Islam Reviewed


By Don Richardson - 1996

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Thomas Sowell, Stanford, Calif. Daily News, Los Angeles, CA, 02/14/97

"A  haunting  picture  of  a  thin  and forlorn-looking African girl has this caption under it: "A 12-year old girl, given up as a slave to atone for a crime by a member of her family, stands at the beck and call of a traditional priest in Tefle, Ghana." This is not a painting of something that happened long ago.

It is a photograph that appeared in The New York Times of Feb. 2, 1997. According to local customs, some crimes can only be atoned for by the family's giving up one of its young virgins for sexual enslavement.

I have not seen a word of comment, much less outrage, from any of those who cry out so loudly about slavery in centuries  past among people long dead. Not only does slavery persist to this moment in the backwaters of Ghana, it persists on a larger scale in Sudan and in Mauritania, which has about 30,000 people still in bondage, often under brutal conditions.

This is Black History Month, but this part of that history is being swept under the rug. Far more popular are the myths that cater to current psychological and political needs, like the image of Kunta Kinte in "Roots," puzzled by  the chains clapped on him - even though slavery was widely known in  the  part  of  Africa from which he came, long before the first white man appeared on the scene. Challenged by professional historians, Alex Haley's reply was: "I tried to give my people a myth to live by." No doubt  Haley's  intentions were good, but it is the truth that sets you free, not myths.

The most painful of all truths is that slavery existed all over this planet, among people of every race and color, for thousands of years. Nobody wanted to be a slave, but that is completely different from saying that they oppose slavery for others. Slavery was as accepted in Africa as it was in Europe or Asia, or among the indigenous peoples of the eastern Hemisphere.
Incredibly late in human history, a mass moral revulsion  finally set in against slavery - first in 18th century England  and then, during the 19th century, throughout Western civilization. But only in Western civilization."

Thomas Sowell

ABOUT four years ago CNN's Larry King, on Larry King Live, interviewed Louis Farrakhan, head of The Nation of Islam. King asked Farrakhan why he advises Christian Afro-Americans to turn from Christianity to Islam. Fharrakan replied that Christianity is the religion of those who enslaved Africans. Islam, he said, has always championed the black race, and thus deserves the loyalty of Afro-Americans.

Larry King hadn't done his homework. He was unprepared to ask Farrakhan questions which could have made the interview far more lively, not to mention embarrassing for Farrakhan.

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Around that time my son Paul took a course in African history at Cal State Fullerton - a course taught by a Muslim professor from Kenya. The professor leveled the same charge: Christianity consistently abetted the enslavement of black Africans; Islam traditionally opposed the heinous practice.

Paul later told me, "As the only Christian in the class, I was embarrassed. I didn't know what to say. Was he right?"

Meanwhile more and more Muslim teachers worldwide are spreading a triumphal claim that a majority of black people in America have already converted to Islam. Descendants of the very people Christians took to America as slaves, they assert, have by Allah's mercy become the means whereby America is at last being drawn to Islam.

The King of Saudi Arabia recently invited Louis Farrakhan to a palace in the heartland of Islam and gave him a sizeable financial reward for his success in converting Afro-Americans to Islam. Flashbulbs popped as Muslim news media prepared to announce Farrakhan's success across the Islamic world.

Indeed, some black pastors in America have grieved to  see an occasional young black man leave the church to join Farrakhan. The Nation of Islam continues, meanwhile, to match what Christians have often done by serving black communities across America with inner city development projects. Because of the amounts of Muslim oil money funneled to Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam can often exceed the scale of Christian humanitarian aid. The Nation of Islam also ingratiates itself to black communities by its zealous rehabilitation of black men incarcerated in prisons and by gestures such as paying the legal expenses of the black men who were accused of beating Reginald Denny in the recent Los Angeles riots.

Millions of black people in America have long regarded Abraham Lincoln, a Christian, as a virtual "saint" - a deliverer of the black race. Louis Farrakhan is not pleased to hear a Christian thus commended. In his address carried nationwide by CNN on the occasion of "The Million Man March" in Washington, D. C., Farrakhan sneeringly referred to Abraham Lincoln as "our supposed deliverer."

How should Christians, especially black pastors, respond? They may want to begin by reading The Encyclopedia Britannica's piece on the

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history of slavery. There we learn that "slave" in English derives form the word "Slav." The Romans, in a time  when slavery was practiced worldwide, brought captives from Slavic Europe and sold them as slaves in the  Roman Empire. Procedures for caravanning safely over the formidable Sahara to bring slaves from distant, unmapped black Africa were still unperfected.

After Islam spread across North Africa in the 600's, Muslim entrepreneurs in the 700's charted routes from oasis to oasis and proved that if large numbers of slaves were brought from below the Sahara, enough would survive to assure a profit.

Slaver caravans  from Muslim regions now known as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt struck out on dire southward journeys.
For practical reasons Muslim slavers themselves did not raid for slaves among the northernmost black tribes such as the Hausa and the Fulani.
Instead they coerced the Hausa, Fulani and others to be the ones who actually dirtied their hands as slave raiders. Muslims needed only to supply the most northerly black tribes with the chains, manacles and swords they needed to efficiently kidnap people from tribes living further south.

Muslim slave traders paid the northernmost black tribes a wholesale price for those seized. Slaves surviving the long march to North African cities were sold there at retail prices.

Other Muslim slavers from Arabia and Egypt sailed down the East African cost and formed a slave-gathering base on  an island called Zanzibar. Equipping mainland black tribes adjacent to Zanzibar as slave raiders, they too saw their profits grow.

Muslim slavers soon brought teachers of the Koran to convert, not just any subSaharan black tribe, but only those that agreed to kidnap and sell their neighbors to the south. Islam thus established itself along the 4,000-mile southern edge of the Sahara form Senegal to Somalia, and among coastal tribes near Zanzibar. Question! Why did Islam not spread much, much further across subSaharan Africa? Alas, this is where the Encyclopedia Britannica's otherwise excellent history of slavery falters. It fails to even ask, let alone answer, such an intriguing question.

Understandably, Islamic missionaries brought to subSaharan Africa by Muslim slavers could not convert more southerly African tribes.

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People harried by Muslim-induced slave raids were far from eager to convert to the religion of the raiders. Muslims who ventured to victimized tribes, even for peaceful purposes, would meet vengeance. Further, Islamic law forbids Muslims to enslave Muslims, hence converting tribes which were the source of slaves  would interfere with slave-trading profits.

Christians in Europe thus unwittingly granted Islam a 1000-year head start in altering the destiny of subSaharan Africans. Yet Muslim missionaries, by siding with Muslim slavers instead of opposing them, forfeited the enviable advantage that 1000-year head start afforded. Had they opposed slavery instead of condoning it, Muslim missionaries could have spread Islam all the way from the Sahara to Africa's southern tip.
Teaching the Koran, building Mosques and founding Islamic schools with not a hint of contest from Christians, they could have Islamicized an entire continent.

Christian missionaries, arriving belatedly in the early 1800's, would have had to struggle to win even a tiny beachhead anywhere in black Africa. Planting churches in Zimbabwe and Zululand would have been as difficult as planting churches in Algeria and Libya.

Muslims in those days little dreamed that a later century would bring scores of woefully late but zealous Christian missionaries from Europe and America to the very tribes Muslim missionaries had consigned as prey for Muslim slavers. Had such a premonition crossed Muslim minds, Islam might have ended its complicity with the slave trade industry. All of black Africa as far as Cape Good Hope would then have  been  Islamicized with relative ease  centuries before the first Christian incursion.

Instead, though they arrived ruefully late in black African history, a relative handful of Christian missionaries have caused 250 million black Africans in subSaharan Africa to be categorized today as Christian! Yes, Christian missionaries consistently opposed slavery everywhere they encountered it. In Uganda, David Livingstone often found himself looking into the muskets of Muslim slavers who were incensed at a Christian who urged them to end something they had been doing with impunity for a millennium.

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But on the coast of Nigeria, Mary Slessor found herself opposing her fellow-Europeans who were slavers. Let us now turn to the matter of Christian involvement in the slave trade. The Encyclopedia Britannica names Roman Catholics from Spain and Portugal as first among Christians to take slaves form black Africa, beginning in the 1600's. Ill advisedly following the by then 900-year-old bad example of Muslims across North Africa, Spanish and Portugese slavers, not needing to brave the Sahara, sailed around the great bulge of West Africa, seeking slaves. Later  some other European nations and eventually the southern American colonies joined the evil practice. The northern colonies and Canada, my own home country, refused to legalize slavery and even gave sanctuary to slaves fleeing from the southern colonies.

An important question must be asked: which group  among the actual slave-owning societies first began to manifest twinges of conscience over the horrors of slavery - Christian slave-owning societies or Muslim slave-owning societies?

Slavery was not declared illegal in Saudi Arabia, the main guardian of Islamic purity, until 1965. Nor was slavery declared illegal in Muslim Sudan until 1991. Six years ago, a Time cover story entitled .Slavery in the Twentieth Century. documented slavery as a nominally illegal but still common practice across Muslim areas of Saharan Africa. Reader's Digest, in its March 1996 issue, published an article entitled "Slavery's Shameful Return to Africa." It focuses on Muslim enslavement of several thousand black Christians in the Southern Sudan. African Rights, based at 11 Marshalsea Road, London SE1 1EP England, recently published a book entitled "Facing Genocide: the Nuba of Sudan." Slavery is one of the weapons of that genocide.

Most recently, The Economist (9/21/1996) published a piece entitled -The Flourishing Business Of Slavery.. I quote: -The American embassy in Sudan acknowledges as "credible," reports that (Christian) Dinka and Nuba children from southern Sudan are being sold on into Libya. London based Christian Solidarity International has ransomed 20 Sudanese slaves. The going rate for a woman is 5 cows.

"The Sudanese government flatly denies that slavery exists there. It is lying. Evidence from human rights organizations,

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exiles, traders and former slaves is overwhelming. Louis
Farrakhan...occasional guest of the Libyan and  Sudanese
governments, has rebuffed assertions of slavery in Sudan as
Zionist claptrap. Last March, he challenged journalists to go to
Sudan and find it. Two reporters from the Baltimore Sun did just
that and published their findings in June, sparking a lively
debate among black Americans about how they - and black
Muslims in particular - should respond to the plight of enslaved
black Africans."

Why do Muslim nations "renounce" slavery nominally and  then deny its existence when it persists? Quite obviously they are disinterested in the moral issue. Two persuasions have proved effective: 1. Muslim governments sensitive to international peer pressure from predominantly Christian nations in Europe and the Americas had to "end" slavery, at least on paper, or be viewed as barbarian. 2. Muslim nations indifferent to world opinion still may have a reason given in an item boxed with The Economist article quoted above: "To appease western aid donors"!

What caused many Christians, on the other hand, to refuse to own slaves even when other Christians justified their crime? What caused slavery-opposing Christians to take the lead in mounting a determined effort to see all slaves set free?

Successive Christian reform movements in northern Europe, coupled with a series of Christian renewals in America, finally inspired many Christians to apply an already acknowledged but under-taught Biblical idea to the problem of slavery. That was the belief that God created all men in His own image,  and thus has endowed them with "certain inalienable rights" which must be respected as surely as God must be obeyed.

William Wilberforce, James Chamberlain and Abraham Lincoln were three among many aroused  Christians who strove tenaciously until slavery was abolished in Great Britain, all British colonies and the southern United States. Their cause was aided by several hundred Christian missionaries. Arriving among that large majority of black Africans who by design had been left as non-Muslims, Christian missionaries not only opposed slavery in Africa itself but also bombarded public opinion across Europe and America with letters graphically describing the brutality of both Muslim and Christian slave-gathering. The hymn

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"Amazing Grace" was penned by one slave trader who renounced his former ways as criminal even if "legal." His recounting of slaver cruelty also helped arouse public opinion in Christian countries.

In the United States, southern insistence on condoning slavery and northern determination to abolish it triggered a bloody civil war that killed 600,000 white men and wounded 2 million others. This century's 10-year war in South Vietnam took 56,000 American lives, yet 53,000 Americans died  at Gettysburg - in just one three-day Civil War battle!

Some may object that the northern colonies should have insisted on the abolition of slavery at the time of the union in 1776. Had they done so, the southern states would have refused to join the union. They would have formed a separate sovereign state, in which case there would have been no federal government with a legal right to take southern states to task later.

Let us dare to ask a question the Encyclopedia Britannica tactfully avoids: In which Muslim nation has  there been even a minor civil disturbance of conscience over slavery, let alone a civil war? Not one. Surely some Muslims wealthy enough to own slaves have declined on principle to buy them. Yet there seems no record of any entire community or sect within Islam that has - prior to this century - opposed slavery and actively worked for its abolition.

Yet Farrakhan gives the northern states no credit for their costly stand. He tars all Christians as abettors of slavery while conspiratorially hiding Islam's 900-year head start in the enslavement of black Africans. He ignores North African and Arabian Muslim responsibility for seducing not all, but some Christian nations, into following their vile example.

There is one more point: Nearly 30 million descendants of slaves brought to America live in America today. Yet vastly greater numbers of blacks were taken as slaves to Muslim North Africa and the Middle East over  a much  longer time. Why do we not find perhaps 100 to 300 million of their descendants living in North Africa and the Middle East today?

Some Blacks across sub-Saharan Africa remember the reason. It is a reason the Encyclopedia Britannica overlooks: Muslim slavers commonly castrated black males lest they pose a sexual threat to Muslim women in North Africa and Arabia. Those who are descended from black slaves,

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like Mauritania's 1 million Haratin, tend to be descended from black female slaves sexually exploited by Arab masters, not from male and female black slaves.

Muslim slave owners saw no need to breed slaves. The supply was plentiful. Prices were reasonable. So they inhumanely denied their male slaves not only wages and freedom, but even worse, the rights of marriage, sex and parenting.

While Time, Readers Digest and The Economist have exposed at least the most recent links between Islamic governments and the practice of slavery, another widely read periodical largely fails to balance in its historical reports on slavery. Every few years,  National Geographic publishes another major article on the Euro-American slave trade. Are the Geographic editors unaware that for every slave taken from black Africa by Christians, at lest twenty were abducted by Muslims? Yet the Islamic slave trade hides unnoticed.

Now, ironically, Muslim teachers across West Africa combine National Geographic articles on Christian involvement in slavery with Islamic anti-Christian diatribes. They use Farrakhan's "spin" to turn Africans against Christianity in the very nations where Muslims began to enslave black Africans nine centuries before Christians became involved, and where Christian missionaries help turn the tide against both Muslim and Christian enslavement!

Bear in mind that several generations have passed since the British and other  European colonial powers banished both European and Muslim slave-trading from sub-Saharan nations such as Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. Non-Muslim people in such areas remained illiterate prior to European colonial intervention, so they had no written record of their own pre-colonial history - until Muslim scholars gave them a record with Islamic villainy erased and Christians alone featured as slavers. Lessons taught repeatedly in school soon seem more real than a memory of long-dead great grandad's tales of a curse coming not only by ship from the west, but also by caravan from the north.

In the interest of fairness, the Encyclopedia Britannica invited a few Muslim scholars to contribute to its history of slavery. Unable to present facts to improve Islam.s bad image in that history, they nevertheless got in one parting shot in the  parting paragraph. Acknowledging that

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Muslims owned slaves, they added a claim that Muslim slave owners rarely forced their slaves to do hard physical labor out-of-doors. Christian slave owners on plantations in the southern states, on the other hand, forced their slaves to "tote that barge and lift that bale" in any kind of weather.

Lack of massive irrigation projects rendered North Africa and Arabia incapable of supporting large cotton plantations in previous centuries. Groves of date palms near oases were probably the largest agricultural enterprises. If vast fields of cotton could have been planted across North Africa and the Middle East, who believes sympathy would have kept Muslim slave owners from sending their chattels outdoors to do the harder kind of labor?

My son Paul, armed with the above insights, returned to Cal State Fullerton the next week. He spoke up in the next African history class taught by the Muslim professor. Very politely he corrected the one sided view of the history of slavery the professor had given. Cornered and awed, the professor acknowledged Islam's long precedent in the history of slavery. Then he repeated the same closing comment that the Muslim contributors had added in the Britannica's closing paragraph: Muslims did not force their slaves to perform hard outdoor labor. Instead they assigned only menial household tasks to them. Paul was ready with an answer on that as well!

In summary, Christianity's record regarding black African human rights, in spite of horrifying chapters, still far outshines Islam's record on the same. Let Africans, Afro-Americans and Christians everywhere give answer to Mr. Farrakhan's propaganda.

Islam has no hymn like "Amazing Grace," but we do. Let us sing it reverently, as a deeply-felt testimony from our hearts. Let us rejoice because that amazing grace enabled many who follow Jesus to alleviate the suffering of millions who perhaps would still be slaves today, had not that grace moved within our ranks.

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