Women in Bondage: Local and Transnational Histories, Part 3: Enslaved Women in the Muslim World

AHA Session 128
Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Ismael M. Montana, Northern Illinois University
Bruce Hall, Johns Hopkins University

Session Abstract

This panel sheds light on the life paths of enslaved women in the Muslim world. The three papers compare and contrast the various contexts that resulted in the enslavement of women in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and West Africa. The first paper "Comparing Feminine Slavery Across the Christian and Muslim Mediterranean Worlds" by Kathryn Hain, explores the particular positions of enslaved women in the Islamic Mediterranean world, where concubines could achieve freedom by giving birth to children whose statuses could follow that of their fathers. Hain argues that enslaved women were empowered and were able to have growing influence in Islamic societies. Similar situations also occurred in the Middle East. In his paper, "Enslaved African Women in Nineteenth Century Iran: The Life of Fezzeh Khanum of Shiraz," Anthony Lee looks at the biography of an enslaved African woman named Fezzeh Khanum, whose master was the founder of Babism, a nineteenth-century religious movement. Lee uses the individual example of Khanum to understand the lives of enslaved women who were exported to Iran in the context of the Indian Ocean slave trade mainly to serve as concubines. However, unlike what is argued by Hain in her paper on the Mediterranean world, Lee shows that even though Khanum was venerated by her master, she remained in a subaltern position. Moving to West Africa, Harmony O'Rourke explores the trade of women to Cameroon, in order to discuss the relationships between Muslim traders (Hausa and Wangara) with enslaved and free African women. O'Rourke sheds light on the different ways that women negotiated power in these Islamic societies. Exploring three different contexts, the papers give voice and agency to enslaved women in the Muslim world and contribute to the understanding of the important role of these women in Islamic societies.