In the 7th century Arabia becomes the cradle of the world's third great monotheistic religion. All three have begun within a small area of southwest Asia. First Judaism, somewhere in the region stretching up from the Red Sea to Palestine; then Christianity at the northern end of this area; and finally Islam to the south, in Mecca, close to the Red Sea. 

Each of the later arrivals in this close family of religions claims to build upon the message of its predecessors, bringing a better and more up-to-date version of the truth about the one God - in this case as revealed to the Messenger of God, Muhammad. Islam means 'surrender' (to God), and from the same root anyone who follows Islam is a Muslim. 

It is on Mount Hira, according to tradition, that the archangel Gabriel appears to Muhammad. He describes later how he seemed to be grasped by the throat by a luminous being, who commanded him to repeat the words of God. On other occasions Muhammad often has similar experiences (though there are barren times, and periods of self doubt, when he is sustained only by his wife Khadija's unswerving faith in him). 

From about 613 Muhammad preaches in Mecca the message which he has received. 
 Muhammad's message is essentially the existence of one God, all-powerful but also merciful, and he freely acknowledges that other prophets - in particular Abraham, Moses and Jesus - have preached the same truth in the past. 
But monotheism is not a popular creed with those whose livelihood depends on idols. Muhammad, once he begins to win converts to the new creed, makes enemies among the traders of Mecca. In 622 there is a plot to assassinate him. He escapes to the town of Yathrib, about 300 kilometres to the north. 


The Arab slave trade was the practice of slavery in the Arab world, mainly in Western AsiaNorth Africa, the Horn of AfricaSoutheast Africa and Europe. This barter occurred chiefly between the medieval era and the early 20th century. The trade was conducted through slave markets in these areas, with the slaves captured mostly from Africa's interior.

The Arab slave trade, across the Sahara desert and across the Indian Ocean, began after Muslim Arab and Swahili traders won control of the Swahili Coast and sea routes during the 9th century (see Sultanate of Zanzibar). These traders captured Bantu peoples (Zanj) from the interior in present-day KenyaMozambique and Tanzania and brought them to the coast.There, the slaves gradually assimilated in the rural areas, particularly on the Unguja and Pemba islands.

Some historians assert that as many as 17 million people were sold into slavery on the coast of the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and North Africa, and approximately 5 million African slaves were bought by Muslim slave traders and taken from Africa across the Red SeaIndian Ocean, and Sahara desert between 1500 and 1900.

The captives were sold throughout the Middle East. This trade accelerated as superior ships led to more trade and greater demand for labour on plantations in the region. Eventually, tens of thousands of captives were being taken every year.

The Indian Ocean slave trade was multi-directional and changed over time. To meet the demand for menial labor, Bantu slaves bought by Arab slave traders from southeastern Africa were sold in cumulatively large numbers over the centuries to customers in EgyptArabia, the Persian GulfIndia, European colonies in the Far East, the Indian Ocean islandsEthiopia and Somalia.[1]

Slave labor in East Africa was drawn from the Zanj, Bantu peoples that lived along the East African coast.The Zanj were for centuries shipped as slaves by Arab traders to all the countries bordering the Indian Ocean. The Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs recruited many Zanj slaves as soldiers and, as early as 696, there were slave revolts of the Zanj against their Arab enslavers in Iraq (see Zanj Rebellion). Ancient Chinese texts also mention ambassadors from Java presenting the Chinese emperor with two Seng Chi (Zanj) slaves as gifts, and Seng Chi slaves reaching China from the Hindu kingdom of Srivijaya in Java.

The Zanj Rebellion, a series of uprisings that took place between 869 and 883 AD near the city of Basra (also known as Basara), situated in present-day Iraq, is believed to have involved enslaved Zanj that had originally been captured from the African Great Lakes region and areas further south in East Africa.It grew to involve over 500,000 slaves and free men who were imported from across the Muslim empire and claimed over "tens of thousands of lives in lower Iraq".The Zanj who were taken as slaves to the Middle East were often used in strenuous agricultural work.As the plantation economy boomed and the Arabs became richer, agriculture and other manual labor work was thought to be demeaning. The resulting labor shortage led to an increased slave market.

The Arab trade of Zanj (Bantu) slaves in Southeast Africa is one of the oldest slave trades, predating the European transatlantic slave trade by 700 years.Male slaves were often forced to work as servants, soldiers, or laborers by their owners, while female slaves, including those from Africa, were long traded to the Middle Eastern countries and kingdoms by Arab and Oriental traders as concubines and servants. Arab, African and Oriental traders were involved in the capture and transport of slaves northward across the Sahara desert and the Indian Ocean region into the Middle East, Persia and the Far East.

Giulio Rosati, Inspection of New Arrivals, 1858–1917, Circassian beauties.

From the 7th century until around the 1960s, the Arab slave trade continued in one form or another. Historical accounts and references to slave-owning nobility in Arabia, Yemen and elsewhere are frequent into the early 1920s.

In 641 during the Baqt, a treaty between the Christian state of Makuria and the Muslim rulers of Egypt, the Nubians agreed to give Arab traders more privileges of trade in addition to a share in their slave trading.[35]

In Somalia, the Bantu minorities are descended from Bantu groups that had settled in Southeast Africa after the initial expansion from Nigeria/Cameroon, and whose members were later captured and sold into the Arab slave trade.From 1800 to 1890, between 25,000–50,000 Bantu slaves are thought to have been sold from the slave market of Zanzibar to the Somali coast.Most of the slaves were from the MajindoMakuaNyasaYaoZalamaZaramo and Zigua ethnic groups of Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi. Collectively, these Bantu groups are known as Mushunguli, which is a term taken from Mzigula, the Zigua tribe's word for "people" (the word holds multiple implied meanings including "worker", "foreigner", and "slave").

In Ethiopia, during the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century, slaves shipped from there had a high demand in the markets of the Arabian peninsula and elsewhere in the Middle East. They were mostly domestic servants, though some served as agricultural labourers, or as water carriers, herdsmen, seamen, camel drivers, porters, washerwomen, masons, shop assistants and cooks. The most fortunate of the men worked as the officials or bodyguards of the ruler and emirs, or as business managers for rich merchants.They enjoyed significant personal freedom and occasionally held slaves of their own. Besides Javanese and Chinese girls brought in from the Far East, "red" (non-black) Ethiopian young females were among the most valued concubines. The most beautiful ones often enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle, and became mistresses of the elite or even mothers to rulers.The principal sources of these slaves, all of whom passed through Matamma, Massawa and Tadjoura on the Red Sea, were the southwestern parts of Ethiopia, in the Oromo and Sidama country.

In the Central African Republic, during the 16th and 17th centuries Muslim slave traders began to raid the region as part of the expansion of the Saharan and Nile River slave routes. Their captives were slaved and shipped to the Mediterranean coast, Europe, Arabia, the Western Hemisphere, or to the slave ports and factories along the West and North Africa or South the Ubanqui and Congo rivers.

The Arab slave trade in the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, and Mediterranean Sea long predated the arrival of any significant number of Europeans on the African continent south of the Sahara.

The purchase of Christian captives by Catholic monks in the Barbary states.

Some descendants of African slaves brought to the Middle East during the slave-trade still live there today, and are aware of their African origins.

The North African slave markets traded also in European slaves. The European slaves were acquired by Barbary pirates in slave raids on ships and by raids on coastal towns from Italy to Spain, Portugal, France, England, the Netherlands, and as far afield as Iceland. Men, women, and children were captured to such a devastating extent that vast numbers of sea coast towns were abandoned. Ohio State University history Professor Robert Davis describes the white slave trade as minimized by most modern historians in his book Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500-1800 (Palgrave Macmillan).

Davis estimates that 1 million to 1.25 million White Christian Europeans were enslaved in North Africa, from the beginning of the 16th century to the middle of the 18th by slave traders from Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli alone (these numbers do not include the European people which were enslaved by Morocco and by other raiders and traders of the Mediterranean Sea coast),and roughly 700 Americans were held captive in this region as slaves between 1785 and 1815.16th- and 17th-century customs statistics suggest that Istanbul's additional slave import from the Black Sea may have totaled around 2.5 million from 1450 to 1700.In the 1800s, the slave trade from Africa to the Islamic countries picked up significantly. When the European slave trade ended around the 1850s, the slave trade to the east picked up significantly only to be ended with European colonization of Africa around 1900.[full citation needed]

In 1814, Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt wrote of his travels in Egypt and Nubia, where he saw the practice of slave trading: "I frequently witnessed scenes of the most shameless indecency, which the traders, who were the principal actors, only laughed at. I may venture to state, that very few female slaves who have passed their tenth year, reach Egypt or Arabia in a state of virginity."

A photograph of a slave boy in Zanzibar. 'An Arab master's punishment for a slight offence. ' c. 1890.

David Livingstone wrote of the slave trade in the African Great Lakes region, which he visited in the mid-nineteenth century: "To overdraw its evils is a simple impossibility ... We passed a slave woman shot or stabbed through the body and lying on the path. [Onlookers] said an Arab who passed early that morning had done it in anger at losing the price he had given for her, because she was unable to walk any longer. We passed a woman tied by the neck to a tree and dead ... We came upon a man dead from starvation ... The strangest disease I have seen in this country seems really to be broken heartedness, and it attacks free men who have been captured and made slaves."Livingstone estimated that 80,000 Africans died each year before ever reaching the slave markets of Zanzibar.Zanzibar was once East Africa's main slave-trading port, and under Omani Arabs in the 19th century as many as 50,000 slaves were passing through the city each year.

Livingstone wrote in a letter to the editor of the New York Herald:

And if my disclosures regarding the terrible Ujijian slavery should lead to the suppression of the East Coast slave trade, I shall regard that as a greater matter by far than the discovery of all the Nile sources together.

During the Second Sudanese Civil War people were taken into slavery; estimates of abductions range from 14,000 to 200,000.Slavery in Mauritania was legally abolished by laws passed in 1905, 1961, and 1981.It was finally criminalized in August 2007.It is estimated that up to 600,000 Mauritanians, or 20% of Mauritania's population, are currently in conditions which some consider to be "slavery", namely, many of them used as bonded labour due to poverty.

In 1953, slaves accompanied sheikhs from Qatar attending the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and they did so again on another visit five years later.

These successes, however, were qualified by serious administrative weaknesses. 'Uthman was accused of favoritism to members of his family - the clan of Umayyah. Negotiations over such grievances were opened by representatives from Egypt but soon collapsed and 'Uthman was killed - an act that caused a rift in the community of Islam that has never entirely been closed.

This rift widened almost as soon as 'Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, was chosen to be the fourth caliph. At issue, essentially, was the legitimacy of 'Ali's caliphate. 'Uthman's relatives - in particular Mu'awiyah, the powerful governor of Syria, where 'Ali's election had not been recognized - believed 'Ali's caliphate was invalid because his election had been supported by those responsible for 'Uthman's unavenged death. The conflict came to a climax in 657 at Siffin, near the Euphrates, and eventually resulted in a major division between the Sunnis or Sunnites and the Shi'is (also called Shi'ites or Shi'ah), the "Partisans" of 'Ali- a division that was to color the subsequent history of Islam.

Actually the Sunnis and the Shi'is are agreed upon almost all the essentials of Islam. Both believe in the Quran and the Prophet, both follow the same principles of religion and both observe the same rituals. However, there is one prominent difference, which is essentially political rather than religious, and concerns the choice of the caliph or successor of Muhammad.

The majority of Muslims support the elective principle which led to the choice of Abu Bakr as the first caliph. This group is known as ahl alsunnah wa-l-jama'ah, "the people of custom and community," or Sunnis, who consider the caliph to be Muhammad's successor only in his capacity as ruler of the community. The main body of the Shi'is, on the other hand, believes that the caliphate - which they call the imamate or "leadership" - is nonelective. The caliphate, they say, must remain within the family of the Prophet - with 'Ali the first valid caliph. And while Sunnis consider the caliph a guardian of the shari'ah, the religious law, the Shi'is see the imam as a trustee inheriting and interpreting the Prophet's spiritual knowledge.

After the battle of Siffin, 'Ali - whose chief strength was in Iraq, with his capital at Kufa - began to lose the support of many of his more uncompromising followers and in 661 he was murdered by a former supporter. His son Hasan was proclaimed caliph at Kufa but soon afterward deferred to Muiawiyah, who had already been proclaimed caliph in Jerusalem in the previous year and who now was recognized and accepted as caliph in all the Muslim territories - thus inaugurating the Umayyad dynasty which would rule for the next ninety years.

The division between the Sunnis and the Shi'is continued to develop in 680 when Ali's son Husayn along with his followers was brutally killed at Karbala in Iraq by the forces of the Umayyad ruler Yazid. His death is still commemorated every year during the Islamic month of Muharram.