Documentary films addressing the topic of slavery and the slave trade in Africa are rare. As a specialist in slavery and race studies focusing on North Africa, I agreed to participate in an ambitious documentary on this topic, Les Routes de l’Esclavage (Slavery Routes). The film, made by Fanny Glissant, Juan Gélas, and Daniel Cattier and produced by the French company “Compagnie des Phares et Balises” for the European channel ARTE, was broadcast on 1 May 2018. Oddly, it was the same day, the American singer Kanye West made an outrageous statement that slavery was a choice. On 16 August, this documentary was aired on the English channel Al Jazeera. But, this channel surprisingly skipped the first episode on slavery in Islamic societies. This episode is entitled “476 – 1375: Beyond the desert.” It describes the role of the Arabo-Islamic empire in the African slave trade network. I do not know anything about the deal Al Jazeera had with the French company that produced the film.
My colleagues in France who had participated in the series including Antonio de Almeida Mendes, Myriam Cottias, Salah Trabelsi, Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch as well as Juan Gélas, who co-authored and co-directed the film, attempted to get a clear answer from the French company. We found out that Phares & Balises had sold episodes two, three, and four only to Al Jazeera channel upon their request. Therefore, Al Jazeera must have known about the first episode that focused on slavery in Islamic societies, but they intentionally excluded it. The Portuguese have already protested in their media against this omission which gives the impression that Portugal initiated enslavement of Africans. I emailed Al Jazeera on 14 October 2018 using their online contact form, but they have not acknowledged receipt of my query.
The issue of slavery remains largely a taboo subject in the Arab world, but in recent decades a number of scholars, such as myself, Eve Troutt-Powell, and Bruce Hall, have emerged to break new ground in the study of slavery and race. As yet, there are only a few comprehensive and analytical monographs on the history of slavery and the trans-Saharan slave trade as well as its abolition in North Africa. A serious academic endeavor to restore the forgotten role of blacks in North Africa has just started. The objective is to challenge the conventional readings of slavery in Islam and to tell the story of underrepresented individuals and peoples, and to reveal the systems that impose and justify the inequality that has reduced North African minorities to a marginalized social status. The mainstream Arab media has not caught up with the academy when it comes to recognizing social conditions of oppression and identifying the forces responsible for those conditions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the representation of slavery, a social institution that carries such a weight of stigma that journalists, like the politicians they parrot, prefer an idealized version of the past over the uncomfortable truths and historical realities. The historical investigation of the institution of slavery, grounded in the archives, offers a counter-narrative, one that should not be ignored in the interests of nationalist public relations.
The connection of the enslavement of black Africans and the trans-Saharan slave trade to the Arab conquest of North Africa is a well-established fact. The first means by which slaves were acquired in North Africa at the beginning of Arab invasion in the seventh century was through the conquest itself or as-saby. After the conquest of Egypt in 641, the Arabs launched incursions against Nubia, the land and people south of Egypt, which ended with ‘Abd Allah b. Sa‘d b. Abi Sarh, governor of Egypt (d. 656-8), signing a treaty with Nubia in 652. By this treaty, the Nubians were to deliver annually 360 slaves to the Arabs, a custom that lasted until the advent of the Mamluks in the thirteenth century. ‘Uqba b. Nafi‘, who pursued the invasion of the entire Maghreb and purportedly founded a military camp called Qayrawan in 670, when he conquered the region of Fezzan in 667 (located on a crucial route from sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean), imposed a similar levy of 360 slaves. There is evidence that some of the black Africans were recruited into the army and participated in the conquest of Iberia (or what the Arabs called al-Andalus) led by Tariq b. Ziyad in 711 on behalf of Musa b. Nusayr. As the conquest continued in the south of Morocco, Habib b. Abi ‘Ubayda b. ‘Uqba b. Nafi‘ raided the Sus area and reached the land of the blacks, reportedly having collected so much gold and slaves that he caused great dismay among the natives.
Throughout the “Islamic” conquests during the Umayyad and the Abbasid dynasties, slaves arrived in great numbers at the slave markets in the growing cities of the Middle East, to the point that a physician of Baghdad named Ibn Butlan (d. 1066) wrote a manual on how to buy slaves and how to detect any physical flaws, providing evidence about the perception, treatment, and roles of enslaved persons of both sexes in Islamic societies. This manual did not merely refer to slaves living in Iraq but in all Arabic or Arabized Islamic societies. These societies relied a great deal on all kinds of slave labor. In Islamic societies many families had slaves. Even some poor families could purchase at least one slave. Ibn Butlan provided a set of recommendations for any potential buyer of a slave to warn them against the business schemes of the slave merchant and to reveal the full potential of the enslaved persons according to their ethnic origins.
From the seventh and the eighth centuries, North African Muslims who traded or settled in the Western Sahara established a cultural, human, and economic link between North and West Africa. From the beginning, the Arabs at the time of the Islamic conquest of North Africa were aware of the gold of West Africa, resulting in many expeditions to attack Ghana and enslave its people. These early attempts to establish Arab control over the southern terminus of trans-Saharan trade were, however, unsuccessful. Nevertheless, Arabo-Berber Muslims established then trade routes to the powerful kingdom of Ghana and drew great benefits from it. Commercial centers were founded on Saharan routes between Sijilmasa and Awdaghust, among others. The main commodities that marked the Saharan trade were salt, horses, textile, gold, and slaves.
During the rule of the Marinid dynasty, a gradual shift was happening in the dynamics of the Moroccan commercial diaspora; the geopolitics of the frontiers of Islam were changing in Andalusia on behalf of the Christians and in the Sudan on behalf of the Muslims. This change affected the sources of slavery. Slaves coming from Europe would gradually diminish and slaves coming from Sub-Saharan Africa would increase, especially after the Muslims were severely defeated at the Battle of Rio Salado by the Portuguese-Castilian coalition in 1340. Indeed, the early Atlantic encounter and trade between Portugal and Morocco served the Europeans as a training ground for trade with sub-Saharan Africa and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. When the Portuguese journeyed into the Atlantic Ocean in the fifteenth century, during the reign of Prince Henry the Navigator (d. 1460), to circumnavigate Africa and to acquire the Indian commodities, Morocco was an unavoidable stepping-stone. My book, Black Morocco: A History of Slavery, Race and Islam, explores in detail all the historical processes before Portugal became a separate state entity and one of the most important European initiators of the slave trade in the African Atlantic.
Al Jazeera chose to deny these historical facts by choosing not to broadcast the first episode of the documentary series. I note that Al Jazeera is a channel owned by Qatar, the only Arab state that has a museum of human trafficking and slavery, the Bayt Ibn Jalmoud in the capital Doha. The refusal to admit the fundamental role that Islamic societies have played in this human tragedy is a huge obstacle to understanding the impact of past injustices and their legacy in contemporary times. To get out of this perpetual process of denial, the culture of silence must end. Scholars and politicians have to face this history with confidence while simultaneously combatting the negative Western stereotypes of Islam.
 See the article in Portuguese. “Al Jazeera corta papel dos muçulmanos na escravatura e culpa portugueses Canal do Qatar elimina primeiro episódio de série documental, coproduzida pela RTP e LX Filmes, onde se falava do papel dos muçulmanos no tráfico de escravos. E diz que foram os portugueses a "estabelecer" este comércio…”
 Chouki El Hamel, Black Morocco: A History of Slavery, Race and Islam (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
 Eve Troutt Powell, Tell This in My Memory Stories of Enslavement from Egypt, Sudan, and the Ottoman Empire (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012).
 Bruce Hall, A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, 1600-1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
 The following summary is taken from my book Black Morocco: A History of Slavery, Race and Islam (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 109-154.
 Muhammad Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-‘Arab (Cairo: Dar al-Hadith, 2003), vol. 4, 487; Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, vol. 4, 1303.
 Taqiyy ad-Din al-Maqrizi, al-Mawa‘id wa ’l-‘Itibar bi-Dhikr al-Khitat wa ’l-Athar (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1974), vol. I, 200-202.
 ‘Abd ar-Rahman Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam (d. 871), Futuh Ifriqiya wa ’l-Andalus (Cairo: Maktabat ath-Thaqafa ad-Diniyya, 1995), 222.
 Msheireb Museums: Bin Jelmood House.