Tom Gilson

“Slavery, Christianity, and Islam”

Robert Spencer writes of religion and slavery in world history, including:

[T]he pressure to end [slavery] moved from Christendom into Islam, not the other way around. There was no Muslim Clarkson, Wilberforce, or Garrison. In fact, when the British government in the nineteenth century adopted the view of Wilberforce and the other abolitionists as its own and thereupon began to put pressure on pro-slavery regimes, the Sultan of Morocco was incredulous precisely because of the audacity of the innovation that the British were proposing: “The traffic in slaves,” he noted, “is a matter on which all sects and nations have agreed from the time of the sons of Adam . . . up to this day.”

There is evidence that slavery still continues beneath the surface in some majority-Muslim countries as well—notably Saudi Arabia, which only abolished slavery in 1962, Yemen and Oman, both of which ended legal slavery in 1970, and Niger, which didn’t abolish slavery until 2004. In Niger, the ban is widely ignored, and as many as one million people remain in bondage. Slaves are bred, often raped, and generally treated like animals.

Some of the evidence that Islamic slavery still goes on consists of a spate of slavery cases involving Muslims in the United States.

[From FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Slavery, Christianity, and Islam] The entire article provides important historical and religious perspective on a practice that most tragically has not yet ended.

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3 thoughts on ““Slavery, Christianity, and Islam”

  1. Perhaps you have forgotten the exploration of the new world. If so may I remind you that the Spanish Monarchy,in order to spread christianity, managed to wipe out 90% of a race and enslave the rest in the brutal econmienda system. The slavery in America was one of humanitys most brutal crimes and was directly linked to Christianity. The slaves working in the silver mines of Brazil such as the Potosi had to wade through mercury and climb down tunnels into mountains no larger than a man’s waste. Bartalome de las Casas reported that the slaves in the New World were thought of less than dung. This harsh system of enslavement on friendly and helpful natives truly marks the aggressive nature of Christians in the false pretexts of converting heathens. Then of course was the Trans Atlantic slave trade where humans were stacked like logs on cramped ship holds and left to deficate and vomit over themselves. The treatment of Africans in the New World sugar plantations was no better than the treatment of native americans in the spanish rule. Most died of food shortages and were replaced promptly and the cycle repeated. This system of slavery was completly opposed to that of the Arab slave trade where the slaves could, and usually did, rise in social status and where the children of slaves were considered free. The main difference in Christian slavery and Muslim slavery is that slavery in muslim areas was a choice taken by the slave in order to pay of debts, whereas the Christian version was a brutal economic business with no regard to the life of the humans in that process. Since you mention the 20th centuary as well please take into consideration the Russian concept of serfdom and later the labor and gulag camps impressed on millions of innocent citizens. This practice was far more destructive than any thing in the middle east. Also Saudi Arabia never pursued slavery in the 20th centuary they use laborers from other countries giving them temporary visas instead of lifelong servitude.

  2. You also fail to comment on the colonization and subjugation of Africans during the era of European colnization. The people of the Congo for example were treated like animals with many being murdered and enslaved for the pleasure of the royal family. Or the South Africans who created the infamous Apartheid which placed whites above blacks and forced the local population to serve in degrading and hard labor jobs for the benefit of the white minority. Was not the process of carving up Africa and enslaving the continent’s people slavery? I see many more instances where Christendom has engaged in a much more brutal and large scale meathod of slavery,and to compare the two seems insignificant at best and racist at worst.

  3. The point is not that Christians never kept slaves. The point is that the anti-slavery movement’s roots were Christian; and that present-day slavery still exists, but Christians are not practicing it to anywhere near the same degree as others. Really, the point is in the first paragraph of the First Things article: to say that Christianity is invalid relative to Islam because of their comparative treatment of slavery, is just historically uninformed and false.

    And the point is not the things I “fail to comment on.” I am not writing an exhaustive historical treatise on slavery in all of its aspects, so I do not take it that I’m failing if I leave out certain aspects of the history of slavery. I could as easily say, “You fail to comment on William Wilberforce,” who was the single strongest driving force toward ending the slave trade, specifically as a result of his Christian beliefs. You fail to comment on just as much as I fail to comment on. Let’s just drop this “fail to comment” language and attitude, okay?

    The history of slavery is very long and complex. Types and modes of servitude have varied from culture to culture. I think the best quick treatment of this issue is in Tim Keller’s talk on Literalism: Isn’t the Bible historically unreliable and regressive?. The entire talk is relevant, but the specific discussion of slavery begins about 20 minutes into the talk.

    Slavery has existed in far too many places and times. Where it has existed it has been wrong, and in many times the Christians have shared in that wrong. Let’s stipulate that and agree on it. Pointing to instances of Christian slavery does not overturn the article’s thesis.

    There is a different issue, which is that of how slavery has changed over the centuries. Where slavery has been brought to an end, the impetus historically been Christian. Slavery does exist in the world still today, but hardly at all where Christianity has been the dominant cultural force. There is a very marked historical difference between Christianity’s approach to slavery and Islam’s. This is the point that is being made in the First Things article.

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