Slavery is fair game in mainstream/traditional Islam. I have heard various commentaries that abolishing of slavery in various Muslim-dominated countries actually coincided with the 2nd wave of Western colonialism (19th century on).

I the particular area is North Africa.

Is that true -- did slavery as an economic system/alternative get abolished in North Africa only when the Europeans started colonizing it?

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    Quite possible - as those slaves were often kidnapped Europeans Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 18:58
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    Slavery was also fair game in Christianity until the mid 1700s Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 19:01
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    @amphibient both sub Saharan blacks and Europeans were commonly used as slaves by muslims in both north Africa and elsewhere, with Europeans more seen in northern Africa and blacks more in east Africa and the middle east (logistics played a larger role in that than anything probably).
    – jwenting
    Commented Jul 10, 2018 at 5:32
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    @ClintEastwood and in islam even today. Many "guest workers" in islamic countries are little more than slaves.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jul 10, 2018 at 5:34
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    My reading has only touched on this, but I can tell you with certainty that individual European colonialists, such as Charles Gordon, were strongly motivated by anti-slavery convictions. But how those individuals fit into the big picture of European colonialism in North Africa is not a question I'm prepared or able to answer. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_George_Gordon
    – Random
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 14:17

2 Answers 2


There is at least a kernel of truth here for sure. Here is a relevant article which described Europe's role in the gradual decline of slavery in Africa:

Although colonial authorities began outlawing slavery in some African territories as early as the 1830s, the complete legal abolition of slavery in Africa did not take place until the first quarter of the 20th century. By that time, however, slavery was deeply ingrained in most African societies, and thus the practice continued illegally. Slaves who became liberated often did so by escaping and going to the colonial authorities or by simply leaving the areas in which they had been held to take up residence elsewhere. In some places, enslaved persons held that status throughout their lives, despite the legal prohibition. It was not until the 1930s that slavery in Africa was almost totally eliminated.

However the role of European colonial powers in ending slavery, relative to other factors, should not be over-emphasized. As the Wikipedia article on slavery in the Muslim world puts it:

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, slavery gradually became outlawed and suppressed in Muslim lands, due to a combination of pressure exerted by Western nations such as Britain and France, internal pressure from Islamic abolitionist movements, and economic pressures.

A key episode in the early part of this process was in the 1830s when the Barbary slave trade was ended as a result of the French colonization of Algeria. But for about two centuries prior to this, Europeans played the most pivotal role in driving the expansion of the much larger slave trade in West Africa and the Atlantic.

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    I dispute your statement "the much larger slave trade in West Africa and the Atlantic", from your own link: "Four million enslaved people exported via the Red Sea, another four million[18] through the Swahili ports of the Indian Ocean, perhaps as many as nine million along the trans-Saharan caravan route, and eleven to twenty million (depending on the author) across the Atlantic Ocean" That's about 17 million vs something between 11 and 20 million. Those are comparable numbers, neither much larger than the other. Commented May 20, 2019 at 2:32
  • That quote covers a much longer period (1,000 years vs 200) and doesn't even seem to include the Barbary trade at all, which went through the Mediterranean and totaled something closer to 1 million.
    – Brian Z
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 11:32

DOCTOR THOMAS SOWELL, in his very illuminating book "BLACK REDNECKS & WHITE LIBERALS" wrote a chapter, "The Real History of Slavery", in which he described the significant efforts of the British, the Royal Navy, etc., to interdict, disrupt, stop slavery, & to free slaves, in their colonized lands around the world.

It’s been a few years since I read this book, so I can’t provide quotes or anything more at this time except to say that it mentioned a number of lands on the African continent, and this would include some Muslim areas. So I commend it for your research.

This was rarely recognized fact was done, of course, after their well-known long record to profit by the Slave Trade. I also suggest you might look into England’s SLAVERY ABOLITION ACT of 1833, and the years following. That act abolished slavery throughout the British Empire; and strenuous efforts were made to enforce it in its colonies.

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