Fighting Child Slavery in the Islamic World


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The boy martyr Iqbal Masih who escaped slavery at the age of ten was killed two years later for exposing child slavery in Pakistan. – (Photo – Public Domain)

This Wednesday (April 16) was the International Day Against Child Slavery by the Christian Cultural Movement of Spain. The inspiration behind this annual observance is 12-year-old Pakistani Christian slave, Iqbal Masih, who was killed on this day twenty-five years ago, for exposing Pakistan’s clandestine child slavery.

When he was 4, Iqbal was sold by his parents to a carpet weaving company to work as a carpet weaver. In order to make sure he would not escape, he and other children were always chained by their carpet mafia masters. When Iqbal turned 10, the supreme court of Pakistan declared child labor illegal. He and other children had endured hot, cramped conditions, air filled with wool debris and countless whippings, beatings, and cuttings whenever his work slowed. Though stunted by malnutrition and weakened by lack of exercise, Iqbal and a few of his friends escaped. He ran to the local police and explained how the employer was beating the children and keeping them as slaves. Unfortunately, the police officer was more willing to receive the “finder’s fee” for escaped slaves and returned Iqbal to Arshad, Iqbal’s owner. At the direction of the police officer, Iqbal was chained to the carpet machine and Arshad forced him back to work with a combination of physical abuse and starvation.

His second attempt was a successful one and Iqbal started studying while expressing a desire to become a lawyer to fight the evil of child exploitation. On Palm Sunday, April 16, 1995, was shot dead in the back with a 12 gauge shotgun. He was riding home on a bicycle with some friends after attending mass earlier in the day.

The official police report claims that it was an accidental firing by a local farmer named Ashraf Hero. They claimed he confessed to the accident after hours of being tortured. Because Iqbal was a prominent enemy of the local Carpet Manufacturer Mafia, The Pakistani Human Rights Commission looked into the murder but quickly agreed with the police story. Despite the official report, almost everyone believes that Iqbal Masih was assassinated by an agent of the Carpet Manufacturer Mafia who already held influence over the police and that Ashraf Hero was framed for the murder.While returning from the United States from one of his campaigns, Iqbal was shot dead by a heroin addict who belonged to the Pakistani carpet mafia.

Iqbal’s dream was to become a layer and his dream was “to do what Abraham Lincoln did [for] Pakistan.” While Iqbal remains an icon for children who are still enslaved, this criminality, while not limited to the Islamic world, is par for the course in Muslim countries. This is because as Pope St. Zachary (741-752) once stated : “Wherever Islam goes slavery follows.”

The Prophet Muhammad, during the course of installing a tripartite paradigm of Islamic slavery via his military campaigns and raids against the inhabitants of Arabia, enslaved many of the Semitic peoples of the region. The prerequisite for being enslaved in Islam, whether it was for domestic labor or sexual exploitation, was not based on race, as it was with the trans-Atlantic slave trade between the New World and West Africa, but on being a non-Muslim war captive. It is estimated that between 650 and 1900, a minimum of eighteen million Africans had been enslaved by Arab slave traders; over one million Europeans were equally subjugated by the Muslim world during the same period.

There are numerous Quranic and hadith verses that justify and encourage slavery as a blessing and a profitable enterprise:

  • And marry the unmarried among you and the righteous among your male slaves and female slaves. If they should be poor, Allah will enrich them from His bounty, and Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing. — Sura 24, Verse 64
  • O Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and those your right hand possesses [slave girls] what Allah has return to you as booty. — Sura 33, Verse 50
  • Narrated Jabir: A man manumitted a slave and he had no other property than that, so the Prophet cancelled the manumission (and sold the slave for him). No’aim bin Al-Nahham bought the slave from him. — Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 42, Hadith 598

While all Muslim countries, under the impetus of the West, have officially outlawed slavery from their constitutions or civil codes, the truth of the matter is that it still continues to be observed in numerous Islamic states; and it is not just terrorists who are enslaving people:

  • Pakistan, for example, ranks third in the world in the practice of slavery. According to the executive secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission, Hyacinth Peter, part of the Pakistani observance includes debt bondage, forced marriages, trafficking, and the exploitation of children.
  • In Libya, since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, Muslim smugglers have taken numerous Africans as slaves. According to the International Organisation for Migration, West African migrants who are seeking to escape repression are captured, bought, and sold in garages and car parks. There have been reports from Libya about organized slave markets and a few years ago, a case of slavery was uncovered in Tanzania, according to Lodhi. “A mine was found in a remote area where 50 to 60 boys were forced to work. They were not paid and lived in a camp guarded by armed men.”
  • In Nigeria not just females but men and boys are also captured for physical labor and sexual exploitation. Just a few days ago, police raided an Islamic school in Katsina State — the northwestern home state of President Muhammadu Buhari  —and freed nearly seventy men and boys. Lawal Ahmad, a 33-year-old man who was held captive, said he witnessed sexual assault, beatings and the death of other captives during his two years there.

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  • In Saudi Arabia, in order to make Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s dream of Vision 2030 happen—an economic project to harness natural resources, outside of oil—abusive labor sponsorship system persists, effectively keeping foreign workers at the mercy of their Saudi sponsors and preventing expansion of the foreign workforce. Expatriate workers do not have the right to enter and exit the country freely, and sponsors have the ability to call for their deportation just on a whim. They are not only subject to forced deportation, harassment, and sexual assault, but they are denied their wages, labor rights, and even the right to return home. Some workers have been arrested false accusations and held in Saudi prisons for months, or sometimes years, without fair trials.

The other tragedy is that while the mainstream media, left-wing politicians, revisionists and groups, such as Black Lives matter continue to chide the crimes of slavery, specifically in America, they should not just take a look and recognize that it continues to exist in various Muslim countries, like the 276 female students that were kidnapped from the Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria by Boko Haram on the night of 14–15 April 2014—112 girls are still missing. And this is not simply because of “culture” but because of the tenets that were taught and lived by the Prophet of Islam. 


Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University in New York, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. 

* Sources no cited may be found in my book Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.