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date: 07 October 2022

Islam and Emancipationlocked

Islam and Emancipationlocked

  • Sean HanrettaSean HanrettaNorthwestern University

Summary

Emancipation is a broad concept that includes liberation from slavery as well as broader projects of self-fulfillment. Muslims in Africa have drawn on Islamic sources both to justify and to critique enslavement, slaveholding, and slavery as an institution. Commercial law in particular recognized slave owners’ rights and early debates focused on categories of enslaveability. Slaves themselves drew on Islamic resources to improve their personal situation, to press for reforms, and to critique or try to overthrow the institution as a whole. Political transformations often created openings for more radical attempts to remake social hierarchies in the name of Islam, while Islamic revolutions both disrupted and facilitated the slave trade, depending on time and place. More broadly, critiques of other forms of ascriptive inequality, such as those based on race, caste, former slave status or slave descent, gender, and sexuality, have had equally complex relationships with the ways people have drawn on Islam. Many, but not all, analysts have emphasized the greater effectiveness of emancipatory projects that mobilize Islamic repertoires rather than relying on “Western” ideas of liberalism. The colonial era provided a new set of intellectual and political resources for those seeking to support or critique inequalities in Islamic terms. Halfhearted efforts to abolish slavery created some openings, but colonial commitment to maintaining social order limited its impact. The discursive legacy of colonialism has been more pronounced, particularly by creating an alignment between cultural nationalism and some conservative readings of Islamic sources, while neocolonial discourses can marginalize or even hamper the emancipatory efforts of Muslim activists.

Subjects

  • Religious History
  • Slavery and Slave Trade

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