Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7d684dbfc8-v2qlk Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-09-30T02:55:47.880Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForArticlePurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForBookPurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForElementPurchase": false, "coreUseNewShare": true, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

3 - Slavery in Islamic Africa, 1400–1800


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 September 2011

Rudolph T. Ware III
University of Michigan
David Eltis
Emory University, Atlanta
Stanley L. Engerman
University of Rochester, New York
Get access



Between the beginning of the fifteenth century and the end of the eighteenth, millions lived and died as slaves in African Muslim societies. From the Mediterranean coast to the grasslands of West Africa, in the Nile Valley and the Horn, and all along the Indian Ocean littoral, Muslims predominated or exercised great influence. In all these regions slavery was economically, socially, and politically important, and its scale increased throughout our period before reaching wholly unprecedented levels in the nineteenth century. Islamic principles and practices shaped the nature of slavery in Muslim societies, but they did so in uneven and contingent ways. In this chapter, we will examine the ways in which Islamic ideas about slavery were negotiated in the historical experience of Muslim Africans. There are three major components of any system of slavery: reduction of human beings to servitude, distribution of the enslaved within and between societies, and the nature of servitude within a society. These categories are utilitarian, not absolute. Biological reproduction of slaves belongs in categories one and three. Category three implies the continuous reproduction of the meanings of category one without the initial act of capture or birth. Examples could be multiplied. The categories are heuristic aids, not precise hermeneutical tools. In these sections we will survey Islamic legal, intellectual, and moral discourses on slavery in relation to the historical record. This initial discussion will treat themes common to all of Islamic Africa, providing a necessary context.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Austen, Ralph A.: “The Trans-Saharan Slave Trade: A Tentative Census,” in H. Gemery and J. Hogendorn (eds.), The Uncommon Market: Essays in the Economic History of the Atlantic Slave Trade (New York, 1979)Google Scholar
“The Islamic Red Sea Slave Trade: An Effort at Quantification,” Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Ethiopian Studies (Chicago, 1979)
The Nineteenth Century Islamic Slave Trade from East Africa (Swahili and Red Sea Coasts): An Intermediate Census,” Slavery and Abolition, 9 (1988)
The Mediterranean Slave Trade out of Africa: A Tentative Census,” Slavery and Abolition, 13 (1992): 214–48CrossRef
O'Fahey, , “Religion and Trade in the Kayra Sultanate of Dār Fūr,” in Yūsuf Faḍl Ḥasan (ed.), Sudan in Africa (Khartoum, 1971)Google Scholar
Slavery and the Slave Trade in Dār Fūr,” Journal of African History 14 (1973): 29–43CrossRef
Cassanelli, Lee, The Shaping of Somali Society (Philadelphia, 1982), p. 26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Glassman, Jonathon, Feasts and Riot: Revelry, Rebellion, and Popular Consciousness on the Swahili Coast, 1856–1888 (Portsmouth, 1995)Google Scholar
Cooper, Frederick, Plantation Slavery on the East African Coast (New Haven, 1977)Google Scholar
Sheriff, Abdul, Slaves, Spices and Ivory in Zanzibar: Integration of an East African Commercial Empire into the World Economy, 1770–1873 (London, 1987)Google Scholar
Harris, Joseph, The African Presence in Asia: Consequences of the East African Slave Trade (Evanston, 1971)Google Scholar
Jwaideh, Albertine and Cox, J. W., “The Black Slaves of Turkish Arabia during the Nineteenth Century,” both of which appear in W. G. Clarence-Smith (ed.), Economics of Indian Ocean Slave Trade (London, 1989)Google Scholar
Kusimba, Chapurukha, “Archaeology of Slavery in East Africa,” African Archaeological Review, 21 (2004): 59–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats