By Roy Oksnevad
Slavery and its legacy has been the experience of people throughout history. Man’s sinful nature has always sought to oppress others and use them to advance their own ambitions. From the biblical record as early as Joseph in the book of Genesis, the marketing of human flesh is a part human history. More recently, slavery is deeply ingrained in the historical narrative of the Americas. In the African American community, slavery’s ugly legacy has scarred a people. The overall message taught in public schools perpetuates the story that Blacks were sold to white slave owners who brutally abused them, divided the family units, and also wanted to make the savages Christians. This narrative has produced the myth of Black inferiority and was supported by the church in the South. The Scofield Bible’s notes provided the theological underpinning of this false doctrine which has fueled racist attitudes that linger today. In juxtaposition, the biblical account shows that since the time of Jesus Christ, slavery has been frowned upon in Christianity. See for example Galatians 3:28 and Philemon 16, which not only state that both those who are slaves and those who are free are equal in Jesus Christ, but that masters who have slaves are to consider them as brothers in Christ.
And it was those verses which motivated the strongest abolitionists against slavery, the most noted of whom were all Christians, including: Richard Baxter, Alice Curwen, Benjamin Lay, Anthony Benezet, Toussaint L’Ouverture, John Newton, Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, William Cowper, Olaudah Equiano, Elizabeth Heyrick, Thomas Pringle, Mary Prince, and of course the well-known William Wilberforce, all of whom were the driving force behind the eventual abolishment of slavery in the early 1800s.
However, North America is not the only incidence of slave trade in Africa. Islam also has a history of slavery which rivals and even surpasses the Western slave trade, a fact which needs to be acknowledged in history and sociology departments in order to give a broader scope of history.
There are two further elements missing from the narrative of African slavery. First, the myth of Black inferiority, admittedly perpetuated by the evangelical church, was exploited by Wallace Fard, who created a religion to promote Black empowerment through an aberration of Islam called the Nation of Islam, founded in 1923. This message of Black Power resonated with advocates in the Black community like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. The Nation of Islam was less of a religion and more about Black Power. The largest group of North Americans to embrace Islam is the African American community. The Nation of Islam, particularly in the prison system, has exploited this narrative and is the major vehicle for African Americans entering into Islam. What is missing from this narrative is that Islam in its foundational teaching is racist and considers those with black skin to be inferior. Even today, the word for Africans in many dialects of Arabic is ‘abid meaning slaves.
There is justification for this attitude in the Qur’an (see Suras 3:106 and 39:60). Both passages can imply that black-faced people will go to hell, while white-faced people will go to paradise. Racist attitudes are reinforced by quotations from some of the most famous Muslim scholars, including such household names as: Ibn Qutaybah, Ibn Sina, Al-Muqaddasi, Ibn Khaldun, Al-Tabari, Al Tirmidhi, and Ibn Taymiyyah, all of whom uniformly referred to the black African race using horrendous racist terminology which is demeaning and disturbing.
John Hunwick and Eve Powell note,
Prior to the nineteenth century, there is no evidence of condemnation of slavery by Muslim writers, nor any attempt to justify the institution. Enslavement was considered retribution for the rejection of the Islamic faith, since the sole legal method of obtaining a slave (at least in theory) was through the defeat of non-Muslims in a jihad that had as its aim to “make the word of God supreme and to bring men to His religion which he chose for His servants” (see below, pp.51-52). In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries some Muslim writers felt a need to rationalize the acceptance of slavery in Islamic thinking, in response to European condemnation of slavery and criticism of Islam.
The second missing element in the narrative has to do with the history of African slavery. There were two great slave markets coming out of Africa: the Transatlantic slave trade and the Arab-Islamic East African slave trade. The only story we’ve have heard in school concerns the “Atlantic Slave Trade,” reminding us of 13 million slaves who were taken by force, over a period of 400 years, from Western Africa to the Americas (North and South America), to work against their will, and whose progeny number in the millions today. Of those 13 million, only five percent went to the USA and ninety-five percent went to the Caribbean and South America.
The narrative we haven’t heard was that there was an even larger slave trade taking place simultaneously, yet spanning a much longer period (over 1400 years), on the eastern and northern coasts of Africa, made up of 20 million, all of whom were taken northward, to the Muslim Middle East. This slave trade met a demand for women. Men were taken captive also, but were castrated, with only 20% of the castrated men surviving the trip.
Since this slave history is not germane to the history of the Americas, little is written about this Islamic slave trade, nor can we find their progeny (who should be numbering in the millions today) in the Middle East. Ghanaian John Azumah writes,
With regard to most parts of Muslim Africa, however, long before Europeans ever appeared on the scene slavery was a well-organized and institutionalized system. These include such Muslim states and dynasties as Sokoto, Bornu, Wadai, Dar Fur, Sennar and Futa Jallon, all in West and Central Sudan, while in East Africa slavery and the slave trade was virtually an Arab-Muslim monopoly, with the Yao and Nyamwezi as active middlemen and suppliers.
He writes further
While African Muslims exploited slavery to satisfy mundane economic needs, they also, in line with traditional Muslim thought, sincerely regarded it as an Islamic response to the problem of kufr. The raids, slaughter, kidnapping, trade, and enslavement of millions of traditional African believers by African Muslim societies,…were basically viewed as a religious duty.
In our globalized world, it would be prudent for our history and social science departments to expand the narrative to note that slavery is not only a Western, or European, or even a Christian problem. It is a civilization problem and Islam has a long legacy of slavery in Africa which even exists up to the present. Our sinful nature is such that we need to recognize that other nations and races have stooped to slavery. Slavery has been with us as a human race from antiquity, yet Islam has been rather silent on its involvement. For the academy to be relevant in our politically correct and global world, we need to include the longer history of Islam in the African slave market when speaking and writing about the history of slavery with the North American audience.
 This is chronicled in Tony Evans’ book, Oneness Embraced: Reconciliation, The Kingdom, and How we are Stronger Together, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011.
 There are some scholars who suggest that the two verses (Suras 3:106 and 39:60), referring to the faces being blackened, can also be seen in the context of disappointment, especially when compared to the context of what we read in Sura 16:58 (that the face is darkened when giving birth to a girl), and are thus an idiom of man’s disappointment for these two as well.
 Jay Smith did a talk at Speaker’s Corner on the topic, Slavery in Islam & Its Historical Roots, on April 10, 2016 and published on Apr 15, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLIAnARzh_Y (Accessed 6/12/16). This section is taken from the summary of that debate.
 John Hunwick and Eve Powell, The African Diaspora in the Mediterranean Lands of Islam (Princeton, NJ: Marcus Wiener Publishers, 2002), 13.
 John Azumah, The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa: A Quest for Inter-religious Dialogue (London: OneWorld Publications, 2001), 117.
 Ibid., 117-118.
 Islamic Slavery and Racism: A brief history of Muslim Arabs’ barbaric institution of black slavery by Daniel Greenfield. http://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/183852/islamic-slavery-and-racism-daniel-greenfield (Accessed 9/21/2016).