Sunday, April 21, 2019

How Slavery was humanised by Islam: Notes by a British Orientalist

How Slavery was humanised by Islam: Notes by a British Orientalist

In regard to a second feature of the Muslim social system, the practice of slavery, it is important to bear in mind that the slave was generally the body-servant or retainer of his master, and that slavery was in no sense the economic basis of Muslim society.

Master and slave thus Stood a more humane relationship than did the slave cultivator to the Roman landed proprietor or the American planter.

There was consequently less śtigma attaching to slavery, and in no other society has there been anything resembling the syśtem by which, as has been shown in the preceding section, the white slaves came to furnish the privileged cadres whence the high officers of state, commanders, governors, and at length even sultans, were almośt exclusively drawn.

The following story, told by a theologian of the
third century, represents without serious distortion the relations, which, as numerous parallels in Arabic literature indicate, often existed between master, and slave.

I saw a slave-boy being auationed for thirty dinárs and as he was worth three hundred I bought him.
I was building a house at the time, and I gave
twenty dínárs to lay out on the workmen. He spent ten on them and bought a garment for himself with the other ten. I said to him What's this ?" to which he replied "Don't be hasty; no gentleman scolds his slaves." I said to myself " Here have I bought the Caliph's tutor without knowing it."
Later on I wanted to marry a woman unknown to my cousin (i.e. my first wife), so I swore him to secrecy and gave him a dínár to buy some things, including some of the fish called házibá. But he bought something else, and when I was wroth with him he said I find that Hippocrates disapproves of házibá." I said to him "You worthless fool, I was not aware that I had bought a Galen," and gave him ten blows with the whip. But he seized me and gave me seven back saying, "Sir, three blows is enough as a punishment, and the seven I gave you are my rightful retaliation." So I made at him and gave him a cut on the head, whereupon he went off to my cousin, and said to her "Sincerity is a religious duty, and whoever deceives us is not one of us. My master has married and he swore me to silence, and when I said to him that my lady muśt be told of it he broke my head." So my cousin would neither let me into the house nor let me have anything out of it, until at last I had to divorce the other woman.
After that she used to call the boy "The honest lad," and I could not say a word to him, so I said to myself "I shall set him free, and then I shall have peace."


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