“Montana’s book will be crucial to all who wish to understand the decision to ban slavery in Tunisia in 1846. Its broad scope ranges from the machinations of France, Britain, and the Ottomans in North Africa to the trans-Saharan and Mediterranean trades and the internal struggles over slavery in Tunisia, citing travelers’ accounts, statistics, consular records, Muslim court decisions, and the situations of individual slaves to provide a nuanced account of a key step in the global abolition process.”—George Michael La Rue, Clarion University
“A fascinating topic that has the potential to draw in readers interested not only in Tunisia, but also in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and international law.”—Allan Christelow, author of Algerians without Borders: The Making of a Global Frontier Society
Tunisia is known for being the first Muslim country to abolish slavery during the modern period.
Although Ahmed Bey, the country’s ruler in the mid-nineteenth century, was morally opposed to slavery, he did not have the broad support of the citizenry to enact reforms. Even religious leaders were against change, pointing to Islamic law’s precedent for slave ownership. Yet Bey realized that increased European intervention throughout North Africa threatened Tunisian independence and thus embraced abolition as a progressive reform measure to safeguard its integrity and sovereignty.
In this groundbreaking work, Ismael Montana fully explicates the complexity of Tunisian society and culture and reveals how abolition was able to occur in an environment hostile to such change. He reveals how European capitalism, political pressure, and evolving social dynamics throughout the western Mediterranean region helped shape this seismic abolition process. The result is a study that reassesses the impact of the broader transformations of the late eighteenth century on black slavery throughout North Africa and the Mediterranean lands of Islam.
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Ismael M. Montana, assistant professor of history at Northern Illinois University, is the coeditor of Slavery, Islam and Diaspora.
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