Race-making and the Register of the Enslaved Black Moroccans at the Turn of the Eighteenth Century

Chouki El Hamel Professor of History in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, Arizona State University-specializing in West and Northwest Africa
Thu March 10th 2022, 12:00 - 1:00pm

In late-seventeenth-century Morocco, Sultan Mawlay Isma‘il (reigned 1672–1727) commanded his officials to enslave all black Moroccans:  that is, to buy coercively or freely those already slaves and to enslave those who were free, including the Haratin (meaning free blacks or freed ex-slaves).  This command violated the most salient Islamic legal code regarding the institution of slavery which states that it is illegal to enslave fellow Muslims. This controversy caused a passionate debate and overt hostility between the ‘ulama’ (Muslim scholars) and Mawlay Isma‘il. Mawlay Isma‘il relied on some co-opted scholars and his loyal officials to compile slave registers in order to justify the legality of the enforced buying of slaves from their owners and the enslavement of the Haratin. A close examination of these official documents reveals that the equation of blackness and slavery was being developed to justify the subjection of the free Muslim black Moroccans. To prove the slave status of the black Moroccans, the officials and jurists in charge of the slavery project established a fictional scheme of categories of slaves. This project therefore constructed a racial category and a slave status for all black people, even those who were free.

Register for this event


Chouki El Hamel is a professor of history in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University, specializing in West and Northwest Africa. His training and doctoral studies were at the University of Sorbonne (Paris I & VII, France). He taught courses in African history at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He was a scholar in residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City. In the year 2017, he was awarded a Fulbright grant for research in Morocco.  His research interests focus on the spread and the growth of Islamic culture and the evolution of Islamic institutions in Africa.  He is particularly interested in the subaltern relationship of servile and marginalized communities to Islamic ruling institutions.  His research into these relationships revolves around issues of slavery, race/ethnicity/color, gender, power/class, and restorative justice.  He published two books and many scholarly articles in academic journals and popular magazines.  His interviews, commentaries and essays have appeared in international venues such as the French newspaper Le Monde, the German magazine Bilatéral, the Moroccan magazines Zamane and TelQuel, and Jadaliyya (produced by the Arab Studies Institute in the US).  His most recent book is Black Morocco: A History of Slavery, Race, and Islam (Cambridge University Press, 2013). This book was translated into French in 2019.  He is now working on a new book project entitled “The Hidden Story of Maroons in Morocco.”

Read more about his work here!