Slavery in Kuwait

In my last post, Shosho asked a very interesting question about the history of slavery in Kuwait. I tried to dig-out information on the Net but was unsuccessful. Thanks to my fellow blogger KUWAITI DEMON for the invaluable information that he provided:

Chapter 10 from H. R. P. Dickson’s “The Arab of the Desert” :

10 Slaves
In Kuwait town the ‘abd, or slave proper, who has been bought for money and is therefore owned by his master, is rare, but domestic slaves, born in captivity of slave parents who may have been in one family for several generations, are commonly to be found in well-to-do households. This state of affairs is not peculiar to Kuwait, however, for as many, if not more, domestic slaves are to be found in the best households in Basra and Baghdad, not to mention many towns in other Muslim countries. As early as 1924 the Shaikh of Kuwait decreed that the import or export of slaves for purposes of sale would be treated as a crime, and this brought about the effective end of the traffic in bought and domestic slaves who at one time were brought into Kuwait from the interior and sent from there by dhow or steamer.
The buying and selling of born domestic slaves in Kuwait is a very rare occurrence, and only takes place if the slave happens to be unhappy and asks to be sold, which he has the right to do. Very occasionally, and very secretly, a person returning overland from the Hajj pilgrimage may manage to smuggle in a newly bought slave from Mecca, but if the offender is found out he is heavily fined and the slave taken from him and freed.
Masters in Kuwait town are as a general rule kind to domestic slaves born in their families, whom they bring up much as they do their own children. These family slaves hold positions of trust, and are provided with wives and husbands, as the case may be, when they so desire. When slaves marry they go through the same ceremonies as the freeborn, the master and mistress of the slave acting the part of the parents of the bridegroom. Furthermore, the family will evince as much interest in the marriage of one of their slaves as in that of one of the family. The slaves’ children mix on terms of affection and equality with the master’s children, and the lady of the house will very often treat her slave’s progeny with more apparent affection and care than her own.
There are occasions, of course, when slaves are treated unreasonably, or even cruelly, by their masters, but in such cases they may appeal to their shaikh. The Shaikh of Kuwait always took pains to listen to any slave who came to him with complaints of ill-treatment, and if he decided that the petitioner could not safely be returned to his owner he would buy him himself, giving him ii monthly salary and encouraging him to look upon himself as an ordinary servant.
As a bought slave girl is a man’s personal property, it is not wrong in the eyes of the law for the master to take her as a concubine if he finds her attractive. This can happen only in the case of newly bought girls, however, and is practiced only among town Arabs. The custom does not exist among the badawin. Should a slave girl become pregnant by her master, the Sharia law lays down that he must immediately give the prospective mother her freedom, so that his child shall be born free. For the future, both will hold honored positions, the mother as a free woman who can no longer be carnally touched by her late master. Usually such freed women soon find husbands from among other freed slaves. The child, if a boy, remains and grows up as his father’s son but is, however, debarred from marrying a pure-bred Arab girl when he grows up. Slave-born daughters receive equivalent treatment. If an Arab woman suckles her little slave child, that child can never be sold as a slave; it is henceforth free, like her own children.
A domestic male slave’s duties in the town are legion, but all honorable. He is doorkeeper, he looks after stores, household supplies, holds positions of trust, keeps account of the home water supply, makes coffee, accompanies the ladies of the house when they go out, and look after the needs of the harem. The lot of the female domestic slave in a nice family is an easy and privileged one. She looks after her mistress and her robes and always dresses her. She is often the cook or seamstress, she goes down to the seashore and does the family washing with the younger women of the house and accompanies her mistress on her calling expeditions. Like the male slave she of ten holds positions of considerable responsibility and trust.
Slaves may rely on the protection of their master, for they know that their lord will avenge himself on any stranger who harms his slave, more than if he were his own son.
Among the badawin tribes almost every shaikh or well-to-do member of a tribe has his male slaves, whether born in the family or bought, and their ‘womenfolk have female slaves. Speaking generally, bought slaves are the rule. The slave in the desert is normally treated well, although he has, of course, to work and take his full share in drawing water for sheep and camels and in cutting brushwood for the use of the tent. Since he can stand the summer heat better than the Arab, he does a lot of the work connected with the care and tending of camels when his master and mistress are camped on water during the hot season.
In the desert during times of war, slaves are considered to be good spoil, much like camels. Normally a body of riders on a camel-lifting expedition will not carry off a single slave man found in charge of grazing camels as he would hinder rapid movement. Instead they will merely bind and leave him. It is considered lawful, if you are at enmity with another tribe, to steal slave children and make them yours, but the same unwritten law insists, however, that such children be over ten years of age. Of course, the owner will attempt to effect a rescue and will kill the stealer if he can, even if he has to wait years to do so. If in a raid a freed slave, male or female, be carried off in error, it is the duty of the raiders to return him or her as soon as the mistake is found out.
No true Arab may lawfully marry a freed slave woman as we have noted, nor will any pure-bred badawin ever demean himself by having sexual connection with any of his bought female slaves. They consider this very disgraceful, and refuse to accept the argument of certain noble and princely semi-badawin families, such as the Al Sa’adun of Iraq, that because a slave girl is your property entirely, she is yours to do with as you like without sin. The badawin calls this town sophistry, and it is one of the things that causes him to despise the town-dweller.

18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shosho
    Oct 17, 2005 @ 07:35:00

    Wow, I’m glad Ayya that you took the trouble to find out :*

    And Kuwaiti Demon thanks for the illuminating info!


  2. AyyA
    Oct 17, 2005 @ 19:48:00

    I was interested in this subject myself, I have asked about it and all the information I gathered was a word of mouth and nothing documented. I’m glad that I got a hold on this piece and that’s why I published it on a separate post for future references.
    :* back at you


  3. AyyA
    Oct 18, 2005 @ 01:38:00

    PS. Please note that if you have anything to say, you are more than welcome, but I will not allow neither name dropping, nor any type of indicative racial discrimination, otherwise feel free to comment as much as you want and say whatever you feel, the space is all yours, thank you


  4. Equalizer
    Oct 18, 2005 @ 03:21:00

    thanks for the info 🙂


  5. AyyA
    Oct 18, 2005 @ 15:04:00

    I think the appreciation is due for Q8i Demon’s efforts, it was written as an answer to a comment made by Shosho on the last post which is still taking it’s heated argument, you might want to check on that 😉


  6. mishu1984
    Oct 18, 2005 @ 16:40:00

    wow! i always knew it, but it was based on word of mouth. thanks for the gr8 post Ayya! and another round of applause for Q8e Demon.

    p.s. kudos to ur teacher for giving you a straight answer. you wont find many of them that will be able to give u such an analytical answer..


  7. AyyA
    Oct 18, 2005 @ 21:38:00

    Mishooooo what’s up dude, missed you


  8. q8Sultana
    Oct 19, 2005 @ 01:33:00

    we just talked about slavery in the Gulf today in class, and was searching for info on it on the net, and all I should have done is search kuwaitblogs :o)


  9. AyyA
    Oct 19, 2005 @ 05:07:00

    I’m glad you found this information handy, next time you’d know where to look 😉


  10. q80_demon
    Oct 19, 2005 @ 10:22:00

    Thanks to all, it’s a pleasure really. And special thanks to AyyA for tackling this subject.


  11. nice
    Oct 19, 2005 @ 12:07:00

    الي كنت اقصده انه اللون ماله تاثير عندنا وشنو فايدة نبحث فيه اليحن فقط وشكرا على قدر التسامح الي عندكم


  12. Jewaira
    Oct 20, 2005 @ 00:52:00

    I have heard of “slaves” or bondswomen in our family a long time ago but to hear it spoken of, they were loved and treated well, as members of the extended family. This was something quite common in those days especially in well to do families.
    Nothing like the stereotyped whipped and tortured slaves we have read about especially in American history.
    When I first learned this fact, I was stunned but soon learned that this was a common way of life in Kuwait at the time.


  13. AyyA
    Oct 20, 2005 @ 15:51:00

    Slavery is not bound to color; it was more a result of wars and poverty.

    Lady J
    Let me differ with you lady J about slavery and the US; we all sympathized with black slaves of the US and the reason we did is because we heard their voices through several revolts. But in the Arab societies it was much harder to hear the slaves, because it was hushed under unjust rulers. Take a look at this report , and I quote this paragraph that is more relevant to my argument “Under Arab slavery men were castrated and the women were used as sex-machines, so that over generations the offspring of the enslaved women merged into general Arab society, albeit into an inferior caste-type class of sub-species. Today we have slave descendants across the Sahara, such as the Harantines in Mauritania, to the ebony blacks in Arabia”. Castration of black slaves started at the age of ten. In either way; comparing this to what slavery had gone through in the US is not justifiable.
    But I do agree with you that our grandfathers in the region were more God fearing than most Islamic Arab societies. If you compare the morals of Kuwaiti older generation to ours today, you would understand how most treated slaves much better than some treat their maids and household workers today. Some slaves even had prosperous lives when they merged and became members of those families, and their descendants attest to this fact.


  14. Abdulrhman
    Jun 24, 2010 @ 21:14:01

    in Islam , any dustman can be IMAM of the president of the country !

    what a great religion ISLAM is .. we`re so proud to belong to the peaceful religion of Islam..


    • AyyA
      Jun 25, 2010 @ 05:21:18

      “in Islam , any dustman can be IMAM of the president of the country !”
      Yes that’s true, and that is the exact reason why we’d never be a part of the twenty-first century world. Not even lagging behind


  15. Abdulrhman
    Jun 26, 2010 @ 13:02:35

    Ayya, why are you always against Islam? not even one thing to love ?! that`s odd ! you live among us and never share a thing with us ..
    are you ok, Ayya ? you must passed the limited age as well 🙂 are u 55 years old or so ?!


  16. hamood
    Dec 19, 2010 @ 10:10:47

    This is an interesting subject , as I was browsing about slavery in the middle east I couldn’t but just check your blog out.
    I agree with most what ayya found out about this region when it comes to slavery or slave (abd) in arabic language. But to sort out the confusion. Don’t join the arab and islam into one sign. Islam is a religion ,arab is a race or a blood line. In islam the word Abd or slave never mentioned as an action between man kind .its the link and the relation between the creature and the creator which allah. Slavery in islam was called even in arabic (rikk) which means more like boss and worker or an employee. And to avoid the discrimination and confusion of the meaning. It was discriminated later on. Cuz to have a (rakeek) u need to take care of them like a brother or sister or as one of ur family and if u cannot then you are questioned. And calling the African slaves that have been hunted in taken by force from their own lands to serve under a human master with their dignity and humanity removed by (black slaves) that’s racist it self. I guess you know that ayya.


  17. Trackback: Canadian Forces to Withdraw Logistically Through Kuwait | Kaffir Kanuck

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