From Slavery to Freedom: The Challenges of Female Slaves in Iran


Fri, 08/28/2020 - 3:00pm to Sat, 08/29/2020 - 2:59pm


Part of the Fall 2020 Middle Eastern and North African Studies Colloquium Series

Behnaz Mirzai, Professor of Middle Eastern History, Brock University, Canada

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Various contemporary sources allow us to consider the circumstances of life before full emancipation was achieved in 1929. Cultural tradition and Islamic law justifying the liberation of individual enslaved persons had existed in Iran for centuries, long before the British inaugurated an abolitionist process that was not only limited and conditional, but racially oriented in that it focused on Africans. In Iran, the liberation process that began with the freeing of the enslaved Africans in 1851 did not extend to include the status of other enslaved peoples. As has been shown, this racially based legislation actually made indigenous Iranians more vulnerable, given that demand for enslaved people throughout the region remained strong. For this reason, the circumstances that led to the enslavement of Iranians became a keenly felt national issue. This paper explores the country’s transformation from a society accommodating slavery to one that embraced full emancipation. It represents the voices of enslaved people who fought to escape enslavement, the difficult situations enslaved women encountered and the various methods they employed to gain their freedom as well as the legal implications.


Behnaz Mirzai is Professor of Middle Eastern history at Brock University, Canada. She has authored numerous articles on slavery and the African Diaspora in Iran, edited The Baluchi and Baluchistan, coedited Slavery, Islam and Diaspora, and Africa and Its Diasporas: Rethinking Struggles for Recognition and Empowerment and produced two documentary films, Afro-Iranian Lives and The African-Baluchi Trance Dance. The former film won the prize Special Mention at the Zanzibar International Film Festival. She is the author of A History of Slavery and Emancipation in Iran, 1800–1929. Her book was finalist for the 2018 Canadian Historical Association Wallace K. Ferguson Prize.

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