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Slave Auctions in Libya and the Need to Restore Islamic Values – Professor Hussein Solomon

November 20, 2017


Slave Auctions in Libya and the Need to Restore Islamic Values

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 24 (November 2017) 

The revulsion and anger on the faces of the protestors outside the Libyan embassy in Paris was plain for all to see. The signs they carried expressed their outrage all the more. “Put an end to the slavery and concentration camps in Libya,” said one poster as the enraged protestors chanted, “Free our brothers”.

The demonstration was occasioned by the airing of CNN footage a few days earlier of a slave auction occurring in Libya. The footage of a slave auction soon went viral. In the footage, African migrants were sold off as slaves for as little as US$400. Whilst this auction took place in the capital Tripoli, CNN made clear that there were several other slave auctions taking place across Libya of African migrants. Indeed, the demand for slaves were so huge that there was a backlog for slaves in the country, which currently hosts between 700,000 and one million migrants. Whilst footage of the slave auction was new, reports of slave markets in Libya is not. In April 2017, the International Organization for Migration, a UN agency, already reported the existence of slave markets across the war-ravaged nation.

The chairperson of the African Union Commission, MoussaFakiMahamat roundly condemned the slave markets calling it “despicable”. He also urged the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) to assist the Libyan authorities with an investigation into this. Despite this welcomed condemnation, do not expect action any time soon. First, the ACHPR is an advisory body and as such has no enforcement teeth. Second, there are no “Libyan authorties”. Libya is divided into a weak internationally supported government in Tripoli whose writ hardly extends beyond the capital as well as an ultra-conservative Islamist government also in Tripoli as well as an anti- Islamist government in the east of the country. This is further compounded by the hundreds of militias which have de facto control over their little feudal patch of territory. Under the circumstances, one can hardly expect concerted action to be taken against the slave markets and the holding of slaves.

The existence of Libyan slave markets however also raises deeper questions regarding Arabism and Islam in Africa. The Arab slave trade of Black Africans occurred over a longer period and involved more slaves than the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Moreover, reports of the existence of slavery in countries like Mauritania and Sudan periodically surface.  Beyond slavery, the arrogance of Arabs in their interactions with Africans was self-evident as the historical record will demonstrate. For instance, in Sudan, the local languages of Borog, Berti and Maal were all transplanted by Arabic. In the process, the sense of identity of these local communities were forever lost. Indeed, Omari Kokole convincingly argues that the twin forces of Arabism and Islamism worked to disintegrate other social and tribal groups operating in the same space.[1] Setsuko Tamara is even blunter in his assessment that  `the contacts between Arabs and Black Africans have been largely asymmetrical, in which Arabs have penetrated Africa, enslaved Africans and imposed their religion (Islam) and language (Arabic). They have viewed themselves as superior, as the conveyors of a higher civilization and tended to be patronizing towards those considered as inferior’.[2]

Whilst there have been much soul searching amongst Europeans and Americans in terms of their role with regards to colonizing Africa and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, there has been no similar introspection taking place amongst Arabs and their descendants in Africa. Such introspection is long overdue. Perhaps a good starting point would be a return to traditional Islamic values. Consider there the following verse in the Holy Qur’an:

“O Mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you many know one another. Surely, the noblest among you in the sight of God is the most god-fearing of you. God is All-knowing, All-aware” (Al Qur’an 49:13)

More to the point, and following on this verse, in his last sermon, the Prophet Muhammad said, “There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white – except by piety”.

Further, Islamic tradition holds that there were 124,000 prophets, which were sent to all nations of humankind. In other words, all nations were worthy to receive the word of God. Under these circumstances, how can such slave markets exist if you call yourself a Muslim? How can this racial arrogance exist if you call yourself a Muslim?


[1]Omari H. Kokole. “The Islamic Factor in Africa-Arab Relations,” Third World Quarterly, 6, 1984, p. 690.

[2]Setsuko Tamara, “Re-thinking Pan-Africanism under African Union Led Continental Integration: Revival of Afro-Arab Solidarity or Clash of Civilizations?” Journal of Global Change and Governance, 1(4), Autumn 2008, p. 7.

One Comment
  1. Cena Foura permalink

    A very frank article. The dissonance is inherent though, in Islam, regarding slavery, especially since islam created the largest, most continuous slave industry in the world by virtue of emulation of their warlord founder of islam. The very pertinent remonstration falls on deaf ears for this reason.

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