labor.

During the Arab slave trade, Europeans were among those traded by the Arabs.[10] The term Saqaliba (Arabic: صقالبة) was often used in medieval Arabic sources to refer specifically to Slavic slaves traded by the Arab traders, but it could also refer more broadly to Central, Southern, and Eastern Europeans who were also traded by the Arabs, as well as all European slaves in some Muslim regions like Spain including those abducted from military raids on Christian kingdoms of Spain.[13][14] During the era of the Fatimid Caliphate (909–1171), the majority of slaves were Europeans taken along European beaches and during conflicts.[10]

Modern slavery in Africa


In Mauritania slavery was abolished legally in 1980.[15] But Muslim Berbers still own an estimated 90,000 African slaves.[15] This is despite the fact that African Mauritanians converted to Islam over a hundred years ago and the Qur’an does not allow Muslims to enslave other Muslims.[15] Slaves are used for farm labor, concubines and domestic servants.[16] The children remain the property of their masters. They can be bought, sold, or exchanged for trucks, camels or guns.[15]

Slavery in Sudan is active again with the Muslim north waging war against Animists and Christians in the south. In these raids almost all slaves are taken from the tribes in the Nuba Mountains.[15] Government sponsored Arab militias often kill the men and enslave women and children. Those taken slaves are forced to convert to Islam.[16] Those that refuse are put to death.[16] The trafficking in women and children in Western and Southern Africa violates the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[17]


  1. Bean, Frank D.; Brown, Susan K. (2023-03-01). Selected Topics in Migration Studies. Springer Nature. p. 27. ISBN 978-3-031-19631-7. Trans-Saharan slave trade was conducted within the ambits of the trans-Saharan trade, otherwise referred to as the Arab trade. Trans-Saharan trade, conducted across the Sahara Desert, was a web of commerical interactions between the Arab world (North Africa and the Persian Gulf) and sub-Saharan Africa.
  2. Iddrisu, Abdulai (6 January 2023). "A Study in Evil: The Slave Trade in Africa". Religions. 14 (1): 122. doi:10.3390/rel14010122. Africans experienced three distinct types of slave trades: (1) The European Slave Trade that took Africans across the Atlantic from the mid-fifteenth century until the end of the nineteenth century; (2) the Arab Slave Trade across the Sahara and the Indian Ocean that predated European contact with Africa; and (3) domestic slavery.
  3. Gakunzi, David (2018). "The Arab-Muslim Slave Trade: Lifting the Taboo". Jewish Political Studies Review. 29 (3/4): 40–42. ISSN 0792-335X. JSTOR 26500685. In West Africa, the Arab slave trade encompassed a vast region from the Niger valley to the Gulf of Guinea. This traffic followed the trans-Saharan roads.
  4. Bradley, Keith R. "Apuleius and the sub-Saharan slave trade". Apuleius and Antonine Rome: Historical Essays. p. 177.
  5. Segal 2001, p. 55-57.
  6. Clarence-Smith, William Gervase (2006). Islam and the Abolition of Slavery. Oxford University Press. pp. 11–12. ISBN 978-0-19-522151-0. OCLC 1045855145.
  7. Ayittey, George (2006-09-01). Indigenous African Institutions: 2nd Edition. BRILL. p. 450. ISBN 978-90-474-4003-1. While the Europeans organized the West African slave trade, the Arabs managed the East African and trans-Saharan counterparts.
  8. Badru, Pade; Sackey, Brigid M. (2013-05-23). Islam in Africa South of the Sahara: Essays in Gender Relations and Political Reform. Scarecrow Press. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-8108-8470-0.
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2023-12-06. Retrieved 2024-02-06.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Akinbode, Ayomide (20 December 2021). "The Forgotten Arab Slave Trade of East Africa". The History Ville. Archived from the original on 6 December 2023. Retrieved 6 February 2024.
  11. Bethwell A. Ogot, Zamani: A Survey of East African History, (East African Publishing House: 1974), p.104
  12. 12.0 12.1 A. Moore (2 June 2014). "10 Facts About The Arab Enslavement Of Black People Not Taught In Schools". Atlanta Black Star. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  13. Mishin 1998.
  14. Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery saqaliba&f=false The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery: A-K ; Vol. II, L-Z, by Junius P. Rodriguez
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 "Traditional or Chattel Slavery". The Feminist Sexual Ethics Project. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Diane Weber Bederman (18 October 2013). "Slavery in Africa Is Alive, Well and Ignored". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  17. "Modern forms of slavery". UNESCO. Retrieved 30 January 2016.

Other websites