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Christian Snouck Hurgronje

Mekka in the Latter Part of the 19th Century, 1931. p. 20.


...when the negro people learn the value of life, the slave raiding will stop of itself: the mischief lies in the internal state of the country.

The anti-slavery fraud is no fraud on the part of the honourably intentioned great public, but the men of high politics keep up the false fire for quite other than humane purposes; so the Christian world takes towards Islam an attitude of misunderstanding and falsehood 1) [I may relate here the following anecdote which I have heard from many slaves: When some years ago English warships were carrying on in the Red Sea an often very profitable piracy in the name of anti-slavery the slavedealers naturally sought means to hide the slaves on board while their ships were being examined, and that the boys and girls might not betray their presence by singing and crying on these occasions, they were regularly told that these leprous looking white pirates were cannibals! Certain it is that the activity of these cannibals has not contributed in the slightest degree either to the welfare of the slaves liberated and to a great extent shot down by them, or to the abolition of slavery.].

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Our digression can be excused on the one hand by the high importance existing from time immemorial of slaves and freedmen for Mekka society, and on the other by the present actuality of the slave question. It is easy to see how much influence the Africans must have had on this society when once they were formally adapted to the Arab mode of life; the women became mothers of Mekkans, and the men helped to rear them.

The great abuse condemned even by Islam but still maintained, we will not here leave unmentioned - the castration of such slaves as are to attend on the women of people of very high position, or have to keep order in the mosques in the holy town 2) [These eunuchs are called aghas or more rarely tawâshîs and so when a man exceptionally allows a young unmarried man to have conversation with female members of his family, he says to people who might be scandalized that the young man is like an agha.]. In Mekka most of the eunuchs are of the latter class. Very few are kept by private persons. All are imported already castrated, but the demand for this article for the mosque makes Mekka an accomplice in this evil. Among the aghas (eunuchs attendants in the mosque) are found Nubians, negroes, and Abyssinians, often strongly built but seldom amiable people.