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Mauritania: Islam and slavery

Friday 26 August 2016, by siawi3


Excerpt from: Young writer sentenced to death for “apostasy” will get appeal – but no lawyer
By IHEU Admin+ On 2016-04-16

A young Mauritanian writer, Mohamed Cheikh Ould M’kheitir, was sentenced to death for “apostasy” in 2014. His appeal was heard on 21.04.2016, and he was defended by two Tunisian lawyers who flew to the country specially to represent M’kheitir pro bono because no Mauritanian lawyer would defend him.

Understanding M’kheitir’s writing

The article over which M’kheitir was accused of “speaking lightly of the Prophet” is Religion and religiosity for “Maalemine” (“الدين و التدين و “لمعلمين). (While derived from the high Arabic for ‘teacher’, maalemine in the Mauritanian context refers to usually darker-skinned people descended from blacksmiths, carpenters and other skilled laborers regarded as “low caste” and still subject to discrimination.)

The piece discusses religious double-standards, including how scriptural narration and the biography of the prophet Muhammad may act to normalize slavery. Mauritania has outlawed slavery but the caste-based system of indentured servitude is ongoing, and the authorities have frequently harassed campaigners who work to end the practice.

In the article, M’kheitir compared the ongoing oppression in Mauritania, to the Prophet Muhammad’s own treatment of the Jews of the Hijaz, and questioned other decisions and strategies of the Prophet Muhammad at war. In particular, the article begins by distinguishing religion itself from the claim of religious behavior, then presents stories from Islamic narration, questioning why, in one story, a freed black slave who tried to kill a cousin of Muhammad appears to be unforgivable, whereas others committing similar acts were forgiven. M’kheitir again questions the justice of the Prophet in relation to the story of two tribes; one of them, the Quriash (from which the writer himself descends), the second the Banu Quraidah, primarily Jews. While the Quriash fought against Muhammad, the Banu Quraidah did not, but when Muhammad took Mecca he pardoned Quriash, and killed the Banu Quraidah, calling them pigs and monkeys.

The article concludes by asking Mauritanians to be honest and to admit that religion, religious books, and clerics play a role on all the social issues including issue of slavery, which he refers to by reference to Haratin (a “low caste” ethnic group still enslaved, or informally dependent and indentured to former masters).