in category Other History

Did Muslims have differing categories of slaves in Islamic civilisations?

1 Answer
1 Answer
1 Helpful
0 Unhelpful

Slaves of both genders were categorised by Muslim jurists for the purpose of applying Islamic law and political administrators for determining roles and rights. Taef El-Azhari's book Queens, Eunuchs and Concubines in Islamic History, 661–1257 provides a good summary.

Female slaves were categorised as follows:

  • Jariya (lit. runner for service (pl. jawari)): the most commonly used term for an enslaved female, brought to Muslim lands through captivity in warfare and from slave markets. The owner, a man or a woman, of this type would use her in domestic labour. A man owner could copulate with her and offer her to other men for sexual pleasure. The jariya could be sold or inherited as a chattel, or freed upon her owner's wishes. Other synonyms of jariya in the sources are ama and khadima.
  • Umm walad (lit. mother of a son) was a jariya who gave birth to a child by her master. With this new status she could not be sold and would remain a slave under her master's authority. Most caliphs' mothers, especially under the Abbasids, were from this category - of the thirty-eight Abbasid caliphs in Iraq, only al-Saffah and al-Amin were born to free woman (hurra), with the remaining thirty-six caliphs having umm walad mothers.
  • Mahziyya (concubine (pl. hazaya or mahziyyat)): a female slave owned especially for sexual pleasure and who could not be shared with another man, unlike the jariya. The price for a mahziyya could reach hundreds of thousands of dirhams. She played a major role as a foe to the wife of the master.
  • Qina (pl. qiyan): a female slave who was a musician and a singer, or sometimes a poetess. They could reach very high prices, and could become concubines. They appeared in small numbers with the Umayyad dynasty.
  • Qahramana (stewardess, Persian for 'strong'/'keeper'): this term applied to a female slave who supervised some of the financial affairs within the caliph's palace. Moreover, she was in charge of the domestic section of the caliph's sleeping quarters. Her position in the palace, close to decision making circles, enabled her to influence political affairs in many cases. The qahramana appeared within the Abbasid dynasty but very few were free women.

Male slaves were categorised as follows:

  • Khadim (pl. khadam): a male slave used in domestic service. This term had been used since pre-Islamic times and continued to be used throughout different Islamic ages.
  • Mawla: synonym of khadim, which some sources use, in addition to 'abd.
  • Ghulam (pl. ghulman): a servant for civil services; the term was used from the tenth century under the Abbasids, and also applied to those in the military.
  • Ghulam amrad: a pre-pubescent boy (amrad means 'without a beard'). They are mentioned in the Qur'an as servants in paradise.
  • Mamluk (pl. mamalik): a person owned by his master. Mamluks appeared mainly in the ninth century under the Abbasids, and the term was applied mainly to military slaves.
  • Khasiyy (pl. khisyan): a eunuch. Eunuchs were introduced into domestic service in small numbers under the Umayyads. Under the Abbasids they were used to serve the harem section, but soon were also used in the military. From the tenth century onwards, they were elevated to vice-sultan, commanders of the armies and even de facto rulers of kingdoms. This type of eunuch had their testicles removed (castrated), but were still capable of copulation, and they could own concubines. From the tenth century, medieval sources referred to them by other terms like khadim, shaikh, ustadh and tawashi (Turkish for 'servant').
  • Majbub: a eunuch who was not only castrated, but had his entire sexual organ removed. This type of eunuch was mostly used in domestic service in the harem section of the palace.
  • Atabeg: a Turkish word – 'ata' meaning 'father', and 'beg' meaning 'military emir' or 'prince'. They were introduced by the Seljuqs into the Islamic administration as tutors and regents for future kings. They developed by establishing their own dynasties, such as Tughtekin in Damascus (r. 1104–28), or Zengi in Mosul and northern Syria (r. 1127–46); Saladin (d. 1193) also claimed this title early in his early career. Some Ayyubid atabegs, among others, were eunuchs, and the post underwent several developments, namely that the atabeg was originally appointed from establishment of a royal court mamluk military circles, but later some of them were from among the freemen.

User Settings

What we provide!

Vote Content

Great answers start with great insights. Content becomes intriguing when it is voted up or down - ensuring the best answers are always at the top.

Multiple Perspectives

Questions are answered by people with a deep interest in the subject. People from around the world review questions, post answers and add comments.

An authoritative community

Be part of and influence the most important global discussion that is defining our generation and generations to come

Join Now !

Update chat message


Delete chat message

Are you sure you want to delete this message?