Baqt, the treaty that set off the Arab slave trade

The Arab invasions started after the death of Muhamad the prophet of Islam. The Arabs conquered Palestine, Syria and then Egypt from 639, which at that time was not anymore ruled by Blacks for 1000 years. In their advance, the Arabs tried to conquer the kingdom of Makuria in Nubia – South of Egypt – North of Sudan. Nubia, which gave birth to Egypt, used its formidable military genius, which saved the country under the 25th dynasty. This same military genius had defeated the Romans, under the commandment of the most powerful woman in the history of Africa: Kandake Amanirenas.

Ruins of Dongala, capital of the Nubian kingdom of Makuria
Ruins of Dongala, capital of the Nubian kingdom of Makuria

The Nubians killed 2000 Arabs and inflicted the invaders a great defeat. But the Arabs were conquering the circumference of the Mediterranean and constituting a great power. Makuria probably understood that it would soon be the end under the rising strength of the enemy. The Nubians then chose to negotiate a treaty called Baqt. This treaty is in every point comparable to the one of non-aggression between Russia and Germany in the eve of World War II, during which Russia even delivered Germany raw materials in order to avoid an attack from the latter. We can also compare this treaty to the one that was imposed on the Haitians. After their victorious revolution against France, they were forced to pay an estimated 17 billion Euros to avoid being attacked again.

Through the Baqt the Arabs used religion as a psychological and political weapon in order to subject the Nubians who had been converted to Christianity three centuries before by the roman influence. The Baqt is the starting point of an almost 17 million-victim (**) slave trade that has been lasting since then. This slave trade later touched other African regions outside of the framework of the Baqt. The Baqt shows that the Arabs already used to practice raids. This treaty is of major importance and here is its content:

Child slave in the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, dominated at the time by the Arabs of Oman, in 1890
An African child put into slavery in the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, dominated at the time by the Arabs of Oman, in 1890

‘Article 1: Treaty granted by the emir Abd Allah ben Sa’d, to the king of Nubia and to all his subjects, which Nubians from the borders of Alwa are bound to comply with.

Article 2: Abd Allah ben Sa’d grants them an act of guarantee and an armistice that makes them allies of the Muslims of Sa’id but also of those from other regions and tributary people. Oh! People of Nubia! You will be safe under the protection of God and of his prophet Muhamad. We commit not to attack you, not to start any war against you and not practicing any raid in your country, as long you will be loyal to the conditions stipulated in the treaty between us, which details contains:

Article 3: When you will enter our country, you will only pass through without staying. And we will do the same. You will have to protect every Muslims or their allies who are settled in your lands or who will travel by in the future and look after their safety, until they leave your country. If any slave belonging to a Muslim takes refuge in your homes, you shall not keep them; but you will have to take them to a Muslim territory. If Muslims in war seek for asylum in your country, you shall make them leave the country and take them to a Muslim territory. You shall not defend them, you shall not rescue them.

Article 4: You will look after the Mosque Muslims have built in the district of your capital. You shall not prevent anyone from praying in it; every Muslim willing to go and pray there shall not be bothered by you and yours until they leave. You will be in charge of sweeping the temple, of maintaining the lights on and adorn it as it should be.

Article 5: You will deliver 360 slaves every year of both sexes. They will be chosen amongst the best ones of your country and sent to the Imam of the Muslims. All of them must be flawless. You shall neither present aged men, nor old women, nor children under the age of puberty. You will have to take them to the governor of Aswan.

If an enemy attacks you from the borders of Alwa up to Aswan, Muslims will not have the obligation to declare war to this enemy and to defend you against the attacks.

If you grant asylum to a run-away slave, if you kill a Muslim or one of our allies, if you destroy a Mosque built in the district of your capital or if you hold part of the 360 slaves, then there will be neither treaty nor conservation: all the commitments will be cancelled and we will wait until God decides, He who is the best of the judges.

Article 6: We promise and swear to observe loyally our conventions and you by your side you have taken commitments that you have contracted with us before witness; all that is most sacred in your religion, the messiah, the apostles, the saints who are the object of your reverence.’

Written by Umar Ibn Sharahl, Ramadan 31/642

By : Lisapo ya Kama

Associated source : La traite négrière européenne, vérité et mensonge (The European slave: truth and lies), Jean Philippe Omotunde, pages 147 to 149. (Maqrizi, Ritat, vol 3; B.I. Beshir, New light on Nubian Fatimid relations, Arabica, 22, 1975, page 15 to 24)

**: Since we have written this article, we learned that the author of this count of 17 million, the American Ralph Austen, corrected his data; the balance is situated between 3 and 12 million people.

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