In a sensational piece of investigative reporting, Marie Colvin writes today in "Rescued – the Pakistan children seized by Islamist slave traders" about the Pakistani abduction and trade in young boys. She focuses on the fate of a 10-year-old named Akash Aziz in Muridke, a village in eastern Punjab – how he was seized while playing cops and robbers by the agents Gul Khan, a leading member of Jamaat-ud Daawa (JUD), a group linked to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, the maltreatment he suffered, and the hoax that led to his eventual release. According to Colvin, Khan "planned to sell his young captives to the highest bidder, whether into domestic servitude or the sex trade."
In addition to the grief of his capture and the heart-warming scene of his reunion with his family, what struck me most about the story of Akash and the nineteen other boys, ages six to 12, who shared his captivity is that they are all Christians. And it was a Pakistani Christian missionary and an American evangelist ("Brother David," head of the Help Pakistani Children charity) who saved the boys with US$28,500 in cash and an elaborate sting operation.
Akash's mother said on his return that "We were hopeless. His father searched and searched. We prayed. But we thought he was gone." In other words, the Christians of Pakistan have no effective recourse to this sort of enslavement at the hands of an Al-Qaeda affiliate.
All this brings to mind the devshirme (or in Turkish, devşirme), a system of enslaving Christian boys to serve the sultan. Here is a brief description from the Encyclopedia of the Orient:
System of human taxation under the Ottoman Empire, from the 15th century until the 19th century. Young Christian boys were taken away from their families in the Balkans and made into the property of the sultan in order to become part of the army or the administration. Devsirme is from Turkish, meaning "gathering." …
It was at all times clear that devsirme was contradictory to Muslim law, Sharia. Sharia had clear instructions to the Muslim ruler to protect and take care of all Christian subjects. But the needs of the empire, as well as tribal traditions, made the rulers instigate the practice. There were numerous protests at the beginning from Muslim scholars. … From the 15th until the 17th century, between 200,000 and 300,000 boys were taken out to devsirme.
The "taxation" was performed in the Balkan countryside. At certain times, normally every 4th year, some of the young minor boys from each community were to be given to the sultan. Their age was normally between 8 and 10, but it could at times be as high as 20. And the number of boys given to the sultan as part of devsirme was between every 10th and 14th.
Comment: It is disheartening to see how, in practice and in theory slavery is making a comeback in the Muslim world. (May 21, 2006)
Apr. 21, 2008 update: Another weird devshirme is taking place in Senegal, this one even more unacceptable from a Shar‘i viewpoint, for it involves taking Muslim boys. Rukmini Callimachi of the Associated Press tells the story in "Islamic schools lure African boys into begging" through the prism of a 9-year-old named Coli, one of at least 7,600 child beggars who work the streets of Dakar, Senegal's capital city. According to a February 2008 study by the ILO, UNICEF, and the World Bank, the children make on average US$0.72 cents, per day, which comes to $2 million a year for their masters. Then the shocking part:
Most of the boys — 90 percent, the study found — are sent out to beg under the cover of Islam, placing the problem at the complicated intersection of greed and tradition. For among the cruelest facts of Coli's life is that he was not stolen from his family. He was brought to Dakar with their blessing to learn Islam's holy book. In the name of religion, Coli spent two hours a day memorizing verses from the Quran and over nine hours begging to pad the pockets of the man he called his teacher.
And woe to the boy who fails to bring in his allotted sum:
It was getting dark. Coli had less than half the 72 cents he was told to bring back. He was afraid. He knew what happened to children who failed to meet their daily quotas. They were stripped and doused in cold water. The older boys picked them up like hammocks by their ankles and wrists. Then the teacher whipped them with an electrical cord until the cord ate their skin. Coli's head hurt with hunger. He could already feel the slice of the wire on his back.
A religious student who begs for his Koran teacher walks along a road of Dakar, Senegal in August 2007.
Coli found himself in this circumstance due his parents' decision:
Three years ago, a man wearing a skullcap came to Coli's village in the neighboring country of Guinea-Bissau and asked for him. Coli's parents immediately addressed the man as "Serigne," a term of respect for Muslim leaders on Africa's western coast. Many poor villagers believe that giving a Muslim holy man a child to educate will gain an entire family entrance to paradise. Since the 11th century, families have sent their sons to study at the Quranic schools that flourished on Africa's western seaboard with the rise of Islam.
It is forbidden to charge for an Islamic education, so the students, known as talibe, studied for free with their marabouts, or spiritual teachers. In return, the children worked in the marabout's fields. The droughts of the late 1970s and ‘80s forced many schools to move to cities, where their income began to revolve around begging. Today, children continue to flock to the cities, as food and work in villages run short. … Middle men trawl for children as far afield as the dunes of Mauritania and the grass-covered huts of Mali. It's become a booming, regional trade that ensnares children as young as 2, who don't know the name of their village or how to return home.
The rest of Callimachi's remarkable tale tells how Coli eventually returns to his family – but then how two of his brothers get shipped to the madrasa and to beg.
Related Topics: North Africa, Slavery, South Asia
receive the latest by email: subscribe to daniel pipes' free mailing list
This text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete and accurate information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.