Encountering Domestic Slavery: A Narrative from the Arabian Gulf

Author First name, Last name, Institution

Rima Sabban

Document Type

Book Chapter

Source of Publication

Slavery in the Islamic World

Publication Date



This chapter provides an analysis of the complexities and sensitivities of addressing the topic of slavery and—more specifically—domestic slavery in the Arabian Gulf. The work is based on the narrative of a moment and, more specifically, a spontaneous encounter with former slaves during fieldwork conducted on modern domestic workers in the UAE. The author uses a self-reflective approach and collected memories to re-address a topic which she found highly sensitive and difficult to tackle for reasons she unfolds in the study. Silence became a central focal point under which the author tackles the lack of historical/archival records, the dearth of scholarly research on the topic and the difficulty involved in accessing even the most meager anecdotal evidence and/or historical memory during field studies. The chapter begins by briefly examining the history of slavery within the wider context of both Islam and the Middle East before examining the limited literature and academic discourse pertaining to slavery in the Arabian Gulf. The ensuing discussion reveals the struggles involved in developing a deeper understanding of domestic slavery in the UAE given the pervasive “silence” that surrounds the issue in this highly private, and sometimes inaccessible, society while encouraging further consideration of the various obstacles that could be contributing factors that have inhibited study thus far with the hope that such queries could lead to greater discussion and more profound investigation.


Palgrave Macmillan US

First Page


Last Page



Social and Behavioral Sciences

Scopus ID


Indexed in Scopus


Open Access