Slavery in 21st-century Islamism

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Quasi-state-level Islamist groups, including Boko Haram and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, have captured and enslaved women and children, often for sexual slavery. [1] [2] In 2014, both groups were reported to have kidnapped large numbers of girls and younger women. [3] [4]

Proto-state political entity which does not represent a fully institutionalized or autonomous sovereign state

A proto-state, also known as a quasi-state, is a political entity that does not represent a fully institutionalized or autonomous sovereign state.

Boko Haram A branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

The Islamic State in West Africa or the Islamic State's West Africa Province, formerly known as Jamā'at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da'wah wa'l-Jihād and commonly known as Boko Haram until March 2015, is a jihadist terrorist organization based in northeastern Nigeria, also active in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon.

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Salafi jihadist terrorist and militant group

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, officially as the Islamic State (IS) and by its Arabic language acronym Daesh, is a Salafi jihadist militant group and former unrecognised proto-state that follows a fundamentalist, Salafi doctrine of Sunni Islam. ISIL gained global prominence in early 2014 when it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in its Western Iraq offensive, followed by its capture of Mosul and the Sinjar massacre.



By Boko Haram

Apparently the first report of slave-taking by Boko Haram was on 13 May 2013 when a video was released of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau saying his group had taken women and children - including teenage girls - hostage in response to the arrest of its members' wives and children. [5]

According to Islamism expert Jonathan N.C. Hill, Boko Haram began kidnapping large numbers of girls and young women for sexual use in 2014. The attacks echoed kidnappings of girls and young women for sexual use by Algerian Islamists in the 1990s and early 2000s, and may reflect influence by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. [3] [6]

al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb Islamist militia

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, is an Islamist militant organization which aims to overthrow the Algerian government and institute an Islamic state. To that end, it is currently engaged in an anti-government campaign.

According to a community leader from Borno state quoted by the BBC, some captured young women and teenage girls held by Boko Haram have been forced to marry one Boko Haram fighter after another as the fighters are killed. "Any time they go for an operation and one of the fighters is killed they will force the young woman to marry another one ... Eventually she becomes a habitual sex slave." [7]


Islamic State price list for
women and children slaves
1–9 years old$165
SOURCE: Zainab Bangura,
UN special envoy on
sexual violence in conflict. [8]

The Economist reports that ISIS (also called "Islamic State") has taken "as many as 2,000 women and children" captive, selling and distributing them as sexual slaves. Matthew Barber, a scholar of Yazidi history at the University of Chicago, later stated to have compiled a list of 4,800 captured Yazidi women and children, and estimated that the overall number could be up to 7,000. [4] Yazidi are a small minority who practice a religion based on "a mix of Christian, Islamic, and ancient Mesopotamian beliefs". [8]

<i>The Economist</i> English weekly news and international affairs publication

The Economist is an English-language weekly magazine-format newspaper owned by the Economist Group and edited at offices in London. Continuous publication began under its founder James Wilson in September 1843. In 2015, its average weekly circulation was a little over 1.5 million, about half of which were sold in the United States. Pearson PLC held a 50% shareholding via The Financial Times Limited until August 2015. At that time, Pearson sold their share in the Economist. The Agnelli family's Exor paid £287m to raise their stake from 4.7% to 43.4% while the Economist paid £182m for the balance of 5.04m shares which will be distributed to current shareholders. Aside from the Agnelli family, smaller shareholders in the company include Cadbury, Rothschild (21%), Schroder, Layton and other family interests as well as a number of staff and former staff shareholders.

According to reports endorsed as credible by The Daily Telegraph , virgins among the captured women were selected and given to commanders as sexual slaves. [9] According to an August 2015 story in The New York Times "The trade in Yazidi women and girls has created a persistent infrastructure, with a network of warehouses where the victims are held, viewing rooms where they are inspected and marketed, and a dedicated fleet of buses used to transport them." [10] [11]

<i>The Daily Telegraph</i> British daily broadsheet newspaper

The Daily Telegraph, commonly referred to simply as The Telegraph, is a national British daily broadsheet newspaper published in London by Telegraph Media Group and distributed across the United Kingdom and internationally. It was founded by Arthur B. Sleigh in 1855 as Daily Telegraph & Courier.

<i>The New York Times</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper based in New York City

The New York Times is an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership. Founded in 1851, the paper has won 127 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 17th in the world by circulation and 2nd in the U.S.

In April 2015, Zainab Bangura, the United Nations special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, visited Iraq and was given a copy of an Islamic State pamphlet including a list of prices for captured women and children. According to a story on the list in Bloomberg, the list's authenticity "was established by UN researchers who'd gathered anecdotes on similar slave markets in Islamic State-controlled areas". The captives are non-Muslim minorities, "mostly Arab Christians and Yazidis" who have refused to convert to Islam and whose adult male relatives have been executed. Bidders for the captive women and children include "the groups own fighters and wealthy Middle Easterners." [8]


In a study of the Arab slave trade from 650 C.E. to 1905 C.E., which considered human trafficking in North Africa, the Middle East, and India, Professor Ralph Austen estimates the number of slaves to be 17,000,000. [12]

Female slavery was common during the medieval Arab slave trade, where prisoners of war captured in battle from non-Arab lands often ended up as concubines (who are considered free when their master dies). [13] During the Islamic Golden Age, some Muslim jurists writing on military jurisprudence advocated severe penalties for rebels who use "stealth attacks" and practise abductions, poisoning of water wells, arson, attacks against wayfarers and travellers, assaults under the cover of night and rape. [14]

In 1899, Winston Churchill wrote about the Islamic slave trade: "...all [of the Arab tribes in The Sudan], without exception, were hunters of men. To the great slave markets of Jeddah a continual stream of negro captives has flowed for hundreds of years. The invention of gunpowder and the adoption by the Arabs of firearms facilitated the traffic...Thus the situation in the Sudan for several centuries may be summed up as follows: The dominant race of Arab invaders was increasingly spreading its blood, religion, customs, and language among the black aboriginal population, and at the same time it harried and enslaved them...The warlike Arab tribes fought and brawled among themselves in ceaseless feud and strife. The negroes trembled in apprehension of capture, or rose locally against their oppressors." [15]

The Lieber Code of 1863 codified the protection of civilians and stated that "all rape...[is] prohibited under the penalty of death" [16] and subsequent laws of war and humanitarian law have made maltreatment of civilians criminal. [17] Slavery was formally abolished in nearly all countries in the mid-20th century. [18] [19]

Islamist views on slavery

Earlier in the 20th century, Islamist authors declared slavery outdated without actually clearly affirming and promoting its abolition. This has caused at least one scholar (William Clarence-Smith [20] ) to bemoan the notable "evasions and silences of Muhammad Qutb". [21] [22] and the "dogged refusal of Mawlana Mawdudi to give up on slavery". [23]

According to some scholars, [24] there has been a "reopening" of the issue of slavery by some conservative Salafi Islamic scholars after its "closing" earlier in the 20th century when Muslim countries banned slavery and "most Muslim scholars" found the practice "inconsistent with Qur'anic morality." [25] [26]

In response to the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram's Quranic justification for kidnapping and enslaving people, [27] [28] and ISIL's religious justification for enslaving Yazidi women as spoils of war as claimed in their digital magazine Dabiq , [29] [30] [31] [32] [33] [34] 126 Islamic scholars from around the Muslim world, in late September 2014, signed an open letter to the Islamic State's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, rejecting his group's interpretations of the Qur'an and hadith to justify its actions. [35] [36] [n 1] The letter accuses the group of instigating fitna – sedition – by instituting slavery under its rule in contravention of the anti-slavery consensus of the Islamic scholarly community. [37]

Qutb brothers

Sayyid Qutb Sayyid Qutb.jpg
Sayyid Qutb

Sayyid Qutb, a leading scholar of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood wrote in his tafsir (commentary of the Quran) that slavery was a way of handling prisoners-of-war and it "was necessary for Islam to adopt a similar line of practise until the world devised a new code of practise during war other than enslavement". [38] Qutb's brother and promoter, Muhammad Qutb, vigorously defended Islamic slavery, telling his audience that "Islam gave spiritual enfranchisement to slaves" and "in the early period of Islam the slave was exalted to such a noble state of humanity as was never before witnessed in any other part of the world." [39] He contrasted the adultery, prostitution, [40] and (what he called) "that most odious form of animalism" casual sex that are found in Europe, [41] with (what he called) "that clean and spiritual bond that ties a maid [i.e. slave girl] to her master in Islam." [40]

Abul A'la Maududi

Abul A'la Maududi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami has written:

Islam has clearly and categorically forbidden the primitive practice of capturing a free man, to make him a slave or to sell him into slavery. On this point the clear and unequivocal words of [Muhammad] are as follows:

There are three categories of people against whom I shall myself be a plaintiff on the Day of Judgement. Of these three, one is he who enslaves a free man, then sells him and eats this money" (al-Bukhari and Ibn Majjah).

The words of this Tradition of the Prophet are also general, they have not been qualified or made applicable to a particular nation, race, country or followers of a particular religion.....After this the only form of slavery which was left in Islamic society was the prisoners of war, who were captured on the battlefield. These prisoners of war were retained by the Muslim Government until their government agreed to receive them back in exchange for Muslim soldiers captured by them..... [42]


According to CNN and The Economist , the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant "justifies its kidnapping of women as sex slaves citing Islamic theology." An article entitled, 'The revival (of) slavery before the Hour,' (of Judgement Day), published in the ISIL online magazine, Dabiq, claimed that Yazidi women can be taken captive and forced to become sex slaves or concubines under Islamic law, "[o]ne should remember that enslaving the families of the kuffar -- the infidels -- and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah, or Islamic law." [4] [43] [44]

It not only justified the taking of slaves but declared that those who "deny or mock" the verses of the Koran or hadith that justified it were apostates from Islam, asserting that concubinage is specifically justified in the Koran:

Yazidi women and children [are to be] divided according to the Shariah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations [in northern Iraq] … Enslaving the families of the kuffar [infidels] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Koran and the narrations of the Prophet … and thereby apostatizing from Islam. [45]

Another article in Dabiq rebuked supporters of ISIS who had denied ISIS had taken slaves "as if the soldiers of the Khilafah had committed a mistake or evil," and promised "slave markets will be established." [46]

ISIL appealed to apocalyptic beliefs and "claimed justification by a Hadith that they interpret as portraying the revival of slavery as a precursor to the end of the world." [47] In late 2014 ISIL released a pamphlet on the treatment of female slaves. [48] [49] [50] [51] [52] [53]

Boko Haram

Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamist group, said in an interview "I shall capture people and make them slaves" when claiming responsibility for the 2014 Chibok kidnapping. [27] Shekau has justified his actions by appealing to the Quran saying "[w]hat we are doing is an order from Allah, and all that we are doing is in the Book of Allah that we follow." [54]

See also


  1. Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, a Nigerian extremist group, said in an interview "I shall capture people and make them slaves" when claiming responsibility for the 2014 Chibok kidnapping. ISIL claimed that the Yazidi are idol worshipers and their enslavement part of the old shariah practice of spoils of war.

Related Research Articles

Sexual slavery Slavery with the intention of using the slaves for sex

Sexual slavery and sexual exploitation is attaching the right of ownership over one or more persons with the intent of coercing or otherwise forcing them to engage in sexual activities. This includes forced labor, reducing a person to a servile status and sex trafficking persons, such as the sexual trafficking of children.

Islamic views on slavery represent a complex and multifaceted body of Islamic thought, with various Islamic groups or thinkers espousing views on the matter which have been radically different throughout history. Slavery was a mainstay of life in pre-Islamic Arabia and surrounding lands. The Quran and the hadith address slavery extensively, assuming its existence as part of society but viewing it as an exceptional condition and restricting its scope. Early Islamic dogma forbade enslavement of free members of Islamic society, including non-Muslims (dhimmis), and set out to regulate and improve the conditions of human bondage. The sharīʿah regarded as legal slaves only those non-Muslims who were imprisoned or bought beyond the borders of Islamic rule, or the sons and daughters of slaves already in captivity. In later classical Islamic law, the topic of slavery is covered at great length. Slaves, be they Muslim or those of any other religion, were equal to their fellow practitioners in religious issues.

Sinjar Place in Iraq

Sinjar, also known as Shingal, is a town in Shingal District, Nineveh Province, Iraq near Mount Shingal. Its population in 2013 was estimated at 88,023. The town is inhabited by Yazidis and is one of the main settlement areas of the Yazidis.

History of slavery

The history of slavery spans many cultures, nationalities, and religions from ancient times to the present day. However the social, economic, and legal positions of slaves have differed vastly in different systems of slavery in different times and places.

The rules and regulations concerning prisoners of war in Islam are covered in manuals of Islamic jurisprudence, based upon Islamic teachings, in both the Qur'an and hadith.

Boko Haram insurgency conflict in Nigeria

The Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009, when the jihadist group Boko Haram started an armed rebellion against the government of Nigeria. The conflict takes place within the context of long-standing issues of religious violence between Nigeria's Muslim and Christian communities, and the insurgents' ultimate aim is to establish an Islamic state in the region.

Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping kidnapping of female students in Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria

On the night of 14–15 April 2014, 276 female students were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria. Responsibility for the kidnappings was claimed by Boko Haram, an extremist terrorist organization based in northeastern Nigeria. 57 of the schoolgirls managed to escape over the next few months and some have described their capture in appearances at international human rights conferences. A child born to one of the girls and believed by medical personnel to be about 20 months old also was released, according to the Nigerian president's office.

The Genocide of Christians by ISIL refers to the systematic mass murder of Christian minorities, within its region of control in Iraq, Syria and Libya by the Islamic extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Persecution of Christian minorities climaxed following its takeover of parts of Northern Iraq in June 2014.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has employed sexual violence against women and men in a manner that has been described as "terrorism". Sexual violence, as defined by The World Health Organization includes “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.” ISIL has used sexual violence to undermine a sense of security within communities, and to raise funds through the sale of captives into sexual slavery.

<i>Dabiq</i> (magazine) propaganda magazine published by the self-proclaimed Islamic State

Dabiq was an online magazine used by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) for Islamic radicalisation and recruitment. It was first published in July 2014 in a number of different languages. Dabiq itself states the magazine is for the purposes of unitarianism, truth-seeking, migration, holy war and community.

The state of human rights in territories controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is considered to be one of the worst in modern history, and has been criticised by many political, religious and other organisations and individuals. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has stated that ISIL "seeks to subjugate civilians under its control and dominate every aspect of their lives through terror, indoctrination, and the provision of services to those who obey".

Executions by ISIS refers here to killing by beheading, crucifixion, immolation, shooting or other means of military and civilian people by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). ISIL has released a number of propaganda/publicity videos of beheadings or shootings of captives. Other videos and photos show people being crucified and later dying as a result of crucifixion, or at least in part from the crucifixion. Houtat Sulūk is reported to be a mass grave.

History of slavery in the Muslim world History of slavery in Islamic lands

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This article contains a timeline of events from January 2015 to December 2015 related to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS). For a list of other time periods, see Timeline of ISIL related events. This article contains information about events committed by or on behalf of the Islamic State, as well as events performed by groups who oppose them.

Nadia Murad Yazidi human rights activist from Iraq and winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize

Nadia Murad Basee Taha is an Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist who lives in Germany. In 2014, she was kidnapped from her hometown Kocho and held by the Islamic State for three months.

Genocide of Yazidis by ISIL

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is recognized by the United Nations as the perpetrator of a genocide of Yazidis in Iraq. The genocide led to the expulsion, flight and effective exile of the Yazidis from their ancestral lands in Northern Iraq whose women and girls were forced into sexual slavery by the Islamic State and whose men were killed by the thousands. The genocide led to the abduction of Yazidi women and massacres that killed five thousand Yazidi civilians during what has been called a "forced conversion campaign" being carried out in Northern Iraq by ISIL, starting in 2014. The genocide could only happen because the Kurdish Peshmerga had fled from the ISIS and left the Yazidis defenseless.

Yazda United States-based global Yazidi nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO) advocacy, aid, and relief organization

Yazda: Global Yazidi Organization, is a United States-based global Yazidi nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO) advocacy, aid, and relief organization. Yazda was established to support the Yazidi, who are a minority ethnoreligious group around the world, especially in northern Iraq, specifically Sinjar and Nineveh Plain, and northeastern Syria, where the Yazidi community has, as part of a deliberate "military, economic, and political strategy," been the focus of a genocidal campaign by ISIL that included mass murder, the separation of families, forced religious conversions, forced marriages, sexual assault, physical assault, torture, kidnapping, and slavery.

Nareen Shammo Yazidi investigative journalist and human rights defender

Nareen Shammo is a Yazidi investigative journalist and a human rights defender.

Chad Basin campaign (2018–2019)

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