The brutality of this rebellion was so fierce on both sides that during the day, people used to hide in their homes, hide in wells, and in sewers, and only come out at night to hunt rats, dogs and cats and even resorting to eating the flesh of human corpses in order to survive. The Zanji slave revolt against the Abbasid Caliphate was one of the most violent and consequential slave revolts in history. It lasted for 14 years from 869 to 883 CE and at least 500,000 people died.

WHAT HAPPENED? The Abbasids had tens of thousands slave laborers made up of black Arabs, along with East Africans called Zanj, [blacks] from Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Ethiopia, Zanzibar and from other parts of East Africa. They worked them like animals in the humid salt marshes of Southern Iraq which were much like the slave plantations that we had in America. These slaves worked under the worse conditions of harshness, extreme misery and sub-deplorable living conditions. They used to get just enough food rations a day to stay alive as they worked from sun up to sundown. Eventually the slaves, realizing that there was strength in numbers, rebelled against the Abbasid authorities. Incidentally, many of the slaves who joined the rebellion were white and there were many, who weren’t even slaves who joined. A good number of the rebels were Arab tribesmen.

HISTORICALLY, this rebellion is known as the Revolt of the Zanj or the Revolt of the Blacks. There were three major slave revolts of the Zanj between the 7th and 9th centuries CE. This one was the longest, most violent and most significant. In the year 871, Zanji rebels led by Yahya ibn Muhammad al-Azraq and ‘Ali ibn Aban al-Muhallabi and assisted by Arab tribesman who joined their side against the Abbasids, launched a coordinated attack against the city of Basra, Iraq. They sacked the city, massacred its inhabitants and looted the city for three days.

HOW IT ENDED: Eventually the Caliphate was able to crush the rebellion but not before many people were killed, whole villages and towns were looted and burned to the ground, and the caliphate was weakened to the point where they lost control of many outlying provinces. The Caliph ended up offering amnesty and large sums of money to the rebel leaders to end the rebellion. He invited many of their leaders to join the Abbasid military. Some of the rebels ended up being slave owners themselves. And that’s how it happened folks. We’ve got a lot to learn from our history; the good of it, and the bad of it.

NOTE: Islam allows slavery with specific regulations requiring the humane treatment of slaves, rules for their manumission, limits on work load, and standards for proper care. However, Islam does not allow oppression of any kind, even to a slave, especially to a slave. The word Zunji is still used in the Arab world as a pejorative term, it’s the Arabic version of calling a black person nigger.

Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad

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