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Black and Arab mixing in North Africa

Since pre-Islamic times, sub-Saharan Africans had been taken as slaves to the Arab world, including North Africa. Unfortunately, this practice goes on today, in the form of black slavery in Sudan and Mauritania, where descendants of Arabs still exploit black Africans.1

Prior to the Islamic conquests by Asian Arabs, many regions of North Africa were inhabited by the Berber, an indigenous African people.2 For this article, the term "North African" will include the native Berber as well as Arabs who came from Asia. Some Western scholars regard the Berber as "white Caucasian" who resemble Southern Europeans3, but others say Berber appearance is not so easily categorized. F, a Berber man from Algeria, says, "Berber skin color ranges from black to white. We cover a wide geographical region and have a wide range of appearances." Mitochondrial DNA analysis seems to corroborate F's observation; the amount of subSaharan African mDNA genetic contribution to Berber communities varied from 82% for the Tuaregs to 4% for the Rifains.4 "The Berber have their own languages", F says, "but when Arabs from Asia invaded North Africa, many Berbers accepted the Arab language and culture." The script of the Berbers is still used by the Tuaregs. For more information on the Tamazigh language, see www.libyamazigh.org.

People from the East Africa were sold as slaves in North Africa from up through the 19th century (Non-Africans were also sold, and in certain periods, comprised the majority of the slaves.)5 In the west, people from the Sahel region of West Africa were sent to the Maghrib (Northwest Africa). Colonies of Muslim traders in Ghana and Goa traded with local princes, obtaining black Africans for the trans-Saharan slave trade.6

Despite the inferior social status of slaves, many black Africans succeeded in gaining political power in North Africa. An Abbysinnian eunuch Abu' l-Misk Kafur al-Ikhshidi rose to become regent of Egypt (945-966).7

The Fatimid caliph az-Zahir (or al-Dhahir) had a Sudanese concubine who bore him the future Caliph al-Mustansir, heir to his throne. She ruled over Egypt after al-Zahir's death and during her son's childhood. Black regiments consisting of purchased slaves were already an important part of the Fatimid army, along with Turkish slaves. The political clout of the black African soldiers peaked during the reign of al-Mustansir (1035-94) on account of the support they received from the Queen Mother.8

It should be noted that blacks were not the only slaves in the Arab world. White slaves from Europe were also sold, as were Central Asians.9 It should also be noted that the trans-Saharan slave trade was not a one-way street of black slaves being sold to Arab countries. Arab and Turkish slaves were also sold to black Africans. (See White slavery in Africa and Asia. )

Famous mixed people of black African and North African descent

The longest-reigning Imam-Caliph of the Fatimid dynasty, al-Mustansir

Ma'ad al-Mustansir Billah was born in 1029 to the Fatimid Caliph az-Zahir and Rasad, one of az-Zahir's wives.10 Rasad was variously reported as a slave of Sudanese, Abyssinian or Nubian origin.11 Az-Zahir had purchased her from the Jewish merchant Abu Sa'd al-Tustari.12 8 months after Ma'ad's birth, the caliph az-Zahir declared Rasad's son to be his successor.13

Al-Mustansir ascended the throne at age 7 following his father's death.14 The capable vizier al-Jarjarai was the de-facto ruler until the vizier's passing in 1044, after which the Queen Mother Rasad ruled as regent.15 She continued to exercise political power during the Caliph's adulthood.16

The long famine starting in 1065 destabilized Egypt.17 During this period, the merchants encouraged the Turks and the Berber soldiers to revolt and expel fifty thousand Sudani soldiers.18 With the Sudani, Berber and Turkish factions of the Fatimid forces engaging in open warfare, Egypt's infrastructure fell to ruin.19 Queen Mother Rasad backed the Sudanis with arms and financing.20

Following their defeat of the Sudanis in 1067, the Turks drained the treasury of al-Mustansir who was left with almost nothing except a country in shambles.21 In 1071, the caliph's mother Rasad was arrested and her assets confiscated.22 The Turks treated Al-Mustansir scornfully.23 In 1074, the caliph was able to end the Turks' influence with the help of Badr al Jamali and his Syrian troops.24 Al-Jamali, a former slave, became the next vizier and helped Mustansir restore order to Egypt.25 The viziership of al-Jamali was a shift in Egyptian politics. Al-Mustansir's mother Rasad no longer had the vast political power she previously wielded for almost 40 years, though she performed diplomatic functions at least until 1078.26 The longest reigning Caliph in any Islamic State, Al-Mustansir died in 1094 and was succeeded by his second son al-Mustaali.27


Notes
  1. Talib Y and F. Samir, "The African Diaspora in Asia", UNESCO General History of Africa Vol 3, ed. M. El Fasi, pp. 724-726
  2. Ibn Khallikan, 1943-71, Vol 2, pp. 524-8
  3. Talib Y and F. Samir, "The African Diaspora in Asia", UNESCO General History of Africa Vol 3, ed. M. El Fasi, pp. 724-726
  4. Delia Cortese and Simonetta Calderini, Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam, p.110
  5. Cortese and Calderini, Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam, p.110
  6. Cortese and Calderini, Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam, p.110
  7. Maria Rustow, Of Goans and Caliphs
    Cortese and Calderini, Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam, p.110
  8. Cortese and Calderini, Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam, p.112
  9. Cortese and Calderini, Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam, pp. 112-113
  10. Cortese and Calderini, Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam, p.113
  11. Cortese and Calderini, Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam, p.113