.mw-parser-output .hidden-begin{box-sizing:border-box;width:100%;padding:5px;border:none;font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .hidden-title{font-weight:bold;line-height:1.6;text-align:left}.mw-parser-output .hidden-content{text-align:left}You can help expand this article with text translated from the corresponding article in Swedish. (August 2022) Click [show] for important translation instructions. View a machine-translated version of the Swedish article. Machine translation, like DeepL or Google Translate, is a useful starting point for translations, but translators must revise errors as necessary and confirm that the translation is accurate, rather than simply copy-pasting machine-translated text into the English Wikipedia. Consider adding a topic to this template: there are already 258 articles in the main category, and specifying|topic= will aid in categorization. Do not translate text that appears unreliable or low-quality. If possible, verify the text with references provided in the foreign-language article. You must provide copyright attribution in the edit summary accompanying your translation by providing an interlanguage link to the source of your translation. A model attribution edit summary is Content in this edit is translated from the existing Swedish Wikipedia article at [[:sv:Slaveri i Saudiarabien]]; see its history for attribution. You should also add the template ((Translated|sv|Slaveri i Saudiarabien)) to the talk page. For more guidance, see Wikipedia:Translation.
African slaves in an unspecified location in Saudi Arabia, circa 1890
A Meccan merchant (right) and his Circassian slave, between 1886 and 1887

Slavery existed in the area of later Saudi Arabia from antiquity onward.

Hejaz (the western region of modern day Saudi Arabia), which encompasses approximately 12% of the total land area of Saudi Arabia, was under the control of the Ottoman Empire from 1517 to 1918, and as such nominally obeyed the Ottoman laws. When the area became an independent nation first as the Kingdom of Hejaz and then as Saudi Arabia, it became internationally known as a slave trade center during the interwar period. After World War II, growing international pressure eventually resulted in the formal abolition of the practice. Slavery was formally abolished in 1962.


Further information: History of slavery in the Muslim world

The area of later Saudi Arabia was nominally under the Ottoman Empire between 1517 and 1918, and as such it nominally adhered to the same laws as the rest of the Ottoman Empire in regard to the slavery and slave trade. In 1908, the Ottoman Empire nominally abolished slavery, but this law was not enforced in the Arabian Peninsula by the Ottoman authorities.

Red Sea slave trade

After World War I, the area formed an independent nation as the Kingdom of Hejaz (1916–1925). Hejaz did not consider itself obliged to obey the laws and treaties signed by the Ottoman Empire in regard to slavery and slave trade. During the Interwar period, the Kingdom of Hejaz was internationally known as a regional slave trade center. The Red Sea Slave Trade was, together with the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade and Indian Ocean slave trade, one of the arenas comprising what has been called to the “Islamic slave trade,” “Oriental slave trade,” or “Arab slave trade" of enslaved people from sub-Saharan Africa to the Muslim world.[1]

First slave route

The slave trade had two major routes to Hejaz. African slaves were trafficked from primarily Sudan and Ethiopia. Primarily children and young women were bought or given as tribute by their parents to Ethiopian chiefs, who sold them to slave traders.[2]: 76–78  The parents were told that their children were going to be given a better life as slaves in Arabia.[2]: 76–78  The slaves were delivered to Arabian slave traders by the coast, and shipped across the Red Sea to Jeddah.[2]: 76–78 

Second slave route

The second slave route were connected to the Hajj pilgrimage. Slave traders trafficked primarily women and children in the guise of wives, servants and pilgrims to Hejaz, where they were sold after arrival.[2]: 88–90  The victims of this trafficking route were sometimes tricked, and taken on Hajj under false pretences. Slave traders trafficked women to Hejaz by marrying them and then taking them on the Hajj, were they were sold: afterwards, their families were told that their women had died during the journey.[2]: 88–90  In a similar fashion, parents entrusted their children to slave traders under the impression that the slave traders were taking their children on Hajj, as servants, or as students.[2] This category of traffic victims came from all over the Muslim world, as far away as the East Indies and China. Some travellers sold their servants or poor travel companions in the Hajj, in order to pay for their travel costs.[2]: 88–90 

Third slave route

In the 1930s and 1940s, it was reported that a third route of Baluchi slaves from Baluchistan was shipped to Saudi Arabia via Oman and the Gulf states.[2]: 304–306  It was reported that some Baluchis sold themselves or their children to slave traders to escape poverty.[2]: 304–306  In 1943, it was reported that Baluchi girls were shipped via Oman to Mecca, where they were popular as concubines since Caucasian girls were no longer available, and were sold for 350-$450.[2]: 304–307 


Male slaves

The Kingdom had many slaves, since free wage laborers were rare: in 1930, ten percent of the population of Mecca were estimated to have been slaves.[2]: 88–90  Many slaves were used as domestic servants and harem eunuchs, but they could also be used as craftsmen, seamen, pearl divers, fishermen, agricultural laborers, herdsmen, camel drivers, water carriers, porters, washer women, cooks, shop assistants, business managers, reatainers and officials of Emirs.[2]: 88–90  Slaves were seen as a good investment and were popular as servants, because they lacked loyalty ties to other clans in the strict clan system.[2]: 88–90 

Raoul du Bisson was traveling down the Red Sea when he saw the chief black eunuch of the Sharif of Mecca being brought to Constantinople for trial for impregnating a Circassian cocubine of the Sharif and having sex with his entire harem of Circassian and Georgian women. The chief black eunuch was not castrated correctly so he was still able to impregnate and the women were drowned as punishment.[3][4][5][6][7][8][a] 12 Georgian women were shipped to replace the drowned concubines.[9]

Female slaves

Black African women were primarily used as domestic house slaves rather than exclusively for sexual services, while white Caucasian women (normally Circassian or Georgian) were preferred as concubines (sex slaves); when the main slave route of white slave girls became harder to access after Russia's conquest of the Caucasus and Central Asia in the mid 19th-century, after which Baluchi and "Red" Ethiopian (Oromo and Sidamo) women became the preferred targets for sexual slavery. [10]

Egypt and Hejaz were also the recipients of Indian women trafficked via Aden and Goa.[11][12] Since Britain banned the slave trade in its colonies, 19th century British ruled Aden was no longer a recipient of slaves and the slaves sent from Ethiopia to Arabia were shipped to Hejaz instead.[13] Eunuchs, female concubines and male labourers were the occupations of slaves sent from Ethiopia to Jidda and other parts of Hejaz.[14] The southwest and southern parts of Ethiopia supplied most of the girls being exported by Ethiopian slave traders to India and Arabia.[15] Female and male slaves from Ethiopia made up the main supply of slaves to India and the Middle East.[16]

After the Armenian genocide, Armenian girls flooded the Syrian slave market and many ended up in the harems of central Arabia.[17]

Syrian girls were trafficked from Syria to Saudi Arabia right before World War II and married to legally bring them across the border but then divorced and given to other men. A Syrian Dr. Midhat and Shaikh Yusuf were accused of engaging in this traffic of Syrian girls to supply them to Saudis.[18][19]

In Jeddah, Kingdom of Hejaz on the Arabian peninsula, the Arab king Ali bin Hussein, King of Hejaz had in his palace 20 young pretty Javanese girls from Java (modern day Indonesia).[20]

Female slaves were also given as gifts between rulers: in Novemer 1948, for example, the ruler of Dubai gifted a number of female slaves to king Ibn Saud and his sons for a car and 10,000 ryals.[21]

Activism against slave trade

The British fought the slave trade by patrolling the Red Sea. However, these controls were not effective, since the slave traders would inform the European Colonial authorities that the slaves were their wives, children, servants or fellow Hajj pilgrims, and the victims themselves were convinced of the same, unaware that they were being shipped as slaves.[2]: 88–90 

Since the British Consulate had opened in Jeddah in the 1870s, the British had used their diplomatic privileges to manumit the slaves escaping to the British Consulate to ask for asylum.[2]: 93–96  Royal slaves were exempted from this right. The French, Italian and Dutch Consulate also used their right to manumit the slaves who reached their consulate to ask for asylum. However, the activity of France and Italy was very limited, and only the Dutch were as willing to use this right as Britain. The right for manumission by seeking asylum could be used by any slave who managed to reach the consul office or a ship belonging to a foreign power. Most slaves who used this right were citizens of these nations' colonies, who had travelled to Arabia without being aware that they would be sold as slaves upon arrival. The manumission activity of the foreign consuls was met with formal cooperation by the Arabian authorities but greatly disliked by the local population, and it was common for slaves seeking asylum to disappear between seeking asylum and the moment the consul could arrange a place for them on a boat.[2]: 93–96 

The slavery and slave trade in the Arabian Peninsula, and particular in Saudi Arabia (Kingdom of Hejaz), attracted attention by the League of Nations and contributed to the creation of the 1926 Slavery Convention, obliging the British to combat the slave trade in the area.[2][page needed]

Between 1928 and 1931, the British consulate in Jeddah helped 81 people to be manumitted, 46 of whom were repatriated to Sudan and 25 to Massawa in Etiophia.[2]: 179–183  The vast majority of slaves originated from Africa, but the fact that the majority of them had been trafficked as children posed a problem for the authorities. They could not remember exactly where they had come from or where their family lived, could no longer speak any language other than Arabic, and thus had difficulty supporting themselves after repatriation, all of which in the 1930s had caused a reluctance from the authorities to receive them.[2]: 179–193 

In 1936, Saudi Arabia formally banned the import of slaves who were not already slaves prior to entering the kingdom, a reform which was however on paper only. King Ibn Saud officially expressed his willing cooperation with the anti slavery policy of the British, but in 1940, the British were well aware that the king imported concubines from Syria, had received a gift of twenty slaves from Qatar and that British subjects from Baluchistan where trafficked to Saudi Arabia via Oman.[22]


After World War II, there was growing international pressure from the United Nations to end the slave trade. In 1948, the United Nations declared slavery to be a crime against humanity in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, after which the Anti-Slavery Society pointed out that there was about one million slaves in the Arabian Peninsula, which was a crime against the 1926 Slavery Convention, and demanded that the UN form a committee to handle the issue.[2]: 310 

In 1951 the British informed the US State Department that there were at least 50,000 slaves in Saudi Arabia, a number increasing because of oil wealth, and that the US should participate in ending the slavery in Saudi, which at the time were used in Soviet propaganda, who pointed out that slavery was still practiced in reactionary Arab puppet states of the West.[23]

In the 1950s there were diplomatic difficulties due to slaves fleeing across the borders from Saudi Arabia to Kuwait and the Trucial States, since there was uncertainty in how ranaway slaves were to be handled diplomatically without upsetting Saudi, who wished to retrieve them.[24] Saudi Arabia normally denied any involvement in such affairs when they were questioned by the British, but one British report in the Foreign Office noted that twelve Baluchi slaves who had been returned to Ibn Saud had been executed, three of whom where beheaded in front of the Royal Palace.[25] The Red Sea slave trade to Saudi Arabia were still very much active in the 1950s; the contact of the Foreign Office in Dijbuti reported of a shipment of ninenty Africans sold to Mecca in 1952, an investigation of the French Assembly performed by Pastor La Graviere issued a report to that effect in 1955, and the British agent in Jiddah confirmed the report and noted that the prices of humans where high in the Saudi slave market and that a young pregnant woman could be sold for five hundred gold soveregins or twnety thousand riyals.[26]

In the 1960s, the institution of slavery had became an international embarressment for Saudi Arabia. It was used as a platform of Egyptian propaganda, as an issue of complaint from the United Nations, as well as by progressive internal opposition.[27] In June 1962, the king issued a decree prohibiting the sale and purchase of humans.[28] This did not abolish slavery itself however, as was evident when the king's son Prince Talal stated in August 1962 that he had decided to free his 32 slaves and fifty slave concubines.[29] In November 1962, Faisal of Saudi Arabia, who himself personally did not own slaves, finnally prohibited the owning of slaves in Saudi Arabia.[30]

After abolition

In 1962, Saudi Arabia abolished slavery officially; however, unofficial slavery is rumored to exist.[31][32][33]

According to the U.S. State Department as of 2005:

Saudi Arabia is a destination for men and women from South and East Asia and East Africa trafficked for the purpose of labor exploitation, and for children from Yemen, Afghanistan, and Africa trafficked for forced begging. Hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers from India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Kenya migrate voluntarily to Saudi Arabia; some fall into conditions of involuntary servitude, suffering from physical and sexual abuse, non-payment or delayed payment of wages, the withholding of travel documents, restrictions on their freedom of movement and non-consensual contract alterations. The Government of Saudi Arabia does not comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.[34]

After the abolition of slavery, poor migrant workers were employed under the Kafala system, which have been compared to slavery.[35]

See also


  1. ^ Miran, J. (2022, April 20). Red Sea Slave Trade. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History. Retrieved 21 Aug. 2023, from https://oxfordre.com/africanhistory/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190277734.001.0001/acrefore-9780190277734-e-868.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Miers, Suzanne (2003). Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem. Rowman Altamira. ISBN 978-0-7591-0340-5.
  3. ^ Remondino, P. C. (2001). History of Circumcision: From the Earliest Times to the Present (illustrated, reprint ed.). The Minerva Group, Inc. p. 101. ISBN 0898754100.
  4. ^ Remondino, P. C. (2022). History of Circumcision from the Earliest Times to the Present: Moral and Physical Reasons for its Performance. DigiCat.
  6. ^ Remondino, Peter Charles (1891). History of circumcision, from the earliest times to the present Moral and physical reasons for its performance. Philadelphia; London: F. A. Davis. p. 101.
  7. ^ Junne, George H. (2016). The Black Eunuchs of the Ottoman Empire: Networks of Power in the Court of the Sultan. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 253. ISBN 978-0857728081.
  8. ^ JUNNE, GEORGE (2016). THE BLACK EUNUCHS OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE: Networks of Power in the Court of the Sultan. I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd. p. 253.
  9. ^ Bisson, Raoul Du (1868). Les femmes, les eunuques et les guerriers du Soudan. E. Dentu. p. 282-3.
  10. ^ Women and Slavery: Africa, the Indian Ocean world, and the medieval north Atlantic. (2007). Grekland: Ohio University Press.
  11. ^ Brown, Jonathan A.C. (2020). Slavery and Islam. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1786076366.
  12. ^ "Slavery and Islam 4543201504, 9781786076359, 9781786076366". dokumen.pub.
  13. ^ Ahmed, Hussein (2021). Islam in Nineteenth-Century Wallo, Ethiopia: Revival, Reform and Reaction. Vol. 74 of Social, Economic and Political Studies of the Middle East and Asia. BRILL. p. 152. ISBN 978-9004492288.
  14. ^ Clarence-Smith, William Gervase (2013). The Economics of the Indian Ocean Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century. Routledge. p. 99. ISBN 978-1135182212.
  15. ^ Yimene, Ababu Minda (2004). An African Indian Community in Hyderabad: Siddi Identity, Its Maintenance and Change. Cuvillier Verlag. p. 73. ISBN 3865372066.
  16. ^ Barendse, Rene J. (2016). The Arabian Seas: The Indian Ocean World of the Seventeenth Century: The Indian Ocean World of the Seventeenth Century (illustrated ed.). Routledge. p. 259. ISBN 978-1317458364.
  17. ^ Clarence-Smith, W. (2020). Islam and the Abolition of Slavery. USA: Hurst.
  18. ^ Mathew, Johan (2016). Margins of the Market: Trafficking and Capitalism across the Arabian Sea. Vol. 24 of California World History Library. University of California Press. p. 71-2. ISBN 978-0520963429.
  19. ^ "Margins Of The Market: Trafficking And Capitalism Across The Arabian Sea [PDF] [4ss44p0ar0h0]". vdoc.pub.
  20. ^ Contributor, International Association of Historians of Asia (2004). Proceedings of the 17th IAHA Conference. Secretary General, 17th IAHA Conference. p. 151. ISBN 984321823X. The anti - Husayn position was also taken by Idaran Zaman who reported that twenty beautiful young Javanese girls were found in the palace of his son , Sharif ' Ali in Jeddah . These girls were used as his concubines ... ((cite conference)): |author1= has generic name (help)
  21. ^ Suzanne Miers: Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem, p. 309
  22. ^ Suzanne Miers: Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem, p. 307
  23. ^ Suzanne Miers: Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem, p. 347
  24. ^ Suzanne Miers: Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem, p. 347
  25. ^ Suzanne Miers: Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem, p. 347-48
  26. ^ Suzanne Miers: Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem, p. 347-48
  27. ^ Suzanne Miers: Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem, p. 348-49
  28. ^ Suzanne Miers: Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem, p. 348-49
  29. ^ Suzanne Miers: Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem, p. 348-49
  30. ^ Suzanne Miers: Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem, p. 348-49
  31. ^ "The Arab Muslim Slave Trade Of Africans, The Untold Story". originalpeople.org. Archived from the original on 2019-09-19. Retrieved 2019-09-18.
  32. ^ Scott, E (10 January 2017). "Slavery in the Gulf States, and Western Complicity". Archived from the original on 2020-06-04.
  33. ^ "Saudi Slavery in America". National Review. 2013-07-18. Retrieved 2019-09-18.
  34. ^ "V. Country Narratives -- Countries Q through Z". US Department of State. Archived from the original on 2019-10-17. Retrieved 2019-05-25. Public domain This article incorporates public domain material from this U.S government document.
  35. ^ "The Kafala System: An Issue of Modern Slavery". 19 August 2022.
  1. ^ Abd Allah Pasha ibn Muhammad was the Sharif of Mecca during Raoul du Bisson's time in the Red Sea in 1863-5

Further reading