Why Did Muslim Empires Have Slave Soldiers?
The Arab / Middle Eastern and North African cultures even before accepting Islam have always been tribal in origin and families derived their political and social strength from their tribal culture. In fact most of the Eastern cultures were all like that till modern times where emergence of the mega cities caused gradual shift among many former tribal people towards a metropolitan lifestyle impacting their traditional culture. Having slave soldiers was beneficial for early Islamic empires like the Abbasid Caliphate, who were based in Iraq where local Arabs and natives had stronger affiliations with their own tribes rather than the Caliph. Having individuals from these tribes in to the influential positions in the armed forces and important political posts would provide strong motive for them to gain power for their own tribe eventually causing the royal family in power to be overthrown.
Due to this reason slaves were usually bought from among the people of Central Asia, the lands of Turks. In origin these Turkish people were nomadic warriors valued by Caliphs or Sultans for strengthening their rule militarily. Due to them being part of the army they were serving and being far away from their own land, in a foreign land, kept their loyalty firm with the Sultan. Even though the threat to Sultan’s authority was not over but minimized when it came to these slave soldiers.
How did Turkish Slaves Manage To Create ‘Slave Dynasty’ or Mamluk Sultanate?
In Islamic history we experienced something unprecedented, something called ‘Slave Dynasty’ unlike history of other religions and nations. Slave Dynasty is a unique Islamic legacy which even European Civilization has never experienced. What is a slave dynasty? These were dynasties in the Muslim world in which high ranking officials who were of slave origin, serving in the armies were able to sometimes over throw a weak Sultan or a governor and replaced themselves as new governors or Sultans. Prime examples of these historic dynasties are the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria and the Mamluk Sultanate of Delhi (Indo-Pak subcontinent). The term Mamluk is of Arabic origin meaning "owned" usually translated as warrior slaves in English. The Mamluks were mainly Turks of Central Asia who were sold as slaves in the service of many Sultans and due to the privilege that Islam gives to the slaves were able to reach high ranks within the army and then at times eventually themselves becoming Sultans. What further distinguished their upbringing from the remaining slaves, such as household slaves, in the Muslim world was that due to their military service were given best education in worldly and religious sciences including military training and were privileged in many instances than regular slaves such as also getting paid for their services to the government. The problem however was that if a strong Mamluk Army General succeeded in overthrowing a Sultan or a Governor of a Sultan, then nothing could disrupt him from becoming an authority, that would also eventually pave the way for him to becoming a Sultan, unless he was overthrown by another rival. If he did succeed then after him his descendants would rule unless they became weak enough to be overthrown by another Mamluk.
Why Ottoman Janissaries Never Succeeded like Mamluks in Becoming Sultans?
The Ottoman Turks emerged from the one of the many strong Turkman tribes that ruled the Anatolian region (modern Turkey). Initially the Ottoman tribe was able to defeat rival tribes and expand its authority over their lands with the help of their own tribal people. However, as their territory began to expand and in order to strengthen their rule, they too did not chose members of their own or other Turkman tribes to serve in the elite circle to avoid conflict of interest. They too chose slaves from outside yet in a different manner. They created an elite force called jannissaries or yeni ceri in Turkish. Even though the janissaries were like mamluks yet their recruitment process differed much from the latter. These were not Muslim nor grown up individuals, they were in fact very young Christian boys paid to the Ottoman Sultans as a tax by their subjects, Christian families living in the Balkan region. These families handed over at least one of their sons, as a form of a tax payment to the Islamic government. These boys were gathered and the best among them were selected to be raised and become elite force of the Sultan. They were forcibly converted to Islam at a young age, even though forced conversion is strictly prohibited in Islam. But what is also important to note is that, due to prospects of great career, many Christian parents voluntarily gave their children to the Ottoman for raising as Muslims. Since the boys were trained from a very young age to serve the Sultan, away from their own family, their loyalty to him was the greatest. There was no chance for them to switch loyalty to any other Turkish tribes either, because no members of these tribes were part of the Ottoman elite. A janissary could reach all the way to top and even become a Wazeer e A'laa (prime minister), second to the Sutlan or Caliph, but could never become a Sultan himself as this seat was restricted for an Ottoman descendant. Even if he managed to overthrow the Sultan yet the Turks will never accept a non-Turk Muslim to rule over them. This strategy overall played well for the Ottoman descendants to maintain their rule unchallenged by any rivals within the political and armed forces unlike their predecessor dynasties. However with time Janissaries indulged in corrupt practices and if the Sultan was a weak one then they controlled him, at times they even revolted and overthrew, and in some extreme cases even killed him, like Sultan Osman II (Reign. 1618 – 1622 CE) & Sultan Ibrahim (Reign. 1640 - 1648 CE), but because of the established system could never themselves become rulers.