The Arab slave trade : The formidable Zanj rebellion

In 869 in present-day Iraq, Blacks began a rebellion against the slave system. That uprising against enslavement, the most deadly, was in its magnitude and duration comparable to the greatest of all: the Haitian revolution.

The Arabs deported 3 to 12 million Africans whom they enslaved. The combined effects of the Arab and the worse European slave trades are responsible for between 400 and 600 million African casualties

Black people in the Concentration Universe of Southern Iraq

The Arabic term Zanj naming the enslaved Blacks in Iraq, referred to their origin in East Africa. It is in thousands that Arabs would have raided and seized them in Sudan, Ethiopia or the islands of present Tanzania. The slave population was also composed of White Semitic or Europeans, but it was the Africans who endured the hardest conditions. They were affected by tens of thousands in the drying of wet and salt marshes, where they had to remove tons of soil to sow crops in depth. They underwent conditions worthy of the concentration camp universe of America.

The Zanj were beaten, whipped, receiving only a handful of semolina and dates as food. The humidity of their place of work was a source of malaria, which made hecatombs among them. As in the whole history of slave based systems, inferiority prejudices were popularized to give slavers a good conscience. In addition to being scorned because they were non-Muslims, people said about them “hungry, Zanj steals (…), satiated, he rapes” [1]. Faced with their extreme misery, the Zanj rose up three times.

689 and 694: The first two revolts

Armed with clubs and hoes, Africans led raids. Others, more organized and successful in acquiring arms, barricaded themselves in camps. The Zanj took several cities in southern Iraq that they looted before being crushed by the Arab authorities. Some were beheaded. Determined, they rose again in 694, helped by the black soldiers of the Arab armies, the Blacks of India, as well as Africans coming from the continent. The coalition inflicted heavy losses on the Caliph’s armies, before being crushed. The third revolt, the largest of all, was yet to come.

869-883: The Zanj Revolt

Ali Ben Muhammad, a literate white man previously enslaved, organized the Africans during their biggest rebellion. Declaring himself a descendant of the prophet Muhammad, he claimed to be guided by a human ideal of social justice. Ali Ben Muhammad was going to lead the Africans in the expression of their fury. The Zanj conquered and looted town after town, massacring entire populations, including women and children. The Africans destroyed the army of General Abu Mansur who came to confront them, then that of Turkish General Abu Hilal. They made 1000 prisoners, whom they massacred.

Unknown author

They created a State with an administration, courts, and a currency. Merciless, they enslaved defeated Arab and Turkish soldiers, and conquered the city of Basra on Friday, September 7, 871 at the time of prayer. Their insurrection plunged Iraq into the apocalypse, it is estimated that between 500,000 and 2 million people died in the midst of the great revolt of Africans. The Zanj eventually came 112 km close to the capital city Baghdad and conquered a part of Iran. Ali Ben Muhammad, the Zanj State ruler, showed his racism by appointing only Whites at the top of the State.

For 14 years, the Zanj faced the Arab and Turkish armies, before starting to suffer defeats, psychologically weakened by the betrayal of Ali Ben Muhammad. Despite tremendous resistance, they were finally defeated, Ali Ben Muhammad and his lieutenants were transferred to Baghdad where they were beheaded. The Africans themselves suffered atrocious torture, some of them were incorporated into the army in Baghdad, in recognition of their bravery.

What is the place of this revolt in African history?

We have just seen that this is a major event in our history. 14 or 15 years of revolt with 500,000 to 2 million dead, but an unfavorable outcome. This uprising is comparable to the 13-year-Haitian revolution with its (approximately) 500 000 dead and an outcome favorable at that moment. That rebellion must become a central point of resistance during the Black Apocalypse. It is an act of monumental heroism that is called to be considered as such in African history.

Hotep !

By : Lisapo ya Kama

Notes :

  • Le génocide voile (the veiled genocide), Tidiane N’diaye
  • African Presence In Early Asia, Runoko Rashidi
  • University of Alberta
  • [1] Le génocide voilé, Tidiane N’diaye
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