Comparing Feminine Slavery across the Christian and Muslim Mediterranean Worlds

Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:30 PM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Kathryn Hain, University of Utah
In the medieval Mediterranean, the role of concubines took different directions in the Islamic South as compared to the Christian North.  Concubines in Christian Europe were disenfranchised from the church and bore illegitimate children with no rights whereas, in the Islamic realm, slave concubines were in a relationship sanctioned by the Quran and Mohammed’s example. They could earn their freedom by producing children who had the same freedom and status as their fathers. Concubines in Europe were shamed in society but their southern counterparts, all slaves, brought prestige to their owners.  The consequence of the Islamic custom of sequestering royals behind layers of court protocol and the reproduction of heirs by concubines empowered foreign slave women.  Slavery allowed these slave women access to the homes of the elite and the power of the court by virtue of their reproductive relationship with the men who held power.  These consorts and mothers gained influence in Islamic society even to the point of ruling the dynasty.  Concubines used that power in diverse ways including regime change, nepotism, wealth accumulation, and religious influences on both Islam and Christianity.  Some concubines were able to maintain their Christian beliefs and raise Christian children in Muslim households.  Christian epics, hagiographies, and legends are sources that during medieval times were believed to be true accounts of Christian girls’ ability to influence Muslim rulers. Female slavery in Islam provided foreign, non-Muslim slave women with social mobility and access to power not available to their counterparts or even to them in Christendom.   Concubines were not just hapless harem girls but impacted Islamic politics, religion, culture, and hegemony.
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