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Slavery: An Ugly Living Legacy

Salam abd Tamir Al-Halou | 18.10.2003 01:18

Escape from Slavery: The true story of my ten years in captivity — and my journey to freedom - by Francis Bok

The cruelty that Francis Bok experienced at age seven defies civilized human conception. One day in 1986, his mother Marial sent him to Nyamlell’s market from their Southern Sudan Dinka village of Gourion to sell eggs and peanuts. His father Pial Bol Buk had recently called Francis "Muycharko" -- “like twelve men.” He would be successful and achieve something important. Eventually, his father’s hope proved prophetic. But in 1986 Francis could count to no more than ten and still played alweth and Madallah -- Dinka hide-and-seek and cricket. His mother sent older friends to supervise his first independent market trip.

That day, the Catholic boy nicknamed Piol, for rain, lost his childhood and world to the murahaliin. After torching the nearby villages and slaying their inhabitants, 20 light-skinned Juur horsemen charged into Nyamlell. They severed the heads of all Dinka men with single sword strokes, left them rolling in the blood-soaked market dust and stole off Piol’s older friends Abuk, Kwol and Nyabol in different directions. A rifleman permanently silenced a crying girl with a bullet to her head. A swordsman more “mercifully” sliced off her sister’s leg at the thigh like the branch of a small tree. Francis tried to flee. Terror squelched his cries. He was halted at gunpoint, grabbed and slung astride a small saddle, crafted specifically to carry abducted children, and ridden far north.

After President George W. Bush signed the tough Sudan Peace Act on October 18, 2002 -- improving on earlier measures -- many Americans became increasingly aware of ongoing Islamist Sudan’s government support for mass enslavement and genocide of Southern Sudanese Christians and animists. Following the heroic efforts of Boston philanthropist Charles Jacobs to denounce black bondage in sub-Saharan Africa and abolish slavery globally in his lifetime, John Eibner’s Christian Solidarity International began his revolutionary work to purchase and liberate Southern Sudanese slaves from Arab Muslim bondage. Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff also covered the genocide in a series of ongoing exposes.

But few have noted that the experience of Francis Bok—and the ongoing Arab Muslim oppression and genocide against Southern Sudan’s Dinka—is merely the modern manifestation of Islamic Jihad tradition established by the Prophet Mohammed and pursued aggressively ever since by Islamic jurists and rulers—from the Caliphs to the Ottomans, to current-day Islamic tyrants like Sudan’s Hasan at-Turabi and Gen. ‘Umar al-Bashir. “Jihad,” wrote Rashad Ali in Khilafah Magazine in December 2001, “is the removal of obstacles, by force if necessary, that stand between people and Islam. It is the practical method of spreading Islam. The call to Islam is compulsory on Muslims.” Moreover, “Jihad is continuous and will always be so.”

Even victims like Bok are seldom aware of the history. During 10 long years of enslavement by Giemma Abdullah in Kerio, Francis Bok had no idea why he was victimized. He learned soon enough that the Arabic word abeed carried three meanings—“slave,” “black” and “filth.” Half his lifetime among Muslims taught him that they considered themselves better than Southern Sudanese infidels. But this hardly informed him of the history of the jihad institution to which his 20th century captors and masters subjected him. He could not recognize himself as an inferior, non-Muslim dhimmi.

Bok was beaten, forced to tend and sleep with animals, fed rotting meat, and cursed as a jedut — maggot — even after his master pressed a Muslim name and prayers upon him. Abdul Rahman ironically means “servant of the compassionate one.” But there was not one second of compassion during Bok’s 10 years of captivity, although he was one of the lucky ones. He many times tried to escape, and failed. His penalties were mere beatings. Other Dinka escapees routinely lost their limbs when recaptured. Giemma Abdullah threatened the same; Bok didn’t believe him, until he saw other Dinkas, limbless. Finally, at 17, Francis Bok took the cows one morning, and from the road near their grazing area ran all the way to Mutari. After further privations and imprisonments, Bok finally hid in a truck en route to ed-Da’ein, fled to Khartoum, to Cairo, and as a refugee, in 1999, to the U.S. He landed in the U.S. poor, illiterate, and 20.

These grotesque privations sound highly unusual, perhaps even unique. In reality, however, Bok’s experience precisely tracked that of oppressed non-Muslim peoples throughout 13 centuries of Islamic history, according to pre-eminent Islamic scholar Bat Ye’or. Non-Muslim peoples like the Dinka, conquered by Islamic jihad, were soon rendered inferior, subjected to slavery, mass deportations, and forced conversions like those suffered by two million Dinka around Nyamlell and throughout Southern Sudan.

Historian Speros Vryonis for example provides Isidore Glabas’ heart-wrenching 1395 sermon, “Concering the Carrying Off of Children by the Decree of the Emir.” In it, the Greek priest describes, on the eve of a major holiday, the Ottoman system of enslaving non-Muslim children.

What would a man not suffer were he to see a child, whom he had begotten and raised…carried off by the hands of foreigners, suddenly and by force, and forced to change over to alien customs, and to become a vessel of barbaric garb, speech, and piety and other contaminations, all in a moment? … Shall he lament his son because a free child becomes a slave, because being nobly born he is forced to adopt barbaric customs? Because he who is rendered so mild by motherly and fatherly hands is about to be filled with barbaric cruelty? Because he who attended matins in the churches and frequented the sacred teachers is now, alas, taught to pass the night in murdering his own people, and in other such things?...[1]

In “Seljuk, Gulans and Ottoman Devshirmes,” Vryonis cites another first-hand document, this one a 1456 appeal of Greeks in western Anatolia to the knights Hospitalers of Rhodes:

We …who dwell in Turkey … inform your lordship that we are heavily vexed by the Turks, and that they take away our children and make Muslims f them… For this reason we beseech your lordship to take counsel that the most holy pope might send his ships to take us and our wives and children away from here, for we are suffering greatly from the Turks. Do this lest we lose our children, and let us come to your domains to live and die there as your subjects. But if you leave us here we shall lose our children and you shall answer to God for it. [2]

The Islamic system of enslavement was by no means limited to Greece. Bat Ye’or tells us, “eyewitness accounts over the centuries and from several regions mirror [current] events…. Even at the end of the 19th century, constant jihad in the Sudan is strikingly similar to accounts from the Jacobite, Armenian, and Greek chronicles of the early Middle Ages and later periods.” [3]

Indeed, one finds from Rudolf C. Slatin, a superb 1896 account, Fire and the Sword in the Sudan: A Personal Narrative of Fighting and Serving the Dervishes. Here, he recounts his ten years of captivity by the Mahdi’s successor Khalifa Abdullah as he searched regions inhabited by Christians and animists for slaves and booty. As former governor of Darfur, Slatin reported the African provinces of Bahr al-Ghazal were required to regularly tribute slaves and ivory to the Muslim sultans. Those southern and mountain people who refused became ghanima, or booty. Men were slaughtered and their women and children taken captive and deported. Slatin describes events following the Khalifa general’s 1889-1890 raids on Abyssinia and the Fahsoda region’s Shilluks and Dinka tribes. Abu Anga seized thousands of Abyssinian Christians, mostly women and children and deported them over land, under whips, on foot the whole distance from Abyssinia to Omdurman [facing Khartoum]; wrenched from their families, …, barefooted, and almost naked, they were driven through the country like herds of cattle. The greater number of them perished on the road; and those who arrived in Omdurman were in so pitiable a condition that purchasers could scarcely be found for them, whilst numbers were given away for nothing… [Following the Shilluks’ defeat], Zeki Tummal packed thousands of these wretched creatures into small barges used for the transport of his troops, and dispatched them to Omdurman. Hundreds died from suffocation and overcrowding on the journey; and on the arrival of the remnant, the Khalifa appropriated most of the young men as recruits for his body guard, whilst the women and young girls were sold by public auction, which lasted several days. Hungry, and in many cases naked, these unfortunate creatures lay huddled together in front of Beit el Mal. For food, they were given an utterly inadequate quantity of uncooked dhurra [corn]. Hundreds fell ill; and for these poor wretches it was almost impossible to find purchasers. Wearily they dragged their emaciated bodies to the river bank, where they died; and as nobody would take the trouble to bury them, the corpses were pushed into the river and swept away. [4]

Nor was Islam any different in Europe. Observes Nobel laureate Ivo Andric, “The Turks could bring no cultural content or sense of higher historic mission, even to those South Slavs who accepted Islam: for their Christian subjects, their hegemony brutalized custom, and meant a step to the rear in every respect.” [5]

Andric painted a vivid portrait of this oppression in The Bridge on the Drina, which won him the Nobel Prize for literature. Andric’s fiction mirrors Bok’s experience for good reason. He based it on extensive research for Development of Spiritual Life in Bosnia Under the Influence of Turkish Rule (1924), which provides evidence of pan-Islamic institutionalized enslavement of children. Islam captured and enslaved probably millions of children -- under the Seljuks and Ottomans, over 500 years, in Greece, Serbia, North Africa, India and over 1,400 years of Islamic history wherever Islam reigned. This would explain the surreal quality reverberating through this moving Drina passage:

It was already the sixth year since the last collection of this tribute of blood, and so this time the choice had been easy and rich; The necessary number of healthy, bright and good looking lads between ten and fifteen years old had been found without difficulty, even though many parents had hidden their children in the forest, taught them how to appear half-witted, clothed them in rags and let them get filthy, to avoid the aga’s choice. Some went so far as to maim their own children, cutting off one of their fingers with an ax….A little way behind the last horses in that strange convoy straggled, disheveled and exhausted, many parents and relatives of those children who were being carried away forever to a foreign world, where they would be circumcised, become Turkish, and forgetting their faith, their country and their origin, would pass their lives in the ranks of the janissaries or in some other, higher, service of the Empire. They were for the most part women, mothers, grandmothers and sisters of the stolen children. When they came too close, the aga’s horsemen would drive them away with whips, urging their horses at them with loud cries to Allah….. The mothers were especially persistent and hard to restrain. Some would rush forward not looking where they were going with bare breasts and disheveled hair, forgetting everything about them, wailing and lamenting as at a burial, while others almost out of their minds moaned as if their wounds were being torn by birth pangs, and blinded with tears, ran right onto the horsemen’s whips and replied to every blow with the fruitless question: “Where are you taking him? Why are you taking him from me?” [5]

Where many went, their mothers would not like to have known: Throughout Islamic history, boys’ darkest use was as eunuchs. Islamic trade in castrated male slaves persisted until Europe pressured the Ottomans to stop in the 19th century. But from the 8th century onward, writes historian Jan Hagendorn, supplies came from “foreigners,” stolen and forced under the knife at long distances from their final markets--to limit transportation costs to the 10% or so who survived.

“Exports” came primarily from central and eastern European forest areas the Muslims called “Bilad as-Saqaaliba,” (or “slave country,”); central Asian steppes called “Bilad al-Attak” (or “Turks’ country,”); and eventually, most prominently, savannahs and wooded fringes south of the Sahara, called country of the blacks or “Bilad as-Sudan.” [6]

Today, Francis Bok is not only free. He has educated himself. And he has fulfilled his father’s dreams. He is like twelve men. He speaks for the enslaved Dinka masses, still suffering Islamic razzias in Southern Sudan. He speaks for his murdered parents and sisters. He speaks for the enslaved Dinka children, far less lucky than he.

For all that, Francis Bok is a hero--and honors his family name. He embodies the richness of rain that produces growth, and strength.

But more than that, Francis Bok and his book speak for tens of millions silenced by Islamic jihad. He gives voice to non-Muslim dhimmis, who suffered—and continue to suffer—enslavement, deportation, and death throughout 1,400 years of Islamic empire building.


[1] Vryonis Jr., Speros, “Isidore Glabas, and the Turkish Devshirme,” Speculum, Vol 31 no 3, 1956, pp. 436-437.

[2] Vryonis Jr., Speros, “Seljuk, Gulams and Ottoman Devshirmes,” Der Islam, 1965, Vol 41, pp. 247-248.

[3] Bat Ye’or, Decline of Eastern Christianity and under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude (1996), p. 260.

[4] Slatin, Rudolf C., Fire and Sword in the Sudan: A Personal Narrative of Fighting and Serving the Dervishes (1896), pp. 554-557.

[5] Ivo Andric, “Development of Spiritual Life in Bosnia Under the Influence of Turkish Rule,” May 14, 1924. p. 38.

[6] Hogendorn, Jan, “The hideous trade: economic aspects of the ‘manufacture’ and sale of eunuchs,” Paideuma, Vol. 45, 1999, pp. 137-160.

Salam abd Tamir Al-Halou


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Anti-Islamic diatribe

21.10.2003 11:13

This article is terrible. How is it still posted here? It blatantly says that Muslims are savages, and will never change.
Nowhere does it talk about capitalist slavery, which bonds most of the worlds population. The fundamental tenant of capitalism is to make something cheap and sell it expensive. We used to ship slaves to the Americas and Europe, but now we leave them where they are, and ship their clothes, chocolate or coffee here instead.