Document Type

Faculty Essay


In lieu of an abstract, below is the essay's first paragraph.

Despite more than a century of interest on the part of western scholars and historians in the region of Central Asia, in many respects our knowledge of many topics in Central Asian history remains limited. To date, when compared to the body of historical works treating the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the Americas, or even the history of slavery within the Arab-Muslim world, the history of slavery in Islamic Central Asia has received little attention. Thus, it stands to reason that the history of the enslavement of Shī’ī Muslims in the early modern and modern eras has been likewise neglected, often being mentioned in passing or dealt with in a few pages within larger works. Considering the extent to which both Bukhara and Khiva depended upon Shī’ī slaves as agricultural workers, domestic servants, bureaucrats, and such, this history of slavery in Central Asia is a topic that demands closer scrutiny. This paper will therefore consider the history of the enslavement of Shī’ī Muslims in the Emirate of Bukhara during the nineteenth century. As an institution, slavery was ideologically rationalized and sanctified according to long-standing sectarian prejudices, in this instance those of the Sunnī Muslims towards the Shī’ī Muslims, in the Central Asian states of the nineteenth century. This can be verified by an examination of the extant sources; as a preliminary examination of the topic, therefore, this study will draw primarily from nineteenth century travel accounts. By re-examining such works we can begin to fashion a more coherent narrative for the history of Shī’ī enslavement in Islamic Central Asia. However, before examining the travel accounts, the institution of slavery in relation to Islamic tradition must first be considered, as this will provide some perspective when we turn our attention to the enslavement of Shī’ī Muslims in Central Asia.

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