‘Written’ by Ali Rahman, Blog Contributor
If you have already read The Vital Sacrifice, then you already know a bit about my lineage. My mother, Fatimah, was Arab and my father, Malik, was a Zanj both of whom resided in Egypt. As you may have read, my father, who was a statesman heavily involved in the politics of his day, taught me a lot when I was a youth; but, one thing that he did not discuss with me is our Zanj ancestry. I later found out that it was because it was a part of his past that he wanted to forget because his people weren’t esteemed in East African or middle-eastern societies. After the Zanj rebellion in Iraq and their diaspora throughout nearby lands, nations that they settled in often regarded them as second-class citizens. Thus, this inferiority complex plagued my father and may have been why he kept this part of my past from me. Therefore, I decided to learn more about this part of my ancestry for myself and share what I found with you.
For many centuries, this land now known as Iraq was referred to as Mesopotamia, the land between two rivers. This area of the world has been known for many great civilizations that have arisen here including the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and the Persians. This region is often referred to as the cradle of civilization because it is believed that this is where the original garden of Eden was and where agriculture and writing flourished. By the 7th century, Arabs defeated the Persians and established their rule under the Abbasid empire. Their empire spread far and wide usually taking over by force or simply by conversion to the Islamic faith.
As this empire spread, it left much slave labor in its wake. There were many nationalities of slaves taken under the Abbasid rule but one group of slaves in particular that were enslaved in the area now known as Iraq was Bantu-speaking people from East Africa which became known as the Zanj. The Zanj were taken from various parts of East Africa to Iraq primarily to work in the salt mines but also performed many other roles which included growing cotton, ‘working’ in harems, and being for forcefully changed into eunuchs to protect harems. Apparently this slave labor became too much for the Zanj people so they staged a series of rebellions in the region with the last one resulting in long-term success — a little over a decade — through the use of guerrilla warfare. Ali ibn Muhammad, led the insurrection but he was eventually killed and the rebellion was eventually put down. This rebellion crippled not only crippled the economy of the region but also was the beginning of the end for the Abbasid empire who became entrenched in civil war and infighting from that point on.
I’m not certain what happened to the enslaved after the insurrection because not much was recorded about the rebellion or its aftermath; but, at some point, my father’s people eventually made their way back to East Africa – Egypt to be precise. Apparently my father felt like a second-class citizen due to his lineage and sought to pull himself up in Egyptian society by acquiring education and working as a top adviser for the Sultan. Fortunately, he and his bloodline were able to move away from Iraq and make a new life for themselves in other nearby regions. For those that remain in Iraq today, I can’t say the same. There are many decedents of Zanj who reside there that are disgruntled with the discrimination in Iraq – the same type of discrimination that my father fought so hard to protect me from.
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Disclaimer: These blog articles are attributed to characters found in the novel, The Vital Sacrifice, and this blog is a fictitious representation of the characters in the book speaking on what interests them based on their role in the novel. These blog articles are post-publication characterizations and are meant to entertain niche audiences who may be interested in purchasing or have already purchased this novel.