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On the Provenance of Slaves in Mecca during the Time of the Prophet Muhammad

  • Hend Gilli-Elewy (a1)

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There is hardly a source on early Islam that does not mention slaves in one way or another. They were ubiquitous companions of events, occasions, and incidences. But they played marginal roles in historical accounts. The numerous fragments of information, anecdotes, and offhand references concerning slaves during the rise of Islam call to be collected and analyzed to piece together a picture of various aspects of slavery during this period. References to slaves are especially prevalent in legal texts, as slaves provided useful cases to Muslim jurists to think through legal questions. The discussion of examples of slaves, walāʾ (clientele relationships), and manumission in hadith, exegesis, and jurisprudence has not only provided significant insight into the legal status of slaves, but has also helped scholars to develop a methodology for verifying and evaluating the source material itself. In this essay, I examine pieces of information available in historical and biographical works on early Islam to address the question of the provenance and procurement of slaves in Mecca, Medina, and the Hijaz during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Reconstructing this story involves dealing with narratives transmitted in various short, spurious, and often unrelated accounts. The source material for early Islam is, as is often pointed out, problematic and at times contradictory. It is laced with topoi and leitmotifs, and frequently proves tendentious, reflecting the opinions and biases of those who wrote them more than what actually happened. Nevertheless, reading beyond the topoi, leitmotifs, and tendentiousness, we find that “in the Traditions there is an undeniable core of ‘fact’” with which we can work and assume to be valid until shown to be false.

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References

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NOTES

1 For an example, see Mitter's, Ulrike matn-cum-isnad methodology in “Unconditional Manumission of Slaves in Early Islamic Law: A ḥadith Analysis,” Der Islam 78 (2001): 3573. See also works by Irene Schneider and Kecia Ali.

2 In this essay, I only cover information contained in the sīra of Ibn Ishaq (d. ca. 767) in Abu Muhammad ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Hisham (d. 834), Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah, ed. F. Wüstenfeld (Göttingen, 1859–60); Abu ʿAbd Allah Muhammad b. ʿUmar al-Waqidi (d. 823), Kitab al-Maghazi, ed. M. Jones, 3 vols. (London, 1965, 1984); Abu ʿAbd Allah Muhammad ibn Saʿd (d. 845), al-Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, ed. E. Sachau, 9 vols. (Leiden, 1905–40); Abu Jaʿfar Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari (d. 923), Kitab al-Rusul wa-l-Muluk; and Abu Muhammad ʿAbd Allah b. Muslim ibn Qutayba (d. 889), Kitab al-Maʿarif, ed. Muhammad Ismaʿil ʿAbd Allah al-Sawi (Beirut: n.p., 1970). I also draw on Muhammad b. ʿAbd Allah al-Azraqi (d. ca. 864), Kitab Akhbar Makka wa-Ma Jaʾa fiha min al-Athar, ed. F. Wüstenfeld, vol. 1 (Leipzig, 1858); and two works by Ahmad b. Yahya al-Baladhuri (d. 892): Kitab Futuh al-Buldan, ed. M. J. de Goeje (Leiden, 1866), and Kitab Ansab al-Ashraf, ed. S. D. F. Goitein and M. Schloessinger, 6 vols. (Jerusalem, 1938).

3 Serjeant, R. B., “Review: Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam: Misconceptions and Flawed Polemics,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 110 (1990): 472.

4 Ibn Saʿd, al-Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, 1:2:180; al-Tabari, Kitab al-Rusul, 1778–81. On Badr, see Ibn Hisham, Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah, 486–503; and the list in Watt, W. Montgomery, Muhammad at Medina (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956), 344.

5 Arabs: Ibn Qutayba, Kitab al-Maʿarif, 63; Ibn Saʿd, al-Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, 1:2:179–80; al-Tabari, Kitab al-Rusul, 1778, 1780. Abyssinians: al-Tabari, Kitab al-Rusul, 1778, 1780; Ibn Saʿd, al-Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir 3:1:167; Ibn Hisham, Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah, 486. Persians: al-Tabari, Kitab al-Rusul, 1779, 1940; Ibn Hisham, Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah, 486. Nubians: Ibn Saʿd, al-Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir 1:2:180; al-Tabari, Kitab al-Rusul, 1781; Ibn Hisham, Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah, 999. Copts: al-Tabari, Kitab al-Rusul, 1781; Ibn Saʿd, al-Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, 8:153. Byzantine: Ibn Saʿd, al-Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, 3:1:26.

6 Six out of ca. twenty slaves and freed slaves of Muhammad were either fully or partially of African descent. Al-Tabari Kitab al-Rusul, 1778, 1780–81; Ibn Saʿd, al-Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, 1:2:180, 184; Ibn Hisham, Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah, 486, 999. On Muhammad's foster mother, see Rotter, Die Stellung, 26; and n. 1. Four out of twelve of the slaves of the fighting muhājirūn in Badr were black. Ibn Hisham, Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah, 486–503. This high number of African slaves is also confirmed by Azraqi, Kitab Akhbar Makka, 464, 486; and Muhammad ibn Habib, Muhabbar, ed. I. Lichtenstader (Beirut: n.p., 1943), 306ff.

7 See Rotter, Die Stellung, 26; Th. W. Juynboll, “ʿAbd,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, First Edition (1913–1936), ed. M. Th. Houtsma, T.W. Arnold, R. Basset, and R. Hartmann, accessed 11 October 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2214-871X_ei1_COM_0006; and Smith, Robertson, Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1907), 295. On the literary motive of the ayām al-ʿarab, see Caskel, Werner, “Aijām al-'arab: Studien zur altarabischen Epik,” Islamica 3 (1930): 199 .

8 Ibn Hisham, Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah, 557; Waqidi, Kitab al-Maghazi, 2:523.

9 Al-Waqidi, Kitab al-Maghazi, 1:376.

10 On the first prisoners of war taken by the Muslims that were used to ensure the freedom of two Muslims, see Ibn Hisham, Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah, 424–26; and al-Waqidi, Kitab al-Maghazi, 1:15, 17. On the case of a female slave who negotiated her liberation, see Ibn Hisham, Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah, 729.

11 On this, see al-Tabari, Kitab al-Rusul, 925–37; Ibn Hisham, Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah, 26; and Kister, M.J., “Some Reports Concerning Mecca from Jāhiliyya to Islam,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 15 (1972): 6191.

12 Ibn Hisham, Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah, 31–38. See also Qurʾan (CV) (Surat al-Fil); Shahid, Irfan Kawer, “Two Qurʾānic Sūras: al-Fīl and al-Quraysh,” in Studia Arabica et Islamica: Festschrift für Ihsān ʿAbbās, ed. al-Qadi, W. (Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1981), 429–36; Shahid, Irfan Kawer, “The Kebra Negast in the Light of Recent Research,” in Byzantium and the Semitic Orient before the Rise of Islam, ed. Shahid, I. (London: Variorium, 1988), 169.

13 Ibn al-Dhiʿba in Ibn Hisham, Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah, 27; al-Tabari, Kitab al-Rusul, 927; A. F. L. Beetson, “Abraha,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, accessed 11 October 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_0149.

14 Al-Tabari reports large-scale enslavement of Abyssinians by the new Himyari king Sayf b. Dhi Yazan and the Persian Wahriz; Kitab al-Rusul, 957.

15 Christensen, Arthur, L'Iran sous les Sassanides (Copenhagen: E. Munksgaard, 1944), 126–27.

16 Ibrahim, Mahmood, “Social and Economic Conditions in Pre-Islamic Mecca,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 14 (1982): 343 ; Ibrahim, Merchant Capital and Islam (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1990).

17 See Watt, W. Montgomery, Muhammad at Mecca (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953), 3; and Watt, “Makka,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., accessed 11 October 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_COM_0638.

18 See Watt, “Makka”; and M.J. Kister, “Some Reports Concerning Mecca,” 76. Crone, Meccan Trade, 196, doubts the importance of the shrine.

19 R.B. Serjeant, “Review: Meccan Trade,” 472–86. See also Heck's, Gene W. rather reconciliatory article, “‘Arabia without Spices’: An Alternate Hypothesis,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 123 (2003): 547–76.

20 See Watt, Muhammad at Mecca; Lammens, Henri, La Mecque à la vielle de l'Hégire, in Mélanges de l'Université St.-Joseph (Beirut, n.p., 1924), 118; Kister, M.J., “Mecca and Tamīm (Aspects of Their Relations),” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 8 (1965): 113–63; Kister, “Some Reports”; Shaban, M., Islamic History: A New Interpretation (London: Cambridge University Press, 1971); Donner, Fred M., “Mecca's Food Supplies and Muhammad's Boycott,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 20 (1977): 249–66; Donner, The Early Islamic Conquests (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981); Simon, R., Meccan Trade and Islam: Problems of Origin and Structure (Budapest: n.p., 1989); Peters, F. E., “The Commerce of Mecca Before Islam,” in A Way Prepared: Essays on Islamic Culture in Honor of Richard Bayly Winder, ed. Kazemi, F and McChesney, R. D. (New York: New York University Press, 1988); Ibrahim, Merchant Capital and Islam.

21 Hashim ʿAbd Manaf (Muhammad's great grandfather) is said to have traveled to Abyssinia, then Yemen, Persia, and Syria, to acquire letters of safe conduct in order to secure trade with those regions; Ibn Hisham, Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah, 87; al-Azraqi, Kitab Akhbar Makka, 4:35; Kister, “Some Reports,” 61–62.

22 On weapons from Abyssinia and Syria, see Schwarzlose, F. W., Die Waffen der alten Araber aus ihren Dichtern dargestellt (Leipzig, 1886), 131. On the exchange of prisoners for horses and weapons, see Waqidi, Kitab al-Maghazi, 2:523. On cloths from Yemen, see Crone, Meccan Trade, 150–51. On slaves, see Ibn Saʿd, al-Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, 3:1:164; Ibn Qutayba, Kitab al-Maʿarif, 114; Ibn Hisham, Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah, 140.

23 Ahmad b. ʿAli b. Muhammad Ibn Hajar al-ʿAsqalani, al-Isaba fi Tamyiz al-Sahaba wa-maʿahu al-Istiʿab fi Asmaʾ al-Ashab li-Abi ʿUmar Yusuf b. ʿAbd Allah b. Muhammad b. ʿAbd al-Barr an-Namarri (Cairo: n.p., 1939), 4:32-33; Ibn Qutayba, Kitab al-Maʿarif, 250.

24 Lammens, Henri, L'Arabie occidentale avant l'hégire (Beirut: Imprimerie Catholique, 1928), 12.

25 Azraqi, Kitab Akhbar Makka, 129–30.

26 Lammens, La Mecque, 300; Lammens, L'Arabie, 12.

27 See Rotter, Die Stellung, 24, 29–30; and Crone: Meccan Trade, 80. On the relationship of Mecca to Shuʿayba, see Hawting, G.R., “The Origin of Jedda and the Problem of al-Shuʿayba,” Arabica 31 (1984): 318–26. Trade with Yemen is also attested to in Azraqi, Kitab Akhbar Makka, 99, 175; Kister, “Some Reports,” 62, 64, 72; and Ibn Saʿd, al-Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, 3:1:244, 232. On east African slaves, see Gordon, Murray, Slavery in the Arab World (New York: New Amsterdam Books, 1989), 18.

28 On the prohibition of pre-Islamic practices of enslavement, see Müller, Hans, “Sklaven,” in Wirtschaftsgeschichte des Vorderen Orients in islamischer Zeit, ed. Spuler, B. (Leiden: Brill, 1977), 1:59. On tasyīb, see the extensive work of Mitter, “Unconditional Manumission.”

29 An exception was the status of the umm walad and her children; see Hans Müller, “Sklaven,” 60, 63; Juynboll, Handbuch, 206; and J. Schacht, “Umm al-Walad,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, accessed 11 October 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_COM_1290.

On the Provenance of Slaves in Mecca during the Time of the Prophet Muhammad

  • Hend Gilli-Elewy (a1)

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